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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
The Awakening Orny
Spirit of the Wood Rich Jervis
Dreamer's Holiday Joseph Curwen
Dawn Watch Jim Owens
Date: 042086 Dist: 143
Greetings, all. Well, there is so much to write of here, yet so
little space. Enclosed you will find 4 new Dargon stories (the last
of which takes place well before the current ones). I must apologize
for the delay, but I think you will find it worth the wait. Also,
there will be another issue out before the end of the semester, if I
have my way, although who knows? I might mention that if you look at
the distribution, we are growing at a phenomenal pace, and I'd like
to again thank all the new readers for their interest.
As for new books, look for Janet Morris. She's released two new
books that are the first Thieves' World novels, titled "Beyond
Sanctuary" and "Beyond the Veil" (the latter available only in
hardcover as far as I know). Also, new Robert Anton Wilson, Piers
Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, and a reprint of an old Tanith Lee book.
Two more items. For those of you who will be around this summer,
a user at Cornell is planning on running a play by mail Diplomacy
game over BITNET. For more details send a mail file to UXHJ at
CORNELLA. Finally, for those of you with accounts that will expire
soon, please let me know so that I can delete you from the
distribution list. This will help save me from having to sit up all
night watching sent file messages, as well as the annoyance of
filling up your node's spool space.
The morning sun was boldly creeping towards the edge of
Hartley's sleeping mat when he woke. Sitting up, he shed the single
wool blanket he had been given by one of the peasant women from the
nearby village of Greenmont. He had left the shutters and door of
his modest dwelling open, and the smell of the surrounding pine
woods and the warm sun permeated the room. Shrugging on a light
brown tunic, Hartley leaned out the window and took a deep breath.
This was one of those special May mornings Hartley had been taught
were called Truespring, when spring finally came in a burst of
warmth and lush greenness. The sky was clear and deep azure, and the
leaves on the old Maple out back were calm, signifying that the rest
of the day would not see any spring showers. A nuthatch hung upside
down on a Cedar, nibbling at the piece of suet Hartley had hung only
yesterday afternoon. Truespring had come at last, and Hartley's soul
was healed, after the long days of winter. He could feel the raw,
rejuvenating power of Nature, and he rejoiced in it.
After several very long moments of private reverie, Hartley left
his small cottage with a pewter basin. He walked barefoot down a
well-known path, carpeted with a dun-colored mat of last years
fallen pine needles, eventually coming upon a small woods stream.
The druid climbed upon a stone that jutted into the stream. After a
moment of excited consideration, Hartley tossed the basin towards
the path and stripped off his tunic. The water would be very cold,
but after the winter, Hartley couldn't wait until he could swim a
little and wash all over. After steeling his nerves in the sunlight,
he leapt into the spring runoff. He thrashed around in the water for
a bit, getting clean, and hopped right back up onto the rocks. He
shouldn't stay in too long, after all.
He laid down on the sun-warmed boulder for a time, drying off
and listening to the babble of the rushing water and the voices of
the woods. After several minutes, he donned his robe and filled the
basin, bringing it back to the hut with him.
Walking around to the front of the cabin, Hartley came upon his
garden. Here grew all varieties of flowers and herbs, and, soon,
vegetables. He sprinkled water from the basin around. Most of his
flowers were up, and the Lilacs were blossoming in white and
lavender. His patch of Lilly-in-the-Valley were also blossoming
fragrantly. There was a great deal of work in his garden, but
Hartley knew that it was well worth the effort. It was still a
little early to plant many vegetables, although he ought to head
into town and buy some pea and corn seeds. If he was lucky he could
get two groups of peas before fall, so he planned to get them in the
ground as soon as possible. As for corn, that took all summer to
grow, and should be planted as soon as possible.
He bent down and picked a single Lilly-of-the-Valley stem and
smelled its sweet bell-like blossoms. Placing the basin down, he
walked to the far side of the garden, where he had built his altar
to the twin gods. The altar was nothing more than a small gathering
of stones, but it meant more to Hartley than any other place he
knew. The snow had melted from it, revealing the remains of prior
offerings: a few golden leaves, a pine tassel, and so forth. He
knelt before the altar, placing the Lilly blossom atop it. For
several minutes he sat in silent meditation, worshipping the works
of the two gods, the strong-willed man called Nature and the
softness of Mitra, goddess of Love. Hartley had been taught early
the worship of Nature, and knew little of Mitra save that she was
the all-mother, and Nature's twin companion.
