MARGARET WEIS & TRACY HICKMAN

DRAGONS OF THE FALLEN SUN

THE WAR OF THE SOULS VOLUME ONE

DRAGONLANCE

MAR 2000

 

 

MiNa's SONG

 

 

The day has passed beyond our power.

The petals close upon the flower.

The light is failing in this hour

Of day's last waning breath.

The blackness of the night surrounds

The distant souls of stars now found,

Far from this world to which we're bound,

Of sorrow, fear and death.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

Your soul the night will keep.

Embrace the darkness deep.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

The gathering darkness takes our souls,

Embracing us in chilling folds,

Deep in a Mistress's void that holds

Our fate within her hands.

Dream, warriors, of the dark above

And feel the sweet redemption of

The Night's Consort, and of her love

For those within her bands.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

Your soul the night will keep.

Embrace the darkness deep.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

We close our eyes, our minds at rest,

Submit our wills to her behest,

Our weaknesses to her confessed,

And to her will we bend.

The strength of silence fills the sky,

Its depth beyond both you and I.

Into its arms our souls will fly,

Where fear and sorrows end.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

Your soul the night will keep.

Embrace the darkness deep.

Sleep, love; forever sleep.

 

 

BOOK ONE

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE SONG OF DEATH

 

 

 

The dwarves named the valley Gamashinoch-the Song of

Death. None of the living walked here of their own free

will. Those who entered did so out of desperation, dire

need, or because they had been ordered to do so by their com-

manding officer.

They had been listening to the" song" for several hours as

their advance brought them nearer and nearer the desolate valley.

The song was eerie, terrible. Its words, which were never clearly

heard, never quite distinguishable-at least not with the ears-

spoke of death and worse than death. The song spoke of entrap-

ment, bitter frustration, unending torment. The song was a

lament, a song of longing for a place the soul remembered, a

haven of peace and bliss now unattainable.

On first hearing the mournful song, the Knights had reined in

their steeds, hands reaching for their swords as they stared about

them in unease, crying "what is that?" and "who goes there?"

But no one went there. No one of the living. The Knights

looked at their commander, who stood up in his stirrups, inspect-

ing the cliffs that soared above them on their right and the left.

"It is nothing," he said at last. "The wind among the rocks.

Proceed."

He urged his horse forward along the road, which ran, turn-

ing and twisting, through the mountains known as the Lords of

Doom. The men under his command followed single file, the pass

was too narrow for the mounted patrol to ride abreast.

"I have heard the wind before, my lord," said one Knight

gruffly, "and it has yet to have a human voice. It warns us to stay

away. We would do well to heed it."

"Nonsense!" Talon Leader Ernst Magit swung around in his

saddle to glare at his scout and second-in-command, who walked

behind him. "Superstitious claptrap! But then you minotaurs are

noted for clinging to old, outmoded ways and ideas. It is time you

entered the modem era. The gods are gone, and good riddance, I

say. We humans rule the world."

A single voice, a woman's voice, had first sung the Song of

Death. Now her voice was joined by a fearful chorus of men,

women, and children raised in a dreadful chant of hopeless loss

and misery that echoed among the mountains.

At the doleful sound, several of the horses balked, refused to

go farther, and, truth told, their masters did little to urge them.

Magit's horse shied and danced. He dug his spurs into the

horse's flanks, leaving great bloody gouges, and the horse sulked

forward, head lowered, ears twitching. Talon Leader Magit rode

about half a mile when it occurred to him that he did not hear

other hoof beats. Glancing around, he saw that he was proceed-

ing alone. None of his men had followed.

Furious, Magit turned and galloped back to his command. He

found half of his patrol dismounted, the other half looking very

ill at ease; sitting astride horses that stood shivering on the road.

"The dumb beasts have more brains than their masters," said

the minotaur from his place on the ground. Few horses will allow

a minotaur to sit upon their backs and fewer still have the

strength and girth to carry one of the huge minotaurs. Galdar was

seven feet tall, counting his horns. He kept up with the patrol,

running easily alongside the stirrup of his commander.

Magit sat upon his horse, his hands on the pommel, facing his

men. He was a tall, excessively thin man, the type whose bones

seem to be strung together with steel wire, for he was far stronger

than he looked. His eyes were flat and watery blue, without

intelligence, without depth. He was noted for his cruelty, his

inflexible-many would say mindless-discipline, and his com-

plete and total devotion to a single cause: Ernst Magit.

"You will mount your horses and you will ride after me," said

Talon Leader Magit coldly, "or I will report each and every one of

you to the groupcommander. I will accuse you of cowardice and

betrayal of the Vision and mutiny. As you know, the penalty for

even one of those counts is death."

"Can he do that?" whispered a newly made Knight on his first

assignment.

"He can," returned the veterans grimly, "and he will."

The Knights remounted and urged their steeds forward, using

their spurs. They were forced to circle around the minotaur,

Galdar, who remained standing in the center of the road.

"Do you refuse to obey my command, minotaur?" demanded

Magit angrily. "Think well before you do so. You may be the pro-

tege of the Protector of the Skull, but I doubt if even he could

save you if I denounce you to the Council as a coward and an

oath-breaker."

Leaning over his horse's neck, Magit spoke in mock confi-

dentiality. "And from what I hear, Galdar, your master might

not be too keen on protecting you anymore. A one-armed mino-

taur. A minotaur whose own kind view him with pity and with

scorn. A minotaur who has been reduced to the position of

scout.' And we all know that they assigned you to that post

only because they had to do something with you. Although I

did hear it suggested that they turn you out to pasture with the

rest of the cows."

Galdar clenched his fist, his remaining fist, driving the sharp

nails into his flesh. He knew very well that Magit was baiting

him, goading him into a fight. Here, where there would be few

witnesses. Here where Magit could kill the crippled minotaur

and return home to claim that the fight had been a fair and glori-

ous one. Galdar was not particularly attached to life, not since the

loss of his sword arm had transformed him from fearsome war-

rior to plodding scout. But he'd be damned if he was going to die

at the hands of Ernst Magit. Galdar wouldn't give his commander

the satisfaction.

The minotaur shouldered his way past Ernst Magit, who

watched him with a sneer of contempt upon his thin lips.

The patrol continued toward their destination, hoping to

reach it while there was yet sunlight-if one could term the chill

gray light that warmed nothing it touched sunlight. The Song of

Death wailed and mourned. One of the new recruits rode with

tears streaming down his cheeks. The veterans rode hunkered

down, shoulders hunched up around their ears, as if they would

block out the sound. But even if they had stuffed their ears with

tow, even if they had blown out their eardrums, they would have

still heard the terrible song.

The Song of Death sang in the heart.

The patrol rode into the valley that was called Neraka.

In a time past memory, the goddess Takhisis, Queen of Dark-

ness, laid in the southern end of the valley a foundation stone,

rescued from the blasted temple of the Kingpriest of Istar. The

foundation stone began to grow, drawing upon the evil in the

world to give it lif~: The st~ne grew into a temple, vast and awful;

a temple of magnificent, hideous darkness.

Takhisis planned to use this temple to return to the world

from which she'd been driven by Huma Dragonbane, but her

way was blocked by love and self-sacrifice. Nevertheless she had

great power, and she launched a war upon the world that came

near to destroying it. Her evil commanders, like a pack of wild

dogs,.fell.to figh~g among themselves. A band of heroes rose up

Looking mto theIr hearts, they found the power to thwart her,

defeat her, and cast her down. Her temple at Neraka was de-

stroyed, blasted apart in her rage at her downfall.

The temple's walls exploded and rained down from the skies

on that terrible day, huge black boulders that crushed the city of

Neraka. Cleansing fires destroyed the buildings of the cursed city,

burned down its markets and its slave pens, its numerous guard

houses, filling its twisted, mazelike streets with ash.

Over fifty years later, no trace of the original city remained.

The splinters of the temple's bones littered the floor of the south-

em portion of the valley of Neraka. The ash had long since blown

away. Nothing would grow in this part of the valley. All sign of

life had long been covered up by the swirling sands.

Only the black boulders, remnants of the temple, remained in

the valley. They were an awful sight, and even Talon Leader

Magit, gazing upon them for the first time, wondered privately if

his decision to ride into this part of the valley had been a smart

one. He could have taken the long route around, but that would

have added two days to his travel, and he was late as it was,

having spent a few extra nights with a new whore who had ar-

rived at his favorite bawdyhouse. He needed to make up time,

and he'd chosen as his shortcut this route through the southern

end of the valley.

Perhaps due to the force of the explosion, the black rock that

had formed the outer walls of the temple had taken on a crys-

talline structure. Jutting up from the sand, the boulders were not

craggy, not lumpy. They were smooth-sided, with sharply de-

fined planes culminating in faceted points. Imagine black quartz

crystals jutting up from gray sand, some four times the height of

a man. Such a man could see his reflection in those glossy black

planes, a reflection that was distorted, twisted, yet completely

recognizable as being a reflection of himself.

These men had willingly joined up with the army of the

Knights of Takhisis, tempted by the promises of loot and slaves

won in battle, by their own delight in killing and bullying, by

their hatred of elves or kender or dwarves or anyone different

from themselves. These men, long since hardened against every

good feeling, looked into the shining black plane of the crystals

and were appalled by the faces that looked back. For on those

faces they could see their mouths opening to sing the terrible

song.

Most looked and shuddered and quickly averted their gaze.

Galdar took care not to look. At first sight of the black crystals

rising from the ground, he had lowered his eyes, and he kept

them lowered out of reverence and respect. Call it superstition, as

Ernst Magit most certainly would. The gods themselves were not

m this valley. Galdar knew that to be impossible; the gods had

been driven from Krynn more than thirty years ago. But the

ghosts of the gods lingered here, of that Galdar was certain.

Ernst Magit looked at his reflection in the rocks, and simply

because he shrank from it inwardly, he forced himself to stare at

It until he had stared it down.

"I will not be cowed by the sight of my own shadow!" he said

WIth a meaningful glance at Galdar. Magit had only recently

thought up this bovine humor. He considered it extremely funny

and highly original, and he lost no opportunity to use it. "Cowed.

Do you get it, minotaur?" Ernst Magit laughed.

The death song swept up the man's laughter and gave it

melody and tone-dark, off key, discordant, opposing the rhythm

of the other voices of the song. The sound was so horrible that

Magit was shaken. He coughed, swallowed his laughter, much to

the relief of his men.

"You have brought us here, Talon Leader," said Galdar. "We

have seen that this part of the valley is uninhabited, that no force

of Solamnics hides here, prepared to sweep down on us. We may

proceed toward our objective safe in the knowledge that we have

nothing from the land of the living to fear from this direction. Let us

now leave this place, and swiftly. Let us turn back and make our

report."

The horses had entered the southern valley with such reluc-

tance that in some cases their riders had been forced to dismount

again and cover their eyes and guide them, as if from a burning

building. Both man and beast were clearly eager to be gone. The

horses edged their way back toward the road by which they'd ar-

rived, their riders sidling along with them.

Ernst Magit wanted to leave this place as much as any of

them. It was for precisely that reason that he decided they would

stay. He was a coward at heart. He knew he was a coward. All his

life, he'd done deeds to prove to himself that he wasn't. Nothing

truly heroic. Magit avoided danger when at all possible, one

reason he was riding patrol duty and not joining with the other

Knights of Neraka to lay siege to the Solamnic-controlled city of

Sanction. He undertook to perform cheap, petty actions and

deeds that involved no risk to himself but that would prove to

himself and to his men he wasn't afraid. A deed such as spending

the night in this cursed valley.

Magit made a show of squinting up at the sky, which was a

pale and unwholesome yellow, a peculiar shade, such as none of

the Knights had ever before seen.

"It is now twilight," he announced sententiously. "I do not

want to find myself benighted in the mountains. We will make

camp here and ride out in the morning."

The Knights stared at their commander incredulously, ap-

palled. The wind had ceased to blow. The song no longer sang in

their hearts. Silence settled over the valley, a silence that was at

first a welcome change but that they were growing to loathe the

longer it lasted. The silence weighed on them, oppressed them,

mothered them. None spoke. They w~it~ for their commander

to tell them he'd been playing a little jokt! on them.

Talon Leader Magit dismounted his horse. "We will set up

camp here. Pitch my command tept near the tallest of those

monoliths. Galdar, you're in chargd of setting up camp. I trust

you can handle that simple task?"

His words seemed unnaturally loud, his voice shrill and rau-

cous. A breath of air, cold and sharp, hissed through the valley,

swept the sand into dust devils that swirled across the barren

ground and whispered away.

"You are making a mistake, sir," said Galdar in a soft under-

tone, to disturb the silence as little as possible. "We are not

wanted here."

"Who does not want us, Galdar?" Talon Leader Magit

sneered. "These rocks?" He slapped the side of a black crystal

monolith. "Ha! What a thick-skulled, superstitious cow!" Magit's

voice hardened. "You men. Dismount and begin setting up camp.

That is an order."

Ernst Magit stretched his limbs, making a show of being re-

laxed. He bent double at the waist, did a few limbering exercises.

The Knights, sullen and unhappy, did as he commanded. They

unpacked their saddle rolls, began setting up the small, two-man

tents carried by half the patrol. The others unpacked food and

water.

The tents were a failure. No amount of hammering could

drive the iron spikes into the hard ground. Every blow of the

hammer reverberated among the mountains, came back to them

amplified a hundred times, until it seemed as if the mountains

were hammering on them.

Galdar threw down his mallet, which he had been awkwardly

wielding with his remaining hand.

"What's the matter, minotaur?" Magit demanded. "Are you

so weak you can't drive a tent stake?"

"Try it yoursel sir," said Galdar.

The other men tossed down their mallets and stood staring at

their commander in sullen defiance.

Magit was pale with anger. "You men can sleep in the open if

you are too stupid to pitch a simple tent!"

He did not, however, choose to try to hammer the tent

stakes into the rocky floor. He searched around until he located

four of the black, crystal monoliths that formed a rough, irreg

ular square.

"Tie my tent to four of these boulders," he ordered. "At least

I will sleep well this night."

Galdar did as he was commanded. He wrapped the ropes

around the bases of the monoliths,. all the while muttering a

minotaur mcantation meant to propItiate the spmts of the rest-

less dead.

The men also endeavored to tie their horses to the monoliths,

but the beasts plunged and bucked in panicked terror. Finally,

the Knights strung a line between two of the monoliths and tied

the horses up there. The horses huddled together, restive and

nervous, rolling their eyes and keeping as far from the black

rocks as possible.

While the men worked, Ernst Magit drew a map from his sad-

dlebags and, with a final glare around to remind them of their

duty, spread the map open and began studying it with a studious

and unconcerned air that fooled no one. He was sweating, and

he'd done no work.

Long shadows were stealing over the valley of Neraka,

making the valley far darker than the sky, which was lit with a

flame-yellow afterglow. The air was hot, hotter than when they'd

entered, but sometimes eddies of cold wind swirled down from!

the west, chilling the bones to the marrow. The Knights had

brought no wood with them. They ate cold rations, or tried to eat!

them. Every mouthful was polluted with sand, everything they

ate tasted of ashes. They eventually threw most of their food!

away. Seated upon the hard ground, they constantly looked over

their shoulders, peering intently into the shadows. Each man

had his sword drawn. No need to set the watch. No man in-

tended to sleep.

"Ho! Look at this!" Ernst Magit called out with triumph. "I

have made an important discovery! It is well that we spent some

time here." He pointed at his map and then to the west. "See that

mountain range there. It is not marked upon the map. It must be

newly formed. I shall certainly bring this to the attention of the

Protector. Perhaps the range will be named in my honor."

Galdar looked at the mountain range. He rose slowly to his

feet, staring hard into the western sky. Certainly at first glance the

formation of iron gray and sullen blue looked very much as if a

new mountain had thrust up from the ground. But as Galdar

watched, he noticed something that the talon leader, in his eager-

ness, had missed. This mountain was growing, expanding, at an

alarming rate.

"Sir!" Galdar cried. "That is no mountain! Those are storm

clouds!"

"You are already a cow, don't be an ass as well," Magit said.

He had picked up a bit of black rock and was using it like chalk

to add Mount Magit to the wonders of the world.

"Sir, I spent ten years at sea when I was a youth," said Galdar.

"I know a storm when I see one. Yet even I have never seen any-

thing like that!"

Now the cloud bank reared up with incredible speed, solid

black at its heart, roiling and churning like some many-headed

devouring monster, biting off the tops of the mountains as it over-

took them, crawling over them to consume them whole. The chill

wind strengthened, whipping the sand from the ground into eyes

and mouths, tearing at the command tent, which flapped wildly

and strained against its bonds.

The wind began to sing again that same terrible song, keen-

ing, wailing in despair, shrieking in anguished torment.

Buffeted by the wind, the men struggled to their feet. "Com-

mander! We should leave!" Galdar roared. "Now! Before the

storm breaks!"

"Yes," said Ernst Magit, pale and shaken. He licked his lips,

spit out sand. "Yes, you are right. We should leave immediately.

Never mind the tent! Bring me my horse!"

A bolt of lightning flashed out from the blackness, speared the

ground near where the horses were tethered. Thunder exploded.

The concussion knocked some of the men flat. The horses

screamed, reared, lashed out with their hooves. The men who

were still standing tried to calm them, but the horses would have

none of it. Tearing free of the rope that held them, the horses gal-

loped away in mad panic.

"Catch them!" Ernst screamed, but the men had all they could

do to stand upright against the pummeling wind. One or two

took a few staggering steps after the horses, but it was obvious

that the chase was a futile one.

The storm clouds raced across the sky, battling the sunlight,

defeating it handily. The sun fell, overcome by darkness.

Night was upon them, a night thick with swirling sand.

Galdar could see nothing at all, not even his own single hand. The

next second all around him was illuminated by another devastat-

ing lightning bolt.

"Lie down!" he bellowed, flinging himself to the ground. "Lie

flat! Keep away from the monoliths!"

Rain slashed sideways, coming at them like arrows fired from

a million bowstrings. Hail pounded on them like iron-tipped

flails, cutting and bruising. Galdar's hide was tough, the hail was

like stinging ant bites to him. The other men cried out in pain and

terror. Lightning walked among them, casting its flaming spears.

Thunder shook the ground and boomed and roared.

Galdar lay sprawled on his stomach, fighting against the im-

pulse to tear at the ground with his hand, to burrow into the

depths of the world. He was astounded to see, in the next light-

ning flash, his commander trying to stand up.

Sir, keep down!" Galdar roared and made a grab for him.

Magit snarled a curse and kicked at Galdar's hand. Head

down against the wind, the talon leader lurched over to one of the

monoliths. He crouched behind it, used its great bulk to shield

him from the lancing rain and the hammering hail. Laughing at

the rest of his men, he sat on the ground, placed his back against

the stone and stretched out his legs.

The lightning flash blinded Galdar. The blast deafened him.

The force of the thunderbolt lifted him up off the ground,

slammed him back down. The bolt had struck so close that he had

heard it sizzle the air, could smell the phosphorous and the sul-

phur. He could also smell something else-burned flesh. He

rubbed his eyes to try to see through the jagged glare. When his

sight was restored, he looked in the direction of the commander.

In the next lightning flash, he saw a misshapen mass huddled at

the foot of the monolith.

Magit's flesh glowed red beneath a black crust,like a hunk of

overcooked meat. Smoke rose from it; the wind whipped it away,

along with flecks of charred flesh. The skin of the man's face had

burned away, revealing a mouthful of hideously grinning teeth.

Glad to see you're still laughing, Talon Leader,Galdar mut-

tered. You were warned."

Galdar scrunched down even closer to the ground, cursed his

ribs for being in the way.

The rain fell harder, if that were possible. He wondered how

long the raging storm could last. It seemed to have lasted a life-

time, seemed to him that he had been born into this storm and

that he would grow old and die in this storm. A hand grabbed

hold of his arm, shook him.

"Sir! Look there!" One of the Knights had crawled across the

ground, was right next to him: "Sir!" the Knight put his mouth to

Galdar's ear, shouted hoarsely to make himself heard over the

lashing rain and pounding hail, the constant thunder and, worse

than rain or hail or thunder, the song of death. "I saw something

move out there!"

Galdar lifted his head, peered in the direction the Knight

pointed, peered into the very heart of the valley of Neraka.

"Wait until the next lightning flash!" the Knight yelled.

"There! There it is!"

The next lightning flash was not a bolt but a sheet of flame

that lit the sky and the ground and the mountains with a purple

white radiance. Silhouetted against the awful glow, a figure

moved toward them, walking calmly through the raging storm,

seeming untouched by the gale, unmoved by the lightning, un-

afraid of the thunder.

"Is it one of ours?" Galdar asked, thinking at first that one of

the men might have gone mad and bolted like the horses.

But he knew the moment he asked the question that this was

not the case. The figure was walking, not running. The figure was

not fleeing, it was approaching.

The lightning flared out. Darkness fell, and the figure was

lost. Galdar waited impatiently for the next lightning flash to

show him this insane being who braved the fury of the storm. The

next flash lit the ground, the mountains, the sky. The person was

still there, still moving toward them. And it seemed to Galdar that

the .song of death had transformed into a paean of celebration.

Darkness again. The wind died. The rain softened to a steady

downpour. The hail ceased altogether. Thunder rumbled a drum-

roll, which seemed to mark time with the pace of the strange

figure of darkness drawing steadily nearer with each illuminating

flare. The storm carried the battle to the other side of the moun-

tains, to other parts of the world. Galdar rose to his feet.

Soaking wet, the Knights wiped wate.r and muck from their

eyes, looked ruefully at sodden blankets. The wind was cold and

crisp and chill, and they were shivering except L;aldar, wnose

thick hide and fur pelt protected him from all but the most severe

cold. He shook the rain water from his horns and waited for the

figure to come within hailing distance.

Stars, glittering cold and deadly as spear points, appeared in

the west. The ragged edges of the storm's rear echelon seemed to

uncover the stars as they passed. The single moon had risen in de-

fiance of the thunder. The figure was no more than twenty feet

away now, and by the moon's argent light Galdar could see the

person clearly.

Human, a youth, to judge by the slender, well-knit body and

the smooth skin of the face. Dark hair had been shaved close to

the skull, leaving only a red stubble. The absence of hair accentu-

ated the features of the face and thrust into prominence the high

cheekbones, the sharp chin, the mouth in its bow curve. The

youth wore the shirt and tunic of a common foot knight and

leather boots, carried no sword upon his htp nor any sort of

weapon that Galdar could see.

"Halt and be recognized!" he shouted harshly. "Stop right

there. At the edge of camp."

The youth obligingly halted, his hands raised, palms outward

to show they were empty.

Galdar drew his sword. In this strange night, he was taking no

chances. He held the sword awkwardly in his left hand. The

weapon was almost useless to him. Unlike some other amputees,

he had never learned to fight with his opposite hand. He had

been a skilled swordsman before his injury, now he was clumsy

and inept, as likely to do damage to himself as to a foe. Many

were the times Ernst Magit',pad watched Galdar practice,

watched him fumble, and laughed uproariously.

Magit wouldn't be doing inuch laughing now.

Galdar advanced, sword in hand. The hilt was wet and slip-

pery, he hoped he wouldn't drop it. The youth could not know

that Galdar was a washed-up warrior, a has-been. The minotaur

looked intimating, and Galdar was somewhat surprised that the

youth did not quail before him, did not even really look all that

impressed.

"I am unarmed," said the youth in a deep voice that did not

match the youthful appearance. The voice had an odd timbre to

it, sweet, musical, reminding Galdar strangely of one of the

voices he'd heard in the song, the song now hushed and mur-

muring, as if in reverence. The voice was not the voice of a man.

Galdar looked closely at the youth, at the slender neck that

was like the long stem of a lily, supporting the skull, which was

perfectly smooth beneath its red down of hair, marvelously

formed. The minotaur looked closely at the lithe body. The arms

were muscular, as were the legs in their woolen stockings. The

wet shirt, which was too big, hung loosely from the slender

shoulders. Galdar could see nothing beneath its wet folds, could

not ascertain yet whether this human was male or female.

The other knights gathered around him, all of them staring at

the wet youth; wet and glistening as a newborn child. The men

were frowning, uneasy, wary. Small blame to them. Everyone was

asking the same question as Galdar. What in the name of the great

homed god who had died and left his people bereft was this

human doing in this accursed valley on this accursed night?

"What are you called?" Galdar demanded.

"My name is Mina."

A girl. A slip of a girl. She could be no more than seventeen

. . . if that. Yet even though she had spoken her name, a feminine

name popular among humans, even though he could trace her

sex in the smooth lines of her neck and the grace of her move-

ments, he still doubted. The;re was something very unwomanly

about her.

Mina smiled slightly, as if she could hear his unspoken

doubts, and said, "I am female." She shrugged. "Though it makes

little difference."

"Come closer," Galdar ordered harshly.

The girl obeyed, took a step forward.

Galdar looked into her eyes, and his breath very nearly

stopped. He had seen humans of all shapes and sizes during his

lifetime, but he'd never seen one, never seen any living being

with eyes like these.

Unnaturally large, deep-set, the eyes were the color of

amber, the pupils black, the irises encircled by a ring of shadow.

The absence of hair made the eyes appear larger still Mina

seemed all eyes, and those eyes absorbed Galdar and impris-

oned him, as golden amber holds imprisoned the carcasses of

small insects.

"Are you the commander?" she asked.

Galdar flicked a glance in the direction of the charred body

lying at the base of the monolith. "I am now," he said.

Mina followed his gaze, regarded the corpse with cool de-

tachment. She turned the amber eyes back to Galdar, who could

have sworn he saw the body of Magit locked inside.

"What are you doing here, girl?" the minotaur asked harshly.

"Did you lose your way in the storm?"

"No. I found my way in the storm," said Mina. The amber

eyes were luminous, unblinking. "I found you. I have been called,

and I have answered. You are Knights of Takhisis, are you not?"

"We were once," said Galdar dryly. "We waited long for

Takhisis's return, but now the commanders admit what most of

us knew long before. She is not coming back. Therefore we have

come to term ourselves Knights of Neraka."

Mina listened, considered this. She seemed to like it, for she

nodded gravely. "I understand. I have come to join the Knights of

Neraka."

At any other time, in any other place, the Knights might have

snickered or made rude remarks. But the men were in no mood

for levity. Neither was Galdar. The storm had been terrifying,

unlike any he'd ever experienced, and he had lived in this world

forty years. Their talon leader was dead. They had a long walk

ahead of them, unless by some miracle they could recover the

horses. They had no food-the horses had run away with their

supplies. No water except what they could wring out of their

sodden blankets.

"Tell the silly chit to run back home to mama," said one

Knight impatiently. "What do we do, Subcommander?"

"I say we get out of here," said another. "I'll walk all night if I

have to."

The others muttered their assent.

Galdar looked to the heavens. The sky was clear. Thunder

rumbled, but in the distance. Far away, lightning flashed purple

on the western horizon. The moon gave light enough to travel.

Galdar was tired, unusually tired. The men were hollow-

cheeked and gaunt, all of them near exhaustion. Yet he knew

how they felt.

"We're moving out," he said. "But first we need to do some-

thing with that." He jerked a thumb at the smoldering body of

Ernst Magit.

"Leave it," said one of the Knights.

Galdar shook his homed head. He was conscious, all the while,

of the girl watching him intently with those strange eyes of hers.

"Do you want to be haunted by his spirit the rest of your

days?" Galdar demanded.

The others eyed each other, eyed the body. They would have

guffawed at the thought of Magit's ghost haunting them the day

before. Not now.

"What do we do with him?" demanded one plaintively. "We

can't bury the bastard. The ground's too hard. We don't have any

wood for a fire."

"Wrap the body in that tent" said Mina. "Take those rocks

and build a cairn over him. He is not the first to die in the valley

of Neraka," she added coolly, "nor will he be the last."

Galdar glanced over his shoulder. The tent they had strung

between the monoliths remained intact though it sagged with an

accumulation of rainwater.

"The girl's idea is a good one," he said. "Cut down the tent

and use it for a shroud. And be quick about it. The quicker we're

finished, the quicker we're away. Strip off his armor" he added.

"We're required to take it back to headquarters as proof of his

death."

"How?" asked one of the Knights, grimacing. "His flesh is

stuck to the metal like a steak seared on a gridiron."

"Cut it off," said Galdar. "Clean it up as best you can. I wasn't

that fond of him that I want to be hauling bits of him around."

The men went about their grisly task with a wiR eager to be

done and away.

Galdar turned back to Mina, found those amber eyes, large,

intent upon him.

"You had best go back to your family, girl," he said gruffly.

"We'll be traveling hard and fast. We won't have time to coddle

you. Besides, you're a female. These men are not very great re-

specters of women's virtues. You run along home."

"I am home," said Mina with a glance around the valley. The

black monoliths reflected the cold light of the stars, summoned

the stars to shine pale and chill among them. "And I have found

my family. I will become a Knight. That is my calling."

Galdar was exasperated, uncertain what to say. The last thing

he wanted was this fey woman-child traveling with them. But she

was so self-possessed, so completely in control of herself and in

control of the situation that he could not come up with any ra-

tional argument.

Thinking the matter over, he made to return his sword to its

sheath. The hilt was wet and slippery, his grip on it awkward. He

fumbled, nearly dropped the sword. Managing to hang onto it by

a desperate effort, he looked up fiercely, glowering, daring her to

so much as smile with either derision or pity.

She watched his struggles, said nothing, her face expressionless.

Galdar shoved the sword into the sheath. "As to joining the

Knighthood, the best thing to do is go to your local headquarters

and put in your name."

He continued with a recitation of the recruitment policies, the

training involved. He launched into a discourse about the years

of dedication and self-sacrifice, all the while thinking of Ernst

Magit, who had bought his way into the Knighthood, and sud-

denly Galdar realized that he'd lost her.

The girl was not listening to him. She seemed to be listening

to another voice, a voice he could not hear. Her gaze was ab-

stracted, her face smooth, without expression.

His words trailed off.

"Do you not find it difficult to fight one handed?" she asked.

He regarded her grimly. "I may be awkward," he said causti-

cally, "but I can handle a sword well enough to strike your shorn

head from your body!"

She smiled. "What are you called?"

He turned away. This conversation was at an end. He

looked to see that the men had r:nanaged to separate Magit from

his armor, were rolling the still':'smoking lump of a corpse onto

the tent.

"Galdar, I believe," Mina cohtinued.

He turned back to stare at her in astonishment, wondering

how she knew his name.

Of course, he thought, one of the men must have spoken it.

But he could not recall any of them having done so.

"Give me your hand, Galdar," Mina said to him.

He glowered at her. "Leave this place while you have a

chance, girl! We are in no mood for silly games. My comman-

der's dead. These men are my responsibility. We have no

mounts, no food."

"Give me your hand, Galdar," said Mina softly.

At the sound of her voice, rough, sweet, he heard again the

song singing among the rocks. He felt his hackles rise. A shudder

went through him, a thrill flashed along his spine. He meant to

turn away from her, but he found himself raising his left hand.

"No, Galdar," said Mina. ",Your right hand. Give me your

right hand."

"I have no right hand!" Galdar cried out in rage and anguish.

The cry rattled in his throat. The men turned, alarmed, at the

strangled sound.

Galdar stared in disbelief. The arm had been cut off at the

shoulder. Extending outward from the stump was a ghostly

image of what had once been his right arm. The image wavered

in the wind, as if his arm were made of smoke and ash, yet he

could see it clearly, could see it reflected in the smooth black

plane of the monolith. He could feel the phantom arm, but then

he'd always felt the arm even when it wasn't there. Now he

watched his arm, his right arm, lift; watched his hand, his right

hand, reach out trembling fingers.

Mina extended her hand, touched the phantom hand of the

minotaur.

"Your sword arm is restored," she said to him.

Galdar stared in boundless astoundment.

His arm. His right arm was once again. . .

His right arm.

No longer a phantom arm. No longer an arm of smoke and

ash, an arm of dreams to be lost in the despair of waking. Galdar

closed his eyes, closed them tight and then opened them.

The arm remained.

The other Knights were struck dumb and motionless. Their

faces dead white in the moonlight, they stared at Galdar, stared at

the arm, stared at Mina.

Galdar ordered his fingers to open and clench, and they

obeyed. He reached out with his left hand, trembling, and

touched the arm.

The skin was warm, the fur was soft, the arm was flesh and

bone and blood. The arm was real.

Galdar reached down the hand and drew his sword. His fin-

gers closed over the hilt lovingly. He was suddenly blinded by

tears.

Weak and shivering, Galdar sank to his knees. "Lady," he

said, his voice shaking with awe and wonder, "I do not know

what you did or how you did it, but I am in your debt for the rest

of my days. Whatever you want of me, I grant you."

"Swear to me by your sword arm that you will grant me what

I ask," Mina said.

"I swear!" Galdar said harshly.

"Make me your commander," said Mina.

Galdar's jaw sagged. His mouth opened and closed. He swal-

lowed. "I . . . I will recommend you to my superiors. . ."

"Make me your commander," she said, her voice hard as the

ground, dark as the monoliths. "I do not fight for greed. I do not

fight for gain."I do not fight for power. I fight for one cause, and

that is glory. Not for myself, but for my god."

"Who is your god?" Galdar asked, awed.

Mina smiled, a fell smile, pale and cold. "The name may not

be spoken. My god is the One God. The One who rides the storm,

the One who rules the night. My god is the One God who made

your flesh whole. Swear your loyalty to me, Galdar. Follow me to

victory."

Galdar thought of all the commanders under whom he'd

served. Commanders such as Ernst Magit, who rolled their eyes

when the Vision of Neraka was mentioned. The Vision was fake,

phony, most of the upper echelon knew it. Commanders such as

the Master of the Lily, Galdar's patron, who yawned openly

during the recitation of the Blood Oath, who had brought the

minotaur into the Knighthood as a joke. Commanders such as the

current Lord of the Night, Targonne, whom everyone knew was

skimming funds from the knightly coffers to enrich himself.

Galdar raised his head, looked into the amber eyes. "You are

my commander, Mina," he said. "I swear fealty to you and to no

other."

Mina touched his hand again. Her touch was painful, scalded

his blood. He reveled in the sensation. The pain was welcome.

For too long now, he'd felt the pain of an arm that wasn't there.

"You will be my second in command, Galdar." Mina turned

the amber gaze upon the other Knights. "Will the rest of you

follow me?"

Some of the men had been with Galdar when he had lost his

arm, had seen the blood spurt from the shattered limb. Four of

these men had'held him down when the surgeon cut off his arm.

They had heard his pleas for death, a death they'd refused to

grant him, a death that he could not, in honor, grant himself.

These men looked at the new arm, saw Galdar holding a sword

again. They had seen the girl walk through the murderous, un-

natural storm, walk unscathed.

These men were in their thirties, some of them. Veterans of

brutal wars and tough campaigns. It was all very well for Galdar

to swear allegiance to this strange woman-child. She had made

him whole. But for themselves. . .

Mina did not press them, she did not cajole or argue. She ap-

peared to take their agreement for granted. Walking over to

where the corpse of the talon leader lay on the ground beneath

the monolith, the body partially wrapped in the tent, Mina picked

up Magit's breastplate. She looked at it, studied it, and then, slid-

ing her arms through the straps, she put on the breastplate over

her wet shirt. The breastplate was too big for her and heavy.

Galdar expected to see her bowed down under the weight.

He gaped to see instead the metal glow red, reform, mold

itself to her slender body, embrace her like a lover.

The breastplate had been black with the image of a skull upon

it. The armor had been hit by the lightning strike, apparently,

though the damage the strike had done was exceedingly strange.

The skull adorning the breastplate was split in twain. A lightning

bolt of steel sliced through it.

"This will be my standard," said Mina, touching the skull.

She put on the rest of Magit's accoutrements, sliding the brac-

ers over her arms, buckling the shin guards over her legs. Each

piece of armor glowed red when it touched her as if newly come

from the forge. Each piece, when cooled, fit her as if it had been

fashioned for her.

She lifted the helm, but did not put it on her head. She handed

the helm to Galdar. "Hold that for me, Subcomrnander," she said.

He received the helm proudly, reverently, as if it were an arti-

fact for which he had quested all his life.

Mina knelt down beside the body of Ernst Magit. Lifting the

dead, charred hand in her own, she bowed her head and began to

pray.

None could hear her words, none could hear what she said or

to whom she said it. The song of death keened among the stones.

The stars vanished, the moon disappeared. Darkness enveloped

them. She prayed, her whispered words bringing comfort.

Mina arose from her prayers to find all the Knights on their

knees before her. In the darkness, they could see nothing, not each

other, not even themselves. They saw only her.

"You are my commander, Mina," said one, gazing upon her as

the starving gaze upon bread, the thirsty gaze upon cool water. "I

pledge my life to you."

"Not to me," she said. "To the One God."

"The One God!" Their voices lifted and were swept up in the

song that was no longer frightening but was exalting, stirring, a

call to arms. "Mina and the One God!"

The stars shone in the monoliths. The moonlight gleamed in

the jagged lightning bolt of Mina's armor. Thunder rumbled

again, but this time it was not from the sky.

"The horses!" shouted one of the knights. "The horses have

returned."

Leading the horses was a steed the likes of which none of

them had ever seen. Red as wine, red as blood, the horse left the

others far behind. The horse came straight to Mina and nuzzled

her, rested its head over her shoulder.

"I sent Foxfire for the mounts. We will have need of them,"

said Mina, stroking the black mane of the blood-colored roan.

"We ride south this night and ride hard. We must be in Sanction

in three days' time."

"Sanction!" Galdar gaped. "But, girl-I mean, Talon Leader-

the Solamnics control Sanction! The city is under siege. Our post-

ing is in Khur. Our orders-"

"We ride this night to Sanction," said Mina. Her gaze turned

southward and never looked back.

"But, why, Talon Leader?" Galdar asked.

"Because we are called," Mina answered.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

SILVANOSHEI

 

 

The strange and unnatural storm laid siege to all of Ansa-

lon. Lightning walked the land; gigantic, ground-shaking

warriors who hurled bolts of fire. Ancient trees-huge

oaks that had withstood both Cataclysms-burst into flame and

were reduced to smoldering ruin in an instant. Whirlwinds raged

behind the thundering warriors, ripping apart homes, flinging

boards, brick, and stone and mortar into the air with lethal aban-

Idon. Torrential cloudbursts caused rivers to swell and overflow

their banks, washing away the young green shoots of grain strug-

gling up from the darkness to bask in the early summer sun.

In Sanction, besieger and besieged alike abandoned the ongo-

ing struggle to seek refuge from the terrible storm. Ships on the

.. high seas tried to ride it out, with the result that some went under,

never to be seen or heard from again. Others would later limp

home with jury-rigged masts, telling tales of sailors swept over-

board, the pumps at work day and night.

In Palanthas, innumerable cracks appeared in the roof of the

Great Library. The rain poured inside, sending Bertrem and the

monks into a mad scramble to staunch the flow, mop the floor

and move precious volumes to safety. In Tarsis, the rain was so

heavy that the sea which had vanished during the Cataclysm re-

turned, to the wonder and astonishment of all inhabitants. The

sea was gone a few days later, leaving behind gasping fish and an

ungodly smell.

The storm struck the island of Schallsea a particularly devas-

tating blow. The winds blew out every single window in the Cozy

Hearth. Ships that rode at anchor in the harbor were dashed

against the cliffs or smashed into the docks. A tidal surge washed

away many buildings and homes built near the shoreline. Count-

less people died, countless others were left homeless. Refugees

stormed the Citadel of Light, pleading for the mystics to come to

their aid.

The Citadel was a beacon of hope in Krynn's dark night.

Trying to fill the void left by the absence of the gods, Goldmoon

had discovered the mystical power of the heart, had brought

healing back to the world. She was living proof that although Pal-

adine and Mishakal were gone, their power for good lived on in

the hearts of those who had loved them.

Yet Goldmoon was growing old. The memories of the gods

were fading. And so, it seemed, was the power of the heart. One

after another, the mystics felt their power recede, a tide that went

out but never returned. Still the mystics of the Citadel were glad

to open their doors and their hearts to the storm's victims, provide

shelter and succor, and work to heal the injured as best they could.

Solamnic Knights, who had established a fortress on

Schallsea, rode forth to do battle with the storm-one of the most

fearsome enemies these valiant Knights had ever faced. At risk of

their own lives, the Knights plucked people from the raging

water and dragged them from beneath smashed buildings,

working in the wind and rain and lightning-shattered darkness

to save the lives of those they were sworn by Oath and Measure

to protect.

The Citadel of Light withstood the storm's rage, although its

buildings were buffeted by fierce winds and lancing rain. As if in

a last ditch attempt to make its wrath felt, the storm hurled hail-

stones the size of a man's head upon the citadel's crystal walls.

Everywhere the hailstones struck, tiny cracks appeared in the

crystalline walls. Rainwater seeped through these cracks, trickled

like tears down the walls.

One particularly loud crash came from the vicinity of the

chambers of Goldmoon, founder and mistress of the Citadel. The

mystics heard the sound of breaking glass and ran in fear to see if

the elderly woman was safe. To their astonishment, they found

the door to her rooms locked. They beat upon it, called upon her

to let them inside.

A voice, low and awful to hear, a voice that was Goldmoon's

beloved voice and yet was not, ordered them to leave her in

peace, to go about their duties. Others needed their aid, she said.

She did not. Baffled, uneasy, most did as they were told. Those

who lingered behind reported hearing the sound of sobbing,

heartbroken and despairing.

"She, too, has lost her power,lI said those outside her door.

Thinking that they understood, they left her alone.

When morning finally came and the sun rose to shine a lurid

red in the sky, people stood about in dazed horror, looking upon

the destruction wrought during the terrible night. The mystics

went to Goldmoon's chamber to ask for her counsel, but no

answer came. The door to Goldmoon's chamber remained closed

and barred.

The storm also swept through Qualinesti, another elven

kingdom, but one that was separated from its cousins by dis-.

tance that could be measured both in hundreds of miles and in

ancient hatred and distrust. In Qualinesti, whirling winds up-

rooted giant trees and flung them about like the slender sticks

used in Quin Thalasi, a popular elven game. The storm shook the

fabled Tower of the Speaker of the Sun on its foundation, sent

the beautiful stained glass of its storied windows raining down

upon the floor. Rising water flooded the lower chambers of the

newly constructed fortress of the Dark Knights at Newport,

forcing them to do what an enemy army could not-abandon

their posts.

The storm woke even the great dragons, slumbering, bloated

and fat, in their lairs that were rich with tribute. The storm shook

the Peak of Malys, lair of Malystrx, the enormous red dragon who

now fashioned herself the Queen of Ansalon, soon to become

Goddess of Ansalon, if she had her way. The rain formed rushing

rivers that invaded Malys's volcanic home. Rainwater flowed

into the lava pools, creating enormous clouds of a noxious-

smelling steam that filled the corridors and halls. Wet, half-blind,

choking in the fumes, Malys roared her indignation and flew

from lair to lair, trying to find one that was dry enough for her to

return to sleep.

Finally she was driven to seek the lower levels of her moun-

tain home. Malys was an ancient dragon with a malevolent

wisdom. She sensed something unnatural about this storm, and it

made her uneasy. Grumbling and muttering to herself, she en-

tered the Chamber of the Totem. Here, on an outcropping of black

rock, Malys had piled the skulls of all the lesser dragons she had

consumed when she first came to the world. Silver skulls and

gold, red skulls and blue stood one atop the other, a monument

to her greatness. Malys was comforted by the sight of the skulls.

Each brought a memory of a battle won, a foe defeated and de-

voured. The rain could not penetrate this far down in her moun-

tain home. She could not hear the wind howl. The flashes of

lightning did not disturb her slumbers.

Malys gazed ~pon the empty eyes of the skulls with pleasure,

and perhaps she dozed, because suddenly it seemed to her that

the eyes of skulls were alive and they were watching her. She

snorted, reared her head. She stared closely at the skulls, at the

eyes. The lava pool at the heart of the mountain cast a lurid light

upon the skulls, sent shadows winking and blinking in the empty

eye sockets. Berating herself for an overactive imagination, Malys

coiled her body comfortably around the totem and fell asleep.

Another of the great dragons, a Green known grandiosely as

Beryllinthranox was also not able to sleep through the storm.

Beryl's lair was formed of living trees-ironwoods and red-

woods-and enormous, twining vines. The vines and branches of

the trees were so thickly interwoven that no raindrop had ever

managed to wriggle its way through. But the rain that fell from

the roiling black clouds of this storm seemed to make it a personal

mission to find a way to penetrate the leaves. Once one had man-

aged to sneak inside, it opened the way for thousands of its fel-

lows. Beryl woke in surprise at the unaccustomed feel of water

splashing on her nose. One of the great redwoods that formed a

pillar of her lair was struck by a lightning bolt. The tree burst into

flames, flames that spread quickly, feeding on rainwater as if it

were lamp oil.

Beryl's roar of alarm brought her minions scrambling to

douse the flames. Dragons, Reds and Blues who had joined Beryl

rather than be consumed by her, dared the flames to pluck out the

burning trees and cast them into the sea. Draconians pulled down

blazing vines, smothered the flames with dirt and mud. Hostages

and prisoners were put to work fighting the fires. Many died

doing so, but eventually Beryl's lair was saved. She was in a ter-

rible humor for days afterward, however, convincing herself that

the storm had been an attack waged magically by her cousin

Malys. Beryl meant to rule someday in Malys's stead. Using her

magic to rebuild-a magical power that had lately been dwin-

dling, something else Beryl blamed on Malys-the Green nursed

her wrongs and plotted revenge.

Khellendros the Blue (he had abandoned the name Skie for

this more magnificent title, which meant Storm over Ansalon),

was one of the few of the dragons native to Krynn to have

emerged from the Dragon Purge. He was now ruler of Solamnia

and all its environs. He was overseer of Schallsea and the Citadel

of Light, which he allowed to remain because-according to

him-he found it amusing to watch the petty humans struggle fu-

tilely against the growing darkness. In truth, the real reason he

permitted the citadel to thrive in safety was the citadel's

guardian, a silver dragon named Mirror. Mirror and Skie were

longtime foes and now, in their mutual detestation of the new,

great dragons from afar who had killed so many of their brethren,

they had become not friends, but not quite enemies either.

Khellendros was bothered by the storm far more than either

of the great dragons, although-strangely enough-the storm did

not do his lair much damage. He paced restively about his enor-

mous cave high in the Vingaard mountains, watched the light-

ning warriors strike viciously at the ramparts of the High Clerist's

Tower, and he thought he heard a voice in the wind, a voice that

sang of death. Khellendros did not sleep but watched the storm

to its end.

The storm lost none of its power as it roared down upon the

ancient elven kingdom of Silvanesti. The elves had erected a mag-

ical shield over their kingdom, a shield that had thus far kept the

marauding dragons from conquering their lands, a shield that

also kept out all other races. The elves had finally succeeded in

their historic goal of isolating themselves from the troubles of the

rest of the world. But the shield did not keep out the thunder and

rain, wind and lightning.

Trees burned, houses were torn apart by the fierce winds.

The Than-thalas River flooded, sending those who lived on its

banks scrambling to reach higher ground. Water seeped into the

palace garden, the Garden of Astarin, where grew the magical

tree that was, many believed, responsible for keeping the shield

in place. The tree's magic kept it safe. Indeed, when the storm

was ended, the soil around the tree was found to be bone dry.

Everything else in the garden was drowned or washed away.

The elf gardeners and Woodshapers, who bore for their plants

and flowers, ornamental trees, herbs, and rose bushes the same

love they bore their own children, were heartbroken, devastated

to view the destruction.

They replanted after the storm, bringing plants from their

own gardens to fill the once wondrous Garden of Astarin. Ever

since the raising of the shield, the plants in the garden had not

done well, and now they rotted in the muddy soil which could

never, it seemed, soak up enough sunlight to dry out.

The strange and terrible storm eventually left the continent,

marched away from the war, a victorious army abandoning the

field of battle, leaving devastation and destruction behind. The

next morning, the people of Ansalon would go dazedly to view

the damage, to comfort the bereaved, to bury the dead, and to

wonder at the dreadful night's ominolls portent.

 

And yet, there was, after all, one person that night who en-

joyed himself. His name was Silvanoshei, a young elf, and he ex-

ulted in the storm. The clash of the lightning warriors, the bolts

that fell like sparks struck from swords of thunder, beat in his

blood like crashing drums. Silvanoshei did not seek shelter from

the storm but went out into it. He stood in a clearing in the forest,

his face raised to the tumult, the rain drenching him, cooling the

burning of vaguely felt wants and desires. He watched the daz-

zling display of lightning, marveled at the ground-shaking thun-

der, laughed at the blasts of wind that bent the great trees, making

them bow their proud heads.

Silvanoshei's father was Porthios, once proud ruler of the

Qualinesti, now cast out by them, termed a "dark elf," one cursed

to live outside the light of elven society. Silvanoshei's mother was

Alhana Starbreeze, exiled leader of the Silvanesti nation that had

cast her out too when she married Porthios. They had meant, by

their marriage, to at last reunite the two elven nations, bring them

together as one nation, a nation that would have probably been

strong enough to fight the cursed dragons and maintain itself in

freedom.

Instead, their marriage had only deepened the hatred and

mistrust. Now Beryl ruled Qualinesti, which was an occupied

land, held in subjugation by the Knights of Neraka. Silvanesti

was a land cut off, isolated, its inhabitants cowering under its

shield like children hiding beneath a blanket, hoping it will pro-

tect them from the monsters who lurk in the darkness.

Silvanoshei was the only child of Porthios and Alhana.

"Silvan was born the year of the Chaos War," Alhana was

wont to say. "His father and I were on the run, a target for every

elven assassin who wanted to ingratiate himself with either the

Qualinesti or the Silvanesti rulers. He was born the day they

buried two of the sons of Caramon Majere. Chaos was Silvan's

nursemaid, Death his midwife."

Silvan had been raised in an armed camp. Alhana's marriage

to Porthios had been a marriage of politics that had deepened to

one of love and friendship and utmost respect. Together she and

her husband had waged a ceaseless, thankless battle, first

against the Dark Knights who were now the overlords of Qua-

linest, then against the terrible domination of Beryl, the dragon

who had laid claim to the Qualinesti lands and who now de-

manded tribute from the Qualinesti elves in return for allowing

them to live.

When word had first reached Alhana and Porthios that the

elves of Silvanesti had managed to raise a magical shield over

their kingdom, a shield that would protect them from the ravages

of the dragons, both had seen this as a possible salvation for their

people. Alhana had traveled south with her own forces, leaving

Porthios to continue the fight for Qualinesti.

She had tried to send an emissary to the Silvanesti elves,

asking permission to pass through the shield. The emissary had

not even been able to enter. She attacked the shield with steel and

with magic, trying every way possible of breaking through it,

without success. The more she studied the shield, the more she

was appalled that her people could permit themselves to live

beneath it.

Whatever the shield touched died. Woodlands near the

shield's boundaries were filled with dead and dying trees.

Grasslands near the shield were gray and barren. Flowers

wilted, withered, decomposed into a fine gray dust that cov-

ered the dead like a shroud.

The shield's magic is responsible for this! Alhana had written to

her husband. The shield is not protecting the land. It is killing it!

The Silvanesti do not care, Porthios had written in reply. They are

subsumed by fear. Fear of the ogres, fear of the humans, fear of the drag-

ons,fear of terrors they can not even name. The shield is but the outward

manifestation of their fear. No wonder anything that comes in contact

with it withers and dies!

These were the last words she had heard from him. For years

Alhana had kept in contact with her husband through the mes- I

sages carried between them by the swift and tireless elven run-

ners. She knew of his increasingly futile efforts to defeat Beryl.

Then came the day the runner from her husband did not return.

She had sent another, and another vanished. Now weeks had

passed and still no word from Porthios. Finally, unable to expend

any more of her dwindling manpower, Alhana had ceased send-

ing the runners.

The storm had caught Alhana and her army in the woods near

the border of Silvanesti, after yet another futile attempt to pene-

trate the shield. Alhana took refuge from the storm in an ancient

burial mound near the border of Silvanesti. She had discovered

this mound long ago, when she had first begun her battle to wrest

control of her homeland from the hands of those who seemed

intent upon leading her people to disaster.

In other, happier circumstances, the elves would not have dis-

turbed the rest of the dead, but they were being pursued by ogres,

their ancient enemy, and were desperately seeking a defensible

position. Even so, Alhana had entered the mound with prayers of

propitiation, asking the spirits of the dead for understanding.

The elves had discovered the mound to be empty. They found

no mummified corpses, no bones, no indication that anyone had

ever been buried here. The elves who accompanied Alhana took

this for a sign that their cause was just. She did not argue, though

she felt the bitter irony that she--the true and rightful Queen of

the Silvanesti-was forced to take refuge in a hole in the ground

even the dead had abandoned.

The burial mound was now Alhana's headquarters. Her

knights, her own personal bodyguard, were inside with her. The

rest of the army was camped in the woods around her. A perime-

ter of elven runners kept watch for ogres, known to be rampag-

ing in this area. The runners, lightly armed, wearing no armor,

would not engage the enemy in battle, if they spotted them, but

would race back to the picket lines to alert the army of an enemy's

presence.

The elves of House Woodshaper had worked long to magi-

cally raise from the ground a barricade of thorn bushes sur-

rounding the burial mound. The bushes had wicked barbs that

could pierce even an ogre's tough hide. Within the barricade, the

soldiers of the elven army found what shelter they could when

the torrential storm came. Tents almost immediately collapsed,

leaving the elves to hunker down behind boulders or crawl into

ditches, avoiding, if possible, the tall trees-targets of the vicious

lightning.

Wet to the bone, chilled and awed by the storm, the likes of

which not even the longest lived among the elves had ever before

seen, the soldiers looked at Silvanoshei, cavorting in the storm

like a moonstruck fool, and shook their heads.

He was the son of their beloved queen. They would not say

one word against him. They would give their lives defending him,

for he was the hope of the elven nation. The elven soldiers liked

him well enough, even if they neither admired nor respected him.

