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Skeptic Tank!

1 +-+ +-+ +-+ +-+--+-+--+-+ VOLUME EIGHT NUMBER ONE | | ========================================== +___________+ FFFFF SSS FFFFF N N EEEEE TTTTT | ++ | F S F NN N E T | ++ | FFF SSS FFF N N N EEE T | | F S F N NN E T |_________| F SSS F N N EEEEE T /___________\ ========================================== | | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine ___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> CONTENTS X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb *Ornate Love Jim Owens Ceda the Executioner: 6 Joel Slatis Date: 070887 Dist: 384 An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project All original materials copyrighted by the author(s) <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> X-Editorial At long last, we have the first issue of the 1987 summer volume. The delay since the last issue is certainly not due to lack of submissions, as I currently have enough material on hand to send out nearly five full issues. Why, then, has 8-1 not been sent out until now? Well, as you will recall (if you read the Xeditorial in the last issue), I am in the process of setting up shop so that FSFnet will be available via standard US post for readers who do not have computer accounts. I vowed that I would not send out 8-1 until I had a firm policy for this. Therefore, it is with great pride that I announce that FSFnet now supports hardcopy subscriptions. Hardcopy subscriptions are available to the public at a cost of $2.00 per issue for domestic orders, and $2.50 per issue for issues sent abroad. These issues will be produced using Amiga desktop publishing. Issues will be improving in the near future, as I am planning on purchasing a new printer for that purpose, and I hope to include graphics in the future. To receive a hardcopy subscription to FSFnet, I need your full name, mailing address, and payment. Please specify the number of issues your subscription will last, and the payment should be the above rate multiplied by the number of issues. Checks should be made payable to David A. Liscomb. Correspondance may be addressed via electronic mail to CSDAVE@MAINE.BITNET or via US post to David A. Liscomb, 221 C Center Street, Bangor Maine, 04401 USA. Now, as I mentioned, we have a backlog of stories waiting to be printed, so future issues will be sent out very soon. Some highlights include the continuation of Joel Slatis' "Ceda" epic, the continuation of John White's "Treasure" series, several short stories by new Dargon authors, several excellent Dargon stories by Jim Owens, and my own "Legend in the Making". So watch your readers! Also of note, several FSFnet writers (myself included) will be attending the Society for Creative Anachronism's Pennsic War on August 8-15. There will be a gathering of Dargon authors for their own secret purposes, and all FSFnet readers are welcome to seek us out. If you will be at Pennsic and wish to drop by, feel free to contact me, and arrangements can be made. Enough! Enough, I say! On to the issue at hand, if you will... -'Orny' Liscomb <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ornate Love Levy crouched low on his wildly galloping horse. Branches swatted him across the face and chest. He glanced back. The wolves were still following. He had shot several before he ran out of arrows. He thought there were about seven of them. Levy and the horse burst into a small clearing. Grass grew tall in the meadow. Levy turned back just as they reached the far side. He had been right: seven. Levy Barel was the son of the mayor of a village near Dargon, a city a little to the south. He was a blacksmith by trade, and just about everything else by choice. He had just escaped from the clutches of a minor lord, who had been coercing him into building siege engines for a small war. In the process of escaping Levy had managed to make a breach in said lord's keep, and that lord had pursued Levy into the wilderness. Levy had been riding for two days before the wolves had found his trail. Levy lifted his gaze to the far trees. There was a path on the other side of the field. Levy urged his horse on faster. The exhausted beast responded weakly. The wolves kept up easily. Soon the path dipped, running a few yards below the lip of a steep slope. Levy drew his sword. To his left the slope dropped down, disappearing into the trees. To his right, almost level with his face, was the top of the slope. Levy knew the wolves would try to move up beside him. He would have to fight them off. He just hoped his horse had the strength to not fall. He glanced quickly to his left. Through the treetops he could see that he was in a valley, with a lake in the bottom. He was not far from the lake. If he could somehow use that to his advantage... He never got the chance. A flash of gray was the only warning he got before one hundred pounds of hungry carnivore hurled itself at him from the top of the slope. Levy smashed the wolf's skull with his sword, but its body threw him off his horse. The impact knocked Levy's breath out, and a moment later he blacked out when he cracked his head on a tree trunk. The next thing Levy knew he was rolling down a slope. He threw out his arms, and managed to slow himself to the point where he could get his feet under himself and slow to a jog. His head was throbbing, along with the rest of his body. He felt his body with his hands. He seemed intact, but all his possessions, including his knife, were lost on the slope above. He could still hear the wolves. He continued to jog down the slope, in hopes of reaching the water before the wolves reached him. He could see the trees thin out ahead, and the underbrush thicken. As he approached it, he could start to hear the sounds of canine feet on the slope behind him. He started to run. He reached the undergrowth just as the first howl reached his ears. He tried to crash through, but part of the way through his foot caught on something. His still-pounding head spun as he pitched forward. He crawled forward, out of the undergrowth. He looked up, and saw her. It would have been hard to tell which of the two was more surprised. The last thing Levy expected to see in that wild area was a young woman, dressed in flowing white. Judging from the expression on her face, the last thing she expected was a battered and bleeding stranger. Both, however, could hear the running animals following close behind Levy, and both took what they thought was appropriate action. Levy continued to try to reach the water, and she took her ornately decorated staff in a firm, two handed grip. When the first wolf burst from the bushes, she caught it with a sharp blow to the head. There was a sharp crack, and the animal crashed to the ground. The next animal caught her backstroke, and also dropped. Neither moved after that. The rest of the animals were more cautious. They formed a semi-circle around the two humans. While the woman stood, braced for more action, Levy levered himself up. He glanced around for a weapon. Pulled up on the flat beach was a boat. In it were some long pieces of trimmed ash. He grabbed one, and turned around in time to see her strike another wolf with her staff. He realized that the decorations were made of multicolored metal. He could also smell a strange smell in the air. The other four wolves did not want to fall back. Levy leaped out at one of them. He swung the ash branch, and connected with the animal. The staff returned bloody. The wolf staggered. He swung again, and it fell. He heard a now-familiar crack, and started to turn. Then the world exploded in black. When light returned to the world, Levy found himself lying on something soft, in a cedar-scented area. He opened his eyes, and promptly closed them again when a wave of pain took over his head. He tried to soothe the ache with his hand, only to develop a world of others the moment he tried to move. He finally realized that his entire body hurt. It was then that he finally allowed himself the luxury of a groan. "Hello?" Levy paused. The voice was beautifully feminine. He tried again to open his eyes, but shut them tight once more. A cool, smooth hand settled on his forehead. "Can you understand me?" "Uuuhhh..." It wasn't quite what Levy had in mind, but it was all his tongue would produce. He swallowed and tried again. "Yes, I can understand you." Something cold and wet was placed over his eyes. "How are you feeling?" "Badly. I hurt all over. It hurts to open my eyes." "I accidentally hit you with my staff. I couldn't wake you up after that, and I'm afraid I dropped you a few times getting you back to the house. I'm sorry." "'S'all right. What of the wolves?" "The last two