After this ritual was complete, he quietly returned to his home
and prepared for a trip into town.
Spirit of the Wood
The acrid smell of the 'smokers' stung loric's eyes and he
rolled onto his side to cover his head with his lightly tanned arm.
This position was soon ruined also, as an errant beam of early
morning sunlight stole under the shade on the window and hit him in
the corner of his left eye. Soon the battle of boy versus nature was
over and Loric groaned as he gave up and sat up.
He watched the dancing motes of dust pirouette in and out of the
beam of golden light for a few moments and then moved to the window
through which it came.
Loric never ceased to be moved by the sight of his village in
the Trees. The web-like network of vines that linked his home to the
surrounding trees, the home of his uncle down that one, that of his
sister Silsia at the base of the other (she was an unmarried female
and was considered somewhat a rouge by the other villagers, except
Loric who worshipped the ground she walked on even if it was in fact
ground and not the vines he had been born to.
There was a natural depression of the land between here and the
village of Greensward, with the lake shimmering in the exact center
like a jewel of surpassing beauty, in fact the only gem Loric had
ever seen was the blue polished stone that his uncle wore in his
headband, as a sign that the Spirit of the Wood had chosen him to
lead. He was a demanding taskmaster and not taken to change but fair
to all, and his leadership had gotten the people through several
hard winters when the ice-ladened vines had snapped and fallen upon
the 'Downlanders' below.
The mention of the Spirit of the Wood reminded Loric of his
morning prayer. His was a simple one and not really a rhyme to be
proud of but his Grandfather had assured him that as time went on he
would achieve better rapport with the spirit and the Hearth-song
would reveal itself more clearly.
Making a simple hand gesture of acknowledgement to the rising
sun, he sang to the Spirit of the Wood:
"Spirit of the Wood,
Spirit of the Wood,
I'd come be with you,
If I could."
This done Loric took a step outside to see where his Grandfather
was this morning. Loric's father Dernhelm had been one of the
'Downlanders that has perished in the winter and since that time
Loric had lived with his Grandfather, whom everyone in the village
called Oldsir. Loric's awe for his older sister was only
over-shadowed by that for his Grandfather, who though blind for
nearly all of Loric's two years and twelve still negotiated the
vines connecting the upward village with the ease some never
developed. Several of the younger men who were jealous of his seat
on the arboreal council urged him to join his wife and family on the
ground but he always said "If I go below again it'll be on my head!"
"That's a strong oath for a young man to take," commented a
voice from above him. "Shall I swear witness to it, Loric?"
"Oldsir I was talking to myself, and besides, I have yet to take
the Shreaving, and I can swear no oaths before then."
"It is only three more nights till the Moon shows itself full
upon the land, I think perhaps you are ready to try."
Loric was surprised, it had been only a cycle earlier that he
had begged Oldsir to allow him to accompany the young men to the
ground where the Rite of Shreaving began. He looked closely at his
grandfather, somehow sensing the weariness and pain that sometimes
took his Grandfather and shook him for nights in a row. Oldsir
turned tired, sightless eyes upon Loric and in a flash of
inspiration Loric saw what it was that his Grandfather was fatigued
from. His eyes bore the tale-tell spider-tracing of a Vision. The
Spirit of the Wood had spoken to Oldsir, or perhaps through him
during the night. No one alive in his village had ever had two
visions from the Spirit. This meant that something of extreme import
to the village was about to occur.
Oldsir's eyes showed Loric something else equally disturbing.
They revealed to Loric that his Grandfather was dying.
The days between that moment and the day of Sheaving were filled
with a combination of early congratulations from the villagers,
getting his garb fitted for him by his sister, and quiet reflective
evenings as his Grandfather taught him the oral histories, and
shared with him the knowledge of dreams and visions that The Spirit
Loric feared that Oldsir would not live through the days of
Shreaving to see if he became a man. But his Grandfather seemed at
peace and showed no outward sign that his time of death had been
revealed to him. He seemed to convey a quiet dignity that Loric
tried in vain to accept. He felt like shouting and fighting but
there was nothing but shadows for him to vent his anger on.