Silvanoshei was handsome and charming, winning by nature, a

boon companion, with a voice so sweet and melodious that he

could talk the songbirds out of the trees and into his hand.

In this, Silvanoshei was like neither of his parents. He had

none of his father's grim, dour, and resolute nature, and some

might have whispered that he was not his father's child, but Sil-

vanoshei so closely resembled Porthios there could be no mistak-

ing the relationship. Silvanoshei, or Silvan, as his mother called

him, did not inherit the regal bearing of Alhana Starbreeze. He

had something of her pride but little of her compassion. He cared

about his people, but he lacked her undying love and loyalty. He

considered her battle to penetrate the shield a hopeless waste of

time. He could not understand why she was expending so much

energy to return to a people who clearly did not want her.

Alhana doted on her son, more so now that his father ap-

peared to be lost. Silvan's feelings toward his mother were more

complex, although he had but an imperfect understanding of

them. Had anyone asked him, he would have said that he loved

her and idolized her, and this was true. Yet that love was an oil

floating upon the surface of troubled water. Sometimes Silvan felt

an anger toward his parents, an anger that frightened him in its

fury and intensity. They had robbed him of his childhood, they

had robbed him of comfort, they had robbed him of his rightful

standing among his people.

The burial mound remained relatively dry during the down-

pour. Alhana stood at the entrance, watching the storm, her atten-

tion divided between worry for her son-standing bareheaded in

the rain, exposed to the murderous lightning and savage winds-

and in thinking bitterly that the rain drops could penetrate the

shield that surrounded Silvanesti and she, with all the might of

her army, could not.

One particularly close lightning strike half-blinded her, its

thunderclap shook the cave. Fearful for her son, she ventured a

short distance outside the mound's entrance and endeavored to

see. through the driving rain. Another flash, overspreading the

sky with a flame of purple white, revealed him staring upward,

his mouth open, roaring back at the thunder in laughing

defiance.

"Silvan!" she cried. "It is not safe out there! Come inside

with me!"

He did not hear her. Thunder smashed her words, the wind

blew them away. But perhaps sensing her concern, he turned his

head. "Isn't it glorious, Mother?" he shouted, and the wind that

had blown away his mother's words brought his own to her with

perfect clarity.

"Do you want me to go out and drag him inside, my queen,"

asked a voice at her shoulder.

Alhana started, half-turned. "Samar! You frightened me!"

The elf bowed. "I am sorry, Your Majesty. I did not mean to

alarm you."

She had not heard him approach, but that was not surpris-

ing. Even if there had been no deafening thunder, she would

not have heard the elf if he did not want her to hear. He was

from House Protector, had been assigned to her by Porthios,

and had been faithful to his calling throughout thirty years of

war and exile.

Samar was now her second in command, the leader of her

armies. That he loved her, she knew well, though he had never

spoken a word of it, for he was loyal to her husband Porthios as

friend and ruler. Samar knew that she did not love him, that she

was faithful to her husband, though they had heard no word of

Porthios or from him for months. Samar's love for her was a gift

he gave her daily, expecting nothing in return. He walked at her

side, his love for her a torch to guide her footsteps along the dark

path she walked.

Samar had no love for Silvanoshei, whom he took to be a

spoilt dandy. Samar viewed life as a battle that had to be fought

and won on a daily basis. Levity and laughter, jokes and pranks,

would have been acceptable in an elf prince whose realm was at

peace-an elf prince who, like elf princes of happier times, had

nothing to do all day long but learn to play the lute and contem-

plate the perfection of a rose bud. The ebullient spirits of youth

were out of place in this world where the elves struggled simply

to survive. Slivanoshei's father was lost and probably dead. His

mother expended her life hurling herself against fate, her body

and spirit growing more bruised and battered every day. Samar

considered Silvan's laughter and high spirits an affront to both,

an insult to himself.

The only good Samar saw in the young man was that Sil-

vanoshei could coax a smile from his mother's lips when nothing

and no one else could cheer her.

Alhana laid her hand upon Samar's arm. "Tell him that I am

anxious. A mother's foolish fears. Or not so foolish," she added to

herself, for Samar had already departed. "There is something dire

about this storm."

Samar was instantly drenched to the skin when he walked

into the storm, as soaked as if he had stepped beneath a waterfall.

The wind gusts staggered him. Putting his head down against the

blinding torrent, cursing Silvan's heedless foolery, Samar forged

ahead.

Silvan stood with his head back, his eyes closed, his lips

parted. His arms were spread, his chest bare, his loose-woven

shirt so wet that it had fallen from his shoulders. The rainwater

poured over his half-naked body.

"Silvan!" Samar shouted into the young man's ear. Grabbing

his arm roughly, Samar gave the young elf a good shake. "You are

making a spectacle of yourself!" Samar said, his tone low and

fierce. He shook Silvan again. "Your mother has worries enough

without you adding to them! Get inside with her where you

belong!"

Silvan opened his eyes a slit. His eyes were purple, like his

mother's, only not as dark; more like wine than blood. The wine-

like eyes were alight with ecstasy, his lips parted in smile.

"The lightning, Samar! I've never seen anything like it! I can

feel it as well as see it. It touches my body and raises the hair on

my arms. It wraps me in sheets of flame that lick my skin and

set me ablaze. The thunder shakes me to the core of my being,

the ground moves beneath my feet. My blood burns, and the

rain, the stinging rain, cools my fever. I am in no danger,

Samar." Silvan's smile widened, the rain sleeked his face and

hair. "I am in no more danger than if I were in bed with a

lover-"

"Such talk is unseemly, Prince Silvan," Samar admonished in

stem anger. "You should-"

Hunting horns, blowing wildly, frantically, interrupted him.

Silvan's ecstatic dream shattered, dashed away by the blasting

horns, a sound that was one of the first sounds he remembered

hearing as a little child. The sound of warning, the sound of

danger.

Silvan's eyes opened fully. He could not tell from what direc-

tion the horn calls came, they seemed to come from all directions

at once. Alhana stood at the entrance of the mound, surrounded

by her knights, peering into the storm.

An elven runner came crashing through the brush. No time

for stealth. No need.

"What is it?" Silvan cried.

The soldier ignored him, raced to his commander. "Ogres,

sir!" he cried.

"Where?" Samar demanded.

The soldier sucked in a breath. "All around us, sir! They have

us surrounded. We didn't hear them. They used the storm to

cover their movements. The pickets have retreated back behind

the barricade, but the barricade. . ."

The elf could not continue, he was out of breath. He pointed

to the north.

A strange glow lit the night purple white, the color of the

lightning. But this glow did not strike and then depart. This glow

grew brighter.

"What is it?" Silvan shouted, above the drumming of the

thunder. "What does that mean?"

"The barricade the Woodshapers created is burning," Samar

answered grimly. "Surely the rain will douse the fire-"

"No, sir." The runner had caught his breath. "The barricade

was struck by lightning. Not only in one place, but in many."

He pointed again, this time to the east and to the west. The

fires could be seen springing up in every direction now, every di-

rection except due south.

"The lightning starts them. The rain has no effect on them.

Indeed, the rain seems to fuel them, as if it were oil pouring down

from the heavens."

"Tell the Woodshapers to use their magic to put the fire out."

The runner looked helpless. "Sir, the Wood shapers are ex-

hausted. The spell they cast to create the barricade took all their

strength."

"How can that be?" Samar demanded angrily. "It is a simple

spell- No, never mind!"

He knew the answer, though he continually struggled against

it. Of late, in the past two years, the elven sorcerers had felt their

power to cast spells ebbing. The loss was gradual, barely felt at

first, attributed to illness or exhaustion, but the sorcerers were at

last forced to admit that their magical power was slipping away

like grains of sand from between clutching fingers. They could

hold onto some, but not all. The elves were not alone. They had

reports that the same loss was being felt among humans, but this

was little comfort.

Using the storm to conceal their movements, the ogres had

slipped unseen past the runners and overwhelmed the sentries.

The briar-wall barricade was burning furiously in several places

at the base of the hill. Beyond the flames stood the tree line,

where officers were forming the elven archers into ranks behind

the barricade. The tips of their arrows glittered like sparks.

The fire would keep the ogres at bay temporarily, but when it

died down, the monsters would come surging across. In the

darkness and the slashing rain and the howling wind, the archers

would stand little chance of hitting their targets before they were

overrun. And when they were overrun, the carnage would be

horrible. Ogres hate all other races on Krynn, but their hatred for

elves goes back to the beginning of time, when the ogres were

once beautiful, the favored of the gods. When the ogres fell, the

elves became the favored, the pampered. The ogres had never for-

given them.

"Officers to me!1I Samar shouted. IIFieldmaster! Bring your

archers into a line behind the lancers at the barrier, and tell them

to hold their volley until directed to loose it.1I

He ran back inside the mound. Silvan followed him, the ex-

citement of the storm replaced by the tense, fierce excitement of

the attack. Alhana cast her son a worried glance. Seeing he was

unharmed, she turned her complete attention to Samar, as other

elven officers crowded inside.

"Ogres?" she asked.

"Yes, my queen. They used the storm for cover. The runner be-

lieves that they have us surrounded. I am not certain. I think that

the way south may still be open."

"You suggest?"

"That we fall back to the fortress of the Legion of Steel, Your

Majesty. A fighting retreat. Your meetings with the human

knights went well. It was my thought that-"

Plans and plots, strategy and tactics. Silvan was sick of them,

sick of the sound of them. He took the opportunity to slip away.

The prince hurried to the back of the mound, where he had laid

out his bedroll. Reaching beneath his blanket, he grasped the hilt

of a sword, the sword he had purchased in Solace. Silvan was de-

lighted with the weapon, with its shiny newness. The sword had

an ornately carved hilt with a griffon's beak. The hilt was admit-

tedly difficult to hold-the beak dug into his flesh-but the

sword looked splendid.

Silvanoshei was not a soldier. He had never been trained as a

soldier. Small blame to him. Alhana had forbidden it.

"Unlike my hands, these hands II-his mother would take

her son's hands in her own, hold them fast-II will not be

stained with the blood of his own kind. These hands will heal

the wounds that his father and I, against our will, have been

forced to inflict. The hands of my son will never spill elven

blood.

But this was not elven blood they were talking about spilling.

it was ogre blood. His mother could not very well keep him out

of this battle. Growing up unarmed and untrained for soldiering

in a camp of soldiers, Silvan imagined that the others looked

down upon him, that deep inside they thought him a coward. He

had purchased the sword in secret, taken a few lessons-until he

grew bored with them-and had been looking forward for some

time for the chance to show off his prowess.

Pleased to have the opportunity, Silvan buckled the belt

around his slender waist and returned to the officers, the sword

clanking and banging against his thigh.

Elven runners continued to arrive with reports. The unnatural

fire was consuming the barricade at an alarming rate. A few ogres

had attempted to cross it. Illuminated by the flames, they had

provided excellent targets for the archers. Unfortunately, any

arrow that came within range of the fire was consumed by the

flames before it could strike its target.

The strategy for retreat settled-Silvan didn't catch much of

it, something about pulling back to the south where they would

meet up with a force from the Legion of Steel-the officers re-

turned to their commands. Samar and Alhana remained standing

together, speaking in low, urgent tones.

Drawing his sword from his sheath with a ringing sound,

Silvan gave it a flourish and very nearly sliced off Samar's arm.

"What the-" Samar glared at the bloody gash in his sleeve,

glared at Silvan. "Give me that!" He reached out and before

Silvan could react, snatched the sword from his grasp.

"Silvanoshei!" Alhana was angry, as angry as he had ever

seen her. "This is no time for such nonsense!" She turned her back

on him, an indication of her displeasure.

"It is not nonsense, Mother," Silvan retorted. "No, don't turn

away from me! This time you will not take refuge behind a wall

of silence. This time you will hear me and listen to what I have

to say!"

Slowly Alhana turned around. She regarded him intently, her

eyes large in her pale face.

The other elves, shocked and embarrassed, did not know

where to look. No one defied the queen, no one contradicted her,

not even her willful, headstrong son. Silvan himself was amazed

at his courage.

"I am a prince of Silvanesti and of Qualinesti," he continued.

It is my privilege, it is my duty to join in the defense of my

people. You have no right to try to stop me!"

"I have every right my son," Alhana returned. She grasped

his wrist her nails pierced his flesh. "You are the heir, the only

heir. You are all I have left. . . ." Alhana fell silent regretting her

words. "I am sorry. I did not mean that. A queen has nothing of

her own. Everything she has and is belongs to the people. You are

all your people have left Silvan. Now go collect your things," she

ordered, her voice tight with the need to control herself. "The

knights will take you deeper into the woods-"

"No, Mother, I will not hide anymore," Silvan said, taking

care to speak firmly, calmly, respectfully. His cause was lost if he

sounded like petulant child. "AII my life, whenever danger

threatened, you whisked me away, stashed me in some cave,

stuffed me under some bed. It is no wonder my people have

small respect for me." His gaze shifted to Samar, who was watch-

ing the young man with grave attention. "I want to do my part for

a change, Mother."

"Well spoken, Prince Silvanoshei," said Samar. "Yet the elves

have a saying. A sword in the hand of an untrained friend is

more dangerous than the sword in the hand of my foe.' One does

not learn to fight on the eve of battle, young man. However, if you

are serious about this pursuit I will be pleased to instruct you at

some later date. In the meanwhile, there is something you can do,

a mission you can undertake."

He knew the response this would bring and he was not

wrong. Alhana's arrow-sharp anger found a new target.

"Samar, I would speak with you!" Alhana said, her voice cold,

biting, imperious. She turned on her heeL stalked with rigid back

and uplifted chin to the rear of the burial mound. Samar, defer-

entiaL accompanied her.

Outside were cries and shouts, horns blasting, the deep and

terrible ogre war chant sounding like war drums beneath it. The

storm raged, unabated, giving succor to the enemy. Silvan stood

near the entrance to the burial mound, amazed at himsel proud

but appalled, sorry, yet defiant fearless and terrified all at the

same time. The jumble of his emotions confused him. He tried to

see what was happening, but the smoke from the burning hedge

had settled over the clearing. The shouts and screams grew

muted, muffled. He wished he could eavesdrop on the conversa-

tion, might have lingered near where he could hear, but he con-

sidered that childish and beneath his pride. He could imagine

what they were saying anyway. He'd heard the same conversa-

tion often enough.

In reality, he was probably not far wrong.

"Samar, you know my wishes for Silvanoshei," Alhana said,

when they were out of earshot of the others. "Yet you defy me

and encourage him in this wild behavior. I am deeply disap-

pointed in you, Samar."

Her words, her anger were piercing, struck Samar to the heart

and drew blood. But as Alhana was queen and responsible to her

people, so Samar was also responsible to the people as a soldier.

He was committed to providing his people with a present and a

future. In that future, the elven nations would need a strong heir,

not a milksop like Gilthas, the son of Tanis Half-Elven, who cur-

rently played at ruling Qualinesti.

Samar did not speak his true thoughts, however. He did not

say, "Your Majesty, this is the first sign of spirit I've seen in your

son, we should encourage it." He was diplomat as well as

soldier.

"Your Majesty," he said, "Silvan is thirty years old-"

" A child-" Alhana interrupted.

Silvan bowed. "Perhaps by Silvanesti standards, my queen.

Not by Qualinesti. Under Qualinesti law, he would have at-

tained ranking as a youth. If he were in Qualinesti, he would al-

ready be participating in military training. Silvanoshei may be

young in years, Alhana," Samar added, dropping the formal

title as he did sometimes when they were alone together, "but

think of the extraordinary life he has led! His lullabies were war

chants, his cradle a shield.. He has never known a home. Rarely

have his parents been both together in the same room at the

same time since the day of his birth. When battle called, you

kissed him and rode forth, perhaps to your death. He knew that

you might never come back to him, Alhana. I could see it -in

his eyes!"

"I tried to protect him from all that," she said, her gaze going

to her son. He looked so like his father at that moment that her

pain overwhelmed her. "If I lose him, Samar, what reason do I

have to prolong this bleak and hopeless existence?"

"You cannot protect him from life, Alhana," Samar countered

gently. "Nor from the role he is destined to play in life. Prince

Silvanoshei is right. He has a duty to his people. We will let him

fulfill that duty and"-he laid emphasis on the word-"we will

take him out of harm's way at the same time."

Alhana said nothing, but by her look, she gave him reluctant

permission to speak further.

"Only one of the runners has returned to camp," Samar con-

tinued. "The others are either dead or are fighting for their lives.

You said yourself, Your Majesty, that we must send word to the

Legion of Steel, warning them of this attack. I propose that we

send Silvan to apprise the knights of our desperate need for

help. We have only just returned from the fortress, he remem-

bers the way. The main road is not far from the camp and easy

to find and follow.

"The danger to him is small. The ogres have not encircled us.

He will be safer away from camp than here." Samar smiled. "If

I had my way, my Queen, you would go back to the fortress

with him."

Alhana smiled, her anger dissipated. "My place is with my

soldiers, Samar. I brought them here. They fight my cause. They

would lose all trust and respect if I deserted them. Yes, I concede

that you are right about Silvan," she added ruefully. "No need to

rub salt in my many wounds."

"My queen, I never meant-"

"Yes, you did, Samar," Alhana said, "but you spoke from

the heart, and you spoke the truth. We will send the prince

upon this mission. He will carry word of our need to the Legion

of Steel."

"We will sing his praises when we return to the fortress," said

Samar. "And I will purchase him a sword suited to a prince, not

a clown."

"No, Samar," said Alhana. "He may carry messages, but he

will never carry a sword. On the day he was born, I made my vow

to the gods that he would never bear arms against his people.

Elven blood would never be spilled because of him."

Samar bowed, wisely remained silent. A skilled commander,

he knew when to bring his advance to a halt, dig in, and wait.

Alhana walked with stiff back and regal mien to the front of

the cave.

"My son," Alhana said and there no emotion in her voice, no

feeling. "I have made my decision."

Silvanoshei turned to face his mother. Daughter of Lorac,

ill-fated king of the Silvanesti, who had very nearly been his

people's downfall, Alhana Starbreeze had undertaken to pay

for her father's misdeeds, to redeem her people. Because she

had sought to unite them with their cousins, the Qualinesti, be-

cause she had advocated alliances with the humans and the

dwarves, she was repudiated, cast out by those among the Sil-

vanesti who maintained that only by keeping themselves aloof

and isolated from the rest of the world could they and their cul-

ture survive.

She was in mature adulthood for the elves, not yet nearing her

elder years, incredibly beautiful, more beautiful than at any other

time of her life. Her hair was black as the depths of the sea, sunk

far below where sunbeams can reach. Her eyes, once amethyst,

had deepened and darkened as if colored by the despair and pain

which was all they saw. Her beauty was a heartbreak to those

around her, not a blessing. Like the legendary dragonlance,

whose rediscovery helped bring victory to a beleaguered world,

she might have been encased in a pillar of ice. Shatter the ice,

shatter the protective barrier she had erected around her, and

shatter the woman inside.

Only her son, only Silvan had the power to thaw the ice, to

reach inside and touch the living warmth of the woman who was

mother, not queen. But that woman was gone. Mother was gone.

The woman who stood before him, cold and stem, was his queen.

Awed, humbled, aware that he had behaved foolishly, he fell to

his knees before her.

"I am sorry, Mother," he said. "1 will obey you. I will leave-"

"Prince Silvanoshei," said the queen in a voice he recognized

as being her court voice, one she had never used to him. He did

not know whether to feel glad or to weep for something irrevo-

cably lost. "Commander Samar has need of a messenger to run

with all haste to the outpost of the Legion of Steel. There you will

apprise them of our desperate situation. Tell the Lord Knight that

we plan to retreat fighting. He should assemble his forces, ride

out to meet us at the crossroads, attack the ogres on their right

flank. At the moment his knights attack we will halt our retreat

and stand our ground. You will need to travel swiftly through

the night and the storm. Let nothing deter you, Silvan, for this

message must get through."

"I understand, my queen," said Silvan. He rose to his feet,

flushed with victory, the thrill of danger flashing like the light-

ning through his blood. "I will not fail you or my people. I thank

you for your trust in me."

Alhana took his face in her hands, hands that were so cold

that he could not repress a shiver. She placed her lips upon his

forehead. Her kiss burned like ice, the chill struck through to his

heart. He would always feel that kiss, from that moment after. He

wondered if her pallid lips had left an indelible mark.

Samar's crisp professionalism came as a relief.

"You know the route, Prince Silvan," Samar said. "You rode it

only two days before. The road lies about a mile and a half due

south of here. You will have no stars to guide you, but the wind

blows from the north. Keep the wind at your back and you will

be heading in the right direction. The road runs east and west,

straight and true. You must eventually cross it. Once you are on

the road, travel westward. The storm wind will be on your right

cheek. You should make good time. There is no need for stealth.

The sound of battle will mask your movements. Good luck,

Prince Silvanoshei."

"Thank you, Samar," said Silvan, touched and pleased. For

the first time in his life, the elf had spoken to him as an equal,

with even a modicum of respect. "I will not fail you or my

mother."

"Do not fail your people, Prince," said Samar.

With a final glance and a smile for his mother, a smile she did

not return, Silvan turned and left the burial mound, striking out

in the direction of the forest. He had not gone far, when he heard

Samar's voice raised in a bellowing cry.

"General Aranoshah! Take two orders of swordsmen off to the

left flank and send two more to the right. We'll need to keep four

units here with Her Majesty in reserve in case they breach the line

and break through."

Break through! That was impossible. The line would hold.

The line must hold. Silvan halted and looked back. The elves had

raised their battle song, its music sweet and uplifting, soaring

above the brutish chant of the ogres. He was cheered by the sight

and started on, when a ball of fire, blue-white and blinding, ex-

ploded on the left side of the hill. The fireball hurtled down the

hillside, heading for the burial mounds.

"Shift fire to your left!" Samar called down the slope.

The archers were momentarily confused, not understanding

their targets, but their officers managed to turn them in the right

direction. The ball of flame struck another portion of the barrie4

ignited the thicket, and continued to blaze onward. At first

Silvan thought the balls of flame were magical, and he wondered

what good archers would do against sorcery, but then he saw

that the fireballs were actually huge bundles of hay being

pushed and shoved down the hillside by the ogres. He could see

their hulking bodies silhouetted black against the leaping flames.

The ogres carried long sticks that they used to shove the burning

hay stacks.

"Wait for my order!" Samar cried, but the elves were nervous

and several arrows were loosed in the direction of the blazing

hay.

"No, damn it!" Samar yelled with rage down the slope.

"They're not in range yet! Wait for the order!"

A crash of thunder drowned out his voice. Seeing their com-

rades fire, the remainder of the archer line loosed their first volley.

The arrows arched through the smoke-filled night. Three of the

ogres pushing the flaming haystacks fell under the withering fire,

but the rest of the arrows landed far short of their marks.

"Still," Silvan told himself, "they will soon stop them."

A baying howl as of a thousand wolves converging on their

prey cried from the woods close to the elven archers. Silvan

stared, startled, thinking that the trees themselves had come

alive.

"Shift fire forward!" Samar cried desperately.

The archers could not hear him over the roar of the ap-

proaching flames. Too late, their officers noticed the sudden

rushing movement in the trees at the foot of the hill. A line of

ogres surged into the open, charging the thicket wall that pro-

tected the archers. The flames had weakened the barrier. The

huge ogres charged into the smoldering mass of burned sticks

and logs, shouldering their way through. Cinders fell on their

matted hair and sparked in their beards, but the ogres, in a

battle rage, ignored the pain of their burns and lurched

forward.

Now being attacked from the front and on their flank, the

elven archers grappled desperately for their arrows, tried to

loose another volley before the ogres closed. The flaming

haystacks thundered down on them. The elves did not know

which enemy to fight first. Some lost their heads in the chaos.

Samar roared orders. The officers struggled to bring their

troops under control. The elves fired a second volley, some into

the burning hay bales, others into the ogres charging them on

the flank.

More ogres fell, an immense number, and Silvan thought that

they must retreat. He was amazed and appalled to see the ogres

continue forward, undaunted.

"Samar, where are the reserves?" Alhana called out.

"I think they have been cut off," Samar returned grimly. "You

should not be out here, Your Majesty. Go back inside where you

are safe."

Silvan could see his mother now. She had left the burial

mound. She was clad in silver armor, carried a sword at her

side.

"I led my people here," Alhana returned. "Will you have me

skulk in a cave while my people are dying, Samar?"

"Yes," he growled.

She smiled at him, a tight strained smile, but still a smile.

She gripped the hilt of her sword. "Will they break through, do

you think?"

"I don't see much stopping them, Your Majesty," Samar said

grimly.

The elven archers loosed another volley. The officers had re-

gained control of the troops. Every shot told. The ogres charging

from the front fell by the score. Half the line disappeared. Still the

ogres continued their advance, the living trampling the bodies of

the fallen. In moments they would be within striking range of the

archers' position.

"Launch the assault!" Samar roared.

Elven swordsmen rose up from their positions behind the

left barricades. Shouting their battle cries, they charged the ogre

line. Steel rang against steel. The flaming haystacks burst into

the center of the camp, crushing men, setting fire to trees and

grass and clothing. Suddenly, without warning, the ogre line

turned. One of their number had caught sight of Alhana's silver

armor, reflecting the firelight. With guttural cries, they pointed

at her and were now charging toward the burial mound.

"Mother!" Silvan gasped, his heart tangled up with his stom-

ach. He had to bring help. They were counting on him, but he was

paralyzed, mesmerized by the terrible sight. He couldn't run to

her. He couldn't run away. He couldn't move.

"Where are those reserves?" Samar shouted furiously. "Ara-

nosha! You bastard! Where are Her Majesty's swordsmen!"

"Here, Samar!" cried a warrior. HWe had to fight our way to

you, but we are here!"

"Take them down there, Samar," said Alhana calmly.

"Your Majesty!" He started to protest. HI will not leave you

without guards."

"If we don't halt the advance, Samar," Alhana returned. HIt

won't much matter whether I have guards or not. Go now.

Quickly!"

Samar wanted to argue, but he knew by the remote and res-

olute expression on his queen's face that he would be wasting his

breath. Gathering the reserves around him, Samar charged down

into the advancing ogres.

Alhana stood alone, her silver armor burning with the re-

flected flames.

"Make haste, Silvan, my son. Make haste. Our lives rest on

you."

She spoke to herself, but she spoke, unknowingly, to her son.

Her words impelled Silvan to action. He had been given an

order and he would carry it out. Bitterly regretting the wasted

time, his heart swelling with fear for his mother, he turned and

plunged into the forest.

 

Adrenaline pumped in Silvan's veins. He shoved his way

through the underbrush, thrusting aside tree limbs, trampling

seedlings. Sticks snapped beneath his boots. The wind was cold

and strong on his right cheek. He did not feel the pelting rain. He

welcomed the lightning that lit his path.

He was prudent enough to keep careful watch for any signs of

the enemy and constantly sniffed the air, for the filthy, flesh-

eating ogre is usually smelt long before he is seen. Silvan kept his

hearing alert, too, for though he himself made what an elf would

consider to be an unconscionable amount of noise, he was a deer

gliding through the forest compared to the smashing and

cracking, ripping and tearing of an ogre.

Silvan traveled swiftly, encountering not so much as a noctur-

nal animal out hunting, and soon the sounds of battle dwindled

behind him. Then it was that he realized he was alone in the forest

in the night in the storm. The adrenaline started to ebb. A sliver

of fear and doubt pierced his heart. What if he arrived too late?

What if the humans-known for their vagaries and their change-

able natures-refused to act? What if the attack overwhelmed his

people? What if he had left them to die? None of this looked fa-

miliar to him. He had taken a wrong turning, he was lost. . . .

Resolutely Silvan pushed forward, running through the

forest with the ease of one who has been born and raised in the

woodlands. He was cheered by the sight of a ravine on his left

hand; he remembered that ravine from his earlier travels to the

fortress. His fear of being lost vanished. He took care to keep

clear of the rocky edge of the ravine, which cut a large gash

across the forest floor.

Silvan was young, strong. He banished his doubts that were a

drag on his heart, and concentrated on his mission. A lightning

flash revealed the road straight ahead. The sight renewed his

strength and his determination. Once he reached the road, he

could increase his pace. He was an excellent runner, often run-

ning long distances for the sheer pleasure of the feel of the mus-

cles expanding and contracting, the sweat on his body, the wind

in his face and the warm suffusing glow that eased all pain.

He imagined himself speaking to the Lord Knight, pleading

their cause, urging him to haste. Silvan saw himself leading the

rescue, saw his mother's face alight with pride. . . .

In reality, Silvan saw his way blocked. Annoyed, he slid to a

halt on the muddy path to study this obstacle.

A gigantic tree limb, fallen from an ancient oak, lay across the

path. Leaves and branches blocked his way. Silvan would be

forced to circle around it, a move that would bring him close to

the edge of the ravine. He was sure on his feet, however. The

lightning lit his way. He edged around the end of the severed

limb with a good few feet to spare. He was climbing over a single

branch, reaching out his hand to steady himself on a nearby pine

tree, when a single bolt of lightning streaked out of the darkness

and struck the pine.

The tree exploded in a ball of white fire. The concussive force

of the blast knocked Silvan over the edge of the ravine. Rolling

and tumbling down its rock-strewn wall, he slammed against the

stump of a broken tree at the bottom.

Pain seared his body, worse pain seared his heart. He had

failed. He would not reach the fortress. The knights would never

receive the message. His people could not fight alone against the

ogres. They would die. His mother would die with the belief that

he had let her down.

He tried to move, to rise, but the pain flashed through him,

white hot, so horrible that when he felt consciousness slipping

away, he was glad to think he was going to die. Glad to think that

he would join his people in death, since he could do nothing else

for them.

Despair and grief rose in a great, dark wave, crashed down

upon Silvan and dragged him under.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

 

 

The storm disappeared. A strange storm, it had burst upon

Ansalon like an invadmg army, striking all parts of that

vast continent at the same time, attacking throughout the

night, only to retreat with the coming of dawn. The sun crawled

out from the dark lightning-shot cloudbank to blaze tri-

umphantly in the blue sky. Light and warmth cheered the inhab-

itants of Solace, who crept out of their homes to see what

destruction the tempest had wrought.

Solace did not fare as badly as some other parts of Ansalon, al-

though the storm appeared to have targeted that hamlet with par-

ticular hatred. The mighty vallenwoods proved stubbornly

resistant to the devastating lightning that struck them time and

again. The tops of the trees caught fire and burned, but the fire

did not spread to the branches below. The trees' strong arms

tossed in the whirling winds but held fast the homes built there,

homes that were in their care. Creeks rose and fields flooded, but

homes and barns were spared.

The Tomb of the Last Heroes, a beautiful structure of white

and black stone that stood in a clearing on the outskirts of town,

had sustained severe damage. Lightning had hit one of the spires,

splitting it asunder, sending large chunks of marble crashing

down to the lawn.

But the worst damage was done to the crude and makeshift

homes of the refugees fleeing the lands to the west and south,

lands which had been free only a year ago but which were now

falling under control of the green dragon Beryl.

Three years ago, the great dragons who had fought for control

of Ansalon had 'come to an uneasy truce. Realizing that their

bloody battles were weakening them, the dragons agreed to be

satisfied with the territory each had conquered, they would not

wage war against each other to try to gain more. The dragons had

kept this pact, until a year ago. It was then that Beryl had noticed

her magical powers starting to decline. At first, she had thought

she was imagining this, but as time passed, she became con-

vinced that something was wrong.

Beryl blamed the red dragon Malys for the loss of her magic-

this was some foul scheme being perpetrated by her larger and

stronger cousin. Beryl also blamed the human mages, who were

hiding the Tower of High Sorcery of Wayreth from her. Conse-

quently, Beryl had begun ever so gradually to expand her control

over human lands. She moved slowly, not wanting to draw

Malys's attention. Malys would not care if here and there a town

was burned or a village plundered. The city of Haven was one

such, recently fallen to Beryl's might. Solace remained un-

touched, for the time being. But Beryl's eye was upon Solace. She

had ordered closed the main roads leading into Solace, letting

them feel the pressure as she bided her time.

The refugees who had managed to escape Haven and sur-

rounding lands before the roads were closed had swelled Solace's

population to three times its normal size. Arriving with their be-

longings tied up in bundles or piled on the back of carts, the

refugees were being housed in what the town fathers designated

"temporary housing." The hovels were truly meant only to be

temporary, but the flood of refugees arriving daily overwhelmed

good intentions. The temporary shelters had become, unfortu-

nately, permanent.

The first person to reach the refugee camps the morning after

the storm was Caramon Majere, driving a wagon loaded with

sacks of food, lumber for rebuilding, dry firewood, and blankets.

Caramon was over eighty-just how far over no one really

knew, for he himself had lost track of the years. He was what they

term in Solamnia a "grand old man." Age had come to him as an

honorable foe, facing him and saluting him, not creeping up to

stab him in the back or rob him of his wits. Hale and hearty, his

big frame corpulent but unbowed ("I can't grow stooped, my gut

won't let me," he was wont to say with a roaring laugh), Cara-

mon was the first of his household to rise, was out every morning

chopping wood for the kitchen fires or hauling the heavy ale bar-

rels up the stairs.

His two daughters saw to the day-to-day workings of the Inn

of the Last Home--this was the only concession Caramon made

to his age--but he still tended the bar, still told his stories. Laura

ran the Inn, while Dezra, who had a taste for adventure, traveled

to markets in Haven and elsewhere, searching out the very best

in hops for the Inn's ale, honey for the Inn's legendary mead, and

even hauling dwarf spirits back from Thorbardin. The moment

Caramon went outdoors he was swarmed over by the children of

Solace, who one and all called him "Grampy" and who vied for

rides on his broad shoulders or begged to hear him tell tales of

long-ago heroes. He was a friend to the refugees who would have

likely had no housing at all had not Caramon donated the wood

and supervised the construction. He was currently overseeing a

project to build permanent dwellings on the outskirts of Solace,

pushing, cajoling, and browbeating the recalcitrant authorities

into taking action. Caramon Majere never walked the streets of

Solace but that he heard his name spoken and blessed.

Once the refugees were assisted, Caramon traveled about the

rest of Solace, making certain that everyone was safe, raising

hearts and spirits oppressed by the terrible night. This done, he

went to his own breakfast, a breakfast he had come to share, of

late, with a Knight of Solamnia, a man who reminded Caramon

of his own two sons who had died in the Chaos War.

In the days immediately following the Chaos War, the Solam-

nic Knights had established a garrison in Solace. The garrison had

been a small one in the early days, intended only to provide

Knights to stand honor guard for the Tomb of the Last Heroes.

The garrison had been expanded to counter the threat of the great

dragons, who were now the acknowledged, if hated, rulers of

much of Ansalon.

So long as the humans of Solace and other cities and lands

under her control continued to pay Beryl tribute, she allowed the

people to continue on with their lives, allowed them to continue

to generate more wealth so that they could pay even more tribute.

Unlike the evil dragons of earlier ages, who had delighted in

burning and looting and killing, Beryl had discovered that

burned-out cities did not generate profit. Dead people did not

pay taxes.

There were many who wondered why Beryl and her cousins

with their wondrous and terrible magicks should covet wealth,

should demand tribute. Beryl and Malys were cunning creatures.

If they were rapaciously and wantonly cruel, indulging in whole-

sale slaughter of entire populations, the people of Ansalon would

rise up out of desperation and march to destroy them. As it was,

most humans found life under the dragon rule to be relatively

comfortable. They were content to let well enough alone.

Bad things happened to some people, people who no doubt

deserved their fate. If hundreds of kender were killed or driven

from their homes, if rebellious Qualinesti elves were being tor-

tured and imprisoned, what did this matter to humans? Beryl and

Malys had minions and spies in every human town and village,

placed there to foment discord and hatred and suspicion, as well

as to make certain that no one was trying to hide so much as a

cracked copper from the dragons.

Caramon Majere was one of the few outspoken in his hatred

of paying tribute to the dragons and actually refused to do so.

"Not one drop of ale will I give to those fiends," he said heat-

edly whenever anyone asked, which they rarely did, knowing

that one of Beryl's spies was probably taking down names.

He was staunch in his refusal, though much worried by it.

Solace was a wealthy town, now larger than Haven. The tribute

demanded from Solace was quite high. Caramon's wife Tika had

pointed out that their share was being made up by the other citi-

zens of Solace and that this was putting a hardship on the rest.

Caramon could see the wisdom of Tika's argument. At length he

came up with the novel idea of levying a special tax against him-

self, a tax that only the Inn paid, a tax whose monies were on no

account to be sent to the dragon but that would be used to assist

those who suffered unduly from having to pay what was come to

be known as "the dragon tax."

The people of Solace paid extra tax, the city fathers refunded

them a portion out of Caramon's contribution, and the tribute

went to the dragon as demanded.

If they could have found a way to silence Caramon on the

volatile subject, they would have done so, for he continued to be

loud in his hatred of the dragons, continued to express his views

that "if we just all got together we could poke out Beryl's eye with

a dragonlance." Indeed, when the city of Haven was attacked by

Beryl just a few weeks earlier-ostensibly for defaulting on its

payments-the Solace town fathers actually came to Caramon and

begged him on bended knee to cease his rabble-rousing remarks.

Impressed by their obvious fear and distress, Caramon agreed

to tone down his rhetoric, and the town fathers left happy. Cara-

mon did actually comply, expressing his views in a moderate tone

of voice as opposed to the booming outrage he'd used previously.

He reiterated his unorthodox views that morning to his break-

fast companion, the young Solamnic.

" A terrible storm, sir," said the Knight, seating himself oppo-

site Caramon.

A group of his fellow Knights were breakfasting in another

part of the Inn, but Gerard uth Mondar paid them scant attention.

They, in their turn, paid him no attention at all.

"It bodes dark days to come, to my mind," Caramon agreed,

settling his bulk into the high-backed wooden booth, a booth

whose seat had been rubbed shiny by the old man's backside.

"But all in all I found it exhilarating."

"Father!" Laura was scandalized. She slapped down a plate of

beefsteak and eggs for her father, a bowl of porridge for the

Knight. "How can you say such things? With so many people

hurt. Whole houses blown, from what I hear."

"I didn't mean that," Caramon protested, contrite. "I'm sorry

for the people who were hurt, of course, but, you know, it came

to me in the night that this storm must be shaking Beryl's lair

about pretty good. Maybe even burned the evil ol.d bitch out.

That's what I was thinking." He looked worriedly at the young

Knight's bowl of porridge. "Are you certain that's enough to eat,

Gerard? I can have Laura fry you up some potatoes-"

"Thank you, sir, this is all I am accustomed to eat for break-

fast," Gerard said as he said every day in response to the same

question.

Caramon sighed. Much as he had come to like this young

man, Caramon could not understand anyone who did not enjoy

food. A person who did not relish Otik's famous spiced potatoes

was a person who did not relish life. Only one time in his own life

had Caramon ever ceased to enjoy his dinner and that was fol-

lowing the death several months earlier of his beloved wife Tika.

Caramon had refused to eat a mouthful for days after that, to the

terrible worry and consternation of the entire town, which went

on a cooking frenzy to try to come up with something that would

tempt him.

He would eat nothing, do nothing, say nothing. He either

roamed aimlessly about the town or sat staring dry-eyed out the

stained glass windows of the Inn, the Inn where he had first met

the red-haired and annoying little brat who had been his comrade

in arms, his lover, his friend, his salvation. He shed no tears for

her, he would not visit her grave beneath the vallenwoods. He

would not sleep in their bed. He would not hear the messages of

condolence that came from Laurana and Gilthas in Qualinesti,

from Goldmoon in the Citadel of Light.

Caramon lost weight, his flesh sagged, his skin took on a gray

hue.

"He will follow Tika soon," said the townsfolk.

He might have, too, had not one day a child, one of ,the refugee

children, happened across Caramon in his dismal roamings. The

child placed his small body squarely in front of the old man and

held out a hunk of bread.

"Here, sir," said the child. "My mother says that if you don't

eat you will die, and then what will become of us?"

Caramon gazed down at the child in wonder. Then he knelt

down, gathered the child into his arms, and began to sob uncon-

trollably. Caramon ate the bread, every crumb, and that night he

slept in the bed he had shared with Tika. He placed flowers on

her grave the next morning and ate a breakfast that would have

fed three men. He smiled again and laughed, but there was some-

thing in his smile and in his laughter that had not been there

before. Not sorrow, but a wistful impatience.

Sometimes, when the door to the Inn opened, he would look

out into the sunlit blue sky beyond and he would say, very softly,

"I'm coming, my dear. Don't fret. I won't be long."

Gerard uth Mondar ate his porridge with dispatch, not really

tasting it. He ate his porridge plain, refusing to flavor it with

brown sugar or cinnamon, did not even add salt. Food fueled his

body, and that was all it was good for. He ate his porridge, wash-

ing down the congealed mass with a mug of tar-bean tea, and lis-

tened to Caramon talk about the awful wonders of the storm.

The other Knights paid their bill and left, bidding Caramon a

polite good-day as they passed, but saying nothing to his com-

panion. Gerard appeared not to notice, but steadfastly spooned

porridge from bowl to mouth.

Caramon watched the Knights depart and interrupted his

story in mid-lightning bolt. "1 appreciate the fact that you share

your time with an old geezer like me, Gerard, but if you want to

have breakfast with your friends-"

"They are not my friends," said Gerard without bitterness or

rancor, simply making a statement of fact. "1 much prefer dining

with a man of wisdom and good, common sense." He raised his

mug to Caramon in salute.

"It's just that you seem. . ." Caramon paused, chewed steak

vigorously. "Lonely," he finished in a mumble, his mouth full. He

swallowed, forked another piece. "You should have a girl friend

or . . . or a wife or something."

Gerard snorted. "What woman would look twice at a man

with a face like this?" He eyed with dissatisfaction his own re-

flection in the highly polished pewter mug.

Gerard was ugly; there was no denying that fact. A childhood

illness had left his face cragged and scarred. His nose had been

broken in a fight with a neighbor when he was ten and had

healed slightly askew. He had yellow hair-not blond, not fair,

just plain, straw yellow. It was the consistency of straw, too, and

would not lie flat, but stuck up at all sorts of odd angles if al-

lowed. To avoid looking like a scarecrow, which had been his

nickname when he was young, Gerard kept his hair cut as short

as possible.

His only good feature were his eyes, which were of a startling,

one might almost say, alarming blue. Because there was rarely

any warmth behind these eyes and because these eyes always fo-

cused upon their objective with unblinking intensity, Gerard's

blue eyes tended to repel more people than they attracted.

"Bah!" Caramon dismissed beauty and comeliness with a

Wave of his fork. "Women don't care about a man's looks. They

want a man of honor, of courage. A young Knight your age. . .

How old are you?"

"I have seen twenty-eight years, sir," Gerard replied. Finish-

ing his porridge, he shoved the bowl to one side. "Twenty-eight

boring and thoroughly wasted years."

"Boring?" Caramon was skeptical. "And you a Knight? I was

in quite a few wars myself. Battles were lots of things, as I recall,

but boring wasn't one of them-"

"I have never been in battle, sir," said Gerard and now his

tone was bitter. He rose to his feet, placed a coin upon the table.

"If you will excuse me, I am on duty at the tomb this morning.

This being Midyear Day, and consequently a holiday, we expect

an influx of rowdy and destructive kender. I have been ordered to

report to my post an hour early. I wish you joy of the day, sir, and

I thank you for your company."

He bowed stiffly, turned on his heel as if he were already per-

forming the slow and stately march before the tomb, and walked

out the door of the Inn. Caramon could hear his booted feet ring-

ing on the long staircase that led down from the Inn, perched high

in the branches of Solace's largest vallenwood.

Caramon leaned back comfortably in the booth. The sunshine

streamed in through the red and green windows, warming him.

His belly full, he was content. Outside, people were cleaning up

after the storm, gathering up the branches that had fallen from

the vallenwoods, airing out their damp houses, spreading straw

over the muddy streets. In the afternoon, the people would dress

in their best clothes, adorn their hair with flowers, and celebrate

the longest day of the year with dancing and feasting. Caramon

could see Gerard stalking stiff-backed and stiff-necked through

the mud, paying no heed to anything going on around him,

making his way to the Tomb of the Last Heroes. Caramon

watched as long as he could see the Knight, before finally losing

sight of him in the crowd.

"He's a strange one," said Laura, whipping away the empty

bowl and pocketing the coin. "1 wonder how you can eat along-

side him, Father. His face curdles the milk."

"He cannot help his face~ Daughter," Caramon returned

sternly. "Are there any more eggs?"

"I'll bring you some. You've no idea what a pleasure it is to

see you eating again." Laura paused in her wor~ to kiss her father

tenderly on his forehead. "As for that young man, it's not his face

that makes him ugly. I've loved far uglier in looks in my time. It's

his arrogance, his pride that drives people away. Thinks he's

better than all the rest of us, so he does. Did you know that he

comes from one of the wealthiest families in all of Palanthas? His

father practically funds the Knighthood, they say. And he pays

well for his son to be posted here in Solace, away from the fight-

ing in Sanction and other places. It's small wonder the other

Knights have no respect for him."

Laura flounced off to the kitchen to refill her father's plate.

Caramon stared after his daughter in astonishment. He'd

been eating breakfast with this young man every day for the past

two months, and he had no notion of any of this. They'd devel-

oped what he considered a close relationship, and here was

Laura, who'd never said anything to the young Knight beyond,

"Sugar for your tea?" knowing his life's history.

"Women," Caramon said to himself, basking in the sunlight.

"Eighty years old and I might as well be sixteen again. I didn't

understand them then, and I don't understand them now."

Laura returned with a plate of eggs piled high with spiced po-

tatoes on the side. She gave her father another kiss and went

about her day.

"She's so much like her mother, though," Caramon said

fondly and ate his second plate of eggs with relish.

 

Gerard uth Mondar was thinking about women, as well, as he

waded through the ankle-deep mud. Gerard would have agreed

with Caramon that women were creatures not to be understood

by men. Caramon liked women, however. Gerard neither liked

them nor trusted them. Once when he had been fourteen and

newly recovered from the illness that had destroyed his looks, a

neighbor girl had laughed at him and called him "pock face."

Discovered in gulping tears by his mother, he was comforted

by his mother, who said, "Pay no attention to the stupid chit, my

son. Women will love you one day." And then she had added, in

a vague afterthought, "You are very rich, after all."

Fourteen years later, he would wake in the night to hear the

girl's shrill, mocking laughter, and his soul would cringe in

shame and embarrassment. He would hear his mother's counsel

and his embarrassment would bum away in anger, an anger

that burned all the hotter because his mother had proved a

prophetess. The "stupid chit" had thrown herself at Gerard

when they were both eighteen and she had come to realize that

money could make the ugliest weed beautiful as a rose. He had

taken great pleasure in scornfully snubbing her. Ever since that

day, he had suspected that any woman who looked at him with

any interest whatsoever was secretly calculating his worth, all

the while masking her disgust for him with sweet smiles and

fluttering lashes.

Mindful of the precept that the best offense is a good de-

fense, Gerard had built a most excellent fortress around himsel

a fortress bristling with sharp barbs, its walls stocked with

buckets of acidic comments, its high towers hidden in a cloud of

dark humors, the entire fortress surrounded by a moat of sullen

resentment.

His fortress proved extremely good at keeping out men, as

well. Laura's gossip was more accurate than most. Gerard uth

Mondar did indeed come from one of the wealthiest families in

Palanthas, probably one of the wealthiest in all of Ansalon. Prior

to the Chaos War, Gerard's father, Mondar uth Alfric, had been

the owner of the most successful shipyard in Palanthas. Foresee-

ing the rise of the Dark Knights, Sir Mondar had wisely con-

verted as much of his property into good solid steel as possible

and moved his family to Southern Ergoth, where he started his

shipbuilding and repairing business anew, a business which was

now thriving.

Sir Mondar was a powerful force among the Knights of So-

lamnia. He contributed more money than any other Knight to the

support and maintenance of the Knighthood. He had seen to it

that his son became a Knight, had seen to it that his son had the

very best, the safest posting available. Mondar had never asked

Gerard what he wanted from life. The elder Knight took it for

granted that his son wanted to be a Knight and the son had taken

it for granted himself until the very night he was holding vigil

before the ceremony of knighthood. In that night, a vision came

to him, not a vision of glory and honor won on the battlefield, but

a vision of a sword rusting away in its scabbard, a vision of run-

ning errands and posting guard detail over dust and ashes that

didn't need guarding.

Too late to back out. To do so would break a family tradition

that supposedly extended back to Vinas Solamnus. His father

would renounce him, hate him forever. His mother, who had sent

out hundreds of invitations to a celebratory party, would take to

her bed for a month. Gerard had gone through with the cere-

mony. He had taken his vow, a vow he considered meaningless.

He had donned the armor that had become his prison.

He had served in the Knighthood now for seven years, one of

which had been spent in the "honorary" duty of guarding a

bunch of corpses. Before that, he'd brewed tar-bean tea and writ-

ten letters for his commanding officer in Southern Ergoth. He

had requested posting to Sanction and had been on the verge of

leaving, when the city was attacked by the armies of the Knights

of Neraka and his father had seen to it that his son was sent in-

stead to Solace. Returning to the fortress, Gerard cleaned the

mud from his boots and left to join the fellow of his watch, taking

up his hated and detested position of honor before the Tomb of

the Last Heroes.

The tomb was a simple structure of elegant design, built by

dwarves of white marble and black obsidian. The tomb was sur-

rounded by trees, that had been planted by the elves, and which

bore fragrant flowers all year long. Inside lay the bodies of Tanis

Half-elven, fallen hero of the battle of the High Clerist's Tower,

and Steel Brightblade, son of Sturm Brightblade and the hero of

the final battle against Chaos. Here also were the bodies of the.

knights who had fought the Chaos god. Above the door of the

tomb was written a single name, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, the kender

hero of the Chaos war.

Kender came from allover Ansalon to pay tribute to their

hero, feasting and picnicking on the lawns, singing songs of

Uncle Tas and telling stories about his brave deeds. Unfortu-

nately, some years after the tomb had been built, the kender took

it into their heads to each come away with a piece of the tomb for

luck. To this end, they began to attack the tomb with chisels and

hammers, forcing the Solamnic knights to erect a wrought-iron

fence around the tomb that was starting to have the appearance

of being nibbled by mice.

The sun blazing down on him, his armor baking him slowly as

Laura was slowly baking her beef roast, Gerard marched with slow

and solemn step the one hundred paces that took him from the left

of the tomb to the center. Here he met his fellow who had marched

an equal distance. They saluted one another. Turning, they saluted

the fallen heroes. Turning, they marched back, each guard's mo-

tions mirroring exactly the motions of the guard opposite.

One hundred paces back. One hundred paces forth.

Over and over and over.

An honor to some, such as the Knight who stood watch this

day with Gerard. This Knight had purchased this posting with

blood, not with money. The veteran Knight walked his beat with

a slight limp, but he walked it proudly. Small blame to him that

every time he came face to face with Gerard, he regarded him

with lip-curling enmity.

Gerard marched back and forth. As the day progressed,

crowds gathered, many having traveled to Solace especially for

this holiday. Kender arrived in droves, spreading lunches on the

lawn, eating and drinking, dancing and playing games of goblin

ball and kender-keep-away. The kender loved to watch the

Knights, loved to annoy them. The kender danced around the

Knights, tried to make them smile, tickled them, rapped on their

armor, called them "Kettle Head" and "Canned Meat," offered

them food, thinking they might be hungry.

Gerard uth Mondar disliked humans. He distrusted elves. He

hated kender. Actively hated them. Detested them. He hated all

kender equally, including the so-called "afflicted" kender, whom

most people now viewed with pity. These kender were survivors

of an attack by the great dragon Malys on their homeland. They

were said to have seen such acts of violence and cruelty that their

merry, innocent natures had been forever altered, leaving them

much like humans: suspicious, cautious, and vindictive. Gerard

didn't believe this "afflicted" act. To his mind, it was just another

sneaky way for kender to get their grubby little hands into a

man's pockets.

Kender were like vermin. They could flatten their boneless

little bodies and crawl into any structure made by man or dwarf.

Of this Gerard was firmly convinced, and so he was only a little

surprised when, sometime nearing the end of his watch, drawing

on late afternoon, he heard a shrill voice hallooing and hollering.

The voice came from inside the tomb.

"I say!" cried the voice. "Could someone let me out? It's ex-

tremely dark in here, and I can't find the door handle."

The partner of Gerard's watch actually missed a step. Halting,

he turned to stare. "Did you hear that?" he demanded, regarding

the tomb with frowning concern. "It sounded like someone was

in there."

"Hear what?" Gerard said, though he himself had heard it

plainly. "You're imagining things."

But they weren't. The noise grew louder. Knocking and

pounding were now added to the hallooing and hollering.

"Hey, I heard a voice inside the tomb!" shouted a kender

child, who had dashed forward to retrieve a ball that had

bounced off Gerard's left foot. The kender put his face to the

fence, pointed inside at the tomb's massive and sealed doors.

"There's someone trapped in the tomb! And it wants outfIt

The crowd of kender and other residents of Solace who had

come to pay their respects to the dead by swilling ale and munch-

ing cold chicken forgot their suppers and their games. Gasping in

wonder, they crowded around the fence, nearly overrunning the

Knights.

"They buried someone alive in there!" a girl screamed. -

The crowd surged forward.

"Keep back!" Gerard shouted, drawing his sword. "This is

holy ground! Any who desecrates it will be arrested! Randolph,

go and get reinforcements! We need to clear this area."

"I suppose it could be a ghost," his fellow Knight speculated,

his eyes glowing with awe. "A ghost of one of the fallen Heroes

come back to warn us of dire peril."

Gerard snorted. "You've been listening to too many bards'

tales! It's nothing more than one of these filthy little vermin who's

got himself inside there and can't get out. I have the key to the

fence, but I have no idea how to open the tomb."

The banging on the door was growing louder.

The Knight cast Gerard a disgusted glance. "I will go fetch the

provost. He'll know what to do."

Randolph pelted off, holding his sword to his side to keep it

from clanking against his armor.

