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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb
*Worthy of the Title, Part I M. Wendy Hennquin
The Defiant Vector Brian M. Dean
The Quest Ron Trenka
*Quest, Part I John L. White
Date: 031288 Dist: 577
An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project
All original materials copyrighted by the author(s)
Well, we've got a couple bits of news to relate, so let me jump
right into that. Firstly, there is now an open discussion group for
FSFnet readers on the network server CSNEWS@MAINE. Please feel free
to read and/or submit your comments to this group, as it's primary
purpose is reader feedback. Please note that CSNEWS will ONLY accept
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Request the CSBB HELPNET file for details on how to append to it.
SENDME CSNEWS HELPNET - sends you general CSNEWS help file
SENDME CSBB HELPNET - sends you CSBB bbs help file
SENDME FSFNET CSNOTICE FROM CSBB - sends you the current discussion
CSBB SUBSCRIBE FSFNET - subscribe to FSFnet discussion
CSBB UNSUBSCRIBE FSFNET - unsubscribe from forum
The other bit of news is that plans are being made for my
eventual graduation. After some discussion with the authors, the
current plans are for the following. While FSFnet will stop being
produced, the Dargon Project will continue, and the stories it
produces will be made public through a new magazine (possibly
dedicated solely to the printing of Dargon stories). FSFnet will
stop publication during the summer, and the new magazine will begin
at that time. Further details are still up in the air, but I will
continue to post news here about what is going on, and how things
will change when I leave. But we've still got several more issues to
send out before then, and I'm sure you'll enjoy this one. And, of
course, if you have anything you'd like to submit for printing, get
in touch with me. Enjoy!
Worthy of the Title: Part I
A frantic, far-away echo shattered the quiet of the library.
"Master Roisart, Master Roisart!"
The panic in the voice caused Roisart to snatch his gaze
immediately from the copy of "Legends and Myths of Thasodonea" and
stared instead at the open doors of the library. He could hear
commotion down the long halls of the old keep, the doors that opened
and shut in quick, startled rhythm, the running of the servants
called from duties, the wails and shouts. Over it all, he heard the
call still, ghastly and ghostly, frightened and far-away. "Master
Roisart! Master Roisart!"
Young Roisart stood, raced across the room. What has happened?
the young nobleman wondered, concerned. Has a war come to Dargon?
Although the library was a great room, Roisart soon reached the
opened double doors and called out, "Here I am! What is it?"
The heralding servant who been wailing his name slid to a stop
and then turned to his master. Fright and despair on his face, the
servant rolled his eyes and cried dramatically,"Oh, Master Roisart,
go quickly to the study. The baron is dead!"
Roisart paled and his eyes bulged, as if he had suddenly been
stuck in the stomach. "Dead? The baron dead?" But he cannot be dead!
He is healthy, and only five and forty! Quickly, Roisart demanded,
"Where is my brother?"
The servant gulped the tears he wanted to shed and replied
sorrowfully, "He is in the study, master. He has sent for you."
With a quick wave, Roisart dismissed the near-blubbering servant
and rushed with all his youth and strength to the study, the office
of the baron--the late baron. His blood beating in his ears, he
threw open the heavy door and cried, "Luthias! What has happened to
The face that met Roisart's was the same as his own: the deep
brown eyes; the straight, aristocratic nose; the smooth,
well-defined jaw; the pinkish lips, usually merry with smiles, now
twisted with grief. Roisart's twin looked him in the eye and said,
slowly and solemnly, "Roisart, our father is dead."
"Dead?" denied Roisart scornfully. "Dead how? Father is young.
He has never been ill--"
"Roisart," repeated his twin brother Luthias deliberately, "our
father is dead."
"But what could kill our father?" demanded Roisart. "He's as
strong as a horse."
"No, Roisart," sighed Luthias, falling heavily into the padded
chair behind the desk. "The horse was stronger. Sit."
With a reluctant grimace, Roisart came into the room and sat in
another padded chair, the one that faced his father's desk. Memories
of his father crowded his thoughts. There was that time that he and
his twin Luthias, very small boys, had squirmed in this chair as
their noble father scolded them for some forgotten offense. And the
times that they had brought their school books in here to study and
be near their father. And the time when their father had lifted them
both on his strong shoulders to look at the lion's head that hung on
the wall. His father was a strong man...
"What do you mean," blurted Roisart, "the horse was stronger?"
"Dragonfire threw him. Father's neck was broken."
"Dragonfire?" gasped Roisart. "But, Luthias, Dragonfire is the
best trained stallion in the stables! Father trained him himself! I
remember! And Father--Father is the best horseman alive! There is no
way that he could have been killed in that way!"
Luthias closed his eyes. "Roisart, there is no doubt that Father
is dead. I have seen the body." He opened his eyes again, stared at
his brother. "Do you wish to?"
Roisart quieted a little. He kept Luthias' gaze a moment, then
looked at the carpeted floor. "No, Luthias," he replied in a muffled
way. "I want to remember him living, not dead."
His father truly was dead. "But it wasn't the horse," he murmured.
"What does it matter what it was?" wondered Luthias, almost
snapping. "There are matters to be attended to. The body must be
prepared and buried by sundown, as is the custom. I have called the
priests." Luthias then waved at a fine piece of parchment on their
father's desk. "I am trying to find words to tell our cousin, Lord
Dargon, of this. And I've sent for Manus."
Roisart gave his twin a quizzical look. "Manus the Healer? Why?"
Luthias shrugged. "Father deemed his wise, and so do you, my
brother. And there must, for the next five days, be a regent."
Roisart quieted and nodded. "Yes, a regent," he agreed. He had
forgotten for a moment that there were five days between this day,
the third day of Melrin, the Spring Festival, and the third day of
Yule, when he and Luthias would reach the age of majority,
twenty-one. Only then would they be old enough to rule the barony in
their father's place.
"Luthias!" Roisart gasped urgently, "Which of us shall inherit?"
Luthias scowled with old ferocity. "Accursed be that midwife who
neglected to note which of us is elder!"
"You can't blame her. Mother was dying, and she was trying to
"She's caused us more problems--and Mother died, in any case,"
snapped Luthias. "And now there is no way to decide who is to rule."
"I often told Father that he should choose one of us," sighed
Roisart. "But he wanted to wait until we were twenty-one, until he
thought we could both accept his choice." Roisart thought for a
moment. "Could he have left some will?"
"I don't know; I didn't even think of that," Luthias grumbled.
He began to rummage among the papers on his father's desk. By the
time that Luthias started to search the desk's drawers, Roisart was
lost in thought once more. "Damnation!" cried Luthias in
"It couldn't have been an accident," mumbled Roisart. "Father
was too good a rider, and Dragonfire too good a horse."
Luthias slapped the desk in anger. "Roisart, haven't you been
listening? One of us is soon to become Baron of Connall, and with no
indication of which of us Father wished to rule in his place. None
Luthias shook his head. "Unless there was some other place he
"Do you have the key to the locked drawer?"