"Why?" He said finally, unable to keep his fear to himself,
"It's not fair!"
"Is it fair that you were born to my son and not to another,
that the rain falls on the Windbourne mountains and leaves the
Plains of Woe a place where only djervishes can walk?"
The Grand Hall of the Keep of Dargon rivaled the local shrines
and temples in augustness of stature, especially on this night, the
eve of the opening of the Spice Market at the Dargon festival. The
ivory white hall's sumptuous furnishings had been commissioned by
the somewhat frivolous and eccentric grandfather of the the current
Duke. The high flanking windows were decorated with rose red and
aquamarine tinted glass arranged in somewhat bizarre geometric
patterns. Paintings of obscure artists dotted the alabaster white
walls. Short flights of burnished wooden staircases were the only
entrance onto the central dance floor on which was centered a great
ebony clock marking the hours in hollow base tones.
This was the forth night since the beginning of the fairs that
the hall was filled by a voluptuous company. But this night was
special, second only to the opening of the fairs themselves in its
festivities. While small clusters of nobles and merchants mingled on
the edges of the hall discussing the fairs, elegant couples danced
gracefully to the controlled harmonies of the performing orchestra.
One such couple was Kite and Pecora. Youthful, aristocratic,
handsome, recently engaged, and remarkable pleasant, they were
favored and envied by all.
"Your friend Raffen doesn't seem to be having a good time this
evening," Pecora observed indicating a lone man standing in one of
the darker corners of the ivory white hall. A nearby coal brazier
sent ruddy red light onto the man's extremely white face causing an
astonishing macabre effect of which Raffen was apparently unaware.
"He doesn't fit in here for all his efforts. He was invited as
entertainment only. The court wanted to hear of his travels in the
south," Kite responded somewhat worried.
"Other wealthy merchants are here," Pecora suggested.
"Yes, but Raffen isn't wealthy. He holds several commenda."
Noticing her look of noncomprehension Kite added "Agreements with
southern merchants to act as their agent in the fairs. But he lacks
any real property of his own. The payment for his services is
relatively small. A brillant man but still a commoner." Kite's voice
was wistful. He often regretted the social conditions of his
society. "He realizes why he was invited. Perhaps he resents it," he
added somewhat gravely.
"He's been alone most of the evening. Perhaps his novelity has
worn off," Pecora observed.
"I don't know about that. I overheard Sir Ponte and Duralt's
younger brother discussing adopting the custom of wearing facial
talc which Raffen picked up while in the south. I suspect that they
want to share in Raffen's attention."
"Those two would try to capitalize on anything to get the
ladies' attention. But Raffen's not exactly a lady's man... Too
introverted. I don't think that he wears the talc to attract women,
though it does cover his rough complexion well," Pecora said.
"It wasn't so long ago that Sir Ponte had designs on you," Kite
"I knew that there was some reason for our engagement. I just
hope getting rid of Ponte is worth the price," Pecora responded with
equal playfulness and kissed Kite.
"It's Raffen's brooding that chases everyone off," Kite added
after a moment. "He always has something on his mind, though he
never admits what it is."
"Yes, he always appears so contemplative...depressed. He doesn't
dance and often seems so distant."
"Yes, but conversations with him are never dull. Maybe we should
go over," Kite suggested.
"I'd rather have you to myself.... There's Pravo. Why don't you
introduce them. He's also something of a misfit."
"Good idea. Be back in a moment." Kite smiled as he crossed the
As Kite and Pravo approached, Raffen stood admiring an arresting
oil painting detailing an immense cavern wherein cowled riders fly
gray, corpse-like humanoids with large membranous wings from
galleries and high ledges over a darkened, sluggish river flowing
over uncountable cataracts into a distant chasm.
"Raffen, have you met Pravo, one of Dargon's most distinguished
scholars?" Kite asked. The gentleman looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"No, I'm sure that I would recall such a pleasurable
experience." Raffen replied driely.
"I'm sure that you will find that you have much in common. But
I'm afraid that I will have to leave you to yourselves. If you will
excuse me, duty calls," The departing Kite explained gesturing
toward Pecora who seemed to be signalling him.
"I've been looking forward to meeting you, Raffen, since hearing
of your travels to the far south," Pravo said with a bit of hesitation.