"Get away! Move aside!" Gerard ordered in firm tones.

He drew out the key and, putting his back against the gate,

keeping his face to the crowd, he fumbled around behind his back

until he managed to fit the key into the lock. Hearing it click, he

opened the gate, much to the delight of the crowd, several of

whom endeavored to push through. Gerard walloped the boldest

with the flat of his sword, drove them back a few moments, time

enough for him to hastily dodge inside the fence gate and slam it

shut behind him.

The crowd of humans and kender pressed in around the

fence. Children poked their heads through the bars, promptly got

their heads stuck, and began to wail. Some climbed the bars in a

futile attempt to crawl over, while others thrust their hands and

arms and legs inside for no logical reason that Gerard could see,

which only went to prove what he'd long suspected-that his

fellow mortals were ninnies.

The Knight made certain the gate was locked and secure and

then walked over to the tomb, intending to post himself at the

entrance until the Provost came with some means of breaking

the seal.

He was climbing the marble and obsidian stairs when he

heard the voice say cheerfully, "Oh, never mind. I've got it!"

A loud snick, as of a lock being tripped, and the doors to the

tomb began to slowly creak open.

The crowd gasped in thrilled horror and crowded nearer the

fence, each trying to get the best view possible of the Knight

being ripped apart by hordes of skeletal warriors.

A figure emerged from the tomb. It was dusty, dirty, its hair

windswept, its clothes in disarray and singed, its pouches rather

mangled and worse for wear. But it wasn't a skeleton. It wasn't a

blood-sucking vampire or an emaciated ghoul.

It was a kender.

The crowd groaned in disappointment.

The kender peered out into the bright sunlight and blinked,

half-blinded. "Hullo," he said. "I'm-" The kender paused to

sneeze. "Sorry. It's extremely dusty in there. Someone should really

do something about that. Do you have a handkerchief? I seem to

have mislaid mine. Well, it actually belonged to Tanis, but I don't

suppose he'll be wanting it back now that he's dead. Where am I?"

"Under arrest," said Gerard. Laying firm hands upon the

kender, the Knight hauled him down the stairs.

Understandably disappointed that they weren't going to wit-

ness a battle between the Knight and the undead, the crowd re-

turned to their picnics and playing goblin ball.

"I recognize this place," said the kender, staring about instead

of watching where he was going and consequently tripping

himself. "I'm in Solace. Good! That's where I meant to come. My

name is Tasslehoff Burrfoot, and I'm here to speak at the funeral

of Caramon Majere, so if you could just take me to the Inn

quickly, I really do have to get back. You see, there's this giant foot

about to come down-blam! right on top of me, and that's some-

thing I don't want to miss, and now then-"

Gerard put the key into the gate lock, turned it and opened

the gate. He gave the kender a shove that sent him sprawling.

"The only place you're going is off to jail. You've done enough

mischief already."

The kender picked himself up cheerfully, not at all angry or

disconcerted. "Awfully nice of you to find me a place to spend the

night. Not that I'll be here that long. I've come to speak. . ." He

paused. "Did I mention that I was Tasslehoff Burrfoot?"

Gerard grunted, not interested. He took firm hold of the

kender and stood waiting with him until someone came to take

the little bastard off his hands.

"The Tasslehoff," said the kender.

Gerard cast a weary glance out over the crowd and shouted,

"Everyone named Tasslehoff Burrfoot raise his hand!"

Thirty-seven hands shot up in the air and two dogs barked:

"Oh, my!" said the kender clearly taken aback.

"You can see why I'm not impressed," said Gerard and searched

hopefully for some sign that relief was on the way.

"I don't suppose it would matter if I told you that I was the

original Tasslehoff . . . No, I guess not." The kender sighed and

stood fidgeting in the hot sun. His hand, strictly out of boredom,

found its way into Gerard's money pouch, but Gerard was pre-

pared for that and gave the kender a swift and nasty crack across

the knuckles.

The kender sucked his bruised hand. "What's all this?" He

looked around at the people larking and frolicking upon the

lawn. "What are these people doing here? Why aren't they at-

tending Caramon's funeral? It's the biggest event Solace has

ever seen!"

"Probably because Caramon Majere is not dead yet" said

Gerard caustically. "Where is that good-for-nothing provost?"

"Not dead?" The kender stared. "Are you sure?"

"I had breakfast with him myself this very morning," Gerard

replied.

"Oh, no!" The kender gave a heartbroken wail and slapped him-

self on the forehead. "I've gone and goofed it up again! And I don't

suppose that now I've got time to try it a third time. What with the

giant foot and all." He began to rummage about in his pouch. "Still,

I guess I had better try. Now, where did I put that device--"

Gerard glowered around as he tightened his grip on the collar

of the kender's dusty jacket. The thirty-seven kender named

Tasslehoff had all come over to meet number thirty-eight.

"The rest of you, clear out!" Gerard waved his hand as if he

were shooing chickens.

Naturally, the kender ignored him. Though extremely disap-

pointed that Tasslehoff hadn't turned out to be a shambling

zombie, the kender were interested to hear where he'd been, what

he'd seen and what he had in his pouches.

"Want some Midyear Day's cake?" asked a pretty female

kender.

"Why, thank you. This is quite good. I-" The kender's eyes

opened wide. He tried to say something, couldn't speak for the

cake in his mouth, and ended up half choking himself. His fellow

kender obligingly pounded him on the back. He bolted the cake,

coughed, and gasped out, "What day is this?"

"Midyear's Day!" cried everyone.

"Then I haven't missed it!" the kender shouted triumphantly.

"In fact, this is better than I could have hoped! I'll get to tell Cara-

mon what I'm going to say at his funeral tomorrow! He'll proba-

bly find it extremely interesting."

The kender looked up into the sky. Spotting the position of the

sun, which was about half-way down, heading for the horizon, he

said, "Oh, dear. I don't have all that much time. If you'll just

excuse me, I had best be running."

And run he did, leaving Gerard standing flat-footed on the

grassy lawn, a kender jacket in his hand.

Gerard spent one baffled moment wondering how the imp

had managed to wriggle out of his jacket, yet still retain all his

pouches, which were jouncing and bouncing as he ran, spilling

their contents to the delight of the thirty-seven Tasslehofs. Con-

cluding that this was a phenomenon that, much like the depar-

ture of the gods, he would never understand, Gerard was about

to run after the errant kender, when he remembered that he could

not leave his post unguarded.

At this juncture, the provost came into sight, accompanied by

an entire detail of Solamnic Knights solemnly arrayed in their

best armor to welcome back the returning Heroes, for this is what

they had understood they were going to be meeting.

" Just a kender, sir," Gerard explained. "Somehow he man-

aged to get himself locked inside the tomb. He let himself out. He

got away from me, but I think I know where he's headed."

The provost, a stout man who loved his ale, turned very red

in the face. The Knights looked extremely foolish-the kender

were now dancing around them in a circle-and all looked very

black at Gerard, whom they clearly blamed for the entire incident.

"Let them," Gerard muttered, and dashed off after his prisoner.

The kender had a good head start. He was quick and nimble

and accustomed to fleeing pursuit. Gerard was strong and a swift

runner, but he was encumbered by his heavy, ceremonial armor,

which clanked and rattled and jabbed him uncomfortably in sev-

eral tender areas. He would likely have never even caught sight

of the felon had not the kender stopped at several junctures to

look around in amazement, demanding loudly to know, "Where

did this come from?" staring at a newly built garrison, and, a little

farther on, "What are all these doing here?" This in reference to

the refugee housing. And "Who put that there?" This to a large

sign posted by the town fathers proclaiming that Solace was a

town in good standing and had paid its tribute to the dragon and

was therefore a safe place to visit.

The kender seemed extremely disconcerted by the sign. He

stood before it, eyeing it severely. "That can't stay there," he said

loudly. "It will block the path of the funeral procession."

Gerard thought he had him at this point, but the kender gave

a bound and a leap and dashed off again. Gerard was forced to

halt to catch his breath. Running in the heavy armor in the heat

caused his head to swim and sent little shooting stars bursting

across his vision. He was close to the Inn, however, and he had

the grim satisfaction of seeing the kender dash up the stairs and

through the front door.

"Good," Gerard thought grimly. "I have him."

Removing his helm, he tossed it to the ground, and leaned

back against the signpost until his breathing returned to normal,

while he watched the stairs to make certain the kender didn't

depart. Acting completely against regulations, Gerard divested

himself of the pieces of armor that were chafing him the worst,

wrapped them in his cloak, and stashed the bundle in a dark

corner of the Inn's woodshed. He then walked over to the com-

munity water barrel and plunged the gourd deep into the water.

The barrel stood in a shady spot beneath one of the vallen-

woods. The water was cool and sweet. Gerard kept one eye on

the door of the Inn and, lifting the dipper, dumped the water

over his head.

The water trickled down his neck and breast, wonderfully

refreshing. He took a long drink, slicked back his hair, wiped his

face, picked up his helm and, tucking it beneath his arm, made

the long ascent up the stairs to the Inn. He could hear the

kender's voice quite clearly. Judging by his formal tones and un-

naturally deep voice, the kender appeared to be making a

speech.

"Caramon Majere was a very great hero. He fought dragons

and undead and goblins and hobgoblins and ogres and draconi-

ans and lots of others I can't remember. He traveled back in time

with this very device-right here, this very device-' II The

kender resumed normal speech for a moment to say, I'Then I

show the crowd the device, Caramon. I'd show you that part, but

I can't quite seem to find it right now. Don't worry, I won't let

anyone touch it. Now, where was I?"

A pause and the sound of paper rustling.

Gerard continued climbing the stairs. He had never truly no-

ticed just how many stairs there were before. His legs, already

aching and stiff from running, burned, his breath came short. He

wished he'd taken off all his armor. He was chagrined to see how

far he'd let himself go. His formerly strong athlete's body was

soft as a maiden's. He stopped on the landing to rest and heard

the kender launch back into his speech.

"Caramon Majere traveled back in time. He saved Lady

Crysania from the Abyss.' She'll be here, Caramon. She'll fly

here on the back of a silver dragon. Goldmoon will be here, too,

and Riverwind will come and their beautiful daughters and Sil-

vanoshei, the king of the United Elven Nations, will be here,

along with Gilthas, the new ambassador to the United Human

Nations, and, of course, Laurana. Even Oalamar will be here!

Think of that, Caramon! The Head of the Conclave coming to

your funeral. He'll be standing right over there next to Palin,

who's head of the White Robes, but then I guess you already

know that, him being your son and all. At least, I think that's

where they were standing. The last time I was here for your fu-

neral I came after it was all over and everyone was going home.

I heard about it later from Palin, who said that they were sorry.

If they'd known I was coming they would have waited. I felt a

bit insulted, but Palin said that they all thought I was dead,

which I am, of course, only not at the moment. And because I

missed your funeral the first time, that's why I had to try to hit

it agam.

Gerard groaned. Not only did he have to deal with a kender,

he had to deal with a mad kender. Probably one of those who

claimed to be "afflicted." He felt badly for Caramon, hoped the

old man wasn't too upset by this incident. Caramon would prob-

ably be understanding. For reasons passing Gerard's compre-

hension, Caramon seemed to have a soft spot for the little

nuisances.

"So anyway my speech goes on," the kender said. " 'Caramon

Majere did all these things and more. He was a great hero and a

great warrior, but do you know what he did best?' " The kender's

voice softened. " 'He was a great friend. He was my friend, my

very best friend in all of the world. I came back-or rather I came

forward-to say this because I think it's important, and Fizban

thought it was important, too, which is why he let me come. It

seems to me that being a great friend is more important than

being a great hero or a great warrior. Being a good friend is the

most important thing there is. Just think, if everyone in the world

were great friends, then we wouldn't be such terrible enemies.

Some of you here are enemies now-' I look at Dalamar at this

point, Caramon. I look at him very sternly, for he's done some

things that haven't been at all nice. And then I go on and say, 'But

you people are here today because you were friends with this one

man and he was your friend, just like he was mine. And so maybe

when we lay Caramon Majere to rest, we will each leave his grave

with friendlier feelings toward everyone. And maybe that will be

the beginning of peace.' And then I bow and that's the end. What

do you think?"

Gerard arrived in the doorway in time to see the kender jump

down off a table, from which vantage point he'd been delivering

his speech, and run over to stand in front of Caramon. Laura was

wiping her eyes on the comers of her apron. Her gully dwarf

helper blubbered shamelessly in a comer, while the Inn's patrons

were applauding wildly and banging their mugs on the table,

shouting "Hear, hear!"

Caramon Majere sat in one of the high-backed booths. He was

smiling, a smile touched by the last golden rays of the sun, rays

that seem to have slipped into the Inn on purpose just to say

goodnight.

"I'm sorry this had to happen, sir," said Gerard, walking

inside. "I didn't realize he would trouble you. I'll take him away

now."

Caramon reached out his hand and stroked the kender's top-

knot, the hair of which was standing straight up, like the fur of a

startled cat.

"He's not bothering me. I'm glad to see him again. That part

about friendship was wonderful, Tas. Truly wonderful. Thank

you."

Caramon frowned, shook his head. "But I don't understand

the rest of what you said, Tas. All about the United Elven Na-

tions and Riverwind coming to the Inn when he's been dead

these many years. Something's peculiar here. I'll have to think

about it." Caramon stood up from the booth and headed

toward the door. "I'll just be taking my evening walk, now,

Laura."

"Your dinner will be waiting when you come back, Father,"

she said. Smoothing her apron, she shook the gully dwarf, or-

dered him to pull himself together and get back to work.

"Don't think about it too long, Caramon," Tas called out. "Be-

cause of . . . well, you know."

He looked up at Gerard, who had laid a firm hand on the

kender's shoulder, getting a good grip on flesh and bone this time.

"It's because he's going to be dead pretty soon," Tas said in a

loud whisper. "I didn't like to mention that. It would have been

rude, don't you think?"

"I think you're going to spend the next year in prison," said

Gerard sternly.

Caramon Majere stood at the top of the stairs. "Yes, Tika, dear.

I'm coming," he said. Putting his hand over his heart, he pitched

forward, headfirst.

The kender tore himself free of Gerard, flung himself to the

floor, and burst into tears.

Gerard moved swiftly, but he was too late to halt Caramon's

fall. The big man tumbled and rolled down the stairs of his

beloved Inn. Laura screamed. The patrons cried out in shock and

alarm. People in the street, seeing Caramon falling, began to run

toward the Inn.

Gerard dashed down the stairs as fast as ever he could and

was the first to reach Caramon. He feared to find the big man in

terrible pain, for he must have broken every bone in his body.

Caramon did not appear to be suffering however. He had already

left mortal cares and pain behind, his spirit lingering only long

enough to say good-bye. Laura threw herself beside him on the

ground. Taking hold of his hand, she held it pressed to her lips.

"Don't cry, my dear," he said softly, smiling. "Your mother's

here with me. She'll take good care of me. I'll be fine."

"Oh, Daddy!" Laura sobbed. "Don't leave me yet!"

Caramon's eyes glanced around at the townspeople who had

gathered. He smiled and gave a little nod. He continued to search

through the crowd and he frowned.

"But where's Raistlin?" he asked.

Laura looked startled, but said, brokenly, "Father, your

brother's been dead a long, long time-"

"He said he would wait for me," Caramon said, his voice be-

ginning strong, but growing fainter. "He should be here. Tika's

here. I don't understand. This is not right. Tas. . . What Tas said

. . . A different future. . ."

His gaze came to Gerard. He beckoned the Knight to come

near.

"There's something you must. . . do," said Caramon, his

breath rasping in his chest.

Gerard knelt beside him, more touched by this man's death

than he could have imagined possible. "Yes, sir," he said. "What

is it?"

"Promise me . . ." Caramon whispered. "On your honor. . . as

a Knight."

"I promise," said Gerard. He supposed that the old man was

going to ask him to watch over his daughters or to take care of his

grandchildren, one of whom was also a Solamnic Knight. "What

would you have me do, sir?"

"Dalamar will know. . . . Take Tasslehoff to Dalarnar," Cara-

mon said and his voice was suddenly strong and firm. He looked

intently at Gerard. "Do you promise? Do you swear that you will

do this?"

"But sir," Gerard faltered, "what you ask of me is impossible!

No one has seen Dalamar for years. Most believe that he is dead.

And as for this kender who calls himself Tasslehoff . . ."

Caramon reached out his hand, a hand that was bloody from

his fall. He grasped hold of Gerard's most unwilling hand and

gripped it tightly.

"I promise, sir," said Gerard.

Caramon smiled. He let out his breath and did not draw an-

other. His eyes fixed in death, fixed on Gerard. The hand, even in

death, did not relinquish its grip. Gerard had to pry the old man's

fingers loose and was left with a smear of blood on his palm.

"I'll be happy to go with you to see Dalamar, Sir Knight, but I

can't go tomorrow," said the kender, snuffling and wiping his

tear-grimed face with the sleeve of his shirt. "1 have to speak at

Caramon's funeral."

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

A STRANGE AWAKENING

 

 

 

Silvan's arm was on fire. He couldn't put out the blaze, and

no one would come help him. He called out for Samar and

for his mother, but his calls went unanswered. He was

angry, deeply angry, angry and hurt that they would not come,

that they were ignoring him. Then he realized that the reason they

were not coming was that they were angry with him. He had

failed them. He had let them down, and they would come to him

no more. . . .

With a great cry, Silvan woke himself. He opened his eyes to

see above him a canopy of gray. His vision was slightly blurred,

and he mistook the gray mass above him for the gray ceiling of

the burial mound. His arm pained him, and he remembered the

fire. Gasping, he shifted to put out the flames. Pain lanced

through his arm and hammered in his head. He saw no flames,

and he realized dazedly that the fire had been a dream. The pain

in his left arm was not a dream, however. The pain was real. He

examined the arm as best he could, though every movement of

his head cost him a gasp.

Not much doubt. The arm was broken just above the wrist.

The flesh was swollen so that it looked like a monster arm, a

strange color of greenish purple. He lay back down and stared

around him, feeling sorry for himself, and wondered very

much that his mother did not come to him when he was in such

agony. . . .

"Mother!" Silvan sat up so suddenly that the pain coiled

round his gut and caused him to vomit.

He had no idea how he came to be here or even where here

was. He knew where he was supposed to be, knew he had been

dispatched to bring help to his beleagured people. He looked

around, trying to gain some sense of the time. Night had passed.

The sun shone in the sky. He had mistaken a canopy of gray

leaves for the ceiling of the burial mound. Dead gray leaves,

hanging listlessly from dea~ranches. Death had not come natu-

rally, as with the fall of the year, causing them to release their hold

on life and drift in a dream of reds and golds upon the crisp air.

The life had been sucked from leaves and branches, trunk and

roots, leaving them desicated, mummified but still standing, a

husk, an empty mockery of life.

Silvan had never seen a blight of this kind attack so many

trees before, and his soul shrank from the sight. He could not take

time to consider it, however. He had to complete his mission.

The sky above was a pearl gray with a strange kind of shim-

mer that he put down to the aftereffects of the storm. Not so many

hours have passed, he told himself. The army could hold out this

long. I have not failed them utterly. I can still bring help.

He needed to splint his arm, and he searched through the

forest undergrowth for a strong stick. Thinking he'd found what

he sought, he put out his hand to grasp it. The stick disintegrated

beneath his fingers, turned to dust. He stared, startled. The ash

was wet and had a greasy feel to it. Repulsed, he wiped his hand

on his shirt, wet from the rain.

All around him were gray trees. Gray and dying or gray and

dead. The grass was gray, the weeds gray, the fallen branches

gray, all with that look of having been sucked dry.

He'd seen something like this before or heard of something

like this. . . . He didn't recall what, and he had no time to think.

He searched with increasingly frantic urgency among the gray-

covered undergrowth for a stick and found one eventually, a

stick that was covered with dust but had not been struck with the

strange blight. Placing the stick on his arm, gasping at the pain,

he gritted his teeth against it. He ripped off a shred of his shirt-

tail and tied the splint in place. He could hear the broken ends of

the bone grind together. The pain and the hideous sound com-

bined to nearly make him pass out. He sat hunched over, his

head down, fighting the nausea, the sudden heat that swept over

his body.

Finally, the star bursts cleared from his vision. The pain eased

somewhat. Holding his injured left arm close to his body, Silvan

staggered to his feet. The wind had died. He could no longer feel

its guiding touch upon his face. He could not see the sun itself for

the pearl gray clouds, but the light shone brightest in one portion

of the sky, which meant that way must be east. Silvan put his back

to the light and looked to the west.

He did not remember his fall or what had occurred just prior

to the fall. He began to talk to himself, finding the sound of his

voice comforting.

"The last thing I remember, I was within sight of the road I

needed to take to reach Sithelnost," he said. He spoke in Sil-

vanesti, the language of his childhood, the language his mother

favored.

A hill rose up above him. He was standing in the bottom of a

ravine, a ravine he vaguely remembered from the night before.

"Someone either climbed or fell down into the ravine," he

said, eyeing a crooked trail left in the gray ash that covered the

hillside. He smiled ruefully. "My guess would be that someone

was me. I must have taken a misstep in the darkness, tumbled

down the ravine. Which means," he added, heartened, "the road

must lie right up there. I do not have far to go."

He began to climb back up the steep sides of the ravine, but

this proved more difficult than he'd supposed. The gray ash had

formed a silt with the rain and was slippery as goose grease. He

slid down the hill twice, jarring his injured arm, causing him

almost to lose consciousness.

"This will never do," Silvan muttered.

He stayed at the bottom of the ravine where the walking was

easier, always keeping the top of the hill in sight, hoping to find

an outcropping of rock that would act as a staircase up the slip-

pery slope.

He stumbled over the uneven ground in a haze of pain and

fear. Every step brought a jolt of pain to his arm. He pushed

himself on, however, trudging through the gray mud that seemed

to try to drag him down among the dead vegetation, searching

for a way out of this gray vale of death that he grew to loathe as

a prisoner loathes his cell.

He was parched with thirst. The taste of ash filled his mouth,

and he longed for a drink of water to wash it away. He found a

puddle once, but it was covered with a gray film, and he could

not bring himself to drink from it. He staggered on.

"I have to reach the road," he said and repeated it many times

like a mantra, matching his footfalls to its rhythm. "I have to go

on," he said to himself dreamily, "because if I die down here, I

will turn into one of the gray mummies like the trees and no one

will ever find me."

The ravine came to a sudden end in a jumble of rock and

fallen trees. Silvan straightened, drew in a deep breath and wiped

chill sweat from his forehead. He rested a moment, then began to

climb, his feet slipping on the rocks, sending him scrabbling back-

ward more than once. Grimly, he pressed on, determined to

escape the ravine if it proved to be the last act of his life. He drew

nearer and nearer the top, up to the point where he thought he

should have been able to see the road.

He peered out through the boles of the gray trees, certain the

road must be there but unable to see it due to some sort of strange

distortion of the air, a distortion that caused the trees to waver in

his sight.

Silvan continued to climb.

"A mirage," he said. "Like seeing water in the middle of the

road on a hot day. It will disappear when I come near it."

He reached the top of the hill and tried to see through the trees

to the road he knew must lie beyond. In order to keep moving, .

moving through the pain, he had concentrated his focus upon the

road until the road had become his one goal.

"I have to reach the road," he mumbled, picking up the

mantra. "The road is the end of pain, the road will save me, save

my people. Once I reach the road, I am certain to run into a band

of elven scouts from my mother's army. I will turn over my mis-

sion to them. Then I will lie down upon the road and my pain will

end and the gray ash will cover me . . ."

He slipped, nearly fell. Fear jolted him out of his terrible

reverie. Silvan stood trembling, staring about, prodding his mind

to return from whatever comforting place it had been trying to

find refuge. He was only a few feet from the road. Here, he was

thankful to see, the trees were not dead, though they appeared to

be suffering from some sort of blight. The leaves were still green,

though they drooped, wilting. The bark of the trunks had an un-

healthy look to it, was staring to drop off in places.

He looked past them. He could see the road, b\lt he could not

see it clearly. The road wavered in his vision until he grew dizzy

to look at it. He wondered uneasily if this was due to his fall.

"Perhaps I am going blind," he said to himself.

Frightened, he turned his head and looked behind him. His

vision cleared. The gray trees stood straight, did not shimmer. Re-

lieved, he looked back to the road. The distortion returned.

"Strange," he muttered. "1 wonder what is causing this?"

His walk slowed involuntarily. He studied the distortion

closely. He had the oddest impression that the distortion was like

a cobweb spun by some horrific spider strung between him and

the road, and he was reluctant to come near the shimmer. The dis-

quieting feeling came over him that the shimmering web would

seize him and hold him and suck him dry as it had sucked dry the

trees. Yet beyond the distortion was the road, his goal, his hope.

He took a step toward the road and came to a sudden halt. He

could not go on. Yet there lay the road, only a few steps away.

Gritting his teeth, he shoved forward, cringing as if he expected

to feel sticky web cling to his face.

Silvan's way was blocked. He felt nothing. No physical pres-

ence halted him, but he could not move. Rather, he could not

move forward. He could move sideways, he could move back-

ward. He could not move ahead.

"An invisible barrier. Gray ash. Trees dead and dying," he

murmured.

He reached into the swirling depths of pain and fear and de-

spair and brought forth the answer.

"The shield. This is the shield!" he repeated, aghast.

The magical shield that the Silvanesti had dropped over their

homeland. He had never seen it, but he'd heard his mother de-

scribe it often enough. He had heard others describe the strange

shimmer, the distortion in the air produced by the shield.

"It can't be," Silvan cried in frustration. "The shield cannot

be here. It is south of my position! I was on the road, traveling

west. The shield was south of me." He twisted, looked up to

find the sun, but the clouds had thickened, and he could not

see it.

The answer came to him and with it bitter despair. "I'm

turned around," he said. "I've come all this way. . . and it's been

the wrong way!"

Tears stung his eyelids. The thought of descending this hill, of

going back down into the ravine, of retracing his steps, each step

that had cost him so dearly in pain, was almost too much to bear.

He sank down to the ground, gave way to his misery.

" Alhana! Mother!" he said in agony, "forgive me! I have failed

you! What have I ever done in life but fail you. . . ?"

"Who are you who speaks the name that is forbidden to

speak?" said a voice. "Who are you who speaks the name

Alhana?"

Silvan leaped to his feet. He dashed the tears from his eyes

with a backhand smear, looked about, startled, to see who had

spoken.

At first he saw only a patch of vibrant, living green, and he

thought that he had discovered a portion of the forest untouched

by the disease that had stricken the rest. But then the patch

moved and shifted and revealed a face and eyes and mouth and

hands, revealed itself to be an elf.

The elf's eyes were gray as the forest around him, but they

were only reflecting the death he saw, revealing the grief he felt

for the loss.

"Who am I who speaks my mother's name?" Silvan asked im-

patiently. "Her son, of course." He took a lurching step forward,

hand outstretched. "But the battle. . . Tell me how the battle went!

How did we fare?"

The elf drew back, away from Silvan's touch. "What battle?"

he asked.

Silvan stared at the man. As he did so, he noted movement

behind him. Three more elves emerged from the woods. He

would have never seen them had they not stirred, and he won-

dered how long they had been there. Silvan did not recognize

them, but that wasn't unusual. He did not venture out much

among the common soldiers of his mother's forces. She did not

encourage such companionship for her son, who was someday

destined to be king, would one day be their ruler.

"The battle!" Silvan repeated impatiently. "We were attacked

by ogres in the night! Surely, you must. . ."

Realization dawned on him. These elves were not dressed for

warfare. They were clad in clothes meant for traveling. They

might well not know of any battle.

"You must be part of the long-range patrol. You've come back

in good time." Silvan paused, concentrated his thoughts, trying to

penetrate the smothering fog of pain and despair. "We were at-

tacked last night, during the storm. An army of ogres. I . . ." He

paused, bit his lip, reluctant to reveal his failure. "1 was sent to

fetch aid. The Legion of Steel has a fortress near Sithelnost. Down

that road." He made a feeble gesture. "1 must have fallen. My arm

is broken. I came the wrong way and now I must backtrack, and

I don't have the strength. I can't make it, but you can. Take this

message to the commander of the legion. Tell him that Alhana i1~

Starbreeze is under attack. . . ."

He stopped speaking. One of the elves had made a sound, a

slight exclamation. The elf in the lead, the first to approach Silvan,

raised his hand to impose silence.

Silvan was growing increasingly exasperated. He was morti-

fyingly aware that he cut but a poor figure, clutching his

wounded arm to his side like a hurt bird dragging a wing. But he

was desperate. The time must be midmorning now. He could not

go on. He was very close to collapse. He drew himself up, draped

in the cloak of his title and the dignity it lent him.

"You are in the service of my mother, Alhana Starbreeze," he

said, his voice imperious. "She is not here, but her son, Sil-

vanoshei, your prince, stands before you. In her name and in my

own, I command you to bear her message calling for deliverance

to the Legion of Steel. Make haste! I am losing patience!"

He was also rapidly losing his grip on consciousness, but he

didn't want these soldiers to think him weak. Wavering on his

feet, he reached out a hand to steady himself on a tree trunk. The

elves had not moved. They were staring at him now in wary as-

tonishment that widened their almond eyes. They shifted their

gazes to the road that lay beyond the shield, looked back at him.

"Why do you stand there staring at me?" Silvan cried. "Do as

rou are commanded! I am your prince!" A thought came to him.

You need have no fear of leaving me," he said. "1'11 be all right."

He waved his hand. "Just go! Go! Save our people!"

The lead elf moved closer, his gray eyes intent upon Silvan,

looking through him, sifting, sorting.

"What do you mean that you went the wrong way upon the

road ?"

"Why do you waste time with foolish questions?" Silvan re-

turned angrily. "I will report you to Samar! I will have you de-

moted!" He glowered at the elf, who continued to regard him

steadily. "The shield lies to the south of the road. I was traveling

to Sithelnost. I must have gotten turned around when I fell! Be-

cause the shield. . . the road. . ."

He turned around to stare behind him. He tried to think this

through, but his head was too muzzy from the pain.

"It can't be," he whispered.

No matter what direction he would have taken, he must have

still been able to reach the road, which lay outside the shield.

The road still lay outside the shield. He was the one who was

inside it.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"You are in Silvanesti," answered the elf.

Silvan closed his eyes. All was lost. His failure was complete.

He sank to his knees and pitched forward to lie face down in the

gray ash. He heard voices but they were far away and receding

rapidly.

"Do you think it is truly him?"

"Yes. It is."

"How can you be sure, Rolan? Perhaps it is a trick!"

"You saw him. You heard him. You heard the anguish in his

voice, you saw the desperation in his eyes. His arm is broken.

Look at the bruises on his face, his tom and muddy clothes. We

found the trail in ash left by his fall. We heard him talking to him-

self when he did not know we were close by. We saw him try to

reach the road. How can you possibly doubt?"

Silence, then, in a piercing hiss, "But how did he come

through the shield?"

"Some god sent him to us," said the lead elf, and Silvan felt a

gentle hand touch his cheek.

"What god?" The other was bitter, skeptical. "There are no

gods."

Silvan woke to find his vision clear, his senses restored. A dull

ache in his head made thinking difficult, and at first he was con-

tent to lie quite still, take in his surroundings, while his brain

scrambled to make sense of what was happening. He remem-

bered the road. . .

Silvan struggled to sit up.

A firm hand on his chest arrested his movement.

"Do not move too hastily. I have set your arm and wrapped it

in a poultice that will speed the healing. But you must take care

not to Jar It.

Silvan looked at his surroundings. He had the thought at first

that it had all been a dream, that he would wake to find himself

once again in the burial mound. He had not been dreaming,

however. The boles of the trees were the same as he remem-

bered-ugly gray, diseased, dying. The bed of leaves on which

he lay was a deathbed of rotting vegetation. The young trees and

plants and flowers that carpeted the forest floor drooped and

languished.

Silvanoshei took the elf's counsel and lay back down, more to

give himself time to sort out the confusion over what had hap-

pened to him than because he needed the rest.

"How do you feel?" The elf's tone was respectful.

"My head hurts a little," Silvan replied. "But the pain in my

arm is gone."

"Good," said the elf. "You may sit up then. Slowly, slowly.

Otherwise you will pass out."

A strong arm assisted Silvan to a seated position. He felt a

brief flash of dizziness and nausea, but he closed his eyes until

the sick feeling passed.

The elf held a wooden bowl to Silvan's lips.

"What's this?" he asked, eying with suspicion the brown

liquid the bowl contained.

" An herbal potion," replied the elf. "I believe that you have

suffered a mild concussion. This will ease the pain in your head

and promote the healing. Come, drink it. Why do you refuse?"

"I have been taught never to eat or drink anything unless I

know who prepared it and I have seen others taste it first,"

Silvanoshei replied.

The elf was amazed. "Even from another elf?"

"Especially from another elf," Silvanoshei replied grimly.

"Ah," said the elf, regarding him with sorrow. "Yes, of course.

I understand."

Silvan attempted to rise to his feet, but the dizziness assailed

him again. The elf put the bowl to his own lips and drank several

mouthfuls. Then, politely wiping the edge of the bowl, he offered

it again to Silvanoshei.

"Consider this, young man. If I wanted you dead, I could

have slain you while you were unconscious. Or I could have

simply left you here.1I He cast a glance around at the gray and

withered trees. IIYour death would be slower and more painful,

but it would come to you as it has come to too many of us."

Silvanoshei thought this over as best he could through the

throbbing of his head. What the elf said made sense. He took the

bowl in unsteady hands and lifted it to his lips. The liquid was

bitter, smelled and tasted of tree bark. The potion suffused his

body with a pleasant warmth. The pain in his head eased, the

dizziness passed.

Silvanoshei saw that he had been a fool to think this elf was a

member of his mother's army. This elf wore a cloak strange to

Silvan, a cloak made of leather that had the appearance of leaves

and sunlight and grass and brush and flowers. Unless the elf

moved, he would blend into his forest surroundings so perfectly

that he would never be detected. Here in the midst of death, he

stood out; his cloak retaining the green memory of the living

forest, as if in defiance.

"How long have I been unconscious?1I Silvan asked. .

"Several hours from when we found you this morning. It is

Midyear's Day, if that helps you in your reckoning."

Silvan glanced around. IIWhere are the others?1I He had the

thought that they might be in hiding. ~

" Where they need to be,1I the elf answered.

"I thank you for helping me. You have business elsewhere,

and so do I "Silvan rose to his feet. "I must go. It may be too late.

. . ." He tasted bitter gall in his mouth, took a moment to choke it

down. "I must still fulfiil my mission. If you will show me the

place I can use to pass back through the shield. . ."

The elf regarded him with that same strange intensity. "There

is no way through the shield."

"But there has to be!1I Silvan retorted angrily. I "came through,

didn't I?" He glanced back at the trees standing near the road, I

saw the strange distortion. "I'll go back to the point where I fell.

I'll pass through there."

Grimly, he started off, retracing his steps. The elf said no word

to halt him but accompanied him, following after him in silence.

Could his mother and her army have held out against the

ogres this long? Silvan had seen the army perform some incredi-

ble feats. He had to believe the answer was yes. He had to believe

there was still time.

Silvan found the place where he must have entered the shield,

found the trail his body had left as it rolled down the ravine. The

gray ash had been slippery when he'd first tried to climb back up,

but it had dried now. The way was easier. Taking care not to jar

his injured arm, Silvan clambored up the hill. The elf waited in

the bottom of the ravine, watching in silence.

Silvan reached the shield. As before, he was loathe to touch it.

Yet here, this place, was where he'd entered it before, however

unknowingly. He could see the gouge his boot heel had made in

the mud. He could see the fallen tree crossing the path. Some dim

memory of attempting to circumvent it returned.

The shield itself was not visible, except as a barely percepti-

ble shimmer when the sun struck it at exactly the correct angle.

Other than that the only way he could tell the shield was before

him was by its effect on his view of the trees and plants beyond

it. He was reminded of heat waves rising from a sun-baked road,

causing everything visible behind the waves to ripple in a mock-

ery of water.

Gritting his teeth, Silvan walked straight into the shield.

The barrier would not let him pass. Worse, wherever he

touched the shield, he felt a sickening sensation, as if the shield had

pressed gray lips against his flesh and was seeking to suck him dry.

Shuddering, Silvan backed away. He would not try that again.

He glared at the shield in impotent fury. His mother had worked

for months to penetrate that barrier and for months she had

failed. She had thrown armies against it only to see them flung

back. At peril to her own life, she had ridden her griffon into it

without success. What could he do against it one elf.

"Yet" Silvan argued in frustration. "I am inside it! The shield

let me in. It will let me out! There must be a way. The elf. It must

have something to do with the elf. He and his cohorts have

entrapped me, imprisoned me."

Silvan whipped around to find the elf still standing at the

bottom of the ravine. Silvan scrambled down the slope, half-falling,

slipping and sliding on the rain-wet grass. The sun was sinking.

Midyear's Day was the longest day of the year, but it must even-

tually give way to night. He reached the bottom of the ravine.

"You brought me in here!" Silvan said, so angry that he had to

suck in a huge breath to even force the words out. "You will let me

out. You have to let me out!"

"That was the bravest thing I ever saw a man do." The elf cast

a dark glance at the shield. "I myself cannot bear to come near it,

and I am no coward. Brave, yet hopeless. You cannot pass. None

can pass."

"You lie!" Silvan raged. "You dragged me inside here. Let me

out!"

Without really knowing what he was doing, he reached out

his hand to seize the elf by the throat and choke him, force him to

obey, frighten him into obeying.

The elf caught hold of Silvan's wrist, gave it an expert twist,

and before he knew what was happening, Silvan found himself

on his knees on the ground. The elf immediately released him.

"You are young, and you are in trouble. You do not know me.

I make allowances. My name is Rolan. I am one of the kirath. My

companions and I found you lying at the bottom of the ravine.

That is the truth. If you know of the kirath, you know that we do

not lie. I do not know how you came through the shield."

Silvan had heard his parents speak of the kirath, a band of

elves who patrolled the borders of Silvanesti. The kirath's duty

was to prevent the entrance of outsiders into Silvanesti.

Silvan sighed and lowered his head to his hands.

"I have failed them! Failed them, and now they will die!"

Rolan came near, put his hand upon the young elf's shoulder.

"You spoke your name before when we first found you, but I

would ask that you give it to me again. There is no need to fear

and no reason to keep your identity a secret, unless, of course," he

added delicately, "you bear a name of which you are ashamed."

Silvan looked up, stung. "I bear my name proudly. I speak it

proudly. If my name brings about my death, so be it." His voice

faltered, trembled. "The rest of my people are dead, by now. Dead

or dying. Why should I be spared?"

He blinked the tears from his eyes, looked at his captor. "I am

the son of those you term' dark elves' but who are, in truth, the

only elves to see clearly in the darkness that covers us all. I am the

son of Alhana Starbreeze and Porthios of the Qualinesti. My

name is Silvanoshei."

He expected laughter. Disbelie certainly.

" And why do you think your name would bring death to you,

Silvanoshei of the House of Caldaron ?" Rolan asked calmly.

"Because my parents are dark elves. Because elven assassins

have tried more than once to kill them," Silvan returned.

"Yet Alhana Starbreeze and her armies have tried many times

to penetrate the shield, to enter into this land where she is outlaw.

I have myself seen her, as I and my fellows walked the border

lands."

"I thought you were forbidden to speak her name," Silvan

muttered sullenly.

"We are forbidden to do many things in Silvanesti," Rolan

added. "The list grows daily, it seems. Why does Alhana Star-

breeze want to return to a land that does not want her?

"This is her home," Silvan answered. "Where else would she

come?"

"And where else would her son come?" Rolan asked gently.

"Then you believe me?" Slivan asked.

"I knew your mother and your father, Your Highness," Rolan

replied. "I was a gardener for the unfortunate King Lorac before

the war. I knew your mother when she was a child. I fought with

your father Porthios against the dream. You favor him in looks,

but there is something of her inside you that brings her closer to

the mind. Only the faithless do not believe. The miracle has oc-

curred. You have returned to us. It does not surprise me that for

you, Your Highness, the shield would part."

"Yet it will not let me out" said Silvan dryly.

"Perhaps because you are where you are supposed to be, Your

Highness. Your people need you."

"If that is true, then why don't you lift the shield and let my

mother return to her kingdom?" Silvanoshei demanded. "Why

keep her out? Why keep your own people out? The elves who

fight for her are in peril. My mother would not now be battling

ogres, would not be trapped-"

Rolan's face darkened. "Believe me, Your Majesty. If we, the

kirath, could take down this accursed shield, we would. The

shield casts a pall of despair on those who venture near it. It kills

every living thing it touches. Look! Look at this, Your Majesty.1I

Rolan pointed to the corpse of a squirrel lying on the ground,

her young lying dead around her. He pointed to golden birds

buried in the ash, their song forever silenced.

"Thus our people are slowly dying,lI he said sadly."

" What is this you say?"Silvan was shocked. IIDYing?"

"Many people, young and old, contract a wasting sickness for

which there is no cure. Their skin turns gray as the skin of these

poor trees, their limbs wither, their eyes dull. First they cannot

run without tiring, then they cannot walk, then they cannot stand

or sit. They waste away until death claims them.

"Then why don't you take down the shield? "Silvan demanded.

"We have tried to convince the people to unite and stand

against General Konnal and the Heads of House, who decided to

raise the shield. But most refuse to heed our words. They say the

sickness is a plague brought to us from the outside: The shield is

all that stands between them and the evils of the world. If it is re-

moved, we all will die."

"Perhaps they are right," Silvan said, glancing back through

the shield, thinking of the ogres attacking in the night. "There is

no plague striking down elves, at least none that I have heard of.

But there are other enemies. The world is fraught with danger. In

here, at least you are safe."

"Your father said that we elves had to join the world, become

a part of it," Rolan replied with a grim smile. IIOtherwise we

would wither away and die, like a branch that is cut from the tree

or the-"

"-rose stripped from the bush," Silvan said and smiled in

remembrance. IIWe haven't heard from my father in a long

time," he added, looking down at the gray ash and smoothing

it with the toe of his boot. "He was fighting the great dragon

Beryl near Qualinesti, a land she holds in thrall. Some believe

he is dead-my mother among them, although she refuses to

admit it."

"If he died, he died fighting for a cause he believed in," Rolan

said.IIHis death has meaning. Though it may seem pointless now,

his sacrifice will help destroy the evil, bring back the light to drive

away the darkness. He died a living man! Defiant, courageous.

When our people die," Rolan continued, his voice taking on

increasing bitterness, "one hardly notices their passing. The

feather flutters and falls limp."

He looked at Silvan. "You are young, vibrant, alive. I feel the

life radiate from you, as once I felt it radiate from the sun. Con-

trast yourself with me. You see it, don't you: the fact that I am

withering away? That we are all slowly being drained of life?

Look at me, Your Highness. You can see I am dying."

Silvan did not know what to say. Certainly the elf was paler

than normal, his skin had a gray tinge to it, but Silvan had put

that down to age, perhaps, or to the gray dust. He recalled now

that the other elves he had seen bore the same gaunt, hollow-

eyed look.

"Our people will see you, and they will see by contrast what

they have lost," Rolan pursued. "This is the reason you have been

sent to us. To show them that there is no plague in the world out-

side. The only plague is within." Rolan laid his hand on his heart.

"Within us! You will tell the people that if we rid ourselves of this

shield, we will restore our land and ourselves to life."

Though my own has ended, Silvan said to himself. The pain

returned. His head ached. His armed throbbed. Rolan regarded

him with concern.

"You do not look well, Your Highness. We should leave this

place. We have lingered near the shield too long already. You

must come away before the sickness strikes you, as well."

Silvanoshei shook his head. "Thank you, Rolan, but I caanot

leave. The Shield may yet open and let me out as it has let me m."

"If you stay here, you will die, Your Majesty," said Rolan.

"Your mother would not want that. She would want you to come

to Silvanost and to claim your rightful place upon the throne."

You will someday sit upon the throne of the United Elven Nations,

Silvanoshei. On that day, you will right the wrongs of the past. You will

purge our people of the sins we elves have committed, the sin of pride,

the sin of prejudice, the sin of hatred. These sins have brought about our

ruin. You will be our redemption.

His mother's words. He remembered the very first time she

had spoken them. He had been five or six. They were camping in

the wilderness near Qualinesti. It was night. Silvan was asleep.

Suddenly a cry pierced his dreams, brought him wide awake. The

fire burned low, but by its light he could see his father grappling

with what seemed a shadow. More shadows surrounded them.

He saw nothing else because his mother flung her body over his,

pressed him to the ground. He could not see, he could not

breathe, he could not cry out. Her fear, her warmth, her weight

crushed and smothered him.

And then it was allover. His mother's warm, dark weight was

lifted from him. Alhana held him in her arms, cradling him,

weeping and kissing him and asking him to forgive her if she

hurt him. She had a bloody gash on her thigh. His father bore a

deep knife wound in his shoulder, just missing the heart. The

bodies of three elves, clad all in black, lay around the fire. Years

later Silvanoshei woke suddenly in the night with the cold real-

ization that one of those assassins had been sent to murder him.

They dragged away the bodies, left them to the wolves, not

considering them worthy of proper burial rites. His mother

rocked him to sleep, and she spoke those words to him to comfort

him. He would hear them often, again and again.

Perhaps now she was dead. His father dead. Their dream

lived, however, lived in him.

He turned away from the shield. "1 will come with you," he

said to Rolan of the kirath.

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

THE HOLY FIRE

 

 

 

In the old days, the glory days, before the War of the Lance,

the road that led from Neraka to the port city of Sanction

had been well maintained, for that road was the only route

through the mountains known as the Lords of Doom. The road-

known as the Hundred Mile Road, for it was almost one hundred

miles long, give or take a furlong or two-was paved with

crushed rock. Thousands of feet had marched over the crushed

rock during the intervening years; booted human feet, hairy

goblin feet, clawed draconian feet. So many thousand that the

rock had been pounded into the ground and was now deeply

embedded.

During the height of the War of the Lance, the Hundred Mile

Road had been clogged with men, beasts, and supply wagons.

Anyone who had need of speed took to the air, riding on the

backs of the swift-flying blue dragons or traversing the skies in

floating citadels. Those forced to move along the road could be

delayed for days, blocked by the hundreds of foot soldiers who

slogged along its torturous route, either marching to the city of

Neraka or marching away from it. Wagons lurched and jolted

along the road. The grade was steep, descending from the high

mountain valley all the way to sea level, making the journey a

perilous one.

Wagons loaded with gold, silver, and steel, boxes of stolen

jewels, booty looted from people the armies had conquered,

were hauled by fearsome beasts known as mammoths, the only

creatures strong enough to drag the heavily laden wagons up

the mountain road. Occasionally one of the wagons would tip

over and spill its contents or lose a wheel, or one of the mam-

moths would run berserk and trample its keepers and anyone

else unfortunate enough to be in its path. At these times, the

road was shut down completely, bringing everything to a halt

while officers tried to keep their men in order and fumed and

fretted at the delay.

The mammoths were gone, died out. The men were gone too.

Most of them now old. Some of them now dead. All of them now

forgotten. The road was empty, deserted. Only the wind's

whistling breath blew across the road, which, with its smooth,

inlaid gravel surface, was considered one of the man-made won-

ders of Krynn.

The wind was at the backs of the Dark Knights as they gal-

loped down the winding, twisting snake's back that was the Hun-

dred Mile Road. The wind, a remnant of the storm, howled

among the mountain tops, an echo of the Song of Death they had

heard in Neraka, but only an echo, not as terrible, not as fright-

ening. The Knights rode hard, rode in a daze, rode without any

clear idea of why they rode or where they were heading. They

rode in an ecstasy, an excitement that was unlike anything they

had ever before experienced.

Certainly Galdar had felt nothing like it. He loped along at

Mina's side, running with new-found strength. He could have

run from here to Ice Wall without pause. He might have credited

his energy to pure joy at regaining his severed limb, but he saw

his awe and fervor reflected in the faces of the men who made

that exhilarating, mad dash alongside him. It was as if they

brought the storm with them-hooves thundering among the

mountain walls, the iron shoes of the horses striking lightning

bolts from the rock surface.

Mina rode at their head, urging them on when they would

have stopped from fatigue, forcing them to look into themselves

to find just a bit more strength than they knew they possessed.

They rode through the night, their way lit by lightning flashes.

They rode through the day, halting only to water the horses and

eat a quick bite standing.

When it seemed the horses must founder, Mina called a halt.

The Knights had traversed well over half the distance. As it was,

her own roan, Foxfire, could have continued on. He appeared to

actually resent the stop, for the horse stamped and snorted in dis-

pleasure, his irritated protests splitting the air and bouncing back

from the mountain tops.

Foxfire was fiercely loyal to his mistress and to her alone. He

had no use for any other being. During their first brief rest stop,

Galdar had made the mistake of approaching the horse to hold

Mina's stirrup as she dismounted, as he had been trained to do for

his commander and with much better grace than he'd used for

Ernst Magit. Foxfire's lip curled back over his teeth, his eyes

gleamed with a wild, wicked light that gave Galdar some idea of

how the beast had come by his name. Galdar hastily backed away.

Many horses are frightened by minotaurs. Thinking this

might be the problem, Galdar ordered one of the others to attend

the commander.

Mina countermanded his order. "Stay back, all of you. Foxfire

has no love for any being other than myself. He obeys only my

commands and then only when my commands agree with his

own instincts. He is very protective of his rider, and I could not

prevent him from lashing out at you if you came too near."

She dismounted nimbly, without aid. Removing her own

saddle and bridle, she led Foxfire to drink. She fed him and

brushed him down with her own hands. The rest of the soldiers

tended to their own weary mounts, saw them safely settled for

the night. Mina would not allow them to build a campfire. So-

lamnic eyes might be watching, she said. The fire would be

visible a long distance.

The men were as tired as the horses. They'd had no sleep for

two days and a night. The terror of the storm had drained them,

the forced march left them all shaking with fatigue. The excite-

ment that had carried them this far began to ebb. They looked like

prisoners who have wakened from a wonderful dream of free-

dom to find that they still wear their shackles and their chains.

No longer crowned by lightning and robed with thunder,

Mina looked like any other girl, and not even a very attractive

girl, more like a scrawny youth. The Knights sat hunched over

their food in the moonlit darkness, muttering that they'd been led

on a fool's errand, casting Mina dark looks and angry glances.

One man even went so far as to say that any of the dark mystics

could have restored Galdar's arm, nothing so special in that.

Galdar could have silenced them by pointing out that no dark

mystic had restored his arm, though he had begged them often

enough. Whether they refused because their powers were not

strong or because he lacked the steel to pay them, it was all the

same to him. The dark mystics of the Knights of Neraka had not

given him an arm. This strange girl had and he was dedicated to

her for life. He kept quiet, however. He was ready to defend Mina

with his life, should that become necessary, but he was curious to

see how she would handle the increasingly tense situation.

Mina did not appear to notice that her command was slowly

slipping away. She sat apart from the men, sat above them,

perched on an enormous boulder. From her vantage point, she

could look out across the mountain range, jagged black teeth

taking a bite out of the starry sky. Here and there, fires from the

active volcanoes were blots of orange against the black. With-

drawn, abstracted, she was absorbed in her thoughts to the point

that she seemed totally unaware of the rising tide of mutiny at

her back.

"I'll be damned if I'm riding to Sanction!" said one of the

Knights. "You know what's waiting for us there. A thousand of

the cursed Solamnics, that's what!"

"I'm off to Khur with the first light," said another. "I must

have been thunderstruck to have come this far!"

"I'll not stand first watch," a third grumbled. "She won't let us

have a fire to dry out our clothes or cook a decent meal. Let her

stand first watch."

" Aye, let her stand first watch!" The others agreed.

"I intend to," said Mina calmly. Rising from her seat, she de-

scended to the road. She stood astride it, her feet planted firmly.

Arms crossed over her chest, she faced the men. "I will stand all

the watches this night. You will need your rest for the morrow.

You should sleep."

She was not angry. She was not sympathetic. She was cer-

tainly not pandering to them, did not seem to be agreeing with

them in hope of gaining their favor. She was making a statement

of fact, presenting a logical and rational argument. The men

would need their rest for the morrow.

The Knights were mollified, but still angry, behaving like chil-

dren who've been made the butt of a joke and don't like it. Mina

ordered them to make up their beds and lie down.

The Knights did as they were told, grumbling that their blan-

kets were still wet and how could she expect them to sleep on the

hard rock? They vowed, one and all, to leave with the dawn.

Mina returned to her seat upon the boulder and looked out

again at the stars and the rising moon. She began to sing.

The song was not like the Song of Death, the terrible dirge

sung to them by the ghosts of Neraka. Mina's song was a battle

song. A song sung by the brave as they march upon the foe, a

song meant to stir the hearts of those who sing it, a song meant to

strike terror into the hearts of their enemies.

 

 

Glory calls us

With trumpet's tongue,

calls us do great deeds

on the field of valor,

calls us to give our blood

to the flame,

to the ground,

the thirsty ground,

the holy fire.

 

The song continued, a paean sung by the victors in their

moment of triumph, a song of reminiscence sung by the old sol-

dier telling his tale of valor.

Closing his eyes, Galdar saw deeds of courage and bravery,

and he saw, thrilling with pride, that he was the one performing.

these heroic feats. His sword flared with the purple white of the

lightning, he drank the blood of his enemies. He marched from

one glorious battle to the next, this song of victory on his lips.

Always Mina rode before him, leading him, inspiring him, urging

him to follow her into the heart of the battle. The purple white

glow that emanated from her shone on him.

The song ended. Galdar blinked, realized, to his astonishment

and chagrin, that he had fallen asleep. He had not meant to, he

had intended to stand watch with her. He rubbed his eyes,

wished she would start singing again. The night was cold and

empty without the song. He looked around to see if the others felt

the same.

They slumbered deeply and peacefully, smiles on their lips.

They had laid their swords within reach on the ground beside

them. Their hands closed over the hilts as if they would leap up

and race off to the fray in an instant. They were sharing Galdar's

dream, the dream of the song.

