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Subject: dargonz v06n02
To: Rita Marie Rouvalis
DDDDD ZZZZZZ //
D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE ||
D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E || Volume 6
D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 2
DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE ||
-- DargonZine Volume 6, Issue 2 07/28/93 Cir 1151 --
-- Archives at FTP.EFF.ORG (220.127.116.11) in pub/journals/DargonZine --
-- Contents --
Guest Commentary Carlo Samson
Take from the Tower Carlo Samson Firil 30, 1013
Quest Part II Dafydd Cyhoeddwr Ober, 1013
1 Guest Commentary:
Carlo N. Samson
Greetings all, and welcome to the second issue of Volume 6. For
our new readers, the previous single-story issue was a rare
occurrence; sometimes a story is written that simply can't be split
into convenient installments.
I'm sure some of you are wondering about the long time lapse in
between volumes. This is due in part to the fact that over the years,
several authors have moved/graduated/lost net access, and we are once
again looking for new people to join the Dargon Project. Please
contact the editor (Dafydd, email@example.com) if you are interested.
Last year about this time I had the opportunity to meet in person
David "Orny" Liscomb (founder of _FSFNet_ and creator of the Dargon
Project), as well as fellow Dargon authors Rich Jervis and Max
Khaytsus. Interesting guys, all of them (be sure to say 'hi' if you
meet them on the net!).
Anyway, in this issue we have the long-awaited conclusion of
Dafydd's story "Quest" (Part 1 of which appeared in _FSFNet_ Volume
10, Number 3), and a story from yours truly which provides a bit of
background to some of my earlier works.
As for upcoming issues, we have several War stories in the pipe,
a couple of works by new authors, and a new cycle of Brynna/Cydric
adventures. Also, back issues of _FSFNet_ are available from the same
archive site as _DargonZine._
So keep it here, tell your friends about us, and e-mail to Dafydd
(that address again: firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to write for
1 Take from the Tower
Carlo N. Samson
(Author's note: The following story takes place about a year before
the start of the Baranur-Beinison war.)
QUIASHRION WOODS: Firil 30, 1013
The mid-afternoon sunlight filtered down through the tall trees,
dappling the forest floor as Berk tramped along the narrow path,
softly whistling an old drinking song. The sound of a snapping twig
and a muffled curse caused him to turn around just in time to see his
friend Kintrell stumble and fall to the moist ground.
"What happened there, Trell? Did a tree up and trip you again?"
Berk said with a grin as he extended a strong hand to his younger
Kintrell struggled with his pack as levered himself up to accept
Berk's assistance. "I--I think I saw a rat," he stammered as he
regained his footing.
"Wouldn't surprise me," Berk said, casually scanning the dense
forest that surrounded them. "They say that the wizard kept a pack of
crazed killer rats, which of course have now escaped."
Kintrell's eyes widened, but he kept a calm expression as he
brushed a leaf out of his unkempt hair. "You think I'm afraid of rats?
I'm not, you know."
Berk gave a short laugh. "I know. It's the mice that really scare
you, eh?" He shifted his rucksack to a more comfortable position on
his wide shoulders and continued walking. But the thirty- five year
old adventurer understood his friend's nervousness, for the patch of
woodlands they were now in had a somewhat sinister reputation among
the local countryfolk. Stories were told of a reclusive wizard named
Tarlada who built a great green tower called Glasmelyn Llaw deep in
the heart of the forest south of a town called Dargon. It was also
said that those who ventured too close to the wizard's home were never
Berk was sure that most of the tales were exaggerated, but didn't
exactly discount them, either. But he never seriously considered
trying to find the tower until almost two weeks ago, when he heard a
rumor that Tarlada was finally dead. Upon making further inquiries, he
learned that a pair of adventurers--a woman in a silver half-mask and
a brooding young mage--had invaded the green tower to rescue a gypsy
woman whom the wizard had taken.
This news had served to pique Berk's interest. It was common
knowledge that wizards, especially reclusive ones, usually amassed
great stores of wealth, and the thought of an unguarded wizard's tower
(ripe for the plundering) very much excited him. He was once again
running low on funds, his last job having come a month ago as a hired
sword on a caravan run from Magnus.
Berk then spent the next few days trying to convince his most
trusted friends to join him in an expedition to the tower. None of
them wished to do so, as they all believed that the wizard was still
very much alive and would horribly torture anyone who dared approach
his forest retreat. In the end he was only able to persuade Kintrell,
a longtime friend and aspiring thief, to accompany him by mentioning
that the wizard would surely have more than a few books in his
possession. Although Kintrell was illiterate, the young man was
fascinated with books and took every opportunity to try and teach
himself how to read.
After a few more days spent interviewing various people to
determine the most probable location of Tarlada's tower, Berk
encountered an old man who was able to provide him with the
information he sought. Then, after buying provisions for the journey,
he and Kintrell headed south out of Dargon into the forestland where
the wizard was said to have lived.
Kintrell scrambled to keep pace with Berk. A drop of sweat beaded
off the young thief's chin and soaked into the stained maroon tunic
that hung loosely on his skinny frame. "What kind of books do you
think the wizard has?" he asked.
Berk, who had heard this question several times since leaving
Dargon, rubbed the back of his neck and replied, "I keep telling you,
Trell, wizards have lots of books. Mostly spell books, that's for
"Do you think he'll have one that can make me know how to read?"
"Well, we won't know that until we get there, right?" Berk
replied heavily, shaking his head. They had been walking for what
seemed like hours after leaving their horses when the trail became
impassable for the animals, and his patience was growing thinner the
more weary he became.
After a few moments Kintrell asked, "Do you think the wizard
really is dead?"
Berk had also heard this question several times. He was about to
snap back an answer, when he realized that Kintrell had never really
done anything potentially life-threatening in his twenty- three years,
and was undoubtedly feeling apprehensive. He reached down the neck of
his brown tunic and brought out the object that hung on a leather
thong. "Remember what this is for?"
Kintrell looked at the crystal-and-silver pendant. "Sure, it's to
tell us if there's bad magic around." He paused a moment in thought,
then said, "But what if the wizard's not evil? I mean, what if he's
good, but just doesn't want us to bother him?"
Berk let the pendant drop to his chest and put his arm around
Kintrell. "Trell, my simple-minded friend, think for a moment about
why we're in this gods-cursed forest. The wizard is dead, right? And
when someone is dead, they can't hurt those of us who are alive,
"Ghosts are not real, Trell."
"I--I know, but if he's dead, why did you buy the pendant?"
Berk smiled. Kintrell was showing signs of original thought. "A
simple precaution," he replied. "In ventures like these, it's best not
to leave some things to chance."
They walked along for another hour or so, pausing once for a
brief rest. The forest was calm and quiet, with only the occasional
birdcall or rustle in the bushes to break the silence. Soon, the trail
ended in a large clearing where stood the fabled Glasmelyn Llaw. Berk
and Kintrell stopped and stood in silent amazement at the great tower,
which seemed to be constructed of a single piece of green crystalline
stone. Five slender turrets rose to various heights from points on the
tower's circumference, giving the structure the appearance of a giant
green hand thrusting upwards from the forest floor.
"So this is where the wizard lives," whispered Kintrell, gazing
up at the dark windows slits. A shiver raced down his spine at the
thought that some unseen lurker could be watching them from inside.
"Used to live," said Berk, drawing his sword. He glanced down at
the pendant and was reassured when he saw that the crystal was dark.
"Come on. It doesn't look like anyone's home."
The pair advanced across the clearing and paused at the entrance
to the tower. The door was missing, and there appeared to be scorch
marks around the frame. The hinges of the door looked as if they had
Kintrell unhitched his mace from his belt. "What do you think
happened here?" he asked.
"Exactly what it looks like happened," Berk replied. He
cautiously made his way into what he assumed was the main living area
of the tower--or used to be, he corrected himself. The room was
completely burned out; all that remained were brittle piles of charred
wood and a layer of ash covering the floor. He poked at a nearby pile
with the tip of his sword; moving aside some of the larger wood
fragments, he uncovered the twisted remains of a large chandelier.
Kintrell wandered over to the side of the room and squatted next
to the remnants of a large bookshelf. He stirred the burned wood with
the head of his mace; suddenly, there was a loud screech as the wood
pile erupted in a flurry of motion. He cried out and flung himself
backwards. Berk whirled around in time to see a bird explode from the
pile and wing it's way out the door.
Kintrell lay gasping, clutching his heart. Berk reached down and
hauled the young man to his feet. "What's the matter with you? It was
only a wood grouse!"