"Yes, it seems my adventures have sparked great interest in this
court," Raffen said with artificial warmness tainted with agitation.
"But my interests are different than most, I'll warrant," Pravo
said looking about court, perhaps checking for eavesdroppers. "I am
less concerned with brillant scenes and deeds of daring than with
the cultures and religions which you encountered."
"That is well because my meager collection of brave and daring
deeds are to the point of exhaustion." Both laughed. Raffen began to
develop an interest in the man.
"You see, I am something of a scholar, perhaps you've
encountered my works, 'Legends and Myths of Thasodonia' or 'Northern
"You wrote 'Legends and Myths' !?!" Raffen said with some
excitement. "I've read the work and liked it a great deal."
"You needn't flatter me, I have no great influence here," Pravo
said looking somewhat uncomfortable.
"No, I'm serious. Your rendition of the Tchai myth was the most
complete that I've yet encountered."
"Oh! Then you really have some interest in my field," Pravo said
looking pleased. "Perhaps you can be of some help."
"Hopefully, how might I help you?" Raffen offered with a
slightly sarcastic flourish.
"I'm compiling a collection of creation myths. Perhaps you could
contribute something from the South," Pravo asked hopefully.
"Oh...... I'm sorry but my business there was remarkably
consuming. I had little time to really observe the people."
"Unfortunate." Pravo appeared disappointed. "I was hoping to
uncover something unknown in this area," Pravo said turning away,
showing obvious signs of intent to depart.
"No wait. Let me think.. I do remember one rather unusual tidbit.
Have you ever heard the word 'Squarg'?" Raffen asked with a smile.
"'Squarg'?.... No, not that I recall," Pravo replied somewhat
confused, trying to determine if Raffen was joking. "It doesn't seem
to fit into the linguistics of any language with which I am
familiar. What does it mean?"
"As all really good words, it stands for a concept which is
difficult to express otherwise. Perhaps because it is not of truely
human origin," Raffen added solemnly.
"A nonhuman word? No wonder I did not recognize it.
Interesting... Please attempt to define it as best you can," Pravo
requested somewhat reassured but still confused.
"The best method of defining it lies in the creation myth in
which it originated."
"Oh then, by all means tell it as best you can," Pravo asked
seeming very attentive.
"As the myth goes, the word was coined by the first sentient
creature," Raffen began then stopped.
"Oh, I see. Go on."
"Soon after it was created, the sentience was guided by the All
Creator to a point from which it could view the entirety of reality
so that for the first time the Creator could share his handiwork
with another capable of appreciating it." There was a moments
hesitation in Raffen's speech followed by an encouraging gesture
from Pravo. "The astonished creature looked upon the vastness of
time, space, void, living, and nonliving. In response, the creature
uttered what was probably the first word, though it is almost
certain that this creature possessed no vocal abilities as we know
them. And this first word, this first independent thought, was
'Squarg', or so that is the sound which man has given that word. It
stands for many things. It symbolizes all the wonder and rapture
inherent in a glimpse of the entirety of reality, but at one and the
same time, it relates a certain feeling of pride and contempt,
hubris against the Creator. As if one were to say 'Is this the best
that you could do?' and 'Beware God, I am Man. These realms are mine
to do with as I please and I will do better.' There are other
nuances of course but these are even more difficult to define. All
in all not a very complex creation myth. I hope you will forgive its
brevity and lack of plot," Raffen finished.
"No. No. It is fascinating and original. Unlike any that I've
heard before. A major contribution for my book. How did you come by
it? Some nonhuman work?" Pravo asked in apparent euphoria.
"Perhaps. I first read it in a book called The King in Yellow
though I've seen it elsewhere since," Raffen replied.
"The King in Yellow!?...hmph.. Yes, I've heard of the book,
though I've never seen a copy. I'd almost attributed its existence
as a myth itself what with the remarkable rumors that surround it."
Raffen nodded. "It is said that few survive a perusal with their
sanity fully intact. It has been said to have been the doom of many
"Yes, that is true," Raffen affirmed, lost in thought.
"It was written by an artist, I believe," Pravo offered.
"Yes... It has been and will be written by many artists
individually," Raffen replied, his voice trailing off in volume.
