HAVENS IN THE STORM
Stephen B. Pearl
This book is
dedicated to my beloved wife Joy without whose patience and support it never
would have come to pass.
I also wish to offer special thanks
to Mark and Kim from my face-to-face writers group and the helpful wonderful
people on Critters, epically Andrew for hosting the whole shebang. I also want
to thank Melody and the class of the Write to Publish class at Sheridan collage
for your input and support.
charged a centaur, a third larger than himself and his horse combined. The
beast's pike slid against the angle of Dominel's shield, as his lance pierced
the monster's chest.
for my brother," he snapped. Before he could free his lance, another
centaur closed on him. Drawing his sword Dominel parried the spear thrust.
up, human. Your kind cannot defeat us. Your cavalry's line is broken. Surrender
and I will grant you life," threatened the centaur.
only answer was to begin circling his foe on the blasted uneven ground that
formed a wedge shaped slope leading to Duran pass.
centaur and human appeared on top of a slight rise of land behind Dominel's
foe. The other human drove his lance point at the second centaur. The beast
stepped back but tripped on one of the tree stumps that littered the ground and
stumbled into Dominel's foe.
opportunity the distraction afforded Dominel charged, knocking his enemy's
spear aside, then drawing his blade across the beast's human-like throat. Blood
showered Dominel's plate armour, painting it splotchy red. The second centaur
turned to face Dominel, only to have its other foe's lance point blossom from
Prince, look out," cried the man who had wielded the lance.
Dominel noticed the mutties diving beneath his horse. He pulled his feet from
the stirrups and fell to the ground, rolling as far from the animal as he
could. Two child-sized, dog-faced creatures, clad in leather jerkins were
gutting Dominel's mount where it stood. Grunting with the effort of rising in
his armour, Dominel gained his feet and attacked the mutties, slaying them with
two quick blows.
sounded the retreat and he glanced about. The centaurs drove the remains of the
cavalry before them, leaving the dismounted humans to face an oncoming tide of
Storm has us for sure," said a panicked voice.
To me men of Bani. We'll win through to our lines," bellowed Dominel.
here, my prince," spoke a blood-soaked man.
prince, keep rallying the men. Set them in a wedge formation, wounded in the
centre. We'll have to cut our way back to the barricade."
wedge. If you see a footman's shield on the dead, drop your horseman's kite
shield and take it. The dead won't mind!" shouted Dominel.
cavalrymen hastened to follow the order. In minutes the monster infantry
enveloped the humans' formation. Screams filled the air as the wounded and dead
fell to the ground. At the rear Dominel lost himself in a pattern of thrust and
parry barely aware of his growing weariness.
Prince. We've reached the front and the cavalry is charging again," called
thrust with his sword, spilling the guts of a minotaur, then stepped to the
coming for us, men. Be ready," he yelled.
struck the centaurs, who were leading the Storm's charge. Dominel's troops fell
upon the monsters advanced force from the rear. The monsters' caught with no
room to maneuver jostled one against the other impeding each other's thrusts
and blocks. In minutes the humans fought through leaving the beasts that
survived to run back to their main force.
his men through the log barricade his father had built across the pass his
castle guarded. The area behind the barricade was a buzz of activity. Soldiers
manned the defence, while chirurgeons removed the wounded to the castle, half
an hour's march away. Light siege engines twanged and thudded as they hurled rocks
at the enemy and the stench of fear filled the air.
king demands your presence," said a herald, as Dominel watched the last of his men pass behind the
barricade and its huge gate swing shut.
be with the king as soon as I have seen to my men," replied Dominel.
be youngest son, but I have things other than being disowned to worry about
right now. I will join him when my men are seen to."
will, Prince Dominel," breathed the herald.
that wise? The heralds like you little enough as it is, and your father is
king," said Scrantian. He'd removed the left arm of his armour and was
inspecting a small wound.
fit to command in my absence?" asked Dominel.
scratch, Your Highness."
See that the wounded are taken to the chirurgeons' tent. I want any man who
can't fight to surrender his horse to one who can. We have more men than
horses, so let's use what we have. All the horses should be watered, and send a
herald to fetch down a salt lick for them.
lanterns as well. Those accursed clouds that follow the Storm are crowding out
the sun. If this keeps up, we won't be able to tell friend from foe. Also make
sure the men drink something. No wine! We need them alert."
prince. Might I also suggest we send those with minor leg wounds to join the
archers on the keep's battlements. That will free a few more able bodies to
join us here."
your own judgment. You know I trust you," agreed Dominel, who then strode
the flap to his father's tent, Dominel was stopped by the guard and stood
listening to the conversation within.
ancient gods, you slime crawling, demon lover. If it weren't for your kind the
Storm wouldn't be here at all! You'll go where I tell you, and fight when I
tell you," bellowed the King.
your most gracious Majesty. I simply thought that my order could do more good
in the keep's temple, praying for our deliverance. The Covetous god can be most
gracious to his children," whined the chief prelate's voice.
curled in distaste.
and Demons! Your god was the one who caused all this. If your order hadn't
slaughtered all the magic users they'd still be guarding the gates to our
world. None of these thrice damned monsters would be here in the first
sorcerers were evil," pleaded the priest.
you. It seems to me they couldn't have been so bad if they guarded us from the
Storm. Be honest. Your order feared their power. You disgust me, you snivelling
spoken. Your order will head the infantry defence. There's no risk of you
stabbing someone in the back that way. The only reason I haven't finished off
the lot of you, is I needed sword fodder. Now go, you disgusting
pulled down the visor of his helmet to hide his smile. The pasty faced priest
left the tent, his leather armour flapping about his scrawny frame in his
head through the flap, the guard announced Dominel, then gestured for him to
enter. Pushing up the visor of his helmet, Dominel stepped into the tent.
herald tells me you felt my summons was unimportant," opened the King, his
grey-bearded face pulled into a grim expression and his blue eyes flashing.
them I would come as soon as I had seen to my men. The Third Cavalry is my
responsibility, given by you, and I do not take it lightly, Your Majesty."
A smile broke
across Dominel's father's stern features. He motioned his son to sit at the
table that filled the tent's centre. A map of the surrounding terrain covered
have your mother's spirit, I'll grant you that, boy. I called you here to give
you some bad news." The smile left his face.
looked at the man and for the first time realised how old he was. It's not
just the grey hair and wrinkles, and his armour hides his paunch, it's how he
moves. He's lost hope.
you are my youngest, and you are now captain of the First Cavalry."
and Dalose? How?" Dominel swallowed hard as memories of his brothers in
better times flashed through his mind.
charge. Your companies sent out spotters and found the stake traps. Damn, I
told them to be careful. They lost half their horses in the charge. The rest
were surrounded, only a handful escaped. I am placing all remaining Cavalry
under your command."
suggested sending out the scouts."
listened to him. You keep listening to people who know. I've only you and
Falkner left. Seventeen years isn't enough to learn everything, so you keep
listening to people who know and maybe I won't lose any more sons."
Father. We won't win, will we?"
we can see to it that they never forget the price of Duran Pass. The countries
to the west are counting on us to slow the Storm while they pray for a miracle.
What I wouldn't give for one wizard, but that is not to be.
that peasant girl of yours. Amber was it? She's stayed with the chirurgeons. I
was wrong about her. She will make you a fine consort when you marry the
smiled at his father.
commander, you should prepare your troops. The Storm are massing and I need
your cavalry to spearhead our counter."
The two men
rose. For a moment they stood unsure of the emotional ground between them, then
they embraced, their armour making a thunking sound, and Dominel left the tent.
As he walked
towards his troops Dominel scanned the battlement. Veterans, dressed in
battered armour, stood ready for the final conflict in the kingdom of Bani. The
wounded had been removed to the keep and a hush had fallen over the camp.
Reaching the cavalry he scanned his men. Hopelessness hung on them like a
shroud and only grim determination held them in their places.
the word?" asked Scrantian.
to the defence. Oh yes, there is another thing." Raising his voice Dominel
called, "Standard barrier."
A lad, too
young to shave, mounted on a dapple gelding moved to Dominel's side. He dipped
the standard so the muddy, blood spattered flag of the Bani cavalry hung before
dagger, Dominel cut away the trim that showed it as the flag of the Third
Cavalry. All looked on as the unadorned standard of the First Cavalry was
raised. Where the trim had been, the flag's colours were bright and clean
against the rest of it.
your brothers?" asked Scrantian.
second son of the house of Otinerus King of Bani, Captain of the Bani First
Cavalry," Dominel proclaimed as his men looked on.
sor-" began Scrantian.
Soon we will live or die. Either way, the time for tears is not yet come."
watched as Scrantian stared at him, nodded once then spoke.
suggest a three‑point attack, allowing the infantry to guard our back.
That should draw off the largest beasts and give our light companies a chance
to deal with the small ones."
also want every man equipped with caltrops. If we have to retreat, I want to
see crippled monsters all across the line."
will make any further charges impossible!"
fewer the one hundred horse left. If any of us make it back to the barricade,
we won't be attacking again. We'll be running to warn the other kingdoms the
Storm is at their doors."
command, my prince."
Cavalry waited behind the barricade's gate, with each second seeming like an
hour. Guttural howls announced the Storm's advance. Moments later trumpets
signalled the attack. The gate swung open and Dominel galloped into the fray.
and swords broke, shields rent and men died, but nothing stopped the Storm.
Scrantian galloped into the midst of a company of ogres. The beasts looked like
hairless gorillas with pig snouts and faces that mocked man's. Dominel's sword
rose and fell as blood sprayed in all directions. A pikestaff hooked his
shield, dragging him from his horse and snapping the strap that held the shield
to his arm. Dazed he lay on the ground, fighting to rise against the weight of
his armour. Scrantian reared his horse, allowing the beast's hooves to pummel
the ogre that bent to dispatch his captain. Dominel fought to his feet in time
to see a spear pierce his friend's helm, as another slaughtered his steed.
murdering bastards," screamed Dominel. Forgetting his fatigue he snatched
up his sword and charged the ogre that had killed Scrantian, driving the blade
deep into the beast's belly. There was a blur at the edge of his vision, then
everything went black.
PERILS ON THE ROAD
awoke, in the mud, his head throbbing. Through an effort of will, he slowed his
heart and brought his pain under control. After a time he opened his eyes, then
rose to his knees. The bodies of monsters and men were on all sides. A dead
ogre lay beside him, with his sword protruding from its belly. He looked
towards the barricade that blocked Duran pass and saw that it was breached in
several places. Allowing his eyes to rove up the pass he saw smoke rising from
where he knew his father's castle stood.
"My head!" Gods,
I must have been out a long time.
his feet, he stumbled to the ogre and pulled his sword from its flesh. Then, blade in hand, he staggered across the
battlefield. At first he paused to check the fallen humans he saw but finding
none alive he soon put all his efforts towards leaving the field of his defeat.
No use in
going to the castle. It must be besieged by now.
He shook his
head and felt metal scrape against his scalp. Pulling off his helm, he stared
at a hole in it the size of his palm.
continued his weary trek, collapsing in the tall grass by the side of the road
when his legs crumpled beneath him. After drinking from a ditch, he fell into a
awoke, he ached all over.
What am I
going to do? Yesterday I merely wanted to get away from the battlefield. Now
what? he pondered as he lay in the grass.
the last of our line. You must regain the throne," his father's voice
this was a human army, but against the monsters there is no hope!
must survive," stated Scrantian's voice.
blow must be affecting me. I'm hearing things, thought Dominel.
my lord. The Border Mountains will be safe for a time," spoke the voice of
silly. They were overrun months ago," Dominel muttered.
wizards made their last stand there. That magic still lives on. It will keep
the monsters at bay, my love," whispered Amber's voice.
goal at least," he agreed
back and forth he turned face down on the grass, then pushing up with his arms,
gained his feet.
plate! At least you can move in chainmail. I feel like a turtle every time I
lie down," he grumbled and started towards the distant mountain range.
he stopped at the ruin of a village. Hunger gnawed at him, so he decided to
search the landowner's house. Shuffling through the smashed‑in doorway,
he saw bodies and the splintered remains of furniture everywhere.
abattoir. At least the Storm is consistent."
Coming to the
second room, he looked in. It was in the same condition as the first.
Heat-brittled bone crunched under his feet as he stepped through the doorway. A
blackened section marked where a fire had burnt and skulls littered the floor.
me the front has moved west. The beasts that made camp here have probably
followed the fighting.
the room to another doorway, which led to what had been a kitchen.
doesn't look too hopeful.
and ye will find," echoed Scrantian's voice.
my mind. Scrantian, you're dead! Why do you keep pestering me? I couldn't save
you. Gods, I wish I could have. Oh what does it matter? I'll search, old ghost,
maybe the monsters missed something in their looting."
my sweet prince, down, my lover," whispered a voice on the edge of
gasped Dominel. He spun around looking for the peasant girl who had been his
real love. "Still hearing things! Amber's as dead as the rest."
love. The time to feel again has come," urged the voice.
With this he
could no longer hold back his pain. He fell to his knees sobbing. Much later he
looked at where his legs had disturbed the dust and saw a thin seam in the
he thought. Maybe a pantry.
swept the dirt away until he found an iron ring. Grasping it, he pulled. A trap
door opened, revealing a stairway leading into a room that was a man's height
square and full of shelves.
stomach growled as he descended the stairs, closing the trap door behind him.
Something jumped from the shadows. A knife clanged against his armour. Leaping
from the stairs, he grasped the wrist of his attacker and slammed it against
the wall. The knife fell to the floor and Dominel stared at his foe in the dim
light from the pantry's small window. She was human, a girl of maybe thirteen
She had brown
hair, which hung in greasy strands obscuring her grit-covered face. She wore
rags that might have once been a fine gown. Her young breasts barely dented the
fabric and her dirt and blood-covered legs showed below the tattered hem.
hurt you," said Dominel.
She swung her
free hand at his face. He caught her arm and held it.
stop, I won't hurt you," he repeated.
A shudder ran
through her and she collapsed against him.
What have you been through?" he murmured. Laying her on the floor, he
investigated the room.
were stocked with cheeses, salted meats, dried fruits and herbs. Also, to
Dominel's delight, a cask of ale and several bottles of wine. So it was he made
to eat. Noticing that the Girl's eyes were open he spoke to her.
She stared at
the ceiling and didn't move.
"I won't hurt
to her side and took her hand. "Please, speak to me." he said then released his
grip. The hand stayed suspended as, if he still held it.
whispered and lifted the girl's leg. Releasing the limb he watched the girl
hold it in position.
"Oh Gods!" He
muttered and posed her in what looked like a comfortable position.
Later he removed his armour, found a corner
and fell asleep.
voices arguing in a strange tongue woke him. The girl, on the other side of the
room, sat still and silent. He drew his sword and waited by the stairs.
want me they'll have to pay for me, he thought. After a time the voices
grew dim as the intruders carried their argument away from the ruined house.
Moving to the
girl's side he whispered, "Are you all right?"
straight ahead, as if he wasn't there.
Dominel, prince of Bani. Who are you?"
The girl made
no response. Dominel backed away and stared at her.
am." He took a bite from a cheese. Returning to the girl he pressed a
piece of cheese into her hand.
have to eat!"
forced some cheese against her lips. She opened her mouth and accepted it
without losing the blank expression on her face. After she swallowed, he guided
the cheese in her hand to her mouth and she began to feed herself.
day Dominel finished searching the landowner's house. He found little of value,
although in one room there was an iron mirror leaning against the wall. He
stared at his reflection in disbelief. His armour was caked with mud, while his
blond hair fell about his shoulders in greasy strands. One side of his head was
covered with dried blood and scabs. His angular face was filth-streaked and
bore several half‑healed scratches, while his pale blue eyes looked
haunted, as if his brothers' ghosts stared out through them.
himself and returned to the safety of the cellar.
fouled the well," he told his silent companion.
The next day
he searched the peasant huts, finding a pair of scissors. That evening he and
the girl lost all but the scantiest caps of hair.
will keep it out of our eyes won't it?"
stared straight ahead and didn't reply.
A week passed
with little change. Dominel sharpened his sword, cared for himself and the
girl, and waited until the dwindling food supplies convinced him to move on.
Fashioning packs from sacks that had held dried herbs he stuffed them with the
remaining food. After donning his armour he strapped a pack to the girl's back
and shouldered his own. Taking the girl's hand, he led her up the stairs. She
followed but showed no sign of life beyond that. After listening at the door he
pushed it open.
they followed the road towards the mountains until they could walk no further,
then took refuge in the remains of a barn. Dominel found a well of good water
and drank his fill before settling in a heap of straw for the night. Despite his
exhaustion, sleep evaded him, so he was awake to hear the girl, who lay beside
him, crying out. "No! No! Please no!"
He rose onto
his elbow and stared at her.
she whispered, then sobs shook her body. "Father," she cried then
"No! No! No, please!"
shoulders Dominel shook her. She snapped awake.
only a dream. We have to be quiet. That's why I woke you," he said but she
The next day
they walked for hours before coming to a place where a stream split the road.
The sound of the water as it splashed and gurgled over the rocks added a spark
of life to the dead land that seemed to follow the Storm.
stop here to eat and move on in a bit," said Dominel.
refilling the packs when harsh voices split the air.
he swore, glancing around in search of a hiding place. The grass by the stream
was trampled and there were no trees or large rocks near by. Muttering a curse,
he reached for his sword.
appeared on the road and seeing the humans, leapt down the slope, swords
clasped in their childlike hands. Dominel pushed the girl towards the stream.
