Dain rode his horse into town. The sun had set, and the merchants had already closed up their carts for the night; the store keepers had locked their doors. The only noise was coming from the taverns and inns on the south side. The ruffians and cutthroats were known to frequent the businesses on this side, and if he wanted seedy information, he had to go into the seedy part of town.
He dismounted and tied his horse to the post. He pulled his cloak’s hood up and adjusted his sword on his hip. He opened the door to the tavern, and the sights and sounds hit him head on. The noise of boisterous patrons was deafening, and the light from the lamps and the raging fire in the hearth hurt his eyes after riding with nothing but the fading sun for light. He sidled up to the bar and waved to the barkeep. The barman walked over and leaned on the bar, to hear better over the din of the room.
“What can I get you?”
Dain pulled two gold coins from the purse under his cloak and set them on the counter.
“I’m looking for Brogan.”
The barkeep glared at him for a few minutes, not touching the coins. He eyed Dain, then scowled at him.
“What makes you think anyone here knows where he is?”
“I’ve been around the block a few times friend, and I listen to talk, and pay attention to details. I would bet there is someone in this room that knows where I can find him.”
“Maybe you should tell me who’s asking and maybe I could find someone to help you.”
Dain sighed. “I was hoping I didn’t have to use my face as a bargaining tool, but if that will move this along, then I will play it your way.”
He pulled his hood off his head, and the barman stood up straight, surprised.
“Your Majesty,” he bowed. “I didn’t realize it was you who was asking. What would Your Majesty want with someone like Brogan?”
“I need some information. He gets around more than I do, and I would bet he has traveled into Xenos lately.”
He frowned. “He will not willingly give you any information that has to do with the duke willingly, without adequate compensation.”
“I will pay what is necessary, but time is not on my side, so if we could hurry this up, I’d appreciate it.”
The barman tossed the towel he had been holding over his shoulder, pocketed the coins and yelled over the noise.
“Anyone seen Brogan tonight?”
There was an eerie pause of noise, all eyes looking toward him. No one came forward at first, then a man approached. He was average height and very thin, with yellowed teeth and greasy hair. His left retina was covered in a milky film and a scar ran from his eyebrow down to his cheek. He was dressed in what looked like clothes made from animal skins, and he had a small knife on his hip. He slithered up to the bar and squinted at Dain. Then he spoke, his voice low and gravelly.“Maybe, maybe not. What do you want with Brogan?”
“Information. And my payment is money, not answers to questions that are not your concern.”
He rubbed a dirty hand across his chin. He looked over at the barman, then back at Dain.
“You take a risk coming into this part of town, Sire. Seeking information about certain things could be detrimental to your well being.”
Dain put a hand on his sword and glowered at the greasy haired man. The barkeep snapped his head around and glared at the slimy man.
“Watch your tongue, Cyrus. Have respect for your king, or you could find a noose around your neck.”
Dain held up his hand. “It’s alright. I’m not new to the goings on in this neighborhood, friend. I take my chances by being here, I understand. If the information wasn’t so important I would be at home in front of a warm fire, a soothing ale in my hand. I would appreciate your assistance.”
Dain took a coin from out of his pocket and handed it to him. The man took it and stared at it, then looked at Dain again. Dain sighed and handed him another.
“More than a fair price for your help.”
“I think Brogan is in port tonight. Follow me.”
Cyrus smiled a yellow-toothed grin and motioned for Dain to follow. Dain threw another coin at the barkeep and nodded. He followed Cyrus out of the tavern and out into the street. They walked silently toward the water front, the greasy man shuffling along, dragging one leg slightly. It was completely dark now. Dain pulled his cloak tighter, for the clouds had rolled in from off the sea and covered the stars, the moon a hazy lamp under the gray cover. The breeze from the water and the scent of salt and fish became stronger the closer they came. They headed down a side street, toward the wharf, the silent boats bobbing gently in the evening tide. They hit the wooden planks of the pier and his boots clomped in the silence. The greasy man led him halfway down the pier and stopped at a small boat. He stepped on to the deck, Dain just behind him, and yelled down into the galley.
“Brogan, show yourself. You’ve got a visitor.”
The door to the galley opened just a slit. Brogan peeked out from below deck, only seeing the greasy man there. His deep voice yelled out, “What do you want, Cyrus? Can’t a man get some peace?”