"S-sorry, Berk, it just surprised me, is all," Kintrell panted.
"Well, come on, then. Doesn't look as if anything survived down
here--let's hope the fire didn't spread any farther."
The two made their way to the back of the room and up a flight of
stone steps; Berk noted with satisfaction that there was no fire
damage in evidence. Almost halfway to the next floor, his foot slipped
on something and he toppled forward. He let out a string of curses as
he pushed himself back to his feet.
"What happened?" Kintrell asked. Berk ignored him as he knelt
down to examine the step he had slipped on. It appeared to be covered
with a grey powdery substance; he took a pinch between his thumb and
forefinger and rubbed lightly. "Feels like ash," he said. He took a
quick sniff of the powder and frowned. "But it's not from wood.
There's a whole mess of it here." He straightened up and scrutinized
the walls; they were clean and unmarked.
"So what do you think it is?" asked Kintrell.
"I don't know; the fire didn't get up this far, so it can't be
from burning." Berk picked up his sword and carefully stepped around
the ash pile. "Come on--and watch yourself."
The second floor was apparently a display room. A panoply of
armor and edged weapons occupied a third of the wall space, while maps
of various kingdoms and tapestries took up the rest.
"Would you look at this, Trell--this is what we came for!" Berk
said with delight. "Now, what we're looking for are valuable things
that we can carry and sell easily. You understand what I mean?"
"Sure, Berk," replied Kintrell. "Nothing heavy--like those
shields, or those big swords, right?"
"Right. Now let's get to it." Berk shrugged off his pack and
pulled out a large canvas bag; Kintrell did likewise. Berk moved over
to a display case holding an assortment of silver tankards; finding
the door locked, he smashed the glass with the hilt of his sword.
Grinning, he began stuffing the tankards into the bag.
After they had ransacked the room, the pair explored the turret
for that floor. It turned out to be a library, much to Kintrell's
"Ol's balls," the young thief murmured, gazing at the shelves of
books and scrolls. "You think these are his magic books?"
"Probably," Berk said. Ignoring the shelves, he began rummaging
through the drawers of the desk in the middle of the room. Finding
only a sheaf of parchment and a stick of sealing wax, he turned away
from the desk and saw with horror that Kintrell was happily tumbling
the books off the shelves into his bag.
"What in Xothar's name do you think you're doing?" he yelled,
grabbing Kintrell's arm.
The young man looked at him fearfully. "Y-you said I could keep
any books we found!"
"I know--but you can't take ALL of them! We have to leave room
for the valuable stuff."
"But books *are* valuable!"
Berk thrust Kintrell away from him. "Look, just take the books
out and leave them here. All right?"
Kintrell winced and began to comply. Berk looked at his friend
and felt a sudden stab of guilt. He sighed heavily, then said, "All
right, Trell, all right. You can take one, and if we have any room
left over, you can come back and get a few more. Okay?"
Kintrell brightened. "Okay, Berk!"
"Great. Just meet me on the next floor." Berk shouldered his bag
and left the room.
Kintrell continued taking books out of the bag, and waited until
he heard Berk's heavy bootsteps echo on the steps before rummaging
around to see which book was worth keeping. Most of the tomes he
examined had elaborately illuminated pages and neatly flowing script;
one, however, was written with strange blocklike letters and contained
no decoration. He looked at the book's leatherbound cover and ran his
finger across a large gold symbol in the center. Just then, he heard
Berk bellow for him to hurry up. Making his decision, Kintrell stuffed
the tome into his bag and scurried down the stairs.
Subsequent floors and turrets yielded items more to Berk's
liking. His bag overflowed with silver candlesticks, ivory statuettes,
small gemstones, and the like. After a while, the two paused briefly
for a meal, eating on gold plates and drinking from fine crystal
goblets. By late afternoon, they had filled their bags and backpacks,
and had to fashion new bags using sheets from off the beds in one of
the sleeping rooms they found. Berk continually checked his pendant,
even though he was certain that the tower was indeed free of the
wizard. He also kept finding mysterious piles of ash on the various
levels of the tower, but soon ceased wondering about their origin the
farther up they progressed.
Eventually, they reached the top of the fifth turret. The room
was completely dark, prompting Berk to instruct Kintrell to light a
torch. In the flickering firelight, the pair saw that the walls of the
room were covered with a heavy black cloth. Next to the wall stood a
long low table draped with a silver cloth, and in the center of the
room stood a massive table, on which was a dark cube- shaped object.
"This was probably the wizard's conjuring room," mused Berk. He
eyed the object on the table; Kintrell moved to stand next to him and
wondered aloud what the object could be.
"I'm not entirely sure," Berk replied. Curious, he unsheathed his
sword and was about to poke the cube-shaped thing when Kintrell cried
out, "No, don't!"
"I-I don't think you should do that, Berk."
"Why not? Think it's evil or something?"
"It-it . . . " Kintrell shivered and cast his eyes nervously
around the room. "I think we should leave this place."
"All right, Trell, no need to wet yourself," Berk said. He
sheathed his sword, glancing at his pendant as he did so. The crystal
was still dark, as it had been ever since they entered the tower. It
was supposed to glow in the presence of hostile magic, or so the
jeweller he bought it from claimed. Then again, perhaps there were
some forms of evil too subtle to be detected by magical means.
A quick search of the room revealed nothing special. Berk ripped
down the dark heavy cloth, which served merely to block the light
coming in from the window. Satisfied that there was nothing to be
gained in this room, he indicated to Kintrell that he was ready to
The young thief was staring out the slitted window next to the
table by the wall, gazing out over the woodlands. At Berk's call, he
turned and said, "This is the last room, so that means we're finished,
Berk nodded. "Not a bad haul, I'd say! Get your stuff and let's
Kintrell reached down and picked up his makeshift treasure bag,
having left the backpack and canvas bag on the previous level. It
resisted his pull; he yanked harder, but the bag remained fast. With
all his might he gave the bag one final yank; the low table flipped
over and Kintrell found himself tumbling backwards into the table in
the center of the room. Berk dropped his bag and started forward to
try and catch him, but was too late to prevent Kintrell from slamming
down atop the dark cube. There was a crunching sound, and Kintrell
screamed as he felt shards of the object dig into his back.
"Trell!" Berk shouted as he raced to aid his companion. "Are
you--" His words were cut off by a thin, shrill wail that suddenly
pierced the air, accompanied by a burst of bright blue light that
flared out from underneath Kintrell, where the dark cube had been.
Berk helped his friend off the table. Kintrell moaned as Berk
removed pieces of what looked like charred wood from the young man's
back. Just then, another wail split the air; moments later, a violent
tremor rippled through the tower. The two adventurers were thrown
against the wall. Berk reached out to steady Kintrell, but suddenly
clutched at his head as a searing pain shot through his mind. It
lasted for only a second; Berk dropped his arms and saw Kintrell still
holding his head.
"Trell, are you okay?" Berk asked as he shook the young man by
"W-what's happening, Berk?" Kintrell stammered, his eyes full of
"I don't know, Trell, but we're getting out of here right now."
Berk picked up his bag and ushered Kintrell ahead of him down the
steps. They hadn't gotten far when the tower shuddered violently for
the second time. A bolt of pain hammered hard into Berk's brain, but
this time did not subside. He let out a cry and pounded at the wall,
squeezing his eyes tightly shut. He drew a deep breath and
concentrated, fighting back against the mental agony. He opened his
eyes and saw Kintrell hunched up against the wall.
"Let's go, boy!" he shouted through gritted teeth.
"It hurts, Berk, it hurts!" Kintrell wailed.
"Come ON, damn it!" Berk growled, pulling the young man along.
The tower trembled again as they emerged from the turret onto the
fifth level, and the pair were thrown to the floor. Kintrell landed
next to his canvas bag, which had tipped over and spilled out its
contents. Concentrating against the haze of pain that clouded his
mind, Kintrell focused and saw the book he had taken from the library.
He reached out and clutched it to his chest, just as he felt Berk pull
him to his feet. As he stumbled along in front of his friend, he felt
a stiffness begin to creep into his arms. His breath started coming in
short, ragged gasps. The pain in his mind was unrelenting.
By the time they made their way down to the second level, the
tower's shuddering had become severe enough to cause cracks in the
walls and floor. Kintrell could barely move his legs. He stopped,
causing Berk to stumble into him.
"Keep moving, damn you! We've got to keep moving!" Berk screamed.
"I-I can't!" Kintrell sobbed. Berk shoved him hard and shouted
for him to get going. Kintrell started crying openly as he lurched
They finally made it out of the tower and blundered down the
forest trail. The pain had lessened somewhat, but the stiffness in
their joints had become unbearable. Still, Berk kept them moving as
fast as they were able.