Marveling, he looked at Mina to find her looking at him.

He rose to his feet, went to join her upon her rock.

"Do you know what I saw, Commander?" he asked.

Her amber eyes had caught the moon, encased it. "1 know,"

she replied.

"Will you do that for me, for us? Will you lead us to victory?"

The amber eyes, holding the moon captive, turned upon him.

"I will."

"Is it your god who promises you this?"

"It is," she replied gravely.

"Tell me the name of this god, that I may worship him," said

Galdar.

Mina shook her head slowly, emphatically. Her gaze left the

minotaur, went back to the sky, which was unusually dark, now

that she had captured the moon. The light, the only light, was in

her eyes. "It is not the right time."

"When will it be the right time?" Galdar pursued.

"Mortals have no faith in anything anymore. They are like

men lost in a fog who can see no farther than their own noses, and

so that is what they follow, if they follow anything at all. Some are

so paralyzed with fear that they are afraid to move. The people

must acquire faith in themselves before they are ready to believe

in anything beyond themselves."

"Will you do this, Commander? Will you make this happen."

"Tomorrow, you will see a miracle," she said.

Galdar settled himself upon the rock. "Who are you, Com-

mander?" he asked. "Where do you come from?"

Mina turned her gaze upon him and said, with a half-smile,

"Who are you, Sub commander? Where do you come from?"

"Why, I'm a minotaur. I was born in-"

"No." She shook her head gently. "Where before that?"

"Before I was born?" Galdar was confused. "I don't know. No

person does."

"Precisely," said Mina and turned away.

Galdar scratched his homed head, shrugged in his turn. Ob-

viously she did not want to tell him, and why should she? It was

none of his business. It made no difference to him. She was right.

He had not believed in anything before this moment. Now he had

found something in which to believe. He had found Mina.

She confronted him again, said abruptly, "Are you still tired?"

"No, Talon Leader, I am not," Galdar replied. He had slept

only a few hours, but the sleep had left him unusually refreshed.

Mina shook her head. "Do not call me 'Talon Leader.' I want

you to call me 'Mina.' "

"That is not right, Talon Leader," he protested. "Calling you

by your name does not show proper respect."

"If the men have no respect for me, will it matter what they

call me?" she returned. "Besides," she added with calm convic-

Ition, "the rank I hold does not yet exist."

Galdar really thought she was getting a bit above herself now,

needed taking down a notch or two. "Perhaps you think you should

be the 'Lord of the Night,'" he suggested by way of a joke, naming

the highest rank that could be held by the Knights of Neraka.

Mina did not laugh. "Someday, the Lord of the Night will

kneel down before me."

Galdar knew Lord Targonne well, had difficulty imagining

the greedy, grasping, ambitious man kneeling to do anything

unless it might be to scoop up a dropped copper. Galdar didn't

quite know what to say to such a ludicrous concept and so fell

silent, returning in his mind to the dream of glory, reaching for it

as a parched man reaches out to water. He wanted so much to be-

lieve in it, wanted to believe it was more than mirage.

"If you are certain you are not tired, Galdar," Mina continued,

"I want to ask a boon of you."

"Anything, Tal- Mina," he said, faltering.

"Tomorrow we ride into battle." A little frown line marred Mina's

smooth complexion. "I have no weapon, nor have I ever been trained

in the use of one. Have we time to do so tonight, do you think?"

Galdar's jaw went slack. He wondered if he'd heard correctly.

He was so stunned, he could at first make no reply. "You. . .

you've never wielded a weapon?"

Mina shook her head calmly.

"Have you ever been in battle, Mina?"

She shook her head again.

"Have you ever seen a battle?" Galdar was feeling desperate.

"No, Galdar." Mina smiled at him. "That is why I am asking

for your help. We will go a little ways down the road to prac-

tice, so that we will not disturb the others. Do not worry. They

will be safe. Foxfire would warn me if an enemy approached.

Bring along whatever weapon you think would be easiest for

me to learn."

Mina walked off down the road to find a suitable practice

field, leaving an amazed Galdar to search through the weapons

he and the others carried, to find one suitable for her, a girl who

had never before held a weapon and who was, tomorrow, going

to lead them into battle.

Galdar cudgeled his brain, tried to knock some common sense

back into his head. A dream seemed reality, reality seemed a

dream. Drawing his dagger, he stared at it a moment, watched the

moonlight flow like quicksilver along the blade. He jabbed the

point of the dagger into his arm, the arm Mina had restored to

him. Stinging pain and the warm flow of blood indicated that the

arm was real, confirmed that he was indeed awake.

Galdar had given his promise, and if he had one thing left to

him in this life that he hadn't sold, battered, or flung away, it was

his honor. He slid the dagger back into its sheathe upon his belt

and looked over the stock of weapons.

A sword was out of the question. There was no time to train

her properly in its use, she would do more damage to herself or

those around than to a foe. He could find nothing that he deemed

suitable, and then he noticed the moonlight shining on one

weapon in particular, as if it were trying to bring it to his atten-

tion-the weapon known as a morning star. Galdar eyed it.

Frowning thoughtfully, he hefted it in his hand. The morning star

is a battlehammer adorned with spikes on the end, spikes the fan-

ciful said give it the look of a star, hence its name. The morning

star was not heavy, took relatively little skill to learn to use, and

was particularly effective against knights in armor. One simply

bashed one's opponent with the morning star until his armor

cracked like a nutshell. Of course, one had to avoid the enemy's

own weapon while one was doing the bashing. Galdar picked up

a small shield and, armed with these, trudged off down the road,

leaving a horse to stand watch.

"I've gone mad," he muttered. "Stark, staring mad."

Mina had located an open space among the rocks, probably

used as a wayside camping place for those long-ago armies that

had marched along the road. She took hold of the morning star,

eyed it critically, hefted it to test its weight and balance. Galdar

showed her how to hold the shield, where to position it for best

advantage. He instructed her in the use of the morning star, then

gave her some simple exercises so that she could accustom herself

to the feel of the weapon.

He was gratified (and relieved) to learn that Mina was a quick

study. Though her frame was thin, she was well-muscled. Her

balance was good, her movements were graceful and fluid.

Galdar raised his own shield, let her take a few practice blows.

Her first strike was impressive, her second drove him backward,

her third put a great dent in his shield and jarred his arm to the

marrow.

"I like this weapon, Galdar," she said approvingly. "You have

chosen well."

Galdar grunted, rubbed his aching arm, and laid down his

shield. Drawing his broadsword from its sheathe, he wrapped the

sword in a cloak, bound the cloth around it tightly with rope, and

took up a fighting stance.

"Now we go to work," he said.

At the end of two hours, Galdar was astonished at his pupil's

progress.

"Are you certain you have never trained as a soldier?" he

asked, pausing to catch his breath.

"I have never done so," said Mina. "Look, I will show you."

Dropping her weapon, she held out the hand that had been wield-

ing the morning star to the moonlight. "Judge my truthfulness."

Her soft palm was raw and bloody from opened blisters. Yet

she had never once complained, never flinched in her strikes,

though the pain of her wounds must have been excruciating.

Galdar regarded her with undisguised admiration. If there is

one virtue the minotaurs prize, it is the ability to bear pain in

stoic silence. liThe spirit of some great warrior must live in you,

Mina. My people believe that such a thing is possible. When one

of our warriors dies courageously in battle, it is the custom in

my tribe to cut out his heart and eat it, hoping that his spirit will

enter our own."

"The only hearts I will eat will be those of my enemies," said

Mina. "My strength and my skill are given to me by my god." She

bent to pick up the morning star.

"No, no more practice this night," said Galdar, snatching it

out from under her fingers. "We must tend to those blisters. Too

bad," he said, eyeing her. "1 fear that you will not be able to even

set your hand to your horses' reins in the morning, much less

hold a weapon. Perhaps we should wait here a few days until you

are healed."

"We must reach Sanction tomorrow," said Mina. "So it is or-

dered. If we arrive a day late, the battle will be finished. Our

troops will have suffered a terrible defeat."

"Sanction has long been besieged," Galdar said, disbelieving.

"Ever since the foul Solamnics made a pact with that bastard who

rules the city, Hogan Bight. We cannot dislodge them, and they do

not have the strength to drive us back. The battle is at a stalemate.

We attack the walls every day and they defend. Civilians are

killed. Parts of the city catch fire. Eventually they'll grow weary

of this and surrender. The siege has lasted for well over a year

now. I don't see that a single day will make any difference. Stay

here and rest."

"You do not see because your eyes are not yet fully open,"

Mina said. "Bring me some water to wash my hands and some

cloth to wipe them clean of blood. Have no fear. I will be able to

ride and to fight."

"Why not heal yourself, Mina?" Galdar suggested, testing her,

hoping to see another miracle. "Heal yourself as you healed me."

Her amber eyes caught the light of the coming dawn, just

starting to brighten the sky. She looked into the dawn and the

thought came to his mind that she was already seeing tomorrow's

sunset.

"Many hundreds will die in terrible agony," she said in a soft

voice. "The pain I bear, I bear in tribute to them. I give it as gift to

my god. Rouse the others, Galdar. It is time."

Galdar expected more than half the soldiers to depart as they

had threatened to do in the night. He found on his return to camp

that the men were already up and stirring. They were in excellent

spirits, confident excited, speaking of the bold deeds they would

do this day. Deeds that they said had come to them in dreams

more real than waking.

Mina appeared among them, carrying her shield and her

morning star in hands that still bled. Galdar watched her with

concern. She was weary from her exercise and from the previous

day's hard ride. Standing upon the road, isolated, alone, she

seemed suddenly mortal, fragile. Her head drooped, her shoul-

ders sagged. Her hands must bum and sting, her muscles ache.

She sighed deeply and looked heavenward, as if questioning

whether or not she truly had the strength to carry on.

At sight of her, the Knights lifted their swords, clashed them

against their shields in salute.

"Mina! Mina!" they chanted and their chants bounded back

from the mountains with the stirring sound of a clarion's call.

Mina lifted her head. The salute was wine to her flagging

spirits. Her lips parted, she drank it in. Weariness fell from her

like cast-off rags. Her armor shone red in the lurid light of the

rising sun.

"Ride hard. We ride this day to glory," she told them, and the

Knights cheered wildly.

Foxfire came at her command. She mounted and grasped the

reins firmly in her bleeding, blistered hands. It was then that

Galdar, taking his place alongside her, running at her stirrup,

noted that she wore around her peck a silver medallion upon a

silver chain. He looked at it closely, to see what the medallion

might have engraved upon its surface.

The medallion was blank. Plain silver, without mark.

Strange. Why should anyone wear a blank medallion? He had no

chance to ask her, for at that instant Mina struck her spurs to her

horse's flank.

Foxfire galloped down the road.

Mina's Knights rode behind her.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

THE FUNERAL OF CARAMON MAJERE

 

 

At the rising of the sun-a splendid dawn of gold and

purple with a heart of deep, vibrant red-the people of

Solace gathered outside the Inn of the Last Home in silent

vigil, offering their love and their respect for the brave, good and

gentle man who lay inside.

There was little talk. The people stood in silence presaging the

great silence that will fall eventually upon us all. Mothers quieted

fretful children, who stared at the Inn, ablaze with lights, not un-

derstanding what had happened, only sensing that it was some-

thing great and awful, a sensation that impressed itself upon their

unformed minds, one they would remember to the end of their

own days.

"I'm truly sorry, Laura," Tas said to her in the quiet hour

before dawn.

Laura stood beside the booth where Caramon was accus-

!omed to have his breakfast. She stood there doing nothing, star-

ing at nothing, her face pale and drawn.

"Caramon was my very best friend in all the world," Tas

told her.

"Thank you." She smiled, though her smile trembled. Her

eyes were red from weeping.

"Tasslehoff," the kender reminded her, thinking she had for-

gotten his name.

"Yes." Laura appeared uneasy. "Er . . . Tasslehoff."

"I am Tasslehoff Burrfoot. The original," the kender added, re-

calling his thirty-seven namesakes-thirty-nine counting the

dogs. "Caramon recognized me. He gave me a hug and said he

was glad to see me."

Laura regarded him uncertainly. "You certainly do look like

Tasslehoff. But then I was just a little girl the last time I re-

member seeing him, and all kender look alike anyway, and it

just doesn't make sense! Tasslehoff Burrfoot's been dead these

thirty years!"

Tas would have explained-all about the Device of Time

Journeying and Fizban having set the device wrong the first time

so that Tas had arrived at Caramon's first funeral too late to give

his speech, but there was a lump of sadness caught in the

kender's gullet, a lump so very big that it prevented the words

from coming out.

Laura's gaze went to the stairs of the Inn. Her eyes filled again

with tears. She put her head in her hands.

"There, there," Tas said, patting her shoulder. "Palin will be

here soon. He knows who I am, and he'll be able to explain

everything."

"Palin won't be here," Laura sobbed. "1 can't get word to him.

It's too dangerous! His own father dead and him not able to come

to the burial. His wife and my dear sister trapped in Haven, since

the dragon's closed the roads. Only me here to say good-bye to

father. It's too hard! Too hard to bear!"

"Why, of course, Palin will be here," Tas stated, wondering

what dragon had closed the roads and why. He meant to ask, but

with all the other thoughts in his mind, this one couldn't battle its

way to the front. "There's that young wizard staying here in the

Inn. Room Seventeen. His name is . . . well, I forget his name, but

you'll send him to the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth, where

Palin is Head of the Order of White Robes."

What tower in Wayreth?" Laura said. She had stopped

crYIng and was looking puzzled. "The tower's gone, disap-

peared, just like the tower in Palanthas. Palin was head of the

Academy of Sorcery, but he doesn't even have that, anymore.

The dragon Beryl destroyed the academy a year ago, almost to

this date. And there is no Room Seventeen. Not since the Inn was

rebuilt the second time."

Tas, busy with remembering, wasn't listening. "Palin will

come right away and he'll bring Dalamar, too, and Jenna. Palin

will send the messengers to Lady Crysania in the Temple of Pal-

adine and to Goldmoon and Riverwind in Que-shu and Laurana

and Gilthas and Silvanoshei in Silvanesti. They'll all be here soon

so we...we...

Tas's voice trailed off.

Laura was staring at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted two

heads. Tas knew because he'd felt that same expression on his

own face when he'd been in the presence of a troll who had done

that very thing. Slowly, keeping her eyes on Tas, Laura edged

away from him.

"You sit right down here," she said, and her voice was very

soft and very gentle. "Sit right here, and I'll . . . I'll bring you a big

plate of-"

"Spiced potatoes?" Tas asked brightly. If anything could get

rid of the lump in his throat, it was Otik's spiced potatoes.

"Yes, a big, heaping dish of spiced potatoes. We haven't lit the

cook fires yet this morning, and Cook was so upset I gave her the

day off, so it may take me awhile. You sit down and promise you

won't go anywhere, " Laura said, backing away from the table.

She slid a chair in between her and Tas.

"Oh, I won't go anywhere at all," Tas promised, plopping

himself down. III have to speak at the funeral, you know."

"Yes, that's right." Laura pressed her lips tightly together with

the result that she wasn't able to say anything for a few moments.

Drawing in a deep breath, she added, "You have to speak at the

funeral. Stay here, that's a good kender."

"Good" and IIkender" being two words that were rarely, if

ever, linked, Tasslehoff spent the time sitting at the table, thinking

about what a good kender might be and wondering if he was one

himself. He assumed he probably was, since he was a hero and all

that. Having settled this question to his satisfaction, he took out

his notes and went over his speech, humming a little tune to keep

himself company and to help the sadness work its way down his

windpipe.

He heard Laura talking to a young man, perhaps the wizard

in Room Seventeen, but Tas didn't really pay much attention to

what she was saying, since it seemed to involve a poor person

who was afflicted, a person who had gone crazy and might be

dangerous. At any other time, Tas would have been interested to

see a dangerous, afflicted, crazy person, but he had his speech to

worry about, and since that was the reason he'd made this trip in

the first place-or rather, in the second place--he concentrated

on that.

He was still concentrating on it, along with a plate of potatoes

and a mug of ale, when he became aware that a tall person was

standing over him wearing a grim expression.

"Oh, hullo," Tas said, looking up smiling to see that the tall

person was actually his extremely good friend, the Knight who'd

arrested him yesterday. Since the Knight was an extremely good

friend, it was a pity Tas couldn't recall his name. "Please, sit

down. Would you like some potatoes? Maybe some eggs?"

The Knight refused all offers of anything to eat or drink. He took

a seat opposite Tas, regarded the kender with a stem expression.

"I understand that you have been causing trouble," the

Knight said in a cold and nasty flat tone of voice.

It just so happened that at that moment Tasslehoff was rather

proud of himself for not causing any trouble. He'd been sitting

quietly at the table, thinking sad thoughts of Caramon's being

gone and happy thoughts of the wonderful time they'd spent to-

gether. He hadn't once looked to see if there might be something

interesting in the wood box. He had foregone his usual inspection

of the silver chest, and he had only acquired one strange purse,

and while he didn't exactly remember how he had come by that,

he had to assume that someone had dropped it. He'd be sure to

return it after the funeral.

Tas was therefore justifiably resentful of the Knight's implica-

tion. He fixed the Knight with a stem eye-dueling stem eyes, as

it were. "I'm sure you don't mean to be ugly," Tas said. "You're

upset. I understand."

The young Knight's face took on a very peculiar color, going ex-

tremely red, almost purple. He tried to say something, but he was

so angry that when he opened his mouth, only sputters came out.

"I see the problem," Tas said, correcting himself. "No

wonder you didn't understand me. I didn't mean 'ugly' as in

'ugly.' I was referring to your disposition, not your face, which

is, however, a remarkably ugly one. I don't know when I've seen

one uglier. StilL I know you can't mend your face, and perhaps

you can't mend your disposition either, being a Solamnic Knight

and all, but you have made a mistake. I have not been causing

trouble. I have been sitting at this table eating potatoes-they're

really quite good, are you sure you won't have some? Well, if

you won't, I'll just finish up these last few. Where was I? Oh,

yes. I've been sitting here eating and working on my speech. For

the funeral."

When the Knight was finally able to speak without sputters,

his tone was even colder and nastier, if such a thing were pos-

sible. "Mistress Laura sent word through one of the customers

that you were scaring her with your outlandish and irrational

statements. My superiors sent me to bring you back to jail. They

would also like to know," he added, his tone grim, "how you

managed to get out of jail this morning."

"I'll be very happy to come back to the jail with you. It was a

very nice jail," Tas answered politely. "I've never seen one that

was kender-proof before. I'll go back with you right after the fu-

neral. I missed the funeral once, you see. I can't miss it again.

Oops! No, I forgot." Tas sighed. "I can't go back to the jail with

you." He really wished he could remember the Knight's name.

He didn't like to ask. It wasn't polite. "1 have to return to my own

time right away. I promised Fizban I wouldn't go gallivanting.

Perhaps I could visit your jail another time."

"Maybe you should let him stay, Sir Gerard," Laura said,

coming up to stand beside them, twisting her apron in her hands.

"He seems very determined, and I wouldn't want him to cause

any trouble. Besides"-her tears started to flow- "maybe he's

telling the truth! After all, Father thought he was Tasslehoff."

Gerard! Tas was vastly relieved. Gerard was the knight's

name.

"He did?" Gerard was skeptical. "He said so?"

"Yes," Laura said, wiping her eyes with her apron. "The

kender walked into the Inn. Daddy was sitting here in his usual

place. The kender walked right up to him and said, 'Hullo, Cara-

mon! I've come to speak at your funeral. I'm a little bit early, so I

thought you might like to hear what I'm going to say,' and Daddy

looked at him in surprise. At first I don't think he believed him,

but then he looked at him closer and cried out, 'Tas!' And he gave

him a big hug."

"He did." Tas felt a snuffle coming on. "He hugged me, and

he said he was glad to see me and where had I been all this time?

I said that it was a very long story and time was the one thing he

didn't have a lot of so I should really let him hear the speech

first." Giving way to the snuffle, Tas mopped his dribbling nose

with his sleeve.

"Perhaps we could let him stay for the funeral," Laura urged.

"I think it would have pleased Daddy. If you could. . . well. . .

just keep an eye on him."

Gerard was clearly dubious. He even ventured to argue with

her, but Laura had made up her mind, and she was very much

like her mother. When her mind was made up, an army of drag-

ons would not move her. ,

Laura opened the doors to the Inn to let in the sunshine, to let

in life and to let in the living who came to pay their respects to the

dead. Caramon Majere lay in a simple wooden casket in front of

the great fireplace of the Inn he loved. No fire burned, only ashes

filled the grate. The people of Solace filed past, each pausing to

offer something to the dead-a silent farewell, a quiet blessing, a

favorite toy, fresh-picked flowers.

The mourners noted that his expression was peaceful, even

cheerful, more cheerful than they had seen him since his beloved

Tika died. "Somewhere, they're together," people said and smiled

through their tears.

Laura stood near the door, accepting condolences. She was

dressed in the clothes she wore for work-a snowy white blouse, a

clean fresh apron, a pretty skirt of royal blue with white petticoats.

People wondered that she wasn't draped head to toe in black.

"Father would not have wanted me to," was her simple reply.

People said it was sad that Laura was the only member of the

family to be present to lay their father t~rest. Dezra, her sister,

had been in Haven purchasing hops for the Inn's famous ale, only

to be trapped there when the dragon Beryl attacked the city.

Dezra had managed to smuggle word to her sister that she was

safe and well, but she dared not try to return; the roads were not

safe for travelers.

As for Caramon's son, Palin, he was gone from Solace on yet

another of his mysterious journeys. If Laura knew where he was,

she didn't say. His wife, Usha, a portrait painter of some renown,

had traveled to Haven as company for Dezra. Since Usha had

painted the portraits of families of some of the commanders of the

Knights of Neraka, she was involved in negotiations to try to win

a guarantee of safe passage for herself and for Dezra. Usha's chil-

dren, Ulin and Linsha, were off on adventures of their own.

Linsha, a Solamnic Knight, had not been heard from in many

months. Ulin had gone away after hearing a report of some mag-

ical artifact and was believed to be in Palanthas.

Tas sat in a booth, under guard, the Knight Gerard at his side.

Watching the people file in, the kender shook his head.

"But I tell you this isn't the way Caramon's funeral's sup-

posed to be," Tasslehoff repeated insistently.

"Shut your mouth, you little fiend," Gerard ordered in a low,

harsh tone. "This is hard enough on Laura and her father's

friends without you making matters worse with your foolish

chatter." To emphasize his words, he gripped the kender's shoul-

der hard, gave him a good shake.

"You're hurting me," Tas protested.

"Good," Gerard growled. "Now just keep quiet, and do as

you're told."

Tas kept quiet, a remarkable feat for him, but one that was

easier at this moment than any of his friends might have had

reason to expect. His unaccustomed silence was due to the

lump of sadness that was still stuck in his throat and that he

could not seem to swallow. The sadness was all mixed up with

the confusion that was muddling his mind and making it hard

to think.

Caramon's funeral was not going at all the way it was meant

to go. Tas knew this quite well because he'd been to Caramon's

funeral once already and remembered how it went. This wasn't it.

Consequently, Tas wasn't enjoying himself nearly as much as

he'd expected.

Things were wrong. All wrong. Utterly wrong. Completely

and irretrievably wrong. None of the dignitaries were here who

were supposed to be here. Palin hadn't arrived, and Tas began to

think that perhaps Laura was right and he wasn't going to arrive.

Lady Crysania did not come. Goldmoon and Riverwind were

missing. Dalamar did not suddenly appear, materializing out of

the shadows and giving everyone a good scare. Tas discovered

that he couldn't give his speech. The lump was too big and

wouldn't let him. Just one more thing that was wrong.

The crowds were large-the entire population of Solace and

surrounding communities came to pay their final respects and to

extol the memory of the beloved man. But the crowds were not as

large as they had been at Caramon's first funeral.

Caramon was buried near the Inn he loved, next to the graves

of his wife and sons. The vallenwood sapling Caramon had

planted in honor of Tika was young and thriving. The vallen-

woods he had planted for his fallen sons were full-grown trees,

standing tall and proud as the guard provided by the Knights of

Solamnia, who accorded Caramon the honor rarely performed for

a man who was not a Knight: escorting his coffin to the burial site.

Laura planted the vallenwood in her father's memory, planted

the tree in the very heart of Solace, near the tree she had planted

for her mother. The couple had been the heart of Solace for many

years, and everyone felt it was fitting.

The sapling stood uneasily in the fresh-turned earth, looking

lost and forlorn. The people said what was in their hearts, paid

their tribute. The Knights sheathed their swords with solemn

faces, and the funeral was over. Everyone went home to dinner.

The Inn was closed for the first time since the red dragon had

picked it up and hurled it out of its tree during the War of the

Lance. Laura's friends offered to spend the first lonely nights

with her, but she refused, saying that she wanted to have her cry

in private. She sent home Cook, who was in such a state that

when she finally did come back to work, she did not need to use

any salt in the food for the tears she dripped into it. As for the

gully dwarf, he had not moved from the comer into which he'd

collapsed the moment he heard of Caramon's death. He lay in a

huddled heap wailing and howlinr:-.dismally until, to everyone's

relief, he cried himself to sleep.

"Good-bye, Laura," said Tas, reaching out his hand. He and

Gerard were the last to leave; the kender having refused to

budge until everyone was gone and he was quite certain that

nothing was going to happen the way it was intended to happen.

"The funeral was very nice. Not as nice as the other funeral, but

then I guess you couldn't help that. I really do not understand

what is going on. Perhaps that's why Caramon told Sir Gerard to

take me to see Dalamar, which I would, except that I think

Fizban might consider that to be gallivanting. But, anyway,

good-bye and thank you."

Laura looked down at the kender, who was no longer jaunty

and cheerful but looking very forlorn and bereft and downcast.

Suddenly, Laura knelt beside him and enfolded him in her arms.

"I do believe you're Tasslehofft" she said to him softly,

fiercely. "Thank you for coming." She hugged the breath from

his small body and then turned and ran through the door lead-

ing to the family's private quarters. "Lock up, will you, Sir

Gerard?" she called out over her shoulder and shut and locked

the door behind her.

The Inn was quiet. The only sound that could be heard was the

rustling of the leaves of the vallenwood tree and the creaking of

the branches. The rustling had a weepy sound to it, and it seemed

that the branches were lamenting. Tas had never seen the Inn

empty before. Looking around, he remembered the night they had

all met here after their five-year separation. He could see Flint's

face and hear his gruff complaining, he could see Caramon stand-

ing protectively near his twin brother, he could see Raistlin's sharp

eyes keeping watch over everything. He could almost hear Gold-

moon's song again.

 

 

The staff flares in blue light

And both of them vanish;

The grasslands are faded, and autumn is here.

 

 

"Everyone's vanished," Tas said ..to himself softly, and felt an-

other snuffle coming on.

"Let's go," said Gerard.

Hand on the kender's shoulder, the Knight steered Tas

toward the door, where he brought the kender to a halt to

remove several articles of a valuable nature, which had hap-

pened to tumble into his pouches. Gerard left them on the bar for

their owners to reclaim. This done, he took down the key that

hung from a hook on the wall near the door, and locked the door.

He hung the key on a hook outside the Inn, placed there in case

anyone needed a room after hours, and then marched the kender

down the stairs.

"Where are we going?" Tas asked. "What's that bundle you're

carrying? Can I look inside? Are you going to take me to see

Dalamar? I haven't seen him in a long time. Did you ever hear the

story of how I met Dalamar? Caramon and I were--"

"Just shut up, will you?" Gerard said in a nasty, snapping sort

of way. "Your chatter is giving me a headache. As to where we're

going, we're returning to the garrison. And speaking of the

bundle I'm carrying, if you touch it I'll run you through with my

sword."

The Knight would say nothing more than that, although Tas

asked and asked and tried to guess and then asked if he'd

guessed right and if not, could Gerard give him a clue. Was what

was in the bundle bigger than a breadbox? Was it a cat? Was it a

cat in a breadbox? All to no avail. The Knight said nothing. His

grip on the kender was firm.

The two of them arrived at the Solamnic garrison. The guards

on duty greeted the Knight distantly. Sir Gerard did not return

their greetings but said that he needed to see the Lord of Shields.

The guards, who were members of the Lord of Shield's own per-

sonal retinue, replied that his lordship had just returned from the

funeral and left orders not to be disturbed. They wanted to know

the nature of Gerard's request.

"The matter is personal," the knight said. "Tell his lordship

that I seek a ruling on the Measure. My need is urgent."

A guardsman departed. He returned a moment later to say,

grudgingly, that Sir Gerard was to go in.

Gerard started to enter with Tasslehoff in tow.

"Not so fast, sir," the guard said, blocking their way with his

halberd. "The Lord of Shields said nothing about a kender."

"The kender is in my custody," said Gerard, ''as ordered by

the lord himself. I have not been given leave to release him from

my care. I would, however, be willing to leave him here with you

if you will guarantee that he does nojlarm during the time I am

with His Lordship-which may be several hours, my dilemma is

complex-and that he will be here when I return."

The Knight hesitated.

"He will be pleased to tell you his story of how he first met the

wizard Dalamar," Gerard added dryly.

"Take him," said the Knight.

Tas and his escort entered the garrison, passing through the

gate that stood in the center of a tall fence made of wooden poles,

each planed to a sharp point at the top. Inside the garrison were

stables for the horses, a small training field with a target set up for

archery practice, and several buildings. The garrison was not a

large one. Having been established to house those who guarded

the Tomb of the Heroes, it had been expanded to accommodate

the Knights who would make what would probably be a last-

stand defence of Solace if the dragon Beryl attacked.

Gerard had been thinking with some elation that his days of

guarding a tomb might be drawing to a close, that battle with the

dragon was imminent, though he and all the Knights were under

orders not mention this to anyone. The Knights had no proof that

Beryl was preparing to sweep down on Solace and they did not

want to provoke her into attacking. But the Solamnic command-

ers were quietly making plans.

Inside the stockade, a long, low building provided sleeping

quarters for the Knights and the soldiers under their command.

In addition, there were several outbuildings used for storage and

an administrative building, where the head of the garrison had

his own lodgings. These doubled as his office.

His lordship's aide-de-camp met Gerard and ushered him

inside. "His lordship will be with you shortly, Sir Gerard," said

the aide.

"Gerard!" called out a woman's voice. "How good to see you!

I thought I heard your name."

Lady Warren was a handsome woman of about sixty years

with white hair and a comple~ion the color of warm tea. Through-

out their forty years of marriage, she had accompanied her hus-

band on all his journeys. As gruff and bluff as any soldier, she

presently wore an apron covered with flour. She kissed Gerard on

his cheek-he stood stiffly at attention, his helm beneath his

arm-and glanced askance at the kender.

"Oh, dear," she said. "Midge!" she called to the back of the

house in a voice that might have rung across the battlefield, "lock

up my jewels!"

"Tasslehoff Burrfoot, ma'am," said Tas, offering his hand.

"Who isn't these days?" Lady Warren returned and promptly

thrust her flour-covered hands that sparkled with several inter-

esting looking rings beneath her apron. "And how are your dear

father and mother, Gerard?"

"Quite well, I thank you, ma'am," said Gerard.

"You naughty boy." Lady Warren scolded, shaking her

finger at him. "You know nothing about their health at all. You

haven't written to your dear mother in two months. She writes

to my husband to complain and asks him, most pathetically, if

you are well and keeping your feet dry. For shame. To worry

your good mother so! His lordship has promised that you shall

write to her this very day. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't sit

you down and have you compose the letter while you are in

there with him."

"Yes, ma'am," said Gerard.

"Now I must go finish the baking. Midge and I are taking one

hundred loaves of bread to Laura to help keep the Inn going, poor

thing. Ah, it's a sad day for Solace." Lady Warren wiped her face

with her hand, leaving a smear of flour behind.

"Yes, ma'am," said Gerard.

"You may go in now," said the aide and opened a door lead-

ing from the main lodging to the lord's personal quarters.

Lady Warren took her leave, asking to be remembered to

Gerard's dear mother. Gerard promised, his voice expressionless,

that he would do so. Bowing, he left to follow the aide.

A large man of middle years with the black skin common to the

people of Southern Ergoth greeted the young man warmly, a greet-

ing the young Knight returned with equal and unusual warmth.

"I'm glad you stopped by, Gerard!" said Lord Warren. "Come

and sit down. So this is the kender, is it?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I'll be with you in a moment." Gerard

led Tas to a chair, plunked him down, and took out a length of

rope. Acting so swiftly that Tas did not have time to protest, the

Knight tied the kender's wrists to the chair's arms. He then

brought out a gag and wrapped i.around Tas's mouth.

"Is that necessary?" Lord Warren asked mildly.

"If we want to have any semblance of a rational conversa-

tion, it is, sir," Gerard replied, drawing up a chair. He placed the

mysterious bundle on the floor at his feet. "Otherwise you

would hear stories about how this was the second time Cara-

mon Majere had died. The kender would tell you how this fu-

neral differed from Caramon Majere's first funeral. You would

hear a recitation of who attended the first time and who wasn't

at this one."

"Indeed." Lord Warren's face took on a softened, pitying look.

"He must be one of the afflicted ones. Poor thing."

"What's an afflicted one?" Tas asked, except that due to the

gag the words came out all gruff and grumbly, sounding as if he

were speaking dwarven with a touch of gnome thrown in for

good measure. Consequently no one understood him, and no one

bothered to answer.

Gerard and Lord Warren began to discuss the funeral. Lord

Warren spoke in such warm tones about Caramon that the lump

of sadness returned to Tas's throat with the result that he didn't

need the gag at all.

"And now, Gerard, what can I do for you?" Lord Warren

asked, when the subject of the funeral was exhausted. He re-

garded the young Knight intently. "My aide said you had a ques-

tion about the Measure."

"Yes, my lord. I require a ruling."

"You, Gerard?" Lord Warren raised a graying eyebrow. "Since

when do you give a damn about the dictates of the Measure?"

Gerard flushed, looked uncomfortable.

Lord Warren smiled at the Knight's discomfiture. "I've heard

you express yourself quite clearly regarding what you consider to

be the 'old-fashioned, hidebound' way of doing things-"

Gerard shifted in his chair. "Sir, I may have, on occasion, ex-

pressed my doubts about certain precepts of the Measure-"

Lord Warren's eyebrow twitched even higher.

Gerard considered that it was time to change the subject. "My

lord, an incident occurred yesterday. There were several civilians

present. There will be questions asked."

Lord Warren looked grave. "Will this require a Knight's

Council?"

"No, my lord. I hold you in the highest esteem, and I will

respect your decision concerning this matter. A task has been

given me, and I need to know whether or not I should pursue it

or if I may, in honor, refuse."

"Who gave you this task? Another Knight?" Lord Warren ap-

peared uneasy. He knew of the rancor that existed between

Gerard and the rest of the Knights in the garrison. He had long

feared that some quarrel would break out perhaps resulting in

some foolish challenge on the field of honor.

"No, sir," Gerard answered evenly. "The task was given to me

by a dying man."

"Ah!" said Lord Warren. "Caramon Majere."

"Yes, my lord."

" A last request?"

"Not so much a request, my lord," said Gerard. "An assign-

ment. I would almost sayan order, but Majere was not of the

Knighthood."

"Not by birth, perhaps," said Lord Warren gently, "but in

spirit there was no better Knight living."

"Yes, my lord." Gerard was silent a moment, and Tas saw, for

the first time, that the young man was truly grieved at Caramon's

death.

"The last wishes of the dying are sacred to the Measure, which

states such wishes must be fulfilled if it be mortally possible. The

Measure makes no distinction if the dying person be of the

Knighthood, if it be male or female, human, elf, dwarf, gnome, or

kender. You are honor bound to take this task, Gerard."

"If it be mortally possible," Gerard countered.

"Yes," said Lord Warren. "So reads the Measure. Son, I see

you are deeply troubled by this. If you break no confidence, tell

me the nature of Caramon's last wish."

"I break no confidence, sir. I must tell you in any case, for if I

am to undertake it I will need your permission to be absent from

my post. Caramon Majere asked me to take this kender I have

here with me, a kender who claims to be Tasslehoff Burrfoot,

dead these thirty years, to Dalamar."

"The wizard Dalamar?" Lord Warren was incredulous.

"Yes, my lord. This is what happened. As he lay dying, Cara-

mon spoke of being reunited with his dead wife. Then he ap-

peared to be searching for someone in the crowd of people

gathered around him. He said, 'But where's Raistlin?'"

"That would be his twin brother," Lord Warren interrupted.

"Yes, sir. Caramon added, 'He said he would wait for me'-

meaning Raistlin had agreed to wait for him before leaving this

world for the next, or so Laura told me. Caramon often said that

since they were twins, one could not enter into the blessed realm

without the other."

"I would not think that Raistlin Majere would be permitted to

enter a 'blessed realm' at all," Lord Warren said dryly.

"True, sir." Gerard gave a wry smile. "If there is even a blessed

realm, which I doubt, then. . ."

He paused, coughed in embarrassement. Lord Warren was

frowning and looking very stern. Gerard apparently decided to

skip the philosophical discussion and continue with his story.

"Caramon added something to effect that 'Raistlin should be

here. With Tika. I don't understand. This is not right. Tas . . . What

Tas said. . . A different future. . . Dalamar will know. . . . Take

Tasslehoff to Dalamar.' He was very upset and it seemed to me

that he would not die in peace unless I promised to do as he

asked. So I promised."

"The wizard Raistlin has been dead over fifty years!" Lord

Warren exclaimed.

"Yes, sir. The so-called hero Burrfoot has been dead over

thirty years, so this cannot possibly be him. And the wizard Dala-

mar has disappeared. No one has seeK or heard of him since the

Tower of High Sorcery vanished. It is rumored that he has been

declared legally dead by the members of the Last Conclave."

"The rumors are true. I had 1t as fact from Palin Majere. But

we have no proof of that and we have a man's dying wish to con-

sider. I am not certain how to rule."

Gerard was silent. Tas would have spoken up but for the gag

and the realization that nothing he said could or would or should

make a difference. To be quite truthfuL Tasslehoff himself didn't

know what to do. He had been given strict orders by Fizban to go

to the funeral and to hurry right back. "Don't go gallivanting!"

had been the old wizard's exact words, and he'd looked very

fierce when he'd said them. Tas sat in the chair, chewing reflec-

tively on the gag and pondering the exact meaning of the word,

" gallivanting."

"I have something to show you, my lord," Gerard said. "With

your permission. . ."

Lifting the bundle, Gerard placed it on Lord Warren's desk

and began to untie the string at the top.

In the interim, Tas managed to wriggle his hands free of their

bonds. He could remove the gag now, and he could go off to ex-

plore this truly interesting room, which had several very fine

swords hanging on the wall a shield, and a whole case of maps.

Tas looked longingly at the maps, and his feet very nearly carried

him that direction, but he was extremely curious to see what was

in the Knight's bundle.

Gerard was taking a long time to open it; he seemed to be

having difficulty with the knots.

Tas would have offered to help but thus far every time he had

offered to be of help, Gerard had not seemed to appreciate it much.

Tas occupied himself by watching the grains of sand fall from the

top of an hourglass into the bottom and trying to count them as

they fell. This proved a challenge, for the sand grains fell quite rap-

idly and just when he had them sorted out, one after the other, two

or three would fall all in a heap and ruin his calculations.

Tas was somewhere between five thousand seven hundred

and thirty-six and five thousand seven hundred and thirty-eight

when the sands ran out. Gerard was still fumbling with the knots.

Lord Warren reached over and turned the glass. Tas began to

count again. "One, two, threefourfive . . ."

"Finally!" Gerard muttered and released the ties of the

bundle.

Tas left off counting sand grains and sat up as straight as he

possibly could in order to get a good view.

Gerard pressed the folds of the sack down around the object,

taking care- Tas saw-not to touch the object itself. Jewels

flashed and sparkled in the rays of the setting sun. Tas was so ex-

cited that he jumped out of his chair and tore the gag from his

mouth.

"Hey!" he cried, reaching for the object. "That's just like mine!

Where did you get it? Say!" he said, taking a good, close look.

"That is mine!"

Gerard closed his hand over the kender's hand that was just

inches away from the bejeweled object. Lord Warren stared at the

object, openmouthed.

"I found this in the kender's pouch, sir," said Gerard. "Last

night, when we searched him before locking him up in our

prison. A prison that, I might add, is not as kender-proof as we

thought. I'm not certain-I am no mage, my lord-but the device

appears to be to be magical. Quite magical."

"It is magical," Tasslehoff said proudly. "That's the way I

came here. It used to belong to Caramon, but he was always wor-

ried for fear someone would steal it and misuse it-1 can't imag-

ine who would do such a thing, myself. I offered to take care of it

for him, but Caramon said, no, he thought it should go some-

where where it would be truly safe, and Dalamar said he'd take

it, so Caramon gave it to him and he . .. ." Tas quit talking because

he didn't have an audience.

Lord Warren had withdrawn his hands from the desk. The

object was about the size of an egg, encrusted with jewels that

sparkled and glowed. Close examination revealed it to be made

up of a myriad small parts that looked as if they could be manip-

ulated, moved about. Lord Warren eyed it warily. Gerard kept

fast hold of the kender.

The sun sank down toward the horizon and now shone

brightly through the window. The office was cool and shadowed.

The object glittered and gleamed, its own small sun.

"I have never seen the like of it," said Lord Warren, awed.

"Nor have I, sir," said Gerard. "But Laura has."

Lord Warren looked up, startled.

"She said that her father had an object like this. He kept it

locked in a secret place in a room in the Inn that is dedicated to the

memory of his twin brother Raistlin. She remembers well the day,

some months prior to the Chaos War, when he removed the object

from its secret hiding place and gave it to . . ." Gerard paused.

"Dalamar?" said Lord Warren, astounded. He stared at the

device again. "Did her father say what it did? What magic it pos-

sessed ?"

"He said that the object had been given to him by Par-Salian

and that he had traveled back in time by means of its magic."

"He did, too," Tasslehoff offered. "I went with him. That's

how I knew how the device worked. You see, it occurred to me

that I might not outlive Caramon-"

Lord Warren said a single word, said it with emphasis and

sincerity. Tas was impressed. Knights didn't usually say words

like that.

"Do you think it's possible?" Lord Warren had shifted his

gaze. He began staring at Tas as if he'd sprouted two heads.

Obviously he's never seen a troll. These people should really

get out more, Tas thought.

"Do you think this is the real Tasslehoff Burrfoot?"

"Caramon Majere believed it was, my lord."

Lord Warren looked back at the strange device. "It is obvi-

ously an ancient artifact. No wizard has the ability to make mag-

Ical objects like this these days. Even I can feel its power, and I'm

certainly no mage, for which I thank fate." He looked back at Tas.

"No, I don't believe it's possible. This kender stole it, and he has

devised this outlandish tale to conceal his crime.

"We must return the artifact to the wizards, of course, though

not, I would say, to the wizard Dalamar." Lord Warren frowned.

" At the very least the device should be kept out of the hands of

the kender. Where is Palin Majere? It seems to me that he is the

one to consult." .

"But you can't stop the device from coming back to my

hands," Tas pointed out. "It's meant to always come back to me,

and it will, sooner or later. Par-Salian-the great Par-Salian, I met

him once, you know. He was very respectful to kender. Very." Tas

fixed Gerard with a stern eye, hoping the Knight would take the

hint. "Anyhow, Par-Sa Ii an told Caramon that the device was

magically designed to always return to the person who used it.

That's a safety precaution, so that you don't end up stranded back

in time with no way of going back home. It's come in quite handy,

since I have a tendency to lose things. I once lost a woolly mam-

moth. The way it happened was-"

"I agree, my lord," Gerard said loudly. "Be silent, kender.

Speak when you are spoken to." .

"Excuse me," said Tas, beginning to be bored. "But if you're

not going to listen to me, may I go look at your maps? I'm very

fond of maps."

Lord Warren waved his hand. Tas wandered off and was soon

absorbed in reading the maps, which were really lovely, but

which, the more he looked at them, he found very puzzling.

Gerard dropped his voice so low that Tas had a difficult time

hearing him. "Unfortunately, my lord, Palin Majere is on a secret

mission to the elven kingdom of Qualinesti, to consult with the

elven sorcerers. Such meetings have been banned by the dragon

Beryl, and if his whereabouts became known to her, she would

exact terrible retribution."

"Yet, it seems to me that he must know of this immediately!"

Lord Warren argued.

"He must also know of his father's death. If you will grant me

leave, my lord, I will undertake to escort the kender and this

device to Qualinesti, there to put both of them in the hands of

Palin Majere and also to impart the sad news about his father. I

will relate to Palin his father's dying request and ask him to judge

whether or not it may undertaken. I have little doubt but that he

will absolve me of it."

Lord Warren's troubled expression eased. "You are right. We

should put the matter into the hands of the son. If he declares his

father's last request impossible to fulfill, you may, with honor,

decline it. I wish you didn't have to go to Qualinesti, however.

Wouldn't it be more prudent to wait until the wizard returns?"

"There is no telling when that will be, my lord. Especially now

that Beryl has closed the roads. I believe this matter to be of the

utmost urgency. Also" -Gerard lowered his voice- "we would

have difficulty keeping the kender here indefinitely."

"Fizban told me to come right back to my own time," Tas in-

formed them. "I'm not to go gallivanting. But I would like to see

Palin and ask him why the funeral was all wrong. Do you think

that could be considered' gallivanting'?"

"Qualinesti lies deep in Beryl's territory," Lord Warren was

saying. "The land is ruled by the Knights of Neraka, who would

be only too pleased to lay their hands on one of our order. And if

the Knights of Neraka don't seize you and execute you as a spy,

the elves will. An army of our Knights could not enter that realm

and survive."

"I do not ask for an army, my lord. I do not ask for any escort,"

Gerard said firmly. "1 would prefer to travel on my own. Much

prefer it," he added with emphasis. "I ask you for leave from my

duties for a time, my lord."

"Granted, certainly." Lord Warren shook his head. "Though I

don't know what your father will say."

"He will say that he is proud of his son, for you will tell him

that I am undertaking a mission of the utmost importance, that I

do it to fulfill the last request of a dying man."

"You are putting yourself in danger," said Lord Warren. "He

would not like that at all. Arid as for your mother-" He frowned

ominously.

Gerard stood straight and tall. "I have been ten years a

Knight, my lord, and all I have to show for it is the dust of a tomb

on my boots. I have earned this, my lord."

Lord Warren rose to his feet. "Here is my ruling. The Measure

holds the final wishes of the dying to be sacred. We are bound in

honor to fulfill them if it be mortally possible. You will go to Qua-

linesti and consult with the sorcerer Palin. I have found him to be

a man of good judgment and common sense-for a mage, that is.

One must not expect too much. Still, I believe that you can rely on

him to help you determine what is right. Or, at the very least, to

take the kender and this stolen magical artifact off our hands."

"Thank you, my lord." Gerard looked extremely happy.

Of course he's happy, Tasslehoff thought. He gets to travel to

a land ruled by a dragon who's closed all the roads, and maybe

he'll be captured by Dark Knights who'll think he's a spy, and if

that doesn't work out he gets to go to the elven kingdom and see

Palin and Laurana and Gilthas.

The pleasant tingle so well known to kender, a tingle to which

they are seriously addicted, began in the vicinity of Tasslehoff's

spine. The tingle burned its way right down to his feet, which

started to itch, shot through his arms into his fingers, which

started to wriggle, and up into his head. He could feel his hair be-

ginning to curl from the excitement.

The tingle wound up in Tasslehoff's ears and, due to the

rushing of the blood in his head, he noticed that Fizban's ad-

monition to return soon was starting to get lost amidst thoughts

of Dark Knights and spies and, most important of all, The

Road.

Besides, Tas realized suddenly, Sir Gerard is counting on me

to go with him! I can't let a Knight down. And then there's Cara-

mono I can't let him down either, even if he did hit his head one

too many times on the stairs on the way down.

"I'll go with you, Sir Gerard," Tas announced magnani-

mously. "I've thought it over quite seriously, and it doesn't seem

to me to be gallivanting. It seems to me to be a quest. And I'm

sure Fizban won't mind if I went on a little quest."

"I will think of something to tell your father to placate him,"

Lord Warren was saying. "Is there any thing I can provide you for

this mission? How will you travel? You know that according to

the Measure you may not disguise your true identity."

"I will travel as a Knight, my lord," Gerard replied with a

slight quirk of his eyebrow. "I give you my word on that."

Lord Warren eyed him speculatively. "You're up to some-

thing. No, don't tell me. The less I know about this the better." He

glanced down at the device, glittering on the table, and heaved a

sigh. "Magic and kender. It seems to me to be a fatal combination.

My blessing go with you."

Gerard wrapped the device carefully in the bundle. Lord

Warren left his desk to accompany Gerard to the door of the

office, collecting Tasslehoff on the way. Gerard removed several

of the smaller maps that had just happened to find their way

down the front of the kender's shirt.

"I was taking them to be fixed," said Tas, looking at Lord

Warren accusingly. "You really hire very poor mapmakers.

They've made several serious mistakes. The Dark Knights aren't

in Palanthas any more. We drove them out two years after the

Chaos War. And why's that funny little circle like a bubble drawn

around Silvanesti?"

The Knights were deep in a private discussion of their own, a

discussion that had something to do with Gerard's mission, and

they paid no attention. Tas pulled out another map that he had

managed somehow to stuff itself down his trousers and that was

at the moment pinching a sensitive portion of his anatomy. He

transferred the map from his pants to his pouch and, while doing

so, his knuckles brushed across something hard and sharp and

egg-shaped.

The Device of Time Journeying. The device that would take

him back to his own time. The device had come back to him, as it

was bound to do. It was once more in his possession. Fizban's

stem command seemed to ring loudly in his ears.

Tas looked at the device, thought about Fizban, and consid-

ered the promise he'd made to the old wizard. There was obvi-

ously only one thing to be done.

Taking firm hold of the device, careful not to accidentally ac-

tivate it, Tasslehoff crept up behind Gerard, who was engrossed

in his conversation with Lord Warren, and by dint of working

loose a comer of the bundle, working nimbly and quietly as only

a kender can work, Tasslehoff slipped the device back inside.

" And stay there!" he told it firmly.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

BECKARD'S CUT

 

 

 

Located on the shore of New Sea, Sanction was the major

port city for the northeastern part of Ansalon.

The city was an ancient one, established long before the

Cataclysm. Nothing much is known for certain about its history

except that prior to the Cataclysm, Sanction had been a pleasant

place to live.

Many have wondered how it came by its odd name. Legend

has it that there was once in the small village a human woman of

advanced years whose opinions were well-known and respected

far and wide. Disputes and disagreements over everything from

ownership of boats to marriage contracts were brought before the

old woman. She listened to all parties and then rendered her ver-

dict, verdicts noted for being fair and impartial, wise and judi-

cious. "The old 'un sanctioned it," was the response to her

judgments, and thus the small village in which she resided

became known as a place of authority and law.

When the gods in their wrath hurled the fiery mountain at the

world, the mountain struck the continent of Ansalon and broke it

asunder. The water of the Sirrion Ocean poured into the newly

formed cracks and crevices creating a new sea, aptly named, by

the pragmatic, New Sea. The volcanoes of the Doom Range flared

into furious life, sending rivers of lava flowing into Sanction.

Mankind being ever resilient, quick to turn disaster to advan-

tage, those who had once tilled the soil harvesting crops of beans

and barley turned from the plow to the net, harvested the fruit of

the sea. Sm~ fishing villages sprang up along the coast of New Sea.

The people of Sanction moved to the beaches, where the off-

shore breeze blew away the fumes of the volcanoes. The town

prospered, but it did not grow significantly until the tall ships ar-

rived. Adventurous sailors out of Palanthas took their ships into

New Sea, hoping to find quick and easy passage to the other side

of the continent, avoiding the long and treacherous journey

through the Sirrion Sea to the north. The explorers' hopes were

dashed. No such passage existed. What they did discover, how-

ever, was a natural port in Sanction, an overland passage that was

not too difficult, and markets waiting for their goods on the other

side of the Khalkhist Mountains.

The town began to thrive, to expand, and, like any growing

child, to dream. Sanction saw itself another Palanthas: famous,

staid, stolid, and wealthy. Those dreams did not materialize,

however. Solamnic Knights watched over Palanthas, guarded the

city, ruled it with the Oath and the Measure. Sanction belonged to

whoever had the might and the power to hold onto it. The city

grew up headstrong and spoiled, with no codes, no laws, and

plenty of money.

Sanction was not choosy about its companions. The city wel-

comed the greedy, the rapacious, the unscrupulous. Thieves and

brigands, con men and whores, sell-swords and assassins called

Sanction home.

The time came when Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, tried to

return to the world. She raised up armies to conquer Ansalon in

her name. Ariakas, general of these armies, recognized the strate-

gic value of Sanction to the Queen's holy city of Neraka and the

military outpost of Khur. Lord Ariakas marched his troops into

Sanction, conquered the city, which put up little resistance. He

built temples to his Queen in Sanction and made his headquarters

there.

The Lords of Doom, the volcanoes that ringed Sanction, felt

the heat of the Queen's ambition stirring beneath them and came

again to life. Streams of lava flowed from the volcanoes, lighting

Sanction with a lurid glow by night. The ground shook and shiv-

ered from tremors. The inns of Sanction lost a fortune in broken

crockery and began to serve food on tin plates and drink in

wooden mugs. The air was poisonous, thick with sulphurous

fumes. Black-robed wizards worked constantly to keep the city fit

for habitation.

Takhisis set out to conquer the world, but in the end she could

not overcome herself. Her generals quarreled, turned on each

other. Love and self-sacrifice, loyalty and honor won the day. The

stones of Neraka lay blasted and cursed in the shadowed valley

leading to Sanction.

The Solamnic Knights marched on Sanction. They seized the

city after a pitched battle with its inhabitants. Recognizing Sanc-

tion's strategic as well as financial importance to this part of

Ansalon, the Knights established a strong garrison in the city.

They tore down the temples of evil, set fire to the slave markets,

razed the brothels. The Conclave of Wizards sent mages to con-

tinue to cleanse the poisonous air.