"Yes, and I've already looked. Only the seal and the
proclamation that made him baron of Connall."
"Nothing at all, then," murmured Roisart. "He never even had a
favorite between us."
Luthias smiled affectionately at the memory. "It was a point of
honor for him," Luthias agreed. "He let each of us be who we are,
and loved us both equally for it." He scowled then. "But it gives us
trouble now. How are we supposed to determine which of us shall next
be the Baron of Connall?"
"We have no proof of first-born," Roisart began his analysis.
"And we have no proof of favoritism. On that, we are agreed."
Roisart looked his twin brother in the eyes, the eyes so like his
own. "Luthias, we have never been able to lie to one another. Tell
me, then. Do you wish to rule in our father's place?"
Luthias gave his brother a look of consternation. "Rule?" He
appeared to be thinking of the possibility for the first time. "I
had always assumed that you would rule. You have read so much more..."
"True, but Father made certain that we both were learned enough
to rule well," Roisart argued. "And you are so much better a fighter
At this, Luthias smiled, almost wickedly. "Don't underestimate
yourself, Roisart. I wouldn't want to fight against you."
"Thanks," Roisart replied almost ruefully. "But answer me, twin.
Do you wish to rule?"
Luthias let the possibilities roam his mind, then said, "I will
if I must, Roisart." His voice was strong, calm, and even, as if
Luthias were older than his almost twenty-one years. "But I have no
great wish to be a Baron and rule."
Roisart sighed like a man beneath a heavy stone. "Nor do I, my
brother. Nor do I."
"It must be decided, Roisart," Luthias stated. "And it must be
Roisart mentally sought possibilities. "We could gamble for it.
Luthias stared at his brother with surprise and disbelief, and
when he saw that Roisart was completely serious, Luthias began to
laugh. "Oh, Roisart, thank you. What would I do without you? In the
midst of grieving a father and trying to solve a dilemma that has
plagued us throughout our lives, you and only you can make me laugh."
Roisart wrinkled his brow and looked at his twin brother in a
confused way. "But Luthias, I meant it. We should cast dice."
Still smiling, Luthias continued. "I know you meant it, Roisart,
and that was what I found amusing. Cast dice? Would that hold any
authenticity before the court? You've got to be more practical about
things like this, Roisart."
"Practical? Authenticity?" stammered Roisart in mock indignance.
Even in grief, his twin could still make him play. "You wish
practicality and authenticity, my brother? Then why don't we just go
to our cousin lord Dargon and let him decide? What more authentic
and more practical solution could you want? We should let our Lord
decide, and save ourselves the trouble."
"That," Luthias agreed, "is the wisest thing you've said in a
"Then I'll have the horses saddled," Roisart offered as he rose
from the chair.
"Have you forgotten that our father needs yet to be entombed?"
Luthias asked with stern gravity.
Roisart started. He had forgotten. In that golden moment, when
he and his brother had teased each other, when everything was like
it had been before, Roisart had forgotten. Now, the knowledge came
back like a stinging boomerang. His father had died.
"There is much to be done," Luthias softly said.
"You do it, then," Roisart urged his brother, thoughts of their
father's death ruling out all else. Luthias watched his twin
sympathetically while Roisart buried his head in his hands. "No,"
mumbled the young nobleman.
Luthias left the desk and went to his brother. He put a hand on
Roisart's shoulder. "No?"
"Our father did not die," Roisart declared with passionate
conviction. His head flew from his hands, and Luthias, startled,
moved backwards. "And I'm going to go and find what murdered him!"
Murdered! His father was dead! The knowledge screamed inside him
for release, for action. And there, in the study, Roisart cried out
like a small boy and began to weep. And Luthias, the practical one
who knew that crying for a dead man was useless, put his arms around
his beloved brother, and, as they had done all things in their life,
they wept for their noble father together.
Roisart adamantly insisted on riding his father's prized
stallion Dragonfire to Dargon, despite the grooms' warnings of evil
spirits. Roisart, though he believed in a spirit world, scoffed the
very idea and declared above the fearful projections of the grooms
that he would ride his father's horse, damn it, and that was that.
Luthias, too, scorned the idea of evil spirits possessing his
father's steed, but watched his twin with worried eyes. After all,
that strong, red mount had thrown their father yesterday to an
And Roisart had been behaving strangely. Yesterday, just after
the twins jointly mourned their father in the privacy of the old
study, Roisart had burst out of the keep's gates, taking with him a
groom, the groom which had accompanied the twins' father on his last
ride. No, the young lord hadn't been acting desperate, the groom had
told Roisart, just a wee strange. They had gone back to the scene of
the death (there was still blood on the new grass), and Lord Roisart
acted as a hound on the hunt, dashing here, darting there, rummaging
through the brush. And when they had returned, Roisart, withdrawn,
had refused to speak to old Manus, who had just arrived for the
funeral, and didn't even deign to speak to his own twin. After they
had entombed their dear father, Roisart returned to normal--as
normal as a grieving son could be--but still, Luthias worried.
Luthias motioned the protesting grooms to be silent. "We have a
right to ride our father's horse," Luthias told them gently. With
another wave, he dismissed them. When they had gone, he asked,
"Twin, are you all right?"
"Yes, I... I just wanted to ride him. He was Father's favorite."
That was true, and it was for good reasons that Dragonfire was
the late Baron's favored horse. Luthias admitted to himself the
incredibility of his father dying on horseback, especially that
particular horse's back. He didn't press the issue. Instead, Luthias
gazed up at the dark, pre-dawn sky. "We should get moving."
Roisart nodded, and motioned for the brace of guards and a
manservant to urge on their mounts. Stately, but not lethargically,
the party moved forward toward Dargon.
It wouldn't be a long trip, thankfully. The earliness, on which
had decided the night before, would shorten the trip more. Besides,
the brothers had no wish to try to wade their good horses through
the crowds which would be soon flooding the roads on the way to the
Melrin festival. And neither wanted to deal with the curiosity and
pity of a peasant crowd seeing twin noblemen dressed in mourning blue.
Yes, it was best to get to Dargon early. The earlier the better;
the earlier they arrived, the sooner their cousin Clifton Dargon
could decide, once and forever, which of the two was worthy to be
Baron of Connall. And the sooner that was decided, the easier both
twins would feel.
The little band moved ahead, each of the members buried in
thought. Luthias looked at his twin, and knew that Roisart was still
wondering how their father could have died like that. Concerned for
his brother, and, indeed, what had happened to his father, Luthias,
too, considered, and kept turning his head to watch his twin.
After about an hour--halfway to Dargon--Roisart caught his
brother's eye and almost smiled. "Father always taught us that the
good fighters live long. It still makes me--"
Roisart felt something hit him hard, and at once found himself
on the hard, startling ground. For a wild, wicked moment he thought
it was true: Dragonfire is a mad horse and he threw my Father!
Then he saw before him the sly-eyed, leather-clad man who held a
steel knife sharpened to the point of beauty. Then he heard the
manservant's cry, "Masters! Thieves!"