Kintrell's legs felt like solid stone. His arms had long since
frozen around the leatherbound book. He desperately wanted to stop and
rest, but Berk was cursing like a madman for him to keep going.
Eventually, Kintrell's legs gave out and he crashed to the forest
floor. He saw Berk stumble a few steps more, then fall heavily to the
ground. Kintrell tried to will himself into motion, but found that his
body no longer obeyed him. His arms were dead, useless, and he found
that he could no longer even feel the book against his chest. _What's
happening to me?_ he tried to scream, but his lips were locked
together. The last vestiges of feeling left his body, and soon his
eyes closed of their own volition. In a panic, Kintrell tried
thrashing about, but it was as if he were encased in stone, or buried
alive in cold, hard dirt. _Help me! Help me! OH BY ALL THE GODS THAT
EVER LIVED, *HELP ME*!!!_
Mercifully, his mind ceased functioning not long afterwards.
A few days later, Jongur the Hermit was chasing a rabbit through
the forest when he came upon the petrified corpses in the middle of
the trail. With a gasp of horror he dropped his sling fled from the
scene, eyes wide with fright. He stood panting against a tree for
several minutes, until his curiosity overcame his fear. He crept back
to the scene and peered at the bodies from behind a bush. They looked
very much like statues hewn from a flaky light-grey stone; indeed, he
might have assumed that that was the case, were it not for the items
they held. One man lay on his side, clutching a bulging bag made of a
heavy blue cloth; the other lay on his back, an expression of sheer
terror frozen on his face, clasping a large book to his chest. Jongur
estimated that they had not been there for very long, as he had
crossed this trail seven days ago.
The hermit sat on the ground, considering the bodies. With a
shock he remembered that he was near the old wizard's green tower. For
as long as he had lived in the woods, the area around the tower felt
foreboding and sinister, as if some unseen force wished to keep
everyone away. Then, of course, there were the strange vines that
seemed to have a life of their own and a singular purpose to
discourage people from approaching too closely. Jongur had learned to
avoid the tower, until one day not long ago when he pursued a deer
into the tower's sphere of influence. The vines were gone, as well as
the sense of the unseen presence. He assumed that the wizard had died
at last, and with him whatever magic he had used to ward his home. He
found that the game in the tower area was more plentiful than that
patch of woods around his hovel, most likely because hunters avoided
the tower as well.
But now, Jongur feared that the wizard was not truly dead, and
had cursed these two for plundering the tower. The hermit had always
assumed that if he did not bother the wizard, the wizard would
likewise leave him alone. But with this direct evidence of the
wizard's apparent malice, he wasn't so sure. He no longer felt safe in
these woods; it was probably best that he leave and find another place
to live. But where? Back in the town? He shook his head sadly at the
memories: the fire, his family's death, the months of begging on the
street, the constant fear of being attacked by other beggars for what
he managed to collect. No, he couldn't go back, yet neither could he
continue to live here. Unless....
Jongur eyed the blue bag that the man nearest to him held.
Perhaps he had gotten away with some of the wizard's wealth? Hope rose
in his chest. He unsheathed his knife and slowly crept over to the
man. A few pokes on the man's arm with the knife caused small grey
bits to flake off. Satisfied that the man was completely inert, he
pulled on the bag, but it remained firmly in the man's grasp. He then
cut a slit in the bag and ripped it open. Various objects of silver,
crystal, and gold spilled out onto the ground. Jongur let out a cry of
delight; if he could sell these, he would be a rich man and could try
to start his life over again. His mind raced with plans on how to
carry the wealth back to his home, and how best to go about selling
He stuffed as much as he could into the burlap sack that he used
to carry home his kills. He was about to leave when he caught sight of
the book the other man held. He went over and pulled the book out from
under the man's arms, accidentally breaking one of them off as he did
so. The strange gold symbol on the cover of the book fascinated him;
whatever the book was about, he was certain it would fetch a good
price. He tucked the tome under his arm and hurried home.
by Dafydd Cyhoeddwr
A young man named Dyalar living in Trasath - a very small village
which doesn't seem normal even to the inexperienced youth who has
lived there all his life - is apprenticed at age 14 to his uncle, a
blacksmith named Lavran whose shop is in the City of Dargon.
The lad goes to Dargon and gradually learns smith-craft from his
Uncle Lavran. At age 16, after a hearty celebration of Midsummer's
day, he is lured from his bed by a falling star and dreams of what he
might do with a lump of the fabled sky-iron. He finds the fallen star,
as well as two religious symbols - an oak- branch shaped from amber,
and a strange silver-like chalice. From that day, he seems to gain a
'guardian angel' which keeps him out of serious harm. Several more
And, just a few weeks before King Haralan's 36th birthday Dyalar
dreams that he takes his three treasures and forges a sword from them
with the help of an unseen entity. As he dreams that he is taking the
rosy-gold sword from its final cooling bath, he awakes to find that it
was not a dream and that he now has a Quest to complete. Without
telling anyone, he sets out upon it.
I curled myself up as small as possible in the corner of an
abandoned but not ruined woodland chapel. I covered myself as best as
I could with my blankets as well as branches and leaves I had brought
in when I'd arrived. I was still a little cold and I knew I would be
colder when the small fire went out, but the weather wasn't yet bad
enough to be dangerous. Still, as I drifted off to sleep I hoped that
I would get some kind of direction on my quest soon - I had been
wandering all but aimlessly for the past three days and it was getting
too late in the season to be so deep in the forest alone and far from
I dreamed the Dream that night. Confusion, fear, struggle, a ring
of dancing figures, a knife, pain - and I woke, sitting up and gasping
at the pain in my chest, barely noticing the cold of the chapel. It
took me a few minutes to calm down, but soon I was trying to rearrange
my 'nest', which had been scattered by my thrashing. I was confused by
the intensity of the Dream - normally by this time of year, the Dream
only produced a vague sense of unease and a slight twinge in my chest,
and it rarely even woke me up.
Once I was ready again for sleep, it came swiftly and with a
strong scent of roses. I fell immediately into dreaming again, but
this time I saw only a familiar village square and no nightmare. A
voice that was ghostly even for a dream seemed to say, 'Return to
Trasath - your Quest leads homeward...' and I slipped too deeply into
sleep to remember what further I may have dreamed.
Seven years after I left it, and two days after the night in the
chapel, I rode back into Trasath. I hadn't even realized that my
'aimless' wandering had in fact been leading me in the direction of my
home village. But if I hadn't stumbled upon a trail just where it was
marked by a Fretheod obelisk that had been used as a mile-marker and
sign-post to Trasath (among other villages, including Dargon itself)
the morning after my dream-message in the chapel, I might have
wandered in the woods for far longer than two days.
Trasath seemed so tiny to me now! After the vastness of Dargon,
my home village was but a clustering of houses about a central well,
with the single inn looking even smaller than my uncle's house. As I
rode into the central square, the few people out and about looked
askance at me, and no one hailed me though I saw recognition in the
eyes of a few. I turned my horse down one of the three short side
streets the village boasted to my father's house, feeling the
suspicious stares biting into my back as I rode.
Father's house hadn't changed much save that it seemed a bit run
down. I dismounted and tied my horse's reins to the ring by the door
and knocked. I was fairly sure he would be home as it was close to
sundown, and in any case mother would be there. After a short wait
during which I knocked two more times, the door opened slowly and I
laid eyes on my Father.
He was almost as much changed as my perception of Trasath had
been. He seemed shorter, older, thinner, and much more worry-worn. His
hair had gone streaky-grey, and his face bore lines too deeply etched
for one who was not ancient. He stared at me for a moment, then said
shakily, "Son? Dyalar?"
He opened his arms and we embraced, hugging fiercely and slapping
backs in our love and happiness at seeing each the other again. When
we finally broke apart, it seemed as if much of the worry and fear
that had been in his face was gone and he stood up straight and proud,
looking at me up and down. "Come in, come in son. I was just sitting
down to dinner - join me and tell me about Dargon and why you're
I followed him into the house, idly noting the slightly untidy
look of the front room. Something didn't seem right there - something
was missing. I knew that mother would never have allowed even so
slight a degree of disorder creep into her house. As we crossed to the
dining room, I asked, "Father, is mother away visiting someone? It
just looks like no one has cleaned in here in a while."