ran off. I left the others there. They're probably eaten by now. The wolves are hungry around here." "So I see." Levy pushed the cloth aside and forced his eyes open. The light stung, but he wanted to see who he was talking to. "Who are you?" Seeing her charge taking an interest in life once more, the woman leaned back in her chair. "My name is Sarah." Levy looked at her and at their surroundings. She was clothed in a light blue dress, and the room was a rather large one, of well-dressed logs. Light was streaming in slatted windows. It looked like morning sunshine. "What time is it?" Levy tried sitting up. Blackness threatened to swallow him again, so he leaned back again. "Mid-morning. I brought you here yesterday. You've slept since then. You should sleep some more." Levy's head was really hurting by that time. "Maybe you're right." He closed his eyes, and relaxed. Levy awoke later on that night, in time for supper. Sarah served pot-au-feu in ornately carved bowls. She and Levy ate quietly, using shiny steel spoons. She cut the bread with a beautiful knife, also of steel, with a handle of wood and intricately wrought gold and silver. Levy picked up the knife after she put it down. "This is beautiful. I don't know if I've ever seen work quite like this. Where'd you get it?" "I made it. I made all these things." She waved her hand at the table utensils. "They're very nice. Where did you get the steel?" Levy knew that steel was not easy to come by, even for someone rich enough to be a goldsmith. "My father made it." Levy looked at her, slightly startled. He had only ever seen steel being made once, and that was in Dargon. "I would like to watch him work. Do you think I could?" Sarah bowed her head. When she raised it her face was sad. "I would like to see him work again, too. He's been dead now three years." She looked out across the table, avoiding Levy's eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't know." Levy thought for a moment. "Who else lives here?" "I live alone." A strange thoughtful expression came over her face, as if she just then realized that she was alone with a stranger. "Alone? Is there anyone else around here?" asked Levy. A woman living alone in the wilderness was unheard of. "No, we, that is, my father, made sure of that. He, didn't want anyone around here." She looked away again. Levy realized that she had not wanted to tell him that, but that it slipped out. He prudently changed the subject. "What of your mother?" Levy guessed that Sarah was about twenty. "She died when I was young." Sarah brightened up at the change of topic. "I do have three brothers. They don't live too far from here. The nearest is only three days riding away." Levy looked out the window. The last of the sunlight was fading from the hilltops. "I suppose it's time to go back to sleep." Sarah stood. "After your adventure I should think you would want to sleep some more." She put the bread into the cupboard and started gathering the dishes off the table. "I'm afraid that compared to some of the things I've gone through lately, that was merely exciting." Sarah looked at him. "Oh?" Levy helped her gather the tableware. This brought more strange looks from Sarah. Levy noticed her expression. "I don't like to be a burden when I'm a guest in someone's home." She shook her head. "I'm just not used to seeing a man do women's work." "When you're not married, it's all your work." Levy had turned to carry the dishes to the tub, and did not see her next expression. Levy awoke the next morning feeling stiff, but otherwise sound. Sunlight was coming in through the slats, telling him he had slept late. He got up and looked around. Sarah was not in the house. He stepped outside. He had known from the views out the windows that the lake was nearby, but it soon became obvious that the house was built on an island. The island was a small hill sticking up out of the middle of the lake. The house was built near the top. The boat he had seen was docked at a neat pier hidden in a small cove just below the house. The house turned out to be fairly large. When inside he had only seen the main living room/kitchen, with two doors leading off it. One door he knew led to the room Sarah slept in, the other was a covered walk leading to the privy. Now he saw that the house was almost a hundred feet long. Levy's parents were fairly wealthy, and their house was only thirty feet square. This house was over three times larger. Levy started to walk towards the back of the house. He had gotten almost to the back when he came across an open door. From inside he could smell hot metal. Levy stepped inside. At first he couldn't see anything, but as his eyes adjusted he could see a reddish light coming from further inside. He took a step towards it, and fell over something hard and heavy. Metal objects clattered to the floor. He heard a gasp, and sudden light blinded him. "Who's there?" It was Sarah, sounding frightened. "It's me, Levy." Levy picked himself up out of the debris. The light revealed a neat smithy, with an incongruous pile of metal scraps just inside the doorway. Sarah poked her head around from behind what seemed to be a wide brick pillar. She was holding her staff. She stared at Levy for a long moment. He could see that she had been deeply startled, and that a glimmer of distrust was playing on her mind. Then she relaxed her grip on her staff somewhat and stepped into view. "You startled me." She smiled then. "Come. I'm working." Levy followed her around the pillar. It turned out to be a small forge. Her workbench held a half-finished piece. Levy studied it for a moment, but couldn't quite tell what it was. Sarah smiled when she saw his puzzled look. "I'm not sure myself what it's going to be yet. I started it out to go on a knife handle, but I haven't made a staff for a long time. I may put it on a staff end." "Did you make this?" Levy had picked up her staff, which she had leaned up against a nearby bench. It was about four feet long, wooden with the bottom and top capped with metal. The bottom was a simple steel cup, but the top was not. It was almost a foot long, gold and silver, with large crystal inlays. It was intricately decorated in woodland motifs, although in places it was worn almost smooth. "I made some, and my father made some. He was getting sick a lot, and he said I should carry a stick to protect myself when in the woods. He insisted on helping design the headcap." Levy hefted it, and smacked it against his hand. It was sturdy, and quite heavy. His arm twitched when the metal touched his palm. He repeated the action, harder, and was surprised when his entire right side convulsed. He almost dropped the staff. He gave Sarah a shocked look. She smiled back. "That was one of father's secrets. He had many of them. He said that when you hit that kind of crystal just right, strange things happen." Levy carefully leaned the staff back against the bench. "Where do you sell what you make?" "I ride to a town a few days away. It's not the closest, but father insisted I go there, so that..." She stopped abruptly. "So that what?" Levy again sensed she was holding back. "He just insisted I go there." She bent over her work. Wanting to change the subject, Levy looked around. There was a table with some completed works on it, knives, plates, cups, spoons, and other household items. He noticed the lack of the usual swords, daggers, and pieces of armor. The largest blade was suitable only for kitchen work. "Did you father teach you smithy?" "Yes. He was a very good smith. All the people around knew his work. We lived very well." "How do you get by now?" She sounded cheerful. "I have everything I need here for the most part. I only sell things when I need something I can't make or grow myself, like fine fabric, or salt." Levy started to bore of the conversation. "I'm going to look around, O.K.?" Levy started for the door. "All right." Sarah continued with her work. Levy picked up walking where he had left off. The woods pressed close to the house on the north and east side. When Levy rounded the south-eastern corner, however, he was in for a surprise. What he saw belonged in a large city, not on a hillside in the middle of a wooded wilderness. He saw wheels and derricks, pulleys and bellcranks, pipes and carts, and most of them moving. For a long time all Levy could do was stare. "Levy!" Levy turned around in time to see Sarah burst around the corner of the house. She stopped dead when she saw him standing there. Levy looked back at the amazing sight. He suddenly saw some order in the mass of hardware. His eye fell on a shack roughly in the middle of the confusion. Above it a derrick held a large pulley. A bellcrank stood nearby, with