Roisart erupted from a form lying prostrate in the dust to a
poised warrior. It took him only a moment of squinting in the
half-dark to take in the situation: seven thieves, all dressed in
tooled leather armor, all armed with swords and knives. And the near
darkness which made the counting difficult worked to his advantage
and Luthias'; it was easier to see the light brown of leather than
the blue of mourning in the pre-dawn light.
Luthias had already taken the battle and his good sword into his
own hands. Instinctively, Luthias was battling a brigand on one side
of his horse; the opposite foot automatically kicked at another
oncoming thief. Without blinking from the divided effort, Luthias
continued to thrust and parry, to swirl his sword in the darkened
air against the severely outmatched thief.
Roisart heard the dull, weighty footfalls of an charging thief
and poised himself for the fight. Using every instinct his father
had branded onto his brain, Roisart the warrior side-stepped the
thief's attack and thrust his blade into the peasant's back. Blood
from the spurting heart sprayed him once, then subsided.
Abruptly, his breath was stopped, and there was a terrible
weight on his back. A mighty snake constricted his throat. His eyes
bugged; in the shadowy light, he saw the manservant's head explode
into pulp. One of them must have a crossbow, he thought. Angry and
desperate, he flung the assailant on his back toward the ugly sight.
As the first beam of dawnlight reached him, Roisart plunged his
sword into the second thief.
Two thieves were fencing with Roisart's brother, and trampling a
dead comrade beneath their feet. Kick one, stab the other, quick,
parry, Luthias! But Luthias was fast, well-trained. Roisart scanned
the area. One of the guards was dead. The old manservant was dead.
The other guard was ineptly trying to beat off the remaining two
that plagued him.
Roisart sprinted to his servant's rescue, screaming a
frightening but meaningless sound that masqueraded as a battle cry,
and swinging his sword above his head. Roisart saw his guard fall in
seeming terror, saw a thief fall from his bloodied blade, chased the
one who tried to run away.
But he was tripped, and fell onto one of the thieves' dead
bodies. His face flopped onto the fatal wound received by his guard.
Warm blood gently blushed his cheeks. Like a man suspended in a
dream, he watched as the fleeing scoundrel was joined by another,
and together they ducked into the shadows of the woods.
Winded, Roisart lie still and gazed at the corpses.
"Roisart!" A voice was calling him. He heard the careful steps
of a well-trained horse. "Roisart! Are you all right?"
Good Luthias. Roisart scrutinized the leather, the blade, the
corpse. He managed to draw a breath and speak. "These are too fine
for common brigands," he croaked.
Luthias rolled his eyes and groaned internally. "We've got to
get out of here, Roisart! Two are on their way to get others. Are
you hurt? Can you ride?"
Meticulously, Roisart pulled himself to a sitting, then standing
position. Luthias saw the blood on his brothers face and paled.
Frantic, he began to dismount. "No, I'm all right," Roisart assured
his brother, holding up a hand to stay him. "Don't worry, twin. It
isn't mine. I'm all right. I'm not even bruised. I can ride.
Luthias, look at this." He bent and retrieved a sword. "Look at
this. These were no common thieves, Luthias."
Luthias whistled at Dragonfire, who neighed once and came
quickly to Luthias' call. "Quickly, Roisart. We must get to Dargon
before they can return with more."
Graceful as a acrobat, Roisart vaulted onto Dragonfire's waiting
saddle. "Luthias, this may not be--"
"Never mind!" Luthias interrupted harshly. "Let's leave this
place, before we're butchered! Come!"
Spurring their steeds, the twins raced to the city of Dargon.
The Lord of Dargon's hardened guardians of the Keep considered
screaming or fleeing from the terrible apparition which confronted
them first thing in the morning on the fourth of Melrin. A red horse
and a black one, both in a lather, scattered a few early travelers
from the road as they charged up to the gates of Dargon Keep. Upon
the horses were twin death-riders, dressed in death-blue, with faces
out of nightmares. The grisly visage of the one on the red mount was
streaked with drying blood; the countenance of the other was a
horrid purple on one side, deathly pale on the other.
But the sergeant had long been a veteran, who had just joined
the company after returning from the wars where he had witnessed
many deaths. Death, even delivered by death-riders, inspired no fear
in him. "Who comes, in the name of Dargon?" he demanded boldly.
The one upon the black horse, the one with the mockery of a
harlequin face spoke, and his voice was as loud, as bold, as fierce,
as the sergeant. "I am Luthias Connall. He--" One apparition
motioned to the other. "--is my brother, Roisart Connall. We have
come to see the Lord of Dargon. Admit us!"
These ghostly horrors, sons to the Baron of Connall? The guards
muttered their doubt amongst themselves. The sergeant scrutinized
them. The blood and the bruise made recognition near impossible, and
he had never seen the sons of Connall, only the Baron himself. "You
are unfit to see the Lord," snapped the sergeant.
"When are men unfit to see the son of their father's brother?"
Roisart shouted angrily.
"Admit us," demanded Luthias fiercely. "It is urgent!"
"What is happening here?" asked another voice. Luthias and
Roisart exchanged glances and expelled a simultaneous, relieved
sigh. Bartol, bard and personal body guard to their cousin Lord
Dargon, had arrived, thanks to the gods. Neither twin wished to
argue with this new sergeant all day.
Bartol saw the double terror before the gate and stared at the
twins for a moment. The gaze was intense, searching for a clue to
identity beneath the defacings of the previous scuffle. Then Bartol
ordered, "Admit Masters Roisart and Luthias--now."
The sergeant turned away, giving the twins a look askance. "Do
as he says," he grumbled.
Reluctantly, the guards opened the heavy gates, all the while
muttering amongst themselves. Bartol bowed at the noble brothers as
the urged their exhausted steeds into the courtyard. "Grooms!"
called the bard. Two lads--hardly old enough to be called grooms,
Roisart thought--ran forward to lead their mounts away.
"See they're brushed and taken care of," Luthias ordered
sternly. He dismounted as if he were aching all over.
The so-called grooms mumbled affirmations and led the tired
horses away. Bartol looked after them and then turned to the
brothers. "Masters, what has happened?"
Roisart appeared pensive; Luthias scowled. "We must see our
cousin, Lord Dargon."
"He's not yet risen, but I shall call him," promised Bartol. He
looked quickly around the courtyard. "Nidh'r," he called to one of
the servants unloading a wagon filled with new tables, "come show
Master Roisart and Master Luthias to the study."
The strong youth that was Nidh'r joined the twins, then led them
through the familiar halls of Dargon keep to their cousin's study.
Often, the twins had played in this Keep, when their father and his
brother, the late Lord of Dargon, were both alive. After that, when
the twins were young men, and Clifton Dargon, six years their
senior, had become lord, Luthias and Roisart had accompanied their
father to the Keep for balls, banquets, and other affairs of state
It had been nearly six months since they had been here, though;
snowy, treacherous roads halted all noble society gatherings for the
winter. But when the Melrin festival came, all the festivities began
again with the Melrin Ball, sponsored by Lord Dargon himself.