When the Knights of Takhisis began to accumulate power,

some twenty years later, Sanction was high on the list of priori-

ties. The Knights might well have captured it. Years of peace had

made the Solamnic Knights sleepy and bored. They dozed at their

posts. But before the Dark Knights could attack Sanction, the

Chaos War diverted the attention of the Dark Knights and woke

up the Solamnics.

The Chaos War ended. The gods departed. The residents of

Sanction came to realize that the gods were gone. Magic-as

they had known it-was gone. The people who had survived

the war now faced death by asphyxiation from the noxious

fumes. They fled the city, ran to the beaches to breathe the clean

sea air. And so for a time, Sanction returned to where it had

begun.

A strange and mysterious wizard named Hogan Bight not

only restored Sanction to its former glory but helped the city sur-

pass itself. He did what no other wizard had been able to do: He

not only cleansed the air, he diverted the lava away from the city.

Water, cool and pure, flowed from the snowy mountain tops. A

person could actually step outside and take a deep breath and not

double over coughing and choking.

Older and wiser, Sanction became prosperous, wealthy, and

respectable. Under Bight's protection and encouragement, good

and honest merchants moved into the city. Both the Solamnic

Knights and the Knights of Neraka approached Bight, each side

offering to move into Sanction and provide protection from the

other.

Bight trusted neither side, refused to allow either to enter.

Angry, the Knights of Neraka argued that Sanction was part of

the land given to them by the Council in return for their service

during the Chaos War. The Knights of Solamnia continued to try

to negotiate with Bight, who continued to refuse all their offers

of aid.

Meanwhile the Dark Knights, now calling themselves Knights

of Neraka, were growing in strength, in wealth, and in power-

for it was they who collected the tribute due the dragons. They

watched Sanction as the cat watches the mouse hole. The Knights

of Neraka had long coveted the port that woulq allow them a

base of operations from which they could sail forth and gain a

firm hold on all the lands surrounding New Sea. Seeing that the

mice were busy biting and clawing each other, the cat pounced.

The Knights of Neraka laid siege to Sanction. They expected

the siege to be a long one. As soon as the Dark Knights attacked

the city, its fractured elements would unite in its defense. The

Knights were patient, however. They could not starve the city

into submission; blockade runners continued to bring supplies

into Sanction. But the Knights of Neraka could shut down all

overland trade routes. Thus the Knights of Neraka effectively

strangled the merchants and brought Sanction's economy to ruin.

Pressured by the demands of the citizens, Hogan Bight had

agreed within the last year to permit the Solamnic Knights to

send in a force to bolster the city's flagging defenses. At first, the

Knights were welcomed as saviors. The people of Sanction ex-

pected the Knights would put an immediate end to the siege. The

Solamnics replied that they had to study the situation. After

months of watching the Knights study, the people again urged

the Solamnics to break the siege. The Knights replied that their

numbers were too few. They needed reinforcements.

Nightly the besiegers bombarded the city with boulders and

fiery bales of hay flung from catapults. The burning hay bales

started blazes, the boulders knocked holes in buildings. People

died, property was destroyed. No one could get a good night's

sleep. As the leadership of the Knights of Neraka had calcu-

lated, the excitement and fervor of Sanction's residents, which

had burned hot when first defending their city against the foe,

cooled as the siege dragged out month after month. They found

fault with the Solamnics, called them cowards. The Knights re-

torted that the citizens were hot-heads who would have them

all die for nothing. Hearing reports from their spies that the

unity was starting to crack, the Knights of Neraka began to

build up their forces for an all-out, major assault. Their leader-

ship waited only for a sign that the cracks had penetrated to the

enemy's heart.

 

A large valley known as Zhakar Valley lay to the east of Sanc-

tion. Early in the siege, the Knights of Neraka had gained control

of this valley and all of the passes that led from Sanction into the

valley. Hidden in the foothills of the Zhakar Mountains, the

valley was being used by the ~ghts as a staging area for their

armIes.

"The Zhakar Valley is our destination," Mina told her

Knights. But when asked why, what they would do there, she

would say nothing other than, "We are called."

Mina and her forces arrived at noon. The sun was high in a

cloudless sky, seeming to stare down upon all below with avid

expectation, an expectation that sucked up the wind, left the air

still and hot.

Mina brought her small command to a halt at the entrance to

the valley. Directly opposite them, across the valley, was a pass

known as Beckard's Cut. Through the cut, the Knights could see

the besieged city, see a small portion of the wall that surrounded

Sanction. Between the Knights and Sanction lay their own army.

Another city had sprung up in the valley, a city of tents and camp-

fires, wagons and draft animals, soldiers and camp followers.

Mina and her Knights had arrived at a propitious time, seem-

ingly. The camp of the Knights of Neraka rang with cheers. Trum-

pets blared, officers bellowed, companies formed on the road.

Already the lead forces were marching through the cut, heading

toward Sanction. Others were quickly following.

"Good," said Mina. "We are in time."

She galloped her horse down the steep road, her Knights

followed after. They heard in the trumpets the melody of the song

they had heard in their sleep. Hearts pounded, pulses quickened,

yet they had no idea why.

"Find out what is going on," Mina instructed Galdar.

The minotaur nabbed the first officer he could locate, ques-

tioned the man. Returning to Mina, the minotaur grinned and

rubbed his hands.

"The cursed Solamnics have left the city!" he reported. "The

wizard who runs Sanction has thrown the Solamnic Knights out

on their ears. Kicked them in the ass. Sent them packing. If you

look" -Galdar turned, pointed through Beckard' s Cut-"you can

see their ships, those little black dots on the horizon."

The Knights under Mina's command began to cheer. Mina

looked at the distant ships, but she did not smile. Foxfire stirred

restlessly, shook his mane and pawed the ground.

"You brought us here in good time, Mina," Galdar continued

with enthusiasm. "They are preparing to launch the final assault.

This day, we'll drink Sanction's blood. This night, we'll drink

Sanction ale!"

The men laughed. Mina said nothing, her expression indi-

cated neither elation nor joy. Her amber eyes roved the army

camp, seeking something and not finding what she wanted, ap-

parently, for a small frown line appeared between her brows. Her

lips pursed in displeasure. She continued her search and finally,

her expression cleared. She nodded to herself and patted Foxfire's

neck, calming him.

"Galdar, do you see that company of archers over there?"

Galdar looked, found them, indicated that he did.

"They do not wear the livery of the Knights of Neraka."

"They are a mercenary company," Galdar explained. "In our

pay, but they fight under their own officers."

"Excellent. Bring their commander to me."

"But, Mina, why-"

"Do as I have ordered, Galdar," said Mina.

Her Knights, gathered behind her, exchanged startled

glances, shrugging, wondering. Galdar was about to argue. He

was about to urge Mina to let him join in the final drive toward

victory instead of sending him off on some fool's errand. A jar-

ring, tingling sensation numbed his right arm, felt as if he'd

struck his "funny bone." For one terrifying moment, he could

not move his fingers. Nerves tingled and jangled. The feeling

went away in a moment, leaving him shaken. Probably nothing

more than a pinched nerve, but the tingling reminded him of

what he owed her. Galdar swallowed his arguments and de-

parted on his assignment.

He returned with the archer company's commander, an older

human, in his forties, with the inordinately strong arms of a

bowman. The mercenary officer's expression was sullen, hostile.

He would not have come at all, but it is difficult to say no to a

minotaur who towers over you head, shoulders, and horns and

who is insistent upon your coming.

Mina wore her helm with the visor raised. A wise move,

Galdar thought. The helm shadowed her youthful, girl's face,

kept it hidden.

"What are you orders, Talon Leader?" Mina asked. Her voice

resonated from within the visor, cold and hard as the metal.

The commander looked up at the Knight with a certain

amount of scorn, not the least intimidated.

"I'm no blasted 'talon leader,' Sir Knight," he said and he laid

a nasty, sarcastic emphasis on the word 'sir.' "I hold my rank as

captain of my own command, and we don't take orders from

your kind. Just money. We do whatever we damn well please."

"Speak politely to the talon leader," Galdar growled and gave

the officer a shove that staggered him.

The man wheeled, glowered, reached for his short sword.

Galdar grasped his own sword. His fellow soldiers drew their

blades with a ringing sound. Mina did not move.

"What are your orders, Captain?" she asked again.

Seeing he was outnumbered, the officer slid his sword back

into its sheath, his movement slow and deliberate, to show that

he was still defiant, just not stupid.

"To wait until the assault is launched and then to fire at the

guards on the walls. Sir," he said sulkily, adding in sullen tones,

"We'll be the last ones into the city, which means all the choice

pickings will already be gone."

Mina regarded him speculatively. "You have little respect for

the Knights of Neraka or our cause."

"What cause?" The office gave a brief, barking laugh. "To fill

your own coffers? That's all you care about. You and your foolish

visions." He spat on the ground.

"Yet you were once one of us, Captain Samuval. You were

once a Knight of Takhisis," Mina said. "You quit because the

cause for which you joined was gone. You quit because you no

longer believed."

The captain's eyes widened, his face muscles went slack.

"How did-" He shapped his mouth shut. "What if I was?" he

growled. "I didn't desert if that's what you're thinking. I bought

my way out. I have my papers-"

"lf you do not believe in our cause, why do you continue to

fight for us, Captain?" Mina asked.

Samuval snorted. "Oh, I believe in your cause now, all right"

he said with a leer. "I believe in money, same as the rest of you."

Mina sat her horse, who was still and calm beneath her hand,

and gazed through Beckard's Cut gazed at the city of Sanction.

Galdar had a sudden, strange impression that she could see

through the walls of the city, see through the armor of those de-

fending the city, see through their flesh and their bones to their

very hearts and minds, just as she had seen through him. Just as

she had seen through the captain.

"No one will enter Sanction this day, Captain SamuvaL" said

Mina softly. "The carrion birds will be the ones who find choice

pickings. The ships that you see sailing away are not filled with

Solamnic Knights. The troops that line their decks are in reality

straw dummies wearing the armor of Solamnics Knights. It is a

trap."

Galdar stared, aghast. He believed her. Believed as surely as if

he had seen inside the ships, seen inside the walls to the enemy

army hiding there, ready to spring.

"How do you know this?" the captain demanded.

"What if I gave you something to believe in, Captain Samu-

val?" she asked instead of answering. "What if I make you the

hero of this battle? Would you pledge your loyalty to me?" She

smiled slightly. "I have no money to offer you. I have only this

sure knowledge that I freely share with you-fight for me and on

this day you will come to know the one true god."

Captain Samuval gazed up at her in wordless astonishment.

He looked dazed, lightning-struck.

Mina held out her raw and bleeding hands, palms open. "You

are offered a choice, Captain Samuval. I hold death in one hand.

Glory in the other. Which will it be?"

Samuval scratched his beard. "You're a strange one, Talon

Leader. Not like any of your kind I've ever met before."

He looked back through Beckard's Cut.

"Rumor has spread among the men that the city is abandoned,"

Mina said. "They have heard it will open its gates in surrender.

They have become a mob. They run to their own destruction."

She spoke truly. Ignoring the shouts of the officers, who were

vainly endeavoring to maintain some semblance of order, the foot

soldiers had broken ranks. Galdar watched the army disintegrate,

become in an instant an undisciplined horde rampaging through

the cut. Eager for the kill, eager for spoils. Captain Samuval spat

again in disgust. His expression dark, he looked back at Mina.

"What would you have me do, Talon Leader?"

"Take your company of archers and post them on that ridge

there. Do you see it?" Mina pointed to a foothill overlooking

Beckard's Cut.

"I see it," he said, glancing over his shoulder. "And what do

we do once we're there?"

"My Knights and 1 will take up our positions there. Once ar-

rived, you will await my orders," Mina replied. "When 1 give

those orders, you will obey my commands without question."

She held out her hand, her blood-smeared hand. Was it the

hand that held death or the hand that held life? Galdar wondered.

Perhaps Captain Samuval wondered as well, for he hesitated

before he finally took her hand into his own. His hand was large,

callused from the bowstring, brown and grimy. Her hand was

small, its touch light. Her palm was blistered, rimed with dried

blood. Yet it was the captain who winced slightly.

He looked down at his hand when she released him, rubbed it

on his leather corselet, as if rubbing away the pain of sting or bum.

"Make haste, Captain. We don't have much time," Mina or-

dered.

" And just who are you, Sir Knight?" Captain Samuval asked.

He was still rubbing his hand.

"I am Mina," she said.

Grasping the reins, she pulled sharply. Foxfire wheeled. Mina

dug in her spurs, galloped straight for the ridge above Beckard's

Cut. Her Knights rode alongside her. Galdar ran at her stirrup,

legs pumping to keep up.

"How do you know that Captain Samuval will obey you,

Mina ?" the minotaur roared over the pounding of horses' hooves.

She looked down on him and smiled. Her amber eyes were

bright in the shadow of the helm.

"He will obey," she said, "if for no other reason now than to

demonstrate his disdain for his superiors and their foolish com-

mands. But the captain is a man who hungers, Galdar. He yearns

for food. They have given him clay to fill his belly. I will give him

meat. Meat to nourish his soul."

Mina leaned over her horse's head and urged the animal to

gallop even faster.

 

Captain Samuval's Archer Company took up position on the

ridgeline overlooking Beckard's Cut. They were several hundred

strong, well-trained professional bowmen who had fought in

many of Neraka's wars before now. They used the elven long

bow, so highly prized among arfhers. Taking up their places, they

stood foot to foot, packed tightly together, with not much room to

maneuver, for the ridgeline was not long. The archers were in a

foul mood. Watching the army of the Knights of Neraka sweep

down on Sanction, the men muttered that there would be nothing

left for them-the finest women carried off, the richest houses

plundered. They might as well go home.

Above them clouds thickened; roiling gray clouds that bub-

bled up over the Zhakar Mountains and began to slide down the

mountain's side.

The army camp was empty, now, except for the tents and

supply wagons and a few wounded who had been unable to go

with their brethren and were cursing their ill luck. The clamor of

the battle moved away from them. The surrounding mountains

and the lowering clouds deflected the sounds of the attacking

army. The valley was eerily silent.

The archers looked sullenly to their captain, who looked im-

patiently to Mina.

"What are your orders, Talon Leader?" he asked.

"Wait," she said.

They waited. The army washed up against the walls of Sanc-

tion, pounded against the gate. The noise and commotion was far

away, a distant rumbling. Mina removed her helm, ran her hand

over her shorn head with its down of dark red hair. She sat

straight-backed upon her horse, her chin lifted. Her gaze was not

on Sanction but on the blue sky above them, blue sky that was

rapidly darkening.

The archers stared, astounded at her youth, amazed at her

strange beauty. She did not heed their stares, did not hear their

coarse remarks that were swallowed by the silence welling up out

of the valley. The men felt something ominous about the silence.

Those who continued to make remarks did so out of bravado and

were almost immediately hushed by their uneasy comrades.

An explosion rocked the ground around Sanction, shattered

the silence. The clouds boiled, the sunlight vanished. The Neraka

army's gloating roars of victory were abruptly cut off. Shouts of

triumph shrilled to screams of panic.

"What is happening?" demanded the archers, their tongues

loosed. Everyone talked at once. "Can you see?"

"Silence in the ranks!" Captain Samuval bellowed.

One of the Knights, who had been posted as observer near the

cut, came galloping toward them.

"It was a trap!" He began to yell when he was still some distance

away. "The gates of Sanction opened to our forces, but only to spew

forth the Solamnics! There must be a thousand of them. Sorcerers

ride at their head, dealing death with their cursed magicks!"

The Knight reined in his excited horse. "You spoke truly,

Mina!" His voice was awed, reverent. "A huge blast of magical

power killed hundreds of our troops at the outset. Their bodies lie

smoldering on the field. Our soldiers are fleeing! They are run-

ning this way, ,retreating through the cut. It is a rout!"

" All is lost, then," said Captain Samuval, though he looked at

Mina strangely. "The Solamnic forces will drive the army into the

valley. We will be caught between the anvil of the mountains and

the hammer of the Solamnics."

His words proved true. Those in the rear echelons were al-

ready streaming back through Heckard's Cut. Many had no idea

where they were going, only that they wanted to be far away

from the blood and the death. A few of the less confused and

more calculating were making for the narrow road that ran

through the mountains to Khur.

"A standard!" Mina said urgently. "Find me a standard!"

Captain Samuval took hold of the grimy white scarf he wore

around his neck and handed it up to her. "Take this and welcome,

Mina."

Mina took the scarf in her hands, bowed her head. Whisper-

ing words no one could hear, she kissed the scarf and handed it

to Galdar. The white fabric was stained red with blood from the

raw blisters on her hand. One of Mina's Knights offered his lance.

Galdar tied the bloody scarf onto the lance, handed the lance back

to Mina.

Wheeling Foxfire, she rode him up the rocks to a high

promontory and held the standard aloft.

"To me, men!" she shouted. "To Mina!"

The clouds parted. A mote of sunlight jabbed from the heav-

ens, touched only Mina as she sat astride her horse on the ridge-

line. Her black armor blazed as if dipped in flame, her amber eyes

gleamed, lit from behind with the light of battle. Her redound, a

clarion call, brought the fleeing soldiers to a halt. They looked to

see from whence the call came and saw Mina outlined in flame,

blazing like a beacon fire upon the hillside.

The fleeing soldiers halted in their mad dash, looked up,

dazzled.

"To me!" Mina yelled again. "Glory is ours this day!"

The soldiers hesitated, then one ran toward her, scrambling,

slipping and sliding up the hillside. Another followed and an-

other, glad to have purpose and direction once again.

"Bring those men over there to me," Mina ordered Galdar,

pointing to another group of soldiers in full retreat. "As ~any as

you can gather. See that they are armed. Draw them up in battle

formation there on the rocks below."

Galdar did as he was commanded. He and the other Knights

blocked the path of the retreating soldiers, ordered them to join

their comrades who were starting to form a dark pool at Mina's

feet. More and more soldiers were pouring through the cut, the

Knights of Neraka riding among them, some of the officers

making valiant attempts to halt the retreat, others joining the foot-

men in a run for their lives. Behind them rode Solamnic Knights

in their gleaming silver armor, their white-feathered crests.

Deadly, silver light flashed, and everywhere that light appeared,

men withered and died in its magical heat. The Solamnic Knights

entered the cut, driving the forces of the Knights of Neraka like

cattle before them, driving them to slaughter.

"Captain Samuval," cried Mina, riding her horse down the

hill, her standard streaming behind her. "Order your men to fire."

"The Solamnics are not in bow range," he said to her, shaking

his head at her foolishness. "Any fool can see that."

"The Solamnics are not your target Captain," Mina returned

coolly. She pointed to the forces of the Knights of Neraka stream-

ing through the cut. "Those are your targets."

"Our own men?" Captain Samuval stared at her. "You are

mad."

"Look upon the field of battle, Captain," Mina said. "It is the

only way."

Captain Samuvallooked. He wiped his face with his hand,

then he gave the command. "Bowmen, fire."

"What target?" demanded one.

"You heard Mina!" said the captain harshly. Grabbing a bow

from one of his men, he nocked an arrow and fired.

The arrow pierced the throat of one of the fleeing Knights of

Neraka. He fell backward off his horse and was trampled in the

rush of his retreating comrades.

Archer Company fired. Hundreds of arrows-each shot with

deliberate, careful aim at point-blank range-filled the air with a

deadly buzz. Most found their targets. Foot soldiers clutched

their chests and dropped. The feathered shafts struck through the

raised visors of the helmed Knights or took them in the throat.

"Continue firing, Captain," Mina commanded.

More arrows flew. More bodies fell. The panic-stricken sol-

diers realized that the arrows were coming from in front of them

now. They faltered, halted, trying to discover the location of this

new enemy. Their comrades crashed into them from behind,

driven mad by the approaching Solamnic Knights. The steep

walls of Beckard's Cut prevented any escape.

"Fire!" Captain Samuval shouted wildly, caught up in the

fervor of death-dealing. "For Mina!"

"For Mina!" cried the archers and fired.

Arrows hummed with deadly accuracy, thunked into their

targets. Men screamed and fell. The dying were starting to pile up

like hideous cord wood in the cut forming a blood-soaked

barricade.

An officer came raging toward them, his sword in his hand.

"You fool!" he screamed at Captain Samuval. "Who gave you

your orders? You're firing on your own men!"

"I gave him the order," said Mina calmly.

Furious, the 'Knight accosted her. "Traitor!" He raised his

blade.

Mina sat unmoving on her horse. She paid no attention to the

Knight, she was intent upon the carnage below. Galdar brought

down a crushing fist on the Knight's helm. The Knight, his neck

broken, went rolling and tumbling down the hillside. Galdar

sucked bruised knuckles and looked up at Mina.

He was astounded to see tears flowing unchecked down her

cheeks. Her hand clasped the medallion around her neck. Her

lips moved, she might have been praying.

Attacked from in front, attacked from behind, the soldiers

inside Beckard's Cut began milling about in confusion. Behind

them, their comrades faced a terrible choice. They could either be

speared in the back by the Solamnics or they could turn and fight.

They wheeled to face the enemy, battling with the ferocity of the

desperate, the cornered.

The Solamnics continued to fight, but their charge was slowed

and, at length, ground to a halt.

"Cease fire!" Mina ordered. She handed her standard to

Galdar. Drawing her morning star, she held it high over her head.

"Knights of Neraka! Our hour has come! We ride this day to

glory!"

Foxfire gave a great leap and galloped down the hillside, car-

rying Mina straight at the vanguard of the Solamnic Knights. So

swift was Foxfire, so sudden Mina's move, that she left her own

Knights behind. They watched, open-mouthed, as Mina rode to

what must be her doom. Then Galdar raised the white standard.

"Death is certain!" the minotaur thundered. "But so is glory!

For Mina!"

"For Mina!" cried the Knights in grim, deep voices and they

rode their horses down the hill.

"For Mina!" yelled Captain Samuval, dropping his bow and

drawing his short sword. He and the entire Archer Company

charged into the fray.

"For Mina!" shouted the soldiers, who had gathered around

her standard. Rallying to her cause, they dashed after her, a dark

cascade of death rumbling down the hillside.

Galdar raced down the hillside, desperate to catch up to Mina,

to protect and defend her. She had never been in a battle. She was

unskilled, untrained. She must surely die. Enemy faces loomed

up before him. Their swords slashed at him, their spears jabbed

at him, their arrows stung him. He struck their swords aside,

broke their spears, ignored their arrows. The enemy was an irri-

tant, keeping him from his goal. He lost her and then he found

her, found her completely surrounded by the enemy.

Galdar saw one knight try to impale Mina on his sword. She

turned the blow, struck at him with the morning star. Her first

blow split open his helm. Her next blow split open his head. But

while she fought him, another was coming to attack her from

behind. Galdar bellowed a warning, though he knew with de-

spair that she could not hear him. He battled ferociously to reach

her, cutting down those who stood between him and his com-

mander, no longer seeing their faces, only the bloody streaks of

his slashing sword.

He kept his gaze fixed on her, and his fury blazed, and his

heart stopped beating when he saw her pulled from her horse. He

fought more furiously than ever, frantic to save her. A blow struck

from behind stunned him. He fell to his knees. He tried to rise,

but blow after savage blow rained down on him, and he knew

nothing more.

The battle ended sometime near twilight. The Knights of

Neraka held, the valley was secure. The Solamnics and soldiers of

Sanction were forced to retreat back into the walled city, a city

that was shocked and devastated by the crushing defeat. They

had felt the victory wreath upon their heads, and then the wreath

had been savagely snatched away, trampled in the mud. Devas-

tated, disheartened, the Solamnic Knights dressed their wounds

and burned the bodies of their dead. They had spent months

working on this plan, deemed it their only chance to break the

siege of Sanction. They wondered over and over how they could

have failed.

One Solamnic Knight spoke of a warrior who had come upon

him, so he said, like the wrath of the departed gods. Another had

seen this warrior, too, and another and another after that. Some

claimed it was a youth, but others said that no, it was a girl, a girl

with a face for which a man might die. She had ridden in the

front of the charge, smote their ranks like a thunderclap, battling

without helm or shield, her weapon a morning star that dripped

with blood.

Pulled from her horse, she fought alone on foot.

"She must be dead," said one angrily. "I saw her fall."

"True, she fell, but her horse stood guard over her," said an-

other, "and struck out with lashing hooves at any who dared ap-

proach."

But whether the beautiful destructor had perished or sur-

vived, none could tell. The tide of battle turned, came to meet her,

swept around her, and rolled over the heads of the Solamnic

Knights, carried them in a confused heap back into their city.

 

"Mina!" Galdar called hoarsely. "Mina!"

There came no answer.

Desperate, despairing, Galdar searched on.

The smoke from the fires of the funeral pyres hung over the

valley. Night had not yet fallen, the twilight was gray and thick

with smoke and orange cinders. The minotaur went to the tents

of the dark mystics, who were treating the wounded, and he

could not find her. He looked through the bodies that were being

lined up for the burning, an arduous task. Lifting one body, he

rolled it over, looked closely at the face, shook his head, and

moved on to the next.

He did not find her among the dead, at least, not those who

had been brought back to camp thus far. The work of removing

the bodies from that blood-soaked cut would last all night and

into the morrow. Galdar's shoulders sagged. He was wounded,

exhausted, but he was determined to keep searching. He carried

with him, in his right hand, Mina' s standard. The white cloth was

white no longer. It was brownish red, stiff with dried blood.

He blamed himself. He should have been at her side. Then at

least if he had not been able to protect her, he could have died

with her. He had failed, struck down from behind. When he had

finally regained consciousness, he found that the battle was over.

He was told that their side had won.

Hurt and dizzy, Galdar staggered over to the place he had last

glimpsed her. Bodies of her foes lay heaped on the ground, but

she was nowhere to be found.

She was not among the living. She was not among the dead.

Galdar was starting to think that he had dreamed her, created her

out of his own hunger to believe in someone or something when

he felt a touch upon his arm.

"Minotaur," said the man. "Sorry, I never did catch your

name."

Galdar could not place the soldier for a moment-the face

was almost completely obscured by a bloody bandage. Then he

recognized the captain of Archer Company.

"You're searching for her, aren't you?" Captain Samuval

asked. "For Mina?"

For MinaI The cry echoed in his heart. Galdar nodded. He was

too tired, too dispirited to speak.

"Come with me," said Samuval. "I have something to show

you."

The two trudged across the floor of the valley, heading for the

battlefield. Those soldiers who had escaped the battle uninjured

were busy rebuilding the camp, which had been wrecked during

the chaos of the retreat. The men worked with a fervor unusual to

see, worked without the incentive of the whip or the bullying

cries of the masters-at-arms. Galdar had seen these same men in

past battles crouched sullenly over their cooking fires, licking

their wounds, swilling dwarf spirits, and boasting and bragging

of their bravery in butchering the enemy's wounded.

Now, as he passed the groups of men hammering in tent

stakes or pounding the dents out of breastplate and shield or

picking up spent arrows or tending to countless other chores, he

listened to them talk. Their talk was not of themselves, but of her,

the blessed, the charmed. Mina.

Her name was on every soldier's lips, her deeds recounted

time and again. A new spirit infused the camp, as if the lightning

storm out of which Mina had walked had sent jolts of energy

flashing from man to man.

Galdar listened and marveled but said nothing. He accompa-

nied Captain Samuval, who appeared disinclined to talk about

anything, refused to answer all Galdar's questions. In another

time, the frustrated minotaur might have smashed the human's

skull into his shoulders, but not now. They had shared in a

moment of triumph and exaltation, the likes of which neither had

ever before experienced in battle. They had both been carried out

of themselves, done deeds of bravery and heroism they had never

thought themselves capable of doing. They had fought for a cause,

fought together for a cause, and against all odds they had won.

When Captain Samuval stumbled, Galdar reached out a

steadying arm. When Galdar slipped in a pool of blood, Captain

Samuval supported him. The two arrived at the edge of the

battlefield. Captain Samuval peered through the smoke that hung

over the valley. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains.

Its afterglow filled the sky with a smear of pale red.

"There," said the captain, and he pointed.

The wind had lifted with the setting of the sun, blowing the

smoke to rags that swirled and eddied like silken scarves. These

were suddenly whisked away to reveal a horse the color of blood

and a figure kneeling on the field of battle only a few feet away

from him.

"Mina!" Galdar breathed. Relief weakened all the muscles in

his body. A burning stung his eyes, a burning he attributed to the

smoke, for minotaurs never wept, could not weep. He wiped his

eyes. "What is she doing?" he asked after a moment.

"Praying," said Captain Samuval. "She is praying."

Mina knelt beside the body of a soldier. The arrow that had

killed him had gone clean through his breast, pinned him to the

ground. Mina lifted the hand of the dead man, placed the hand to

her breast, bent her head. If she spoke, Galdar could not hear

what she said, but he knew Samuval was right. She was praying

to this god of hers, this one, true god. This god who had foreseen

the trap, this god who had led her here to turn defeat into glori-

ous victory. .

Her prayers finished, Mina laid the man's hand atop the ter-

rible wound. Bending over him, she pressed her lips to the cold

forehead, kissed it, then rose to her feet.

She had barely strength to walk. She was covered with blood,

some of it her own. She halted, her head droopedti,her body

sagged. Then she lifted her head to the heavens, where she

seemed to find strength, for she straightened her shoulders and

with strong step walked on.

"Ever since the battle was assured, she has been going from

corpse to corpse," said Captain Samuval. "In particular, she

finds those who fell by our own arrows. She stops and kneels in

the blood-soaked mud and offers prayer. I have never seen the

like."

"It is right that she honors them," Galdar said harshly. "Those

men bought us victory with their blood."

"She bought us victory with their blood," Captain Samuval

returned with a quirk of the only eyebrow visible through the

bandage.

A sound rose behind Galdar. He was reminded of the

Gamashinoch, the Song of Death. This song came from living

throats, however; starting low and quiet, sung by only a few.

More voices caught it up and began to carry it forward, as they

had caught up their dropped swords and run forward into battle.

"Mina ...Mina..."

The song swelled. Begun as a soft, reverent chant, it was now

a triumphal march, a celebratory paean accompanied by a tim-

pani of sword clashing against shield, of stomping feet and clap-

ping hands.

"Mina! Mina! Mina!"

Galdar turned to see the remnants of the army gathering at

the edge of the battlefield. The wounded who could not walk

under their own power were being supported by those who

could. Bloody, ragged, the soldiers chanted her name.

Galdar lifted his voice in a thunderous shout and raised

Mina's standard. The chanting became a cheer that rolled among

the mountains like thunder and shook the ground mounded high

with the bodies of the dead.

Mina had started to kneel down again. The song arrested her.

She paused, turned slowly to face the cheering throng. Her face

was pale as bone. Her amber eyes were ringed with ash-like

smudges of fatigue. Her lips were parched and cracked, stained

with the kisses of the dead. She gazed upon the hundreds of

living who were shouting, singing, chanting her name.

Mina raised her hands.

The voices ceased in an instant. Even the groans and screams

of the wounded hushed. The only sound was her name echoing

from the mountainside, and eventually that died away as silence

settled over the valley.

Mina mounted her horse, so that all the multitude who had

gathered at the edge of the field of the battle, now being called

"Mina's Glory," could better see and hear her.

"You do wrong to honor me!" she told them. "I am only the

vessel. The honor and the glory of this day belong to the god who

guides me along the path I walk."

"Mina's path is a path for us all!" shouted someone.

The cheering began again.

"Listen to me!" Mina shouted, her voice ringing with author-

ity and power. "The old gods are gone! They abandoned you.

They will never return! One god has come in their place. One god

to rule the world. One god only. To that one god, we owe our

allegiance!"

"What is the name of this god?" one cried.

"I may not pronounce it," Mina replied. "The name is too

holy, too powerful."

"Mina!" said one. "Mina, Mina!"

The crowd picked up the chant and, once started, they would

not be stopped.

Mina looked exasperated for a moment, even angry. Lifting

her hand, she clasped her fingers over the medallion she wore

round her neck. Her face softened, cleared.

"Go forth! Speak my name," she cried. "But know that you

speak it in the name of my god."

The cheers were deafening, jarred rocks from the mountain

sides.

His own pain forgotten, Galdar shouted lustily. He looked down

to see his companion grimly silent, his gaze turned elsewhere.

"What?" Galdar bellowed over the tumult. "What's wrong?"

"Look there," said Captain Samuval. "At the command tent."

Not everyone in camp was cheering. A grquP of Knights of

Neraka were gathered around their leader, a Lord of the Skull.

They looked on with black gazes an~ scowls, arms crossed over

their chests.

"Who is that?" Galdar asked.

"Lord Milles," Samuval replied. "The one who ordered this

disaster. As you see, he came well out of the fray. Not a speck of

blood on his fine, shiny armor."

Lord Milles was attempting to gain the soldiers' attention. He

waved his arms, shouted out words no one could hear. No one

paid him any heed. Eventually he gave it up as a bad job.

Galdar grinned. "I wonder how this Milles likes seeing his

command pissing away down the privy hole."

"Not well, I should imagine," said Samuval.

"He and the other Knights consider themselves well rid of the

gods," Galdar said. "They ceased to speak of Takhisis's return

long ago. Two years past, Lord of the Night Targonne changed the

official name to Knights of Neraka. In times past, when a Knight

was granted the Vision, he was given to know his place in the god-

dess's grand plan. After Takhisis fled the world, the leadership

tried for some time to maintain the Vision through various mysti-

cal means. Knights still undergo the Vision, but now they can only

be certain of what Targonne and his ilk plant in their minds."

"One reason I left," said Samuval. "Targonne and officers like

this Milles enjoy being the ones in charge for a change, and they

will not be pleased to hear that they are in danger of being

knocked off the top of the mountain. You may be certain Milles

will send news of this upstart to headquarters."

Mina climbed down from her horse. Leading Foxfire by the

reins, she left the field of battle, walked into the camp. The men

cheered and shouted until she reached them, and then, as she

came near, moved by something they did not understand, they

ceased their clamor and dropped to their knees. Some reached

out their hands to touch her as she passed, others cried for her to

look upon them and grant them her blessing.

Lord Milles watched this triumphant procession, his face

twisted in disgust. Turning on his heel, he reentered his com-

mand tent.

"Bah! Let them skulk and plot!" Galdar said, elated. "She has

an army now. What can they do to her?"

"Something treacherous and underhanded, you can be sure,"

said Samuval. He cast a glance heavenward. "It may be true that

there is One who watches over her from above. But she needs

friends to watch over her here below."

"You speak wisely," said Galdar. "Are you with her then,

Captain?"

"To the end of my time or the world's, whichever comes first,"

said Samuval. "My men as well. And you?"

"I have been with her always," said Galdar, and it truly

seemed to him that he had.

Minotaur and human shook hands. Galdar proudly raised

Mina's standard and fell in beside her as she made her victory

march through the camp. Captain Samuval walked behind Mina,

his hand on his sword, guarding her back. Mina's Knights rode to

her standard. Everyone of those who had followed her from

Neraka had suffered some wound, but none had perished. Al-

ready, they were telling stories of miracles.

" An arrow came straight toward me," said one. "I knew I was

dead. I spoke Mina's name, and the arrow dropped to the ground

at my feet."

"One of the cursed Solamnics held his sword to my throat,"

said another. "I called upon Mina, and the enemy's blade broke in

twain."

Soldiers offered her food. They brought her wine, brought her

water. Several soldiers seized the tent of one of Milles's officers,

turned him out, and prepared it for Mina. Snatching up burning

brands from the campfires, the soldiers held them aloft, lighting

Mina's progress through the darkness. As she passed, they spoke

her name as if it were an incantation that could work magic.

"Mina," cried the men and the wind and the darkness.

"Mina!"

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

UNDER THE SHIELD

The Silvanesti elves have always revered the night.

The Qualinesti delight in the sunlight. Their ruler is the

Speaker of the Sun. They fill their homes with sunlight, all

business is conducted in the daylight hours, all important cere-

monies such as marriage are held in the day so that they may be

blessed by the light of the sun.

The Silvanesti are in love with the star-lit night.

The Silvanesti's leader is the Speaker of the Stars. Night had

once been a blessed time in Silvanost, the capital of the elven

state. Night brought the stars and sweet sleep and dreams of the

beauty of their beloved land. But then came the War of the Lance.

The wings of evil dragons blotted out the stars. One dragon in

particular, a green dragon known as Cyan Bloodbane, laid claim

to the realm of Silvanesti. He had long hated the elves and he

wanted to see them suffer. He could have slaughtered them by

the thousands, but he was cruel and clever. The dying suffer, that

is true, but the pain is fleeting and is soon forgotten as the dead

move from this reality to the next. Cyan wanted to inflict a pain

that nothing could ease, a pain that would endure for centuries.

The ruler of Silvanesti at the time was an elf highly skilled in

magic. Lorac Caladon foresaw the coming of evil to Ansalon. He

sent his people into exile, telling them he had the power to keep

their realm safe from the dragons. Unbeknownst to anyone,

Lorac had stolen one of the magical dragon orbs from the Tower

of High Sorcery. He had been warned that an attempt to use the

orb by one who was not strong enough to control its magic

could result in doom. In his arrogance, Lorac believed that he

was strong enough to wrest the orb to his will. He looked into

the orb and saw a dragon looking back. Lorac was caught and

held in thrall.

Cyan Bloodbane had his chance. He found Lorac in the Tower

of the Stars, as he sat upon his throne, his hand held fast by the

orb. Cyan whispered into Lorac's ear a dream of Silvanesti, a ter-

rible dream in which lovely trees became hideous, deformed

monstrosities that attacked those who had once loved them. A

dream in which Lorac saw his people die, one by one, each death

painful and terrible to witness. A dream in which the Thon-

Thalas river ran red with blood.

The War of the Lance ended. Queen Takhisis wa~ defeated.

Cyan Bloodbane was forced to flee Silvanesti, but he left smugly

satisified with the knowledge that he had accomplished his

goal. He had inflicted upon the Silvanesti a tortured dream from

which they would never awaken. When the elves returned to

their land after the war was over, they discovered to their shock

and horror that the nightmare was reality. Lorac's dream, given

to him by Cyan Bloodbane, had hideously altered their once

beautiful land.

The Silvanesti fought the dream arid, under the leadership of

a Qualinesti general, Porthios, the elves eventually managed to

defeat it. The cost was dear, however. Many elves fell victim to

the dream, and even when it was finally cast out of the land, the

trees and plants and animals remained horribly deformed.

Slowly, the elves coaxed their forests back to beauty, using newly

discovered magicks to heal the wounds left by the dream, to

cover over the scars.

Then came the need to forget. Porthios, who had risked his

life more than once to wrest their land from the clutches of the

dream, became a reminder of the dream. He was no longer a

savior. He was a stranger, an interloper, a threat to the Sil-

vanesti who wanted to return to their life of isolation and seclu-

sion. Porthios wanted to take the elves into the world, to make

them one with the world, to unify them with their cousins, the

Qualinesti. He had married Alhana Starbreeze, daughter of

Lorac, with this hope in mind. Thus if war came again, the elves

would not struggle alone. They would have allies to fight on

their side.

The elves did not want allies. Allies who might decide to

gobble up Silvanesti land in return for their help. Allies who

might want to marry Silvanesti sons and daughters and dilute the

pure Silvanesti blood. These isolationists had declared Porthios

and his wife, Alhana, "dark elves" who could never, under

penalty of death, return to their homelands.

Porthios was driven out. General Konnal took control of the

nation and placed it under martial law "until such time as a true

king can be found to rule the Silvanesti." The Silvanesti ignored

the pleas of their cousins, the Qualinesti, for help to free them

from the rule of the great dragon Beryl and the Knights of

Neraka. The Silvanesti ignored the pleas of those who fought the

great dragons and who begged the elves for their help. The Sil-

vanesti wanted no part of the world. Absorbed in their own af-

fairs, their eyes looked at the mirror of life and saw only

themselves. Thus it was that while they gazed with pride at their

own reflections, Cyan Bloodbane, the green dragon who had

been their bane, came back to the land he had once nearly de-

stroyed. Or so at least, it was reported by the kirath, who kept

watch on the borders.

"Do not raise the shield!" the kirath warned. "You will trap us

inside with our worst enemy!"

The elves did not listen. They did not believe the rumors.

Cyan Bloodbane was a figure out of the dark past. He had died in

the Dragon Purge. He must have died. If he had returned, why

had he not attacked them? So fearful were the elves of the world

outside that the Heads of House were unanimous in their ap-

proval of the magical shield. The people of Silvanesti could now

be said to have gained their dearest wish. Under the magical

shield, they were truly isolated, cut off from everyone. They were

safe, protected from the evil of the outside world.

"And yet, it seems to me that we have not so much as shut the

evil out," Rolan said to Silvan, ''as that we have locked the evil in."

Night had come to Silvanesti. The darkness was welcome to

Silvan, even as it was a grief to him. They had traveled by day

through the forest, covering many miles until Rolan deemed they

were far enough from the ill effects of the shield to stop and rest.

The day had been a day of wonder to Silvanoshei.

He had heard his mother speak with longing, regret, and

sorrow of the beauty of her homeland. He remembered as a child

when he and his exiled parents were hiding in some cave with

danger all about them, his mother would tell him tales of Sil-

vanesti to quiet his fears. He would close his eyes and see, not the

darkness, but the emerald, silver and gold of the forest. He would

hear not the howls of wolf or goblin but the melodious chime of

the bell flower or the sweetly sorrowful music of the flute tree.

His imagination paled before the reality, however. He could

not believe that such beauty existed. He had spent the day as in

a waking dream, stumbling over rocks, tree roots, and his own

feet as wonders on every side brought tears to his eyes and joy to

his heart. .

Trees whose bark was tipped with silver lifted their branches

to the sky in graceful arcs, their silver-edged leaves shining in

the sunlight. A profusion of broad-leafed bushes lined the path,

every bush ablaze with flame-colored flowers that scented the

air with sweetness. He had the impression he did not walk

through a forest so much as through a garden, for there were no

fallen branches, no straggling weeds, no thickets of brambles.

The Woodshapers permitted only the beautiful, the fruitful, and

the beneficial to grow in their forests. The Woodshapers' magi-

cal influence extended throughout the land, with the exception

of the borders, where the shield cast upon their handiwork a

killing frost.

The darkness brought rest to Silvan's dazzled eyes. Yet the

night had its own heart-piercing beauty. The stars blazed with

fierce brilliance, as if defying the shield to try to shut them out.

Night flowers opened their petals to the starlight, scented the

warm darkness with exotic perfumes, while their luminescent

glow filled the forest with a soft silvery white light.

"What do you mean?" Silvan asked. He could not equate evil

with the beauty he'd witnessed.

"The cruel punishment we inflicted on your parents, for one,

Your Majesty," said Rolan. "Our way of thanking your father for

his aid was to try to stab him in the back. I was ashamed to be Sil-

vanesti when I heard of this. But there has come ~ reckoning. We

are bemg made to pay for our shame and our dIshonor, for cut-

ting ourselves off from the rest of the world, for living beneath the

shield, protected from the dragons while others suffer. We pay for

such protection with our lives."

They had stopped to rest in a clearing near a swift-flowing

stream. Silvan was thankful for the respite. His injuries had

started to pain him once more, though he had not liked to say

anything. The excitement and shock of the sudden change in his

life had drained him, depleted his energy.

Rolan found fruit and water with a sweetness like nectar for

their dinner. He tended to Silvan's wounds with a respectful, so-

licitous care that the young man found quite pleasant.

Samar would have tossed me a rag and told me to make the

best of it, Silvanoshei thought.

"Perhaps Your Majesty would like to sleep for a few hours,"

Rolan suggested after their supper.

Silvan had thought he was dropping from fatigue but found

that he felt much better after eating, refreshed and renewed.

"I would like to know more about my homeland," he said.

"My mother has told me some, but, of course, she could not know

what has been happening since she. . . she left. You spoke of the

shield." Silvan glanced about him. The beauty took his breath

away. "1 can understand why you would want to protect this"-

he gestured to the trees whose boles shone with an iridescent

light, to the star flowers that sparkled in the grass-"from the

ravages of our enemies."

"Yes, Your Majesty," said Rolan and his tone softened. "There

are some who say that no price is too high to pay for such pro-

tection, not even the price of our own lives. But if all of us are

dead, who will be left to appreciate the beauty? And if we die, I

believe that eventually the forests will die, too, for the souls of the

elves are bound up in all things living."

"Our people number as the stars," said Silvan, amused, think-

ing that Rolan was being overly dramatic.

Rolan glanced up at the heavens. "Erase half those stars, Your

Majesty, and you will find the light considerably diminished."

"Half" Silvanoshei was shocked. "Surely not half!"

"Half the population of Silvanost alone has perished from the

wasting sickness, Your Majesty." He paused a moment, then said,

"What I am about to tell you would be considered treason, for

which I would be severely punished."

"By punished, you mean cast out?" Silvan was troubled.

"Exiled? Sent into darkness?"

"No, we do not do that anymore, Your Majesty," Rolan

replied. "We cannot very well cast people out, for they could not

pass through the shield. Now people who speak against Gover-

nor General Konnal simply disappear. No one knows what hap-

pens to them."

"If this is true, why don't the people rebel?" Silvan asked, be-

wildered. "Why don't they overthrow Konnal and demand that

the shield be brought down?"

"Because only a few know the truth. And those of us who do

have no evidence. We could stand in the Tower of the Stars and

say that Konnal has gone mad, that he is so fearful of the world

outside that he would rather see us all dead than be a part of that

world. We could say all that, and then Konnal would stand up

and say, 'You lie! Lower the shield and the Dark Knights will

enter our beloved woods with their axes, the ogres will break and

maim the living trees, the Great Dragons will descend upon us

and devour us.' That is what he will say, and the people will cry,

Save us! Protect us, dear Governor General Konnal! We have no

one else to turn to!' and that will be that."

"I see," said Silvan thoughtfully. He glanced at Rolan, who

was gazing intently into the darkness.

"Now the people will have someone else to turn to, Your

Majesty," said Rolan. "The rightful heir to the Silvanesti throne.

But we must proceed carefully, cautiously." He smiled sadly.

"Else you, too, might 'disappear.' "

The lovely song of the nightingale throbbed in the darkness.

Rolan pursed his lips and whistled back. Three elves material-

ized, emerging from the shadows. Silvan recognized them as the

three who had first accosted him near the shield this morning.

This morning! Silvan marveled. Was it only this morning?

Days, months, years had go~e by since then.

Rolan stood to greet the three, clasping the elves by the hand

and exchanging the ritual kiss on the cheek.

The elves wore the same cloak as did Rolan, and even though

Silvan knew that they had entered the clearing, he was having a

difficult time seeing them, for they seemed to be wrapped in

darkness and starlight.

Rolan questioned them about their patrol. They reported that

the border along the Shield was quiet, "deathly quiet" one said

with terrible irony. The three turned their attention back to

Silvan.

"So have you questioned him, Rolan?" asked one, turning a

stem gaze upon Silvanoshei. "Is he what he claims?"

Silvan scrambled to his feet, feeling awkward and embar-

rassed. He started to bow politely to his elders, as he had been

taught, but then the thought came to him that he was king, after

all. It was they who should bow to him. He looked at Rolan in

some confusion.

"I did not 'question' him," Rolan said sternly. "We discussed

certain things. And yes, I believe him to be Silvanoshei, the right-

ful Speaker of the Stars, son of Alhana and Porthios. Our king has

returned to us. The day for which we have been waiting has

arrived."

The three elves looked at Silvan, studied him up and down,

then turned back to Rolan.

"He could be an imposter," said one.

"I am certain he is not" Rolan returned with firm conviction.

"I knew his mother when she was his age. I fought with his father

against the dreaming. He has the likeness of them both, though

he favors his father. You, Drinel. You fought with Porthios. Look

at this young man. You will see the father's image engraven on

the son's."

The elf stared intently at Silvanoshei, who met his gaze and

held it.

"See with your heart Drinel," Rolan urged. "Eyes can be

blinded. The heart cannot. You heard him when we followed him,

when he had no idea we were spying on him. You heard what he

said to us when he believed us to be soldiers of his mother's

army. He was not dissembling. I stake my life on it."

"I grant you that he favors his father and that there is some-

thing of his mother in his eyes. By what miracle does the son of

our exiled queen walk beneath the shield?" Drinel asked.

"I don't know how I came to be inside the shield," Silvan said,

embarrassed. "I must have fallen through it. I don't remember.

But when I sought to leave, the shield would not let me."

"He threw himself against the shield," Rolan said. "He tried

to go back, tried to leave Silvanesti. Would an imposter do that

when he had gone to so much trouble to enter? Would an im-

poster admit that he did not know how he came through the

shield? No, an imposter would have a tale to hand us, logical and

easy to believe."

"You spoke of seeing with my heart," said Drinel. He glanced

back at the other elves. "We are agreed. We want to try the truth-

seek on him."

"You disgrace us with your distrust!" Rolan said, highly dis-

pleased. "What will he think of us?"

"That we are wise and prudent," Drinel answered dryly. "If

he has nothing to hide, he will not object."

"It is up to Silvanoshei," Rolan replied. "Though I would

refuse, if I were him."

"What is it?" Silvan looked from one to another, puzzled.

"What is this truth-seek?"

"It is a magical spell, Your Majesty," Rolan answered and his

tone grew sad. "Once there was a time when the elves could trust

each other. Trust each other implicitly. Once there was a time

when no elf could possibly lie to another of our people. That time

came to an end during Lorac's dream. The dream created phan-

tasms of our people, false images of fellow elves that yet seemed

very real to those who looked on them and touched them and

spoke to them. These phantasms could lure those who believed in

them to ruin and destruction. A husband might see his wife beck-

oning to him and plunge headlong over a cliff in an effort to reach

her. A mother might see a child perishing in flames and rush into

the fire, only to find the child vanished.

"We kirath developed the truth-seek to determine if these

phantasms were real or if they were a part of the dream. The

phantasms were empty inside, hollow. They had no memories, no

thoughts, no feelings. A touch of a hand upon the heart and we

would know if we dealt with living person or the dream.

"When the dream ended, the need for the truth-seek ended,

as well," Rolan said. "Or so we hoped. A hope that proved for-

lorn. When the dream ended, the twisted, bleeding trees were

gone, the ugliness that perverted our land departed. But the

ugliness had entered the hearts of some of our people, turned

them as hollow as the hearts of those created by the dream.

Now elf can lie to elf and does so. New words have crept into

the elven vocabulary. Human words. Words like distrust, dis-

honest, dishonor. We use the truth-seek on each other now and

it seems to me that the more we use it, the more the need to use

it." He looked very darkly upon Drinel, who remained resolute,

defiant.

"I have nothing to hide," said Silvan. "You may use this

truth-seek on me and welcome. Though it would grieve my

mother deeply to hear that her people have come to such a

pass. She would never think to question the loyalty of those

who follow her, as they would never think to question her care

of them."

"You see, Drinel," said Rolan, flushing. "You see how you

shame us!"

"Nevertheless, I will know the truth," Drinel said stubbornly.

"Will you?" Rolan demanded. "What if the magic fails you

again?"

Drinel's eyes flashed. He cast a dark glance at his fellow.

"Curb your tongue, Rolan. I remind you that as yet we know

nothing about this young man."

Silvanoshei said nothing. It was not his place to interject.

himself into this dispute. But he stored up the words for future

thought. Perhaps the elf sorcerers of his mother's army were

not the only people who had found their magical power start-

ing to wane.

Drinel approached Silvan, who stood stiffly, eyeing the elf

askance. Drinel reached out his left hand, his heart hand, for that

is the hand closest to the heart, and rested his hand upon Silvan's

breast. The elf's touch was light, yet Silvan could feel it strike

through to his soul, or so it seemed.

Memory flowed from the font of his soul, good memories

and bad, bubbling up from beneath surface feelings and

thoughts and pouring into Drinel's hand. Memories of his father,

a stern and implacable figure who rarely smiled and never

laughed. Who never made any outward show of his affection,

never spoke approval of his son's actions, rarely seemed to

n?tice his son at all. Yet within that glittering flow of memory,

Sllvanoshei recalled one night, when he and his mother had nar-

rowly escaped death at the hands of someone or other. Porthios

had clasped them both in his arms, had held his small son close

to his breast, had whispered a prayer over them in elven, an an-

cient prayer to gods who were no longer there to hear it. Sil-

vanoshei remembered cold wet tears touching his cheek,

remembered thinking to himself that these tears were not his.

They were his father's.

This memory and others Drinel came to hold in his mind, as

he might have held sparkling water in his cupped hands.

Drinel's expression altered. He looked at Silvan with new

regard, new respect.

"Are you satisfied?! Silvan asked coldly. The memories had

opened a bleeding gash in his being.

"I see his father in his face, his mother in his heart, "Drinel

replied. I pledge you my allegiance, Silvanoshei. I urge others to

do the same."

Drinel bowed deeply, his hand over his breast. The other two

elves added their words of acceptance and allegiance. Silvan re-

turned gracious thanks, all the while wondering a bit cynically

just what all this kowtowing was truly worth to him. Elves had

pledged allegiance to his mother, as well, and Alhana Starbreeze

was little better than a bandit skulking in the woods.

If being the rightful Speaker of the Stars meant more nights

hiding in burial mounds and more days dodging assassins,

Silvan could do without it. He was sick of that sort of life, sick to

death of it. He had never fully admitted that until now. For the

first time he admitted to himself that he was angry-hotly, bit-

terly angry-at his parents for having forced that sort of life

upon him.

He was ashamed of his anger the next moment. He reminded

himself that perhaps his mother was either dead or captive, but,

irrationally, his grief and worry increased his anger. The conflict-

ing emotions, complicated further by guilt, confused and ex-

hausted him. He needed time to think, and he couldn't do that

with these elves staring at him like some sort of stuffed curiosity

in a mageware shop.

The elves remained standing, and Silvan eventually realized

that they were waiting for him to sit down and rest themselves.