wooden rods attached to it. One rod disappeared into some tall grass, the other into the building. The crank was slowly rocking back and forth. His eye lighted upon a large bucket sitting in front of the shack. He thought back to Sarah's hesitancy to discuss the outside world, and to what she had said by the forge. Suddenly he understood. Levy turned back toward where Sarah stood. "You have a gold mine here. You don't want anyone to know, so you don't sell near here, but several days away." He saw the acknowledgement in her eyes. He turned back to the shack. "What drives the mechanism?" Sarah didn't answer for a moment. "There's a windmill on the other end of the island. We couldn't get enough wind here, so Father ran rods across the island. We use it to pump the shaft dry, and to pull rock up out of the mine." Levy walked down to the shack. A path ran down the hill to where a large pile of rock had been dumped into the water. Levy looked out across the lake. He stared for a few moments, then walked back up the hill to where Sarah stood, quietly weeping. "Your father made this lake, didn't he?" Sarah silently nodded her head in agreement. "Tell me about your father." Three hours later, Levy leaned back in his chair. Sarah was not looking at him or at anything in particular. "So he and your brothers built all this over twenty years, right?" "Yes. Then my brothers left, moved away, and then three years ago, Father died." Sarah slowly looked around the room. "I still expect to hear him come tromping up to the house in the morning, or hear him singing in the shop. I miss him." They sat silent for a moment. Then Sarah stood and walked to the hearth, where she poured herself more tea. "There's one other thing I miss Father for, something I've been thinking about recently." She walked back to the table, a thoughtful expression on her face. She sat down, and looked Levy straight in the face. "The last batch of steel he smelted is gone. I have gold, and silver, but no more steel. I need steel to make things, and I want you to help me smelt some more." Startled, Levy didn't say anything at first. Steel-making was an art that was carefully guarded. Steel could do things that mere iron would not. The need always out-weighed the supply, and anyone who could make steel would never want for money. On the other hand, steel making was neither easy nor fast. He had not planned on staying in the area for that long. He paused at that thought, remembering why he was even in that area, and realized that he had nothing better to do. "I'll help you." The next day Levy and Sarah loaded the boat with some food and tools, and headed for the outer banks of the lake. The first place they landed was the place where they had first met. There they collected Levy's lost goods, including his sword. To Levy's pleasant surprise, they also found his horse. Levy pulled the saddle off the animal, and put the saddle into the boat. As there was no way to take the horse with them, Levy released it to roam the lake shore. They then headed for the opposite side of the lake. There they paddled up a small river that fed into the lake. They followed it for about a mile. They then pulled the boat up onto the shore, and hid it in a small shelter made of stones. Levy followed Sarah into the trees. They soon reached the bottom of a cliff. There was the furnace. It was thirty feet high, with a water-powered conveyor running up the side. Ore sat in a large pile off to one side. Levy pointed to it. "Where did you find the ore?" Sarah pointed up river. "There is a bog a few miles up stream. We collected bog iron, and floated it downstream." Sarah explained that the site had been chosen for it's nearness to a vein of limestone lying exposed in the cliff. Levy and Sarah started digging the lime and hauling it the few hundred feet to the furnace. By evening they realized that it would take several days for the two of them to prepare the charge for burning. They gathered all their stuff, and returned to the island. The next day they set forth again. This time they packed for a stay of several days. Sarah dropped Levy off on the shore where they had left his horse, and then she started for the other shore. Levy caught his horse, and spent the morning riding to the furnace. When he got there he found Sarah cleaning out a small hut hidden in the trees near the furnace. By nightfall the small house was warm and relatively dry. The next day Levy spent cutting wood to fuel the furnace. He cut it on a slope overlooking the river, upstream from the furnace. When he trimmed the logs sufficiently, he rolled them into the water, where they floated down to where Sarah was waiting by the furnace. Levy joined her, and Sarah showed him how her father and brothers had made a device to pull the logs from the water using pulleys and rope. By night several large logs lay by the furnace. It was quite dark by the time Levy approached the hut for the final time that night. He leaned the axe Sarah had given him against the wall, and quietly pushed the door open. He stepped inside onto the soft dirt floor, and was surprised to see that Sarah had hung blankets from the ceiling to separate the small hut into two halves. A moments reflection made him realize for the first time in at least two days that she was, after all, a woman, and in need of privacy. He quietly arranged his blankets on his mat, blew out the lamp, and fell asleep. The next four days the two spent cutting wood and digging lime for the furnace. The only time they saw each other was in the morning and in the evening. By the time the eve of the fourth day drew near, the sky was heavy with clouds. Levy had just leaned his axe and maul against the wall for the night when the first drops hit his hand. He stepped inside, and the rain came down. All night and most of the next day it rained. The river grew too high to use, and water cascaded down the cliff face where they had been digging lime. All there was to do was to sit inside and talk. They talked of steel, and how to make it, and of metal, and of wood, of rock, and gold, and commerce, and politics, and of as many topics as they could find to discuss. Levy found in Sarah a companion who was as interested in life as he was, and who, for a woman growing up in an isolated place, was surprisingly well versed in human nature. A few hours before sunset the rain stopped. Levy and Sarah ventured out, Sarah to gather some wild food, and Levy to inspect the damage done to their designs. He walked up to the lime pit, and found it a little bigger, but otherwise untouched. He inspected the pulleys and the water wheel, and found them little worse for wear. He inspected the furnace, and his stack of wood, and found everything in good shape. He walked back to the hut as dark fell, with a greater respect for the workmanship of Sarah's father and brothers. He quietly stepped inside the small hut. His lamp was dark, but Sarah's was lit. As he stepped into the shack, he saw that the blankets separating her side from his were slightly askew. As he stood there, he could see her through the opening, as she undressed for bed. Quietly, so as not to make any sound, he stepped closer to the curtain. He took hold of the edge with his hand, and, with one movement, pulled the curtain the rest of the way closed. He then undressed, and went to bed. The morning brought warm air and bright sunshine. Levy stepped out of the hut and stretched. It was such days that made him yearn for adventure. Sarah was still in bed, sleeping in late after the previous day's inactivity. Levy picked up the axe from where he had set it before the rain started. He discovered to his dismay that the wooden handle was wet. He mentally chided himself for carelessly exposing the precious instrument to the harsh elements. He inspected the axe head, and found to his relief that there was no trace of rust on the metal. When he hefted the maul, however, he discovered that the cutting blade was orange with oxide. Mentally kicking himself, he started for the wood pile, and then paused. He once again lifted the tools to look at them. Sarah was surprised when she stepped out of the hut to find Levy squatting by the fire. She walked over to see what he was doing. He was holding the maul head in the fire. He had removed it from its handle, and was supporting it with a smaller branch threaded through the mounting hole. As she approached, he turned to face her. "Come here. I want to show you something." She stood beside him, and he turned back to the fire. He pulled the smoking metal from the flame, and rested it on a flat rock. He then lifted a smaller rock with a small depression on its face. In the depression was a small pool of dirty