She took two steps and stopped with the water lapping about her ankles.
separated, flanking him.
on, you filthy mutts, stand together," Dominel spat as he turned to face
first one enemy, then another.
creatures began to circle him, like dogs wearying a bear. Dominel lunged
towards one of the beasts. The other jumped him, clutching his neck, while
trying to thrust its sword into the gap in his armour where gorget met
breastplate. Dominel slammed the pommel of his sword into the small beast's arm
and was gratified to hear bone crunch. The monster howled in pain before
dropping to the ground.
beast lunged and Dominel thrust his blade through its throat. Grunting with the
effort he dragged the impaled carcass around and threw it onto its companion.
The mutties fell, in a tangle of arms and legs, and before they could recover
Dominel finished his bloody work.
it's not always so easy," he mumbled, wiping his blade. "Sometimes it
seems as if for every one you kill ten arrive."
passed and the food dwindled but little else seemed to change. A week after
leaving the cellar they drew near the mouth of one of the lesser passes into
the Border Mountains.
is wrong, I can feel it," Dominel remarked as the mountains grew to fill
the horizon. Pulling the girl to a halt, he examined the road ahead of them.
and demons! I should have seen it before. Those ruts in the road, heavy carts
have used it and not long ago. Only ones who'd use carts around here are the
Storm. Well, lass, what do you think of this? Not much, that's just what I
expected." Hiding the girl behind a bramble, he crept to the top of a rise
that overlooked the surrounding terrain.
quailed at the sight of a company of monsters camped in the entrance to the
mountains must be safe. Otherwise, why place them under siege. It must be...!
he never finished his thought, because a rough hand closed about the back of
his neck and his body was jerked into the air. He experienced a moment of blind
terror before he was turned to face the horrid visage of a hill troll.
Stinking, carnal breath issued from the troll's maw, which was full of
razor-sharp teeth. The beast's nose resembled a pig's snout, and above it were
two blood-red eyes. Its skin was the colour of a rotting corpse.
yum!" exclaimed the troll.
mind filled with panic. All the troll had to do was close its hand and his neck
would be crushed, despite his gorget.
Grim, yum yum, lunch, yes, yum yum," remarked the troll.
my sword out in time, but maybe? thought Dominel.
yes, maybe no," he said.
The troll had a puzzled expression on its face.
Grim's, yum yum, lunch," it added after some thought.
want, yum yum, lunch?"
thought hard, obviously taken aback.
Grim want lunch."
at Dominel before replying.
Grim want gold, Grim have, yum yum!" So saying the troll smiled as if he
had succeeded in some incredible mental task.
eat now, yum yum," said the troll. It grabbed Dominel's arm with its free
hand and prepared to pull it off.
stared at Dominel in a quandary.
right, Dominel thought.
have gold and, yum yum, lunch."
you see, once you've eaten me, I won't need the gold I have hidden in the
mountains. So I want to give it to you, as a gift."
Why you give Grim gift?"
you're such a handsome fellow and since you're going to marry my sister, you
must have a dowry."
course. She's waiting for you below the hill. We can go get her now if you
not gold," said the troll, now utterly confused.
we must get my sister, so she can help carry the gold to you. Since you can't
go into the mountains."
help bring gold. Me bring sister."
Good! She's just over there." Dominel pointed to where the girl was
there in a few strides and picked up the girl in his free hand.
come she no move?"
umm... You see my dear fellow, it's, well... Um... It's because she's overcome
with joy to meet you. We better hurry. The sooner you get the gold, the sooner
you can eat me."
yum," replied Grim.
dear me. How are we going to get by your friends in front of the pass? I guess
you'll have to share your gold and lunch with them."
share lunch. Me, Grim, smart, me get you through."
Grim strode away, a human dangling from each hand.
Grim, have bag, use carry things. You fit good Grim's bag. You gold fit good
Grim's bag too," explained the troll.
found himself set roughly onto his feet, with the girl beside him. Grim stared
at them with a puzzled expression.
sure you bring, Grim, gold, yum yum?"
course I will, Grim. You'll need the gold to care for my sister, now won't
think gold in mountains. Grim like, yum yum. When Grim eat, yum yum, Grim start
with head so, yum yum, don't hurt."
Grim pulled a
large canvas sack out from under a bramble and held it open. "Grim say get
you, Grim, you're very kind," said Dominel, as he led the girl into the
sack. Grim's large hand closed the top of the bag and Dominel felt himself
hoisted onto the troll's shoulder.
see anything and the stench, it's worse than the dressing room after warrior
practice and the pigsty combined. Gods, I mustn't vomit, thought Dominel as
he was jostled by the troll's swaying gait. The sound of harsh voices speaking
in strange tongues surrounded him and at one point he felt pawing hands examine
the sack as it swayed on Grim's back. Half‑panicked, he elbowed Grim
through the fabric. He felt the troll turn and heard a growl. There was an
answering phrase, then Grim turned and continued walking.
thought he could stand it no longer, the top of the sack opened and Grim looked
Grim, smart! Me bring you other side of camp. Now you get gold, Yum Yum."
course," replied Dominel. Rising, he filled his lungs with clean air.
Grasping the girl's hand, he dragged her to her feet.
only a little way up the trail, would you like to come?"
Grim go no farther. Magic strong, make Grim old."
well. We'll be back soon," said Dominel. Taking the girl's hand he led her
up the trail into the mountains. Grim watched them climb the pass.
you Nanny Franks for telling me all those fairy stories. The nightmares were
worth it! And thank the gods that trolls are dumb," said Dominel, once
they were well away from the troll.
yum, come back. Me no want gold," called Grim, just before he fell out of
sight behind a bend in the trail.
wait there. I'll be back when I have your gold," yelled Dominel. Then he
added to himself, "and pigs fly over a blue moon!"
FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY
the pass into the mountains until he came upon a cabin. The stable beside it
suggested that it had been a relay post for the king's horsemen. He led the
girl to the cabin's door and knocked. After a long wait he opened the door and
found himself staring at the dangerous end of a crossbow.
won't be takin' me or mine, yur filthy beasty," threatened the old man
holding the weapon. He was a wild figure with grey hair and a beard sprouting
off in all directions. His body was clothed in old, loosely fitting leather
armour, and a sword hung from his side.
me, sir, I have no intention of harming anyone," said Dominel.
well now yur don't look like one of em beasties. Though yur smell bad a one.
What be yur name?"
Dominel, Prince of Bani, last of the line of Otinerus."
thinkin' all yur people be slain."
all. They left me for dead after I was knocked unconscious. I've been making my
way to the mountains ever since."
thinkin' yur be tellin' the truth, but how can I be sure?"
know how I can convince you I am who I say I am, but please put the crossbow
down. I'll lay my sword aside, and we can talk. My companion needs rest,"
said Dominel with a gesture towards the girl.
well now... Yur be about settin' yur sword aside and yur can be comin' in."
leaned his sword against the cottage's wall, then watched as the old man set
his crossbow on the table behind him. Holding his palms open and in plain view
Dominel stepped into the cottage, then reached back and pulled the girl in.
get yurself out here," called the old man.
opposite the entry way opened and an old woman with grey hair neatly combed
into a bun scurried into the room.
be this stranger yur havin' in with all them beasties down the way?" she
The old man
made to reply but was cut off by the woman.
this now? A wee lass." She shuffled towards the girl, her plump body
jiggling as she walked.
comin' in. Taint proper to leave a lass standin' in the door."
doesn't talk," said Dominel.
be sad, but little wonder. With all the horror this poor lass must a seen
travellin' through lands held by them beasties."
took the girl's hand and closed her eyes for a moment. Her brow wrinkled in
concentration then she spoke again. "It's a wonder she be alive at all, it is
with all the pain in the wee thing."
She led the
girl to a seat at the room's central table.
sure she ate," said Dominel.
"And a good
thing yur did, or she'd a starved. She's given up on the world she has."
on, lad. If Emma says yur all right, yur be all right. Pick up yur sword, we'll
go fer a walk. We be above the Storm's murk here and should be enjoying the sun
well we have it," said the old man.
nodded and allowed himself to be led from the cottage.
Jason. I be the livery master here before them beasties came. Since then me and
me Emma have been getting by doin' as we could. Lucky for us the mountains still
be safe, but Emma says that won't be lasting."
me, your wife seemed to see into the girl. As if she could sense what the girl
had been through, is she some kind of sorceress?"
lad, she taint. Least ways not the type yur be praying for. She'd just started
her learning when the final battle was fought, nigh on forty years ago. I hid
her and she escaped. She don't know how to keep them beasties back. It be sad
it be. She can see the wall the old masters built getting weaker, but she don't
be knowin' how it were built. She can't be a helping yur."
how yur feel. Seems all the great wizards be slain and taint nothing we can do.
Emma tells me the walls won't be breakin' tomorrow. We has sometime."
live, lad, yur should know where there be life there be hope. Elsewise yur
never have gotten this far, now would yur?"
Now let's be headin' back to the cottage so's we can be havin' a look at yur
lady friend. She be yur sister?"
met her along the way. She needed help so I helped."
good to know that. That be why we'll win this. We's cares, and the gods be
By now they
were back at the cottage door. Jason opened it and stepped inside. Dominel
she?" asked Jason.
The girl lay
motionless on the floor, at the far side of the room by a small hearth.
body be all right. Her mind it be a different matter," answered Emma.
for Dominel to take a seat opposite her at the heavy wooden table that occupied
the room's centre.
girl has been through sommet that forced her away from our world. She be living
in a world of her own now. It be a guess if she ever comes out of it," she
What did she live through? Do you know?"
be knowing. If I could be sharin' it with her I could be makin' it easier fer
her to bear. I could help her, but she be too fare down fer me to reach."
there anything we can do?"
can be a prayin', lad. We's can be a prayin'. Fer now the best thing fer her is
rest. Yur both been pushed harder than a body should. Yur safe here, so yur
should be about restin'."
appreciate that," said Dominel, feeling like there was a heavy hand
pushing him towards the floor.
good. Now we should be about cleanin' and dressin' yur in some new clothes. Yur
scent's enough to knock a goblin dead," remarked Jason.
Dominel stood dripping wet and shivering beside the glacial stream behind the
cottage. He soaped himself then, with a grimace, leapt back into the icy flow.
His muscles cramping he scrambled out onto the bank.
lad, be wrappin' yurself in this," said Jason, holding out a towel."I
see you gave your cloths a scrub. I'll be about a hangin' them up and I'll
fetch yur armour in as well. Yur be gettin' to the cottage, Emma's orders, and
I shan't be crossin' Emma. She's be a nasty one when she be roused,"
himself then with a glance at the blue sky and the pine forest on the valley's
slopes walked to the cottage.
No sooner had
he entered the little building then Emma pushed a mug of broth into his hand
and led the girl towards the stream.
don't be wastin' a minute," remarked Jason, as he stepped through the
door. "Yur look a sight better than yur did."
wagerin' on that. Why don't I get Emma's scissors and we can be fixin' yur
hair. Must 'ave been chopped by a ghoul to be so ragged and yur beard could
stand a trim."
found himself in a chair with Jason clipping and fiddling about him.
that be an improvement."
looked at himself in a small mirror Jason lent him.
Gods, what a
difference, he thought, comparing the face he now saw with the one he had seen
in the mirror at the ruined house. This new reflection sported a small, pointed
beard that seemed to lengthen his face, while the hair, though short, was well
sculpted. What truly caught his attention though were his eyes. The shades of
his brothers no longer stared through them. The haunted quality was gone,
replaced by a strangeness, vaguely threatening in its aspect. He stared at his
reflection, then jerked his gaze away.
you, I look more myself now. How are my clothes?"
drying nicely." Before Jason could finish his sentence the door opened and
Emma walked in, leading the girl who was wrapped in a blanket. The cleaning had
done wonders for her. With the cover of dirt and dried blood gone her skin was
an olive shade. Her face was pretty, made of soft rounded curves, with a
slightly pug nose, while her short, brown hair shone in the light coming from
are yur gonna be sittin' there and a starin', or be helpin' the wee'on' to a
chair?" demanded Emma.
and helped the girl to a seat. She was still oblivious to her surroundings.
uneventful days passed at the cottage and Dominel started doing the heavy work
around the place that posed a problem for the old couple. By the second week he
felt at home and was pleased that Jason and Emma seemed to welcome his
presence. It was thirteen days after his arrival before anything changed. He
was stepping out of cottage's door when Emma called to him.
comin' back in the house."
well," he agreed, and took a seat at the table.
I've been watchin' yur. Now I've a question for yur." Emma took a deep
breath before continuing. "Would yur be willing to learn the bit of the
art I've to teach?"
eyes glistened and elation ran through his soul.
to learn any of the lost sorceries. Gods and demons, what an
voice to remain calm he replied," I would be honoured to take a place as
Emma began to
chuckle then laughed loud and hard before speaking again. "Yur and yur
flowery talk. I've not much to teach, but what I have be yurs. We'll be
Emma led Dominel to a plateau on the mountainside overlooking the cottage and
began his instruction.
anythin' else, yur must be a learnin' how to relax," she began.
relaxed," he objected.
yur aren't. Yur no be relaxed before yur can be feelin' every muscle in yur
body and knowin' where it be."
mean like a warrior before going into battle, where you're totally aware of
your body but detached from it?"
yur can be doing that yur near a year ahead of startin'. Show me what yur can
a stance with his feet shoulder width apart and tilted his pelvis forward for
balance. Then taking the three deep, slow breaths his sword master had taught
him, he allowed all thought to drain from his mind. He was filled with the
euphoric floating sensation of the warrior state, while at the same time he was
totally aware of his body. Muscles, nerves, tendons were all within his sensory
field, ready to be commanded by his will. He rested in the warrior mind for a
few moments before returning to the everyday world.
lad, that be impressive fir sure. Now, can yur be using it to heal
yur can be stoppin' bleedin' or makin' yurself stronger in meditation."
"My sword master told me that some can
make themselves stronger, or faster. He never mentioned anything about
then, lad, I know where I'll be a startin' yur lessons. Now yur be listenin' to
Emma. To be stoppin' the flow of the blood is easy, all yur got to do
and each night Emma took Dominel to the plateau to perform some mystical
exercise. Many of the exercises struck him as inane. Who cared how hot or cold
his hands were? He kept studying though, snapping up the bits of useful
knowledge amongst the seemingly useless dross. Until one day Emma stopped him
as he was stepping out of the cottage's door.
tonight yur must be leavin'," she stated.
tonight, yur must be leavin'. I've taught yur all I know and now yur must find
yurself another teacher."
there are no other teachers. All the masters have perished!"
all the masters be gone, but yur meant fir summit more than waitin' fir the
shields to fall. Yur must be movin' on!"
what we be about seein' tonight. Now we'd best be going, the night be gettin'
walked towards the plateau, Dominel observed his surroundings. He could plainly
see the blue sparkles of energy that filled the world. Looking skyward, he saw
the wall of energy that shielded the mountains. It curved over him like a giant
glass bubble. As he watched the shield flickered ominously, then stood firm
long will the shield last?"
reckon another two or three months where it be now, but I could be wrong."
will happen when it crumbles?"
won't be crumblin'. It be made so it shrinks when it be too weak to keep its size.
It gets smaller and smaller, till it be too small to be guardin' a mouse. It
will be years before it shrinks past me cottage, so there be nothin' to worry
about. The old masters, they were strong they were. Now shush."
By this time
they were at the plateau. Emma instructed Dominel to kindle a fire in the
centre of the little flat land and to sit staring into the flames.
the fire as yur were taught, don't be thinkin'. Let yur mind see in the flames,
remember yur want to be knowin' where yur to go."
staring into the fire. Slowly his mind cleared of thoughts. The flames danced
before him, gradually coalescing to form a cave's mouth at the end of a fiery
trail. The fire crackled and sputtered, he felt his eyes drawn to the smoke. It
moved to the east, towards the centre of the mountain range, despite the still
air. He fell back, his head throbbing.
were yur seein'?"
"I saw a
cave at the end of a trail and the smoke. I must go east!"
paused then repeated himself with firmness. "Yes, I must go east."
morning Dominel donned his battered armour.
"I made yur
sommet for yur trip," said Emma who indicated a pair of packs on the table
opened one of the packs and saw it was full of food. "You shouldn't have,
you've little enough for yourselves."
yur be being foolish, we've enough. Sides these be traveller's rations. Dried
meat and spice rolls," countered Jason.
deeply Dominel could smell cinnamon and nutmeg coming off the rolls. "They
"Aye, they be
tasty, but the spice be keeping `em fresh. They'll last a moon afore they go
off so's you'd notice," remarked Emma.
started securing one of the packs and a water skin to the girl.
yur be leaving the lass?" asked Jason.
lettin' the boy alone. We're too old to be taking on a wee one who can't be
doing for herself. Besides, It be sure the lass won't be findin' healin' here.
Goodbye, me lad, be carin' fir yurself," said Emma. She helped Dominel don
his pack and embraced him in front of the doorway.
"Don't worry about the girl, Jason. I
can't explain it, but I feel she belongs with me. Both of you take care, and
thank you for everything."
stepped out the door with the girl in tow.
the girl followed a track that paralleled the stream behind the cottage.
Cliffs, with occasional pines clinging to them, rose on either side of the
narrow road as it wound its way deeper into the mountains.
should reach the main pass, if I remember the maps properly. I bet there are
lots of people there," he said to the girl.
"At least you
don't talk too much. Ah, Demon spawn! I know it's not your fault," he muttered.
"I should set up camp, night's closing in."
stared into their campfire letting the flames cast images into his mind. They
flickered and danced then slowly took form. He saw an army standing on a shore
staring at a fleet of retreating ships. He saw his face in the flames, his lips
forming words he did not know. The fire flared and the image was lost. Sighing,
he lay down to sleep.