“I bring a guest.”
“I don’t want to be bothered. Go away!”
He shut the door again. Dain decided to step in. “Brogan, don’t make me break down the door. I need to talk to you.”.
He opened the door again and peered at Dain. His eyes grew large then, and the door whipped open, him coming up the below deck stairs. “Your Majesty, why didn’t you say it was you?” He looked over at Cyrus. “Be gone!”
They watched as the greasy man scuffled away down the pier, his footsteps clip-clopping on the wooden planks. Brogan held out his hand. Dain took it and they shook. He motioned down the stairs. “More private down here.”
They went down to the galley, then Dain asked, “Where have you been, Brogan? Finding you lately is like trying to squeeze water from a stone.”
“My face is too familiar these days. I’m afraid I’ll stand out too much in the wrong circles.” He motioned Dain to sit down. The boat was shabby and in disrepair. There was a small leak; the walls were damp and hinted a smell of rotting wood. There was a hammock bed, a table with two chairs, where they now sat, and a small coal brazier for warmth. Brogan sat down and leaned over, poking the fire with a stick, sparks crackling.
“You shouldn’t be asking too many questions, Dain, it’s unwise.”
“This is my province, Brogan, I’m not afraid. Why are you?”
His eyes clouded over, and he shuddered. He was not a small man by any means. He stood so tall he had to bend over somewhat so that he didn’t hit his head on the ceiling of the boat. He had large arms and a wide chest. He was a sailor now but had been a solider in the army before that.
He had no station and no money, so he went into fishing to feed himself. Dain looked around again and felt pity. After all Brogan had done, all the battles he had risked his life in, the only person to believe in him had been himself. This is what he’d been reduced to. Dain felt guilty. Brogan caught him looking around and smiled.
“It’s not as bad as it looks. It’s small, not much cleaning is required.”
Dain smiled back but was not taken in by Brogan’s humility. He had tried many times to offer Brogan a spot in his guard, but each time he refused. He said that his life had gone another way for a reason, and this was it now, for better or worse.
“I’m sorry, Brogan, for what you’ve had to endure. I feel responsible.”
“You gave me my life.”
“This isn’t a life, Brogan. Alone, no family, no possessions.”
“This way is easier. You believed in me when no one else did. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.”
“You’d make me feel better if you’d take the commission I offered.”
Brogan shook his head. “I feel freer on the open sea. It refreshes my soul in a way that being a solider never could.” He leaned over and placed his large hand on Dain’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me.You have bigger problems.”
He removed his hand and sat up straighter. “He’s a plague that is eating away at the land. He’s already acquired two more cities in his land, two in the neighboring one. His people starve and can barely eke out a living, but he doesn’t care. There are unexplainable things happening in his land, and his new “advisor” had evil pouring out of every pore. When he looks at you, it feels as if he’s looking right through you. One moment he’s a man, the next…” He shrugged.
“I can’t explain it. He looks at you with red eyes that can reach all the way down into your soul. He’s not of this world, of that I’m sure.”
“Fallon is playing with dark magic?”
“Is? Has. He’s been growing more powerful every year, and I believe this man, or whatever he is, is part of that power. I don’t believe he’s human.”
“What would Fallon want with Princess Melenthia?”
He shrugged again. “Don’t know exactly, but rumor has it she’s linked to him somehow.”
“In what way?”
“A marriage to her is supposedly part of a pact he’s made with the Dark One, who’s rising from the depths. She has some divine purpose.”
“You’ve been out on the sea too long, Brogan. You’re beginning to believe too many fish tales.”
“Everyone knows that she was given the Elvin sword, a sword rumored to be called Tanith, a gift from the elders of Vallis when she was born. It’s no ordinary sword, Your Majesty. It’s a sword of legend, of deep magic. The sword was destined for a chosen one. I for one believe the Tanith Prophecy is true. No one receives a gift like that from the Elvin Elders for no purpose. They rarely even come into this part of the world. There was a reason she was given it. I would swear to it.”
“Have you heard any of this from reliable sources, or is this just sailor superstition?”
“Maybe or maybe not, but I believe everyone suspects the same. Things were relatively quiet until she ran away, now it seems things are crawling out from dark places. All the realms in the kingdom must be warned. We must stand together against him. Something sinister is happening.”