"Pardon, I didn't quite hear that. It's becoming dreadfully
noisy in here. Perhaps we could step outside." Pravo pointed toward
"It is little better out there. But yes, let's." Both exited to
the dark balacony which overlooked a street crowded with celebrating
"About the origin of the book," Pravo began.
"It was written by an artist/poet who was attempting to define
and codify a system of creative motifs and symbols which are common
to all cultures. Metaphors and images which transcend all cultures
and all peoples. It is these primal truths which are said to drive
men mad," Raffen said in a serious tone.
"You seem quite sound and you've read the book." Pravo attempted
"I sometimes wonder..."
Stunned into silence for a moment, Pravo said finally "I am
quite anxious to read the book myself, perhaps you have it at hand?"
"No. My copy is in a safe place very far away. Very far..."
Again Raffen trailed off.
"That is unfortunate. Still, I will do my best to locate a copy
here in Dargon." Pravo seemed somewhat irritated and unsettled by
"Any intellect with the ability and the desire to read the book
will eventually locate it," Raffen offered somewhat mysteriously.
The scholar chuckled weakly. "Then I have some hope... I
think..." Very unsettled, Pravo looked deeply at Raffen who stared
off across the festivities below.
A rather plain looking, middle-aged matron stepped out onto the
balcony and expressed her desire to dance with Pravo before the
musicians departed. Pravo could hardly refuse.
"I hope that we will get a chance to speak again," Pravo said as
they drifted apart, possibly relieved by the interruption.
"I am certain that we will," Raffen replied, uncertain whether
he was heard over the buzz of the company. Seeing that the ball was
nearly at an end, Raffen decided to make his excuses and depart.
Atros felt no guilt for assuming Raffen Yeggent's identity even
though it had required slaying Raffen. The two had met along the
road to Dargon and had remained traveling companions for several
days. Atros had been wary of this relationship from the start,
particularly since he wanted to severe his ties with the city of
Magnus. It might prove difficult later if a witness existed who
could attest to the specifics of his journey. But the somewhat
lonely Raffen had forced himself on Atros and Atros hadn't pressed
the issue. Raffen had been a talkative sort describing in detail his
background, recent travels, business matters, and future plans.
Atros did his best to remain noncommital to Raffen's occasionally
probing questions but it grew to be strenuously difficult at times.
Still, Atros felt so refreshed and contented by virtue on the
continued use of the nepenthe that he had almost enjoyed the verbal
fencing at times.
Atros had sensed almost immediately that Raffen wasn't what one
might call a highly scrupulous individual. Raffen's main pursuit in
life it seemed lay in acquiring wealth. His scruples, if they
existed at all, didn't seem to interfere. Hence, Atros wasn't
particularly surprised by the interest Raffen had shown in his
collection of rare books. This wariness had cost Raffen his life and
saved Atros his own. Raffen had sought to slay Atros in his sleep
but hadn't anticipated a prepared defense. Atros had made quick work
of him, only later realizing the opportunity which Raffen had
afforded him. Raffen had mentioned that he had never visited Dargon
previously nor was anyone there capable of recognizing him. Atros
immediately saw the potential profits in assuming Raffen's business
dealings at the fair but hadn't anticipated being propelled into
Had Atros known of the notoriety involved, he might have chosen
to act otherwise. Atros knew that he could not maintain the disguise
for long. The continued use of the drug, and the peaceful sleep it
offered, had allowed him to lead an almost normal existence. His
distinctive nervous twitching had ceased, but only for so long as
his supply remained. Thus, he had let it be known that he would
depart after the fairs though he anticipated settling in Dargon for
some time. The facial talc was a convenient affectation to help
reduce the possibility of being recognized latter. But still, he
feared discovery because he knew he possessed many unconscious
mannerisms which were difficult to conceal without concerted effort.
He tried to make the best of the situation and enjoy a holiday at
court, a priviledge seldom enjoyed by many.
The street festival was still in full force when Atros left
Dargon Keep on his way to the bordering house in which he was
residing. He wound his way through the narrow, winding streets
filled with indentured servant and aristocrat alike. Each receiving
shares of revelry according to their temperment rather than their
social standing. Here at least was a Dionysian revelry which
contrasted sharply against the austere courtly celebration.