water, that had a crust of white powder around it. As she watched, he dripped a few drops of the liquid on the hot metal. It hissed, and as she watched, the fluid ate a small pit in the iron. "Now watch this." Levy said as he exchanged the maul head for the axe head, which Sarah saw that he had also placed in the fire. He dripped the same fluid on the axe head, but when the water was finally evaporated, there was merely a small spot of white scum on the metal, with no other adverse affects. Levy turned back to Sarah, a triumphant look on his face. "So?" Sarah looked puzzled for a moment. Then her face brightened. "Oh| I see. Father made that maul a long time ago, before he changed the formula|" Seeing the look of noncomprehension of Levy's face, she elaborated. "When I was small he changed the formula for the steel. None of his new steel rusts or corrodes or anything. That's why we hid out here in the forest. Father was afraid someone would try to steal the secret." Levy looked back at the axe head. The edge was shining dully in the morning sun. "Are you going to show me the secret?" "I probably will. Father didn't show me how to make steel until the last few years of his life. I don't know any other way to make it." With that she turned to the morning's tasks, leaving Levy to wonder, and to rebuild the disassembled tools. After several more days of work, two of which were used to burn the wood down to charcoal, the charge was finally ready to go. After digging the lime for the flux, Sarah had woven more baskets for carrying ore, lime, and charcoal up to the mouth of the furnace. The two of them had rebuilt the troughs for the melt to flow into when it was done, and Levy had finished some minor repairs to the conveyor mechanism and the water-powered blower to fire the furnace. Finally all was in readiness, and Sarah lit the fire. The several hours that followed were anticlimactic, spent waiting for the fire to build. When the fire finally caught, however, Levy and Sarah found themselves the proud parents of a monster. Levy climbed to the top of the furnace, to feed the flame, while Sarah stayed on the bottom to pass Levy fuel and ore. The smoke billowing out of the top made Levy long for an extra pair of lungs, and the heat emanating from the bottom made Sarah wish she could strip off her blouse like Levy could. They fed the fire, checked the mix, and fed the fire some more. The day wore slowly on, as their piles of ore, lime, and charcoal dwindled quickly to nothing. Twilight found Levy still at the top of the furnace, feeding in the last of the lime. He dumped a bucket of rock into the furnace, and hooked the empty container to the return line. He turned to get the next bucket, only to find instead a smiling if sweaty Sarah. "You're the best thing I've seen all day." Levy exclaimed as he helped her out. "I wanted to take a look, and to help you with the last buckets." While Levy reached for the next container, she looked down into the dark, smoking pit that was the mouth of the furnace. Levy lifted the bucket up to the chute, to pour it into the inferno, and then stopped. "Hey| What's this?" Levy reached into the basket and pulled out a large black crystal. The basket was full of such crystals. Sarah was grinning from ear to ear. "That, Levy, is my father's secret." Sarah reached in the basket and selected another chunk of rock. This one was greenish in color. "Father found that," She said, indicating Levy's crystal, "in an outcropping on the other side of the lake. He thought it might be coal, so he brought it over and tried to make steel with it. It didn't burn, and he forgot about it for years. This," she said, tossing the green rock in her hand, "we find in our mine, with copper. Father knew that silver could be alloyed with gold, to make it harder, so he tried alloying silver and things with the iron, to make better iron. Nothing seemed to work, as he told me. He would often tell me this story, when I was young, before I would go to bed. Then one day he tried this green rock, and the iron got harder. He thought at first that it was copper, but he remembered that copper would not alloy with the iron. Then, later, he tried that," indicating Levy's black rock, "and the steel wouldn't rust." Levy took the green rock from Sarah, and set it aside along with the black crystal. He and Sarah then dumped the rest of the buckets, containing the different ores, into the fire. Levy then collected his specimens, and the two rode the return line down. It was black out when Levy finally punched through the baked mud at the bottom of the furnace, and allowed the white-hot steel to pour out into the troughs. He and Sarah then retreated from the intense heat, as the metal flowed out into the molds waiting for it. All that night and all the next day they allowed the metal to cool. While they waited they cleaned the slag out of the furnace and put anything that could rot into the special storage places Sarah's father had made. Over the next few days they laboriously sawed the steel into pieces small enough to carry and rowed it over to the island. They had just gotten the last few pieces stored when it again started to rain. Later that evening Levy was looking out through the slatted window at the patterns the rain made on the lake. Behind him Sarah worked on an ornament for a spoon handle. "How often do you see other people?" Levy asked, still facing out the window. "Not very often." Levy walked over to where Sarah was sitting. He pulled a chair up beside her and sat down. "Don't you ever get lonely out here?" "Very." Sarah looked away for a moment. "Why is it that you never married?" Levy leaned back in his chair. "I don't know. It's not through lack of opportunity. I have been the object of many young girls' eyes. I just never had the time to properly court any of them. There always seemed to be better things to do. That, and the fact that I must marry inside my own clan, or lose my inheritance." Levy noticed that Sarah seemed to frown slightly when he said that. "Have you ever taken a fancy to any men?" Sarah smiled as she looked away. "Only the one I'm talking to." Levy blushed a little, and she continued. "I've never really gotten to know any others, except my brothers." Silence reigned for a long moment. Sarah broke the silence. "What is the name of your clan?" "Barel. We come from a man named Eli Barel, who was granted some land by a lord for having saved his kingdom from a war. Eli Barel came from a country away south, one that I've visited twice. I could marry one of them, but they are too strange for me, too foreign. What clan or descent do you have?" Sarah frowned, then stood and walked over to a shelf over a window. She brought down a silver plate, with engraving on it. "This is my family crest. Father said we also came from the south, but then just about everything is south when you're this far north. I've only once met someone else from our clan, and he had come north just to tell my father that Grandfather had died, and that Father was now the new Elder. Father refused. He said he was too old." "That sounds familiar for some reason. I may have met some of your relatives in my travels." Levy looked at the crest. It was complex, but the main symbol was that of a cogwheel. The more Levy looked at the plate the more familiar it looked, yet without quite revealing its origin to him. Levy drew his knife. He gave it to Sarah, so she could look at it. On it was the Barel crest, also complex, with a compass on it. "This was granted to Eli Barel at the same time he was granted the village I come from. Our family had a crest before that, but I've only ever seen it once." Sarah looked at it for a moment, then handed it back. "I've only ever seen one other crest, the one belonging to the mayor of the nearest town. We engraved it on a beer stein for him." Sarah giggled at that. "He probably sees it every day. He drinks a lot of beer. Listen, I'm tired. I'm going to go to bed now. Sleep well." She put the plate back on the shelf, and then walked to her room and closed the door. Levy sat alone and thought for a bit, then, as the last of the sunshine disappeared, doused the lamps and went to bed himself. Levy awoke the next morning to find Sarah shaking him. The sun had yet to come up, and it was raining very hard. Sarah looked anxious. "You've got to help me. The water level in the lake is rising. We have to open the floodgates, or the dam will be overwhelmed." She handed him a large overcoat. "Don't bother putting on your clothes. This is very warm, and you'll just get hot with the others on. You'll need this for the rain." Levy stepped into the coat and followed her out. They climbed down the hill and into the