He stopped stock still, and all the improvement in his bearing
that seeing me had produced now vanished like a spring frost beneath
the first rays of the sun. He sat down on the nearest chair and drew
me down into the one next to it. "So, Lavran didn't tell you. I
thought he wouldn't, but I forgot in the joy of seeing you again. Son,
your mother has been dead these past six years. It was - a fever,
caught the winter after you left. The village healer could do nothing
for it. She...she didn't suffer..."
He broke off, consumed by his remembered grief. I, too, grieved.
I was shocked to hear that mother was dead, and even more so that
Uncle had known but not told me. I would have thought nothing more
about the manner of mother's death had not the familiar scent of roses
intruded into the grief father and I were sharing, and a sense that
father was not being fully truthful with me grew in the back of my
mind. The feeling didn't indicate malice, but rather fear, and it
seemed to have something to do with my quest.
We eventually comforted each other sufficiently to have dinner,
and we talked about what I had been doing and what he had been doing
but not in depth. After catching each other up in a general way,
father said he had to get some sleep as he had work to do early in the
morning, but he promised to leave work as soon as he was able and we
would talk more then.
I was given my old room to stay in, though it took a while to get
it cleaned up and ready to be lived in even for a night. Finally it
was ready, and I sank into my old bed that was a little too short for
my adult body and fell asleep.
When I began to dream, it was very much like the night I had
forged the sword - everything seemed real but even though I was doing
it there seemed to be something between the 'me' that was observing
and the 'me' that was doing. In my dream (which I knew probably wasn't
actually a dream), I got out of bed and dressed warmly. Then, taking
the sword out of its makeshift scabbard, I made my way silently out of
the house and to the small paddock where I had put up my horse after
dinner. I rode cautiously to the farmhouse of a man named Arndil. I
dismounted a short distance from the house and walked the rest of the
way silently. As I drew nearer and nearer the house, my sword began to
glow faintly silver. I crept into the house and to Arndil's room - he
had never been married as far as I knew, and he seemed to be alone in
As I stood beside Arndil's bed looking down at him, I felt hate
rise up in me. I saw him in a memory that was not my own, but that was
as vivid as if it must be something I had seen or done. I saw Arndil
dancing in a ring with seven other men, all naked, all chanting, with
"myself" bound and helpless at the center. Only Arndil was sharply
enough defined in my dream-memory to recognize - who the other seven
were I did not know. All eight were chanting dark and evil chants,
invoking someone or something named 'Hanarl, Savior of Trasath', and
intoning that I must be sacrificed to keep the village safe.
The memory faded enough that I again saw Arndil in his bed in my
dream. Hatred flooded my body, and I raised my sword high over my
head, taking a two- handed grip on the barely-long-enough hilt. I knew
that the hate in my body wasn't my own, but belonged to whomever owned
that memory, and that person or thing had total control of me.
The sword descended, driven by my muscles hardened by long hours
at the forge swinging heavy hammers and by the will of my possessor,
aimed at the totally unprotected and unsuspecting body of the sleeping
Arndil - or so I thought. The blade met an obstruction in clear air
about 6 inches from the sleeping body with a jar that rattled my teeth
but made no noise.
I was startled by the unseen barrier but my puppeteer wasn't. The
blade hadn't slid from the barrier like it might have from a curved
metal shield; it seemed to have bit into the resistance like an ax
into a log. My muscles strained and the blade sank slowly against the
resistance. As it bit deeper and deeper, the sword began to glow a
fierce gold unlike its previous subdued silver radiance, and I
marveled to see the invisible shield-like thing protecting Arndil from
the blade begin to glow reddish-white, more red near the cloven part,
revealing the shape of the protection.
The thing that possessed me continued to struggle to force my
blade through Arndil's protection, the farmer/priest still sleeping,
blissfully unaware of his danger. Inch by fractional inch, the
golden-glowing blade neared Arndil's flesh and finally, my body
sweating with the effort, the keen edge reached its target and drew
blood from Arndil's arm.
The instant that blood was drawn, the protection collapsed and
Arndil awoke, gasping in startled fear. He seemed totally unprepared
for an attack, both mentally and physically, but my puppeteer didn't
give him time to gather himself together. The sword was already drawn
back over my shoulder, and after my stance was adjusted slightly, it
was swung again. It connected with Arndil's outstretched arm with all
the force my body could muster and sheared clean through it, coming to
rest deep within Arndil's chest and killing him cleanly. But that
wasn't enough for my possessor. It forced my body to continue to hack
and chop, rendering the man into so much meat and blood, and
continuing when there was no more Arndil to carve by hacking his bed
into flinders as well.
Finally, the hatred within me cooled, and the strain of what had
been done to me dulled even my dream perceptions so that I was just
barely aware of being guided back to my horse, and then back to my
Father's house and my bed.
My exhaustion kept me asleep well into the morning. When I
finally awoke, my hopes (faint, at best) that the past night's dream
had been just that were dashed when I saw the rust-brown of dried
blood on my clothes (not the ones I had worn to bed, either), my
sheets, and my skin. My golden sword was on the floor beside the bed,
and while it wasn't stained, the floorboards around it were.
It took me a while to drag myself out of bed. Up 'till the past
night, the strangenesses in my life had been good, interesting things:
being dragged out into the forest by a falling star and finding three
treasures instead of one; my 'guardian spirit' keeping me safe for my
destiny; and the 'presence' that had helped me forge my golden sword.
But now those strangenesses had turned sinister and ugly with the
carnage it seemed all but certain I had been forced to commit. I was
heartsick, but I didn't want my father to know. I hardened my resolve
and began to clean myself and my room before leaving Trasath and my
Dried blood is not easy to get out of cloth, and even harder to
get out of floorboards, but I succeeded. After packing my things, few
as they were, I checked once more to be sure that no evidence of my
dream-walk remained to incriminate my Father, I saddled up Sock and
rode for Dargon.
The trail took me through the village again, and if I had doubted
that I had really killed Arndil despite the blood on my clothes and
person that morning, I was made sure that someone had killed the
farmer as I rode through the central square of my former home. I only
heard bits and pieces of other conversations, as no one seemed to take
much notice of me, but the topic of everyone's discussions was the
mysterious and messy death of Arndil. I was sure that some of my
former friends were eyeing me with suspicion even though I had bundled
the golden sword in some blankets tied behind my saddle. And I could
feel every pair of eyes in my back as I left Trasath, for good this
But, as I rode down the main trail toward Dargon, my vision began
to cloud. The Dream, which had rarely come to me in the daytime, and
then only on MidSummer's Day itself, now obscured my perceptions and I
noticed the resemblance between my nightmare-Dream and the memory that
had preceded the carnage last night. In fact, my Dream seemed to be a
distorted shadow of the memory of the person who had controlled me!
The Dream intensified - the confusion, the fear, the pain...and then
it was gone, and I found myself riding up to my Father's door.
I tried to leave Trasath for the rest of the morning and most of
the afternoon, but I could not. Always the Dream would come,
disorienting me and removing me from control of my horse, Sock. And
when the Dream faded away, I would be back at my Father's door or, as
in the last few tries, in the paddock behind Father's house beginning
to strip Sock of my equipment. Finally, I gave up in despair - I
couldn't leave Trasath of my own accord.
I wasn't very good company for my Father that afternoon and
evening. He could tell I was depressed, and maybe even that I was
afraid of something. But, I couldn't tell him what was going on. Not
that I couldn't have - nothing was keeping me from it, unlike my wish
to leave Trasath - but I wasn't sure enough of him and the situation
in the village to fully trust anyone with what was happening to me. If
Uncle Lavran were here, or maybe even Leriel...I could have talked to
either one of them. But I just wasn't close enough to my Father - I
didn't know him, had never known him well enough to talk about
something like this.
We both decided to retire early. I went to my room, but I didn't
want to sleep. I lay on the bed and wished with all my might that I
wouldn't go out dream- walking again, or that if I was dragged from my
bed that the thing controlling me would explain what was going on and
why I was part of it. Somewhere in the middle of my wishing, and
sometime before my exhaustion forced me where I didn't want to go -
into sleep - I made up my mind that if I did go dream-walking, and I
didn't learn why, that I would take steps to make sure that I wouldn't
be used any further.
This time my dream-walking didn't intrude into my sleep until my
body was dismounting Sock at the gate of a family named Harnolt. As
soon as I realized that this wasn't an ordinary dream, I began
fighting, but it was no use. As my body was carried forward cautiously
to the front door of the moderate farm house, my sword began to glow a
deep, rich red which seemed to throw a shell around me. Somehow I was
made aware that this glow, like the others, had a function - the deep
red was to shield me from sight until I had reached my goal.