He had been raised in an elven court, albeit a rustic one, and he

Was experienced at courtly maneuverings. He urged the other

elves to be seated, saying that they must be weary, and he invited

them to eat some of the fruit and water. Then Silvan excused

himself from their company, explaining that he needed to make

his ablutions.

He was surprised when Rolan warned him to be careful,

offered him the sword he wore.

"Why?" Silvan was incredulous. "What is there to fear? I

thought the shield kept out all our enemies."

"With one exception," Rolan answered dryly. "There are re-

ports that the great green dragon, Cyan Bloodbane, was-by a

miscalculation' on the part of General Konnal-trapped inside

the shield."

"Bah! That is nothing but a story Konnal puts about in order to

distract us," Drinel asserted. "Name me one person who has seen

this monster! No one. The dragon is rumored to be here. He is ru-

mored to be there. We go here and we go there and never find a

trace of him. I think it odd, Rolan, that this Cyan Bloodbane is

always sighted just when Konnal feels himself under pressure to

answer to the leaders of the Households about the state of his rule."

"True, no one has seen Cyan Bloodbane," Rolan agreed. "Nev-

ertheless, I confess I believe that the dragon is in Silvanesti some-

where. I once saw tracks I found very difficult to explain

otherwise. Be careful, therefore, Your Majesty. And take my

sword. Just in case."

Silvan refused the sword. Thinking back to how he had

almost skewered Samar, Silvan was ashamed to let the others

know he could not handle a weapon, ashamed to let them know

that he was completely untrained in its use. He assured Rolan

that he would keep careful watch and walked into the glittering

forest. His mother, he recalled, would have sent an armed guard

with him.

For the first time in my life, Silvan thought suddenly, I am

free. Truly free.

He washed his face and hands in a clear, cold stream, raked

his fingers through his long hair, and looked long at his reflection

in the rippling water. He could see nothing of his father in his

face, and he was always somewhat irritated by those who

claimed that they could. Silvan's memories of Porthios were of a

stem, steel-hard warrior who, if he had ever known how to smile,

had long since abandoned the practice. The only tenderness

Silvan ever saw in his father's eyes was when they turned their

gaze to his mother.

"You are king of the elves," Silvan said to his reflection. "You

have accomplished in a day what your parents could not accom-

plish in thirty years. Could not. . . or would not."

He sat down on the bank. His reflection stirred and shim-

mered in the light of the newly risen moon. "The prize they

sought is within your grasp. You didn't particularly want it

before, but now that it is offered, why not take it?"

Silvan's reflection rippled as a breath of wind passed over the

surface of the water. Then the wind stilled, the water smoothed,

and his reflection was clear and unwavering.

"You must walk carefully. You must think before you speak,

think of the consequences of every word. You must consider your

actions. You must not be distracted by the least little thing.

"My mother is dead," he said, and he waited for the pain.

Tears welled up inside him, tears for his mother, tears for his

father, tears for himself, alone and bereft of their comfort and sup-

port. Yet, a tiny voice whispered deep inside, when did your par-

ents ever support you? When did they ever trust you to do

anything? They kept you wrapped in cotton wool, afraid you'd

break. Fate has offered you this chance to prove yourself. Take it!

A bush grew near the stream, a bush with fragrant white flow-

ers shaped like tiny hearts. Silvan picked a cluster of flowers,

stripped the blossoms from the leafy stems. "Honor to my father,

who is dead," he said and scattered the blossoms in the stream.

They fell upon the reflection that broke apart in the spreading rip-

ples. "Honor to my mother, who is dead."

He scattered the last of the blossoms. Then, feeling cleansed,

empty of tears and empty of emotion, he returned to the camp.

The elves started to rise, but he asked them to remain seated

and not disturb themselves on his account. The elves appeared

pleased with his modesty.

"I hope my long absence did not worry you," he said, know-

ing well that it had. He could tell they had been talking about

him. "These changes have all been so drastic, so sudden. I needed

time to think."

The elves bowed in acquiescence.

"We have been discussing how best to advance Your

Majesty's cause," said Rolan.

"You have the full support of the kirath, Your Majesty," Drinel

added.

Silvan acknowledged this with a nod. He thought on where

he wanted this conversation to go and how best to take it there

and asked mildly, "What is the 'kirath'? My mother spoke of

many things in her homeland but not of this."

"There is no reason why she should," Rolan replied. "Your

father created our order to fight the dream. We kirath were the

ones who entered the forest, searching for the parts that were still

held in thrall by the dream. The work took its toll on body and on

mind, for we had to enter the dream in order to defeat it.

"Other kirath served to defend the Woodshapers and clerics

who came into the forest to heal it. For twenty years we fought

together to restore our homeland, and eventually we succeeded.

When the dream was defeated we were no longer needed, and so

we disbanded, returned to the lives we had led before the war.

But those of us in the kirath had forged a bond closer than broth-

ers and'sisters. We kept in touch, passing news and information.

"Then the Dark Knights of Takhisis came to try to conquer the

continent of Ansalon, and after that came the Chaos War. It was

during this time that General Konnal took control of Silvanesti,

saying that only the military could save us from the forces of evil

at work in the world.

"We won the Chaos War, but at a great cost. We lost the gods,

who, so it is said, matle the ultimate sacrifice-withdrawing from

the world so that Krynn and its people might continue on. With

them went the magic of Solinari and healing powers. We grieved

long for the gods, for Paladine and MishakaL but we had to go on

with our lives.

"We worked to continue to rebuild Silvanesti. Magic came to

us again, a magic of the land, of living things. Though the war

was over, General Konnal did not relinquish control. He said that

now the threat came from Alhana and Porthios, dark elves who

wanted only to avenge themselves on their people."

"Did you believe this?" Silvan asked indignantly.

"Of course not. We knew Porthios. We knew the great sacri-

fices he had made for this land. We knew Alhana and how much

she loved her people. We did not believe him."

" And so you supported my father and mother?" Silvan asked.

"We did," Rolan replied.

"Then why didn't you aid them?" Silvan demanded, his tone

sharpening. "You were armed and skilled in the use of arms. You

were, as you have said, in close contact with one another. My

mother and father waited on the borders, expecting confidently

that the Silvanesti people would rise up and protest the injustice

that had been done to them. They did not. You did nothing. My

parents waited in vain."

"I could offer you many excuses, Your Majesty," Rolan said

quietly. "We were weary of fighting. We did not want to start a

civil war. We believed that over time this breach could all be

made right by peaceful means. In other words"-he smiled

faintly, sadly-"we pulled the blankets over our heads and went

back to sleep."

"If it is any comfort to you, Your Majesty, we have paid for

our sins," Drinel added. "Paid most grievously. We realized

this when the magical shield was erected, but by that time it

was too late. We could not go out. Your parents could not come

within."

Understanding came to Silvan in a flash, dazzling and shock-

ing as the lightning bolt that had struck right in front of him. All

had been darkness before and in the next thudding heartbeat all

was lit brighter than day, every detail clear cut and stark in the

white-hot light.

His mother claimed to hate the shield. In truth the shield was

her excuse, keeping her from leading her army into Silvanesti.

She could have done so anytime during the years before the

shield was raised. She and her father could have marched an

army into Silvanesti, they would have found support among the

people. Why hadn't they?

The spilling of elven blood. That was the excuse they gave

then. They did not want to see elf killing elf. The truth was that

Alhana had expected her people to come to her and lay the crown

of Silvanesti at her feet. They had not done so. As Rolan had said,

they wanted only to go back to sleep, wanted to forget Lorac's

nightmare in more pleasant dreams. Alhana had been the cat

yowling beneath the window, disturbing their rest.

His mother had refused to admit this to herself and thus,

though she railed against the raising of the shield, in reality the

shield had been a relief to her: Oh, she had done all she could to

try to destroy it. She had done all she could to prove to herself

that she wanted desperately to penetrate the barrier. She had

thrown her armies against the shield, thrown herself against it.

But all the while, secretly, in her heart, she did not want to enter

and perhaps that was the reason the shield had been successful in

keeping her out.

Drinel and Rolan and the rest of the elves were inside it for the

very same reason. The shield was in place, the shield existed, be-

cause the elves wanted it. The Silvanesti had always yearned to

be kept safe from the world, safe from the contamination of the

crude and undisciplined humans, safe from the dangers of ogre

and goblin and minotaur, safe from the dragons, safe amidst ease

and luxury and beauty. That was why his mother had wanted to

find a way inside-so that she too could finally sleep in warmth

and in safety, not in burial mounds.

He said nothing, but he realized now what he had to do.

"You pledge your allegiance to me. How do I know that when

the path grows dark you will not abandon me as you abandoned

my parents?"

Rolan paled. Drinel's eyes flashed in anger. He started to

speak, but his friend laid a calming hand on his arm.

"Silvanoshei is right to rebuke us, my friend. His Majesty is

right to ask this question of us." Rolan turned to face Silvan.

"Hand and heart, I pledge myself and my family to You.

Majesty's cause. May my soul be held in thrall on this plane of ex-

istence if I fail."

Silvan nodded gravely. It was a terrible oath. He shifted his

gaze to Drinel and the other two members of the kirath. Drinel

was hesitant.

"You are very young," he said harshly. "How old are you?

Thirty years? You are considered an adolescent among our

people."

"But not among the Qualinesti," Silvanoshei returned. " And I

ask you to think of this," he added, knowing that the Silvanesti

were not likely to be impressed by comparisons with their more

worldly (and therefore more corrupt) cousins. "1 have not been

raised in a pampered, sheltered Silvanesti household. I have been

raised in caves, in shacks, in hovels-wherever my parents could

find safe shelter. I can count on my two hands the number of

nights I have slept in a room in a bed. I have been twice wounded

in battles. I bear the scars upon my body."

Silvan did not add that he had not received his wounds while

fighting in those battles. He did not mention that he had been

injured while his body guards were hustling him off to a place of

safety. He would have fought, he thought to himself, if anyone

had given him a chance. He was prepared to fight now.

"I make the same pledge to you that I ask of you," Silvan said

proudly. "Heart and hand, I pledge to do everything in my power

to regain the throne that is mine by right. I pledge to bring wealth,

peace, and prosperity back to our people. May my soul be held in

thrall on this plane of existence if I fail."

Drinel's eyes sifted, searched that soul. The elder elf appeared

satisfied with he saw. "1 make my pledge to you, Silvanoshei, son

of Porthios and Alhana. By aiding the son, may we make restitu-

tion for our failures in regard to the parents."

"And now," said Rolan. "We must make plans. We must find

a suitable hiding place for His Majesty-"

"No," said Silvan firmly. "The time for hiding is past. I am the

rightful heir to the throne. I have a lawful claim. I have nothing to

fear. If I go sneaking and skulking about like a criminal, then I

will be perceived as a criminal. If I arrive in Silvanost as a king, I

will be perceived as a king."

"Yet, the danger-" Rolan began.

"His Majesty is right, my friend," Drinel said, regarding

Silvan with now marked respect. "He will be in less danger by

making a great stir than he would be if he were to go into

hiding. In order to placate those who question his rule, Konnal

has stated many times that he would gladly see the son of

Alhana take his rightful place upon the throne. He could make

such a promise easily enough, for he knew-or thought he

knew-that with the shield in place, the son could not possibly

enter.

"If Your Majesty arrives triumphantly in the capital, with the

people cheering on all sides, Konnal will be forced to make some

show of keeping his promise. He will find it difficult to make the

rightful heir disappear, as have others in the past. The people

would not stand for it."

"What you say has merit. Yet we must never underestimate

Konnal," said Rolan. "Some believe he is mad, but if so, his is a

cunning, calculating madness. He is dangerous."

"So am I," said Silvan. "As he will soon discover."

He sketched out his plan. The others listened, voiced their ap-

proval, offered changes he accepted, for they knew his people

best. He listened gravely to the discussion of possible danger, but

in truth, he paid little heed.

Silvanoshei was young,and the young know they will live

forever.

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

GALLIVANTING

 

 

 

The same night that Silvanoshei accepted the rulership of

the Silvanesti, Tasslehoff Burrfoot slept soundly and

peacefully-much to his disappointment.

The kender was deposited for safekeeping in a room inside

the Solamnic garrison in Solace. Tas had offered to return to

the wonderful kender-proof Solace jail, but his request was

firmly denied. The garrison room was clean and neat, with no

windows, no furniture except a stern-looking bed with iron

railings and a mattress so stiff and rigid that it could have

stood at attention with the best of the Knights. The door had

no lock at all, which might have provided some light after-

dinner amusement but was held in place by a wooden bar

across the outside.

" All in all," Tas said to himself as he sat disconsolately on his

bed, kicking his feet against the iron railings and looking wist-

fully about, "this room is the single most boring place I've ever

been in my life with the possible exception of the Abyss."

Gerard had even taken away his candle, leaving Tas alone in

the dark. There seemed nothing to do but go to sleep.

Tasslehoff had long thought that someone would do a very

good service to mankind by abolishing sleep. Tas had mentioned

this to Raistlin once, remarking that a wizard of his expertise

could probably find a way around sleep, which took up a good

portion of one's time with very little benefit that Tas could see.

Raistlin had replied that the kender should be thankful someone

had invented sleep for this meant that Tasslehoff was quiet and

comatose for eight hours out of a day and this was the sole reason

that Raistlin had not yet strangled him.

Sleep had one benefit and that was dreams, but this benefit

was almost completely nullified by the fact that one woke from a

dream and was immediately faced with the crushing disappoint-

ment that it had been a dream, that the dragon chasing one with

the intent of biting off one's head was not a real dragon, that the

ogre trying to bash one into pulp with a club was not a real ogre.

Add to this the fact that one always woke up at the most interest-

ing and exciting part of the dream-when the dragon had one's

head in his mouth, for example, or the ogre had hold of the back

of one's collar. Sleep, as far as Tas was concerned, was a complete

waste of time. Every night saw him determined to fight sleep off,

and every morning found him waking up to discover that sleep

had sneaked up on him unaw.ares and run away with him.

Tasslehoff didn't offer sleep much of a fight this night. Worn

out from the rigors of travel and the excitement and snuffles oc-

casioned by Caramon's funeral, Tas lost the battle without a

struggle. He woke to find that not only had sleep stolen in on him

but that Gerard had done the same. The Knight stood over him,

glaring down with his customary grim expression, which looked

considerably grimmer by lantern light.

"Get up," said the Knight. "Put these on."

Gerard handed Tas some clothes that were clean and well-

made, drab, dull and-the kender shuddered-serviceable.

"Thank you," said Tas, rubbing his eyes. "I know you mean

well, but I have my own clothes-"

"I won't travel with someone who looks as if he had been in a

fight with a Maypole and lost," Gerard countered. " A blind gully

dwarf could see you from six miles off. Put these on, and be quick

about it."

A fight with a Maypole," Tas giggled. "I actually saw one of

those once. It was at this Mayday celebration in Solace. Caramon

put on a wig and petticoats and went out to dance with the young

virgins, only his wig slipped over his eye--"

Gerard held up a stem finger. "Rule number one. No talking."

Tas opened his mouth to explain that he wasn't really talking,

not talking as in talking, but talking as in telling a story, which

was quite a different thing altogether. Before Tas was able to get a

word out, Gerard displayed the gag.

Tasslehoff sighed. He enjoyed traveling, and he was truly

looking forward to this adventure, but he did feel that he might

have been granted a more congenial traveling companion. He

sadly relinquished his colorful clothes, laying them on the bed

with a fond pat, and dressed himself in the brown knickers, the

brown wool socks, the brown shirt, and brown vest Gerard had

laid out for him. Tas, looking down at himself, thought sadly that

he looked exactly like a tree stump. He started to put his hands in

his pockets when he discovered there weren't any.

"No pouches, either," said Gerard, picking up Tasslehoff's

bags and pouches and preparing to add them to the pile of dis-

carded clothing.

"Now, see here--" Tas began sternly.

One of the pouches fell open. The light from the lantern glit-

tered merrily on the gleaming, winking jewels of the Device of

Time Journeying.

"Oops," said Tasslehoff as innocently as ever he could and

indeed he was innocent, this time at least.

"How did you get this away from me?" Gerard demanded.

Tasslehoff shrugged and, pointing to his sealed lips, shook his head.

"If I ask you a question, you may answer," Gerard stated,

glowering. "When did you steal this from me?"

"I didn't steal it," Tas replied with dignity. "Stealing is ex-

tremely bad. I told you. The device keeps coming back to me. It's

not my fault. I don't want it. I had a stem talk with it last night,

in fact, but it doesn't seem to listen."

Gerard glared, then, muttering beneath his breath-some-

thing to the effect that he didn't know why he bothered-he

thrust the magical device in a leather pouch he wore at his side.

"And it had better stay there," he said grimly.

"Yes, you'd better do what the Knight says!" Tas added

loudly, shaking his finger at the device. He was rewarded for his

help by having the gag tied around his mouth.

The gag in place, Gerard snapped a pair of manacles over

Tas's wrists. Tas would have slipped right out of ordinary man-

acles, but these manacles were specially made for a kender's

slender wrists, or so it appeared. Tas worked and worked and

couldn't free himself. Gerard laid a heavy hand on the ken-

der's shoulder and marched him out of the room and down

the hall.

The sun had not yet made an appearance. The garrison was

dark and quiet. Gerard allowed Tas time to wash his face and

hands-he had to wash around the gag-and do whatever else he

needed to do, keeping close watch on him all the time and not al-

lowing the kender a moment's privacy. He then escorted him out

of the building.

Gerard wore a long, enveloping cloak over his armor. Tas

couldn't see the armor beneath the cloak, and he knew the Knight

was wearing armor only because he heard it clank and rattle:

Gerard did not wear a helm or carry a sword. He walked the

kender back to the Knights' quarters, where Gerard picked up a

large knapsack and what could have been a sword wrapped up

in a blanket tied with rope.

Gerard then marched Tasslehoff, bound and gagged, to the

front of the garrison. The sun was a tiny sliver of light on the hori-

zon and then it was swallowed by a cloudbank, so that it seemed

as if the sun were starting to rise and had suddenly changed its

mind and gone back to bed.

Gerard handed a paper to the Captain of the Guard. "As

you can see, sir, I have Lord Warren's permission to remove the

prisoner."

The captain glanced at it and then at the kender. Gerard, Tas

noticed, was careful to keep out of the light of the flaring torches

mounted on the wooden posts on either side of the gate. Instantly

the idea came to Tas that Gerard was trying to hide something.

The kender's curiosity was aroused, an occurrence that often

proves fatal to the kender and also to those who happen to be a

kender's companions. Tas stared with all his might, trying to see

what was so interesting beneath the cloak.

He was in luck. The morning breeze came up. The cloak flut-

tered slightly. Gerard caught it quickly, held it fastened in front of

him, but not before Tasslehoff had seen the torchlight shine on

armor that was gleaming black.

Under normal circumstances Tas would have demanded

loudly and excitedly to know why a Solarnnic Knight was wear-

ing black armor. The kender probably would have tugged on the

cloak in order to obtain a better view and pointed out this odd

and interesting fact to the captain of the guard. The gag pre-

vented Tas from saying any of this except in muffled and inco-

herent squeaks and "mfrts," which was all he could manage.

On second thought-and it was due solely to the gag that

Tasslehoff actually had a second thought-the kender realized

that perhaps Gerard might not want anyone to know he was

wearing black armor. Thus, the cloak.

Quite charmed by this new twist to the adventure, Tasslehoff

kept silent, merely letting Gerard know with several cunning

winks that he, the kender, was in on the secret.

"Where are you taking the little weasel?1I the captain asked,

handing the paper back to Gerard. II And what's wrong with his

eye? He hasn't got pink eye, has he?1I

"Not to my knowledge, sir. Begging the captain's pardon, but

I can't tell you where I'm ordered to deliver the kender, sir. That

information is secret," Gerard replied respectfully. Lowering his

voice, he added, IIHe's the one who was caught desecrating the

tomb, sir."

The captain nodded in understanding. He glanced askance at

the bundles the Knight was carrying. "What's that?"

"Evidence, sir,lI Gerard replied.

The captain looked very grim. "Did a lot of damage, did he? I

trust they'll make an example of him."

"I should think they might, sir," Gerard replied evenly.

The captain waved Gerard and Tas through the gate, paid no

further attention to them. Gerard hustled the kender away from

the garrison and out onto the main road. Although the morning

itself wasn't quite awake yet, many people were. Farmers were

bringing in their goods to market. Wagons were rolling out to the

logging camps in the mountains. Anglers were heading for Crys-

talmir Lake. People cast a few curious glances at the cloaked

Knight-the morning was already quite warm. Busy with their

own cares, they passed by without comment. If he wanted to

swelter, that was his concern. None of them so much as looked

twice at Tasslehoff. The sight of a bound and gagged kender was

nothing new.

Gerard and Tas took the road south out of Solace, a road that

meandered alongside the Sentinel range of mountains and would

eventually deposit them in South Pass. The sun had finally de-

cided to crawl out of bed. Pink light spread in a colorful wash

across the sky. Gold gilded the tree leaves, and diamonds of dew

sparkled on the grass. A fine day for adventuring, and Tas would

have enjoyed himself immensely but for the fact that he was hus-

tled along and harried and not permitted to stop to look at any-

thing along the road.

Although encumbered with the knapsack, which appeared

quite heavy, and the sword in a blanket, Gerard set a fast pace. He

carried both objects in one hand, keeping the other to prod Tassle-

hoff in the back if he started to slow down or to grab hold of his

collar if he started to wander off or jerk him backward if he made

a sudden dart across the road.

One would not have guessed it from looking at him, but

Gerard, for all that he was of average height and medium build,

was extremely strong.

The Knight was a grim and silent companion. He did not

return the cheerful "good mornings" of those heading into

Solace, and he coldly rebuffed a traveling tinker who was going

in their direction and offered them a seat on his wagon.

He did at least remove the gag from the kender's mouth.

Tas was thankful. Not as young as he used to be-something

he would freely admit-he found that between the fast pace

set by the Knight and the constant prodding, tugging, and'

jerking, he was doing more breathing than his nose alone

could manage.

Tas immediately asked all the questions he had been storing

up, starting with, "Why is your armor black? I've never seen

black armor before. Well, yes, I have but it wasn't on a Knight of

Solamnia," and ending with, "Are we going to walk all the way

to Qualinesti, and if we are would you mind not seizing hold of

my shirt collar in that very energetic way you have because it's

starting to rub off all my skin."

Tas soon found out that he could ask all the questions he

liked, just so long as he didn't expect any answers. Sir Gerard

made no response except, "Keep moving."

The Knight was young, after all. Tas felt compelled to point

out to him the mistake he was making.

"The very best part of questing," the kender said, "is seeing

the sights along the way. Taking time to enjoy the view and in-

vestigating all the interesting things you find along the road and

talking to all the peo.ple..lf you stop to think about it, the goal of

the quest, such as fightIng the dragon or rescuing the woolly

mammoth, take~ .up only? small bit of time, and although it's

always very excltmg, there s a whole lot more time stacked up in

front of it and behind it-the getting there and the coming back-

which can be very dull if you don't work at it."

"I am not interested in excitement," said Gerard. "I want

simply to be done with this and to be done with you. The sooner

I am finished the sooner I can do something to achieve my goal."

"And what's that?" Tas asked, delighted that the Knight was

finally talking to him.

"To join the fighting in defense of Sanction," Gerard an-

swered, "and when that is done, to free Palanthas from the

scourge of the Knights of Neraka."

"Who are they?" Tas asked, interested.

"They used to be known as the Knights of Takhisis, but they

changed their name when it grew clear to them that Takhisis

wasn't coming back anymore."

"What do you mean, not coming back. Where did she go?"

Tas asked.

Gerard shrugged. "With the other gods, if you believe what

people say. Personally I think claiming that the bad times are a

result of the gods leaving us is just an excuse for our own failures."

"The gods left!" Tas's jaw dropped. "When?"

Gerard snorted. "I'm not playing games with you, kender."

Tas pondered all that Gerard had told him.

"Don't you have this whole Knight business backward?" Tas

asked finally. "Isn't Sanction being held by the Dark Knights and

Palanthas by your Knights?"

"No, I do not have it backward. More's the pity," Gerard said.

Tas sighed deeply. "I'm extremely confused."

Gerard grunted and prodded the kender, who was slowing

down a bit, his legs not being as young as they used to be either.

"Hurry up," he said. "We don't have much farther."

"We don't?" Task said meekly. "Did they move Qualinesti, too?"

"If you must know, Kender, I have two mounts waiting for us

at the Solace bridge. And before you can ask yet another question,

the reason we walked from the garrison and did not ride is that the

horse I am using is not my customary mount. The animal would

have occasioned comment, would have required explanation."

"I have a horse? A horse of my own! How thrilling! I haven't

ridden a horse in ever so long." Tasslehoff came to a halt, looked

up at the Knight. "I'm terribly sorry I misjudged you. I guess you

"do understand about adventuring, after all."

"Keep ll"!-oving." Gerard gave him a shove.

A thought occurred to the kender-a truly astonishing

thought that took away what little breath he had remaining. He

paused to find his breath again and then used it to ask the ques-

tion the thought had produced.

"You don't like me, do you, Sir Gerard?" Tas said. He wasn't

angry or accusing, jus.t surprised.

"No," said Gerard, "I do not." He took a drink of water from

a waterskin and handed the skin to Tas. "If it is any consolation,

there is nothing personal in my dislike. I feel this way about all

your kind."

Tas considered this as he drank the water, which was quite

tepid and tasted of the waterskin. "Maybe I'm wrong, but it

seems to me that I'd much rather be disliked for being me than to

be disliked just because I'm a kender. I can do something about

me, you see, but I can't do much about being a kender because

my mother was a kender and so was my father and that seems to

have a lot to do with me being a kender.

"I might have wanted to be a Knight," Tas continued, warm-

ing to his subject. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I probably did, but the

gods must have figured that my mother, being small, couldn't

very well give birth to someone as big as you, not without con-

siderable inconvenience to herself, and so I came out a kender.

Actually, no offense, but I take that back about being a Knight. I

think what I really wanted to be was a draconian-they are so

very fierce and scaly, and they have wings. I've always wanted

wings. But, of course, that would have been extremely difficult for

my mother to have managed."

"Keep moving," was all Gerard said in reply.

"I could help you carry that bundle if you'd take off these

manacles," Tas offered, thinking that if he made himself useful,

the Knight might come to like him.

"No" Gerard returned, and that was that. Not even a thank you.

"Why don't you like kender?" Tas pursued. "Flint always

said he didn't like kender, but I know deep down he did. I don't

think Raistlin liked kender much. He tried to murder me once,

which gave me sort of a hint as to his true feelings. But I forgave

him for that, although I'll never forgive him for murdering poor

Gnimsh, but that's another story. I'll tell you that later. Where

was I? Oh, yes. I was about to add that Sturm Brightblade was a

Knight, and he liked kender, so I was just wondering what you

have against us."

"Your people are frivolous and heedless," said Gerard, his

voice hard. "These are dark days. Life is serious business and

should be taken seriously. We do not have the luxury for joy and

merriment."

"But if there's no joy and merriment, then of course the days

will be dark," Tas argued. "What else do you expect?"

"How much joy did you feeL kender, when you heard the

news that hundreds of your people in Kendermore had been

slaughtered by the great dragon Malystrx?" Gerard asked grimly,

"and that those who survived were driven from their homes and

now seem to be under some sort of curse and are called afflicted

because they now know fear and they carry swords, not pouches.

Did you laugh when you heard that news, kender, and sing 'tra

la, how merry we are this day'?"

Tasslehoff came to a stop and rounded so suddenly that the

Knight very nearly tripped over him.

"Hundreds? Killed by a dragon?" Tas was aghast. "What do

you mean hundreds of kender died in Kendermore? I never

heard that. I never heard anything like that! It's not true. You're

lying. . . . No," he added miserably. "I take that back. You can't

lie. You're a Knight and while you may not like me you're honor'

bound not to lie to me."

Gerard said nothing. Putting his hand on Tas's shoulder he

turned the kender around bodily and started him, once again, on

his way.

Tas noticed a queer feeling in the vicinity of his heart a con-

stricting kind of feeling, as if he'd swallowed one of the more fe-

rocious constricting snakes. The feeling was uncomfortable and

not at all pleasant. Tas knew in that moment that the Knight had

indeed spoken truly. That hundreds of his people had died most

horribly and painfully. He did not know ,how this had happened,

but he knew it was true, as true as the grass growing along the

side of the road or the tree branches overhead or the sun gleam-

ing down through the green leaves.

It was true in this world where Caramon's funeral had been

different from what he remembered. But it hadn't been true in

that other world, the world of Caramon's first funeral.

"I feel sort of strange," Tas said in a small voice. "Kind of

dizzy. Like I might throw up. If you don't mind, I think I'm going

to be quiet for awhile."

"Praise be," said the Knight, adding, with another shove.

"Keep walking."

They walked in- silence and eventually, about mid-morning,

reached Solace Bridge. The bridge spanned Solace Stream, an

easy-going, meandering brook that wandered around the

foothills of the Sentinel Mountains and then tumbled blithely

through South Pass until it reached the White Rage River. The

bridge was wide in order to accommodate wagons and teams of

horses as well as foot traffic.

In the old days, the bridge had been free for the use of the

traveler, but as traffic increased over the bridge, so did the main-

tenance and the upkeep of the span. The Solace city fathers grew

weary of spending tax money to keep the bridge in operation

and so they erected a tollgate and added a toll-taker. The fee re-

quired was modest. Solace Stream was shallow, you could walk

across it in places, and travelers could always cross at other fords

along the route. However, the banks through which the stream

ran were steep and slippery. More than one wagon load of valu-

able merchandise had ended up in the water. Most travelers

elected to pay the toll.

The Knight and the kender were the only ones crossing this

time of day. The toll-taker was eating breakfast in his booth. Two

horses were tied up beneath a stand of cottonwood trees that

grew along the bank. A young lad who looked and smelled like a

stable hand dozed on the grass. One of the horses was glossy

black, his coat gleamed in the sunlight. He was restive, pawed the

ground and occasionally gave a jerk on the reins as a test to see if

he could free himself. The other mount was a small pony, dapple

gray, with a bright eye and twitching ears and nose. Her hooves

were almost completely covered by long strands of fur.

The constricting snake around Tas's heart eased up a good

deal at the sight of the pony, who seemed to regard the kender

with a friendly, if somewhat mischievous, eye.

"Is she mine!" Tas asked, thrilled beyond belief.

"No," said Gerard. "The horses have been hired for the jour-

ney, that is all."

He kicked at the stable hand, who woke up and, yawning and

scratching at himself, said that they owed him thirty steel for the

horses, saddles, and blankets, ten of which would be given back

to them upon the animals' safe return. Gerard took out his money

purse and counted out the coin. The stable hand-keeping as far

from Tasslehoff as possible-counted the money over again dis-

trustfully, deposited it in a sack and stuffed the sack in his straw-

covered shirt.

"What's the pony's name?" asked Tasslehoff, delighted.

"Little Gray," said the stable hand.

Tas frowned. "That doesn't show much imagination. I think

you could have come up with something more original than that.

What's the black horse's name?"

"Blackie," replied the stable hand, picking his teeth with a

straw.

Tasslehoff sighed deeply.

The tollbooth keeper emerged from his little house. Gerard

handed him the amount of the toll. The keeper raised the gate.

This done, he eyed the Knight and kender with intense curiosity

and seemed prepared to spend the rest of the morning discussing

where the two were headed and why.

Gerard answered shortly, "yay" or "nay" as might be re-

quired. He hoisted Tasslehoff onto the pony, who swiveled her

head to look back at him and winked at him as if they shared

some wonderful secret. Gerard placed the mysterious bundle and

the sword wrapped in the blanket on the back of his own horse,

tied them securely. He took hold of the reins of Tas's pony and

mounted his own horse, then rode off, leaving the toll-taker

standing on the bridge talking to himself.

The Knight rode in front, keeping hold of the pony's reins. Tas

rode behind, his manacled hands holding tight to the pommel of

the saddle. Blackie didn't seem to like the gray pony much better

than Gerard liked the kender. Perhaps Blackie was resentful of the

slow pace he was forced to set to accommodate the pony or per-

haps he was a horse of a stern and serious nature who took

umbrage at a certain friskiness exhibited by the pony. Whatever

the reason, if the black horse caught the gray pony doing a little

sideways shuffle for the sheer fun of it, or if he thought she might

be tempted to stop and nibble at some buttercups on the side of

the road, he would turn his head and regard her and her rider

with a cold eye.

They had ridden about five miles when Gerard called a halt.

He stood in his saddle, looked up and down the road. They had

not met any travelers since they had left the bridge, and now the

road was completely empty. Dismounting, Gerard removed his

cloak and rolling it up, he stuffed it in his bedroll. He was wear-

ing the black breastplate decorated with skulls and the death lily

of a Dark Knight.

"What a great disguise!" Tas exclaimed, charmed. "You told

Lord Warren you were going to be a Knight and you didn't lie.

You just didn't tell him what sort of Knight you were going to

become. Do I get to be disguised as a Dark Knight? I mean a

Neraka Knight? Oh, no, I get it! Don't tell me. I'm going to be

your prisoner!" Tasslehoff was quite proud of himself for having

figured this out. "This is going to be more fun- er, interesting-

than I'd expected."

Gerard did not smile. "This is not a joy ride, kender," he said

and his voice was stern and grim. "You hold my life and your

own in your hands, as well as the fate of our mission. I must be a

fool, to trust something so important to one of your kind, but I

have no choice. We will soon be entering the territory controlled

by the Knights of Neraka. If you breathe a word about my being

a Solamnic Knight, I will be arrested and executed as a spy. But

first, before they kill me, they will torture me to find out what I

know. They use the rack to torture people. Have you ever seen a~

man stretched upon the rack, kender?"

"No, but I saw Caramon do calisthenics once, and he said that

was torture. . . ."

Gerard ignored him. "They tie your hands and feet to the rack

and then pull them in opposite directions. Your arms and legs,

wrists and elbows, knees and ankles are pulled from their sock-

ets. The pain is excruciating, but the beauty of the torture is that

though the victim suffers terribly, he doesn't die. They can keep a

man on the rack for days. The bones never return to their proper

place. When they take a man off the rack, he is a cripple. They

have to carry him to the scaffold, put him in a chair in order to

hang him. That will be my fate if you betray me, kender. Do you

understand ?"

"Yes, Sir Gerard," said Tasslehoff. "And even though you

don't like me, which I have to tell you really hurts my feelings, I

wouldn't want to see you stretched on the rack. Maybe someone

else-because I never saw anyone's arm pulled out of its socket

before-but not you."

Gerard did not appear impressed by this magnanimous offer.

"Keep a curb on your tongue for your sake as well as mine."

"I promise," said Tas, putting his hand to his topknot and

giving it a painful yank that brought tears to his eyes. "I can keep

a secret, you know. I've kept any number of secrets-important

secrets, too. I'll keep this one. You can depend on me or my

name's not Tasslehoff Burrfoot."

This appeared to impress Gerard even less. Looking very

dour, he returned to his horse, remounted and rode forward-a

Dark Knight leading his prisoner.

"How long will it take us to reach Qualinesti?" Tas asked.

" At this pace, four days," Gerard replied.

Four days. Gerard paid no more attention to the kender. The

Knight refused to answer a single question. He was deaf to

Tasslehoff's very best and most wonderful stories, and did not

bother to respond when Tas suggested that he knew a most excit-

ing short cut through Darken Wood.

"Four days of this! I don't like to complain," Tas said, talking

to himself and the pony since the Knight wasn't listening, "but

this adventure is turning out to be dull and boring. Not really an

adventure at all, more of a drudge, if that is a word, which

whether it is or not certainly fits the situation."

He and the pony plodded along, looking forward to four days

with no one to talk to, nothing to do, nothing to see except trees

and mountains, which would have been interesting if Tas could

have spent some time exploring them, but, as he couldn't, he'd

seen plenty of trees and mountains at a distance before. So bored

was the kender that the next time the magical device came back

to him, appearing suddenly in his manacled hands, Tasslehoff

was tempted to use it. Anything, even getting squished by a

giant, would be better than this.

If it hadn't been for the pony ride, he would have.

At that moment, the black horse looked around to regard the

pony balefully and perhaps some sort of communication passed

between horse and rider for Gerard turned around too.

Grinning sheepishly and shrugging, Tas held up the Device of

Time Journeying.

His face fixed and cold as that of the skull on his black breast-

plate, Gerard halted, waited for the pony to plod up beside him.

He reached out his hand, snatched the magical device from Tas's

hands, and, without a word, thrust the device in a saddlebag.

Tasslehoff sighed again. It was going to be a long four days.

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

LORD OF THE NIGHT

 

 

 

The Order of the Knights of Takhisis was born in a dream of

darkness and founded upon a remote and secret island in

Krynn's far north, an island known as Storm's Keep. But

the island headquarters had been severely damaged during the

Chaos War. Boiling seas completely submerged the fortress-

some said due to the sea goddess Zeboim's grief at the death of

her son, the Knights' founder, Lord Ariakan. Although the waters

receded, no one ever returned to it. The fortress was now deemed

too remote to be of practical use to the Knights of Takhisis, who

had emerged from the Chaos War battered and bruised, bereft of

their Queen and her Vision, but with a sizeable force, a force to be

reckoned with.

Thus it was that a Knight of the Skull, Mirielle Abrena, at-

tending the first Council of the Last Heroes, felt confident

enough to demand that the remnant of the Knighthood that re-

mained be granted land on the continent of Ansalon in return for

their heroic deeds during the war. The council allowed the

Knights to keep territory they had captured, mainly Qualinesti

(as usual, few humans cared much about the elves) and also the

land in the northeastern part of Ansalon that included Neraka

and its environs. The Dark Knights accepted this region, blasted

and cursed though parts of it were, and set about building up

their Order.

Many on that first council hoped the Knights would suffocate

and perish in the sulphur-laden air of Neraka. The Dark Knights

not only surviv~d, but thrived. This was due in part to the lead-

ership of Abrena, Lord of the Night, who added to that military

title the political title of governor-general of Neraka. Abrena in-

stituted a new recruitment policy, a policy that was not so choosy

as the old policy, not so nice, not so restrictive. The Knights had

little problem filling their ranks. In the dark days following the

Chaos War, the people felt alone and abandoned. What might be

called the Ideal of the Great "I" arose on Ansalon. Its main pre-

cept: "No one else matters. Only I."

Embracing this precept, the Dark Knights were clever in their

rule. They did not permit much in the way of personal freedoms,

but they did encourage trade and promote business. When Khel-

lendros, the great blue dragon, captured the city of Palanthas, he

placed the Dark Knights in charge. Terrified at the thought of

these cruel overlords ravishing their city, the people of Palanthas

were amazed to find that they actually prospered under the

rulership of the Dark Knights. And although the Palanthians

were taxed for the privilege, they were able to keep enough of

their profits to believe that life under the dictatorial rule of the

Dark Knights wasn't all that bad. The knights kept law and

order, they waged continuous war against the Thieves Guild,

and they sought to rid the city of the gully dwarves residing in

the sewers.

The dragon purge that followed the arrival of the great drag-

ons at first appalled and angered the Knights of Takhisis, who lost

many of their own dragons in the slaughter. In vain the Knights

fought against the great Red, Malys, and her cousins. Many of the

Knights' order died, as did many of their chromatic dragons.

Mirielle's cunning leadership managed to turn even this near dis-

aster into a triumph. The Dark Knights made secret pacts with the

dragons, agreeing to work for them to collect tribute and main-

tain law and order in lands ruled by the dragons. In return, the

dragons would give the Dark Knights a free hand and cease prey-

ing upon their surviving dragons.

The people of Palanthas, Neraka, and Qualinesti knew noth-

ing of the pact made between the Knights and the Dragons. The

people saw only that once again the Dark Knights had defended

them against a terrible foe. The Knights of Solamnia and the mys-

tics of the Citadel of Light knew or guessed of these pacts but

could not prove anything.

Although there were some within the ranks of the Dark

Knights who still held to the beliefs of honor and self-sacrifice ex-

pounded by the late Ariakan, they were mostly the older mem-

bers, who were considered out of touch with the ways of the

modem world. A new Vision had come to replace the old. This

new Vision was based on the mystical powers of the heart devel-

oped by Goldmoon in the Citadel of Light and stolen by several

Skull Knights, who disguised themselves and secretly entered the

Citadel to learn how to use these powers for their own ambitious

ends. The Dark Knight mystics came away with healing skills

and, more frightening, the ability to manipulate their followers'

thoughts.

Armed with the ability to control not only the bodies of those

who entered the Knighthood but their minds as well, the Skull

Knights rose to prominence within the ranks of the Dark Knights.

Although the Dark Knights had long and loudly maintained that

Queen Takhisis was going to return, they had ceased to believe it.

They had ceased to believe in anything except their own power

and might, and this was reflected in the new Vision. The Skull

Knights who administered the new Vision were adept at probing

a candidate's mind, finding his most secret terrors and playing

upon those, while at the same time promising him his heart's

desire-all in return for strict obedience.

So powerful did the Skull Knights grow through the use of the

new Vision that those closest to Mirielle Abrena began to look

upon the Skull Knights with distrust. In particular, they warned

Abrena against the leader, the Adjudicator, a man named

Morham Targonne.

Abrena scoffed at these warnings. "Targonne is an able ad-

ministrator," she said. "1 grant him that much. But, when all is

said and done, what is an able administrator? Nothing more than

a glorified clerk. And that is Targonne. He would never challenge

me for leadership. The man grows queasy at the sight of blood!

He refuses to attend the jousts or tourneys but keeps himself

locked up in his dingy little cabinet, absorbed in his debits and his

credits. He has no stomach for battle."

Abrena spoke truly. Targonne had no stomach for battle. He

would have never dreamed of challenging Abrena for the leader-

ship in honorable combat. The sight of blood really did make him

sick. And so he had her poisoned.

As Lord of the Skull Knights, Targonne announced at

Abrena's funeral that he was the rightful successor. No one stood

to challenge him. Those who might have done so, friends and

supporters of Abrena's, kept their mouths shut, lest they ingest

the same "tainted meat" that had killed their leader. Eventually

Targonne killed them too, so that by now he was firmly en-

trenched in power. He and those Knights who were trained in

mentalism used their powers to delve into the minds of their fol-

lowers to ferret out traitors and malcontents.

Targonne came from a wealthy family with extensive holdings

in Neraka. The family's roots were in Jelek, a city north of what

had formerly been the capital city of Neraka. The Targonne

family's motto was the Great "I," which could have been en-

twined with the Great "P" for profit. They had risen to wealth and

power with the rise of Queen Takhisis, first by supplying arms

and weapons to the leaders of her armies, then, when it appeared

that their side was losing, by supplying arms and weapons to the

armies of Takhisis's enemies. Using the wealth obtained from. the

sale of weapons, the Targonnes bought up land, particularly the

scarce and valuable agricultural land in Neraka.

The scion of the Targonne family had even had the incredible

good fortune (he claimed it was foresight) to pull his money out

of the city of Neraka only days before the Temple exploded. After

the War of the Lance, during the days when Neraka was a de-

feated land, with roving bands of disenfranchised soldiers, gob-

lins, and draconians, he was in sole possession of the two things

people needed desperately: grain and steel.

It had been Abrena's ambition to build a fortress for the Dark

Knights in southern Neraka, near the location of the old temple.

She had the plans drawn up and sent in crews to start building.

Such was the terror inspired by the accursed valley and its eerie

and haunting Song of Death that the crews immediately fled. The

capital city was shifted to the northern part of the Neraka valley,

a site still too close to the southern part for the comfort of some.

One of Targonne's first orders of business was to move the

capital city. The second was to change the name of the Knight-

hood. He established the headquarters of the Knights of Neraka

in Jelek, close to the family business. Much closer to the family

business than most of the Neraka Knights ever knew.

Jelek was now a highly prosperous and bustling city located

at the intersection of the two major highways that ran through

Neraka. Either by great good fortune or crafty dealing the city

had escaped the ravages of the great dragons. Merchants from all

over Neraka, even as far south as Khur, hastened to Jelek to start

new businesses or to expand existing ones. So long as they made

certain to stop by to pay the requisite fees to the Knights of

Neraka and offer their respects to Lord of the Night and Gover-

nor-General Targonne, the merchants were welcome.

If respect for Targonne had a cold, substantial feel to it and

made a fine clinking sound when deposited together with other

demonstrations of respect in the Lord of the Night's large money.

box, the merchants knew better than to complain. Those who did

complain or those who considered that verbal marks of respect

were sufficient found that their businesses suffered severe and

sudden reverses of fortune. If they persisted in their misguided

notions, they were generally found dead in the street, having ac-

cidentally slipped and fallen backward onto a dagger.

Targonne personally designed the Neraka Knights' fortress

that loomed large over the city of Jelek. He had the fortress built

on the city's highest promontory with a commanding view of the

city and the surrounding valley.

The fortress was practical in shape and design-innumerable

squares and rectangles stacked one on top of the other, with

squared-off towers. What windows there were-and there

weren't many-were arrow-slits. The exterior and interior walls

of the fortress were plain and unadorned. So stark and grim was

the fortress that it was often mistaken by visitors for either a

prison or a countinghouse. The sight of black-armored figures pa-

trolling the walls soon corrected their first impression, which

wasn't, after all, so very far wrong. The below-ground level of the

fortress housed an extensive dungeon and, two levels below that

and more heavily guarded, was the Knights' Treasury.

Lord of the Night Targonne had his headquarters and his

living quarters in the fortress. Both were economical in design,

strictly functional, and if the fortress was mistaken for a count-

inghouse, its commander was often mistaken for a clerk. A visitor

to the Lord of the Night was led into a small, cramped office with

bare walls and a sparse scattering of furniture, there to wait while

a small, bald, bespectacled man dressed in somber, though well-

made clothes, completed his work of copying figures in a great

leather-bound ledger.

Thinking that he was in the presence of some minor func-

tionary, who would eventually take him to the Lord of the Night,

the visitor would often roam restlessly about the room, his

thoughts wandering here and there. Those thoughts were

snagged in midair, like butterflies in a web, by the man behind

the desk. This man used his mentalist powers to delve into every

portion of the visitor's mind. After a suitable length of time had

passed, during which the spider had sucked his captive dry, the

man would raise his bald head, peer through his spectacles, and

acquaint the appalled visitor with the fact that he was in the pres-

ence of Lord of the Night Targonne.

The visitor who sat in the lord's presence this day knew very

well that the mild looking man seated across from him was his

lord and governor. The visitor was second in command to Lord

Milles and, although Sir Roderick had not yet met Targonne, he

had seen him in attendance at certain formal functions of the

Knighthood. The Knight stood at attention, holding himself

straight and stiff until his presence should be acknowledged.

Having been warned about Targonne's mentalist capabilities, the

Knight attempted to keep his thoughts stiffly in line as well, with

less success. Before Sir Roderick even spoke, Lord Targonne knew

a great deal of what had happened at the siege of Sanction. He

never liked to exhibit his powers, however. He asked the Knight,

in a mild voice, to be seated.

Sir Roderick, who was tall and brawny and could have lifted

Targonne off the floor by the coat collar with very little exertion,

took a seat in the only other chair in the office and sat on the

chair's edge, tense, rigid.

Perhaps due to the fact that he had come to resemble what he

most loved, the eyes of Morham Targonne resembled nothing so

much as two steel coins-flat, shining, and cold. One looked into

those eyes and saw not a soul, but numbers and figures in the

ledger of Targonne's mind. Everything he looked upon was

reduced to debits and credits, profits and loss, all weighed in the

balance, counted to the penny, and chalked up into one column or

another.

Sir Roderick saw himself reflected in the shining steel of those

cold eyes and felt himself being moved into a column of unnec-

essary expenditures. He wondered if it was true that the specta-

cles were artifacts salvaged from the ruins of Neraka and that

they gave the wearer the ability to see into one's brain. Roderick

began to sweat in his armor, though the fortress with its massive

stone and concrete walls was always cool, even during the

warmest months of the summer.

"My aide tells me you have come from Sanction, Sir Roder-

ick," said Targonne, his voice the voice of a clerk, mild and pleas-

ant and unassuming. "How goes our siege of the city?"

It should be noted here that the Targonne family had exten-

sive holdings in the city of Sanction, holdings they had lost when

the Knights of Neraka lost Sanction. Targonne had made the

taking of Sanction one of the top priorities for the Knighthood.

Sir Roderick had rehearsed his speech on the two-day ride

from Sanction to Jelek and he was prepared with his answer.

"Excellency, I am here to report that on the day after

Midyear Day, an attempt was made by the accursed Solamnics

to break the siege of Sanction and to try to drive off our armies.

The foul Knights endeavored to trick my commander, Lord

Milles, into attacking by making him think they had abandoned

the city. Lord Milles saw through their plot and he, in turn, led

them into a trap. By launching an attack against the city of

Sanction, Lord Milles lured the Knights out of hiding. He then

faked a retreat. The Knights took the bait and pursued our

forces. At Beckard's Cut, Lord Milles ordered our troops to turn

and make a stand. The Solamnics were summarily defeated,

many of their number killed or wounded. They were forced to

retreat back inside Sanction. Lord Milles is pleased to report,

Excellency, that the valley in which our armies are encamped

remains safe and secure."

Sir Roderick's words went into Targonne's ears. Sir Roderick's

thoughts went into Targonne's mind. Sir Roderick was recalling

quite vividly fleeing for his life in front of the rampaging Solam-

nics, alongside Lord Milles who, commanding from the rear, had

been caught up in the retreating stampede. And elsewhere in the

mind of the Knight was a picture Targonne found very interest-

ing, also rather disturbing. That picture was that of a young

woman in black armor, exhausted and stained with blood, re-

ceiving the homage and accolades of Lord Milles's troops. Tar-

gonne heard her name resound in Roderick's mind: "Mina!

Mina!"

With the tip of his pen the Lord of the Night scratched the thin

mustache that covered his upper lip. "Indeed. It sounds a great

victory. Lord Milles is to be congratulated."

"Yes, Excellency." Sir Roderick smiled, pleased. "Thank you,

Excellency."

"It would have been a greater victory if Lord Milles had actu-

ally captured the city of Sanction as he has been ordered, but I

suppose he will attend to that little matter when he finds it con-

venient."

Sir Roderick was no longer smiling. He started to speak,

coughed, and spent a moment clearing his throat. "In point of

fact, Excellency, we most likely would have been able to capture

Sanction were it not for the mutinous actions of one of our junior

officers. Completely contrary to Lord Milles's command, this of-

ficer pulled an entire company of archers from the fray, so that we

had no covering fire necessary for us to launch an attack upon

Sanction's walls. Not only that, but in her panic, this officer or-

dered the archers to shoot their arrows while our own soldiers

were yet in the line of fire. The casualties we sustained were due

completely to this officer's incompetence. Therefore Lord Milles

felt it would not be wise to proceed with the attack."

"Dear, dear," Targonne murmured. "1 trust this young officer

has been dealt with summarily."

Sir Roderick licked his lips. This was the tricky part. "Lord

Milles would have done so, Excellency, but he felt it would be

best to consult with you first. A situation has arisen that makes it

difficult for his lordship to know how to proceed. The young

woman exerts some sort of magical and uncanny influence over

the men, Excellency."

"Indeed?" Targonne appeared surprised. He spoke somewhat

dryly. "The last I heard, the magical powers of our wizards were

failing. I did not know any of our mages were this talented."

"She is not a magic-user, Excellency. Or at least, so she says.

She claims to be a messenger sent by a god-the One, True God."

"And what is the name of this god?" Targonne asked.

"Ah, there she is quite clever, Excellency. She maintains that

the name of the god is too holy to pronounce."

"Gods have come, and gods have gone," Targonne said im-

patiently. He was seeing a most astonishing and disquieting

sight in Sir Roderick's mind, and he wanted to hear it from

the man's lips. "Our soldiers would not be sucked in by such

claptrap."

"Excellency, the woman does not make use of words alone.

She performs miracle&--miracles of healing the likes of which we

have not seen in recent years due to the weakening of our mys-

tics. This girl restores limbs that have been hacked off. She places

her hands upon a man's chest, and the gaping hole in it closes

over. She tells a man with a broken back that he can stand up, and

he stands up! The only miracle she does not perform is raising the

dead. Those she prays over."

Sir Roderick heard the creaking of a chair, looked up to see

Targonne's steel eyes gleaming unpleasantly.

"Of course"-Sir Roderick hastened to correct his mistake-

"Lord Milles knows that these are not miracles, Excellency. He

knows that she is a charlatan. It's just that we can't seem to figure

out how she does it," he added lamely. "And the men are quite

taken with her."

Targonne understood with alarm that all of the foot soldiers

and most of the Knights had mutinied, were refusing to obey

Milles. They had transferred their allegiance to some shaven-

headed chit in black armor.

"How old is this girl?" Targonne asked, frowning.

"She is reputed to be no more than seventeen, Excellency," Sir

Roderick replied.

"Seventeen!" Targonne was aghast. "Whatever induced

Milles to make her an officer in the first place?"

"He did not, Excellency," said Sir Roderick. "She is not part of

our wing. None of us had ever seen her before her arrival in the

valley just prior to the battle."

"Could she be a Solarnnic in disguise?" Targonne wondered.

"I doubt that, Excellency. It was due to her that the Solarnnics

lost the battle," Sir Roderick replied, completely unconscious that

the truth he had just now spoken accorded ill with the fabrica-

tions he'd pronounced earlier.

Targonne noted the inconsistency but was too absorbed in the

clicking abacus of his mind to pay any attention to them, beyond

marking down that Milles was an incompetent bungler who

should be replaced as speedily as possible. Targonne rang a silver

bell that stood upon his desk. The door to the office opened, and

his aide entered.

"Look through the rolls of the Knighthood," Targonne or-

dered. "Locate a- What is her name?" he asked Roderick,

though he could hear it echo in the Knight's mind.

"Mina, Excellency."

"Meenaa," Targonne repeated, holding the name in his mouth

as if he were tasting it. "Nothing else? No surname?"

"Not to my knowledge, Excellency."