boat. The dock was already under water. They rowed to the dam. The rain made bailing a requirement, but the wind was to their back, and they made good time. It was just getting light by the time they reached the dam. Levy followed Sarah up the dam face. The cold and wet had driven the dullness from his mind, and, for some reason, the image of Sarah's family crest kept running through his head. Strangely enough, the image in his mind was not that of a silver plate, but of a colorful drawing in an old book. Hard as he tried, however, he could not force himself to remember where he had seen the book. He got so involved in trying to remember that he found himself lagging far behind Sarah. He hurried to catch up. Trees grew on the slope, planted by Sarah's father to conceal the artificial nature of the structure. At the top was a raised walkway connecting the floodgates, with the first of the two gates a few feet from where Sarah and Levy stepped on the walk. Sarah ran to it and started to crank the windlass to raise the first gate. "You open the other one." She pointed to the far end of the walk. Levy ran to the far end. There he found a similar setup. He seized the crank and started turning, images of paper and bindings still running past his mind's eye. He hadn't made more than two revolutions when he was startled by a loud roar. He looked up just in time to see a large section of cliff break off and slide into the water a few hundred yards away. He looked back at Sarah. "That happens every so often." She shouted to him. She turned back to cranking, as did he. He managed to get the gate partway open. Then the whole world seemed to fall out from under him. A great wave, caused by the rockslide, crashed into the walkway and carried it and him over the face of the dam. Levy was submerged. When he surfaced, he found part of the walk floating near him, and he climbed aboard. He looked around. He was floating away from the dam with increasing speed, and was equidistant from both shores. On top of the dam Sarah stood, her hands covering her mouth. He waved to her, to show her he was all right. Hesitantly, she waved back. A sudden dip then threw him on his face. He struggled back to his hands and knees when another threw him back down again. When he finally looked back at the top of the dam, Sarah was not there. An afternoon three months later Levy was riding through the woods once more. The horse was one he had recently purchased, as was all his tack and most of his equipment. It was nearing dusk, and he saw a light shining through the trees up ahead. Cautiously he approached it. It turned out to be another traveller, relying on a fire to keep the wolves away. The stranger seemed eager for Levy's company when it was offered, so Levy made camp with the man. The next day, over breakfast, they told each other of their destinations. Levy told the man only some of what Sarah had told him about herself, but the man was sympathetic to Levy's plight, and seemed to want to help. "I'm a trader, but I don't know of any woman dealing in these parts. I am a little out of my way, though, so I will keep my ears open. Where did you say you were headed?" The stranger paused in the middle of a block of cheese. "I'm headed for the next village, and the next, and the next, until winter comes, or I find her. I floated for three days before I could get to shore, so I figure she lives in this area. I don't remember all the tributaries and forks in the river I hit, though, so I'm not sure exactly where to look." Levy shrugged and stared at the fire, poking it with a stick. "A woman selling carved utensils, living alone. I'll try to remember that. Anything else?" Levy leaned over and grabbed his pack. From it he pulled a piece of fine leather. He unrolled it slowly, carefully. Inscribed on it, in bright colors, was a crest. "If you see anything with this crest on it, you've found her." As he held it up for the trader to see, Levy fingered the small signature on the lower right corner. It was the name of the Dargon court historian, who kept family records from many areas, even areas to the far south. While he was recovering from his harrowing journey downstream, and in the weeks that followed, as he worked to earn enough money to buy another horse, Levy had thought hard about that crest that Sarah had shown him. When he finally got enough money together, he had journeyed south to Dargon, where he had found the court historian. Together they had searched the records. It wasn't until Levy had set eyes on the old book on the top shelf that the memories had come flooding back. By the time he found the correct page, his eyes were almost blinded with tears of anxiousness and joy. Levy hadn't seen that page for years, since the time when he had made a thorough search of the records at his father's behest. Levy still remembered the excitement he had felt, those many years ago, when he had at last found the original Barel family crest. After the trader had committed the design to memory, Levy carefully put it back in his pack, broke camp, and saddled up. After thanking the trader, Levy rode off. The trader watched him go, shaking his head sympathetically. He then went about washing his kettle and breaking camp. That done, he paused for a few minutes to polish his wares and study the goods he had swapped. He was almost ready to put them all away when he stopped cold. He reached down, and with trembling hands picked up a spoon, wooden with an ornately carved golden handle. He stared at it for a long moment, then leaped to his feet. He stuffed the other goods quickly into the sack, tied the sack to his horse, and kicked out the fire. He saddled up, and rode off hard in pursuit of Levy. -Jim Owens <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<> Ceda the Executioner: Chapter 6 Though the meal that they had just completed weighed heavily in their stomachs, they wasted no time in getting through the forest. Aroth knew of a secret road used only by the Wood Elves that cut across the forest lengthwise which took them north to the Ruirsian barren country. Galloping over the moist green grass and led by the rich light of the almost full moon that hung somberly overhead, they rode many leagues. Off in the distance on their left, Nuum-Deaon jutted out of the emptiness effectively hiding its brother fortress somewhere behind the cover of its eery stone walls. The next thirteen days drew by quickly. In this time they had ridden north to Cramstrock where they replenished their provisions and employed Ceda's wingless dragon mount, Melgon to their convocation. Then turning to the south they left Cramstrock and rode out into the desert before turning east, traveling north of the Aun Hills along the border of the Plime Sea to the southern border of the Voidland. A few miles to the north lay Weuyrt, land of forests. They had reached the border by dusk the fourteenth day. Ceda pulled Melgon to an abrupt halt as Aroth rode up beside him. He stared off into the swampland that lay before him and wondered at his fate. Would he return unscathed from the Caves? Would he survive? The jungle that met the land far in the distance over the swampy plain of the Voidland's countryside was not so distant now. It would be infested with bands of Orcs, Nuadrin and Hobgoblins, all deadly. The Giants that lived in Weuyrt would be the worst when met. Though some of them would be friendly, and subsequently a good ally, others would not... If they survived the trek through the dense jungle then they would have to enter the Caves; Hardly a reward or even any relief from the previously perilous journey they will have just completed. Both the travelers realized what the chances of success would be though none dared say it. Ceda spurred Melgon to a laggard trot entering the Voidland. They could already feel the humidity of the jungle burning in their nostrils and smothering their faces; even the land they now passed was wet with moister and dense vegetation was beginning to thicken around them. They had not ridden far into the Voidland when they first noticed a single rider approaching them from the north. He was galloping toward them at a great pace ignoring the murky water that splashed upon him soiling his apparel and the dangerous moors he nearly missed in his haste. As he neared them they could see he was Human. Though arrayed in the blue and yellow raiment typical to that of a Ruirsian soldier, he wore no armor or helm. His face was bold and concerned and his long red hair flew proudly behind him in the strong face of the wind. He wore a sword at his side that bounced along nonchalantly as his horse galloped over the scabrous landscape. He pulled his horse to a stop two dragon