The next day
they started along the trail but Dominel paused at a spot where a deep gorge
branched off to one side. A stream flowed from the gorge's mouth joining the
flow beside the road.
feel it? Not that you'd answer if you could. It's as if someone were pulling at
my guts," he said.
mind, he allowed his inner sense to guide his eyes. His gaze came to rest on a
series of stones in the streambed. They formed a trail up the gorge deeper into
insane, but Emma told me to trust my instincts."
the girl onto the first of the stepping-stones. A steeply rising path opened up
beside the stream, which rushed along its channel. Dominel didn't pause again
until evening was closing in.
his surroundings seeing nothing but rocks, craggy cliff faces, a few scrub
pines and brambles.
cold! I'd better make camp," he said.
girl in a rock fissure, that blocked the wind on three sides, he gathered
bracken for fuel and kindled a fire at the open end of the groove. The girl
shivered but was otherwise still.
in around them making their small fire a puddle of warmth and light in an
otherwise dark and threatening world. A blood-curdling howl rent the air and
Dominel drew his sword. He scanned the darkness in front of the fissure that
guarded his back and sides. A shadow moved in the twilight world beyond the
fire's light. The deeper darkness took on form as it drew nearer the flame,
revealing itself as a wolf. The beast had wiry grey hair and it was impossibly
large. The strangest thing about it though was that its eyes shone with red
light, like sunlight passing through a vial of blood.
A werewolf! But how could it penetrate the shield?" gasped Dominel.
snarled and leapt to the far side of the fire.
back," commanded Dominel, brandishing his sword.
the creature glared at him. The flames flickered between them.
thus until the fire began to burn low and the werewolf inched forward. Fumbling
behind him, Dominel found a piece of wood and tossed it onto the flames. The
werewolf stepped back growling.
marvellous! What happens when the fire burns out. Only silver works on
werewolves. Of course, if I can hold out until morning it will turn back into a
human, thought Dominel. The pile of bracken he'd collected now seemed
make it last," he muttered, then he remembered one of his sessions with
Emma. She had had him make a candle burn higher and lower at her command.
wood burns lower it will last longer, but I've never affected a campfire before
and I don't know how high the fire has to burn to keep that thing back. It's my
stared into the flames willing them to shrink. The werewolf crept closer, until
it stood only an arm's length from the fire. When the fuel was consumed the
beast moved nearer, forcing Dominel to add more wood. The fire flared, driving
the werewolf back. Dominel joined his will to the flames and forced them down
to a steady fuel-conserving burn.
Night wore on
and the werewolf stayed. Dominel strained to hold back the fire but his
strength was quickly ebbing. His head throbbed and his body shook in a cold
I give up? A quick death followed by a long sleep, he thought. Then out
He added the
last piece of wood to the blaze. It kindled and flared as he tried to fight
down the too quick burning but his power was spent. Rising he slumped against
the chasm's wall, sword in hand. Before long the fire was little more than hot
coals and the werewolf stood less than a hand's breadth from it, its mouth
howled, pawing the air in frustration, then ran off.
muttered Dominel, who then saw the last corner of the full moon disappearing
behind the mountains. "Gods of my fathers, thank you." He collapsed into an
He stood upon
a plain with the creatures of the Storm
He awoke to
someone shaking him. Opening his eyes he stared into a face covered with a
heavy, grey-streaked-black beard. Brown eyes and a high forehead ending in a
tangle of black hair was all of the face that showed through the beard.
were going to kill me you already would have. Can I assume you're a
you can, lad. I was out hunting and I saw you and your lady friend. I'd like to
offer you my hospitality and I think you should accept. There's a werewolf
about," answered the stranger.
"I had a
stand off with it last night," said Dominel, as he stood to better inspect
Solin, son of Gumfrey, Count of Fretin." The stranger extended his hand.
Prince of Bani, and my companion has, to the best of my knowledge, no
Storm must have done evil things to her. She hardly breathes."
does not speak."
forgetting my manners. My cabin is only a short way along the trail. We will be
more comfortable there."
gestured for Solin to lead, and taking the girl's hand brought her to her feet.
came to a shelter made from a large fissure in the rock, over which Solin had
built a roof, and sealed the open end with a wall of split logs. He pulled back
a corner of the bearskin that served as a door.
enter," he offered.
to stoop to fit through the crude doorway and could barely stand erect in the
chamber beyond. The inside of the shelter was wedge‑shaped, with its
widest section at the door. The narrow end of the wedge contained a stone
hearth, with a smoke hole above it. Against the wall to his left there was a
cot. The centre of the room was dominated by a table made of piled stones,
surmounted by rough‑hewn boards. A chair, hacked from a log, sat at the
table. To his right was the only item in the shelter that showed any refinement
of craftsmanship, a deacon's bench covered in ornate carvings.
to my humble abode, Prince Dominel. I apologize that it is not as grand as my
palace but as it is at present, in, shall we say, unfriendly hands, this will
have to serve."
you, this is much better than the ground."
you will excuse me, I'll go to the storage shed and get us some food. You must
be famished after last night."
A few minutes
passed before Solin returned bearing meat, a bag of herbs and a water skin.
afraid I've no wine. Grapes don't survive this high up the mountain."
you live up here?"
in front of the hearth and started piling coal onto the glowing embers.
my reasons. For one thing, there's a pit of coal not far off that supplies me
a pot over his small fire and began to prepare a stew.
could use wood further down the slope."
and growled "I like it here. There aren't people around asking dumb
doesn't the werewolf bother you?"
easy. I put wolfsbane and silver on the door and smoke hole. It keeps him back.
This shelter is quite safe from Lycanthropes."
know the werewolf in its human form?"
hand inched towards his sword.
him, a good person. Lycanthropy is a curse, not a choice! That is why he moved
to these mountains, so others would be safe from him. It is too far for the
monster within to run to the nearest human settlement. Though now, with
fugitives flooding the mountains that may change. Where can he run? The stew's
ready. Sit. I'll serve you."
a seat at the table behind a wooden bowl of stew. He was soon finishing his
sorry to eat like this."
all right. You've already more than paid for your keep with your company. Human
companionship is a rare gift here."
can imagine. I respect your decision to stay here for the safety of
where he squatted tending the fire, "You guessed."
wasn't difficult. Deception doesn't come well to you. How did you get through
the mountain's shields?"
walked. I'm only a monster when the moon is full."
yes. Is there anything you can do to free yourself?"
of killing myself, I don't think so."
must be something."
said the wizards had a way, but I certainly don't know it and there aren't any
left to ask."
true, much to all our sorrows."
Solin talked through most of the day. Then as evening drew in Solin ushered
Dominel into the cot and settled the girl on a sheepskin by the hearth.
dreamt he was wandering the halls of his father's castle. He was searching for
something he had lost, but he didn't know what. As he searched, he became aware
of something following him. He knew he had to find what he was looking for
before it caught him.
He burst into
room after room, but what he wanted never appeared. Sweat soaked his clothing
and his breath came in ragged gasps. Throwing open a door, he found a tall man
with a grey beard in the room beyond.
find it, can you?" snapped the stranger.
replied Dominel as he heard the creature following him draw nearer.
won't if you keep lolling about. You've wasted enough time already!"
agreed Dominel, as he made to run out the door.
before you go, I think you should know. You're dreaming. Whatever it is, just
turn it into a toad."
muttered Dominel. A rat the size of a panther leapt into the room.
I hope I'm
for his sword and said aloud "You're a toad!"
around him blurred and he found himself by a pond with a man‑sized toad
crouched in front of him. Wind whispered through the trees, and the toad
croaked, a near-deafening sound.
"I am dreaming!"
He felt very
detached from the person standing in front of the giant toad. The creature
leapt at him, Dominel stepped aside and said "You're a normal sized
disappeared and in its place appeared a small green frog.
enjoyed himself by turning the frog into a garden snake, a sparrow and finally
wonderful! If I know I'm dreaming I can control my dreams. Now for something
his attention on a nearby tree. A moment passed, then the tree began to change.
Soon a stunningly beautiful maiden stood in its place. Her brown hair fell just
below her shoulders, while her slender body, with its large bosom, was covered
by the flimsiest of lace, leaving her shapely hips and legs clear to view.
Desire sparkled in her brown eyes. Dominel walked towards her and took her in
his arms. His experimenting for that night had only just begun.
morning he awoke with a kink in his back and a smile on his face. Moving
cautiously, so as not to disturb the girl, he stepped outside.
there, how was your night?" called Solin, as he strode down the trail.
than you could imagine, but I'm afraid I have to move on."
scanned the sky, hoping the weather would give him an excuse to stay.
as much. Something told me you wouldn't be staying. Where will you go?"
along that trail I was on. Do you know where it leads?"
far as I've taken it, it leads higher into the mountains. I've never reached
the end of it. I came up from the south. Why do you want to follow it?"
know. All I can say is I feel drawn to it, if that makes any sense."
doesn't! Then again, in our world what does? Before you go, fill your bags with
food from my stores, I've plenty to spare, and take some extra furs. It gets
cold in the mountains."
turned towards the cabin but Solin caught his arm and stopped him.
If you should find a way to break my curse, no matter how dangerous, promise me
An hour later
Dominel was leading the girl higher into the mountains. They walked all that
day and deep into the night. He was uneasy despite Solin's assurances that a
were‑creature could only be forced to change on the three nights of the
The next day
dawned cloudy and cold. Dominel had to force his stiffened joints to move, but
soon he and the girl were once more ascending the trail. They had walked an
hour when the sleet started. They trudged on in search of shelter, while the
storm about them grew in fury. Soon the sleet gave way to snow, and a driving
wind pushed against them. The furs wrapped about them flapped like flags in the
tempest. The girl shivered silently, while Dominel felt the cold cutting him
like a knife. After what seemed an eternity, they came to a spot where the
cliff jutted out at an angle to the wind, creating a small, protected area.
way through the snow he dragged the girl to this crude shelter and huddled close
wind to drive it, the snow fell gently about them, forming a soft blanket.
warmth begin to tingle through him. It started with his frozen hands and feet
and swiftly spread. He felt drowsy and he began to nod.
howled in the background, like the moan of a lonely spirit. He lay in the snow.
His limbs were heavy and all he wanted to do was sleep. Slowly the notes of the
wind resolved into new sounds.
you stupid fool," commanded the voice of Dominel's father.
opened his eyes and looked up. Towering over him was the form of his sire, the
snow clearly visible behind it.
up!" it ordered.
now or you're going to die of the cold."
what it's like, you fool. You are the last of our line and I won't have you
dying in some snow bank like a miserable bear cub! Do you understand me?"
it's over, everyone's dead, no one to fight for, nothing to fight with."
never beaten until you think you're beaten! Damn it, son! If I can come back to
the world of men from the land of our ancestors to talk to you, the least you
could do is wake up to listen."
Now remember how I raised you and don't give up the fight. Follow me!"
to rise and couldn't. He tried again, this time struggling to his feat. He
reached down and grabbed the girl. She groaned and lay still.
what's keeping you?" demanded the spirit, as snow blew through the blue of
its floor length robe. Dominel stared into the grey-bearded face and up at the
blue eyes. "Ggggirl."
you have taken up with some trollop. Should have expected it, knowing you.
You'll just have to drag her or leave her. Now get going!"
furs the girl wore Dominel pulled. Slowly she began to move, then, as he
overcame her inertia, she jerked clear of the snow.
never say how long he followed the grey head of the ghost through the swirling
storm. All he knew was that by the time he stopped at the mouth of a cave his
strength was spent and he collapsed on the ground.
He found the
numbness had left his arms and legs, replaced by painful throbbing, but now he
could think clearly.
don't be an idiot, get in the cave and out of this wind," snapped the
and demons! Would I feed my own flesh and blood to bears? Get in that damn
girl Dominel dragged her into the cave. Shortly beyond its mouth the snow gave
way to a dry stone floor. He looked up to see beams spanning the ceiling.
Wizards used to mine coal here. It was also their secret escape route.
Unfortunately they never had the chance to use it. Build a fire, there's coal
on the walls and some dry ties from the mine cart tracks down shaft."
y... you're real!" breathed Dominel.
course I'm real. We're all real."
th--th--thought I w--was g--going m--m--mad. H--h--hearing
no madder than you ever were. Though that's not saying much." Having said
this the spirit vanished.
aching legs to move, Dominel made his way along the passage, which sloped
steeply up. After stumbling six strides he came to the end of an old mining
track. With numb fingers he grasped the hatchet Jason had given him and chopped
kindling from the nearest tie. Using flint and steel he struck a spark, then
another, until the tinder caught. He cautiously piled larger pieces of wood
onto the blaze. He crawled back to the girl and dragged her to the fire before
collapsing beside it.
As the fire
warmed the air about him Dominel felt his strength return. At first he only fed the fire, building it
with wood until it burnt high and bright, then knocking coal from the walls to
add to the flames. Much later he laid his soaking clothes out to dry, then
turned his attentions to the girl. She lay by the fire like death. Her lips
were blue. Kneeling beside her he felt for her breath, sensing a faint pressure
against the back of his hand.
weariness and relief, he removed her soaked garments and examined her body. Her
hands and feet were white and tipped with frostbite. The rest of her skin was
icy to the touch.
he exclaimed. Completing his examination he pushed her closer to the fire. This
done he slumped against the cavern's wall and allowed his exhaustion to
overtake him. His last waking thought was that his father had saved him. He had
really been there!
darker, darkest. Light, lighter, lightest. High, higher, highest. This is
magic," explained the voice.
you?" asked Dominel, not sure whether he slept or woke.
must be dreaming."
don't have to, just listen. The student is almost ready and the teacher
be dense! Why did I have to be reborn in the form of a pigeon brain?"
up. You are not sensitive enough to hear me for long. Thus I will only say this
once. Follow the tunnel and go ever down, until you see a lake flanked by
trees. Then ever up you must go, or else you pay your life as toll."
shivering. The fire had burnt down to glowing embers, which he built up. This
done he turned to the girl. Her hands and feet were red but her breathing was
He pushed her
hair back from her brow. At his touch her eyes snapped open and she pulled away
from him. She glanced at her nakedness then at his. Screaming, she attacked
him, scratching and biting. Dominel caught her wrists.
stop it. I'm your friend, remember? I saved you from the house and the
lashed out a knee, striking him squarely in the groin. Gasping with pain, he
released her wrists. Like a wild thing she ran towards the tunnel's opening.
Several moments later he felt sufficiently recovered to pull on his clothes and
follow her. She stood at the tunnel's mouth, staring out over a landscape of
cliffs and drifted snow.
I saved you from that," he explained.
turned and looked at him, a numb expression on her face. He held out his hand.
She shied away. He didn't move.
must be cold. Come back to the fire. I won't hurt you."
She stared at
him, then tentatively took his hand.
stared at him numbly as she dressed.
Dominel, do you know where you are?"
to stare at him in silence.
Maybe you don't speak Colinan. I'll try Merchantese."
umm... name?" he asked.
stared at him.
thought Dominel, who left off and tried to plan his next move. At that moment
his dream intruded upon his consciousness.
the tunnel? What was it my father said? An escaped route for the wizards. There
must be a wizard's stronghold at its other end. I haven't anything to loose.
decided he noticed gnawing in his belly and tried to remember when he had last
eaten. Deciding it had been too long he and the girl settled for a meal. As
they ate, he spoke to her.
going to follow this tunnel. We'll need light, any suggestions? None. That's
too bad, because I don't have materials for torches. What to do?
it won't burn! Yes it should do nicely. What do you think?"
stared at him blankly.
glad you agree."
Rising to his
feet, he reached for his battered armour.
see, there may be fighting yet, I don't want to damage it too badly. A knee cup
Using one of
his daggers as a pry, he pulled the left knee free of the rest of his armour.
That done, he cut two long strips from one of the hides Solin had given him.
These he attached to the kneecup so that they crossed over its centre. Taking a
piece of wood from an old mining cart trestle, that was as long as his arm and
less rotten than most, he pushed it through where the leather crossed.
this the girl watched curiously.
Dominel filled the knee cup with bits of coal and slivers of wood. Using both
of his daggers, he levered a flaming piece of coal into its centre.
caught and sent out a dim wavering light. He smiled at his makeshift brazier
and the girl seeing that he was happy giggled.
remainder of his armour and shouldering his pack, he led the way along the
passage. The corridor sloped up for roughly fifteen strides from their resting
place then divided into two. One passage led up, as if reaching for the
mountain's peak. From this came a draft of cool fresh air. The other led down a
flight of rock stairs. This had a musty smell, as if it had been closed too
mindful of his dream, started down the descending way.
counted the stairs, coming to a downward sloping tunnel after the fiftieth
step. This passage was typical of the mine. It was about two strides wide and
three high, with rough-hewn walls, over which the brazier's dim light sent
weird, dancing shadows. As he led the girl forward, they became a puddle of
light in a sea of black.
for hours with infrequent stops, to pry coal from the walls. Occasionally
passages branched to the sides but they held to the main course, which led ever
down. The stillness of the cavern made the sound of their footsteps a
called a halt his eyes felt grainy and weariness gripped his body. "We
should sleep here," he said. Prying coal from a deposit in the wall, he
built a fire in the centre of the passage.
stared at him as he nodded once, then fell asleep.
opened his eyes and looked at the bedchamber. The large canopy bed at its
centre was draped in gauze curtains. A fire raged in the ornate hearth that
filled the wall to his right, making it uncomfortably warm and stuffy.