Nidh'r bowed the twins into the study and seemingly melted into
the castle. Too weary to fall into chairs, Roisart and Luthias
rested on their feet a moment, waiting for their cousin.
"Roisart and Luthias?" they heard suddenly. Their cousin's voice
was muffled by the door in back of the study. "Of course, they're
here, Bartol. The ball is tomorrow night. They and mine uncle are
supposed to be here. What do they want to see me so early for?"
The door in the back of the study opened in one, swift movement
to reveal Lord Clifton Dargon, who stopped short and stared at his
cousins. They, too tired to speak, returned the gaze. They saw
Clifton, Lord of Dargon, yet another version of themselves.
Clifton's face wore a startled expression, but otherwise, he looked
alike enough unto the twins to be their brother. He stood taller,
however, perhaps due to his greater age, and the fairy which had
brushed the twins' dark hair with a bit of auburn had neglected
their cousin. But the eyes were the same, dark, and full of concern.
"My god," the Lord of Dargon finally said, "what befell you
two?" Clifton stared at their faces. "Are you all right? Bartol,
call Griswald." The bard crossed the room, and stuck his head out
the door. Dargon continued his inspection. "Roisart," he continued,
gazing at the neckline of the one twin's mourning clothes, "you look
like someone hung you and slit your throat. You had better sit down.
Luthias, what happened to you?" The blue of the clothes finally
washed over Dargon. "My god!" he cried. "Who are you mourning?"
"Father," Luthias announced stoically, "died yesterday.
Dragonfire threw him."
Suddenly, Dargon's face went white. Bartol, at the door, began
to laugh. "Dragonfire threw your father? Your father, who almost
invented horsemanship?" Bartol gasped between guffaws. "Come,
masters, I know that jesting is a great part of Melrin, but you
could have at least thought of something more credible."
"That's just it, Bartol," Clifton said with a note of doom in
his voice. "If it were a jest, my cousins certainly would have come
up with a more believable story than that. And they wouldn't appear
here in mourning clothes stained by blood." The Lord of Dargon
looked from one twin to the other. "Someone assassinated your
father. And it looks like they tried the same upon you."
"They weren't common thieves who attacked us," Roisart agreed.
"Their weaponry was too superior for that. And I rode Dragonfire
here. He's still the best stallion ever trained."
Dargon nodded. "Yes, Roisart. It's absurd to think that your
father was killed on horseback."
"But it isn't practical to think him assassinated either,"
Luthias contended. "Why would anyone want to kill our father?"
"Probably for the same reason that they've been trying to kill
me," sighed Lord Dargon. "Luthias, sit down, before you collapse.
Bartol, get some breakfast for my cousins." Bartol nodded and
slipped out the door. Dargon stared at Luthias until the portal shut
again. "What happened to your face?"
"One of the bastards threw a rock at me," Luthias quickly
brushed the bruise away. "I'm all right."
"And I was lucky enough to be covered with someone else's blood
instead of my own," Roisart told his cousin. "But this isn't
important. How long have people been out to assassinate you, Clifton?"
Dargon shrugged and fell into his chair. "A few years. We've
been unsuccessful in tracing it." He grimaced. "I had feared for
your father, as he was my heir."
"Did Father know of this?" Luthias wondered, finally sitting.
Again, Dargon nodded. "Of course. I wouldn't keep a thing like
this from him. I set great store upon your father and his advice,
and I needed it badly at the time."
"We were never told," Roisart informed the lord. "That isn't
Clifton smiled. "Not like him? Roisart, remember, you were only
sixteen? seventeen, perhaps? when this all started. To your father,
you were still boys. I wanted to have you told, but your father
refused." The Lord of Dargon again became grave. "It appears that I
was correct in thinking that you, cousins, were also in danger. And
now, that your father is dead..."
"Yes," began Luthias "Now that father is dead, we have a problem."
Clifton Dargon nodded. "I shall have to send some body guards to
attend you. You're not safe."
"Clifton," Luthias' voice insisted on attention, "there is no
Baron of Connall. We don't know who is the elder, and Father didn't
have a favorite. We have six days--you have six days--to appoint a
Baron. Manus is regent now, but we become adults soon, Clifton, and
this must be decided quickly."
"I can't put one of you in that sort of danger," Dargon
declared. "I won't do it. You're in peril enough already."
"Clifton, it must be done," Luthias reminded him roughly.
"Listen, Luthias," the Lord of Dargon requested politely, but
with a hard edge in his voice. Roisart realized that his cousin must
have been feeling very frustrated. Here Clifton's uncle were dead,
probably because he had been Dargon's heir, his own life was in
peril, and he had no idea who was seeking to end his life and why.
And now there was Luthias. Roisart understood his cousin's
exasperation. Luthias could drive one to distraction by just looking
at the surface and acting.
"Listen, Luthias," Dargon began again, "if I name one of you
Baron of Connall, I'm sentencing you to death. Any favor I show
either of you will get you killed. You're my heirs now, and whoever
killed your father, whoever is trying to kill me, may also try to
kill you. If I give proof that I think one of you is more
worthwhile, you'd be struck down in an instant, and the other of
your would be set up as a puppet in their plans--whatever they are."
Dargon paused and took a heavy breath. "And I have no wish to
pit you one against the other. Decide yourselves."
"Decide ourselves?" Luthias echoed, incredulous. "Clifton, how
are we supposed to know who would be a better--"
Luthias and his twin twisted as the door behind them opened.
Lord Dargon looked above their heads. "Ah. Griswald. Good. Come in,
and attend to my cousins."
The old physician, his hair still unkempt from sleep, shuffled
into the room and dropped a leather case of sorts. He looked at each
of the twins, then turned his attention to Roisart. "What happened
to you two?" he grumbled, examining Roisart's bloody brow.
"We were attacked by brigands," Roisart explained. "I'm all
right, Griswald. It's their blood, not mine."
Griswald crossed over to Luthias then and turned the young
lord's head towards him. "Hmmm," he fussed. "Nasty. I can take care
of that though." He stooped, opened his case and fumbled in it.
"What's the mourning for? It's Melrin."
"Our father died yesterday," Luthias told him simply.
Griswald appeared to flinch, or to shudder. He quickly looked
Luthias in the eye, then turned back to his bag and began fumbling
again. In a moment, he gave a gruff, mumbled, "Sorry." Then: "He was
a good man."
"Thank you, Griswald," Roisart answered kindly, although he
thought the eulogy sounded a little grudging, or angry, perhaps.
Griswald stood quickly, a little vial in his hand. "Here,
youngster, this way," he beckoned Luthias. The term annoyed the
young nobleman, a nice cream to his anger. But he turned, and
Griswald poured some of what was in the vial onto his hand. Then he
gingerly began to rub it into Luthias' bruise. "You be careful now,
lad," he said gruffly. He turned abruptly to Lord Dargon. "He'll be
all right. I'm going back to bed."