“Do you know how to reach Yarden?”
Brogan stood up from his chair, crossing his big arms over his bigger chest. “Maybe. Why?”
“You’re right. I don’t have any solid confirmation on anything either, but something is starting, that I can agree with. If we wait until all hell breaks loose, it’ll be too late. We must enlist the allegiance of all the provinces, then when the time comes, we can stand as one.”
“Are you asking me to go to Yarden? The city of the dwarves at the top of the mountain?”
“I owe you my life but you’re asking a lot of me. Not only is it hard to find, but it’s a treacherous climb. There’ll be snow up there still, and if an unexpected temperamental storm blows through while still on the mountain pass, it could mean death.” He audibly swallowed.
“You know I would never ask if it wasn’t important.”
“Why are you so quick to enlist the help of the dwarves who have not had allegiance with man in over five hundred years? What’s happened?”
“Alek is searching for the princess as we speak. When she heard her hand had been given over to Fallon in marriage, she fled Lachlan Castle and is somewhere out in the open. If Alek does not find her, Fallon will. I need to know exactly what he wants with her. I’m not willing to wait until it’s too late. I can only protect her if I know who might be coming after her, or what and why. Getting the entire kingdom banded together is the smartest move.”
Brogan sighed. “For you, Dain, and the princess, I’ll do whatever I can. The thought of talking to Dagon makes my skin break out in goose pimples, but I’ll get to him.”
“I have something to insure that you gain entry into Yarden to talk to Dagon.”
Brogan raised his eyebrows in questioning.
“I will not reveal the details in full. Let’s just say he owes me.”
“Seems you have tabs all over the kingdom.” He sighed. “Very well. I’ll hire a guide and go there.”
Dain placed his hand on Brogan’s shoulder now. “Take several men with you, reliable and trustworthy men. I’ll send word to Faran to give you whatever funds you need to pay them. Just get Dagon the message, that should be enough. Dagon may be a miser when it comes to money, but he’s not callous enough to refuse to help if he knows what’s on the way .”
“It’ll be done. For you I would give my life.”
“I don’t want it to come to that. If for some reason he refuses aid at my request, don’t put yourself, or your men, in harms way. I won’t force those that don’t trust me enough to stand with me. I hope they’ll see the importance of allegiance and decide on their own to help. The decisions we make from this point on will effect everyone.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Take care, Brogan.”
“You too, Sire.”
Dain left the boat and plodded back down the wharf towards town. He found his horse still tied to the post. He rode hard all the way back to Drydon, hoping there would be word from Alek when he got there.
Jaron, to the dismay of Fallon, returned to the castle without Melenthia in his possession. Fallon paced back and forth across the great hall of Lachlan Castle, his almost black eyes were squinting, and he tried to keep his hands busy so as not to strangle anyone.
Jaron looked on, watching him pace the great length of the room, not speaking, but wondering if he should interrupt his mutterings with mundane details. It was true that Melenthia had slipped passed them, but he knew that it would only be a matter of time before he lured her out of whatever hiding place she had found.
Fallon had been furious when he returned to the castle empty handed, but even he was not brave enough to challenge Jaron. Fallon might have conjured him up from the depths, but Jaron was really the player, and Fallon merely the pawn.
The King was being very tight lipped about her whereabouts, and Jaron had the feeling he really didn’t know. He did know, however, that Kevaan did. Getting it out of him might be harder than anticipated though; he seemed to be stronger in will than his father was. Jaron finally decided that this pacing was getting them nowhere and cleared his throat.
“My Lord, perhaps we should be planning our next move rather than dwelling on what we have not accomplished. Everything will eventually fall into place as, and when, it should. The girl has no inkling that she’s the one who was born to destroy you. She only knows what we want her to know, that you want her for your wife.”
Fallon finally stopped his back and forth walk and looked to his advisor.
“People believe she’s special. The Elvin sword Tanith, the gift from the elves on the day of her birth has made people suspicious.”
“What are the words of peasants worth?”
“Nothing as far as I’m concerned, but rumors are rumors, and they spread quickly. If she has heard any whisperings of the Tanith Prophecy, she will believe it, that I’m sure of. Her biggest flaw is her love and respect for the people of this realm. She’ll do anything for them, and they for her.”
“Anyone who chooses to stand against you does so at their own risk.”