Tapestries, depicting women in passionate embraces, covered the remaining three
walls. A stifling, smoky perfume filled the air.
me, my lord." A seductive alto voice beckoned from the bed
spoke the voice. The bed curtains parted. The Duchess rose and walked towards
Dominel. Her body was draped in gauzy silk, which did little to hide its well‑proportioned
curves. The only sign of the children she had borne the old duke was a tracery
of lines across her abdomen. In the fire's golden glow the wrinkles by her eyes
vanished, making her look young.
thought you preferred the company of your chamber maids?" observed
will need a legitimate heir and there is no reason it should be a chore for
either of us," she explained, while playing with a long strand of her
a consort. She knows the line must be secured. Once I have borne you a son, she
can have you to herself. If that is your wish?"
know I have fought against our marriage."
is no reason you should feel suffocated by it. We are both civilised nobles. We
can be... friends."
his temperature rise and his breath quicken. Moving to the woman he traced the
line of her back. Slowly his hands caressed her, exploring her ripe mature form.
good. You are much better than that dotard my father chose," said
Karmilla, caressing her young lover's firm flesh.
pulled away. The heat from the fire was overwhelming. With Karmilla's help he
stripped. His breathing was like a bellows. Being nude made the room no cooler.
prince, yes. To the bed."
knowing how, Dominel found himself upon the bed, Karmilla towering above him.
He tried to suckle her, but his need to breathe made it impossible.
ready for you, my young prince. I will take you now!" breathed Karmilla.
Dominel felt himself slide into the silken glove of her womanhood. His
breathing came in gasps and sweat rolled off him.
prince. Yes. Yes," screamed Karmilla. Her hands stroking his chest. The
weight of her crushed his lungs and his breathing became harder still. Before
he knew it her hands were locked about his throat.
he gasped, before sound was choked from him.
Join me. Yes," screamed Karmilla. Dominel struggled to pull the hands from
his throat. Dots began to swim before his eyes. The hands became talons,
choking the life from him. His vision blurred.
love," spoke a soft voice. The talons eased their grip and Dominel gasped
in the burning hot air and looked to see Amber standing beside the bed. She was
naked and her honey blonde hair fell over her small, firm breasts. Her emerald
eyes seemed to glow in her lovely youthful face.
What?" gasped Dominel.
peasant!" snapped Karmilla.
"Why do you
do this? He is hope for our kind," challenged Amber.
God is my hope. He has promised me new life as a ruling species if I do this
thing for him." Karmilla raised her hand as if to strike Amber.
choose. Love or lust, Life or death," pleaded Amber. A tear trickled over her
cheek standing out against the golden hue the fire cast upon her skin.
thinking Dominel reached to wipe the tear away.
"No! I can
please you. I can please you," screamed Karmilla, but she vanished as soon as
Dominel touched Amber's cheek.
"Amber, I am
love. Know you dream of a danger you truly face. You must wake."
want to. I want to stay with you."
but a ghost in dream. Soon I must depart to the land of our ancestors. I could
not have tarried this long save the gates to the realm of the dead are
overburdened by the war. All are forced to wait their turn. You must live, my
love. You must save our world. You are hope. Live and find a living love to
share that life. Promise me?"
with a cough that shook his body. Forcing himself to move he rolled over and
looked at the fire. The flames burnt low despite the unused fuel amongst them.
eaten the prana from the air! I have to get away before I choke to death!
himself to his knees then collapsed.
get away!" he whispered, as blackness enveloped him.
awoke to the sound of coughing. She had moved away from the fire when she had
grown too hot. She felt dizzy and sluggish and she could smell smoke. Sitting
up she watched Dominel collapse. A soft voice she couldn't understand prompted
her to action. She didn't move. The voice grew louder then her body jerked awkwardly
to its feet. Holding her breath she rushed to Dominel and dragged his prostrate
form away from the fire. She stopped when it was a red dot in the distance and
collapsed against the wall. She paused and tenderly stroked the cheek of the
unconscious form before her.
head swam and he had no strength to move but he became vaguely aware of some
one touching his cheek. He forced his eyes open and looked into the girl's
love, my turn has come," she whispered in Amber's voice, then she sat silently
staring into the darkness.
back into unconsciousness.
coughing. His head swam and he felt nauseous. Trying to rise he fell retching.
He gulped air, filling his tortured lungs. Slowly his head cleared and he
noticed the darkness about him.
fire go out?
moved and bumped against something soft. Reaching out he felt fur-clad legs.
himself to sit he looked up the passage to where the fire was barely visible.
He tried to speak but a fit of coughing stopped him. A cool hand pressed
against his brow, soothing him. When his coughing fit ended he gasped out,
"You saved my life, thank you."
shifted where she sat beside him, then was still.
get light," he croaked, his throat releasing a bolt of pain as he did so.
The girl didn't move. Rising he leaned against the cavern's wall and stared at
the fire where it smouldered and smoked.
reach our gear? I'm in no shape to hold my breath! If only there was a draft,
but it's as still as death down here. Spirits of air, what I wouldn't give for
The air about
him moved. Whispering into his ears.
would you give for a breeze, child of men?"
would you give for a breeze?" whispered the air.
his head and asked "What would you like?"
spices and wine."
spices. We smell them. Give us half of what you carry. The fire will bring it
spices? Emma's, Journey rolls! Agreed!"
air began to shift, until a breeze wafted up the cavern. The fire brightened
and Dominel scrambled towards it. He collected his gear, filled his brazier
with burning coals and made to leave.
bargain, child of man! Be not false with the sylphs, we children of air
remember insults!" hissed the wind.
opened his pack and pulled out their store of rolls, dropping half of them onto
the fire before walking down the passage.
In minutes he
and the girl were once more following the descending slope.
strange. Of course this was a stronghold of wizards. There's no telling what of
their magic remains. Was it really Amber, or just a dream?
for hours, each step seeming like the last. Slowly the passage changed. The air
grew damp and water condensed and trickled down the walls. The floor became
slippery and dotted with puddles and, to Dominel's dismay, the deposits of coal
grew less frequent. After almost having his brazier burn out he filled one of
their packs with coal.
their pause to gather fuel they came to a pair of large wooden doors, blocking
the passage. These were covered with ornate carvings and across their top was a
script Dominel didn't recognize.
least it's different," he commented and grabbed the large brass ring that
hung from the door nearer him.
obvious weight and age the door opened easily.
he stepped through the doorway, and what lay beyond dazzled him. He stood in a
chamber forty strides across, with crystal-studded walls. The crystals took the
dim red glow of his tiny brazier and reflected it, until it filled the room. A
path of what looked like gold ran from the door to the edge of an oval lake.
The lake was about twenty strides across, bisecting the chamber. On each side
of the path stood trees carved from marble, bearing fruits of pure crystal.
into the room, the girl at his heels. He didn't notice the door closing behind
them. They followed the golden path to the water's edge, where a short pier
projected into the lake. An ornate, bronze brazier stood at the pier's end.
Moving to the brazier, He filled it with coal from his pack and dumped the
contents of his small brazier on top.
burnt with a clear white light, unlike any he had ever seen coal produce. The
crystals sparkled brightly and cascades of colour filled the room with dancing
rainbows, while the lake's surface became a mirror of glittering lights. His
eyes were dazzled by the display and his soul was called to take flight into
the beauty around it.
slowly came to realize that he had to cross the lake, to reach the doors at the
far side of the cavern. Studying the chamber he placed everything's location in
his mind. Scanning the far bank, he noticed a boat moored at the pier opposite
the one on which he stood. Studying the walls, he could see they were perfectly
smooth, offering no hand or foot holds.
does everything have to be the hard way?" he grumbled, as he began to
glanced at him where he stood half naked on the pier, screamed and ran towards
the door. She struggled in vain to pull it open. He ran to her but she turned
on him kicking and biting. Remembering the last time she attacked him, he
covered his groin and backed away.
going to swim the lake," he explained, in an attempt to soothe her. She
stood back to the door, glaring at him.
and removed his trousers, then placing one of his daggers between his teeth,
lowered himself into the water. The lake at the pier's end only reached his
chest, but it swiftly grew deeper. The water was cool but his body adjusted by
the time he was a quarter of the way across.
bumped against his side and he knocked at it instinctively. Something else
bumped against him and he felt a cutting pain. Glancing at the source of the
pain, he found an eel clinging to his flesh.
was translucent, but already beginning to redden as it sucked blood into
itself. He grabbed the eel below its head and pulled it from his side, ripping
his skin as he did so. Bringing it forward he glanced at the beast's circular
mouth of razor-sharp teeth. Using his dagger he cut the creature in half and
tossed the parts away.
later he felt another bump, then another. The water was alive with eels. They
were attaching themselves to his body faster than he could pull them away. In
terror he sprinted towards his destination until he saw the bottom rise beneath
him. Standing he strode towards the pier pulling eels from his upper body
until, dizzy and weak from loss of blood, he clambered onto the dock and pulled
the creatures from his legs before falling unconscious.
He awoke to
screams and darkness. The fuel had burnt out in the brazier and no light graced
the chamber. The screams continued and he identified the girl as their source.
Must be the
dark. I hope it's the dark! Gods, it's cold. Best not to think about it. Now
how am I going to cross the lake without light.
pondered this, he noticed a dim bluish haze radiating from him. Ignoring his
nausea and pain, he rose to one elbow. Across the lake he could see a haze of
violently convulsing reds and oranges.
the name of the ancient gods? He wondered. Then something Emma had said
echoed in his mind.
things that be livin' be about makin' power, and somes can see it flowin' about
effort he rose to his knees.
I'm going to retch. Demons of the pit, if there is a part of me that doesn't
hurt it's dead. I wish the room would stop spinning."
forced himself to look around. The bluish haze allowed him to "see",
if "see" you could call it. It was more a matter of sensing where the
haze was interrupted. He crawled towards the boat. The girl screamed again as
he pulled himself into the small craft. Fumbling in the dark, he found a pair
of oars and managed to get them in the oarlocks. By this time only the sound of
whimpering came from the far shore.
crawled to the bowline and cast off.
When the boat
grated against the lake's bank he grasped the bowline and leapt for shore. He
caught his balance before the boat driving back yanked the rope taut and sent
him sprawling back first. Air blasted from his lungs, leaving him winded, but
he kept his grip on the line.
forced air into his lungs then, shaky and sore, crawled to a rock and tied up
the boat. He struggled to his feet and made his way towards the girl.
all right. I'm back," he said and was gratified that she stopped whimpering.
"I'm going to get us some light."
He walked towards where he guessed
their packs were. Working by feel, Dominel filled the large brazier with coal
and kindling. Using flint and steel he struck sparks until the fuel lit. At
first it was a dim glow but the light increased until the cavern was restored
to its full radiant glory. As the light returned the girl grew calm.
looked at himself. His body was covered with circular welts and his skin was as
pale as death. He hurriedly dressed against the cold, then ate nearly half of
their food supply.
As he ate the
girl approached him and placed a hand on his shoulder, as if to assure herself
that he was truly there.
her longing, I feel it, she has such need, she's so empty and she wants....It's
gone, he thought, as her hand slipped away. How could I feel that? Emma
said she could feel others' emotions but I never did before. Time to worry
about it when we're safely out of this cave.
"I'll pull the boat to the
pier and then I can load us both up and row to the other shore," he
explained to the girl, who stood watching him. She cocked her head to one side
they passed through wooden doors identical to the ones they'd entered through
on the other side of the lake. It took a while after the door closed for
Dominel's eyes to adjust to the dim light. As soon as he could see they set off
along the passage.
sloped gradually upwards and soon smaller tunnels began to branch off the main
way. Over an hour later Dominel found a coal deposit to restore his dwindling
supply and with a sigh of relief slumped against the wall.
rest here. Gods, I feel drained. Of course, given that those eels drink blood,
I guess I have been." He grinned at his own wit.
stared at him as he settled himself for sleep.
got this far," remarked a voice.
Dominel tried to orient himself.
didn't think you'd make it. You're lucky the Gods gave you the body of an ox to
match your wit."
not one of my brothers! None of them ever sounded like you."
be an idiot! I was your brother in your last life, remember?"
Dominel had a
fleeting sense of recognition, like he faced a familiar foe.
get along, did we?"
you begin to remember. That is for the best. Now you inept serf, though we were
foes, I must play my part in awakening you. Pity though that is."
mean I'm dreaming?"
You have been dreaming all your life. Now you're in a dream of a dream and
you're closer to waking than you have ever been! Listen!"
night. From brightest day.
From each of
these they fell one day.
fragment it was shorn.
To open door
cross on the morn.'
you remember that, my moronic sibling!"
feeling like someone had stretched every muscle in his body then let it go with
a snap. He found his pack by feel before he noticed it wasn't completely dark.
A light as bright as his brazier reached him from further up the passage.
Rising he woke the girl and led her towards the light's source. The air grew
cold as they approached a small side passage. It was walled in white marble and
curved gently so its far end couldn't be seen. A single downward step led into
whispered a voice in the back of Dominel's mind.
voice he shouted, "We're through," pulled the girl into the side
passage and ran its length. The tunnel ended at a stone balcony overlooking a
"Fresh air, I
never thought it could be so sweet, but gods that wind's cold. I don't see any
way down, do you?" asked Dominel not expecting a reply.
sound echoed dully from the passage behind him and he turned to look the way he
had just come.
"Gods! No, a
trap," he screamed.
A slab of
rock was slowly moving out from the wall to block the passage.
down!" Dominel threw himself between
the passage's wall and the moving stone trying to hold it in place. The girl
joined him, but their efforts accomplished nothing.
through!" he commanded.
stared at him.
he thought, as his elbow bumped against his sword hilt. It might work.
sword he braced it between the wall and the stone. Grabbing the girl he
sprinted into the main cavern. The stone pushed against the sword, which held a
moment, then bowed and snapped. The stone slammed home and darkness engulfed
panting and trembling for a long time. When his hands steadied, he fumbled in
his pack, finding his flint and steel and a lump of coal. Using rag, torn from
his clothing, as tinder, he lit his brazier. The coal caught and the darkness
was driven back by a wavering red glow.
was too close!"
journeyed for several hours and a change became apparent in the tunnel. Rarely
at first, but more frequently as time went by, they smelt drafts of fresh air
and saw beams of light coming from side passages.
light was constant enough for Dominel to extinguish his brazier. They walked
until the daylight grew dim then kindled a fire and made camp.
A jester clad
in the traditional red and yellow of his profession danced and cantered before
Dominel, singing a taunting song.
I would say.
It is no
like a bowstring."
it. Who are you to taunt me, how was I to know it was a trap?" demanded
ever up you must go or else you pay your life in toll," teased the jester
who skipped away.
into the dim light that filtered into the cavern. He yawned, stretched, and
woke the girl so they could continue. They followed the passage, which now ran
level, until Dominel felt a tingling along his spine. He jerked to his right
and seemingly pushed his hand through the wall. Grabbing something cold and
hard, he pulled back his hand and examined its contents. It was a crystal that
shone with a brilliant white radiance. He stood transfixed by its beauty, his being
filled with peace and love for all things.
said a melodious voice.
love, the satisfaction of helping others. The joy of children as they laugh and
play about you. You desire a partner in this life, someone sharing your trials
and triumphs. A person who completes you and puts loneliness to flight."
within you. The crystal of light. A catalyst. Feel the love of true friends and
the gratitude of others. I offer so much. Choose my path. You have tried to
live well until now, continue as you have begun."
grew silent in Dominel's mind. A force jerked him to the left and he reached
out, his hand passing through another illusionary wall. Grabbing another hard
cool object, he brought it into view. This time it was a malformed black
hunger. All you survey can be yours. You can be king, your every whim
like that," countered Dominel.
you are. You hunger for women to cater to your lusts, living to give you
pleasure. Think of the mastery you have of those who fear you. If the fear is
great enough, others will suffer any degradation to fulfil your desires. Choose
me and this power is yours. You can order the world as you will."
don't want a world of slaves."
be hasty. Think of it. If a woman denies you, you can have her brought to you
in chains for your satisfaction."
loins stirred at the thought of a willing woman chained and helpless ready to
grant his every whim.
intrigues you. Any woman, willing or no, can be yours in this manner."
or no?" repeated Dominel. The import of the words struck him. Screeching
in horror and disgust, he pulled away from the crystal, shaken by the knowledge
that it had only offered to fulfil his own base desires.
He made to
throw the dark crystal away, but the words from his dream echoed in his ears.
From each of
these they fell one day.
fragment it was shorn.
To open door
cross on the morn."
placed the dark crystal in an empty food bag and holding the shining crystal
continued along the passage.
reached a place where the cavern's walls were carved into reliefs of dragons,
mermaids and other strange beasts. As well, the floors were covered with
mosaics, depicting scenes from legend.
continued past ever more ornate art works until an iron door blocked their way.
The door was engraved with a pentagram, with one point above the other four and
several words in a strange script. Dominel reached for the door handle and
pulled, but nothing happened.
stuck, all that journey wasted," he said and sank to the floor, his back
against the wall.
frowned and joined him on the floor.
we've been through for nothing! Unless?" He stared at the crystal in his
door cross on the morn. All right. I've no choice so I'll wait."
to a chattering sound. The cavern around him was pitch dark. He reached towards
the water skins and was rewarded with a nip on his hand.
We are close to the surface," he muttered, pulling away the cover he'd
thrown over the crystal of light. The crystal shone. With a frightened squeal
several furry bodies ran away from the food bag.
up and stared at the door. He noticed that the cavern was growing slowly
brighter. Looking up, he could see a shaft cut into its roof. Suddenly a beam
of light pushed through the shaft and struck the centre of the pentacle on the
door. Snatching the dark crystal from his pack, he rushed forward. The light
revealed two slots, in the centre of the pentacle. Fumbling in his excitement,
he pushed the crystals into the depressions. A hum filled the air and the door
the girl awake and collected their gear, before racing through the door. He ran
up a short flight of stairs, emerging into the light of a new and glorious day.