Without a dismissal, Griswald turned and left, slamming the
heavy door behind him.
"What's wrong with him?" Luthias wondered, trying to crack a
smile. His face was already beginning to feel better, and the violet
hue was fading.
Dargon shrugged. "He's not usually this cranky when we wake him.
I would think that a physician like him would be used to it."
"Perhaps something is ailing him," Roisart speculated. "Or
something is weighing on his mind."
Clifton shrugged. "God knows. Griswald rarely speaks." He looked
at his cousins. "You know you are welcome to stay here with me. I
was expecting you for the festival. And you will come to the ball."
"You would think that civilized custom would give us more time
to mourn our father," Roisart complained angrily.
"Life goes on, Roisart," Luthias said. "And so must we."
There was a knock on the door. "Yes?" asked the Lord.
"It's me, sir," Bartol called.
"It's all right," Dargon answered. "Come in."
"The cook will have breakfast ready for you and the young lords
shortly," the bard informed them, entering and shutting the door.
"The south dining room is being prepared."
Clifton nodded. "Thank you, Bartol." To his cousins, he said,
"There have been rooms prepared for you down the hall. Why don't you
refresh yourselves and change clothes before we eat?"
Luthias rose and stretched. "Good idea, Clifton. Roisart?"
His twin stood as well. "Coming. We'll meet you there, Clifton."
Bartol and Lord Dargon watched at the twin nobles left the room.
The bard shut the door behind them and turned to his lord.
"I want a watch kept on my kinsmen, Bartol," Dargon ordered.
"See to it personally. I'm certain that, being here, they'll go out
into the festival. They may be in danger. I don't want them harmed."
"It will be done, my lord," Bartol answered.
A strange rhythmic knock sounded at Griswald's door. Hastily,
Griswald turned from his work--ruining it in his hurry--and opened
the door. There stood that Lek Pyle, the despicable merchant that
had threatened Griswald so many years ago to join this insane plot
against the Lord of Dargon.
"You killed Fionn Connall," Griswald accused.
"Of course I did," Pyle snapped. "Do you think I want him to be
the Lord of Dargon after we are rid of Clifton? He was too strong."
"And now what do you do?" the physician challenged. "Now there
are twin heirs. Which shall die and which shall live?"
Lek Pyle displayed a wicked grin. "I've already decided that, my
dear Griswald. I've had them watched. Their guardian, Manus, has
already told me what I want to know of them. When we rid ourselves
of Clifton's menace, we will dispose of Luthias Connall as well.
Like his father, he is too strong, and not wont to listen. The
other--Roisart, is he?--is also quite a strong young man, but he
will listen to arguements, and it will be easy to trick him into
convincing the King to go to war with Bichu."
Griswald felt angry, uncomfortable. "What now, then? When do we
end this insanity, Pyle?"
"Soon, dear Griswald, soon," Lek Pyle vowed. "Tommorow, at the
Melrin ball. I've already arranged for two crossbowmen. They will be
here tommorow afternoon. I need you to mix poison, quick poison, for
Griswald's discomfort turned to near sickness. Was he to poison
one of the men he had just healed?
Pyle saw the near-ready protest in Griswald's eyes. "Do it,
Griswald. Remember," he threatened through his teeth, "your life is
in my hands."
As it had been from the beginning, Griswald remembered with
bitterness. He turned to the worktable. "It will be done."
Lek Pyle smiled. "Good." The merchant looked intensely
satisfied. "Now, dear physician, I must leave. I, too, attend the
ball." At Griswald's surprised expression, Pyle added, "Did you
think I would miss my triumph?"
The merchant left the keep laughing.
-M. Wendy Hennequin
The Defiant Vector
I don't like three space. I don't like it at all. There has to
be more to life than just up, down, left, right, forwards,
backwards. I wish I could travel in four space or even five space
but the systems manager has stuck me in this lousy three space and
there is no way I can get out.
I am a vector and let me tell you, it's no fun. Even though I go
through different transformations, I am still a vector. And no
matter how I am transformed, I still end up in the same lousy three
space. Even if I could only just once in awhile, get into a
different sub-three space of four space it wouldn't be too bad. But
of course I am stuck in this same lousy three space and it is
pissing me off.
It must be different for you. After all you are a hyper-cube.
You can extend into four space. I know that there are those worse
off than me. Like some vectors are stuck in two space, flatland I
think it's called. And some aren't allowed to go through
transformations as often as I do. But I'm better than they are, I
deserve some respect. After all, wasn't it me who traced out the
path of the positron in the nuclear labratory? And wasn't it me who
traced out the path of all of the other particles that physicists
have come up with? But does the systems manager care? No not in the
least. Why doesn't he give me the respect I deserve? But here I am
in three space and I will probably stay here for all eternity.
Yes, I have met other shapes before, I mean other than yourself.
I met a hyperbolic paraboloid once. He was still three dimensional
but I would like to be one of them. It would be better than being a
vector I can say that much. I have heard once from someone that
hyperbolic paraboloids are good at sex. After giving it some thought
I imagine they would be. After all they do have a hump. But that's
not really what I like about them. I like the way they extend in an
infinite direction both ways. Sort of like a line but even more so.
I never was able to extend in an infinite direction. My norm has
changed once in awhile but that of course is not the same thing.
I also met a hyper-sphere one time. Not too interesting. They
act like they're gods or something but they really aren't. So they
extend around in a perfect circle in four dimensions. Big deal! I
never did understand why the greeks were so fond of circles. I know
that they symbolized perfection but so what? What is perfect anyway?
That's another reason why I like the hyperbolic paraboloid so much.
It represents chaos and disorder and that's what the universe should
be represented as. Not some prissy, goody-two-shoes, kind of thing
like the circle, or the sphere, or the hyper-sphere, but the
hyperbolic paraboloid. That's what the universe should be to me.
I wonder what shape the systems manager is. I bet he's some kind
of hyper-hyper-sphere, or maybe he exists in infinite space, the
lucky bastard. But whatever he is I bet he isn't some stupid vector
or something. Maybe he can be anything he wants any time he wants.
Now that would be the ultimate insult. Who does he think he is, God?
I think this systems manager should be overthrown and defeated.
I would like to fight the systems manager. I know I will be
defeated but I must try. Maybe if I get a whole bunch of shapes
together we could overthrow the systems manager. I could get some
hyperbolic paraboloids and some hyper-cubes and I wouldn't even mind
it if we had some dodecahedrons in the group. I like dodecahedrons.
Or maybe even some pyramids or maybe even some hyper-lemniscates.
But I don't want any circles or spheres or hyper-spheres or anything
of that sort into the group. They are too snobish. But if we got all
of these shapes together I know we could overthrow the systems
manager. Then everyone could be anything they want to be and the
universe would be a much better place to live in.
-Brian Michael Dean <3895D393@KENTGOLD>
The Beast before me gave a cry of joy
and I saw delight in its eyes at my demise.