I entered the house silently and paced through the rooms surely,
as if I had no doubt of my destination. I passed through the rooms of
the children, then their parents, all unseen, and finally stopped in
the room of Brenn Harnolt, grandfather to the children in the other
room, father to the man who now ran the farm.
Once again, the Dream in its pure form rose up in me. This time,
I recognized only Brenn in the circle of eight dancing men, although
one of the other figures was little more than a moving blot of
darkness rather than a shadowy blur and I realized that the blot must
be the deceased Arndil. I wondered whether this hell was supposed to
continue until all eight of the dancers were dead - but I was
determined that it wouldn't.
I tried to remain distant from the hate and rage that poured
through me, called up by the pure Dream and the sight of Brenn
sleeping there on the bed. My body wasn't affected by my withdrawal -
it raised the sword and brought it down with all my might, only to be
stopped again by a shield like the one that had tried to protect
Arndil. As before, the blade began to glow gold, and the shield began
to glow red in protest as it was slowly riven by the magic forged into
the alloyed sky- iron.
Soon, the shield was thoroughly pierced, and first blood was
drawn. But Brenn seemed more prepared than had Arndil. When the shield
went down and Brenn woke up, he recovered from his shock swiftly and
drew a dagger from beneath his pillow. I guess that the death of
Arndil had forewarned the rest of the dancers, but I wondered how
Brenn proposed defend himself with a dagger from someone who had made
mincemeat of Arndil.
I found out quickly: the dagger was magic. Brenn was an old man,
with thin, withered arms and a skinny, frail body. However, when my
body took a swing at him with all the strength in my back and legs, he
was able to catch the blade in the vee of dagger-blade and hilt and
the force of my blow was totally absorbed by his weapon - he probably
didn't even feel the power my body had put into it. And, despite age
and fragility, Brenn had probably been a fighter once, and he was
still agile if not fast - I was just a metalsmith with occasional
dreams of being a swordsman. Brenn flicked my blade aside (another
magical property of his dagger) and riposted unexpectedly into my
Fortunately, my puppeteer had good reflexes and I backed up
enough to turn a possibly fatal stabbing into a shallow wounding. This
only made my puppeteer madder, and it began to hack and slash,
attacking mercilessly and untiringly. I had occasion to notice that my
sword was again glowing red, its light encompassing the whole room,
keeping the sounds of our battle from the rest of the house.
I also noticed that every time my blade struck the dagger, a
spark of blue light was struck. It started out very small,
unnoticeable the first few times, but it increased by larger amounts
with each blow. As the spark grew larger and brighter, I noticed that
Brenn seemed to feel the shock of the contact of the blades more and
more. He seemed to know what this meant well before I did, because he
began to get desperate, making wild moves, throwing things to distract
me, calling out for help. I finally figured out that just as the blade
had sheered through the shielding that had protected the man earlier,
it was now somehow canceling out the magic in the dagger little by
little. And eventually, when my puppeteer took one last swing which
was parried frantically by Brenn, the dagger-blade broke and my blade
carried through and into Brenn's chest.
This fight had been even worse than the last one in terms of how
drained I already felt. My controller managed to force my body to
mutilate Brenn's but not to the extent it had Arndil's, and it left
the rest of the room intact. I lost awareness even before I had left
the house, hoping that my puppeteer could get me home in such a
It was past noon when I woke, and even though that meant that I
had slept for almost half a day, I was still tired and achy from the
exertions I had been forced through in the night. Again, there was
blood everywhere - and this time, some of it was mine. But, when I
bent to examine the wound that Brenn had given me, I was shocked to
find no trace of it on my body. My tunic was slashed and blood
stained, but there was no mark on my stomach. I looked over to where
the golden sword had been laid across a chair propped against my door
and marveled at the magic thing that I had somehow created.
I cleaned my room again, removing all traces of blood and
struggle. Then I ate a meal big enough to feed half of Dargon, or so
it seemed, so hungry was I. All the while, I was trying to figure out
a way to end the dream-walking I was being forced into. As I saddled
Sock, the solution came to me - I would used the sword that I had made
to kill myself, and thereby end the killing I was doing unwillingly.
Loath to end my life without need, I tried once more to leave
Trasath, this time by back ways. But, I was still blocked from
escaping my destiny in that manner. So when I came out of the Dream
again in front of my father's house I decided to escape in the only
other way open to me. I turned Sock away from my father's house to
find a clearing in the woods around Trasath in which to end my life.
I followed our side street until it ended just past Jefirt's
house, who lived on the outskirts of the village. Choosing one of the
faint trails that continued into the forest from the end of the street
at random, I rode on, taking side paths and navigating forks totally
without pattern. Just about the time I began to think it strange that
I hadn't found a clearing yet, I came to a very large cleared space
that would be perfect for my purposes. It was about as large as
Trasath's Square, oval in shape, with several large stones placed
about it. It almost seemed familiar in some way, but I was sure I had
never been there before.
I dismounted Sock and looped his reins over the saddle. He would
stay in the area for a while cropping the dying grass in the clearing,
but if I was successful in my mission he would be free to wander off
back to town. I removed the golden sword from behind the saddle and
moved into the center of the clearing.
I knelt in the grass and unwrapped the sword, admiring one last
time the work that had been done on it. It was a beautiful weapon, but
even though my hands had fashioned it I couldn't take credit for its
creation. I wondered whether I would learn who HAD created it and why
after I was dead...
I had already pondered the difficulties of self-destruction with
a sword, but the basic problem was solved by the presence of the
stones in the clearing. I placed the hilt of the sword in the angle of
a stone and the ground, which would keep it from moving away from me.
Then, I placed the point of the sword against my chest between two
ribs and to the left of the breastbone. I leaned forward enough for
the point to catch in my tunic, then paused for a moment. I silently
said farewell to my father, Uncle Lavran and Aunt Mellide, my friends
in Dargon, Leriel (who was more than a friend, though I would never
get to find out how much more now)...
As I tried to remember the people I should be taking leave of,
the Dream began to intrude upon my consciousness. Flashes of the
circle of dancing men were interspersed among the faces of loved ones.
One moment I could feel the ropes binding me as the men danced and
chanted, and the next I was kneeling down with the golden sword at my
chest. Somewhere in that confusion, I recognized that the clearing I
was kneeling in was the same as the one where the naked men danced and
chanted in my Dream. Also, somewhere in the confusion, I realized that
when I concentrated on the sword, the Dream faded away. Grasping at
that straw, I centered my attention on the sword until all vestiges of
the confusion were gone and I was once again only kneeling in the
center of the clearing. Quickly, then, before whatever was trying to
stop me found another tactic, I bade a quick farewell to everyone I
had not thought of before, and began to lean forward. Just as I felt
the tip of the sword draw blood from my chest, there was a flash of
very bright, very white light, and I heard the command, "STOP!"
And, I found myself obeying. Completely. I couldn't even turn
around to see from whence the command had come - I was immobile.
Presently, I felt hands on my shoulders pulling me back gently so that
my chest came away from the sword's tip, letting it fall to the
ground. The hands pulled me to my feet, turned me, and pushed me
gently to the edge of the clearing and into the trees. There, just
beyond the edge of the clearing was a pair of ancient oak trees, huge
and spreading, shaded to a deep green by the layers of leaves between
them and the sun. Nothing but the barest forest undergrowth carpeted
the ground beneath them - their age and size precluded anything else
taking root within their demesnes - creating a shadowed clearing about
their bases. I was guided just to the edge of this dark green clearing
by the hands at my shoulders, and then a voice said, "Be free again."
As volition returned to my body and I slumped back down to my knees I
felt an overwhelming wave of nearly divine power emanating from that
natural temple that drove me to prostrate myself without really
wanting to. A shape moved briefly within the shadows, and then it
faded away along with the awe inspiring sense of power.
Before I had even begun to recover, hands took hold of my
shoulders again, and a voice I almost recognized said, "Get up,
Dyalar. Herne doesn't much like the reaction even the shadow of his
partial avatar elicits, which is why I'm here to enlist your aid." As
I was helped back to my knees and then to my feet I reflected that
that natural temple was a perfect place to meet the Protector of the
Forests. Some argued that Herne was more of an elemental force than a
deity of some kind, but whichever he was, he certainly had the power
to bend mortals to his will. It was in his favor then that he didn't
like to use it.
Back on my feet I turned to see whose hands had aided me, to
confront the impossible. I recognized the voice now, just as I
recognized the face, although I hadn't seen it in about 10 years. She
hadn't changed at all, but then she wouldn't have - she was my sister
Keryin, and she was dead.