THE STUDENT IS READY
stopped at the top of the stairs. He was standing on a balcony carved into the
mountain about two strides across. A stair descended from the platform's right
side, linking a series of balconies like the one he stood upon and ending at a
was stunning, with mountains towering on all sides and a glacial river
wandering its length. Trees covered the lower slopes, while snow-clad peaks
stood out in bleak contrast to the vibrant life below. The valley's far end was
formed by a sheer cliff, over which the river fell with a roar.
a cry and glanced up to see eagles circling.
beautiful!" he exclaimed.
walked up beside him on the shelf of rock and stared out over the idyllic
strapping on his armour and pack he led the girl to the valley.
descended the stair Dominel counted thirteen more balconies branching off it.
Each of these had a door set into the mountainside, which he tried and failed
to open. When they reached the base of the stair, they settled onto the soft
passed before Dominel rose, stretched and walked into the forest. The girl
leapt to her feet and followed him.
were full of overgrown trails that wound their way between deciduous trees,
just coming into leaf, and tall evergreens. Birds sang and deer grazed placidly
in the valley's meadows.
has to be the most beautiful forest in the world," he said, as he
inspected a clearing filled with spring flowers.
bbootful" echoed a soft voice behind him.
he exclaimed, spinning around to stare at the girl.
repeated the girl, smiling.
speak! Why haven't you said anything before?"
stared at him, smiled and said, "Bootful."
smiled back at her.
can't speak can you, but you can learn. So be it. I agree this place is
grinned and led her down the path. Wild grapes and a staggering variety of
fruit trees grew along the trails' edges. They came upon a clearing full of
wild strawberries and made a meal of the small, fruits.
When the sun
descended behind the mountain peaks. Dominel found a place where pine trees
grew thick and close creating a hollow where their lower branches had died.
They spent the night under their shelter.
The next day
he constructing a lean‑to and fire pit then taking one of his daggers and
lashing it to a branch, made a crude spear.
to go hunting."
replied the girl, who rose to her feet.
looked at him quizzically and stepped forward.
looked at him obviously puzzled.
a step but she followed.
repeated the girl brightly.
looked at her in astonishment.
going to have to watch every word I say, aren't I?"
She smiled at
around the meadow, then had an idea. Taking a bit of wood left from making the
lean-to, he split its base into two and pulled it apart. He cut two more slits
farther along its length, one on either side of the branch. Finally he whittled
the top into a rounded oblong and cut a few quick slots to form a face. Taking
a tattered fur he cut a hole for the head and one for each arm then pulled it
onto the stick man.
for you to play with," he offered, passing the crude figurine to the girl.
She took the
figurine, looked at it, then stood it on the ground. It fell over and she
snatched it up, cradling it.
remember dolls. That's good, you play with dolly and I'll go hunting."
spear Dominel walked from the clearing. This time she let him go.
evening a scratched and bloody Dominel returned to the clearing with a deer
carcass over his shoulders.
known it was going to be that hard, I wouldn't have started," he griped,
as the girl moved to meet him.
She stared at
him with a quizzical expression on her face.
what you're thinking. I'm a prince. I should know how to hunt. Well I do. I got
the damn thing, didn't I? It's just when I hunted with the royal court we had
dogs and woodsmen to flush the game and I was on a horse."
smiled at him and said, "Bootful."
you for the vote of confidence. This spear isn't exactly made for throwing
either. I'm lucky I caught anything!
dress the meat. It won't take long."
skipped off to play.
Half an hour
later the deer's heart and liver sizzled on spits over the fire, while Dominel
hung the rest of the carcass in a tree.
going to be good," he said, returning to the fireside.
mimicked the girl, who sat across from him staring at the roasting meat.
this valley is a beautiful place," he added, looking into the ink black,
silver flecked sky.
beautiful. I'll have to teach you more words, won't I?"
Dominel reached for the roasting meat.
Over the next
few nights the moon grew smaller, until it was completely dark. Then it rose
again, a silver crescent.
in his lean‑to trying to sleep, and failing. Every time he began to drift
off a sound like chanting echoed in his mind but when he fully awoke it was
going mad. Two: this was a stronghold of wizards. Take your pick, Dominel old
boy. Either way, you're not getting any sleep till the voices shut up," he
grumbled and crawled from the lean-to.
eyes he entered the relaxed state his master at arms had taught him and Emma
had refined. The chanting returned. Opening his eyes he followed the sound
through the woods until a white radiance appeared before him. His trance
deepened as he walked towards the luminance. Without realising what was
happening he strode into the centre of the light, which seemed to both surround
and pervade him.
happening?" he asked. No words came, only an echo of thought, which moved
through the light as ripples on a pond.
Ackdominel, Welcome home," replied the light. A feeling of warmth and love
floated in a warm place devoid of thought as he heard himself reply.
"Thank you Franlor. Are you to be my first teacher in this life?"
wondered at what he said, yet it felt so natural. A strange sensation filled
him. He felt as if he was staring down a long corridor of time, populated with
beings he knew were himself, but yet were not. Being after being, all
different, all the same. His consciousness reeled and his sanity rebelled.
Ackdominel. You must go to the lowest lodge tonight. There I will teach this
consciousness. Now you had best go, this consciousness is already unbalanced
from having the door flung open."
say," replied Dominel/AckDominel.
He opened his
eyes not having realized that they were closed.
that?" He wondered. An irresistible desire fell on him to open the lowest door
off the stair.
locked," he told himself, as his feet carried him towards the doors in the
and thou shalt enter," muttered a voice in the back of his mind.
towards the lowest of the doors. Upon arriving he grabbed its handle and
pulled, but nothing happened! Releasing the handle, he knocked on the stone.
The door creaked open. He stared into a room that seemed to glow with a light
similar to that cast by a half moon. The light came from everywhere and nowhere
in the chamber. He stepped through the doorway into a square alcove about the
length of his body across. It was hewn from the rock of the mountain. There was
a door on each of the chamber's walls, which were ringed with cloak hooks, and
a bench sat by the entrance.
walked to the door on his right and opened it. This led to a round room nearly
four strides across. A silver circle dominated its floor. At the circle's
centre was a cloth draped altar with an object sitting atop it. He moved to the
circle's edge and stared at the object. With a swirl of dust it leapt into the
air and Dominel saw it was a human skull.
Demons!" he spat as he backed towards the door.
you no harm, Ackdominel," spoke a man's voice. It was deep and resonant,
and by its very tone seemed to still the terrified race of Dominel's heart.
paused staring at the skull, which regarded him with empty sockets. "Wh,
What are you?"
your old friend, Franlor. It is my task to teach you the first lessons of the
high art in this life."
course you are! Ackdominel was your name in your last life. Ackdominel is your
name among the keepers of the secret way. Ackdominel is your wizard name."
learn that in time."
well, what are you?"
already told you."
told me who you were, not what."
AckDominel, you were born into a bit of a dunce, weren't you?"
a chill run up his spine at the displeasure in the skull's voice, even as the
macabre way the jaw moved with each word fascinated him.
well. I am a shade of a wizard," continued the skull. "When the life
force of my last incarnation ebbed, I gave myself up as a sacrifice to see that
my order would not fail. Oh sit down and I will tell you the whole story, then
maybe we can get on with something important."
stared at the shade then sat on the floor.
started many mortal years ago, when the exponents of the covetous god gained
ascendancy amongst the rulers of the lands. They declared that all those who
thought differently from themselves must be converted or slain. Thus, the
persecution began. They hunted down the followers of nature and the hunt, as
well as any other who dared to think for themselves. The numbers of the
practitioners of the high art dwindled. They killed the mighty among us in our
sleep and our lesser brethren were dragged before the courts and false
confessions tortured from them.
our downfall and knowing what would happen to the world with no wizards to
protect it, took action.
"Are you sure
you comprehend this? Perhaps I should speak slower?"
looked at the skull, which was drifting back and forth across the circle as if
pacing and said "Go on."
of us, whose time on the mortal plane was soon to end, poured our remaining
life essences into magic vials. We sacrificed what worldly life remained to us
and went to the borders of the spirit world. Those that remained placed the
vials in magic seals, along with those parts of the body that could endure the
you're not as dense as I guessed. To continue.
of our order sacrificed all that remained of his life and took to wandering the
earth as a homeless ghost. He was held to the world by the life force which he
had sacrificed. Able to see and hear, but unable to touch or affect anything. A
lonely wanderer, ever in search of a suitable body. Which, when the time was
right, he would, with the help of our brothers and sisters in the spirit world,
bring to us. Thus we might use the life energies we left behind to enter this
world and teach him. In this way our order would not die."
wouldn't this wizard already know everything?"
would and he would not. When one enters a new body, the memories of the old are
hidden. They become little more than vague feelings and natural aptitudes. Thus
you must be taught to reach your memories. This is a natural thing. Because
Ackdominel did not journey to the spirit world, your knowledge is closer to the
surface. We hope to accomplish the work of decades in a few short years. But we
have no time to waste!"
must I do?"
looked at AckDominel and the barren skull almost seemed to smile.
must be Ackdominel, reincarnation of the master of my order, and my
sat silently. Visions of the monstrous hordes running before him, lightning
reeking havoc in their ranks, filled his mind. "What is my first
like a breeze, as Dominel sat listening to all Franlor had to say. His mind was
enthralled by the words and their content. After a long while the shade paused.
grows light. We must finish for today. You must return for further instruction
at moon rise."
can't we continue now?"
is too mighty. Its raw unfiltered power is capable of disrupting delicate
enchantments. Besides, you must rest." So saying the skull settled once
more on the altar.
collecting himself then rose and left the chamber, closing the door behind him.
the two remaining doors of the lodge. One of these led to a small room occupied
by a serviceable rope bed and dresser. The other led into a kitchen. The
kitchen consisted of a hearth cut into the wall, a central table and walls
lined with cupboards. Looking closer, he found that the cupboards were full of
jars of non-perishable food.
He ran from
the shelter with a whoop of jubilation and didn't stop running until he came to
his lean‑to in the clearing. He found the girl in the process of dressing
her stick doll. She looked at him and smiled.
He gasped out
"I've found us a new home."
mimicked the girl.
new home. I've opened the first door into the mountain."
really don't understand, do you? Come with me. I'll show you." He grabbed
her hand and ran towards the rooms carved into the mountainside.
the girl the chambers, his enthusiasm began to fail and weariness overtook him.
Thus it was soon after the sun was full up that he lay asleep on the rope bed.
When he awoke
he rose to find that the lodge had been dusted and swept. Going into the
kitchen, he found the girl staring at a pot of water sitting over a cold, empty
hearth. He looked at her inquiringly. The girl stared back and said "eat
smiled at his own foolishness.
needs fire to get hot," he explained, as he moved to the coal bin.
fire. You did well cleaning. I'm proud of you."
to prepare the hearth, as he did so he thought of the girl cleaning the lodge.
The whole lodge!
towards the ceremony room's door, grabbed its handle and nearly wrenched his
shoulder from its socket trying to open it.
The girl, who
had followed him into the central chamber, watched him quizzically. He released
the door handle and looked at her "It won't open!"
went back into the kitchen.
the rest of that day examining the cupboards' contents and separating out the
spoiled portion. Finally, though it felt like it never would, evening came and
he waited on the balcony for moonrise. Slowly a sliver of silver became
apparent over the mountain peaks. With haste he moved to the ceremony room's
door and pulled it open. Taking a deep breath he stepped in. The skull hovered
above the altar.
afraid," began Dominel.
the door would not open," finished Franlor. "Fear not, it will always
open when the moon is in the sky. Now let us begin."
talked through the night, cramming Ackdominel's mind with information. When
Dominel left the ceremony room he went straight to bed and collapsed into a
He dreamt of
ancient fires and a complex web of gold. Each golden thread touched all the
others. Suddenly several of the threads unravelled and the web fell apart, like
rags blown upon a stormy wind. One lone thread strove to hold the pieces
together. He heard himself scream and awoke with sweat on his hands.
He lay on the
bed collecting himself, then pulled on his tattered surcoat and went outside.
The sun was only slightly past the noon but he knew he wouldn't get back to
sleep, so he searched for the girl. After nearly an hour he found her in a clearing,
waving a stick about as if it were a sword. She duelled back and forth with her
imaginary opponent, a determined look on her face. It took a long time for her
to notice him.
Hello," she replied then smiled triumphantly.
then her attention slipped and she playfully brandished her stick sword,
challenging him to a duel.
still as stone. Painful memories of battles lost flooded his mind.
challenged him again and he brushed off his melancholy.
maybe it will help restore her memories, he thought, as he chose a suitable
stick and moved to answer her challenge.
duelled with Dominel easily blocking the girl's sweeping blows. Finally she
grew bored of the game and left to play with some pebbles she had gathered
found Dominel in the ceremony room with Franlor.
dream well?" demanded the skull.
horribly! I had nightmares."
not ask how you slept! I asked how you dreamt!"
quickly described his dream of the previous night.
Good! You have seen the pattern as it was and as it is."
pattern, what is it?"
All things affect all others. The pattern is the way they relate. Eternity is
like a great cloth and each thing in creation is a single thread."
the wizards were murdered threads were ripped from the pattern and it began to
you are beginning to understand. The thread you saw holding the remains
together represents the students of the last wizards."
demanded Dominel, hope leaping in his heart.
students. Did you believe you were the only one? Many orders prepared for the
downfall. You are not alone, Ackdominel. You are, however, one of a precious
reach the others. Maybe together we could--."
you are trained, my student, once you are trained. For now let us discuss the
basic premises behind the manipulation of Astral matter into semi‑permanent
quickly for Dominel. His nights were filled with instruction. His days with
practising the arts taught him and playing with the girl. To amuse himself, he
began to teach her the art of the blade. She learned quickly and he was soon
forced to don his armour when they, "played swords", to avoid
receiving a painful collection of bruises.
when he entered the ceremony room Franlor's skull rose labouriously into the
well?" asked AckDominel.
a stupid question. I am dead! My energy is almost spent! My time as your
teacher is through."
I've so much more to learn."
it you shall. On the first day of the new moon you must go to the next lodge up
the mountain. There another teacher awaits you. Before you leave this chamber,
show honour to my bones. Within this altar is a cavity. Take what it contains
and place my remains there.
well, remember the new moon. That is the time for beginnings."
finished speaking the skull drifted to the altar top and lay still.
numbly moved to the altar and wrapping the skull in the silken coverlet it sat
upon, lifted it. This revealed a hatch, with a brass ring set at one end. The
hatch opened to reveal a chamber containing a long pale blue robe and a golden
key. He took the objects and put Franlor's bones in their place. Closing the
hatch, he left the room.
The girl was
waiting for him when he stepped through the ceremony room's door.
Dominel?" she asked.
his hand, smiled and said "Eat."
the way to the kitchen.
MONSTERS WITHIN, MONSTERS WITHOUT
The new moon
was riding up the eastern horizon. Dominel stood before the door of the second
lodge, holding the gold key taken from Franlor's altar. When the dim moonlight
touched the door a keyhole appeared. Dominel eased the key into the lock and
turned it. The door swung inwards, revealing an entry hall identical to the one
in the lodge below, save that a comfortable looking chair sat opposite the
door. Moving to the door on the chamber's right he pushed it inwards. Entering
the room he saw a padded throne in a circle of silver set into the floor. A
skeleton sat upon the throne.
From the size
it must have been a woman, AckDominel guessed.
his throat and called out, "I am AckDominel. I have come as Franlor
have," returned a soft feminine voice, which issued from the skeleton.
shuddered at the way the jawbone moved and the empty eye sockets stared through
come to learn what you would teach."
let us begin. I am Shanal and our time is short. Listen well!"
passed quickly and AckDominel discovered that learning from Shanal was a pleasure.
Listening to her voice sparked warm feelings. When he closed his eyes, he saw
not a skeleton but a handsome older woman, with long grey-streaked black hair,
tan skin and dark eyes. She was dressed in a dark blue gown that accentuated
the curves of a well proportioned body.
his mind spun with information and a soft voice echoed in his ears. It was
reluctantly that he left the ceremony room. He made his way to the kitchen
where he found some meal that hadn't spoiled and prepared breakfast. Soon after
this the girl joined him. She now wore a tattered assortment of his old
clothing, as well as her own. Dominel was dressed in the pale blue robe of a
novice of the Keepers of the Secret Way.
these days I'll have to find you something nice to wear. You're far too pretty
to be in rags," he commented, watching her across the table.
looked at the floor, blushed, and said, "Me pretty?"
Dominel stroked her cheek and moved to embrace her in a brotherly way.
then, screaming, drove her fist into his gut.
caught him by surprise and he buckled over. She sprinted into the other room.
catching his breath Dominel felt like yelling but his compassion halted him.
"You must have been through something horrible. I am sorry."
glared at him through the doorway, then her features softened into a smile.
there was some way I could reach you. Help you to deal with whatever those
horrors did to you. Maybe some day?"
After this he
finished eating and went to bed.
night AckDominel sat in the ceremony chamber listing to Shanal.
channelling forces beyond your own power, it is important to keep your personal
energy systems clear of all obstructions. As well you must constantly hold in
your mind what you wish to accomplish in its entirety. As an example, when the
wizards created the shield over the mountains, each of us had to keep the
thought of the area the shield was to cover in the front of our minds. As we
did this, we also had to focus on the shield's purpose and specifications. It
was easier to increase its charge after it was erected, then we simply
channelled energy into it and the pattern carried it to where it was
are you saying it is possible to increase the shield's power with this
truth this section is being taught out of sequence. You must practice
channelling energies and I feel your practice should be to some purpose. Your
efforts will not prevent the shield's collapse, but they will delay it."
is a skill truly worth knowing."
skill is worth knowing! Now to continue."
It was early
evening of the following day that Dominel made his way to a wooded meadow near
the centre of the valley and sat cross legged on the grass.