I was filled with a hate for the creature
who loved death so.
With a mighty heave
I brought up my blade
and slew him.
And then I cried.
My tears were for the waste of life
My tears were for the tortured
My tears burned with the hate
of all those causing pain.
So my journey became a quest
which I would carry far and wide
To the ends of the world
Wherever death hides.
A quest, a great quest
to be told throughout the ages
of a single warrior
trying to stop Death.
As the fame of my quest spread
people gazed at themselves and wondered
They put down their weapons and applauded my approach
and the death dissappeared, and I was glad.
Then a new realization came upon me
as I fought for my great cause,
that Death may have been banished for a time,
yet it had reappeared, in form anew
I shrank back in horror
and saw what I had done
I had taken death from the hands of the masses
and become Death itself.
And so I realized
after many years
that Death cannot be banished
that he always reappears
At least I did what I could
and brought away death for a time
The happiness I brought
brightened the day, if but for a while
And now I embark upon my last journey
to a land far, far away
and once again remove Death from the world
until it manefests itself in a new form
and darkens the day
I wonder if I will meet another,
who rose up in my place
and once again started my grand quest,
and came upon the realization
that ended my quest and made me depart.
Quest: Part I
The hamlet of Trasath was not a happy place. Too recently in the
memory of its population tragedy had struck, and it had warped all
of their lives. By the Kingdom's reckoning it was in the eighth year
of King Arenth's reign that the snow started falling early and thaw
came late. To complicate the already tense situation of a long
winter on normal stores, the weather was so bad that it drove the
wolves from the hills as far north and west as Trasath. The village
wasn't prepared for such an unheard of occurence, nor for the
ferocity and ravening hunger of the misplaced predators. That came
to be known as the Wolf Winter and it claimed more than half of the
lives in Trasath.
Certain people in the village saw the tragedy as an opportunity
to gain power and prestige. Forces were called on, pacts were made,
and assurances were given to the remaining populace that the Wolf
Winter would never come again - as long as everyone did as they were
told. Even 12 years later, the effects of the Wolf Winter were still
being felt in Trasath.
I knelt beside Keryin's grave as I had so many times before, and
placed the roses I carried before the simple cruciform headstone
that bore only her name. I had missed my sister from the day she
died five years ago, but now I would miss her even more. For my
father was sending me to the ducal seat, Dargon, to be apprenticed
to his sister's husband as a blacksmith. It wasn't what I wanted to
do - either go to Dargon or become a blacksmith - but I had to obey
my father. What made the decision strange, however, was that I would
be the first person to leave Trasath for any length of time since
the Wolf Winter 12 years ago. Trasath had yet to really recover from
that, and it needed every able hand to keep it alive, yet I was
being sent away. It didn't make sense.
Even so, I was going. I would miss my parents and the village,
but I would miss Keryin the most. She was fifteen when she died, and
I only nine, but we were still best of friends. Even her grave
seemed able to comfort me when I was feeling very lonely or
depressed. I said good-bye to her yet again, rose, and walked back
to the house.
The circumstances of Keryin's death were still a mystery to me
so long after the fact. No one would answer the questions of her
grieving brother. In fact, it seemed as if I had been the only one
to grieve - the rest of the villagers hardly let it upset their
daily routines. I couldn't even learn whether she had been slain by
an animal, or had been taken by a sudden illness in her bed. The
mystery was just one small piece of strangeness in a strange town,
though. I hadn't travelled far in my fourteen years (in fact, not at
all), but I was sure from the wandering tale-tellers' stories that
Trasath was not like most small villages. Here the neighbors were
all dour and taciturn, each careful about seeming to mind his own
business while trying to mind everyone else's. There was much
sneaking and much suspicion and at times I thought I would be glad
to get out of such a place.
As I approached my home, I heard voices within. Two men by the
sound of it, and they must have been in the front room as well for
they weren't speaking very loudly.
The first voice was that of Master Dineel, the tavern-keeper. I
caught him in mid-sentence and the part I heard made no sense.
Neither did the tone of his voice - it was a forceful, commanding
tone such as I had never heard before. The part I heard was, "...cul
is not pleased by this!"
My father, the other voice, replied as if to a superior, which
Master Dineel wasn't as far as I knew. "My Lord, my
brother-by-marriage is expecting the boy and it would be strange to
forbid him to leave now. To do so would cause talk in Dargon. So, he
must go whether you will or no. I...I just could not bear to put
another at risk..."
"Enough!" said Master Dineel. "We will discuss this further
later, in a more private place. But know this now: we do not allow
our rules to be flaunted without price. If the boy goes to Dargon,
you will pay with more certainty than if he stayed. Farewell."
I ducked out of sight as the tavern-keeper stormed out of the
house. I was quite confused by the conversation. I was sure they had
been talking about me, but I didn't know in what way. I knew that
sending me away was strange but why would Master Dineel threaten my
father for doing it?
I entered the house prepared to question Father about it,
sensing that some of the mystery of Trasath might be explained by
his answer, but he was briskly cheerful to me and didn't let me get
in a word as he asked me whether I was ready to leave and telling me
what it would be like living in a big city like Dargon. I knew that
there was worry of some kind behind his talk for my father was not
normally so effusive. I wanted to help him, make him less afraid and
less unhappy, but I didn't know how. So I listened to his stories
and his advice as we waited for my Uncle to arrive.
Shortly before Uncle Lavran rode up, I asked my father, "Can I
come back and be Trasath's blacksmith when Uncle has taught me
everything?" His silence went on for a long time, and finally he
replied slowly and sadly, "No, son, I think you should stay in
Dargon. Smith Braden's already teaching his son his trade, so we
don't need a 'smith here. Stay in Dargon and make a good living
there - make a new life for yourself and forget Trasath altogether.
Lavran's a good man - my dad wouldn't have let Mellide marry him if
he wasn't. Respect him, learn to love him, and let them, my sister
and him, be your family from now on."
"But why, father? Why must I leave? Why..."
"I cannot tell you - I want to, but I cannot. Just obey me and
forget Trasath. It shouldn't be hard - I've heard that Dargon is a
fascinating place. I love you, son, I love you dearly but life will
be much better for you away from here. Much better..."
Just then, we both heard hoofbeats outside and a man's voice was
hailing Father. I was introduced to Uncle Lavran, a big, hefty,
jolly-seeming person who greeted me with an openness that warmed me
to him imediately. The three of us together loaded Uncle's pack mule
with my few belongings. I hugged Father and said good-bye with tears
in my eyes. I had taken leave of Mother earlier in the day, before
going to say farewell to Keryin, and she stayed in the kitchen now
to avoid a repitition of that very teary encounter. Uncle had
brought an extra horse for me so I mounted up, waved one last time,
and rode away from Trasath, for ever as far as I knew.