But she didn't look dead. Dressed in her favorite grey-green
gown, black hair tied back with blue and green ribbons, eyes flashing
blue, cheeks rosy-red, a budding rose the same color tucked into her
hairband over her right ear - she looked exactly as I remembered her
going off to the village dance two nights before she died. I said,
"Keryin, is it really you? Are you...How could you be alive? Or...a-am
She hugged me tightly, feeling very solid, and said, "It's me,
Dy. I'm not alive - not really. And you are not dead. We are both here
to do the will of Herne and eliminate the evil that dwells in Trasath.
From the moment of my death, I, with his help, have been working
towards this day. The story is long, but you need to know it all."
She began to speak, and her story was almost too bizarre to be
believed. I probably wouldn't have believed it were it not for two
things. One was Keryin herself, who had been dead for 10 years. The
other was the already fading memory of the glimpse of Herne I had been
granted. At that moment, there was no way I could doubt anything said
in Herne's name.
Keryin's tale began with the Wolf Winter, and its effects on our
tiny village. Dargon was a prosperous duchy, for all that it was on
the northern end of the Kingdom, and even though Trasath was somewhat
isolated from most of the duchy, it had always done well for itself.
But the Wolf Winter had eliminated half the population of the village,
and had provided the means for an evil force to gain a foothold there.
Certain powerhungry citizens had been influenced into calling forth
from the Dark Places an entity known as Hanarl. Eight members of the
community, under the leadership of Master Dineel, the village
innkeeper, had made a pact with the spider-like being to provide it
with the sacrifices it wished in return for being given power over the
entire village. Considering the weakened state of Trasath at the time,
and the promises made that such a disaster as the Wolf Winter would
never happen again, the village had little choice but to give in to
the Octacle and to Hanarl's demands.
After that, twice yearly, at ceremonies everyone over a certain
age were required to attend, a sacrifice was made to Hanarl of one of
the villagers, chosen by lottery. Those two were only the mandatory
sacrifices, however. At any time, the Octacle, or even anyone who knew
about them, could demand that some supposed wrong could be paid for by
sacrifice. Wanderers were frequently the subject of these kinds of
sacrifices, but never often enough to arouse suspicions. The Octacle's
hold was maintained by blackmail - if anyone left the village knowing
of Hanarl's grip on the populace, it was communicated to them that if
they told anyone, a loved one would be the next victim of sacrifice.
If the person didn't have a loved one to be held, he wasn't allowed
away from the village, and if he tried to get away, he was invariably
captured and sacrificed.
Keryin had been one of those 'extra' sacrifices. At that dance,
she had been propositioned by Dineel's son and had turned him down.
Repeatedly. In front of everyone, and not politely. Two days later,
she had been taken in the middle of the square by Master Dineel and
four other men, accused of blasphemy against Hanarl, and sentenced to
sacrifice. No one had been able to do anything to save her, because
the entire village was in the same precarious position.
Her loss had been covered up - none of the children in the
village knew of Hanarl and the Octacle, and Father was even more
determined that I should not know of them after Keryin was killed by
them. He talked to Lavran and made the deal that got me removed from
Trasath. It also got him in trouble with the Octacle, but he had
thought it worth getting me out of danger's way.
But the Octacle had retaliated against him for saving me. He had
been lying to me about Mother's death. Keryin told me that her name
had been forced to come up for the Mid-Summer sacrifice lottery and
that the Octacle had duly killed her on the Stones of Hanarl as they
had killed countless others before and after her.
"But, now you are here, Dyalar, wielding the Sword of Herne. Ever
since my wrongful death, Herne has been using both of us - you through
me - to work toward an end of Hanarl. You were guided to the ruined
chapel to find the Branch and Chalice, and thereafter to find the sky
iron. Once these objects of Power were in your possession, I was able
to reach you at times, enabling me to protect you even from the order
of form Herne removed me to after my body was slain. Then, when the
stars were right, we both moved you to create the Sword out of the
three artifacts you had found and a portion of your own soul, for only
a weapon possessed of the powers those four things would give it could
possibly conquer the Octacle of Hanarl that ensnares Trasath."
"Why didn't you just tell me?" I asked after letting Keryin's
explanation sink in. "I would have been happy to help you - done
anything to avenge your death and mother's."
"It would have been too dangerous, Dy. The Octacle is very
powerful, and even though they have ruled supreme in Trasath for 17
years, they still fear the day that someone comes to depose them. The
two that we killed still slept under the shield given them by Hanarl
even this long after anyone has thought to try to kill one of the
Octacle in their sleep. And they have their ways to detect surface
thoughts that they use mostly on strangers - which you qualify as. If
you had ridden into town with death and destruction on your mind, you
wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes, Sword or no.
"The plan was to have you - us - eliminate four of the Octacle
and then challenge Master Dineel with his power severely diminished by
the halving of his priests. But, we had not counted on your attention
during the night raids, nor on your reaction to those raids. I'm
really sorry you found what I was directing you to do so distressing.
Perhaps I did get a little carried away, but then they did kill me,
"But, now that I know..." I began, but Keryin interrupted me.
"Yes, now that you know, the plan has changed. Your moral outrage
at what was being done to you impresses Herne, even though it put our
plan in jeopardy. Though you were an instrument of Right, you did not
know it. You sought to end the carnage in the only way you could find
since you knew not the purpose of the killings and only that such
killings were wrong.
"That is why Herne intervened today, in violation of the rules
imposed upon powers like him by pact and law. And, ironically, it was
Hanarl's breaking of the rules so long ago which tipped the Balance
far enough in his favor that Herne feels justified in making the small
transgressions he has - manifesting the merest fraction of himself on
this Order of Form, and allowing me full access to this Order of Form
(if temporarily) - as efforts to right the Balance.
"And he wouldn't do it even then if it wasn't so important.
Hanarl has grand plans, and Trasath is only a testing ground. It works
slowly, wanting to be sure of Itself, and in doing so It has amassed a
great deal of power here. It must be stopped soon, for if It is not,
the whole world is in jeopardy.
"You might think that Trasath is an unlikely place for such evil
as Hanarl to begin his conquest of Makdiar from - it is, after all,
just a small hamlet in the wilds of Dargon. However, the Balance is a
delicate thing. Hanarl managed to use the forces of Nature -
essentially a part of the Balance itself - to goad certain people in
Trasath to helping it tip the Balance in favor of Chaos just a bit,
but it was enough. Trasath is small, and Hanarl doesn't have enough
worshipers here to draw strength from homage. But he gains even more
power from the sacrifices its Octacle performs. Soon it will be ready
to spread its influence to more hamlets and villages. As its power
grows, and the Balance skews ever farther toward Chaos, Hanarl will
move faster and faster, gobbling up towns, cities, whole countries.
Unless forces are brought into play on the side of Order and the
Balance is restored.
"And this is what we must do. We are the forces of Order arrayed
against Hanarl's forces of Chaos. It is not as it was planned, but I
believe that we can still prevail against Hanarl's minions. You, the
sword ... and myself as an added element - it will be enough. It has
She stopped speaking for a moment, head tilted slightly as if she
was listening to something I couldn't hear. When her eyes refocused,
she said, "If you accept our mission, we should be about it. Herne's
brief intervention here caused ripples that the Octacle has noticed.
We would be foolish to wait around here for their response - we would
be at a distinct disadvantage anywhere near their unholy ground.
Herne's last words to me were that if we are able to defeat Dineel,
Hanarl will be forced to retreat and the other priests will become
powerless. He gives us his blessings, but can do no more at all for us
"So, what do you say, brother?"
I put off giving Keryin a definite answer by taking steps to get
us away from the Stones of Hanarl. Riding back to Trasath with Keryin
mounted behind me, I tried to figure out what to do next. Keryin
seemed to believe that the Octacle of Hanarl was a formidable foe, but
also that I could defeat them. I wasn't as sure. The only magic I had
ever faced had been in the last two days and while it was
overwhelming, it was also frightening. I didn't know enough about my
skill or the Sword to believe I could stand against a directed attack
from a fully aware and prepared opponent. But, I also didn't think I
had a choice.
"What should I do?" I finally asked Keryin, hoping that she would
have the answers I couldn't find due to her 'special' status.
"What do you think you should do, Dy?" she responded.
"Well," I replied, "my options are rather limited, aren't they? I
mean the only thing I can think of is to ride into the village square
and cry challenge on Master Dineel, then wait for him to accept and
"You have one other option - well, two actually. You could, if
you chose, simply leave Trasath. The binding Herne put on you to keep
you in the village has been lifted - he didn't want to coerce you any
further to his work."