I have to
relax if this is going to work, he thought. Closing his eyes he forced his
breathing to became deep and regular. His senses opened up to the world around
him. He felt his body expand becoming one with the land around him. Rivers of
energy flowed through the valley, converging and splitting then stretching out
over the surface of his world. He felt them as tracks of hot and cold across
his skin and saw them as ribbons of sparkling light against his closed eyelids.
Reaching with his will he drew their force to his small physical form. The
power built within him until he felt ready to burst. Shifting his focus he sent
a beam of sparkling light, visible only to those trained in the ways of magic,
straight up to where the shield arched above the mountains. Minutes passed and
sweat soaked his clothes, then he groaned and fell back to lie on the ground.
said it would become easier with practice. I hope she's right!" he
muttered, as he fought to still the pounding in his head.
The next year
passed with little event. Dominel moved through the various lodges, receiving a
gift from each once his studies at that level were complete. By the end of that
year he had climbed to the fifth lodge and had an excellent view from his
balcony. The girl had continued to broaden her vocabulary at an alarming rate,
often seeming more like she was remembering something forgotten than learning
the words anew. She also excelled in learning the arts of battle. They were however
no closer to unlocking her past than they had been upon coming to the valley.
upon his balcony, arrayed in the gifts his teachers had given him. He was still
clad in the robe Franlor had left him, but now he also wore a dark blue cloak.
About his neck hung an amethyst pendant, and his waist was girthed by an ornate
belt holding a ceremonial dagger. He was lost in thought, his mind filled with
a technique he had just learned and its implications. Sensing a presence behind
him, he looked over his shoulder to see the girl emerging from the lodge.
unhappy?" she asked, seeing his expression.
not really. Just thinking. I've learned how to do something that could help you
the time before you met me. Before we came here."
said the girl, sounding hopeful, sceptical, and scared at the same time.
you like to remember?"
know. I'm happy now. Would remember change that?"
might. It also might explain why you won't let me touch you, or why you're
afraid of being naked. If we knew, maybe we could fix it."
stared at the valley below for a time, then asked, "If I remember, I be
smart like Dominel? Know how to make fire and other things?"
would know everything you knew before, but you have to be the one to
silent for a time before saying, "I, I, want to remember."
We'll do it this evening after I've slept." Grasping her hand he added.
"I'll do everything I can for you, little one."
Dominel went in search of the girl, finding her in a clearing close to the
stair's base. He led her back to the stair where they sat on the ground facing
not too late. You don't have to do this."
The girl looked
at him and in a small voice said, "Do it."
her hands and reached deep into his mind. Deeper and deeper he descended, into
the core of his being. AckDominel saw himself as a mote of energy, then his
thoughts turned to the girl.
his mind commanded. His consciousness drifted towards hers. He saw her, a
shining light before him. They drew closer, then touched and joined into a
What is this?
Who am I? Where am I? demanded the part that was the girl.
AckDominel. I am with you.
We are one,
returned the girl, now at peace.
examined the joint consciousness soon finding what he sought. In their thoughts
a wall loomed, blocking the way to a section of their mind. The AckDominel part
of their mind drew closer to the wall, even as the part that was the girl
backed away in terror. AckDominel focussed his will and moved to the wall's
base. The girl fought against him and it was all he could do to keep the joint
He almost turned
away but he could feel a desire almost as great as the fear. It radiated from
the girl's side of their mind, a desire to open the wall, to know! Placing his
will against the wall he called, "be gone!"
nothing happened, then the wall dissolved. Their consciousness was caught in a
flood of memories.
themselves, she was Melanie, a pretty fourteen year old daughter of Sir
Calidids. It was a beautiful day as she ran and played in her father's fields,
picking wildflowers. The world was wonderful. A handsome count's son would soon
be arriving to pay court to her and there was nothing sweeter than living. She
saw a stranger, in rent and dented armour, gallop up the lane to her father's
house. Melanie ran towards the newcomer as he dismounted and started talking
frantically with her father. She reached them as her father was leading the
other man into the house.
what is happening?" she asked.
turned to look at her. He was an older man, with steel grey hair and mustache,
upon a handsome oval face. He smiled at her, revealing a tracery of laugh
wrinkles about his deep blue eyes.
to go, my pretty. The border is under attack and I am summoned to my knightly
duty of defence."
let the younger men go."
he snapped, then his voice softened. "I've still strength to wield a blade
in defence of our land. It is my duty, but come here."
approached and her father hugged her before he entered the house to arm
The next few
days were spent in hectic activity. Melanie helped her mother order the local
peasants into companies, in case the Storm should break through their first
line of defence. Then it began. It was heralded by ragged men on spent horses
riding towards the royal palace. The rag tag survivors of a fierce battle
against impossible odds. They followed! They filled her memories. She wanted to
lock them out but couldn't. Line upon line of monsters marched forward,
sweeping the peasants, armed with their axes and hoes, away like leaves upon a
The beasts marched on, finally
reaching the house.
Mother stood before a window,
releasing arrow after arrow at the invaders. A javelin pierced her skull, and
she fell, blood spurting from her wound. Melanie picked up the bow and began to
let fly, cursing herself for not paying more attention when her father had
taught her how to shoot. Soon the arrows were spent and the Storm moved forward
without fear. An ape-like ogre, with large yellow fangs, beat upon the door,
splintering the oaken beam that held it. Kalin, an old lame peasant her father
hired as a gardener, thrust at the monster with a spear, driving it deep into
the creature's breast. The beast lashed out with a huge iron club, crushing
Kalin's skull. The Ogre scuttled into the room, blood pouring from its wound.
Melanie hacked at it with the kitchen knife she was carrying, but it clutched
her wrist and twisted it until the knife fell clattering to the floor.
nightmare began in earnest. The horrible ogre dragged her to a bed and forced
her down. Its stinking breath fell upon her face as it ripped at her clothes.
Pain laced up from between her thighs as she felt rough hands pawing her body.
After the Ogre came another horror, a creature with two heads.
defiled. Sickness and gore rose up from the depths of her existence. She
pleaded for death, but the only response was more pain. They lashed her to the
bed and still more pain followed. Her body was bruised, she felt sick and
ashamed. During a brief respite she looked out the door through tear-filled
eyes. A fire burned in the main room. On a spit over the flames hung the limp
form of her mother. As she watched, an ogre ripped off an arm and began to gnaw
on it. She screamed, but this only brought more pain, in the form of a small
goblin with yellow skin and blood-red eyes. The beast struck her and snarled
her world, with night and day lost in a blur of tears. Occasionally a horror
would enter the room to molest her, or force water down her unwilling throat.
eternity she heard a horse on the cobblestones outside and the sounds of steel
against steel. Her father burst into the room, his armour in ruins, the visor
from his helmet torn completely away. She could see a deep graze across his
forehead. He cut her bonds and grabbing her headed for the door. The sound of
huge flat feet running reached her ears.
dragged her to the pantry's trap door and wrenched it open. He lowered her into
the darkness as a large creature with a bear-like body, a wide fur-covered face
and shark-like mouth, burst into the room. The trap door slammed shut above
her. The sound of combat drifted down to her. Other sounds soon joined in, as
more monsters crowded into the room. One thing, then another thudded against
the floor above. Something crashed with the sound of falling metal and
everything became silent and dark.
assailed him/her. Loathing, self‑loathing. They felt defiled. Dominel
felt pain where no man could. He felt a shame rarely known to men. The girl
wept. Dominel wept, as he drew out her pain, taking it onto himself, accepting
the horror of her memories, making it his own, lightening the girl's burden.
Finally when he could stand no more he broke the contact.
They sat on the grass weeping. Dominel wanted to bathe to relieve the unclean
feeling that filled him, but knew it wouldn't help. His loins throbbed with a
remembered pain not his own and gore rose in his throat.
The girl sat,
loathing the touch of her own skin, the skin the horrors had touched. She felt
herself slipping towards the oblivion she had used to wall back the pain.
can't! I won't. This is my chance to live again, I will have my revenge!
Anger fired her and she fought against the remembered pain. It won't conquer
me this time! I'll make them pay for my parents and what they did to me.
She added as she wept, oblivious to all save her seething emotions.
over them and it was deep in the night before they stirred. Dominel was the
first to rise stiffly to his feet, feeling horrid.
Hate for the
monsters flared in him to heights before unimagined. He stumbled towards the
river where he washed and washed, hoping to remove the taint of the shared
memories and abducted emotions. When he could stand the cold no longer, he
dragged himself from the freezing waters and collapsed on the grassy bank.
came he returned to the lodges, where he found the girl sitting at the stair's
base, with her head in her hands.
he asked softly.
looked up angrily.
she answered, her features softening. "I remember."
so do I."
She glared at
him and was preparing to snap out. `How could you know?' when she realized what
he had done. "You took it on yourself. Didn't you?"
as I could. It was too much for one person to deal with. Almost too much for
silent for a long while.
night AckDominel resumed his studies but memories interfered so that by morning
he had gained little ground. He left the ceremonial chamber feeling tired and
stupid. Making his way to the lodge's kitchen, he found the girl preparing a
he said wearily and fell into the chair.
she replied, and after a pause continued. "It's funny. I used to think you
were so smart to make fire and do all the little things I'd forgotten how
used to get excited over little things too. I remember how you giggled and
danced when we blew dandelion seeds into the wind."
She dished their meal into a pair of the porcelain bowls they had found in this
lodge. Pulling a jug of syrup from a shelf, she brought it to the table.
long has it been?" she asked, taking a seat opposite Dominel.
year. The first thing I remember is that cottage near the mountain's
where Emma began to work on you. She didn't have the knowledge or power to
touch your memories. Which is good. They would have destroyed her."
spoke he glanced about the kitchen, which was more ornate than the ones in the
other lodges but still basically the same. Will the girl be the same? he
remembered the way you and I played swords. That must have been boring for a
warrior such as yourself," said Melanie.
me in practice. I taught you the basics," replied Dominel, a thin smile
coming to his lips.
did. Good!" Melanie's voice took on a menacing tone.
feel the woman's desire for vengeance fill the room like a cold fire, burning a
friezing in the same moment.
I am going to destroy those monsters. They'll pay for what they did to
me." Melanie's hands clenched into white knuckled fists.
stared at her in silence, then asked, "When?"
and her fists relaxed.
she repeated, sounding shocked. "Why as soon as I can get out of this
If you want to commit suicide, it certainly is your business, but excuse me if
I don't join you."
you're only half trained as a warrior. Besides it won't be blades that win the
final victory against the Storm."
I'll take as many of them as I can before I fall."
be time for that. The battle will be a long hard one. Give yourself time. Right
now your death would be to no purpose. Wait a while, then maybe you can fight
for a reason. We'll drive these beasts from our world, but not today."
wait, but only so long."
no more." Dominel turned his attention to his porridge.
The river of
time flowed on and the agony of remembrance began to fade from Dominel and
Melanie's minds and hearts. Dominel continued to train Melanie in the use of
sword and dagger but now he added a bow to her arsenal. The bow was a crude
affair, made from gut and a bent branch, with arrows formed of sharpened sticks
and fallen bird feathers, but it served to refine the skills her father had
taught Melanie, he also concentrated on his own studies. He was now in the
sixth lodge and had gained a dark blue initiate's robe upon leaving the fifth.
With each passing night he gained a deeper perception of the universe around
him and the magic within it.
The year went
on and Dominel passed into the seventh lodge then the eighth. It was while he
was in the eighth lodge that he awoke feeling of great disquiet. Rising he
hurried to the balcony to find the world a chaos of conflicting energies. Power
surged and fluxed on all sides.
he exclaimed. He reached out with his mind and checked the mountains' shield.
It fluxed and flowed as if a great force pounded against it seeking to push its
sat upon the balcony and forced his breathing to become deep and regular. He
felt his inner being loosen, and sensed himself slipping free of his mortal
shell. Like a sword from its scabbard AckDominel's spirit rose into the air.
After checking the strength of the golden cord that connecting his thought body
to his physical one he willed himself to the source of the attack.
instantly, he hovered inside the shield inspecting what lay beyond. An
encampment of monsters filled the opening of the largest mountain pass
connecting Bani to the western kingdoms. The sky beyond the shield was a sea of
black clouds. Just outside the shield's area of effect stood a creature with a
head resembling a squid and a body similar to a man's. It was clad in a black
robe and waves of force emanated from it, crashing against the shield.
AckDominel watched, not understanding what he saw, but knowing it had to be
prayer for strength, he began his attack. Reaching out with his will he
focussed it against the inside of the shield and began to pour energy into the
barrier. Immediately he felt a foreign will resisting his efforts. The shield
strobed with light, only a mystic could see, as the fabric of its creation bent
against the onslaught of two powerful but opposed wills.
going to work. I'm only holding it at bay, thought AckDominel as he pulled
his power back from the shield.
squid-headed creature also paused. The tentacles about its mouth writhed and a
hissing sound issued from its beak.
A bolt of
malevolent force leapt from the squid creature, forcing a passage through the
mountains' shield, and striking AckDominel.
"Gods of my
fathers!" He swore, as his personal defences shuddered. Glancing up he saw the
mountains' shield close around the hole the blast had ripped, leaving a weak
spot. "That's enough! I can't let it damage the shield. I have to take the
battle into its mind. Keep the power contained around it."
spirit body dove at the creature, disappearing into its physical form,
grappling for control of the alien mind.
"Get out! Get
out! This is my mind, my body. Get Out!" screeched the creature's thoughts.
"I will not
leave!" countered AckDominel, as wave after wave of thought energy buffeted
him. He pictured himself as clutching to a rock as a hurricane swept around
him. The mind-scape altered to match his mental image. The wind roared as he
dragged himself to a place where a rock outcrop provided shelter. The outcrop
represented a section of his foe's mind the beast couldn't consciously access.
you?" bellowed the squid creature. In the mind-scape it stood three times the
height of a man. It rampaged over the mental terrain, searching for AckDominel.
slowly removed his concentration from the conceptional landscape. The terrain
around him remained, drawing its energy from his foe's expectations as if the
beast was dreaming.
less thing to drain me. Now to find a weakness." AckDominel began following the
creature's alien thought patterns, until he touched its memories.
whispered, then noticed that the conceptional world around him was beginning to
fade. "Not fast enough, squid face."
dragged forth the beast's memories. The mind-scape altered, becoming a stage
where the past was played out. The memories encompassed the squid beast, as it
experienced them exactly as it had before. A time as child that it had been
mentally beaten by older stronger children of its species. The savagery of its
teacher's attacks during the training that allowed it to master its abilities.
watched as a brutal life spread before him. His compassion caused him to pause,
but then he became aware of other memories. People pulled before the beast and
how it devoured their minds. The pleasure the creature drew from inflicting
saw how the abused had become the abuser. Glancing up he saw that in his pause
the beast had seized control of the mind-scape.
know where you are," it screamed. The mental image of it reached for
AckDominel. He felt mental claws scrabble against his will. His grip on the
beast's mind began to loosen.
hideous death filled AckDominel's mind. The mental terrain altered. He saw his
brothers as shambling corpses coming to drag him into death. His father,
sunken-eyed, maggot-riddled and rotting, laughed ghoulishly at his plight.
Only illusion! My father's spirit is free! It came to me!" He nearly laughed as
the twisted images dissolved into nothingness.
moment it took for the squid beast to choose a new attack, AckDominel dove into
his foe's psyche, pulling up another agony. A mental duel from when the beast
had been young. A hatchling from the same nestpool. There was too little food
in the pool. They were the only two left. As close as its kind could come to
love they shared the feeling, but only one could live. In victory the creature
had lost itself.
released the full force of that long-buried grief. In the material world the
squid beast fell to its knees sobbing. Mentally, emotion stole its ability to
focus its thoughts.
shifted his target from his enemy's mind to its body. Mentally clutching the
alien heart, he squeezed. The heart fluttered, stopped and as the beast teetered
on the abyss of death, AckDominel's spirit raced back behind the mountains'
He watched as
the squid beast fell to the ground.
Its mind was so twisted," breathed AckDominel.
An inner sense of danger niggled at the edge of his mind and he
increased the strength of his personal shields. Before he was finished a savage
attack struck him.
though I'd killed it. That blast was even stronger than its last attack."
Focussing his will on the sphere of energy that surrounded his thought body he
pulled his defences together and examined the area for his foe. The squid
creature's corpse lay where it had fallen.
he began, then he spotted her, standing by a rock only paces from the
mountain's shield's boundary. It was a creature identical to the one he had
just vanquished, except its hips flared out like a woman's.
The new squid
creature stared at him, then its tentacles writhed. Fiery red tendrils of
energy lashed towards AckDominel. Gesturing towards the earth he summoned its
power. Waves of brown energy intercepted the red and drew it into the ground.
voice spoke in AckDominel's mind.
the student. Can you defeat his mistress, manling?"
dare enter this thing's thoughts. I barely survived the other one. I have to
battle it in the physical world and just hope the shield can take it,
thought AckDominel. Then he spoke aloud, "You come as invaders. Leave or die."
squid creature hissed and another bolt of energy flew at AckDominel, ripping a
hole in the mountains' shield as it passed through. AckDominel shaped his own
energies into a mirror, reflecting the energy back along its course. It
streaked toward his foe, who, with a wave of her hand, dissipated the energy.
"You will have
to do better than that, Manling."
the offensive, AckDominel pictured a small blue arrow in his mind. He saw it,
knew it, felt it, then directing it, using knowledge gained from his earlier
duel, let it fly at his foe.
struck the creature's shields, piercing them like a needle through cloth. It
then entered the beast, burrowing deep into its alien brain.
sensed amusement welling up in his enemy.
are a fool. The weakest child of my kind could cast a bolt with more force than
your paltry attack. Now you die."
prepared another assault and without warning fell dead. AckDominel sighed and
grinned at his own cleverness.
intellect, imagination. These are the marks of a true duellist. Brute strength
against brute strength is nothing but the makings of a bar room thug."