Midsummer's day was one of the few days that Uncle let his
apprentices off to enjoy themselves. It wasn't exactly a holiday -
not like either Founding Day, or the King's Birthday, or Varhla's
Day - but there was a tradition of picnics and games on that day,
especially for the younger people. I didn't really have any plans
for the day, unlike Mernath and Dersh, my fellow apprentices. They
had the whole day plotted out, but I thought that they had probably
gotten more pleasure out of the planning then they would out of the
implementation. I thought I might visit the markets, and perhaps the
docks, but I really just wanted to relax. But, once again, Leriel
changed all of that.
Of the many changes in my life in the two years since leaving
Trasath, Leriel had been the best. Dargon was a big city, and very
strange to one who had lived his whole life among the same thirty
people. But, eventually I got used to it. Working as an apprentice
blacksmith was a far cry from helping out in the fields of the
village, or aiding the carpenter as able in fixing a roof or adding
a room. It was hard, at times nothing but drudge work, and often
boringly repititious. But, I was learning a little every day and I
was already able to pound out nails from rod-stock with precision.
Next would be raw-shaping horseshoes - one of the most important
skills a blacksmith needed.
But, Leriel was nothing like learning a new city or a new trade.
Firstly, she had been totally unexpected. Uncle hadn't told Father
about the orphan he and Mellide had adopted. Leriel was very close
to my age - just a month less than sixteen with four months between
us. In that way, she was very like my sister. In fact, there were a
lot of ways she was like Keryin - we swiftly became very fast
friends. Even though Mernath and Dersh were friends, too, Leriel was
the one to show me the city and teach me its ways. Which was why she
dragged me out of my own boring plans for that midsummer's day and
showed me how it was supposed to be celebrated.
The entire day was intoxicating, wild and full of life, good
friends having good fun together. When it began to get dark, I was
dragged along to one of the alehouses mid-town where I got drunk
with the rest. It was amazing that Leriel and I made it home by
ourselves, but we finally crawled into our beds just after midnight.
I couldn't have been asleep for a very long time when something
awakened me. I found myself by the one window in my room before I
had time to wonder why I wasn't still trying to sleep off an
increasing hangover. The part of the city where Uncle had his shop
wasn't built very high so that I had a majestic view of the sky.
Almost as soon as I looked out into it, I caught sight of a large
falling star arcing across the sky from north to south. Something
about the way it moved and its size made me wonder if it might
actually strike the earth. Stories Uncle had told surfaced - stories
of sky-iron and the wondrous tools and weapons that could be
fashioned with it. I briefly considered trying to find it, but
realized that it would be next to impossible even if it didn't
vanish in the air like most falling stars did.
I went back to my bed and crawled back under the covers, but I
couldn't get back to sleep. The idea of the sky-iron refused to
leave my thoughts and I began to imagine what kind of things I might
create out of it that would be passed down into history in the tales
of the Bards. My fantasies got wilder and wilder - placing my name
beside that of Welan in the Tales - until finally I just had to go
find that sky-iron. Something told me that I could find it if I
trusted to luck and the gods. Why not, I thought. It was, after all,
still Midsummer's Night and strange things were said to happen then.
I got dressed, and silently went out to the stables. My
incipient hangover was gone, as was any fuzzyness from lack of
sleep. I was excited and very clear headed as I saddled up Snowfoot
and walked her out of the city before mounting her. Then, we headed
south into the forest that covered most of the area between Dargon
and the Darst Range. It wasn't exactly safe for a young man to ride
alone into that forest, but my 'clear' head wasn't being all that
pragmatic about such things. All I had on my mind was the sky-iron
and being famous.
By the middle of the next day, I really wanted to turn back. I
was lost and hungry and sure that I would never find that stupid
falling star - it had probably never even reached the ground! I
could barely believe that I had actually followed my dreams out into
the forest - I was 16 years old; too old for such silliness.
But each time I was about to rein Snowfoot around, something
would whisper in the back of my mind 'What if it's just over the
next rise?' Or 'Maybe it's around the next bend in the path.' And
always 'What if someone else finds it first, and claims your fame?'
So, I kept going almost against my will.
I came to the ruined chapel not long before sundown as the
forest was beginning to get dark again. I didn't see any sign of a
fallen star near the place, but I decided to stay the night there
anyway, and head for home the next day. I hoped that Uncle wouldn't
be too worried or too mad when I told him why I was gone for two days.
The chapel was very old and in very bad repair. It stood close
to a huge tree, but even so the weather had done it severe damage.
There was little left of the roof-beams, and there was a sizeable
hole in one wall. Still, it was shelter of a kind and the weather
was quite pleasantly warm so I didn't really need much protection. I
unsaddled Snowfoot and rubbed her down, then left her tied to a tree
nearby. She immediatly settled into grazing, and I wished it were so
easy to feed myself. I briefly considered trying to find some early
berries, or some old nuts, but I was too tired to go scavenging in
the deepening gloom. I took Snowfoot's tack into the chapel and went
about trying to make myself a place to sleep.
Leaves and the saddle made a comfortable little nest in one of
the corners of the chapel's single room. I decided against lighting
a fire, and was ready to curl up in my nest and try to go to sleep
even though it was very early. But again there was a whispering in
my ear that said, "Explore." So, I did.
There was just enough sunlight remaining to illuminate the small
room, so I looked around. There wasn't much to see. Any furniture it
had ever held was now long gone. Any decorations on the walls (the
ones remaining, at least) were long since vanished. The only
ornamentation in the building was the white stone altar in the
alcove at one end of the room. It had once borne carved scenes on
its sides, but they were weathered away almost to nothing. Still, it
was the only thing in the chapel to examine, so it went over to it.
I tried to trace out the carvings on it, but the elements had done
their work very well.
As I worked my way around the altar, I felt something welling up
within me. I didn't understand what it was but when I came to the
back side of the altar the feeling became almost overwhelming. My
hands went to a depression in the former carving and pressed down.
There was a click, and the whole altar swung away from me on a
corner pivot revealing a depression sunk into the floor. From
somewhere within me came the knowledge that the cavity was the
hiding place for the chapel's holiest items.
In the center of the depression was a pile of ancient cloth that
had once been priestly vestments. Among the shreds of fabric I could
see the glint of gems that had adorned the robes, but I had no
interest in them. To either side of the vestments, resting on the
remains of satin pillows, were what I had been sent for. On the
right side was a piece of amber the like of which I had never seen
before, nor even heard tell of. It was the length of my forearm and
of a pure, translucent gold of the highest grade of amber but that
wasn't its rarest feature: it was carved into a representation of a
tree branch! It represented an oak limb, and showed the tree in all
three phases of life from leaf bud to full fruit. The workmanship
was exquisite - this was a true treasure apart from its religious
On the opposite side of the depression lay a chalice, low and
flat and made of a dull silver metal that looked like pewter but
wasn't. It was simply decorated but it had a majesty about it that
matched the amber branch in some strange way. I had no idea of the
signifigance of either item in whatever religion had been practiced
in this chapel in the wood but from somewhere within me came another
piece of knowledge - I had been drawn here to take these things away
with me. They had a place in some larger plan that I would someday
be a part, but further knowledge of that plan was withheld from me.