"No," I said. "I don't know if I can defeat Master Dineel, but I
know I must try, for yours and Mother's sake, as well as all of the
others who died at the hands of Hanarl's minions - I can't just run
away and let more die."
"I didn't think you would," Keryin said, squeezing me
affectionately. "So, your other viable option is to sneak up on Master
Dineel and kill him before he has a chance to kill you."
"But that's not honorable!" I said, indignant that she would
suggest such a thing.
"Neither is Dineel or his master, Hanarl. You should know that
even if you follow the forms and conventions of single combat by
calling Challenge on Master Dineel, there is nothing in his makeup
that would force *him* to follow them. I can guarantee that the
remainder of the Octacle would be stationed around the Square waiting
for the right moment to strike at you, with Dineel's approval, and
even at his orders. If your opponent will not play by the rules, why
"Because, if I didn't, I would be as bad as he!"
"That, brother, would depend on why you were doing it. What you
now have to decide is which power - whose "honor" - you wish to
follow. True, within the confines of what you term honor, sneaking up
on and killing Dineel with no warning is wrong. However, if you did it
because it was necessary, the only way you have a chance of killing
the man, and the man's death is for the greater good, then you would
be following the Honor of Herne and of the Balance.
"Herne has enlisted you to remove Hanarl from this Order of Form.
He has placed on you no restrictions on the "right" way to do this,
only that it be done. Do you agree that it must be done?"
"Well, yes...of course..."
"Then is it more important that it be done your way, with a
challenge that Dineel will ignore and you will possibly die from, or
that it be done in the surest way possible?"
"I...I don't know, Ker. I always thought....Which is right?"
"I can't tell you that, brother. I can only present the options."
"But, don't you know? Why won't you help me?"
"No, Dy, I don't know which is "right". I know which I would do,
but you must decide which you will do. Both Herne and I trust you -
you will do the best you can to eliminate Hanarl, no matter which you
Still trying to decide, I guided Sock up to my Father's house and
dismounted. I was somewhat confused by the idea that "honor" wasn't a
constant thing - something solid and absolute to measure your life
against. Then, as if in a flash, I realized that "honor" WAS a
constant thing, it was the form of the honor that was fluid. The codes
that I had learned during my time in Dargon were only one embodiment
of the concept. But, they could be set aside if there was a higher
guidance - which I had in the form of Herne's directive. It *was*
honorable to kill Dineel from ambush, as long as I was doing it for a
greater cause than the filling of my purse, or the betterment of
myself or my liegelord. I was serving Herne and the Balance in this. I
I secured Sock's reins to the hitching post before Father's house
and noticed that the front door was slightly ajar. I was sure I had
closed it, but then, considering the errand I had left upon, I
realized that I could as easily have left it standing wide as locked
it. I closed it, and turned to Keryin. "Dineel's death is more
important than adherence to a set of rules." I said. "We're going to
the Inn to catch him unawares. Let's go."
I set out towards town and the back way to the inn, but I soon
noticed that Keryin was not following. I turned around found her
walking back towards the woods.
"Ker! Where are you going?" I called out. She stopped and looked
over her shoulder. "Remember the shortcut we found racing Minia and
Phin to the bakery? Come on!"
Only with her prompting did I remember the shortcut - as young
children, we had all been forbidden to enter the forest around Trasath
for any reason. The village was small, so it wasn't a problem in most
cases. However, at the end of the week it had been the custom for
Dorinach, Trasath's Baker, to cool her pies on the back porch of her
shop. Minia and Phin, the children of our neighbors, my sister and I
would often race over there in the late afternoon to take in the
lovely aromas and get first pick of the castoffs of Dorinach's baking.
There usually wasn't much in the way of castoffs, so the first one to
arrive got the best bent tarts, or broken cookies. Keryin had
discovered a way to shorten the run down several alleys to the bakery
by skirting one edge of the village and taking a trail through the
forest to the end of the alley that ran behind the village square.
And, as I began to run after her swiftly moving form, I realized that
the bakery was right next to the Inn.
Sneaking through the alley as silently as we were able, we
approached the Inn. I saw that Keryin's shortcut had been a very good
idea - there was someone at the entrance of the cross-alley just the
other side of the Inn, and at the end of this alley where it met
Trainer's Way. It seemed that Master Dineel had posted guards, but
only along the most likely ways for me to get to the Inn from my
Now moving even more silently and keeping a wary eye on the two
guards who had no thoughts of anyone approaching the Inn from behind
them (fortunately), we neared the rear door of Master Dineel's home.
It seemed that luck was with us - the door was open, probably to
facilitate the warning that the guards expected to give Dineel of our
I led the way through the pantry and kitchen of the Inn. The top
half of the door between the kitchen and the front room was open so
that it was easy to hear the conference going on in there. Keryin and
I crouched by the door and listened.
"...s properly secured by the well, Master. We had no trouble
taking him either." I identified the voice as that of Ederavin, one of
Father's best friends and who lived next door.
"Good." This was Dineel. "Then we have a hold over the young
troublemaker. Ederavin, I want you to stand next to Himran and be
ready to answer Dyalar's challenge. Don't worry - you're just there to
distract him for a moment. To make sure that Dyalar takes the bait,
however, I want you to take this wand. It has enough power stored in
it to do substantial damage to the person you touch with this metal
end. I won't ask you to try to get close enough to Dyalar to use it on
him - the wand isn't capable of discharging swiftly, and I'm not
interested in putting another of the octacle at risk. However, if you
use it on Himran, you will both be avenging the years of slights that
man has done to us, and you will be sure to distract his son long
enough for the rest of us to act."
"As you will, Master," was Ederavin's reply. I thought I heard a
note of regret in his voice, but such was Dineel and Hanarl's hold on
the octacle that even the prospect of torturing his best friend didn't
sway Ederavin from obeying. And it was only by concentrating on what
my mission was that I kept from leaping up right then and trying
(futilely, most likely) to keep them from harming my father at all.
"To continue," said Dineel. "Feyarin," who was Trasath's
shoemaker, "you take the remainder of the octacle and hide in various
positions around the edges of the square - make sure you have a good
view of the well. While you wait, concentrate upon Hanarl. I will take
up a position at the edge of Tailor's Way, out of direct sight of the
well. As we wait, I will be entreating our god to supply us with the
means of destroying our enemy. When Dyalar enters the square to
challenge Ederavin for the life of his father, you will each be filled
with the Venom of Hanarl. Release it at Dyalar, and he will be utterly
destroyed. We can then rebuild the fullness of the octacle and put our
plans back on schedule."
With a chorus of "As Hanarl demands, by the Master," the
conference broke up. I heard them leave, talking softly to each other.
When there had been no sound for a minute or so, I peeked cautiously
over the edge of the lower part of the door and was relieved to find
that the front room was empty.
Cautiously, I went through the kitchen door and crossed the small
front room that also served as a tavern. The front door had been left
open as well, and I peered through it. I saw Ederavin standing by the
well next to the limp form of my father, who had been bound hand and
foot as well as being secured to one of the spit-posts by a goodly
length of rope wrapped about his chest. Ederavin looked at Father
sorrowfully, then stared at the short, black, silver-capped rod he
held. After a moment his face took on a look of resolve, and he
reached out to touch the silver end of the rod to my father's neck.
There was a slight crackling noise, and I could see a flickering dance
of sickly purple light begin to move across father's neck. I turned
away to find Keryin right behind me, watching the torture with the
same expression on her face that I knew was on mine - hatred and
desire for revenge.
We both moved away from the door and the chance of discovery.
Keryin turned her gaze on me, questioning. When the first moans of
pain came through the door, she touched my shoulder in sympathy. I was
trying to wrestle with my recently-made resolve to eliminate Dineel by
whatever means were necessary - with my father's pain on the line as
well as my "honor", I was having a hard time not falling into the trap
Dineel had so carefully set. But Keryin's presence helped - she was
hurting too and she was not rushing heedlessly into the square.
Finally, I said, "If we both slip back into the alley and then
around to Tailor's, we could sneak up behind Dineel..."
Keryin's face had hardened as the moans turned to low screams.
She said, "I have to stop that, Dy. You sneak around that way - as
fast and as quietly as you can. I'll try to get them to stop hurting
"But, what about that 'venom' thing Dineel talked about?"
"Dy," she said with a smile and a gentle touch to the side of my
face, "remember, I'm already dead. Herne will protect my spirit and
guide it to its final rest when my task here is done. They cannot harm
me in any permanent way. Go - every second wasted is one more eternity
in torment for father."