Scrantian's voice echoed in AckDominel's mind. He smiled at the memory.
useless arrow of energy had done its task. After entering the squid creature's
brain the bolt had lain quietly until the beast had attempted its next spell.
Then the arrow had drawn the spell's energy into the beast's brain, killing it
words, old friend, sneaky works!"
AckDominel returned to his physical body.
FRIENDS FROM AFAR
opened his physical eyes it was to the sight of Melanie staring down at him,
her face a mask of worry.
happened?" she demanded.
wizards among the monsters. A pair of them attacked the shield," answered
Dominel as he stood.
We have to get weapons, gather troops, build-"
battle has been fought and won."
In my astral body, and for a first time, I think I did rather well."
but.... you were just sitting here."
was, not my mind." Dominel massaged his throbbing temples and stumbled to
When he awoke
Melanie demanded he explain everything in minute detail, then she fell silent.
it?" he asked.
said you strengthened the shield."
shield is still receding?"
leaned back in his seat and explained.
shield over these mountains is too large for one person to maintain. All I did
was strengthen a small area of it."
you think there'll be more of those squid wizard things?"
But there can't be many of them, or we would have seen them before."
hope." Melanie grinned. "I hear squids don't have bones. I can hardly
wait to find out."
told his tale to the mummified form of his latest teacher, Wellorm. Wellorm,
his white linen wrappings showing clearly in the gloom of the ceremony room,
sat silently upon his throne within the circle as AckDominel spoke. Finally,
his voice dripping with disgust, he said.
thought we had destroyed those foul creatures. Beware them, AckDominel! You did
well to vanquish them. They must have lost much of their evil art since my days
of life. Do not underestimate them. They are your deadliest foes."
the mind feeders. Many years ago they entered the earth plane in their never
ending quest for food. It fell to our order to stop them. The battle raged at
the gate and we finally pushed into their world. I thought that we destroyed
them utterly. A few must have escaped our hands to return and trouble us
destroy them if all they sought was food."
are parasites! They subsist on the thoughts of others, they feed on the mental
energies others create. They drain their victim's mind of every thought, every
glimmer of energy and leave the body to rot."
swallowed hard. "That being the case you had best tell me how to fight
morning Dominel went to bed, having learned more than he had ever wanted to
about the mind feeders.
day, he wandered the woods, enjoying the late afternoon sun. After nearly an
hour he saw Melanie in a clearing practising blows against a tree stump with a
stick she used as a training sword.
paused in her practice. The way the sweat-soaked material of his old blue robe
clung to her lithe form caused him to swallow.
Did you sleep well?" said Melanie.
Have you been practising long?" He struggled to keep his eyes on her face.
the day. Our discussion yesterday set me to thinking."
I'm in for it now, Dominel thought. "About what?"
a sword. Do you know anything about making them?"
"I was a
prince! Princes don't work forges."
I'll need a sword when we leave the valley, and a better bow. Daggers are not
sorry I can't help you. My sword snapped trying to slow a stone slab,
there anything you can do?" She allowed her lashes to half cover her hazel
swallowed as she smiled at him seductively.
can do is try. Maybe when we leave you could pick up a sword before we get out
of the mountains."
wizards made magic swords."
they would enchant swords. Some of them were master smiths as well, but I'm
she said, a pretty pout spreading across her face.
despite himself drifted closer to her, smelling the aroma of her sweat and
feeling the warmth emanating from her body.
Melanie saw him move closer. A tension
gripped her, which for a moment warred with desire, then she abruptly stood up.
"I have to finish my practice."
will. I'm going for a swim in the river."
Thank the gods for that!"
request preyed upon Dominel's mind until, while listing to Wellorm, the answer
came to him.
one can control one's personal energy and the flow of energy in their
surrounds, one can open gates to other planes. This is important because a
great deal of information may be gathered by holding discourse with beings from
the other planes."
possible for beings from the other worlds to enter ours through wizard opened
gates, or do they have to use the natural ones the monsters entered
through?" he asked.
can enter through wizard opened gates, so long as there is enough matter of the
appropriate type for their spirits to infuse with life. In fact, some wizards
used to have frequent visitors from the other plane." Explained the mummy.
told me before that there are friendly beings in the other worlds, as well as
there are Ki‑rin, the orders of good dragons, elves, dwarves, djinn and
many others. Why?"
some of them be willing to aid humans?"
have their own problems. I doubt they would send an army!"
army, craftsmen, and not for nothing. I would give them the mountains when the
humans left. After all they are part of my kingdom," explained AckDominel.
could work. Why do you want craftsmen?"
swords, bows, armour, weapons of all kinds. The mountain range is swarming with
refugees. I'll have to arm them if we're to reach the safe haven prepared for
it not be easier to have a human smith do the work?"
who could get a forge are already making what they can. The problem is, most
were more accustomed to making horseshoes than spearheads. In addition, they
are few and I have thousands to arm."
you must. I will teach you how to summon beings from the other planes and pray
that it brings no grief. To begin with, you must touch the essence of the plane
or dimension you wish to reach inside yourself. For example if you wish to
reach the plane of earth, focus on your sense of stability, your practicality,
your material nature. The law of attraction, that like attracts like, will see
that you reach your desired goal," began Wellorm.
had to wait before he could put his plan into action. Wellorm would allow him
no time from his studies saying that his time on earth was too short to waste.
The days turned into weeks, then into months. Finally one evening Dominel
entered the ceremony room and found Wellorm sitting upon his throne as usual
but his voice was faint and far away. AckDominel spoke softly.
time is nearly over, is it not?"
AckDominel, it is. Soon you must go to the tenth lodge. You have learned well
and will soon be done with this place. Fight well!" the mummy said no
approached the mummy and stared down at a sheathed sword that rested across its
knees. Reverently he removed the blade from the dead bandaged flesh and drew
it. The blade shone with a light all its own, and symbols, in a script Wellorm
had taught him, ran its length. AckDominel read the symbols aloud.
and command am I."
sword to its sheath AckDominel left what had become a tomb.
He walked to
the lodge's bedroom, opened the door and looked in. Melanie lay upon the bed.
Smiling at her he turned and walked to the lodge's entrance. He paused to look
at the quarter moon, which shone behind a light veil of clouds.
a month before I can enter the next lodge. I'll have time to call for
He made his
way to the eighth lodge where he spent the night.
shortly after dawn and climbed to the ninth lodge, where he met Melanie in the
late leaving the ceremony chamber today," she observed, as he took a seat
at the table.
you're going to the tenth lodge. Good!"
placed a bowl of stew in front of him and sat down.
a mouthful of the stew and paused. He gave silent thanks that, since the
awakening of her memories, Melanie had taken over the cooking chores.
will you be starting the next lodge?"
Oh... not until the new moon rises, but before then I have to go away for a
away? Where to? The far end of the valley."
back to the chamber of the lake."
it is the only place where I can do what I must. I want you to stay here
you don't. Where you go I go!"
there's no need for you to come along. I won't be gone long."
the stew had grown cold, Dominel realized one of the great truths that apply
equally to mighty wizard kings, or humble swineherds. No man is as stubborn as
Thus it was
that he prepared two packs of supplies and set them aside for the following
The day of
their departure was cold and rainy, which made the cavern seem less
unattractive. After shouldering his pack and donning his magical items Dominel,
who was still grumbling about female obstinacy, led Melanie to the cavern's mouth
and descended into the dry darkness of the passage.
The door at
the passage's end stood exactly as they had left it over two years before. He
are you waiting for?" demanded Melanie.
deciding on something." Dominel pulled the crystals from the door,
allowing it to close with a bang.
you do that?"
we'll need light and it will keep unwelcome guests from entering the
valley." Dominel placed the dark crystal in his pack.
say? I've still four lodges to pass through. I'm not about to take unnecessary
chances. Shall we go?"
down the passage by the light of the crystal, which blazed in AckDominel's hand
illuminating the cavern fifty paces in either direction. They travelled all
that day and most of the next before coming to the large oaken door of the
crystal chamber. Here Dominel lit a torch he had brought and passed it to
where I want you to wait," he said.
going in with you!"
too dangerous. I can take care of myself through what I have to do, but I can't
take care of you as well."
going with you."
let me explain your options. You can stay here, or I can get the rope from my
pack and tie you up. Either way you're staying here!"
said AckDominel, in a voice that though low throbbed throughout the cavern.
"Stop being a child. I am a mystic. You are not. I will do this
he placed his hand against the door, which opened to his touch. He stepped into
the chamber of the lake letting the door close behind him.
silent and sullen, then threw herself at the door which remained closed.
just marvellous," she snarled.
the crystal aloft, allowing its light to refract from the walls, giving the
room a wondrous lustre. The marble trees seemed to sway and the lake's surface
was transformed into a billion diamond facets.
better like this. I don't have to swim with eels or put up with nagging."
several moments to let his body calm from his argument. Finding a flat area to
one side of the pier, he dropped his pack. Moving to the end of the pier he
mounted the crystal of light on several knobs in the brazier's bowl. The
crystal fit perfectly. Next he tied a strip of hide to the dark crystal and
lowered it into the lake, securing it to the brazier's stand. An eel bumped
into the black crystal and promptly died.
at least there its magics won't disrupt my ritual, he thought and returned
to his preparations.
AckDominel stood within a circle scribed in chalk on the floor. A triangle
filled with stones was marked to the north of the circle.
with his mind, probing the rock around him. Reaching beyond the rock to the
essence of rock. Then beyond that essence to the home plane of rock. He sought
a mind open to his own and when he was about to give up he sensed something.
AckDominel opened the way and spoke "Hello."
Who be there? This better no be a trick, or I'll bury ye bones," replied a
no trick. I am AckDominel, child of the secret path. I wish to speak to a
citizen of the elemental plane of earth."
now, let's have a look at ye."
concentrated on the triangle. He found himself and his circle in a world as
different from any he knew as night is from day. Light glistened all about him,
energy flowed on all sides of his circle. He felt as if he was in an endless
corridor with rooms branching off in all directions. A strange figure stood in
front of him. It was shaped like a stocky man with a large nose, bushy, grey
flecked, brown hair and beard. It could have passed for a man, save it stood
roughly half a man's height.
be a human. I was thinking they'd killed all their wizards," said the
all. May I ask the name of to whom I speak?"
name! I can't be telling ye me name! If ye be knowing me name I be in ye power.
I won't be placing meself there, I won't."
sorry. Actually, I meant what others call you."
that be all. Call me Tom, wizard and healer, second grade. Why do you be
callin' the plane of earth, I'd like to know?"
proposition for you. I need tradesmen to supply arms to help me reclaim my
world and if it can be arranged, warriors."
and warriors ye be saying. What be in it for us?"
richest gift any can give."
Tom looked vaguely interested.
only a small part of it."
asked Tom, greed obvious in his aspect.
are nothing compared to my gift. Though they are part of it."
The dwarf now looked ready to burst with acquisition.
but not all."
Tom was nearly slavering.
mountains from which I cast my thoughts. All that rest two or more man lengths
below the surface, I will give you for your aid. It would be yours to rule as a
free principally under the sceptre of the king."
can't be given us that. The land be the king's."
the king! Last of my line. All I ask in return for this is that your people
swear fidelity to me, as a principality under my sceptre. I will charge thee
with the defence of the mountain realms and call on thee for a tithing of
obviously deep in thought, then he spoke. "A free principality ye be
other in my realm."
would be prince?"
the dwarves that come wish. Think of it, all the stone in these mountains. The
vast underground realm you could have and all the hidden riches yours for the
"It be a
deal. Imagine prince, Frack Mik Nak, of...." Tom fell silent and paled.
"Ye heard it. Handsome is as handsome does. Don't be using me name agen'
course not, good prince. So long as you and your subjects are loyal unto me and
my descendants, your name need never be mentioned again."
"Ye be a
good and gracious king. I'll be needin' time to be gathering me subjects."
should I reopen the gate?"
be no need of that, ye majesty. I'll be gone but a few moments. Haven't they
taught ye time don't be meaning a thing?"
forgot," replied AckDominel, not wanting to reveal his ignorance to the
out of view then returned.
right now, be opening the door," called Tom.
closed his eyes and concentrated. Suddenly he was back in the crystal chamber,
staring at the pile of stones in the triangle. They stirred and shifted until
they formed into the figure of Tom, only now because his body had been born of
stone, his skin was grey.
two hundred others that be on their way," said Tom.
grabbed his sword, snatched a pebble left over from Tom's entrance into the
world from the triangle and ran towards the door with Tom in hot pursuit.
Throwing open the door AckDominel rushed by Melanie and jammed the pebble onto
the passage's wall. Using his sword point he traced a large triangle about the
pebble and stood back.
within the triangle formed into a diminutive figure, which when it was complete
stepped forward and bowed.
at your service, Your Majesty," said the second dwarf.
acknowledged Benwick with a smile. Another dwarf was already forming at the
back of the short triangular passage left by Benwick's entrance.
there's enough rock," muttered Dominel.
be," said Tom. "So this be me principality. Well I'll say that room
with the crystals be a fine bit of work. We'll be a bit setting things to
rights in the rest of the place."
pushed past Tom to glower at Dominel.
the names of all the gods are you doing?" she demanded.
smiled at her and said "Melanie, I would like you to meet our new ally,
Prince Tom, of the dwarfen principality of..."
at Tom then screamed. "As if we don't have enough problems with trolls!
You have to bring Dwarves!"
moment the fourth dwarf was stepping out of the ever deepening passage. In a
flash its battle axe was out and a fury entered its eyes. "trolls! Where
be they? I'll cut `em down! That's why I be here, haven't had a good fight in a
not here yet," explained Dominel.
looked disappointed and walked down the passage to join the others. Melanie
this Dominel warned Tom about the trapped tunnels, collected his equipment and
left on his journey to the surface. That first march Dominel and Melanie only
walked far enough to escape the clamour of the incoming Dwarves before stopping
busied himself by pulling a blanket from his pack, while trying to ignore
Melanie's glowering gaze.
you said you were calling for help, I thought they'd be humans. Not,
They're living creatures like you or me. They're our friends."
snorted. "At least they kill trolls. They can't be all bad."
concern yourself. Once we leave the mountains you probably won't live long
enough to see them again. They'll keep the mountains free of monsters and by
the time we humans fight our way back to them, we'll both be long dead."
never considered the possibility of the war lasting beyond her lifetime. The
thought daunted her and she fell silent.
TROUBLES TO BE DEALT WITH
The next day
Dominel and Melanie walked to the mine's door and placed the crystals in their
slots to find they had no effect.
door won't open until dawn."
Can't you do anything?"
wasn't sure when he fell asleep but he knew he dreamt. In his dream he saw his
teachers as they had been in life. They sat about him in a ring.
done something wrong?"
"It is nothing
you have done, AckDominel. The pattern is decaying faster than we expected. The
shields are less durable than we had hoped."
shield about the mountains is strong."
time. Many of the other orders' shields are failing, and their students are
less ready than you."
can I do?"
Continue your studies and aid the members of the other orders, no matter your
shaken into wakefulness by a dwarf with a shaggy, black beard and a round merry
begging your pardon, but I was about finding yur," said the dwarf.
Who are you? What do you want?" demanded Dominel. He sat up and with a
groan realized why beds had been invented.
be pleasing, Yur Majesty, they call me Tuck. We've a problem."
Majesty will be allowing my impertinence. Seems you were making a small
oversight when you were calling us."
demanded Dominel, as the ceremony he'd used flashed through his mind.
you'll be pardoning my saying so. T'ain't no food," answered Tuck.
Of course! I'm a fool. You need food. I can't do anything until morning, when
this door opens, but I've a store of provisions. I collected them for when I
lead the humans out of the mountains. You're welcome to them."
open the door till morning yur say? Why be that?"
guess we'll be havin' eel for a tother day."
asked Dominel, in vengeful glee.
be catching those beasties since yur left. Travelling be hungry work."
as morning comes we can bring up the stores."
Pardon, Yur Majesty, if me people be caught in the sun of yur world our spirits
be going back where we be from and our bodies be turning to stone."
to get the food the following night then. Tell me something. If you can't go
outside, how will you grow food?"
before replying. "Yur see, Yur Majesty, we be havin' farms back home,
where the sun don't be as strong as yur's, as don't need the light of day. We
grows what yur folks be calling mushrooms. Trouble is, it'll be a while afore
our plants take."
to Tuck until the door opened, then waking Melanie, he abandoned the cavern for
the surface world. He spent much of that day avoiding Melanie, who was in as
foul a mood as he had ever seen her. Finally deciding to face her displeasure
he joined her in the meadow where their first lean‑to had stood.
so we can clear the air," he began.
what?" she asked, all innocence.
you don't like me bringing dwarves to our world. Tell me that there are already
enough nonhumans here. Tell me that no good will come of it."
should I? You just did!"
drive me mad! I'm trying to save our world. We're outnumbered. Not a chance of
winning, and you complain about me calling allies!"
they're not human!"
and Demons, woman! They're our friends! They hate the monsters as much as we
hates the monsters as much as me!"
up! Do you think you're the only one who has a score to settle? Those beasts
killed my parents, my brothers. Took my family's kingdom, made me a refugee in
my own land. And don't forget I experienced what you did, every bit as much as
you. I just refuse to let hate blind me to reality. Why do I bother? Go on.
Wallow in your hate and self-pity. I've better things to do!"
stomped out of the clearing, leaving Melanie weeping.
through the woods, anger rumbling in him like a storm, but as the sun began to
wester he grew calm and found himself feeling tired and alone. He sat by the
river staring into its depths, trying to lose himself in its flow.
perceptions were clouded by his upset and she moved silently. Thus he was
unaware of her presence until she laid a hand upon his shoulder.
to his feet, turning at the same time.
only me!" gasped Melanie, startled by his reaction.
wrong! Have been wrong, about so many things." Saying this Melanie pulled
Dominel close and kissed him.