The aide departed, dispatched several clerks to undertake the

task. The two Knights sat in silence while the search was being

conducted. Targonne took advantage of the time to continue to

sift through Roderick's mind, which affirmed his surmise that the

siege against Sanction was being handled by a nincompoop. If it

hadn't been for this girl, the siege might well have been broken,

the Dark Knights defeated, annihilated, the Solamnics in tri-

umphant and unhindered possession of Sanction.

The aide returned. "We find no knight named 'Mina' on ~~e

rolls, Excellency. Nothing even close."

Targonne made a dismissive gesture, and the aide departed.

"Brilliant, Excellency!" Sir Roderick exclaimed. "She is an im-

poster. We can have her arrested and executed."

"Hunh." Targonne grunted. "And just what do you think

your soldiers will do in that instance, Sir Roderick? Those she has

healed? Those she has led to victory against the detested foe? The

morale among Milles's troops was not that good to begin with."

Targonne flipped a hand at a stack of ledgers. "I've read the re-

ports. The desertion rate is five times higher among Milles's

troops than with any other commander in the army.

"Tell me this"- Targonne eyed the other Knight shrewdly-

"are you capable of having this Mina girl arrested? Do you have

guards who will obey your order? Or will they most likely arrest

Lord Milles instead?"

Sir Roderick opened his mouth and shut it again without re-

plying. He looked around the room, looked at the ceiling, looked

anywhere but into those steel eyes, horribly magnified by the

thick glass of the spectacles, but still he seemed to see them

boring into his skull.

Targonne clicked the beads upon his mental abacus. The girl

was an imposter, masquerading as a Knight. She had arrived at

the moment she was most needed. In the face of terrible defeat,

she had achieved stunning victory. She performed "miracles" in

the name of a nameless god.

Was she an asset or a liability?

If liability, could she be turned into an asset?

Targonne abhorred waste. An excellent administrator and a

shrewd bargainer, he knew where and how every steel coin was

spent. He was not a miser. He made certain that the Knighthood

had the best quality weapons and armor, he made certain that the

recruits and mercenaries were paid well. He was adamant that

his officers keep accurate records of monies paid out to them.

The soldiers wanted to follow this Mina. Very well. Let them

follow her. Targonne had that very morning received a message

from the great dragon Malystrx wanting to know why he permit-

ted the Silvanesti elves to defy her edicts by maintaining a magi-'-

cal shield over their land and refusing to pay her tribute. Targonne

had prepared a letter to send in return explaining to the dragon

that attacking Silvanesti would be a waste of time and manpower

that could be used elsewhere to more profit. Scouts sent to inves-

tigate the magical shield had reported that the shield was impos-

sible to penetrate, that no weapon-be it steel or sorcery-had the

slightest effect on the shield. One might hurl an entire army at it-

so said his scouts-and one would achieve nothing.

Add to this the fact that an army heading into Silvanesti must

first travel through Blade, the homeland of the ogres. Former

allies of the Dark Knights, the ogres had been infuriated when the

Knights of Neraka expanded southward, taking over the ogres'

best land and driving them into the mountains, killing hundreds

in the process. Reports indicated that the ogres were currently

hounding the dark elf Alhana Starbreeze and her forces some-

where near the shield. But if the Knights advanced into ogre

lands, the ogres would be quite happy to leave off attacking

elves-something they could do any time-to take vengeance on

the ally who had betrayed them.

The letter was on his desk, awaiting his signature. It had been

on his desk for several days. Targonne was fully aware that this

letter of refusal would infuriate the dragon, but he was much

better prepared to face Malys's fury than throwaway valuable re-

sources in a hopeless cause. Reaching for the letter, Targonne

picked it up and slowly and thoughtfully tore it into small pieces.

The only god Targonne believed in was a small, round god

that could stacked up in neat piles in his treasure room. He did

not believe for: a moment that this girl was a messenger from the

gods. He did not believe in her miracles of healing or in the mir-

acle of her generalship. Unlike the wretched and imbecilic Sir

Roderick, Targonne didn't feel a need to explain how she had

done what she had done. All he needed to know was that she was

doing it for the benefit of the Knights of Neraka-and that which

benefitted the Knights benefitted Morham Targonne.

He would give her a chance to perform a "miracle." He

would send this imposter Knight and her addle-pated followers

to attack and capture Silvanesti. By making a small investment of

a handful of soldiers, Targonne would please the dragon, keep

Malys happy. The dangerous Mina girl and her forces would be

wiped out, but the loss would be offset by the gain. Let her die

in the wilderness somewhere, let some ogre munch on her bones

for his supper. That would be an end to the chit and her "name-

less" god.

Targonne smiled upon Sir Roderick and even left his desk to

walk the Knight to the door. He watched until the black-armored

figure had marched down the echoing, empty hallways of the

fortress, then summoned his aide to his office.

He dictated a letter to Malystrx, explaining his plan for the

capture of Silvanesti. He issued an order to the commander of the

Knights of Neraka in Khur to march his forces west to join the

siege of Sanction, take over command from Lord Milles. He

issued an order commanding Talon Leader Mina and a company

of hand-picked soldiers to march south, there to attack and cap-

ture the great elven nation of Silvanesti.

"And what of Lord Milles, Excellency?" his aide asked. "Is he

to be reassigned? Where is he to be sent?"

Targonne considered the matter. He was in an excellent

humor, a feeling which normally came with the closing of an ex-

tremely good business deal.

"Send Milles to report in person to Malystrx. He can tell her

the story of his great 'victory' over the Solamnics. I'm sure she

will be very interested to hear how he fell into an enemy trap and

in so doing came close to losing all that we have fought so hard

to gain.

"Yes, Excellency." The aide gathered up his papers and pre-

pared to return to his desk to execute the documents. "Shall I take

Lord Milles off the rolls?" he asked, as an afterthought.

Targonne had returned to his ledger. He adjusted the specta-

cles carefully on his nose, picked up his pen, waved a negligent

hand in acquiescence, and returned to his credits and debits, his

additions and subtractions.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THE SONG OF LORAC

 

 

 

While Tasslehoff was near dying of boredom on the road to

Qualinesti and while Sir Roderick was returning to Sanc-

tion, blissfully unaware that he had just delivered his com-

mander into the jaws of the dragon, Silvanoshei and Rolan of the

kirath began their journey to place Silvanoshei upon the throne of

Silvanesti. Rolan's plan was to move close to the capital city ofSil-

vanost, but not to enter it until word spread through the city that

the true head of House Royal was returning to claim his rightful

place as Speaker of the Stars.

"How long will that take?" Silvan asked with the impatience

and impetuosity of youth.

"The news will travel faster than we will, Your Majesty,"

Rolan replied. "Drinel and the other kirath who were with us two

nights ago have already left to spread it. They will tell every other

kirath they meet and any of the Wildrunners they feel that they

can trust. Most of the soldiers are loyal to General Konnal, but

there are a few who are starting to doubt him. They do not openly

state their opposition yet, but Your Majesty's arrival should do

much to change that. The Wildrunners have always sworn

allegiance to House Royal. As Konnal himself will be obliged to

do--or at least make a show of doing."

"How long will it take us to reach Silvanost, then?" Sil-

vanoshei asked.

"We will leave the trail and travel the Thon- Tfalas ~y b.oat,"

Rolan responded. "1 plan to take you to my house, which IS lo-

cated on the outskirts of the city. We should arrive in two days

time. We 'will take a third day to rest and to receive the reports

that will be coming in by then. Four days from now, Your Majesty,

if all goes well, you will enter the capital in triumph."

"Four days!" Silvan was skeptical. "Can so much be accom-

plished that fast?"

"In the days when we fought the dream, we kirath could send

a message from the north of Silvanesti into the far reaches of the

south in a single day. I am not exaggerating, Your Majesty," Rolan

said, smiling at Silvanoshei's obvious skepticism. "We accom-

plished such a feat many times over. We were highly organized

then, and there were many more of us than there are now. But I

believe that Your Majesty will be impressed, nevertheless."

"I am already impressed, Rolan," Silvanoshei replied. "I am

deeply indebted to you and the others of the kirath. I will find

some way of repaying you."

"Free our people from this dreadful scourge, Your Majesty,"

Rolan answered, his eyes shadowed with sorrow, "and that will

be payment enough."

Despite his praise, Silvanoshei still harbored doubts, though

he kept them to himself. His mother's army was well organized,

yet even she would make plans, only to see them go awry. Ill luck,

miscommunication, bad weather, anyone of these or a host of

other misfortunes could turn a day that had seemed meant for

victory into disaster.

"No plan ever survives contact with the enemy," was one of

Samar's dictums, a dictum that had proven tragically true.

Silvan anticipated disasters, delays. If the boat Rolan prom-

ised even existed, it would have a hole in it or it would have been

burned to cinders. The river would be too low or too high, run too

swift or too slow. Winds would blow them upstream instead of

down or down when they wanted to travel up.

Silvan was vastly astonished to find the small boat at the river

landing where Rolan had said it would be, perfectly sound and in

good re~air. Not only that, but the boat had bee? filled with food

packed ill waterproof sacks and stowed neatly ill the prow.

"As you see, Your Majesty," Rolan said, "the kirath have been

here ahead of us."

T he Thon- Thalas River was calm and meandering this time of

year. The boat, made of tree bark, was small and light and so well

balanced that one would have to actively work to tip it over. Well

knowing that Rolan would never think of asking the future

Speaker of the Stars to help row, Silvan volunteered his assis-

tance. Rolan at first demurred, but he could not argue with his

future ruler and so at last he agreed and handed Silvanoshei a

paddle. Silvan saw that he had earned the elder elf's respect by

this act, a pleasant change for the young man, who, it seemed,

had always earned Samar's disrespect.

Silvan enjoyed the exercise that burned away some of his

pent-up energy. The river was placid, the forests through which

it flowed were green and verdant. The weather was fine, but

Silvan could not say that the day was beautiful. The sun shone

through the shield. He could see blue sky through the shield.

But the sun that shone on Silvanesti was not the same fiercely

burning orb of orange fire that shone on the rest of Ansalon. The

sun Silvan looked upon was a pale and sickly yellow, the yellow

of jaundiced skin, the yellow of an ugly bruise. It was as if he

were looking at a reflection of the sun, floating facedown,

drowned in a pool of stagnant, oily water. The yellow sun al-

tered the color of the sky from azure blue to a hard metallic

blue-green. Silvan did not look long at the sun but instead

shifted his gaze to the forest.

"Do you know a song to ease our labors?" he called out to

Rolan who was seated in the front of the boat.

The kirath paddled with quick, strong strokes, digging his

paddle deep into the water. The far-younger Silvan was hard

pressed to keep pace with his elder.

Rolan hesitated, glanced back over his shoulder. "There is a

song that is a favorite of the kirath, but I fear it may displease His

Majesty. It is a song that tells the story of your honored grandfa-

ther, King Lorac."

"Does it start out, 'The Age of Might it was, the Age of the

Kingpriest and his minions,'" Silvan asked, singing the melody

tentatively. He had only heard the song once before.

"That is the beginning, Your Majesty," Rolan replied.

"Sing it for me," Silvan said. "My mother sang it once to me

on the day I turned thirty. That was the first time I had ever heard

the story of my grandfather. My mother never spoke of him

before, nor has she spoken of him since. To honor her, none of the

other elves speaks of him either."

"I too, honor your mother, who gathered roses in the Garden

of Astarin when she was your age. And I understand her pain. We

share in that pain every time we sing this song, for as Lorac was

snared by his own hubris into betraying his country, so we who

took the easy way out, who fled our land and left him to do battle

alone, were also at fault.

"If all our people had stayed to fight, if all our people-those

of House Royal to House Servitor, those of House Protector,

House Mystic, House Mason-if we had all joined together and

stood shoulder to shoulder, regardless of caste, against the Drag-

onarmies, then I believe that we could have saved our land.

"But you shall hear the full tale in the song.

 

 

Song of Lorac

 

 

The Age of Might it was,

the Age of the Kingpriest and

his minions.

Jealous of the wizards, the Kingpriest

said, "You will hand over your high Towers

to me and you will fear me and obey me."

The wizards gave over their high Towers, the last

the Tower of Palanthas.

 

Comes to the Tower Lorac Caladon, King of the Silvanesti,

to take his Test in magic before the closing of the Tower.

In his Test, one of the dragon orbs,

fearful of falling into the hands

of the Kingpriest and his minions,

speaks to Lorac.

"You must not leave me here in Istar.

If you do, I will be lost and the world will perish."

Lorac obeys the voice of the dragon orb,

hides the orb away.

carries it with him from the Tower,

carries the orb back to Silvanesti,

holds the orb in secret, hugging his secret to him,

never telling anyone.

 

Comes the Cataclysm. Comes Takhisis, Queen of Darkness,

with her dragons, mighty and powerful.

Comes war. War to Silvanesti.

Lorac summons all his people, orders them to flee their

homelands

Orders them away.

Says to them,

"I alone will be the savior of the people.1I

"I alone will stop the Queen of Darkness.1I

 

Away the people.

Away the loved daughter, Alhana Starbreeze.

Alone, Lorac hears the voice of the dragon orb,

calling his name, calling to him to come to the darkness.

Lorac heeds the call.

Descends into darkness.

Puts his hands upon the dragon orb and

the dragon orb puts its hands upon Lorac.

Comes the dream.

Comes the dream to Silvanesti,

dream of horror,

dream of fear,

dream of trees that bleed the blood of elvenkind,

dream of tears forming rivers,

dream of death.

 

Comes a dragon,

Cyan Bloodbane,

minion of Takhisis,

to hiss into Lorac's ear the terrors of the dream.

To hiss the words, 1 alone have the power to save the people.

I alone." To mock the words, "I alone have the power to save."

The dream enters the land,

kills the land,

twists the trees, trees that bleed,

fills the rivers with the tears of the people,

the tears of Lorac,

held in thrall by the orb and by Cyan Bloodbane,

minion of Queen Takhisis,

minion of evil,

who alone has the power.

 

"I can understand why my mother does not like to hear that

song," Silvan said when the last long-held, sweet, sad note

drifted over the water, to be echoed by a sparrow. "And why our

people do not like to remember it."

"Yet, they should remember it," said Rolan. "The song would

be sung daily, if I had my way. Who knows but that the song of

our own days will be just as tragic, just as terrible? We have not

changed. Lorac Caladon believed that he was strong enough to

wield the dragon orb, though he had been warned against it by

all the wise. Thus he was snared, and thus he fell. Our people, in

their fear, chose to flee rather than to stand and fight. And thus in

fear today we cower under this shield, sacrificing the lives of

some of our people in order to save a dream."

" A dream?" Silvan asked. He was thinking of Lorac's dream,

the dream of the song.

"I do not refer to the whispers of the dragon," said Rolan.

"That dream is gone, but the sleeper refuses to wake and thus an-

other dream has come to take its place. A dream of the past. A

dream of the glories of days that have gone. I do not blame them,"

Rolan added, sighing. "I, too, love to think upon what has gone

and long to regain it. But those of us who fought alongside your

father know that the past can never be recovered, nor should it

be. The world has changed, and we must change with it. We must

become a part of it, else we will sicken and die in the prison house

in which we have locked ourselves."

Rolan ceased paddling for a moment. He turned in the boat to

face Silvan. "Do you understand what I am saying, Your

Majesty?"

"I think so," said 5ilvan cautiously. "I am of the world, so to

speak. I come from the outside. I am the one who'can lead our

people out into the world."

"Yes, Your Majesty." Rolan smiled.

"S0 long as I avoid the sin of hubris," Silvan. said, ceasing his

paddling, thankful for the rest. He grinned when he said it for he

meant it teasingly, but on reflection, he became more serious.

"Pride, the family failing," Silvan said, half to himself. "I am fore-

warned, and that is forearmed, they say."

Picking up his paddle, he fell to work with a will.

The pallid sun sank down behind the trees. Day languished,

as if it too was one of the victims of the wasting sickness. Rolan

watched the bank, searching for a suitable site to moor for the

night. Silvan watched the opposite shore and so he saw first what

the kirath missed.

"Rolan!" Silvan whispered urgently. "Pull for the western

shore! Quickly!"

"What is it, Your Majesty?" Rolan was quick to take alarm.

"What do you see?"

"There! on the eastern bank! Don't you see them? Hurry! We

are nearly within arrow range!"

Rolan halted his rapid stroking. He turned around to smile

sympathetically at Silvan. "You are no longer among the hunted,

Your Majesty. Those people you see gathered on that bank are

your own. They have come to look upon you and do you honor."

Silvan was astonished. "But. . . how do they know?"

"The kirath have been here, Your Majesty."

"So soon?"

"I told Your Majesty that we would spread the word rapidly."

Silvan blushed. "I am sorry, Rolan. I did not mean to doubt you.

It's just that. . . My mother uses runners. They travel in secret, car-

rying messages between my mother and her sister by marriage,

Laurana, in Qualinesti. Thus we are kept apprised of what is hap-

pening with our people in that realm. But it would take them many

days to cover the same number of miles. . . . I had thought-"

"You thought I was exaggerating. You need make no apology

for that, Your Majesty. You are accustomed to the world beyond

the shield, a world that is large and filled with dangers that wax

and wane daily, like the moon. Here in Silvanesti, we kirath know

every path, every tree that stands on that path, every flower that

grows beside it, ever squirrel that crosses it, every bird that sings

in every branch, so many times have we run them. If that bird

sings one false note, if that squirrel twitches its ears in alarm, we

are aware of it. Nothing can surprise us. Nothing can stop us."

Rolan frowned. "That is why we of the kirath find it troubling

that the dragon Cyan Bloodbane has so long eluded us. It is not

possible that he should. And yet it is possible that he has."

The river carried them within sight of the elves standing on the

western shoreline. Their houses were in the trees, houses a human

would have probably never seen, for they were made of the living

tree, whose branches had been lovingly coaxed into forming walls

and roofs. Their nets were spread out upon the ground to dry,

their boats pulled up onto the shore. There were not many elves,

this was only a small fishing village, and yet it was apparent that

the entire population had turned out. The sick had even been car-

ried to the river's edge, where they lay wrapped in blankets and

propped up with pillows.

Self-conscious, Silvan ceased paddling and rested his oar at

the bottom of the boat.

"What do I do, Rolan?" he asked nervously.

Rolan looked back, smiled reassuringly. "You need only be

yourself, Your Majesty. That'is what they expect."

Rolan steered closer to the bank. The river seemed to run

faster here, rushed Silvan toward the people before he was quite

ready. He had ridden on parade with his mother to review the

troops and had experienced the same uneasiness and sense of un-

worthiness that assailed him now.

The river brought him level with his people. He looked at

them and nodded slightly and raised his hand in a shy wave. No

one waved back. No one cheered, as he had been half-expecting.

They watched him float upon the river in silence, a silence that

was poignant and touched Silvan more deeply than the wildest

cheering. He saw in their eyes, he heard in their silence, a wistful

hopefulness, a hope in which they did not want to believe, for

they had felt hope before and been betrayed.

Profoundly moved, Silvan ceased his waving and stretched

out his hand to them, as if he saw them sinking and he could keep

them above the water. The river bore him away from them, took

him around a hill, and they were lost to his sight.

Humbled, he huddled in the stem and did not move nor

speak. For the first time, he came to the full realization of the

crushing burden he had taken upon himself. What could he do to

help them? What did they expect of him? Too much, perhaps.

Much too much.

Rolan glanced back every now and again in concern, but he

said nothing, made no comment. He continued to paddle alone

until he found a suitable place to beach the boat. Silvan roused

himself and jumped into the water, helped to drag the boat up

onto the bank. The water was icy cold and came as a pleasant

shock. He submerged his worries and fears of his own inadequa-

cies in the Thon- Thalas, was glad to have something to do to keep

himself busy.

Accustomed to living out of doors, Silvan knew what needed

to be done to set up camp. He unloaded the supplies, spread out

the bedrolls, and began to prepare their light supper of fruit and

flatbread, while Rolan secured the boat. They ate for the most

part in silence, Silvan still subdued by the enormity of the re-

sponsibility he had accepted so blithely just two nights before

and Rolan respecting his ruler's wish for quiet. The two made an

early night of it. Wrapping themselves in their blankets, they left

the woodland animals and night birds to stand watch over their

slumbers.

Silvan fell asleep much sooner than he'd anticipated. He was

wakened in the night by the hooting of an owl and sat up in fear,

but Rolan, stirring, said the owl was merely calling to a neighbor,

sharing the gossip of the darkness.

Silvan lay awake, listening to the mournful, haunting call and

its answer, a solemn echo in some distant part of the forest. He lay

awake, long, staring up at the stars that shimmered uneasily

above the shield, the Song of Lorac running swift like the river

water through his mind.

 

The tears of Lorac,

held in thrall by the orb and by Cyan Bloodbane,

minion of Queen Takhisis,

minion of evil,

who alone has the power.

 

The words and melody of the song were at this moment being

echoed by a minstrel singing to entertain guests at a party in the

captial city of Silvanost.

The party was being held in the Garden of Astarin on the

grounds of the Tower of the Stars, where the Speaker of the Stars

would live had there been a Speaker. The setting was beautiful. The

Tower of the Stars was magically shaped of marble, for the elves

will not cut or otherwise harm any part of the land, and thus the

Tower had a fluid, organic feel to it, looking almost as if someone

had formed it of melted wax. During Lorac's dream, the Tower had

been hideously transformed, as were all the other structures in Sil-

vanost. BIven mages worked long years to reshape the dwelling.

They replaced the myriad jewels in the walls of the tall building,

jewels which had once captured the light of the silver moon, Soli-

nari, and the red moon, Lunitari, and used their blessed moonlight

to illuminate the Tower's interior so that it seemed bathed in silver

and in flame. The moons were gone now. A single moon only

shone on Krynn and for some reason that the wise among the elves

could not explain, the pale light of this single moon glittered in

each jewellike a staring eye, bringing no light at all to the Tower,

so that the elves were forced to resort to candles and torches.

Chairs had been placed among the plants in the Garden of As-

tarin. The plants appeared to be flourishing. They filled the air

with their fragrance. Only Konnal and his gardeners knew that

the plants in the garden had not grown there but had been carried

there by the Woodshapers from their own private gardens, for no

plants lived long now in the Garden of Astarin. No plants except

one, a tree. A tree surrounded by a magical shield. A tree known

as the Shield Tree, for from its root was said to have sprung the

magical shield that protected Silvanesti.

The minstrel was singing the Song of Lorac in answer to a re-

quest from a guest at the party. The minstrel finished, ending

the song on its sad note, her hand brushing lightly the strings of

her lute.

"Bravo! Well sung! Let the song be sung again," came a lilting

voice from the back row of seats.

The minstrel looked uncertainly at her host. The elven audi-

ence was much too polite and too well bred to indicate overt

shock at the request, but a performer comes to know the mood of

the audience by various subtle signs. The minstrel noted faintly

flushed cheeks and sidelong embarrassed glances cast at their

host. Once around for this song was quite enough.

"Who said that?" General Reyl Konnal, military governor of

Silvanesti, twisted in his seat.

"Whom do you suppose, Uncle?" his nephew replied with a

dark glance for the seats behind them. "The person who

requested it be sung in the first place. Your friend, Glaucous."

General Konnal rose abruptly to his feet, a move that ended the

evening's musical entertainment. The minstrel bowed, thankful to

be spared so arduous a task as singing that song again. The audi-

ence applauded politely but without enthusiasm. A sigh that might

have been expressive of relief joined the night breeze in rustling the

trees whose intertwined branches formed a barren canopy above

them, for many of the leaves had dropped off. Lanterns of silver fil-

igree hung from the boughs, lighting the night. The ~ests left the

small amphitheater, moved to a table that had been set up beside a

reflecting pool, there to dine on sugared fruits and buttery short-

breads and to drink chilled wine.

Konnal invited the minstrel to partake of a late night morsel

and personally escorted the woman to the table. The elf named

Glaucous who had requested the song was already there, a cup of

wine in his hand. Raising a toast to the minstrel, he was lavish in

her praise.

" A pity you were not permitted to sing the song again," he

said, glancing in the general's direction. "I never tire of that par-

ticular melody. And the poetry! My favorite part is when-"

"Might I offer you food and drink, Madame?" the nephew

asked, responding to a nudge from his uncle.

The minstrel cast him a grateful glance and accepted his invi-

tation. He led her to the table, where she was graciously received

by the other ~ests. The grassy area on which Glaucous and the

general stood was soon empty. Although many of the guests

would have been pleased to bask in the the presence of the charm-

ing and attractive Glaucous and pay their share of flattery to Gen-

eral Konnal, they could tell at a glance that the general was angry.

"I don't know why I invite you to these parties, Glaucous,"

Konnal said, seething. "You always do something to embarrass

me. It was bad enough you requested she sing that piece, and

then to ask for it a second time!"

"Considered in light of the rumors I heard today," Glaucous

returned lan~idly, "I thought the song of Lorac Caladon most

appropriate."

Konnal shot his friend a sharp glance from beneath lowered

brows. "I heard. . ." He paused, glanced at his guests. "Come,

walk with me around the pond."

The two moved away from the other ~ests. Now free of the

constraint of the general's presence, the elves gathered in small

groups, their voices sibilant with suppressed excitement, eager to

discuss the rumors that were the talk of the capital..

"We need not have left," Glaucous observed, looking back

upon the refreshment table. "Everyone has heard the same thing."

"Yes, but they speak of it as rumor. I have confirmation,"

Konnal said grimly.

Glaucous halted. "You know this for a fact?"

"I have my sources among the kirath. The man saw him,

spoke to him. The young man is said to be the image of his father.

He is Silvanoshei Caladon, son of Alhana Starbreeze, grandson of

the late and unlamented King Lorac."

"But that is impossible!" Glaucous stated. "The last we heard

of the whereabouts of that accursed witch, his mother, she was

lurking about outside the shield and her son was with her. He

could not have come through the shield. Nothing and no one can

penetrate the shield." Glaucous was quite firm on that point.

"Then his arrival must be a miracle, as they are claiming,"

Konnal said dryly, with a wave of his hand at his whispering guests.

"Bah! It is some imposter. You shake your head." Glaucous

regarded the governor in disbelief. "You have actually swal-

lowed this!"

"My source is Drinel. As you know, he has the skill of truth-

seek," Konnal replied. "There can be no doubt. The young man

passed the test. Drinel saw into his heart. He knows more about

what happened to him than the young man does, apparently."

"S0 what did happen to him?" Glaucous asked with a slight

lift of a delicate eyebrow.

"The night of that terrible storm, Alhana and her rebels were

preparing to launch an all-out assault on the shield when their

camp was overrun by ogres. The young man went running to the

Legion of Steel to beg the help of the humans-witness how low

this woman has sunk-when he was dazzled by a lightning bolt.

He slipped and fell down an embankment. He lost consciousness.

Apparently, when he awoke, he was inside the shield."

Glaucous stroked his chin with his hand. The chin was well-

formed, the face handsome. His almond eyes were large and pen-

etrating. He could make no move that was not graceful. His

complexion was flawless, his skin smooth and pale. His features

were perfectly molded.

To human eyes, all elves are beautiful. The wise say this

accounts for the animosity between the two races. Humans-

even the most beautiful among them--cannot help but feel that

they are ugly by comparison. The elves, who worship beauty, see

gradations of beauty among their own kind, but they always see

beauty. In a land of beauty, Glaucous was the most beautiful.

At this moment, Glaucous's beauty, his perfection, irritated

Konnal beyond measure.

The general shifted his gaze to his pond. Two new swans

glided over its mirrorlike surface. He wondered how long these

two would live, hoped it would be longer than the last pair. He

was spending a fortune in swans, but the pond was bleak and

empty without them.

Glaucous was a favorite at court, which was odd considering

that he was responsible for many members of the elven court

losing their positions, influence, and power. But then, no one ever

blamed Glaucous. They blamed Konnal, the one responsible for

their dismissal.

Yet, what choice do I have? Konnal would ask himself. These

people were untrustworthy. Some of them even plotting against

me! If it hadn't been for Glaucous, I might have never known.

Upon first being introduced into the general's retinue, Glau-

cous had ferreted out something bad about every person Konnal

had ever trusted. One minister had been heard defending Por-

thios. Another was said to have once, when she was a youth, been

in love with Dalamar the Dark. Still another was called to account

because he had disagreed with Konnal over a matter of taxation.

Then came the day when Konnal woke to the realization that he

had only one advisor left and that advisor was Glaucous.

The exception was Konnal's nephew Kiryn. Glaucous made

no secret of his affection for Kiryn. Glaucous flattered the young

man, brought him little gifts, laughed heartily at his jokes, and

was effusive in his attention to him. Courtiers who courted

Glaucous's favor were intensely jealous of the young man.

Kiryn himself would have much preferred Glaucous's dislike.

Kiryn distrusted Glaucous, though the young man could give

no reason why.

Kiryn dared say no word against Glaucous, however. No one

dared say anything against him. Glaucous was a powerful

wizard, the most powerful wizard the Silvanesti had ever known

among their kind, even counting the dark elf Dalamar.

Glaucous had arrived in Silvanost one day shortly after the

dragon purge began. He was, he said, a representative of those

elves who served in the Tower of Shalost, a monument in western

Silvanesti, where lay the body of the druid Waylorn Wyverns-

bane. Although the gods of magic had departed, the enchantment

remained around the crystal bier on which the hero of the elves

lay enshrined. Careful not to disturb the rest of the dead, the

elven sorcerers, desperate to regain their magic, had attempted to

capture and use some of the enchantment.

"We succeeded," Glaucous had reported to the general. "That

is," he had added with becoming modesty, "I succeeded."

Fearing the great dragons that were decimating the rest of

Ansalon, Glaucous had worked with the Woodshapers to devise

a means by which Silvanesti could be protected from the ravages

of the dragons. The Woodshapers, acting under Glaucous's direc-

tion, had grown the tree now known as the Shield Tree. Sur-

rounded by its own magical barrier through which nothing could

penetrate to do it harm, the tree was planted in the Garden of As-

tarin and was much admired.

When Glaucous had proposed to the governor-general that he

could raise a magical shield over all of Silvanesti, Konnal had expe-

rienced an overwhelming sense of thankfulness and relief. He had

felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. Silvanesti would be safe,

truly safe. Safe from dragons, safe from ogres, safe from humans,

dark elves, safe from the rest of the world. He had put the matter to

a vote by the Heads of House. The vote had been unanimous.

Glaucous had raised the shield and become the hero of the

elves, some of whom were already talking about building him his

own monument. Then plants in the Garden of Astarin began to

die. Reports came that trees and plants and animals that lived

within the borders touched by the magical shield were also

dying. People in Silvanost and other elven villages started to die

of a strange wasting sickness. The kirath and other rebels said it

was the shield. Glaucous said it was a plague brought to their

land by humans before the raising of the shield and that only the

shield kept the rest of the populace from dying.

Konnal could not do without Glaucous now. Glaucous was

his friend, his trusted adviser, his only trusted adviser. Glaucous's

magic was responsible for placing the shield over Silvanesti and

Glaucous could use his magic to remove the shield anytime he

wanted. Remove the shield and leave the Silvanesti open to the

terrors of the world beyond.

"Mmmm? I beg your pardon? What were you saying?" Gen-

eral Konnal tore his attention from his swans, returned it to Glau-

cous, who had been speaking all this time.

"I said, 'You are not listening to me:" Glaucous repeated with

a sweet smile.

"No, I am sorry. There is one thing I want to know, Glaucous.

How did this young man come through the shield?" He lowered

his voice to a whisper, though there was no one within earshot.

"Is the shield's magic failing, too?"

Glaucous's expression darkened. "No," he replied.

"How can you be certain?" Konnal demanded. "Tell me hon-

estly-have you not felt a weakening of your power over the past

year? All other wizards have."

"That may be. I have not," Glaucous said coldly.

Konnal gazed at his friend intently. Glaucous refused to meet

his gaze and Konnal guessed that the wizard was lying.

"Then what explanation do we have for this phenomenon?"

"A very simple one," Glacous returned, unperturbed. "I

brought him through."

"You?" Konnal was so shocked he shouted the word. Many in

the crowd halted their conversations to turn and stare.

Glaucous smiled at them reassuringly and took hold of his

friend's arm, led him to a more secluded area of the garden.

"Why would you do this? What do you plan to do with this

young man, Glaucous?" Konnal demanded.

"I will do what you should have done," Glaucous said,

smoothing back the flowing sleeves of his white robes. "I will put

a Caladon on the throne. I remind you, my friend, that if you had

proclaimed your nephew Speaker as I recommended there would

be no problem with Silvanoshei."

"You know perfectly well that Kiryn refused to accept the po-

sition," Konnal returned.

"Due to misguided loyalty to his Aunt Alhana." Glaucous

sighed. "I have tried to counsel him on this matter. He refuses to

listen to me."

"He will not listen to me, either, if that is what you are imply-

ing, my friend," Konnal said. "And might I point out that it is

your insistence on maintaining the right of the Caladon family to

rule Silvanesti that has landed us in this stew. I am of House

Royal myself-"

"You are not a Caladon, Reyl," Glaucous murmured.

"I can trace my lineage back beyond the Caladons!" Konnal

said indignantly. "Back to Quinari, wife of Silvanos! I have as

muCh right to rule as the Caladons. Perhaps more."

"I know that, my dear friend," said Glaucous softly, placing a

soothing hand upon Konnal's arm. "But you would have a diffi-

cult time persuading the Heads of House."

"Lorac Caladon plunged this nation into ruin," Konnal con-

tinued bitterly. "His daughter Alhana Starbreeze took us from ru-

ination to near destruction with her marriage to Porthios, a

Qualinesti. If we had not acted quickly to rid ourselves of both

these vipers, we would have found Silvanesti under the heel of

that half-breed, dim-witted Speaker of Suns Gilthas, son of Tanis.

Yet the people continue to argue that a Caladon should sit upon

the throne! I do not understand it!"

"My friend," Glaucous said gently, "that bloodline has ruled

Silvanesti for hundreds of years. The people would be content to

accept another Caladon as ruler without a murmur. But if you put

yourself forward as a ruler, there would be months or even years

of endless arguments and jealousies, researchings of family histo-

ries, perhaps even rival claims to the throne. Who knows but that

some powerful figure might arise who would oust you and seize

control for himself? No, no. This is the best possible solution. I

remind you again that your nephew is a Caladon and that he

would be the perfect choice. The people would be quite willing to

see your nephew take the position. His mother, your sister, mar-

ried into the Caladon family. It is a compromise the Heads of

House would accept.

"But this is all water beneath the bridge. In two days time, Sil-

vanoshei Caladon will be in Silvanost. You have proclaimed pub-

licly that you would support a member of the Caladon family as

Speaker of the Stars."

"Because you advised that I do so!" Konnal returned.

"I have my reasons," Glaucous said. He glanced at the guests,

who continued to talk, their voices rising in their excitement. The

name "Silvanoshei" could be heard now, coming to them through

the starlit darkness. "Reasons that will become clear to you

someday, my friend. You must trust me."

"Very well, what do you recommend that I do about

Silvanoshei ?"

"You will make him Speaker of the Stars."

"What are you saying?" Konnal was thunderstruck. "This. . .

this son of dark elves. . . Speaker of the Stars. . ."

"Calm yourself, my dear friend," Glaucous admonished in

placating tones. "We will borrow a leaf out of the book of the

Qualinesti. Silvanoshei will rule in name only. You will remain

the general of the Wildrunners. You will retain control over all the

military. You will be the true ruler of Silvanesti. And in the in-

terim, Silvanesti will have a Speaker of the Stars. The people will

be joyful. Silvanoshei's ascension to the throne will put a stop to

the unrest that has developed of late. Once their goal is achieved,

the militant factions among our people-most notably the

kirath-will cease to cause trouble."

"I cannot believe you are serious, Glaucous." Konnal was

shaking his head.

"Never more serious in my life, dear friend. The people will

bring their cares and woes to the king now instead of you. You

will be free to accomplish the real work of ruling Silvanesti.

Someone must be proclaimed regent, of course. Silvanoshei is

young, very young for such a vast responsibility."

" Ah!" Konnallooked quite knowing. "I begin to see what you

have in mind. I suppose that I-"

He stopped. Glaucous was shaking his head.

"You cannot be regent and general of the WIldrunners," he said.

" And whom do you suggest?" Konnal asked.

Glaucous bowed with graceful humility. "I offer myself. I will

undertake to counsel the young king. You have found my advice

useful from time to time, I believe."

"But you have no qualifications!" Konnal protested. "You are

not of House Royal. You have not served in the Senate. Before this

you were a wizard serving in the Tower of Shalost," he stated

brusquely.

"Oh, but you yourself will recommend me," said Glaucous,

resting his hand on Konnal's arm.

" And what am I to say by way of recommendation?"

"Only this-you will remind them that the Shield Tree grows

in the Garden of Astarin, a garden that I oversee. You will remind

them that I am the one who helped plant the Shield Tree. You will

remind them that I am the one currently responsible for keeping

the shield in place."

" A threat?" Konnal glowered.

Glaucous gazed long at the general, who began to feel un-

comfortable. "It is my fate never to be trusted," Glaucous said at

last. "To have my motives questioned. I accept that, a sacrifice I

make to serve my people."

"I am sorry," Konnal said gruffly. "It's just that-"

"Apology accepted. And now," Glaucous continued, "we

should make preparations to welcome the young king to Sil-

vanost. You will declare a national holiday. We will spare no ex-

pense. The people need something to celebrate. We will have that

minstrel who sang tonight sing something in honor of our new

Speaker. What a lovely voice she has."

"Yes," Konnal agreed absently, abstracted. He was beginning

to think that this plan of Glaucous's wasn't a bad plan after all.

" Ah, how very sad, my friend," Glaucous said, pointing to the

pond. "One of your swans is dying."

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

MARCHING ORDERS

 

 

 

The first day after the siege of Sanction, Mina tried to leave

her tent to go stand in line with the other soldiers waiting

for food. She was mobbed, surrounded by soldiers and

camp followers who wanted to touch her for luck or who wanted

her to touch them. The soldiers were respectful, awed in her

presence. Mina spoke to each one, always in the name of the

One, True God. But the press of men, women and children was

overwhelming. Seeing that Mina was about to drop from ex-

haustion, her Knights, led by Galdar, drove the people away.

Mina returned to her tent. Her Knights stood guard over her rest.

Galdar brought her food and drink.

The next day, Mina held a formal audience. Galdar ordered

the soldiers to form ranks. She passed among them, speaking to

many by name, recalling their bravery in battle. They left her

presence dazzled, her name upon their lips.

After the review, she visited the tents of the dark mystics. Her

Knights had spread the story of how Mina had restored Galdar's

arm. Miracles of healing such as this had once been common in

the Fourth Age, but not anymore.

The mystic healers of the Knights of Neraka, healers who had

stolen the means of healing from the Citadel of Light, had in years

past been able to perform healing miracles that rivaled those the

gods themselves had granted in the Fourth Age. But recently, the

healers had noticed that they were losing some of their mystical

powers. They could still heal, but even simple spells drained

them of energy to the point where they found themselves near

collapse.

No one could explain this strange and dire occurrence. At

first, the healers blamed the mystics of the Citadel of Light,

saying that they had found a way to prevent the Knights of

Neraka from healing their soldiers. But they soon heard reports

from their spies within the Citadel that the mystics on Schallsea

and in other locations throughout Ansalon were encountering the

very same phenonmena. They, too, sought answers, but thus far,

in vain.

Overwhelmed by the number of casualties, forced to conserve

their energy, the healers had aided Lord Milles and his staff first,

for the army needed its commanders. Even then, they could do

nothing for critical wounds. They could not restore hacked off

limbs, they could not stop internal bleeding, they could not mend

a cracked skull.

The eyes of the wounded fixed on Mina the moment she en-

tered the healers' tent. Even those who had been blinded, whose

eyes were covered with bloody bandages, turned their sightless

gaze instinctively in her direction, as a plant languishing in

shadow seeks the sunlight.

The healers continued their work, pretending not to notice

Mina's entry. One did pause, however, to look up. He seemed

about to order her out, then saw Galdar, who stood behind her

and who had placed his hand upon the hilt of his sword.

"We are busy. What do you want?" the healer demanded

churlishly.

"To help," Mina replied. Her amber-eyed gaze roved swiftly

about the tent. "What is that area back there? The place you have

screened off?"

The healer cast a glance in that direction. Groans and moan-

ing sounds came from behind the blanket which had been hastily

strung up in the back end of the large hospital tent.

"The dying," he said, cold, casual. "We can do nothing for them."

"You do not give them anything for the pain?" Mina asked.

The healer shrugged. "They are of no more use to us. Our sup-

plies are limited and must go to help those who have a chance to

return to the battle."

"You will not mind, then, if I give them my prayers?"

The healer sniffed. "By all means, go 'pray' over them. I'm

sure they'll appreciate it."

"I'm sure they wilL" she said gravely.

She walked to the back of the tent, passing along the rows of

cots where lay the wounded. Many stretched out their hands to

her or called out her name, begging her to notice them. She

smiled upon them and promised to return. Reaching the blankets

behind which lay the dying, Mina reached out her hand, parted

the blankets and let them fall behind her.

Galdar took his place in front of the blankets, turned, hand on

his sword, to keep an eye on the healers. They made a fine show

of paying no attention, but they cast sidelong glances in the di-

rection of the blankets and then exchanged those glances with

each other.

Galdar listened to what was happening behind him. He could

smell the stench of death. A look cast back through the curtain

showed him seven men and two women. Some lay on cots, but

others lay on the crude stretchers, which had been used to carry

them from the battle field. Their wounds were horrendous, at

least so Galdar perceived in that quick glance. Flesh cleaved

open, organs and bone exposed. Blood dripped on the floor,

forming gruesome pools. One man's intentestines spewed out of

him like a string of grotesque sausages. A woman Knight was

missing half her face, the eyeball dangling hideously from be-

neath a blood-soaked bandage.

Mina came to the first of the dying, the woman who had lost

her face. Her one good eye was closed. Her breathing was la-

bored. She seemed to have already started on her long journey.

Mina rested her hand on the horrible wound.

"I saw you fight in the battle, Durya," Mina said softly. "You

fought bravely, held your ground though those around you pan-

icked and retreated. You must stay your journey, Durya. The One

God has need of you."

The woman breathed easier. Her mangled face moved slowly

toward Mina, who bent and kissed her.

Galdar heard murmuring behind him, turned back quickly.

The healer's tent had grown quiet. All had heard Mina's words.

The healers made no more pretense of working. Everyone was

watching, waiting.

Galdar felt a hand touch him on the shoulder. Thinking it was

Mina, he turned. He saw instead the woman, Durya, who had

lain dying. Her face was covered with blood, she would always

bear a hideous scar, but the flesh was whole, the eye back in its

place. She walked, she smiled, she drew a tremulous breath.

"Mina brought me back," Durya said, her tone awed, won-

dering. "She brought me back to serve her. And I will. I will serve

her all her days."

Exalted, her face radiant, Durya left the tent. The wounded

cheered and began to chant, "Mina, Mina!" The healers started

after Durya in shocked disbelief.

"What is she doing in there?" demanded one, seeking to enter.

"Praying," Galdar said gruffly, blocking the way. "You gave

her permission, remember?"

The healer glowered and swiftly departed. Galdar saw the

man hot-footing his way to Lord Milles's tent.

"Yes, you tell Lord Milles what you've witnessed," Galdar ad-

vised the man silently, gleefully. "Tell him and add yet another

twist of the knife that rankles in his chest."

Mina healed them all, healed everyone of the dying. She

healed a Talon commander who had taken a Solamnic spear in his

gut. She healed a foot soldier who had been trampled by the

slashing hooves of a battle horse. One by one, the dying rose from

their beds and walked out to cheers from the other wounded.

They thanked her and praised her, but Mina turned all their grat-

itude aside.

"Offer your thanks and your loyalty to the One True God,"

she told them. "It is by the god's power that you are restored."

Indeed, it seemed that she was given divine assistance, for

she did not grow weary or faint, no matter how many of the in-

jured she treated. And that was many. When she came from help-

ing the dying, she moved from one of the wounded to another,

laying her hands upon them, kissing them, praising their deeds

in battle.

"The power of healing does not come from me," she told

them. "It comes from the God who has returned to care for you."

By midnight, the healer's tent was empty.

Under orders from Lord Milles, the dark mystics kept close

watch on Mina, trying to figure out her secret so as to discredit

her, denounce her as a charlatan. They said that she must be re-

sorting to tricks or sleight-of-hand. They poked pins into limbs

she had restored, trying to prove they were illusion, only to see

real blood flow. They sent patients to her suffering from horrible

contagious diseases, patients the healers themselves feared to ap-

proach. Mina sat beside these sufferers, laid her hands upon their

open sores and oozing pustules and bid them be well in the name

of the One God.

The grizzled veterans whispered that she was like the clerics

of old, who were given wondrous powers by the gods. Such cler-

ics, they said, had once been able to raise the dead. But that mir-

acle, Mina either would not or could not perform. The dead

received special attention from her, but she did not restore them

to life, though she was often begged to do so.

"We are brought into this world to serve the One True God,"

Mina said. "As we serve the True God in this world, the dead do

important service in the next. It would be wrong to bring them

back."

By her command, the soldiers had carried all the bodies from

the field-bodies of friend and foe alike-and arranged them in

long rows on the bloodstained grass. Mina knelt beside each

corpse, prayed over each no matter which side the person had

fought on, commended the spirit of each to the nameless god.

Then she ordered them to be buried in a mass grave.

At Galdar's insistence, the third day after the siege Mina held

counsel with the Neraka Knights' commanders. They now in-

cluded almost all the officers who had formerly reported to Lord

Milles, and to a man these officers urged Mina to take up the siege

of Sanction, to lead them to what must be a resounding victory

over the Solamnics.

Mina refused their entreaties.

"Why?" Galdar demanded this morning, the morning of

the fifth day, when he and Mina were alone. He was frustrated

at her refusal. "Why will you not launch an attack? If you con-

quer Sanction, Lord Targonne will not be able to touch you! He

will be forced to recognize you as one of his most valued

Knights!"

Mina was seated at a large table she had ordered be brought

into her tent. Maps of Ansalon were spread out upon it. She had

studied the maps every day, moving her lips as she went over

them, speaking silently the names of the towns and cities and vil-

lages to herself, memorizing their locations. Ceasing her work,

she looked up at the minotaur.

"What do you fear, Galdar?" she asked mildly.

The minotaur scowled, the skin between his eyes, above his

snout, creased into folds. "My fear is for you, Mina. Those who

are deemed a threat to Targonne disappear from time to time. No

one is safe from him. Not even our former leader, Mirelle Abrena.

It was put about that she died after eating spoiled meat, but

everyone knows the truth."

"And that truth is?" Mina asked in abstracted tones. She was

looking again at the map.

"He had her poisoned, of course," Galdar returned. "Ask him

yourself if you ever chance to meet him. He will not deny it."

Mina sighed. "Mirielle is fortunate. She is with her God.

Though the Vision she proclaimed was false, she now knows the

truth. She has been punished for her presumption and is now per-

forming great deeds in the name of the One who shall be name-

less. As for Targonne"-Mina lifted her gaze again-"he serves

the One True God in this world, and so he will be permitted to

remain for the time being."

"Targonne?" Galdar gave a tremendous snort. "He serves a

god all right, the god of currency."

Mina smiled a secret, inward smile. "I did not say that Tar-

gonne knows he is serving the One, Galdar. But serve he does.

That is why I will not attack Sanction. Others will fight that battle.

Sanction is not our concern. We are called to greater glory."

"Greater glory?" Galdar was astonished. "You do not know

what you are saying, Mina! What could be greater than seizing

Sanction? Then the people would see that the Knights of Neraka

are once again a powerful force in this world!"

Mina traced a line on the map with her finger, a line that came

to rest near the southern portion of the map. "What about the

conquering of the great elven kingdom of Silvanesti?"

"Hah! Hah!" Galdar roared his laughter. "You have me

there, Mina. I concede. Yes, that would be a magnificent victory.

And it would be magnificent to see the moon drop out of the

sky and land on my breakfast plate, which is just about as likely

to happen."

"You will see, Galdar," Mina said quietly. "Bring me word the

moment the messenger arrives. Oh, and Galdar . . ."

"Yes, Mina?" The minotaur had turned to go.

"Take care," she said to him, her amber eyes piercing him

through, as if they had been sharpened to arrow points. "Your

mockery offends the God. Do not make that mistake again."

Galdar felt a throbbing pain in his sword arm. The fingers

went numb.

"Yes, Mina," he mumbled. Massaging the arm, he ducked out

of the tent, leaving Mina to study her map.

Galdar calculated it would take two days for one of Lord

Milles's flunkies to ride to the Knights' headquarters in Jelek, a

day to report to Lord of the Night Targonne, two days to ride

back. They should hear something today. After he left Mina's tent,

the minotaur roamed about the outskirts of camp, watching the

road for riders.

He was not alone. Captain Samuval and his Archer Com-

pany were there, as well as many of the soldiers of Milles's

command. They stood with weapons ready. They had sworn

among themselves that they would stop anyone who tried to

take Mina from them.

All eyes were on the road. The pickets who were supposed

to be watching Sanction kept looking behind them, instead of

ahead at the besieged city. Lord Milles, who had made one ex-

perimental foray out of his tent following the siege and who

had been harried back inside by a barrage of horse turds, cat-

calls and jeers, parted the tent flaps to glare impatiently up that

road, never doubting but that Targonne would come to his

commander's aide by sending troops to help him put down the

mutiny.

The only eyes in camp who did not turn. to the road were

Mina's. She remained in her tent, absorbed in studying her

maps.

"And that is the reason she gave for not attacking Sanction?

That we are going to attack Silvanesti?" Captain Samuval said to

Galdar as the two stood in the road, awaiting the arrival of the

messenger. The captain frowned. "What nonsense! You don't

suppose she could be afraid, do you?"

Galdar glowered. Placing his hand on the hilt of his sword, he

drew it halfway from its sheath. "1 should cut out your tongue for

saying such a thing! You saw her ride alone into the front ranks of

the enemy! Where was her fear then?"

"Peace, Minotaur," Samuval said. "Put away your sword. I

meant no disrespect. You know as well as I that when the blood

burns hot in battle, a man thinks himself invincible and he does

deeds he would never dream of doing in cold blood. It is only

natural she should be a little frightened now that she has taken

a good long look at the situation and realized the enormity of

the task."

"There is no fear in her," Galdar growled, sheathing his

blade. "How can there be fear in one who speaks of death with a

wistful, impatient look in her eyes, as if she would rush to em-

brace it if she could and is constrained to continue living against

her will."

"A man may fear many things besides death," Samuval

argued. "Failure, for one. Perhaps she fears that if she leads these

worshipers of hers into battle and fails, they will turn against her

as they did against Lord Milles."

Galdar twisted his horned head, looked back over his shoul~

der, back to where Mina's tent stood by itself upon a small rise,

the bloody standard hanging before it. The tent was surrounded

by people standing silent vigil, waiting, watching, hoping to

catch a glimpse of her or hear her voice.

"Would you leave her now, Captain?" Galdar asked.

Captain Samuval followed the minotaur's gaze. "No, I

would not," he said at last. "I don't know why. Perhaps she ha~

bewitched me."

"I'll tell you why," Galdar said. "It's because she offers us

something to believe in. Something besides ourselves. I mocked

that something just now," he added humbly, rubbing his arm,

which still tingled unpleasantly. "And I am sorry I did so."

A trumpet call rang out. The pickets placed at the entrance to

the valley were letting those in camp know that the expected mes-

senger approached. Every person in camp stopped what they

were doing and looked up, ears pricked to hear, necks craned to

see. A large crowd blocked the road. They parted to let the mes-

senger on his steaming horse gallop past. Galdar hastened to take

the news to Mina.

Lord Milles emerged from his command tent at precisely the

same moment Mina left hers. Confident that the messenger was

here to bring word of Targonne's anger and the promise of a force

of armed Knights to seize and execute the imposter, Lord Milles

glared triumphantly at Mina. He felt certain that her downfall

was imminent.

She did not so much as glance at him. She stood outside her

tent, awaiting developments with calm detachment, as if she al-

ready knew the outcome.

The messenger slid down from his horse. He looked in some

astonishment at the crowd of people gathered around Mina's

tent, was alarmed to see them regarding him with a baleful and

threatening air. The messenger kept glancing backward at them

over his shoulder as he went to deliver a scroll case to Lord

Milles. Mina's followers did not take their eyes from him, nor did

they take their hands from the hilts of their swords.

Lord Milles snatched the scroll case from the messenger's

hand. So certain was he of its contents that he did not bother to

retreat to the privacy of his tent to read it. He opened the plain

and unadorned leather-bound case, removed the scroll, broke the

seal and unfurled it with a snap. He had even filled his lungs to

make the announcement that would cause the upstart female to

be arrested.

The breath whistled from him as from a deflated pig's bladder.

His complexion went sallow, then livid. Sweat beaded his fore-

head, his tongue passed several times over his lips. He crumpled

the missive in his hand and, stumbling as one blind, he fumbled

at the tent flaps, trying vainly to open them. An aide stepped for-

ward. Lord Milles shoved the man aside with a savage snarl and

entered the tent, closing the flaps behind him and tying them shut.

The messenger turned to face the crowd.

"I seek a Talon leader named 'Mina,' " he said, his voice loud

and carrying.

"What is your business with her?" roared a gigantic minotaur,

who stepped out of the crowd and confronted the messenger.

"I bear orders for her from Lord of the Night Targonne," the

messenger replied.

"Let him come forward," called Mina.

The minotaur acted as escort. The crowd that had barred the mes-

senger's way cleared a path leading from Lord Milles's tent to Mina's.

The messenger walked along the path that was bounded by

soldiers, all keeping their weapons to hand, regarding him with

not very friendly looks. He kept his gaze forward, though that

was not very comfortable for him since he stared squarely at the

back, shoulders, and bull neck of the enormous minotaur. The

messenger continued on his way, mindful of his duty.

"I am sent to find a knight officer called 'Mina," the messenger

repeated laying emphasis on the words. He stared at the young

girl who confronted him in some confusion. "You are nothing but

a child!"