I hugged her, wishing she could stay with me always, then ran for
the alley. The guards still watched the Trainer's Way entrance to the
alley, nervously shifting a bit as the now louder screams echoed from
house to house. I turned back the way Keryin and I had come. I didn't
dare run outright for fear of alerting the guards, but Tailor's Way
wasn't very far along the alley anyway. I turned onto the narrow road
in the direction of the square and immediately slipped back into the
alley: Dineel's hiding place may have been effective from the Square,
but from this end of the street I had a perfect view of the leader of
Hanarl's Octacle. My hands itched for a bow (though I was barely an
average shot) or a sling (with which I was better - there were more
targets for a slingstone than an arrow in a city like Dargon). Since I
had neither, I drew my rosy-golden sword and peered around the corner.
I marked out carefully likely spots of concealment between myself and
Dineel before quietly taking the first step around the corner.
As soon as I was around the corner, my sword began to glow red,
calling up the shell of concealment I had seen it use before. I moved
straight for Dineel, hoping that concealment by ordinary means
wouldn't be needed. It seemed that either luck or the red shield was
working for me, because I was within two steps of Dineel's back - and
him all unawares - when Keryin stepped into the square from the front
door of the Inn with a shouted "Stop!"
From my position I could see the entire Square. I watched five
people step out of concealment, each one with their hands clasped palm
to palm in front of them and a cloud of greyish-greenish light
billowing around those hands. The fingers of those hands were pointed
at Keryin but I could see that everyone was confused by the fact that
it was a woman and not a man that had entered the square. Ederavin had
jerked the wand away from my father's neck at Keryin's cry, ending his
screams, but when he saw it wasn't me who had come to challenge him,
he started to put the wand back to my father's neck. But then he
recognized Keryin, and his eyes widened in fear and he dropped the
wand. It bounced on the well-rim, then fell down inside.
Dineel stayed hidden, but I could see the same fog of
foul-looking light around his hands. I took one step, then another - I
was within range. I lifted my sword to strike, concentrating on
Dineel's back. Just as I was ready to end the threat of Hanarl in
Trasath village, the red shield vanished, to be replaced by a golden
one. At the same time, Keryin cried out "Dyalar!" and I saw a globe of
greyish- greenish light impact with the golden shield and shatter,
scattering a black liquid from its remains.
Dineel wheeled immediately and his face went white when he saw me
there. Some of the black liquid struck him, and he winced in pain. He
leaped backwards, pointed his hands at me, and the cloud of light
around his hands flew at me like the globe had done moments before.
This attack acted like a signal to the others, but they didn't have
even as much success as the first one to fire. Dineel's globe
shattered on the shield, splattering him with even more black liquid -
what I assumed was the "Venom of Hanarl", and which it seemed the
followers of Hanarl were not immune to. Only one other globe came near
me, but it actually hit Dineel, who cried out and staggered. Of the
two remaining globes, one hit the Inn, staining the paint and smoking
a little. The last one somehow managed to hit one of the other octacle
members full in the chest - his screams as he died were deafening, if
Dineel, who was hardier than his followers, retreated further
from me. He called out, "To me!" and the remaining members of the
octacle moved with him towards the well. He glanced behind him and saw
that Ederavin was just staring at me, while Keryin was busily trying
to untie father. He shouted, "Ederavin! Grab the girl! We need to
summon Hanarl, and she's already been a victim - she should provide an
easy entry point for our god!"
Snapped out of his shock by a direct order, Ederavin did as he
was told. Keryin had no weapons, and though she fought as well as she
was able without, Ederavin was able to keep her from running away
until the rest of the octacle arrived and pinned her down at the lip
of the well.
I began running as soon as she went down, breaking out of the
paralysis I had been in watching her struggle, so much like the Dream
that had haunted me for so long. Dineel wasn't wasting time, though.
With the five remaining members of the Octacle pinning Keryin, he
lifted her tunic enough to bare her stomach and using a knife that was
as twisted and sickly looking as everything else having to do with
Hanarl so far, he cut her four times in an simple eight limbed star
pattern. The cuts were not deep, but they did hurt - Keryin's cries
told that - and they did bleed. Then, holding the bloody knife aloft,
Dineel screamed out Hanarl's name over and over, a chant taken up by
the other five.
Though the village square was not large, it seemed to take a
terribly long time to cross to the well. As I drew closer and closer
to my goal, I began to see a shape forming above the well and the six
chanting people there. It was just a blob at first - a presence but
formless. Then, it began to shape itself into a spider-like being. It
had only five legs, though - there were three stumps where its other
legs should have been, showing how much Hanarl had linked itself to
its Octacle. I knew that even with the powers of the sword, and the
blessing of Herne behind me, I would have no chance against this
avatar of a god if it had a chance to arrive fully.
So spurred on, I finally reached the chanting Dineel. His eyes
were only for the arrival of his god - only Keryin noticed my
presence. I hesitated even so, not wanting to strike like this. But I
looked up and saw the only slightly ghostly form of the Hanarl-avatar
there, beginning to move its legs and click its mandibles, and I knew
I had to act. I aimed, and thrust.
My sword entered Dineel's chest from behind. His chanting turned
to a scream that stopped when the first 6 inches of my golden sword
came out his front. The Hanarl-avatar writhed soundlessly, and as
Dineel's life left his body, the head of the spider-thing exploded and
the body vanished like mist blown away by a wind. The five people
holding Keryin down fainted, releasing her. I knelt beside her and
covered her wound with her tunic. She smiled at me and said, "You did
it. I'm very proud of you, Dy. You freed Trasath!"
We hugged, then she said, "Cut father loose - those knots just
didn't want to come untied. Then, we have to get back to the grove. I
don't want father to see me - I can't stay much longer and it would
only hurt him to see me again."
I released father from his bonds, but he was still unconscious
from the wand. Keryin had already started back down the road to our
house and the grove, so I followed her. When I reached home, she was
already in Sock's saddle, waiting for me. There was a faraway look in
her eye that frightened me, but she wouldn't answer any questions. She
just insisted that I mount up. I did, and then we rode at a breakneck
pace back to the grove.
Even before I had reined Sock to a stop, she had dismounted and
was walking back to the two huge oaks. When she entered their shadow,
she went to her knees. I looked away long enough to get down safely
from Sock's back, and when I looked back, she was surrounded by a
I walked over to the oaks and stood behind Keryin, who was
beginning to look a little transparent within the glow. Though she was
not moving, and her head was bowed and thus she couldn't have seen me,
she began to speak in a hollow, almost echoing voice. "Herne speaks
through me," she said. "Herne thanks you for righting a great wrong.
You have done what he was not permitted to do on his own. Now, say
farewell to your sister. Her task is finished - her spirit will be
I knelt and hugged Keryin, surprised at how solid she still felt,
considering how transparent she looked. She raised her head and turned
a tearful face to me and kissed me on the cheek. In a voice that had
lost its echo, she said, "I wish I didn't have to go, Dy. I'll miss
you - these past couple of years have been fun." The scent of roses
made my eyes tear up too.
Addressing the air, I asked, "Does she have to go? If she truly
doesn't want to, that is?"
There was silence for a moment, and then Keryin's eyes got glassy
and the echo returned. She said, "Your sister may not remain embodied
- that is not permitted. But, she could return to being your 'guardian
angel', as you referred to her, if she wished. Your bond with the
magics of your sword allow the two of you this kind of contact -
should you lose the sword, or should it be destroyed, Keryin's spirit
will have to go. The decision is yours, Keryin. You have served me
well - do you wish this to be your reward?"
She came back to herself and said, "Yes, Herne - I want to stay
with Dyalar." She smiled at me as she said this, and I smiled back.
This time, the voice came from the trees of the 'temple'. "So be
it. Come to me, Keryin. Dyalar, turn away. You will not wish to see
the destruction of this body."
I hugged Keryin one last time, and kissed her cheek. She stood
and walked deeper into the shadows between the two ancient trees, and
I walked back to Sock. There was a cry that wasn't of sound, but it
drove through my soul like a sword. Then, there was a change in the
very air, and when I turned I was shocked to see that the towering
oaks had vanished - the 'temple' was now just a stand of normal forest
growth. Of Keryin there was no sign. I mounted Sock and turned back to
the trail back to town. Yet as I rode out of sight of the stones, I
caught the scent of roses on the air, and heard a familiar laugh at
the back of my mind. Smiling, I rode on, but not alone.
1 (C) Copyright July, 1993, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd
. All rights revert to the authors. These stories
may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of
reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the
express permission of the author involved.