MARGARET WEIS & TRACY HICKMAN
DRAGONS OF THE FALLEN SUN
THE WAR OF THE SOULS VOLUME ONE
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.
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-
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.
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
"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
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 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
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
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
"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
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
"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-
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
"Sir!" Galdar cried. "That is no mountain! Those are storm
"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
"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
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
"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
Mina smiled slightly, as if she could hear his unspoken
doubts, and said, "I am female." She shrugged. "Though it makes
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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-
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
"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
"I have no right hand!" Galdar cried out in rage and anguish.
The cry rattled in his throat. The men turned, alarmed, at the
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Silvan!" she cried. "It is not safe out there! Come inside
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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-
"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."
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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-
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,
"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
"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
"Wait for my order!" Samar cried, but the elves were nervous
and several arrows were loosed in the direction of the blazing
"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
"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
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
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
Silvan could see his mother now. She had left the burial
mound. She was clad in silver armor, carried a sword at her
"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
"I don't see much stopping them, Your Majesty," Samar said
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
"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
"If we don't halt the advance, Samar," Alhana returned. HIt
won't much matter whether I have guards or not. Go now.
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-
"Make haste, Silvan, my son. Make haste. Our lives rest on
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
Despair and grief rose in a great, dark wave, crashed down
upon Silvan and dragged him under.
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-
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
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-
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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 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
"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
"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
"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 Tassleho£fs. 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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"He's not bothering me. I'm glad to see him again. That part
about friendship was wonderful, Tas. Truly wonderful. Thank
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,
"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
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
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
"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
"Promise me . . ." Caramon whispered. "On your honor. . . as
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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-
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
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
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
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
Silvan leaped to his feet. He dashed the tears from his eyes
with a backhand smear, looked about, startled, to see who had
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?"
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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,"
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.
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
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
"You lie!" Silvan raged. "You dragged me inside here. Let me
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
"I thought you were forbidden to speak her name," Silvan
"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
"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
"-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
"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-
"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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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,"
"Will you do that for me, for us? Will you lead us to victory?"
The amber eyes, holding the moon captive, turned upon him.
"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
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
"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
"I like this weapon, Galdar," she said approvingly. "You have
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
Foxfire galloped down the road.
Mina's Knights rode behind her.
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
"I'm truly sorry, Laura," Tas said to her in the quiet hour
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
"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
"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-
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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-
" 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
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
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 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
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,
"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
"Look upon the field of battle, Captain," Mina said. "It is the
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
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
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
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!" 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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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-
"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
"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
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
"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-
"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,
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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 elf stared intently at Silvanoshei, who met his gaze and
"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,
"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
"You see, Drinel," said Rolan, flushing. "You see how you
"Nevertheless, I will know the truth," Drinel said stubbornly.
"Will you?" Rolan demanded. "What if the magic fails you
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"You are very young," he said harshly. "How old are you?
Thirty years? You are considered an adolescent among our
"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
"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
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
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-
"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
"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 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
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
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
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
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?"
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
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
"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
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.
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-
"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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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 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'
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
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
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
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!
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,
"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-
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
"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
"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.
"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-
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
"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.
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-
"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
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
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,
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
"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
"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."
"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
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
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
"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
" 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
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-
"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
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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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,
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
"To help," Mina replied. Her amber-eyed gaze roved swiftly
about the tent. "What is that area back there? The place you have
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
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
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-
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
The only eyes in camp who did not turn. to the road were
Mina's. She remained in her tent, absorbed in studying her
"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
"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
"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~
"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
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
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
"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
"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 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!
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
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
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-
"Lord Milles stands before the One God, now, Galdar,"
Mina said, "where we will all stand one day. It is not for us to
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
"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-
"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
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
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
"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
"If you had any sense, you would have been," Gerard said
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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-
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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-
"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
" 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,
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
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
"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.
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-
"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
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
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
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
"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
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 are not unwell," he said politely.
"The heat and the noise were too much to bear," Laurana
replied. "I came out into the garden for some quiet."
"Have you dined?" the marshal asked. "Could I send the ser-
vants for food or wine?"
"No, thank you, Marshal. I find I have very little appetite
these days. You can serve me best by keeping me company for a
while, if your duties do not call you away."
"With such a charming companion, I do not think that death
himself could call me away," the Mars