Celebrants in grotesque animal masks and other more bizarre
customing danced in wild revelry to the tune of frenzied music and
racous laughter. Body paints and large, fluttering banners lent
colouring to the normally drab streets and alley ways. Prostitutes,
both amateur and professional, fronged and cajoled the crowd. Cheap
alcohol was the prevalent intoxicant though Atros observed other
more questionable substances being huckstered in the darker corners
of the street. Anything and everything could be had in abundance. It
seemed that a delicious romp was being had by all.
Atros did not view the excessive crowding and noise as an
annoyance. He enjoyed becoming one with the organism of the crowd;
to allow himself to become lost in the fusion of opposing emotional
forces of the gathering. For a time he could let the mood of the
crowd become all, loosing his own worries, fears, and regrets. As any
such gathering, with its loud noises, bright sights, and wild
dancing, its surface was coloured by great gaiety and joy. These
were things to be cherished and saved, hoarded for harder times: the
soft glow of happy faces, the energy of youth, and the vitality of
age. But Atros' strong empathic ability soon penetrated this surface.
Beneath lay darker forces: tensions, deep emotional needs, and
emptiness. These people had come to escape some emptiness which they
could not fill in their day to day lives. They came to forget the
mundane realities of their world for a time and indulge in their
fantasies. But by doing so they brought these emptinesses with them.
Atros sensed that few, if any, were really happy or content with
their lives. All sought release from their confinements, to become
more than themselves if just for a short interval. And to some
measure they were successful. They achieved through strong drink,
orgasmic dancing, casual flirtations, or narcotics what could not be
won in mediocrity. Atros did not judge them for this; he knew
himself to have much worse faults and difficulties. But he could not
avoid feeling a certain unescapible sadness. This fused with the
gaiety to create an overwhelming bitter-sweet atmosphere for Atros.
Atros was so involved with the mood of the crowd that he didn't
notice the prescence of his old acquaintance the alchemist until he
was quite near.
"Gilman! Alive!" Atros' shout was drowned out in the hubbub. He
quickly darted into a nearby entry way which he found to be occupied
by a young couple who obviously resented the intrusion.
In the safety of the darkness Atros began to mutter to himself,
causing some concern in the two youths who soon left Atros to
himself. "Gilman alive....impossible....I don't make mistakes like
that. He was certainly dead. The wound was fatal....No man lives
after loosing that much blood."
Atros glanced out the archway to see Gilman walking rapidly away
apparently scanning the crowd. Atros' hope that he had mistaken a
similar man for Gilman quickly faded. It was the same bedraggled
gray hair peppered with black; the same loping gate as well. Atros
was certain that he'd seen Gilman wearing that course woolen frock
before as well. Even the momentary glimpse of the man's shoes
confirmed that Gilman was alive and in Dargon.
Atros could think of only one explanation for the normally
sedentary Gilman to come to Dargon. He must know or suspect that
Atros was here. His prescence in the crowd was now easily
explainable. How better to find a man in Dargon than to attend a
festival with the better part of the city's visitors and population
in attendance? But had Gilman seen him? As Atros wiped his sweaty
brow and his fingers came away covered with white talc, he realized
that Gilman could not have recognized him. His fearful reaction had
been foolish. Once more Atros glanced out but could not locate
Gilman in the crowd. Atros mentally whipped himself for not
following Gilman immediately as he strode out into the street to
begin the search.
If Gilman were truely searching for him, why had he come alone?
He must realize how outmatched he was. Atros would have anticipated
two or three armed bodyguards accompanying Gilman at the very least.
Nor had Atros believed that Gilman would go to such lengths to seek
him out personally. Gilman just wasn't the vengeful type or so Atros
had believed. But Gilman was alone, which obviously meant something,
though Atros didn't know what that was. It suddenly occurred to him
that perhaps following Gilman hadn't been a wise idea. Perhaps
Gilman had set himself up as bait to draw Atros into some sort of
trap or ambush. Since it was unlikely that he could find him in any
event, Atros gave up the search.
Atros walked home using an indirect route and checking often for
followers, but there were none. As he walked he considered Gilman's
survival. Perhaps the apprentices had arrived much earlier than
Atros had expected and somehow rescued the old man. This seemed
unlikely though Atros spent a few moments worrying that he had been
seen. Not that that really mattered now that the victim was alive.