lengths before them and bowed to them from his horse. "Hail travelers! I am Azzar, royal scout of Caahah, servant to his Majesty Threythus II. My greetings." "Greetings. I am Ceda of No-Al Ben," replied Ceda. "And I Aroth, Lord of Carne," said Aroth in turn. Azzar bowed again hearing Aroth's title. "I have news from the north in Weuyrt, since that is where your destination seemingly lies, and even if it does not." "It is," said Ceda. "What news of the wild lands that lay on the road from Arnmere do you bear? Is the way ahead safe?" "Nay," cried the scout in dismay. "The wilder Giants have broken our will attacking in full might. They have driven our forces west across the jungles toward the Plime Sea. I ride for Caahah now to inform his majesty that Weuyrt has fallen to their hordes. Even as we now speak many pursue me on foot and are not far behind." "A small band has followed your horse all the way from the shadows of Arnmere?" asked Aroth in alarm. "Do they fly? How do they follow you at such a speed as that which your horse can muster?" "It is worse than that. The news of Weuyrt's fall is nigh two suns passed. I camped on the borders to see how far the host would advance and it is sorry news, but they come in numbers uncounted to the Voidland. At the speed they are traveling now, they will reach the very gates of Caahah before five more suns will fall." "This is grave news indeed," said Aroth. "What of the men in Weuyrt? How many were there and how many survived?" "We were nigh twenty thousand strong when they attacked. Among us were many Bilfnuinians, but they use no horse in battle for they fight with heavy axes. They were the first to fall to the rage of the accursed giants; I fear none survived - a heavy blow to Threythus to lose men of that worth. "Those of us upon steeds fought on when the Axemen fell, but we were pushed back. They came from the north and the south as well as the west forcing us eastward into the jungle. Most stayed and fought on though some of us rode for the borders; I was the only one that made it past the beasts unscathed. I arrived at the edge of the Voidland yesterday morning riding through the night to escape their advancing powers." "This is grave news indeed!" agreed Ceda with a cry of deep despair. "Where have those that rode east gone? Is there some place of refuge for them to take shelter?" "There is none," said the scout lowering his head. I fear that if they have not yet left the jungles, they never will... though I may be mistaken." "These times are indeed grave. You bring a heavy blow to Threythus." said Ceda. "You do not even know how many approach?" "Impossible to say. The jungle hides their numbers and they come from all directions; More than I have ever seen before. We had no inkling as to the numbers that hid thus long in the shadows of the accursed holes of hell where they burrow. Look!" He cried turning and pointing back to the jungle across the Voidland. "As we speak they enter the swamps before the face of Ruirse!" They looked northward and to their dismay they began to see first ten then a thousand and finally more than they could even begin to count. There were Orcs, Nuadrin, Giants, Hobgoblins and many other horrid beasts sweeping like a deadly plague over the muddy land between the borders. They passed over the plain covering it like the shadow of a cloud violently suppressing the rays of the sun; an onslaught so large that is may have rivaled even the Lost Army of the Desert. "Come now! There is no chance of you reaching wherever your destination was. Our best - our ONLY chance is to ride for Caahah to the south and help defend the city from the inevitable attack," said Azzar in a frenzy. "Let us ride now and may our speed be great!" Aroth looked to Ceda and then back at the advancing horde. "Let us go. There will be a safer time and we will then make the journey." He wheeled his horse around and nodded to Azzar. Then Ceda pulled on Melgon's reins and they turned and sped back southward toward Caahah to warn of the attack. They reached the city by the second day after they had fled the Voidland. It was well fortified around the walls and many soldiers were there lining the city streets and filling the cities inns. Trenches had been dug at set intervals around the proximity of the wall that surrounded the city and a few men sat in them reclining on the small stools set aside for the watchers. Azzar stopped outside the walls to warn the men while Ceda and Aroth continued on through the gate to tell of the assured peril. As they rode into the ruins of the once proud city, Ceda pulled hard on Melgon's reins stopping the dragon suddenly in the center of an open area and dismounted as Melgon glanced sidelong at the assassin in an unenchanted way for the abrupt halt. Aroth also dismounted and left his horse next to the dragon as he departed leaving the two mounts sighing in anticipation of the peaceful rest they were about to get after the tiresome miles of endless riding. Ceda was gone by the time Melgon had settled down hastily searching for the commander of the army stationed in the city. He ran up to a man that was standing outside a large tent, "Hail, soldier of Ruirse. I am Ceda of Cramstrock, greetings. I am on an urgent mission and must speak with the king if he is here, or who ever is commanding the host of the city!" "Greetings, Traveler of the Desert. The king is here," said the man eying Ceda wanderingly. "He is at his palace holding council with King Ballison the Young of Caffthorn." "Ballison? Has he brought with him a host?" asked Ceda beginning to gain confidence in the cities forces. "Aye. He has brought with him a mighty army five thousand men from from beyond the desert and there may be more from No-Al Ben." "Are there any from the Elf Kingdoms of Carne or Learis?" Asked Aroth coming up behind. "Nay," said the man. "And I doubt there will be, I have heard none talk of it." "Good enough," sighed Ceda. "Where is the palace?" The man pointed at a tall but slender tower that rose from a point in the distance. "There," he said. "At the center of the city; just follow the road." Ceda bowed slightly. "Scueney Tavaar du sablea," he said leaving at a run for the palace as Aroth repeated the same to the man and sprang after Ceda following close behind him. "And to you!" yelled the man after them with a gratifying look. From the gates, the street wound upwards around the city in great circles in the fashion roads do going up a steep hill or mountain. As they ran through inner city area, they could see that the winding road was laden with men ready for battle. There were many of the men of Caffthorn about, they sat with one another in groups talking about things from their distant country, sometimes laughing out loud or throwing their heads back and letting their long black hair fall loosely down their backs. Continuing up the winding road toward the tower they also saw many Caahahian soldiers along with the hardy Axemen from the proud city Bilfneuin along the crowded alleys and roof tops, resting while they were still safely many miles from any of the fighting. Upon reaching the center of the city, the road let out into a single lane that ran around the palace ending in another circlet where the northern part of the drive housed the palace entrance. As Ceda and Aroth ran up they saw two proud looking guards standing outside the large iron bars that blocked the way into the courtyard. They stood separated, one on each side of the massive gate and wore dark blue tunics with a yellow bars crossing the center at a slight angle. The armor they wore over their arms and legs was a shiny black metal, made in the same material as the Elven Rings of Nobility. Over the armor they wore dark blue capes with attached hoods that hung loosely down their backs and on their heads were helms of gold. At their sides were great axes that rested heavily on the ground, for these guards were from the stalwart southern city of Bilfneuin. These were Axemen. There they stopped as Ceda addressed one of the men. "Greetings! I am Ceda of No-Al Ben. My companion is a Lord of Carne, Aroth, he is called. We seek urgent audience with King Threythus." "It is not every merchant that gets to see the king!" said the soldier. "He is now in council with the Lord of Caffthorn and cannot be disturbed." "I'll not be called a merchant by a simple soldier!" Said Aroth angrily. "Now tell your busy king that I, Aroth of Carne and cousin of Rakine and Rackins of the Elves, seek audience with him now! And rue you will the day you denied me that!" "Rue indeed," smiled the guard looking at his companion. "And why is that, little Elf?" "Because a muster of Arnmere is but four days north and coming