At first the
kiss was tentative, only a nervous fluttering of lips, but it soon grew more
insistent. They sank to the grass at the river's side. Dominel's hands gently
caressed her, testing the waters of each new experience, ready at every moment
to fall back. Under his caresses she melted, tension became calm, became
It was nearly
dark when Dominel rose from the grass, feeling a placidness he hadn't felt in
looked at him warmly. "I never dreamt it could be like this."
smiled at her. "We had better get back to the lodge. The sun's almost
but it's so delicious here."
and pulled on her light blue robe.
the way to the lodges and had only topped the stair when he heard dwarfish
voices in the passage before him.
It's almost sundown," he called.
Yur Majesty," hollered Tuck.
Dominel entered the passage. Upon reaching the door he could see a line of
dwarves disappearing into the darkness.
you brought the whole kingdom?" gasped Dominel.
where he stood at the head of the line. "There be only fifty of me people,
if it be pleasing, Yur Majesty. The others they be busy turning the mine into
our home. By the by, you wouldn't have a map of the place would yur?"
afraid I don't, why? Have you run into trouble with the traps?"
bit. It just be searching the place will be taken awhile. We should have been
about bringing the tothers."
there's more be wanting to come. We figured it be best to start small. So the
first group can be getting things set for them as follows."
wise. It looks like the sun's gone down. Let's get you that food."
The next hour
saw a steady procession of dwarves marching to the lowest lodge. Then moments
later ascending the stair, carrying pots of foodstuffs nearly as large as
themselves. They left the food in the protective darkness of the tunnel.
the job was done. Tuck and Dominel stood before the mineshaft, looking at the
that be enough to last you? There is a little more in the lodge if you need
it," said Dominel.
it be pleasing, Yur Majesty. It should be lasting until we be harvesting our
first crop. We don't need as much as humans in the way of vittles."
glad to hear it."
it's our nature. If Yur Majesty would be excusing me, I'd best be moving.
Prince Tom be waiting on these vittles."
course and good journey to you."
the dwarves were out of sight and Dominel descended to the ninth lodge where
Melanie waited for him.
done?" she asked, an edge in her voice.
they've food enough to keep them until they can grow their own." Dominel
walked over and kissed her.
You can relax for the rest of the month."
still have to summon other aid."
You're not summoning more unhuman creatures are you?"
am! I am going to call the Sylvan plane of the elves. I intend to ask if they
would aid us for the area above ground in the mountains. Legend has it that
they're incredible archers."
Bad enough you give our world to dwarves! At least they stay underground, but
to give the surface to elves. Where will humans live? Should we sprout wings
will live where they always have. Millions have died in the war. We couldn't
hold all the kingdoms if we tried. There's more than enough room for our
allies. Furthermore, I didn't give all the kingdom away, only the area of the
glared at him. Dominel rose and walked to the door.
do you think you're going?" she demanded.
eighth lodge, where I can get some peace."
you dare leave this lodge! Not unless you want the first time to be the
paused at the door. The very nature of the threat enraged him. "Melanie,
loving is a gift two people give each other, not a reward for submission to
another's will. If you don't see it that way, I'll stick with my right hand. It
will be better company!" He stomped out of the lodge.
speak for several days, nurturing their respective grudges. Finally the night
of the full moon arrived and AckDominel moved to the clearing he had chosen for
sword, he traced triangles about two trees. He then cast a circle about
himself. Facing a different compass point for each, he called the elements of
creation, earth, air, fire and water, to guard his circle and aid him in his
rites. Standing in the completed circle he began chanting softly, feeling the
energies as they flowed about him. Raising the wand he had been given in the
fifth lodge, he called aloud.
and stream, on moon beam."
that blows, oh masters of bows."
and stealth, I call the elf."
A hush fell
over the woods. Not a breath of air stirred. Slowly a light formed in one of
the triangles. The light grew and solidified into a figure, almost human in
appearance, save that its skin shone with the radiance of a star and its ears
formed delicate points, which protruded from under its long silver hair. The
being was tall and slender, clad in a robe of leaf green that matched the
colour of its eyes. It personified beauty and majesty.
you call the Sylvan plane, mortal?"
who you are, mortal, and the state of your world. What is it you wish?"
swallowed. He had met many kings and queens, but never had he seen such
nobility. He inhaled deeply and spoke. "To ask your aid. Soon I must lead
my people to the haven the wizards of old prepared and I will need bows to aid
in our struggles. Also, I do not wish to surrender the mountain regions to the
monsters uncontested. Thus I ask that you send me any of your people who wish
to come. They may have the forest regions of the mountains, as a principality
under my sceptre."
bargain fairly, mortal. I am King Aneleal, high lord of my people. My youngest
son, Talion, is recently come to adulthood and desires lands. As well there are
those of my people who wish to hear the song of the bowstring. I will see what
may be done."
you, Your Majesty. In the beginning I must ask that you send no more than
not, mortal. I know your mind. I will send no more than you can feed."
Saying this Aneleal disappeared.
stared at the trees in the triangles as they slowly moulded into new forms. At
first he wondered if Aneleal himself was coming. Then the wood shifted farther
and colour flowed into the statue-like forms. AckDominel could now see one was
a being like unto Aneleal, save that its hair was black as midnight under
stormy skies. AckDominel looked to the other tree and what he saw took his
triangle was a stunningly beautiful maiden. Her skin was a rich shade of tan,
while her body was tall and slender, like a young birch tree. Golden hair fell
to her waist, shimmering like sunbeams. The points of her ears were barely
visible through her hair. Above all else it was her face that captured his
gaze. Her forehead was high but showed no crease, as if it had never known a
frown. The brows of her eyes were black like her lashes, which guarded eyes
that were two emerald pools. Her nose was slender, ending in a slight round
over a pair of full cherry-red lips and a strong chin. Both figures stepped
from the triangles, their long green robes rustling on the grass as they did
forced himself to the task of the moment and, with a last look at the beauty of
the elfin maiden, dismissed the elemental powers and opened his circle.
the male elf he spoke. "Greetings, Prince Talion, may the stars shine
bright on our meeting."
maid giggled and the sound was like water falling on the parched earth.
"He is well spoken, Talion my love."
of his short‑lived kind, Qulinea, for one of his kind!" replied the
male elf, in tones that left no doubt about what he thought of humans.
assume you are the human I must pledge my allegiance to," continued
Talion, making it sound as if he'd been told to follow the orders of a retarded
have I brought upon myself? thought
Dominel before replying. "Yes, I am King Dominel. Last of my line
yes. Where is the patriation ceremony to be held?"
forced a smile. "There will be no formal ceremony. I am king in exile, as
race," muttered Talion, dropping to one knee. He drew the sword that hung
at his waist and handed it hilt first to Dominel.
the blade then after a moment's thought spoke the pledge his father had used
with his vassal lords.
Talion prince of the elfin realm, pledge to defend my kingdom and sovereignty
against all threats? To be forever loyal unto me and uphold the laws set forth
by my crown, as it is held by me and my descendants. Until the end of
is my right. I make you prince of the earthly elfin kingdom of the barrier
peaks, ruler of its lands under me."
Dominel tapped Talion on each shoulder with the sword and handed it back to
to his feet and with an imperial look at Dominel demanded "Where is my
your Lady may have the lodge under mine in the mountainside," Dominel
gestured towards the lodges.
live underground, like some Dwarf!" exclaimed Talion.
be ungracious, my love. He does not know our ways," soothed Qulinea.
well," breathed Talion. "Your Majesty. It is not in the nature of my
people to live underground."
sorry my offer offended you." Dominel barely mastered his temper. "If
you prefer, you may sleep under the stars, until a suitable dwelling has been
will do. First show me exactly where you dwell."
moment, Your Highness. Before anything else we've a debt to pay. Bringing you
into this world has cost the forest."
Dominel moved to where the trees that had become the elves had been. Nothing
was left of the trees but sundered leaves and wood chips. Sighing he picked up
two potted saplings, which he proceeded to plant where the trees had stood.
these from where there were many saplings competing for life. They would have
died without my intervention. I hope the nature spirits are appeased."
us to shame. We, beings of the forest, forget our duty and a human remembers.
Thank you, Your Majesty," said Qulinea.
beamed to hear the warmth and praise in her voice. Turning to the next matter
at hand he led them towards the lodges.
stood at the base of the mountain stair. Dominel excused himself and entered
the lowest lodge emerging momentarily with a selection of dried foods drawn
from his remaining stores.
must be famished after your journey."
how you welcome royalty on your world, with dry old husks," sneered
his temper rising and this time made no effort to control it.
the cosmos do you think you are? I've greeted you with the best I have. Given
you every courtesy. The least you can do is be polite!"
dare you?" began Talion.
If you did not notice, I am King! You are a Prince under me. If you cannot
abide this, I need not your help!"
arrogant clown! Call yourself a king! In my world you wouldn't be a scullery
drudge! I'll teach you a lesson you won't forget," screeched Talion,
reaching for his sword.
looked at Talion and pushed with his mind.
It. Down!" AckDominel commanded.
gasped, sweat breaking out on his brow.
It. Down!" repeated AckDominel.
With a cry
Talion dropped the sword.
Let us understand each other. It is clear your father sent you to me more of
his will than yours. Furthermore I can understand his motivations."
to interrupt but AckDominel silenced him with a gesture.
you must understand is that there are advantages to your situation. You can
build a realm free of your father's rule. In addition, for many years after I
and my people depart, you will be for all practical purposes autonomous of
higher authority. What I offer you is freedom and responsibility. Now prove
yourself a ruler and accept them both. I've no tolerance for spoiled
at Dominel before hissing a reply. "If my father knew how you have abused
me he'd - - -"
and say it was just what you needed," finished Qulinea. "I love you,
that is why I came with you, but we must be honest with ourselves."
acid edged voice called from above. "So these are our allies."
his lip and rolled his eyes skyward before speaking.
Talion, Lady Qulinea, I'd like to introduce my friend, the Lady Melanie."
glanced towards Melanie and all traces of hostility left him. He bowed deeply
and spoke as he straightened.
Melanie, who is surely the fairest of mortal women."
descended the stair and stopped at its base, staring at Talion. Her cheeks
flushed in the moonlight.
Your Highness," she breathed, dropping into a curtsy.
his head and slipped aside to where he could whisper to Qulinea.
always so militant?"
with men. With women I often believe I should get a leash and collar for
him!" Qulinea smiled.
Melanie in any danger?"
she wishes to be. I know our ways are not yours and you humans usually choose
one mate at a time. I will make it clear to him that I do not welcome her into
our marriage group. That will be the end of it. It is my right to bar any I do
not wish to join us. Such is our law."
remarked Dominel, with such obvious relief that Qulinea laughed.
A short time
later Dominel and Melanie climbed the stairs to their lodge, while Talion and
Qulinea, wrapped in blankets and Talion's cloak, settled beneath a tree.
into bed, while Melanie sat in the chair that adorned this lodge's sleeping
quarters, brushing her hair.
didn't know they were so like us," she remarked.
elves. They look like us outside, although the differences run deeper than it
appears, much deeper." Dominel responded jealously.
posh. They seem nice and Talion is so handsome."
elfin fair, and argumentative, and demanding!"
didn't find him so." Melanie smiled as she watched Dominel from the corner
of her eye.
did," spat Dominel, as he rolled over and punched the pillow.
smile broadened as she stood and began easing out of her robe.
Dominel sat up in bed staring.
"What are you doing?"
undressed, silly. Now that I've seen the elves and approve, we don't have
anything to fight about. Now do we?"
his head but gave up any attempt to understand the situation when Melanie's
lips pressed firmly against his own.
FOR AN ELFIN REALM
helped Talion build a shelter from living pine trees trimmed to suit the elf's
specifications. They finished on the day preceding the new moon leaving Dominel
free of all other obligations when he entered the eleventh lodge.
the lodge he noticed that the main room was larger than in the lower lodges and
the walls were draped with tapestries. He walked to the ceremony room and
froze. The other ceremony rooms had each contained part of a corpse. This room
didn't, instead there was a silver circle on the floor, containing an empty
throne. On the far side of the room, outside the circle, he could see a silver
triangle, with a crystal in its centre.
circle he traced it with his sword and summoned the elements before sitting
upon the throne. The triangle before him began to glow and smoke rose from the
crystal, coalescing into the translucent figure of a man. The man appeared to
be in his mid thirties, with grey-flecked black hair, a narrow face, brown eyes
and a wiry build.
Ackdominel, I am Kretras," said the phantom.
are you my teacher?"
manner of speaking. I am here to aid you in realizing what you already
have learned what you must know, but you have yet to realize the extent of your
knowledge. You are unaware of your potential and it is my task to help you
explore your abilities."
well. Before we begin, please tell me why this room is different from the ones
now a master and it is unsightly for a master to kneel at the feet of another,
thus the throne is for you. As well, if you wished, you could speak freely with
the dead. Your teacher need not have a physical form. Can you not see my spirit
see you clearly. Could you tell me how to speak with the dead?"
already know. I will aid you to see what you know."
a series of questions that AckDominel answered. By the end of ten minutes
Ackdominel knew how to visit the dead and the dangers involved in doing so.
continued his studies he became calmer and he saw the greater depths from which
life became routine, allowing him to relax.
It was nearly
two months after Talion's arrival, that he came to Dominel who lay sunning
himself by the river.
Your Highness! How are you and your lovely mate?" Dominel emphasized
well. I need you to bring more of my people into this world to be my
ask a boon of me? 'Prince', Talion."
flushed, "I... I... ask of you a boon, Your Majesty," he replied
through clenched teeth.
will grant your request. After all, it's no good being a `prince' without
found AckDominel in a forest glade with twelve trees standing inside triangles
at his circle's edge. Talion and Qulinea stood to one side of the glade, with a
pile of saplings, awaiting the arrival of their people.
cast his spell and the trees took shape, hard wood becoming soft flesh. Minutes
later twelve elves stood where the trees had been. AckDominel swayed wearily in
stretched their long slender arms, tan in the moonlight. Each was like unto
Talion or Qulinea, as any human to another and all possessed an unearthly
Talion," said one elf, who stepped from his triangle. His hair was a
mixture of silver and gold and while no signs of age were apparent on his face,
AckDominel knew he was ancient.
here, it is good to see you, Shalor."
is to see you, my prince," replied the aged elf, who bowed. The oversized
sleeves of his robe brushed the grass. "And you sir, must be King Dominel.
Aneleal sends his regards." Straightening Shalor bowed to Dominel.
having recovered somewhat from his efforts, bowed then spoke. "I am King
AckDominel, and I greet you. Is all well with your noble ruler?"
well. He wishes me to give you this gift." Shalor handed AckDominel a fine
opened the box reverently. Within were a pair of bracers wrought from the
finest gold and jewels. Each was covered by a design of interlocking rings.
are beautiful! I wish I had a gift to give in return."
have already given his son a realm to rule. That was the greatest gift any
you." AckDominel paused, where he'd touched the bracer his hand tingled.
"There is more to these than meets the eye."
King Aneleal would not share their secrets with me. If Prince Talion will
allow, you and I can together delve their mysteries."
kind. My spells are of a nature that would do little to aid you in your present
need. I can however summon my brethren to this realm."
Hum," interrupted Talion. "If you two are finished?"
course. After you, Your Highness," said AckDominel.
Dominel about the circle of elves, introducing him. They then planted saplings
to take the places of the trees that had formed their bodies, as Dominel
wearily made his way to the lodge and his lesson.
and with each day Dominel felt his competence as a wizard increase. One day, as
he emerged from the ceremony room, Melanie confronted him.
those creatures from the mine came here last night," she growled.
What do the dwarves want?"
know! It said it wanted to meet you at the mine's entrance."
I wonder what they could want?"
you I don't know! I'll tell you one thing. I don't want those miserable
malformed creatures parading up here constantly!"
the first time one of them has visited us in months. I'd hardly call that
often for my liking! Those things shouldn't even be on this world!"
his head and left the lodge. He found the dwarf in the shadows behind the
cavern's door and smiled when he recognized Tuck. "Greetings. Melanie
didn't tell me it was you."
not surprised about that. She's a mean one she is."
sorry if she said anything to offend you."
be worrying yurself, Yur Majesty. Yur the one who be important to us and you
treat us kind."
you, but why did you want to see me?"
yur see, Yur Majesty, I've a wee bit of yur tithing."
I was expecting you to set the mine in order first!"
did, Yur Majesty. If it be pleasing yur. We dwarves be fast workers."
May I see the weapons?"
a long slender bundle of cloth. Within were five swords and several daggers.
Dominel hefted a sword. After so many years the blade felt strange in his hand.
He tested its balance, then flicked the metal with his finger nail. The blade
gave out a pure high‑pitched ring. "Beautiful!" he exclaimed,
as he sent the sword whistling in an arc over his head.
"Aye considering we don't be having all the tools we be needing, it be a
These are some of the finest weapons I've ever seen! If this is fair, your good
must be wondrous!"
inflated with pride and his height seemed to increase.
show these to Melanie. They'll win her over for sure."
doubtin' that, but yur can be trying. We'll be having more soon. Prince Tom be
letting more of our people in now we be having things arranged."
What are your numbers?"
I can be thinkin' of. Our fungus farms be fine and while I don't be speaking
age'n' the food of yur kind, I be liking the dishes me mother made."
chuckled and rolled the swords back into the cloth. "Thank you for the
swords but I must be going." He hefted the weapons under one arm.
fine, Yur Majesty. I have to be off meself." Tuck turned and strode into
the darkness of the passage.