Besides, even if Gilman had received some sort of aid in time, he
didn't seem to be suffering from his wound. He appeared as whole and
sound as any time Atros had seen him in the past. If anything he
seemed more healthy. Atros considered further. He had read of
alchemical preparations said to restore health to the nearly dead or
to quicken the dead, but he had thought these well beyound the
abilities of Gilman. Gilman might have obtained something of this
sort during his career and his apprentices might have administered
it to him. Atros had one further worry. It was said that one who
imbibed a special preparation of the Philospher's Stone, the secret
ingredient and goal of the highest forms of alchemy, would enjoy a
greatly extended life and would be very resistant to death by
mishap. If Gilman had done this, not only had he thereby survived
Atros' previous attempt on his life, but he would also survive any
getsequent. Invulnerable enemies came near to heading Atros' list of
undesirable possessions. One thing was for certain, all was not well.
The stream was peaceful, the approaching dawn dimly lighting it.
A gentle breeze stirred the leaves, and frogs peeped quietly in the
Eli Barel was asleep in his house nearby. He slept the deep
sleep of a man who had worked hard, and would soon work hard again.
He and his eldest son had worked until evening to put a roof on
Widow Rachel's house, and with the light they would start to cut her
some wood to last her through the winter.
Had he been awake he might have heard the sound of the frogs,
but certainly not the sound of the stream, shielded as it was by the
fifty foot drop over the limestone cliff.
The peace of the stream was rudely broken by the rough sounds of
hooves. There was a stirring of the underbrush, and a horseman and
mount stepped out of the tall grass on the far side of the stream.
As he crossed the water, muddying it, he looked up at the face of
the cliff. A band of twenty or so men, all roughly clad and
unshaven, followed him across. At least three bore the angry marks
of a skull branded on their foreheads, the marks of condemned men.
Most carried swords at their sides, and some had bows slung over
their shoulders. All had a predatory air to them.
As soon as he was in the shadow of the cliff, the leader turned
to face the others, his arm raised for silence.
"At the top this cliff is the first of many houses. In those
houses are groveling vapor-worshippers! There is no one to protect
them, and they will not fight! Take any booty you want, but don't
burn anything. Kill everyone! We will leave no survivors!" He
punctuated the last with a dark scowl.
"What of the women? We were promised women!" A deep muttering
rose from the assembled men. A lecherous grin broke across the
"I didn't say how you had to kill them. It's been a long time
since I've had an infidel's wife!"
Mocking laughter was his only reply. Suddenly one of the raiders
in the back gave a shout, and pointed up.
The leader swiveled in his seat. He looked to the top of the
cliff. There stood a man, holding a staff. He was clothed all in
white, and his face was set with an angry look. He glared at the
cutthroats below with an air of authority that gave even the leader
pause. The murders only paused a moment, though.
Those of the raiders who had bows grabbed them, but before any
could raise them the figure leaned forward, and struck the end of
the rod on the ground, a foot or so short of the cliff edge.
The moment it struck the ground shook. All but two of the
raider's horses fell to the ground. At the same moment, a huge slab
of limestone calved off the face of the cliff. It crumbled as it
fell, causing an avalanche. For a few long moments, rock and dust
poured from the face of the cliff. Then the stream was at peace once
more. Where horses had stood only moments before, there now stood a
pile of rubble.
Eli Barel awoke. His bed still shook slightly. A tremor? Eli
pondered the thought. They were not common, but he had experienced
them before. Nothing more followed, so he relaxed. Slept in today,
he thought. The sun is almost up.
He arose, leaving his wife to groan to herself. He dressed, and
walked out of the house and down the path as he had for over sixty
years. He followed the path as it lead toward the stream. Then,
noticing something different, he left it as it turned down into the
woods, and rather walked up the slope toward the cliff.
He walked up to the edge, and looked over at the pile of rock.
A rockslide, he thought. Levy might like to see this.
He was about to turn to walk back down when the early morning
light caught a reflection. Getting down on his knees, he examined a
dark vein of rock as it ran almost from the cliff edge halfway down
the cliff. As he knelt there his eyes widened. He reached forth his
hand, and with a small effort, wrenched a chunk of rock loose. He
held it up to the light. Even in the morning's dimness, he could see
the metal running through the granite.
"Gold. Gold! GOLD! Everybody! We've got gold on our land!"
Getting to his feet, Eli ran back to the house.
For the last time that day, peace once more fell on the stream.