fast!" said Aroth. "And I am getting tired or this idle talk. Time is short as are our tempers, now tell the king that we seek his presence and await his bidding." The guard turned calling for a herald. Then he told a man in the gate to inform King tell Threythus of his new arrivals. "The king has been notified," said the soldier. "And now I hope you will allow me to continue my watch in peace?" he added sarcastically. The Axemen of Bilfneuin were not tolerant, though they were known to have a sense of humor. Would the king of Ruirse be that way? He was from Bilfneuin, though much older. It was a short wait until the herald returned to the gates. He spoke a few short words to the guards and then stepped back. The guards then gripped small unseen horns from below their capes and blew them one after the other. Then two thunderous clanging noises broke the air as the massive gate was raised by internal winches; then as Ceda and Aroth entered and the gate was let fall again with a tremendous slam. "The king bids the travelers enter in peace. He will meet with them now," said the herald approaching them in the courtyard. "Please come this way." Inside the walls of the palace, the tower that Ceda had seen from the gate seemed much larger. It was built of square shaped stones set orderly on one another rising from a large the round structure into a slender and delicate tower high above. Some of the larger blocks near the bottom of the structure were then carved with delicate figures that had all but wasted away from the years of weathering while the higher ones were stained to a light color for adornment. At the base of the large building was another heavy door; this one of stone. Next to it on either side were two small holes to see out of and above the door was a narrow window. They went through the door into the first floor of the tower led by the herald. Inside the hall they now stood were many fine chairs and tables lining the majestic walls. Above them hung many of the old swords and beautiful armor used in ages long past and before them was a long room with a wooden floor and stone ceiling supported by an occasional pillar. Down the hall on the right side was a door with four more guards standing at alert. Two of them wore gray tunics with a red gem painted in the center; these were from Caffthorn. The other two wore the blue and yellow colors of Ruirse. Through this door they were led by the herald. In the room there were two people. One was a young man, tall and strong with long dark hair. At his side rested a heavy axe with a black metal blade and handle made with the grey wood of Caffthorn. Near the base of the black blade, an imbedded gem glowed in a pleasant purple. The second man was much older. His hair was gray and short hanging down no further than the base of his neck. His once tall body was now permanently bent forward in a cramped position showing the definite signs of his old age. He wore the blue and yellow raiment of a Ruirsian, though he wore no weapon. Both men were standing by a large table as they entered and turned to greet them. The older of the two men glared at the travelers for a brief moment. "Greetings, Ceda and Aroth from afar!" he said. "I am King Threythus II. This is Ballison the Young, King of Caffthorn. The herald tells us that you have urgent news for us? Well then, be quick for time is short and news of worth is rare." Aroth stepped forward, "I am Aroth, cousin to King Rakine of the wood of Carne and I, nobleman of Elves," he held his hand aloft so the dark gold about his finger showed in a radiant light. "Bid you greetings and bring you news of the north." "We have men beyond the Voidland. many scouts and warriors of Caahah and Bilfneuin. If there is news then they should have brought it. What is this news?" asked Threythus. "And how do you come to know of it?" "War," said Ceda also coming forward. "War comes to the very walls Caahah. A great host has taken all Weuyrt and none of our men remain. Only Azzar, scout of Caahah, made it back to the Voidland. The rest," he said in a low voice, "will come not again from the vile land of forests. "As we approached the borders of Weuyrt on business of our own, we met him in flight from the beasts. It was there we saw them. They swept over the land at a great pace. I fear they have with them great might." "This is grave news to us, they were good men." cried Ballison distressingly. "What of the marshal from Arnmere? How many come and how fast?" "Their numbers were too many for us to count," said Ceda, "It was greater a host than I have ever seen and we fled ere they all had left the cover of the trees. They should reach Caahah by fourth sun falling, fifth at the most. Prepare your men, for even the city walls may not hold against their might!" Threythus walked over to Aroth. "Can your people help us?" he said gripping the Elf's shoulders. "Aye," said Aroth. "They must be stopped here. Have one of your men ride for Dhernis, give him this, "Aroth removed his ring and placed it in Threythus's hand. "Tell the scout to take the Ships of Tearny and sail for Perstanie of the Learis Islands. There he should ask for help from me and give them this ring should any disbelieve his word. "In the meanwhile I ride for the Wood of Carne to seek the help of my cousin Rakine, and hopefully shall return with a host worthy of the battle." Threythus bowed low, "I thank you, Aroth of Carne, and may Sarve speed your horse with the swiftness of the wind!" Aroth bowed to Threythus. "And now I must go, for much time is lost and now only haste is our ally. Farewell, Ceda. 'uentu descern shyen svequ seju!'" Ceda smiled as Aroth turned and departed. "We must now prepare for the battle and send a messenger to the Elf Islands before any more time is lost!" said Ballison banging his fist on the table. "Let us whet our blades!" The two kings wasted no time in mustering the men. Soon many people was busy preparing the great war machines that hurl rocks through the air or mending parts of the titanic city wall that were in bad repair. The men of Caffthorn were outside the city digging more trenches and pits near the wall while more men helped barricade the inner circles of the city where the women and children would stay safe. Scouts were sent out of the city to watch the northern environs for the first sign of the coming assault and Azzar left the oppidan on a swift horse riding south for Dhernis. By the second sun falling they were prepared. Men lined the northern walls and sat in the northern trenches. Parts of the west and east walls were also fortified but not as heavily. The third, fourth, and fifth days drew by and the hordes of Arnmere had not come. Many men questioned weather they had indeed crossed the Voidland as their patients became short and they anxious. The sixth day came, and the hordes still had not arrived. The men waited at their posts eating little and talking none. They sharpened and polished their blades and their armor until it shone brightly in the daylight. Soon it was midday. Still no sign of the Orc hordes had been seen or reported and the scouts had not returned from the northern borders of the Caahahian city area (that lay far outside the walls beyond sight). The hardy men of Caffthorn moved up and down the trenches in anticipation of the battle toying with their swords and talking about wars of old that had long been forgotten by other men. Ceda made his way through the lines of soldiers to where King Ballison sat with King Threythus. They looked up as he sat down and offered their greetings. "This is odd," began Ceda. "The muster of beasts that we saw should have arrived by today. They should have been here long ago." "Aye," agreed Ballison. "My men are ready for the battle but they grow weary of waiting for the enemy while the tension among the men of Ruirse grows between the Axemen and the Caahahians. Hope for battle soon and let us be done with this before we kill each other and lessen the Orc's labors." "Can the enemy have gone past the city to the east or the west?" Asked Ceda. "Nay," answered Threythus. "If they had gone west, we would have seen them from the walls of the city unless they went by way of the Aun Hills in the northwest or north of the Aun Hills to No-Al Ben, but that would serve them no purpose. In any case our scouts would have seen them and would have reported their whereabouts to us. "And what of the way to the east?" Asked Ballison. "On that path there are only the forests Ruirse and the Little Kingdom of the east. Otherwise there are no settlements until the Port of Dhernis that lay to the south. With the force that you have described, they would be fools to take it east and not attack the main strength