"A child of battle. A child of war. A child of death. I am Mina,"

said the girl, and there was no doubting her air of authority, the

calm consciousness of command.

The messenger bowed and handed over a second scroll case.

This one was bound in elegant black leather, the seal of a skull

and lily graven upon it in silver. Mina opened the case and drew

forth the scroll. The crowd hushed, seemed to have stopped

breathing. The messenger looked about, his astonishment grow-

ing. He would later report to Targonne that he felt as if he were in

a temple, not a military camp.

Mina read the missive, her face expressionless. When she fin-

ished, she handed it to Galdar. He read it. His jaw dropped so that

his sharp teeth glistened in the sun, his tongue lolled. He read

and reread the message, turned his amazed gaze upon Mina.

"Forgive me, Mina," he said softly, handing the piece of

parchment back to her.

"Do not ask my forgiveness, Galdar," she said. "I am not the

one you doubted."

"What does the message say, Galdar?" Captain Samuval de-

manded impatiently, and his question was echoed by the crowd.

Mina raised her hand and the soldiers obeyed her unspoken

command instantly. The templelike hush fell over them again.

"My orders are to march south, invade, seize, and hold the

elven land of Silvanesti."

A low and angry rumble, like the rumble of thunder from an

approaching storm, sounded in the throats of the soldiers.

"No!" several shouted, incensed. "They can't do this! Come

with us, Mina! To the Abyss with Targonne! We'll march on Jelek!

Yes, that's what we'll do! We'll march on Jelek!"

"Hear me!" Mina shouted above the clamor. "These orders do

not come from General Targonne! His is but the hand that writes

them. The orders come from the One God. It is our God's will that

we attack Silvanesti in or.cier to prove the God's return to all the

world. We will march on Silvanesti!" Mina's voice raised in a stir-

ring cry. "And we will be victorious!"

"Hurrah!" The soldiers cheered and began to chant, "Mina!

Mina! Mina!"

The messenger stared about him in dazed astoundment. The

entire camp, a thousand voices, were chanting this girl's name.

The chant echoed off the mountains and thundered to the heav-

ens. The chant was heard in the town of Sanction, whose resi-

dents trembled and whose Knights grimly gripped their

weapons, thinking this portended some terrible doom for their

besieged city.

A horrible, bubbling cry rose above the chanting, halting some

of it, though those on the outskirts of the crowd continued on, un-

hearing. The cry came from the tent of Lord Milles. So awful was

that cry that those standing near the tent backed away, regarded

it in alarm.

"Go and see what has happened," Mina ordered.

Galdar did as commanded. The messenger accompanied him,

knowing that Targonne would be interested in the outcome. Draw-

ing his sword, Galdar sliced through the leather strings that held

the flap shut. He went inside and came back out a instant later.

"His lordship is dead," he reported, "by his own hand."

The soldiers began to cheer again, and many jeered and

laughed.

Mina rounded upon those near her in anger that lit the amber

eyes with a pale fire. The soldiers ceased their cheering, quailed

before her. Mina said no word but walked past them, her chin set,

her back rigid. She came to the entrance of the tent.

"Mina," said Galdar, holding up the bloodstained message.

"This wretch tried to have you hanged. The proof is here in Tar-

gonne's response."

"Lord Milles stands before the One God, now, Galdar,"

Mina said, "where we will all stand one day. It is not for us to

judge him."

She took the bloody bit of paper, tucked it into her belt, and

walked inside the tent. When Galdar started to go with her, she

ordered him away, closed the tent flaps behind her.

Galdar put an eye to the flap. Shaking his head, he turned and

mounted guard upon the entrance.

"Go about your business," the minotaur commanded the sol-

diers who were milling about in front of the tent. "There's work

to be done if we're marching to Silvanesti."

"What is she doing in there?" asked the messenger.

"Praying," Galdar said shortly.

"Praying!" the messenger repeated to himself in wonder.

Mounting his horse, he rode off, anxious not to lose a moment in

reporting the day's astonishing events to the Lord of the Night.

"So what happened?" Captain Samuval asked, coming to

stand next to Galdar.

"To Milles?" Galdar grunted. "He fell on his sword." He

handed over the message. "1 found this in his hand. As we guessed

he would, he sent a pack of lies to Targonne, all about how Mina

nearly lost the battle and Milles saved it. Targonne may be a mur-

dering, conniving bastard, but he's not stupid." GaIdar spoke with

grudging admiration. "He saw through Milles's lies and ordered

him to report word of his 'victory' directly to the great dragon

Malystrx."

"No wonder he chose this way out," SamuvaI commented. "But

why send Mina south to Silvanesti? What happens to Sanction?"

"Targonne has ordered General Dogah to leave Khur. He will

take over the siege of Sanction. As I said, Targonne's not stupid.

He knows that Mina and her talk of One True God is a threat to

him and the phony 'Visions' he's been handing out. But he also

knows that he will start a rebellion among the troops if he tries to

have her arrested. The great dragon Malystrx has long been an-

noyed by Silvanesti and the fact that the elves have found a way

to thwart her by hiding beneath their magical shield. Targonne

can placate Malystrx on the one hand by telling her he has sent a

force to attack Silvanesti, and he can rid himself of a dangerous

threat to his authority at the same time."

"Does Mina know that in order to reach Silvanesti we must

march through Blode?" Captain Samuval demanded. "A realm

held by the ogres? They are already angry that we have taken

some of their land. They will resent any further incursion into

their territory." Samuval shook his head. "This is suicidal! We will

never even see Silvanesti. We must try to talk her out of this act of

folly, Galdar."

"It is not my place to question her," said the minotaur. "She

knew we were going to Silvanost this morning before the

messenger arrived. Remember, Captain? I told you of it myself."

"Did you?" Captain Samuval mused. "In all the excitement I

had forgotten. I wonder how she found out?"

Mina emerged from Milles's tent. She was very pale.

"His crimes have been forgiven. His soul has been accepted."

She sighed, glanced about appeared disappointed to find herself

back among mortals. "How I envy him!"

"Mina, what are your orders?" Galdar asked.

Mina looked at him without recognition for a moment the

amber still seeing wondrous sights not given to other mortals.

Then she smiled bleakly, sighed again, and came back to her

surroundings.

"Assemble the troops. Captain SamuvaL you will address

them. You will tell them truthfully that the assignment is danger-

ous one. Some might say 'suicidal.' " She smiled at Samuval. "I

will order no man to make this march. Any who come do so of

their own free will."

"They will all come, Mina," said Galdar softly.

Mina gazed at him, her eyes luminous, radiant. "If that be

true, then the force will be too large, too unwieldy. We must move

fast and we must keep our movement secret. My own Knights

will accompany me, of course. You will select five hundred of the

best of the foot soldiers, Galdar. The remainder will stay behind

with my blessing. They must continue to besiege Sanction."

Galdar blinked. "But Mina, didn't you hear? Targonne has

given orders that General Dogah is to take over the siege of

Sanction."

Mina smiled. "General Dogah will receive new orders telling

him that he is to turn his forces south and march with all possible

haste upon Silvanesti."

"But. . . where will these orders come from?" Galdar asked,

gaping. "Not Targonne. He is ordering us to Silvanesti simply to

get rid of us, Mina!"

"As I told you, Galdar, Targonne acts for the One God,

whether he knows it or not." Mina reached into her belt where

she had tucked the orders Milles had received from Targonne.

She held the parchment to the sunlight. Targonne's name loomed

large and black at the bottom, his seal gleamed red. Mina pointed

"It is not my place to question her," said the minotaur. "She

knew we were going to Silvanost this morning before the

messenger arrived. Remember, Captain? I told you of it myself."

"Did you?" Captain Samuval mused. "In all the excitement I

had forgotten. I wonder how she found out?"

Mina emerged from Milles's tent. She was very pale.

"His crimes have been forgiven. His soul has been accepted."

She sighed, glanced about appeared disappointed to find herself

back among mortals. "How I envy him!"

"Mina, what are your orders?" Galdar asked.

Mina looked at him without recognition for a moment the

amber still seeing wondrous sights not given to other mortals.

Then she smiled bleakly, sighed again, and came back to her

surroundings.

"Assemble the troops. Captain SamuvaL you will address

them. You will tell them truthfully that the assignment is danger-

ous one. Some might say 'suicidal.' " She smiled at Samuval. "I

will order no man to make this march. Any who come do so of

their own free will."

"They will all come, Mina," said Galdar softly.

Mina gazed at him, her eyes luminous, radiant. "If that be

true, then the force will be too large, too unwieldy. We must move

fast and we must keep our movement secret. My own Knights

will accompany me, of course. You will select five hundred of the

best of the foot soldiers, Galdar. The remainder will stay behind

with my blessing. They must continue to besiege Sanction."

Galdar blinked. "But Mina, didn't you hear? Targonne has

given orders that General Dogah is to take over the siege of

Sanction."

Mina smiled. "General Dogah will receive new orders telling

him that he is to turn his forces south and march with all possible

haste upon Silvanesti."

"But. . . where will these orders come from?" Galdar asked,

gaping. "Not Targonne. He is ordering us to Silvanesti simply to

get rid of us, Mina!"

"As I told you, Galdar, Targonne acts for the One God,

whether he knows it or not." Mina reached into her belt where

she had tucked the orders Milles had received from Targonne.

She held the parchment to the sunlight. Targonne's name loomed

large and black at the bottom, his seal gleamed red. Mina pointed

"You will meet us here," she said, indicating a place on the

map marked with a pebble. "I calculate that it will take you two

days to meet up with General Dogah and another three days to

rejoin us. The One God speed you, Galdar."

"The One God be with you until we meet again, Mina," said

Galdar.

He meant to leave. He could yet cover many miles before

daylight waned. But he found the leaving difficult. He could

not imagine a day going by without seeing her amber eyes,

hearing her voice. He felt as bereft as if he were suddenly shorn

of all his fur, left in the world shivering and weak as a new-

born calf.

Mina laid her hand upon his, upon the hand she had given

him. "I will be with you wherever you go, Galdar," she said.

He fell to one knee, pressed her hand to his forehead. Keeping

the memory of her touch an amulet in his mind, he turned and

ran from the tent.

Captain Samuval entered next, coming to report that, as he

had foreseen, every single soldier in the camp had volunteered to

come. He had chosen the five hundred he considered the best.

These soldiers were now the envy of the rest.

"I fear that those left behind may desert to follow you, Mina,"

Captain Samuval said.

"I will speak to them," she said. "I will explain to them that

they must continue to hold Sanction without any expectation of

reinforcements. I will explain to them how it can be done. They

will see their duty."

She continued to put the small stones upon the map.

"What is that?" Samuval asked curiously.

"The location of the ogre forces," Mina replied. "Look, Cap-

tain, if we march this way, directly east out of the Khalkist Moun-

tains, we can make much better time heading southward across

the Plains of Khur. We will avoid the largest concentration of their

troops, which are down here in the southern end of the mountain

range, fighting the Legion of Steel and the forces of the elf-witch,

Alhana Starbreeze. We will attempt to steal a march on them by

traveling along this route, the Thon- Thalas River. I fear that at

some point we must fight the ogres, but if my plan works, we will

fight only a diminished force. With the God's blessing, most of us

will reach our destination."

And what happened when that destination was reached?

How did she intend to break through a magical shield that had

thus far baffled all attempts to enter it? Samuval did not ask her.

Nor did he ask how she knew the position of the ogre forces or

how she knew they were fighting the Legion of Steel and the

dark elves. The Knights of Neraka had sent scouts into ogre

lands but none had ever returned alive to tell what they saw.

Captain Samuval did not ask Mina how she intended to hold Sil-

vanesti with such a small force, a force that would be decimated

by the time they reached their destination. Samuval asked her

none of this.

He had faith. If not necessarily in this One God, he had faith

in Mina.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE SCOURGE OF ANSALON

 

 

 

The odd occurrence that befell Tasslehoff Burrfoot on the

fifth night of his journey to Qualinesti in the custody of Sir

Gerard can best be explained by the fact that although the

days had been sunny and warm and fine for traveling, the nights

had been cloudy and overcast, with a drizzly rain. Up until this

night. This night the sky was clear, the air was soft and warm and

alive with the sounds of the forest, crickets and owls and the oc-

casional wolf howling.

Far north, near Sanction, the minotaur Galdar ran along the

road that led to Khur. Far south, in Silvanesti, Silvanoshei entered

Silvanost as he had planned, in triumph and with fanfare. The

entire population of Silvanost came out to welcome him and stare

at him and marvel over him. Silvanoshei was shocked and trou-

bled by how few elves remained in the city. He said nothing to

anyone however and was greeted with appropriate ceremony by

General Konnal and a white-robed elven wizard whose charming

manners endeared him to Silvanoshei at once.

While Silvanoshei dined on elven delicaces off plates of gold

and drank sparkling wine from goblets of crystal, and while

Galdar munched on dried peas as he marched, Tas and Gerard ate

their customary boring and tasteless meal of flatbread and dried

beef washed down with nothing more interesting than plain, or-

dinary water. They had ridden south as far as Gateway, where

they passed several inns, whose innkeepers were standing in the

doors with pinched faces. These innkeepers would have barred

the door against a kender before the roads were closed by the

dragon. Now they had come running out to offer them lodging

and a meal for the unheard-of price of a single steel.

Sir Gerard had paid no attention to them. He had ridden past

without a glance. Tasslehoff had sighed deeply and looked back

longingly at the inns dwindling in the distance. When he had

hinted that a mug of cold ale and a plate of hot food would be a

welcome change, Gerard had said no, the less attention they

called to themselves the better for all concerned.

So they continued on south, traveling along a new road that

ran near the river, a road Gerard said had been built by the

Knights of Neraka to maintain their supply lines into Qualinesti.

Tas wondered at the time why the Knights of Neraka were in-

terested in supplying the elves of Qualinesti, but he assumed

that this must be some new project the elven king Gilthas had

instituted.

Tas and Gerard had slept outdoors in a drizzling rain for the

last four nights. This fifth night was fine. As usual, sleep

sneaked up on the kender before he was quite ready for it. He

woke up in the night, jolted from his slumbers by a light shining

in his eyes.

"Hey! What's that?" he demanded in a loud voice. Throwing

off his blanket, he leaped to his feet and grabbed Gerard by the

shoulder, shaking him and pummeling him.

"Sir Gerard! Wake up!" Tasslehoff shouted. "Sir Gerard!"

The Knight was up and awake in an instant, his sword in his

hand. "What?" He stared around, alert for danger. "What is it?

Did you hear something? See something? What?"

"That! That right there!" Tasslehoff clutched the Knight's shirt

and pointed.

Sir Gerard regarded the kender with an extremely grim look.

"Is this your idea of a joke?"

"Oh, no," Tas stated. "My idea of a joke is this. I say, 'Knock,

knock,' and you say, 'Who's there?' and I say, 'Minotaur,' and you

say 'Minotaur who,' and I say, 'so that's what you stepped in.'

That's my idea of a joke. This has to do with that strange light in

the sky."

"That's the moon," said Sir Gerard through gritted teeth.

"No!" Tasslehoff was astonished. "Really? The moon?"

He looked back at it. The thing did appear to have certain

moonlike qualities: it was orb-shaped, and it was in the sky

alongside the stars, and it glowed. But that was where the resem-

blance ended.

"If that's Solinari," Tas said, eyeing the moon skeptically.

"Then what happened to him? Is he sick?"

Sir Gerard did not answer. He lay back down on his blanket,

placed his sword within hand's reach, and, grabbing hold of a

comer of his blanket rolled himself up in it. "Go to sleep," he said

coldly, "and stay that way until moming."

"But I want to know about the moon!" Tas persisted, hun-

kering down beside the Knight nothing daunted by the fact that

Gerard's back was turned and his head covered up by the blan-

ket and that he was still obviously extremely irate at having

been violently wakened for nothing. Even his back looked

angry. "What happened to make Solinari look so pale and

sickly? And where's lovely red Lunitari? I guess I'd wonder

where Nuitari was if I'd been able to see the black moon in the

first place, which I couldn't, so it might be there and I just

wouldn't know it-"

Sir Gerard flipped over quite suddenly. His head emerged

from the bl~nket, revealing a stem and unfriendly eye. "You

know perfectly well that Solinari has not been seen in the skies

these past thirty-odd years, ever since the end of the Chaos War.

Lunitari either. So you can stop this ridiculous nonsense. I am

now going to sleep. I am to be awakened for nothing less than an

invasion of hobgoblins. Is that clear?"

"But the moon!" Tas argued. "I remember when I came to

Caramon's first funeral Solinari shown so very brightly that it

was like day only it was night. Palin said this was Solinari's way

of honoring his father and-"

Gerard flipped over again and covered his head.

Tas continued talking ootil he heard the Knight start to snore.

Tas gave the Knight an experimental poke. in the shoulder, to no

avail. The kender thought that he might try prying open one of

Gerard's eyelids to see if he was really asleep or just shamming,

a trick which had never been known to fail with Flint, although it

usually ended with the irate dwarf chasing the kender around the

room with the poker.

Tas had other things to think about, however, and so he left

the Knight alone and returned to his own blanket. Lying down,

he put his hands beneath his head and gazed at the strange moon,

which gazed back at him without the slightest hint of recognition.

This gave Tas an idea. Abandoning the moon, he shifted his gaze

to the stars, searched for his favorite constellations.

They were gone, as well. The stars he looked at now were cold

and distant and unfamiliar. The only understanding star in the

night sky was a single red star burning brightly not far from the

strange moon. The star had a warm and comforting glow about

it, which made up for the empty cold feeling in the pit of Tas's

stomach, a feeling he had once thought, when he was a young

kender, meant he needed something to eat but that he now knew,

after years of adventuring, was his inside's way of telling him

that something was wrong. In fact, he'd felt pretty much this

same way just about the time the giant's foot had been poised

over his head.

Tas kept his gaze on the red star, and after awhile the cold,

empty feeling didn't hurt so much anymore. Just when he was

feeling more comfortable and had put the thoughts of the strange

moon and the unfriendly stars and the looming giant out of his

mind, and just when he was starting to enjoy the night, sleep

crept up and nabbed him again.

 

The kender wanted to discuss the moon the next day, and dis-

cuss it he did, but only with himself. Sir Gerard never responded

to any of Tasslehoff's innumerable questions, never turned

around, just rode along at a slow pace, the reins of Tas's pony in

his hands.

The Knight rode in silence, though he was watchful and

alert, constantly scanning the horizon. The entire world seemed

to be riding in silence today, as well, once Tasslehoff quit talk-

ing, which he did after a couple of hours. It wasn't so much that

he was bored with talking to himself, it was the answering him-

self that grew old fast. They met no one on the road, and now

even the sounds of other living creatures came to an end. No

bird sang. No squirrel scampered across the path. No deer

walked among the shadows or ran from them, white tail flash-

ing an alarm.

"Where are the animals?" Tas asked Gerard.

"They are in hiding," the Knight answered, the first words

he'd spoken all morning. "They are afraid."

The air was hushed and still, as if the world held its breath,

fearful of being heard. Not even the trees rustled and Tas had the

feeling that if they had been able to make the choice, they would

have dragged their roots out of the ground and run away.

"What are they afraid of?" Tasslehoff asked with interest,

looking around in excitement, hoping for a haunted castle or a

crumbling manor or, at the very least, a spooky cave.

"They fear the great green dragon. Beryl. We are in the West

Plains now. We have crossed over into her realm."

"You keep talking about this green dragon. I've never heard

of her. The only green dragon I knew was na~ed Cyan Blood-

bane. Who is Beryl? Where did she come from?"

"Who knows?" Gerard said impatiently. "From across the sea,

I suppose, along with the great red dragon Malystryx and others

of their foul kind."

"Well, if she isn't from around these parts, why doesn't some

hero just go stick a lance into her?" Tas asked cheerfully.

Gerard halted his horse. He tugged on the reins of Tasslehoff's

pony, who had been trudging behind, her head down, every bit

as bored as the kender. She came plodding up level with the

black, shaking her mane and eyeing a patch of grass hopefully.

"Keep your voice down!" Gerard said in a low voice. He

looked as grim and stern as the kender had ever seen him.

"Beryl's spies are everywhere, though we do not see them. Noth-

ing moves in her realm but she is aware of it. Nothing moves here

without her permission. We crossed into her realm an hour ago,"

he added. "1 will be very surprised if someone doesn't come to

take a look at us- Ah, there. What did I tell you?"

He had shifted in his saddle, to gaze intently to the east. A

large speck of black in the sky was growing steadily larger and

larger and larger with every passing moment. As Tas watched, he

saw the speck develop wings and a long tail, saw a massive

body--a massive green body.

Tasslehoff had seen dragons before, he'd ridden dragons

before, he'd fought dragons before. But he had never seen or

hoped to see a dragon this immense. Her tail seemed as long as

the road they traveled; her teeth, set in slavering jaws, could have

served as the high, crenellated walls of a formidable fortress. Her

wicked red eyes burned with a hotter fire than the sun and

seemed to illuminate all they looked upon with a glaring light.

"As you have any regard for your life or mine, kender,"

Gerard said in a fierce whisper, "do or say nothing!"

The dragon flew directly over them, her head swiveling to

study them from all angles. The dragonfear slid over them like

the dragon's shadow, blotting out the sunshine, blotting out

reason and hope and sanity. The pony shook and whimpered.

The black whinnied in terror and kicked and plunged. Gerard

clung to the bucking horse's back, unable to calm the animal, prey

to the same fear himself. Tasslehoff stared upward in open-

mouthed astonishment. He felt a most unpleasant sensation come

over him, a stomach-shriveling, spine-watering, knee-buckling,

hand-sweating sort of feeling. As feelings went, he didn't much

like it. For making a person miserable, it ranked right up there

with a bad, sniffly cold in the head.

Beryl circled them twice and, seeing nothing more interesting

than one of her own Knight allies with a kender prisoner in tow,

she left them alone, flying lazily and unhurriedly back to her lair,

her sharp eyes taking note of everything that moved upon her

ground.

Gerard slid off his horse. He stood next to the shivering

animal, leaned his head against its heaving flanks. He was ex-

ceedingly pale and sweating, a tremor shook his body. He opened

and shut his mouth several times and at one point looked as if he

might be sick, but he recovered himself. At length his breathing

evened out.

"I have shamed myself," he said. "I did not know I could

experience fear like that."

"I wasn't afraid," Tas announced in voice that seemed to

have developed the same shakiness as his body. "I wasn't afraid

one bit."

"If you had any sense, you would have been," Gerard said

dourly.

"It's just that while I've seen some hideous dragons in my

time I've never seen one quite that. . ."

Tasslehoff's words shriveled under Gerard's baleful stare.

"That. . . imposing," the kender said loudly, just in case any

of the dragon's spies were listening. "lmposing," he whispered to

Gerard. "That's a sort of compliment, isn't it?"

The Knight did not reply. Having calmed himself and his

horse, he retrieved the reins to Tasslehoff's pony and, holding

them in his hand, remounted the black. He did not set off imme-

diately, but continued to sit some time in the middle of the road,

gazing out to the west.

"I had never seen one of the great dragons before," he said

qurietly. "1 did not think it would be that bad."

He sat quite still for several more moments, then, with a set

jaw and pale face, he rode forward.

Tasslehoff followed along behind because he couldn't do any-

thing else except follow along behind, what with the Knight hold-

ing onto the pony's reins.

"Was that the same dragon who killed all the kender?" Tassle-

hoff asked in a small voice.

"No," Gerard replied. "That was an even bigger dragon. A red

dragon named Malys."

"Oh," said Tas. "Oh, my."

An even bigger dragon. He couldn't imagine it, and he very

nearly said that he would like to see an even bigger dragon when

it came to him quite forcibly that, in all honesty, he wouldn't.

"What is the matter with me?" Tasslehoff wailed in dismay. "I

must be coming down with something. I'm not curious! I don't

want to see a red dragon that might be bigger than Palanthas. This

is just not like me."

Which led to an astounding thought, a thought so astounding

Tas almost tumbled off the pony.

"Maybe I'm not me!"

Tasslehoff considered this. After all, no one else believed he

was him except Caramon, and he was pretty old and almost dead

at the time so perhaps he didn't count. Laura had said that she

thought Tasslehoff was Tasslehoff but she was probably only

being polite, so he couldn't count on that either. Sir Gerard had

said that he couldn't possibly be Tasslehoff Burrfoot and Lord

Warren had said the same thing, and they were Solamnic Knights,

which meant that they were smart and most likely knew what

they were talking about.

"That would explain everything," said Tasslehoff to himselt

growing cheerier the more he thought about it. "That would ex-

plain why nothing that happened to me the first time I went to

Caramon's funeral happened the second time, because it wasn't

me it was happening to. It was someone else entirely. But if that's

the case," he added, b~coming rather muddled, "if I'm not me, I

wonder who I am?"

He pondered on this for a good half-mile.

"One thing is certain," he said. "I can't keep calling myself

Tasslehoff Burrfoot. If I meet the real one, he would be highly an-

noyed that I'd taken his name. Just the way I felt when I found

out that there were thirty-seven other Tasslehoff Burrfoots in

Solace-thirty-nine counting the dogs. I suppose I'll have to give

him back the Device of Time Journeying, too. I wonder how I

came to have it? Ah, of course. He must have dropped it."

Tas kicked his pony in the flanks. The pony perked up and

trotted forward until Tas had caught up with the knight.

"Excuse me, Sir Gerard," Tas said.

The Knight glanced at him and frowned. "What?" he asked

coldly.

"I just wanted to tell you that I made a mistake," Tas said

meekly. "I'm not the person I said was."

"Ah, now there's a surprise!" Gerard grunted. "You mean

you're not Tasslehoff Burrfoot, who's been dead for over thirty

years?"

"I thought I was," Tas said wistfully. He found the notion

more difficult to give up than he'd imagined. "But I can't be.

You see, Tasslehoff Burrfoot was a hero. He wasn't afraid of any-

thing; And I don't think he would have felt all strange the way

I felt when that dragon flew over us. But I know what's wrong

with me."

He waited for the Knight to ask politely but the Knight didn't.

Tas volunteered the information.

"I have magnesia," he said solemnly.

This time Gerard said, "What?" only he didn't say it very

politely.

Tas put his hand to his forehead, to see if he could feel it.

"Magnesia. I'm not sure how a person gets magnesia. I think it

has something to do with milk. But I remember that Raistlin

said he knew someone with it once and that person couldn't

remember who he was or why he was or where he'd left his

spectacles or anything. So I must have magnesia, because that's

my situation entirely."

This solved, Tasslehoff-or rather, the kender who used to

think he was Tasslehoff-felt extremely proud to know he had

come down with something so important.

"Of course," he added with a sigh, "a lot of people like you

who expect me to be Tasslehoff are going to be in for a sad disap-

pointment when they find out I'm not. But they'll just have to

come to grips with it."

"I'll try to bear up," Gerard said dryly. "Now why don't you

think really hard and see if you can 'remember' the truth about

who you are."

"I wouldn't mind remembering the truth," Tas said. "I have

the feeling that the truth doesn't want to remember me."

The two rode on in silence through a silent world until at last,

to Tasslehoff's relief, he heard a sound, the sound of water, angry

water of a river that foamed and seethed as if it resented being

held prisoner within its rocky banks. Humans named the river

the White-rage River. It marked the northern border of the elven

land of Qualinesti.

Gerard slowed his horse. Rounding a bend in the road, they

came within sight of the river, a broad expanse of white foaming

water falling over and around glistening black rocks.

They had arrived at the end of the day. The forest was shad-

owed with the coming of darkness. The river held the light still,

the water shining in the afterglow, and by that light they could

see in the distance a narrow bridge spanning the river. The bridge

was guarded by a lowered gate and guards wearing the same

black armor as Gerard.

"Those are Dark Knights," said Tasslehoff in astonishment.

"Keep your voice down!" Gerard ordered sternly. Dismount-

ing, he removed the gag from his belt and approached the kender.

"Remember, the only way we're going to be able to see your al-

leged friend Palin Majere is if they let us past."

"But why are there Dark Knights here in Qualinesti?" Tas asked,

talking quickly before Gerard had time to put the gag in place.

"The dragon Beryl rules the realm. These Knights are her

overseers. They enforce her laws, collect the taxes and the tribute

the elves pay to stay alive."

"Oh, no," said Tas, shaking his head. "There must be some

mistake. The Dark Knights were driven out by the combined

forces of Porthios and Gilthas in the year- VIp!"

Gerard stuffed the gag in the kender's mouth, fastened it se-

curely in a knot at the back of his head. "Keep saying things like

that and I won't have to gag you. Everyone will just think you're

crazy."

"If you'd tell me what has happened," Tas said, pulling the

gag from his mouth and peering around at Gerard, "then I

wouldn't have to ask questions."

Gerard, exasperated, put the gag back in place. "Very well,"

he said crossly. "The Knights of Neraka took Qualinesti during

the Chaos War and they have never relinquished their hold on it,"

he said as he tied the knot. "They were prepared to go to war

against the dragon, when she demanded that they cede the land

to her. Beryl was clever enough to realize that she didn't need to

fight. The Knights could be of use to her. She formed an alliance

with them. The elves pay tribute, the Knights collect it and turn

over a percentage-a large percentage--to the dragon. The

Knights keep the rest. They prosper. The dragon prospers. It's the

elves who are out of luck."

"I guess that must have happened when I had magnesia," Tas

said, tugging one comer of the gag loose.

Gerard fastened the knot even tighter and added, irritably,

"The word is 'amnesia,' damn it. And just keep quiet!"

He remounted his horse, and the two rode toward the gate.

The guards were alert and had probably been on the watch for

them, warned of their coming by the dragon, for they did not

appear surprised to see the two emerge from the shadows.

Knights armed with halberds stood guard at the gate, but it was

an elf, clad all in green cloth and glittering chain mail, who

walked up to question them. He was followed by an officer of the

Knights of Neraka, who stood behind the elf, observing.

The elf regarded the two, particularly the kender, with dis-

dain.

"The elven realm of Qualinesti is closed to all travelers by

orders of Gilthas, Speaker of the Sun," said the elf, speaking

Common. "What is your business here?"

Gerard smiled to indicate that he appreciated the joke. "I have

urgent news for Marshal Medan," he said, and reaching into his

black leather gauntlet he brought out a well-worn paper which he

handed over with bored air of one who has done this many times

before.

The elf did not even glance at the paper, but passed it to the

officer of the Neraka Knights. The officer paid more attention to

it. He studied it closely and then studied Gerard. The officer re-

turned the paper to Gerard, who retrieved it and placed it back

inside his glove.

"What business have you with Marshal Medan, Captain?" the

officer inquired.

"I have something he wants, sir," Gerard replied. He jerked a

thumb. "This kender."

The officer raised his eyebrows. "What does Marshal Medan

want with a kender?"

"There is a warrant for the little thief, sir. He stole an impor-

tant artifact from the Knights of the Thorn. A magical artifact that

once purportedly belonged to Raistlin Majere."

The elf's eyes flickered at this. He regarded them with more

interest.

"I've heard nothing of any bounty," the officer stated, frown-

ing. "Or any robbery, for that matter."

"That is not surprising, sir, considering the Gray Robes,"

Gerard said with a wry smile and a covert glance around.

The officer nodded and twitched an eyebrow. The Gray Robes

were sorcerers. They worked in secret, reporting to their own of-

ficers, working to forward their own goals and ambitions, which

might or might not coincide with the rest of the Knighthood. As

such, they were widely distrusted by the warrior Knights, who

viewed the Knights of the Thorn with the same suspicion that

men of the sword have viewed men of the staff for centuries.

"Tell me of this crime," the officer said. "When and where was

it committed?"

"As you know, the Gray Robes have been combing the Forest

of Wayreth, searching for the magical and elusive Tower of High

Sorcery. It was during this search that they uncovered this arti-

fact. I do not know how or where, sir. That information was not

provided to me. The Gray Robes were transporting the artifact to

Palanthas for further study, when they stopped at an inn for some

refreshment along the way. It was there the artifact was stolen.

The Gray Robes missed it the next morning when they awoke,"

Gerard added with a meaningful roll of his eyes. "This kender

had stolen it."

"So that's how I got it!" Tas said to himself, fascinated. "What

a perfectly wonderful adventure. Too bad I can't remember it."

The officer nodded his head. "Damn Gray Robes. Dead

drunk, no doubt. Carrying a valuable artifact. Just like their

arrogance.

"Yes, sir. The criminal fled with his booty to Palanthas. We

were told to be on the lookout for a kender who might try to fence

stolen artifacts. We watched the mageware shops, and that was

how we caught him. And a weary journey I've had of it to bring

him back here, guarding the little fiend day and night."

Tas attempted to look quite fierce.

"I can imagine." The officer was sympathetic. "Was the arti-

fact recovered?"

"I am afraid not, sir. He claims to have 'lost' it, but the fact that

he was discovered in the mageware shop led us to believe that he

has stashed it somewhere with the intent to produce it when he

had closed a bargain. The Thorn Knights plan to question him re-

garding its whereabouts. Otherwise, of course"-Gerard

shrugged-"we could have spared ourselves the trouble. We

would have simply hung the thieving nit."

"The headquarters for the Thoms is down south. They're still

looking for that damned tower. A waste of time, if you ask me.

Magic is gone from the world again and I say good riddance."

"Yes, sir," Gerard replied. "I was instructed to report to Mar-

shal Medan first, this being under his jurisdiction, but if you think

I should proceed directly-"

"Report to Medan, by all means. If nothing else, he will get a

good laugh out of the story. Do you need help with the kender? I

have a man I could spare-"

"Thank you, sir. As you can see, he is well-secured. I antici-

pate no trouble."

"Ride on, then, Captain," said the officer, indicating with a

wave of his hand that the gate was to be lifted. "Once you've de-

livered the vermin, ride back this way. We'll open a bottle of

dwarf spirits, and you will tell me of the news from Palanthas."

"I will do that, sir," said Gerard, saluting.

He rode through the gate. Tasslehoff, bound and gagged,

followed. The kender would have waved his manacled hands in

a friendly good-bye, but he considered that this might not be in

keeping with his new identity-Highwayman, Stealer of Valu-

able Magical Artifacts. He quite liked this new persona and de-

cided he should try to be worthy of it. Therefore, instead of

waving, he scowled defiantly at the knight as they rode past.

The elf had been standing in the road all this time, maintaining

a deferential and bored silence. He did not even wait until the gate

was lowered to go back to the gatehouse. The twilight had deep-

ened to night and torches were being lit. Tasslehoff, peering over

his shoulder as the pony clattered across the wooden bridge, saw

the elf squat down beneath a torch and draw out a leather bag. A

couple of the Knights knelt down in the dirt and they began a

game of dice. The last Tas saw of them, the officer had joined them,

bringing with him a bottle. Few travelers passed this way since the

dragon now patrolled the roads. Their watch was a lonely one.

Tasslehoff indicated by various grunts and squeaks that he

would be interested in talking about their successful adventure at

the gate--in particular he wanted to hear more details about his

daring theft-but Gerard paid no attention to the kender. He did

not ride off at a gallop, but, once he was out of sight of the bridge

he urged Blackie to increase his pace markedly.

Tasslehoff assumed that they would ride all night. They were

not far from Qualinost, or at least so he remembered from his pre-

vious journeys to the elven capital. A couple of hours would find

them in the city. Tas was eager to see his friends once again, eager

to ask them if they had any idea who he was, if he wasn't himself.

If anyone could cure magnesia, it would be Palin. Tasslehoff was

extremely surprised when Gerard suddenly reined in his horse

and, professing himself exhausted by the long day, announced

that they would spend the night in the forest.

They made camp, building a fire, much to the kender's aston-

ishment, for the Knight had refused to build a fire prior to this,

saying that it was too dangerous.

"I guess he figures we're safe now that we're inside the bor-

ders of Qualinesti." Tasslehoff spoke to himself, for he was still

wearing the gag. "I wonder why we stopped though? Maybe he

doesn't know how close we are."

The Knight fried some salt pork. The aroma spread through-

out the forest. He removed Tasslehoff's gag so that the kender

could eat and was instantly sorry he'd done so.

"How did I steal the artifact?" Tas asked eagerly. "That's so

exciting. I've never stolen anything before, you know. Stealing is

extremely wrong. But I guess in this case it would be all right,

since the Dark Knights are bad people. What inn was it? There are

quite a few on the road to Palanthas. Was it the Dirty Duck?

That's a great place. Everyone stops there. Or maybe the Fox and

the Unicorn? They don't much like kender, so probably not."

Tasslehoff talked on, but he couldn't induce the Knight to tell

him anything. That didn't really matter much to Tas, who was

perfectly capable of making up the entire incident himself. By the

time they had finished eating and Gerard had gone to wash the

pan and the wooden bowls in a nearby stream, the bold kender

had stolen not one but a host of wondrous magical artifacts,

snatching them out from under the very noses of six Thorn

Knights, who had threatened him with six powerful magicks, but

who had, all six, been dispatched by a skilled blow from the

kender's hoopak.

" And that must have been how I came down with magnesia!"

Tas concluded. "One of the Thorn Knights struck me severely on

the headbone! I was unconscious for several days. But, no," he

added in disappointment. "That couldn't be true for otherwise I

wouldn't have escaped." He pondered on this for a considerable

time. "I have it," he said at last, looking with triumph at Gerard.

"You hit me on the head when you arrested me!"

"Don't tempt me," Gerard said. "Now shut up and get some

sleep." He spread out his blanket near the fire, which had been re-

duced to a pile of glowing embers. Pulling the blanket over him-

self, he turned his back to the kender.

Tasslehoff relaxed on his blanket, gazed up at the stars. Sleep

wasn't going to catch him tonight. He was much too busy reliv-

ing his life as the Scourge of Ansalon, the Menace of Morgash,

the Thug of Thorbardin. He was quite a wicked fellow. Women

would faint and strong men would blanch at the mere sound of

his name. He wasn't certain exactly what blanching entailed,

but he had heard that strong men were subject to it when faced

with a terrible foe, so it seemed suitable in this instance. He was

just picturing his arrival in a town to find all the woman passed

out in their laundry tubs and the strong men blanching left and

right when he heard a noise. A small noise, a twig snapping,

nothing more.

Tas would not have noticed it except that he was used to not

hearing any noises at all from the forest. He reached out his hand

and tugged on the sleeve of Gerard's shirt.

"Gerard!" Tas said in a loud whisper. "1 think someone's out

there!"

Gerard snuffled and snorted, but didn't wake up. He hunched

down deeper in his blanket.

Tasslehoff lay quite still, his ears stretched. He couldn't

hear anything for a moment, then he heard another sound, a

sound that might have been made by a boot slipping on a

loose rock.

"Gerard!" said Tasslehoff. "1 don't think it's the moon this

time." He wished he had his hoopak.

Gerard rolled over at that moment and faced Tasslehoff, who

was quite amazed to see by the dying fire that the Knight was not

asleep. He was only playing possum.

"Keep quiet!" Gerard said in a hissing whisper. "Pretend

you're asleep!" He shut his eyes.

Tasslehoff obediently shut his eyes, though he opened them

again the next instant so as to be sure not to miss anything. Which

was good, otherwise he would have never seen the elves creep-

ing up on them from the darkness.

"Gerard, look out!" Tas started to shout, but a hand clapped

down over his mouth and cold steel poked him in the neck before

he could stammer out more than "Ger-"

"What?" Gerard mumbled sleepily. "What's-"

He was wide awake the next moment, trying to grab the

sword that lay nearby.

One elf stomped down hard on Gerard's hand- Tas could

hear bones crunch and he winced in sympathy. A second elf

picked up the sword and moved it out of the Knight's reach.

Gerard tried to stand up, but the elf who had stomped on his

hand now kicked him viciously in the head. Gerard groaned and

rolled over on his back, unconscious.

"We have them both, Master," said one of the elves, speaking

to the shadows. "What are your orders?"

"Don't kill the kender, Kalindas," said a voice from the dark-

ness, a human's voice, a man's voice, muffled, as if he were

speaking from the depths of a hood. "1 need him alive. He must

tell us what he knows."

The human was not very woods-crafty apparently. Although

Tas couldn't see him-the human had remained in the shadows-

Tas could hear his booted feet mashing dry leaves and breaking

sticks. The elves, by contrast, were as quiet as the night air.

"What about the Dark Knight?" the elf asked.

"Slay him:' said the human indifferently.

The elf placed a knife at the Knight's throat.

"No!" Tas squeaked and wriggled. "You can't! He's not really

a Dark- ulp!"

"Keep silent kender," said the elf, who held onto Tas. He

shifted the point of his knife from the kender's throat to his head.

"Make another sound and I will cut off your ears. That will not

affect your usefulness to us."

"I wish you wouldn't cut off my ears," said Tas, talking des-

perately, despite feeling the knife blade nick his skin. "They keep

my hair from falling off my head. But if you have to, you have to,

I guess. It's just that you're about to make a terrible mistake.

We've come from Solace, Gerard's not a Dark Knight you see.

He's a Solamnic-"

"Gerard?" said the human suddenly from the darkness.

"Hold your hand, Kellevandros! Don't kill him yet. I know a So-

lamnic named Gerard from Solace. Let me take a look."

The strange moon had risen again. Its light was intermittent

coming and going as dark clouds glided across its empty, vacu-

ous face. Tas tried to catch a glimpse of the human, who was ap-

parently in charge of this operation, for the elves deferred to

him in all that was done. The kender was curious to see him, be-

cause he had a feeling he'd heard that voice before, although he

couldn't quite place it.

Tas was doomed to disappointment. The human was heavily

cloaked and hooded. He knelt beside Gerard. The Knight's head

lolled to one side. Blood covered his face. His breathing was

raspy. The human studied his face.

"Bring him along," he ordered.

"But, Master-" The elf called Kellevandros started to protest.

"You can always kill him late4" said the human. Rising, he

turned on his heel and walked back into the forest.

One of the elves doused the fire. Another elf went to calm the

horses, particularly the black, who had reared in alarm at the sight

of the intruders. A third elf put a gag in Tas's mouth, pricking Tas's

right ear with the tip of the knife the moment the kender even

looked as if he might protest.

The elves handled the Knight with efficiency and dispatch.

They tied his hands and feet with leather cord, thrust a gag into

his mouth, and fixed a blindfold around his eyes. Lifting the com-

atose Knight from the ground, they carried him to his horse and

threw him over the saddle. Blackie had been alarmed by the

sudden invasion of the camp, but he now stood quite calm and

placid under an elf's soothing hand, his head over the elf's shoul-

der, nuzzling his ear. The elves tied Gerard's hands to his feet,

passing the rope underneath the horse's belly, securing the

Knight firmly to the saddle.

The human looked at the kender, but Tas couldn't get a

glimpse of his face because at that moment an elf popped a gunny

sack over his head and he couldn't see anything except gunny

sack. The elves bound his feet together. Strong hands lifted him,

tossed him headfirst over the saddle, and the Scourge of Ansalon,

his head in a sack, was carried off into the night.

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE MASQUERABE

 

 

 

As the Scourge of Ansalon was being hauled off in ignominy

and a sack, only a few miles away in Qualinost the Speaker

of the Sun, ruler of the Qualinesti people, was hosting a

masquerade ball. The masquerade was something relatively new

to the elves-a human custom, brought to them by their Sp~aker,

who had some share of human blood in rum, a curse passed on by

his father, Tanis Half-Elven. The elves generally disdained human

customs as they disdained humans, but they had taken to the

masquerade, which had been introduced by Gilthas in the year 21

to celebrate his ascension to the throne twenty years previously.

Each year on this date he had given a masquerade, and it was

now the social highlight of the season.

Invitations to this important event were coveted. The mem-

bers of House Royal, the Heads of Household, the Thalas-

Enthia-the elven Senate-were invited, as well as the top

ranking leaders of the Dark Knights, Qualinesti's true rulers. In

addition, twenty elf maidens were chosen to attend, handpicked

by Prefect Palthainon, a former member of the elven Senate and

now the chief magistrate newly appointed by the Knights of

Neraka to oversee Qualinesti. Palthainon was nominally Gilthas's

advisor and counselor. Around the capital he was jocularly re-

ferred to as the "Puppeteer."

The young ruler Gilthas was not yet married. There was no

heir to the throne nor any prospect of one. Gilthas had no partic-

ular aversion to being married, but he simply could not quite

make up his mind to go through with it. Marriage was an im-

mense decision, he told his courtiers, and should not be entered

into without due consideration. What if he made a mistake and

chose the wrong person? His entire life could be ruined, as well

as the life of the unfortunate woman. Nothing was ever said of

love. It was not expected that the king should be in love with his

wife. His marriage would be for political purposes only; this had

been determined by Prefect Palthainon, who had chosen several

eligible candidates from among the most prominent (and the

most wealthy) elven families in Qualinesti.

Every year for the past five years, Palthainon had gathered to-

gether twenty of these hand-chosen elven women and presented

them to the Speaker of the Sun for his approbation. Gilthas

danced with them all, professed to like them all, saw good quali-

ties in them all, but could not make up his mind. The prefect con-

trolled much of the life of the Speaker-disparagingly ter~ed

"the puppet king" by his subjects-but Palthainon could not

force his majesty to take a wife.

Now the time was an hour past midnight. The Speaker of the

Sun had danced with each of the twenty in deference to the pre-

fect, but Gilthas had not danced with anyone of the elven maid-

ens more than once-for a second dance would be seen as

making a choice. After the close of every dance, the king retired

to his chair and sat looking upon the festivities with a brooding

air, as if the decision over which of the lovely women to dance

with next was a weight upon him that was completely destroying

his pleasure in the party.

The twenty maidens glanced at him out of the corners of their

eyes, each hoping for some sign that he favored her above all the

others. Gilthas was handsome to look upon. The human blood

was not much apparent in his features, except, as he had ma-

tured, to give him a squareness of jaw and chin not usually seen

in the male elf. His hair, of which he was said to be vain, was

shoulder-length and honey-colored. His eyes were large and

almond-shaped. His face was pale; it was known that he was in

ill health much of the time. He rarely smiled and no one could

fault him for that for everyone knew that the life he led was that

of a caged bird. He was taught words to speak, was told when to

speak them. His cage was covered up with a cloth when the bird

was to be silent.

Small wonder then that Gilthas was known to be indecisive,

vacillating, fond of solitude and of reading and writing poetry, an

art he had taken up about three years previous and in which he

showed undeniable talent. Seated on his throne, a chair of ancient

make and design, the back of which was carved into the image of

a sun and gilded with gold, Gilthas watched the dancers with a

restive air and looked as if he could not wait to escape back to the

privacy of his quarters and the happiness of his rhymes.

"His Majesty seems in unusually high spirits tonight," ob-

served Prefect Palthainon. "Did you notice the way he favored

the eldest daughter of the guildmaster of the Silversmiths?"

"Not particularly," returned Marshal Medan, leader of the oc-

cupation forces of the Knights of Neraka.

"Yes, I assure you, it is so," Palthainon argued testily. "See

how he follows her with his eyes."

"His Majesty appears to me to me to be staring either at the

floor or his shoes," Medan remarked. "If you are going to ever see

an heir to the throne, Palthainon, you will have to make the mar-

riage yourself."

"I would," Palthainon said, grumbling, "but elven law dic-

tates that only the family may arrange a marriage, and his mother

adamantly refuses to become involved unless and until the king

makes up his mind."

"Then you had better hope His Majesty lives a long, long

time," said Medan. "1 should think he would, since you watch

over him so closely and attend to his needs so assiduously. You

can't really fault the king, Palthainon," the marshal added, "His

Majesty is, after all, exactly what you and the late Senator Rashas

have made him-a young man who dares not even take a piss

without looking to you for permission."

"His Majesty's health is fragile," Palthainon returned stiffly.

"It is my duty to remove from him from the burden of the cares

and responsibilities of the ruler of the elven nation. Poor young

man. He can't help dithering. The human blood, you know,

Marshal. Notoriously weak. And now, if you will excuse me, I

will go pay my respects to His Majesty."

The marshal, who was human, bowed wordlessly as the pre-

fect, whose mask was, most appropriately, that of a stylized bird

of prey, went over to peck at the young king. Politically, Medan

found Prefect Palthainon extremely useful. Personally, Medan

thought Palthainon utterly detestable.

Marshal Alexius Medan was fifty-five years old. He had

joined the Knights of Takhisis under the leadership of Lord Ari-

akan prior to the Chaos War that had ended the Fourth Age of

Krynn and brought in the Fifth. Medan had been the commander

responsible for attacking Qualinesti over thirty years ago. He had

been the one to accept the surrender of the Qualinesti people and

had remained in charge ever since. Medan's rule was strict, harsh

where it needed to be harsh, but he was not wantonly cruel. True,

the elves had few personal freedoms anymore, but Medan did not

view this lack as a hardship. To his mind, freedom was a danger-

ous notion, one that led to chaos, anarchy, the disruption of

society.

Discipline, order, and honor-these were Medan's gods, now

that Takhisis, with a complete lack of discipline and of honor, had

tumt;d traitor and run away, leaving her loyal Knights looking

like utter fools. Medan imposed discipline and order on the Qua-

linesti. He imposed discipline and order on his Knights. Above

all, he imposed these qualities on himself.

Medan watched with disgust as Palthainon bowed before the

king. Well knowing that Palthainon's humility was all for show,

Medan turned away. He could almost pity the young man

Gilthas.

The dancers swirled about the marshal, elves dressed as

swans and bears and every other variety of bird or woodland

creature. Jesters and clowns clad in gay motley were in abun-

dance. Medan attended the masquerade because protocol re-

quired it, but he refused to wear a mask or a costume. Years ago,

the marshal had adopted the elven dress of loose flowing robes

draped gracefully over the body as being most comfortable and

practicable in the warm and temperate climate of Qualinesti.

Since he was the only person in elven dress attending the mas-

querade, the human had the odd distinction of looking more like

an elf than any other elf in the room.

The marshal left the hot and noisy dance floor and escaped,

with relief, into the garden. He brought no body guards with him.

Medan disliked being trailed about by Knights in clanking armor.

He was not overly fearful for his safety. The Qualinesti had no

love for him, but he had outlived a score of assassination at-

tempts. He could take care of himself, probably better care than

any of his Knights. Medan had no use for the men being taken

into the Knighthood these days, considering them to be an undis-

ciplined and surly lot of thieves, killers, and thugs. In truth,

Medan trusted elves at his back far more than his own men.

The night air was soft and perfumed with the scents of roses

and gardenias and orange blossoms. Nightingales sang in the

trees, their melodies blending with the music of harp and lute. He

recognized the music. Behind him, in the Hall of the Sky, lovely

elf maidens were performing a traditional dance. He paused and

half-turned, tempted to go back by the beauty of the music. The

maidens were performing the Quanisho, the Awakening Prome-

nade, a dance said to drive elf men wild with passion. He won-

dered if it would have any effect on the king. Perhaps he might be

moved to a write a poem.

"Marshal Medan," said a voice at his elbow.

Medan turned. "Honored Mother of our Speaker," he said

and bowed.

Laurana extended her hand, a hand that was white and soft

and fragrant as the flower of the camellia. Medan took her hand, .

brought the hand to his lips.

"Come now," she said to him, "we are by ourselves. Such

formal titles need not be observed between those of us who are-

how should I describe us? 'Old enemies'?"

"Respected opponents," said Medan, smiling. He relin-

quished her hand, not without some reluctance.

Marshal Medan was not married, except to his duty. He did

not believe in love, considered love a flaw in a man's armor, a

flaw that left him vulnerable, open to attack. Medan admired

Laurana and respected her. He thought her beautiful, as he

thought his garden beautiful. He found her useful in assisting

him to find his way through the sticky mass of fine-spun cobweb

that was the elven version of government. He used her and he

was well aware that in return she used him. A satisfactory and

natural arrangement.

"Believe me, madam," he said quietly, "I find your dislike of

me much preferable to other people's friendship."

He glanced meaningfully back into the palace, where

Palthainon was standing at the young king's side, whispering

into his ear.

Laurana followed his gaze. "I understand you, Marshal," she

replied. "You are a representative of an organization I believe to

be wholly given over to evil. You are the conqueror of my people,

our subjugator. You are allied with our worst enemy, a dragon

who is intent upon our total destruction. Yet, I trust you far more

than I trust that man."

She turned away abruptly. "I do not like this view, sir. Would

you mind if we walked to the arboretum?"

Medan was quite willing to spend a lovely moonlit night in

the most enchanting land on Ansalon in company with the land's

most enchanting woman. They walked side by side in compan-

ionable silence along a walkway of crushed marble that glittered

and sparkled as if it would mimic the stars. The scent of orchids

was intoxicating.

The Royal Arboretum was a house made of crystal, filled with

plants whose fragile and delicate natures could not survive even

the relatively mild winters of Qualinesti. The arboretum was

some distance from the palace. Laurana did not speak during

their long walk. Medan did not feel that it was his place to break

this peaceful silence, and so he said nothing. In silence, the two

approached the crystal building, its many facets reflecting the

moon so that it seemed there must be a hundred moons in the sky

instead of just one.

They entered through a crystal door. The air was heavy with

the brfath of the plants, which stirred and rustled as if in welcome.

The sound of the music and the laughter was completely shut

Out "Laurana sighed deeply, breathed deeply of the perfume that

scented the warm, moist air.

She placed her hand upon an orchid, turning it to the moonlight.

"Exquisite," said Medan, admiring the plant. "My orchids

thrive-especially those you have given me-but I cannot pro-

duce such magnificent blossoms."

"Time and patience," Laurana said. "As in all things. To con-

tinue our earlier conversation, Marshal, I will tell you why I re-

spect you more than Palthainon. Though your words are not easy

for me to hear sometimes I know that when you speak, you speak

from your heart. You have never lied to me, even when a lie

might have served your purpose better than the truth.

Palthainon's words slide out of his mouth and fall to the ground,

then slither away into the darkness."

Medan bowed to acknowledge the compliment, but he would

not enter into further disparagement of the man who helped him

keep Qualinesti under control. He changed the subject.

"You have left the revelries at an early hour, madam. I hope

you a