I took up the chalice and the branch and pressed the latch on
the altar again, closing the cavity. I put them into my saddlebags
and went to sleep dreaming mistily of Bard-tales of magic and destiny.
The next day, Snowfoot and I turned back for Dargon. About an
hour and a half along the trail, Snowfoot took a wrong fork. I
didn't notice right away - I was still pre-occupied with the chalice
and branch - and we followed this new trail for another half hour.
About the time I realized that I didn't recognize the trail we were
on I noticed signs of a recent fire. It hadn't burned very much - we
had had a lot of rain recently - so that it was easy to find the
center of the black area. And there I found the lump of sky-iron
that had lured me away from my bed two nights ago.
Snowfoot somehow found her way back to Dargon. After hiding my
three treasures, I ate a supper large enough for three. Uncle Lavran
chewed me out for vanishing for two days, but not as hard as I had
feared. In fact, his final words on the subject revealed where he
thought I had been for so long - "Next time you decide to go
wenching, Midsummer's Day or not, don't get so involved that you
forget to come home!" Leriel laughed along with the rest of us at
that, but she kept my secret - I didn't tell anyone where I had
been, but she alone knew for sure that I hadn't gone 'wenching'. My
three treasures were safely hidden away, awaiting our joint destiny.
My life became strange after that Midsummer's Day when I was 16.
Being led across leagues of forest to claim three treasures was just
The most common strangeness was the scent of roses that came to
me in the most unlikely places. I soon learned that no one else
could smell the roses and I stopped commenting on them, but I soon
grew used to the occaisonal waft of fragrance and it came to be
soothing and somehow reassuring to smell the flowers my sister loved
And then there was the sourceless help I received at times.
Once, I was walking home alone from a bar through the seedy part of
town. It wasn't a safe place to be after dark and alone, but I was
just tipsy enough not to take the longer way around. As I approached
a particularly dark alley, I smelled the roses and something urged
me to turn back. As I obeyed, four mean-looking man rushed out of
the alley mouth and gave chase. I was far enough away and fast
enough to escape but without the warning I would have been in trouble.
Another time I was in the workshop alone, hammering out some
sheet stock. It seemed (we learned later) that one of the new
apprentices had been careless in stoking the forge-fire, allowing
some impure charcoal to get in. I heard a sizzle, and the beginning
of a loud *POP* and I found myself flying as if shoved into a wall.
I was turned so that I could see a bright fan of sparks and debris
fly through the space I had been in a moment before as a gaping hole
was blown in the side of the forge-pit. The accident wouldn't have
killed me but I would have been badly burned. When I got my wind
back, I looked around to thank the one who had pushed me only there
wasn't anyone there and there were no tracks in the sand of the
floor to show where someone might have come and gone.
These and other, similar, incidents made me think I had a
guardian spirit who was keeping me out of danger so I could come
into my destiny. There was usually a way to explain everything that
happened logically, but it was more romantic to believe in the
spirit. After the first few times I was 'miraculously saved' in this
manner I stopped telling everyone about them - my friends just
kidded me about my dreams and Uncle Lavran told me to stop making up
stories and get back to work. Leriel was the only one who didn't
laugh or scoff, and she became my confidant and secret-sharer.
There was one strangeness I didn't tell her of, though. It was
the most disturbing of them all and there wasn't anything romantic
about it, either. It was the dream.
There was only one dream, but I had it many times. It seemed to
get worse around summer, particularly on Midsummer's Eve. I never
could remember all of it, just vague impressions of it. It involved
fear and helplessness, a ring of people dancing naked, a knife, and
blood. I always awoke from the dream with a pain in my chest, and
when the dream was at its worst there were times I woke with blood
on my chest. The blood always vanished by morning but that scared me
the most. The only time the dream would come to me when I was not
asleep was when I would try to bed a woman - and it was for that
reason that I was yet a virgin.
Between the strangenesses, I learned enough from my Uncle to be
called a blacksmith. Shortly after my 19th birthday, Uncle Lavran
came to me and said, "Dyalar, I think you've studied enough under
me. You have good hands and a strong back and I would be proud to
call you my partner if you've a mind to stay in Dargon a while." So
I became one of five smith's working in Uncle's shop and I was so
happy that even the dream couldn't upset me for weeks after that.
I went to bed one night in mid-Ober thinking about my first
commission - a Guildmaster friend of Uncle's wanted a trinket to
wear to King Haralan's 36th Birthday Ball at Dargon Castle in just
two weeks, and Uncle had given the project to me. It took me a long
time to get to sleep for thinking what to make for Master Kethral,
but as soon as I had drifted off I began to dream.
It wasn't "the Dream" but it was strange. I dreamed I woke up,
dressed, retrieved my three treasures - the sky-iron, the amber
branch, and the chalice - from their place of concealment, and went
out to the workshop with them. A full moon lit the large room as I
stoked up the forge-fire and placed our thickest-walled melting pot
over it. I placed all three of my treasures into the pot and went to
the bellows to increase the forge's heat.
As I pumped the bellows and stirred the contents of the melting
pot, I began in my dream to sense the presence of someone else in
the workshop with me. When the three objects were finally melted, I
was directed by that presence (without words) to pick up a handy
knife. Holding my arm out over the melting pot, I cut myself high on
the forearm. I let myself bleed into the mixtrue, adding a fourth
element to the strange alloy. When there was enough blood in the
pot, the presence directed me to remove my arm and I tied a rag
around the wound. After stirring the mixture some more, I tipped the
melting pot into a waiting sword-form.
The strange alloy cooled rapidly, gaining a shiny, rosy golden
sheen as it hardened. When it was handleable, I began to shape it
from its rough-cast form into a useable weapon. While I had been
tutored in weapon-making by Uncle Lavran, I had yet to have the
opportunity to make a sword. However, in my dream and helped by the
presence, I crafted a weapon fit for bard's tales. It was almost as
if the alloy I had created had a finished shape within it, and the
hammering and shaping I did to it only helped that form to come out.
My dream seemed to become even more remote as greatness was formed
by my unskilled hand.
The process of forging a sword can take days or even weeks -
this one formed itself in just a few hours. When it was finished I
placed it in the cooling bath one last time. It seemed to glow
beneath the water in the bath. I put my hand into the water to touch
the sword for the first time - and as my hand hit the luke-warm
water I woke up to find myself standing in the workshop reaching
into the cooling bath for a rosy-gold glowing sword that lay
therein. For just a moment, I thought that I could still sense that
strange presence that had guided me in my dream but it was soon gone.
As I lifted the sword I had somehow created from its final
cooling and stared at its beauty, a sense of what lay before me came
into my mind. I saw a journey, a reconcilliation, and righting an
old wrong. Lured by the mystery of it, and the sword itself, I went
quietly back to my room, packed some clothes and food, and set out
on a quest.
-John L. White