of the region. They must come this way for all practical matters." "Aye," said Ceda. "But what reason do you have to consider the Orcs a practical race? Further more, I doubt that the Orcs know the land as we do, for they have lived long in the caves and may know nothing of the cities that we have. They could have gone anywhere." On the eight day the Elves of Carne arrived with a large host of Naz'Clowi warriors and some men of Breanduin. There were twelve thousand all together, all on horseback. With them rode only two thousand of the Elven folk though the soldiers of Carne were strong, good fighters and well versed in the art of archery. At the head of them rode Aroth and as they entered the city many shout arose from the men in greetings and praise. Aroth dropped from his steed and walked over to Ceda and the two kings. "Greetings! I have done as you asked, though I could only bring this small amount of warriors from Carne. Our kingdom is also fighting a war, for there are many Orcs in the forest slaughtering our kin while killing both plant and animal. "But we bring you three gifts! Three gift that none can boast giving, and the tale behind them!" Aroth went to one of the Elves horses and from its saddle he brought forth a leather sack. He pulled on the twine that held it closed until it had opened enough to reach in and get its contents. Then slowly he withdrew one of the three objects. All the men watching drew a deep breath and kept it. What Aroth held aloft in his hands had given them a new hope and gladness rose up in their hearts. Breaking the barrier of fear that rested long there like a heavy weight they felt joy again, for in Aroth's two small hands rested a round metallic object. It's base was shaped like a octagon from which rose eight spikes, one from each point and all along its outer rim were rare gems, red and special from the Malthoogian Mines in the Mountains of Gren of northern Grandydyr. Aroth held it aloft for all to see and wonder at: the Royal Crown of Grobst D'arbo. Ceda took the crown as Aroth reached back into the leather sack and drew from it the next gift. This he also held aloft though only the men of Caffthorn recognized it and at once sadness gripped them. It was a black sickle made from the grey wood of Caffthorn and a dark metal. Near the slender base of the dark blade was a gem that glowed in a strong white light. Ballison jumped forward and clasp the sickle tearing it from the Elf's hands. "Where did you get this?" he cried. "It was the weapon of my brother, Tarnigen. He would die before he gave it up!" "Steady!" said Aroth backing away slightly and a few Elves fitting their arrows in their green bows. "We shall tell all, but know that I am Elven nobility and will not be treated in such manner." "My apologies, Lord Aroth, for when my brother is concerned our entire people's judgement is faulty. He was our King." "The tale shall be told shortly, aye, but there is little to tell. The next gift should do most of the explaining." Aroth reached a final time into the sack and withdrew a grotesque, bloody object. In his hand was a head, severed completely from the neck it was once attached to. But this was not ordinary head, it was that of a great Nuadri, strong and terrible in life from the size of it. Ceda recognized it immediately, the head that had once tormented him in the dungeons of the Sarshirian Mountains, the head of the Grand Nuadri of Barnonoen. Then Ceda remembered Cander, and the horror of the darkness found its way into his memory. He stepped backward. Then he turned his head and walked away from it. He did not want to smell it, for that would be too much for him. Any other Orc would not bother him, any other Nuadri or anything for that matter, but not this. Aroth saw Ceda turn and replaced the head in the sack closing it tightly and giving it to one of the Elves. "Now for the tale, though as I said before there is not much to tell." "The size is of no concern," said Ballison eagerly. "Tell it for I grow anxious." "Well," began Aroth as Ceda returned. "I had left Caahah as fast as my horse would bear me. As I approached the Wood of Carne a day later, I met the men of Naz'Clow and Breanduin. They were all on horse riding for the desert in great haste. They told me they rode to wage a battle for, they said, several men that had arrived from the far western city of Naudsman in Old Grandydyr told them a large host from the Sarshirians had left Ploughdom and were heading northward. They had barely escaped with their own lives. They also said that there were many great Nuadrin with them, greater Nuadrin than the usual sort, and that one stood even taller than all the rest, larger and stronger than the others. "I asked that they come instead with me to Caahah to help the men here, but they said they would come only after the muster in the desert was defeated, for with them was their leader and it would be a great victory for them were he slain. "I rode to Carne with all possible haste and gathered what Elves I could. Then we rode to the desert where the battle was already underway and helped defeat the enemy's might. After the fighting was over and the dead counted and buried properly, we despoiled the remains of the enemy and found these fair gifts. Then returned here in haste, and as I see now, the host of Arnmere has as yet not come, so it was good. "As I have said, there is little to tell." "And yet much remains untold," said Ceda. "What were they doing in the desert with these things? And where did they GET these things?" "True," added Ballison, "and what of Tarnigen my brother? Is he dead or captive? Or did he escape after having his possessions taken?" "Of these thing we know as much as you," Said Aroth. "Yet there is still much to ask. What did they plan to do with Grobst's Crown? Return it to the Tree?" "There is little time for answers to these questions," began Ceda. "For though it is eight suns falling since you departed they have as yet not come. Aye, there are strange happenings afoot, and I like them not. "Why wait for them?" asked Aroth. "You have some alternative?" Asked Ballison. "Aye. We have the crown, overwhelming Orcs approach, why can we not simply figure out how to use the crown and bring forth the Lost Army to help us. That is my suggestion." "That... could help us, but how do we use it?" Said Ceda. "And who will go?" "You know who must go, Ceda," said Aroth. "You are the Traveler." "Aye, I must go, it is my duty. The Sign of the Crown was given to me," answered Ceda concedingly. Then he sighed, "and I took it." "Then," said Ballison intervening. "You may take with you as my gift, my axe, for Tarnigen is dead and in his honor I shall now wield his sickle as my weapon. As for you, this is a gift for one that partakes on a dangerous journey into the desert so near the Dark Gate and so perilous, otherwise none but Caffthorn nobles may receive it. "Guard this axe with your life, for it is magical. The gem placed on the blade will warn you of danger that is near you be it from friend or enemy. It glows purple when all is well, and white when evil is near. When you are wounded badly it glows red and when you die or are going to die... it turns black. "The axe is named Renielk and will whistle when you call it." Ceda accepted the axe and bowed low, "thank you, Lord Ballison, I will use it with pride!" "And now that this matter of who will go is settled, how is Ceda to use the crown? And when he does, what will he tell the army that has been gone for ten thousand years?" Said Threythus. "There was a riddle that our wizard Merth told us," said Aroth. "When four rise and fall, The Sign of the Crown, Is given and taken, And stolen and recovered, And found and rewon. And can be used to benefit; But to who? Crown the King, and he shall rise. And Evil or Good he will bring, But: Who is Evil?" "These riddles are beginning to irritate me to no end. The lords play with our minds, and give us these poems to guess at! Tavaar is a cruel god!" Yelled Ceda. "Aye. I have heard this riddle before, though I... I cannot remember from where." "This is not all," said Threythus. "For we have heard this same riddle and its answer, though it is as odd as the riddle: When the King of Grandydyr Is crowned, The Lost Army shall Rise again. "Then crown the king I must!" Said Ceda turning to Threythus. "And I wish to go with you," said Aroth. "Nay, the Sign of the Crown was given to me alone, and alone I will go," answered Ceda. "I leave immediately!" He turned and departed from the gathering. "May your speed be great!" Said Threythus under his breath. -Joel Slatis <>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>X<>

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