He waved his hand as if in dismissal. “Yes, yes, but it will be difficult to convince them all.”
“We don’t need everyone, only enough to hold back whatever army Kevaan thinks can stand against us. The rest of the work will be done by your chosen followers. Have you finished learning your incantation yet?”
“No, I’m too busy trying to find the girl that managed to slip past you.”
“I could’ve followed her into the river, but that would give me away. Everyone knows a wraith cannot stand water.”
“I’m not concerned about what commoners think they know about anything.” He rubbed his eyes. “Go out and track her again. I want her back, Jaron, at all costs.”
“I doubt she would’ve survived her fall into the river, My Lord,” Jaron said but did not believe it.
“I don’t doubt anything, Jaron, that is precisely why I’m going to be the leader of the new world. If she’s truly the Chosen One, a jump into the river is nothing. She’s resilient and smart, and her brother taught her well. Go out there and bring her back. If you fail again, I may be tempted to send you back to whence you came. I brought you here to help me in my cause, not give me excuses. Find her.”
Jaron’s eyes blazed red for a moment. He hated being told what to do by this simpleton. I need him, he reminded himself. Jaron would wait until the right moment, then Fallon too would suffer with the rest of them. It was He who gave Fallon the insight to bring Jaron back from the dark. He who is giving him the insight to conjure up the rest of the armies from hell to walk among the living. Their master needed a human form to do that, and Fallon was just stupid enough to manipulate, and greedy enough to bend to his will.
Jaron took a deep calming breath, his eyes resuming their normal color. He would have to wait; it was not time yet. He would have to endure taking orders from this man until his real master told him it was time. For now, he would do what was asked. Fallon was right on one thing; they did need the woman to complete the link. She would indeed need to bare a son, and then Fallon, like the woman, would no longer be needed. Jaron would wait, just as his master expected.
“Yes, My Lord. I will find her.” He bowed to Fallon and swept out of the room, a frigid breeze blowing passed Fallon as he left in a swirl of cape.
Fallon shivered in the cold, a small twinge of death shrouding him, almost as a warning. He should not test Jaron so, he knew, but he wanted Melenthia and his lust and power hungry soul was in charge most of the time. He must try harder to control his anger and his demands on the creature. Beings such as Jaron were unpredictable and if pushed too far could turn on him. He swallowed back the fear and remembered that it was him that brought Jaron up from the depths in the first place. He was the master, Jaron merely a puppet. His fear went away as he rubbed his chin in contemplation of what was to come.
Getting rid of King Randor would be easy. He was old and his resolve was weak. Kevaan, on the other hand, would prove more difficult. So far, he had not been able to push him, and he was afraid it might prove difficult for Jaron as well. A wraith works on fear and doubt, and Kevaan seemed to have neither. But, he also had a weakness. Melenthia. He loved his sister like no one else, cared about her more than anything. He would do anything for her. That might prove useful later. For now he would concentrate on keeping Randor under his thumb.
He also thought about Dainard on the other side of the kingdom. He knew that he wasn’t the greatest king, but he was empathetic to his people, and he was young and strong. His army was larger than Randor’s, and that may prove more of a challenge if Dainard chose to stand against him. He seethed. He would stand against him, that he knew. Taking over his realm would be harder than taking over Randors. It was bigger, but it was also guarded better. Dainard had bigger coffers than Randor and had more border patrol and guardsmen than Randor. He had eyes everywhere. He kicked a chair across the room, his fists balled up, scowl marking his dark face.
“I will have this kingdom for myself, and I will have Melenthia for my own!”
A servant heard the commotion and entered the room. “Is there something I can do for you, My Lord?”
Fallon swung around and glared at the servant. The servant trembled and wrung his hands.
“There’s nothing I require except my fiancé!” Fallon seethed.
“Yes, Your Grace. There’s still no word of Her Highness. They are still searching as we speak.”
“Yes. I have sent out my advisor again to help aid them. We’ll find her.”
The servant swallowed. “Yes, My Lord.” He backed out of the room in a bow, leaving Fallon dark.
Fallon went to the window and looked at the stars, the moon lightly lighting the landscape below. Everything the light touched would soon belong to him, and the thought brought satisfaction. He turned from the window now and decided he’d better practice his incantation as Jaron suggested. The moment of truth was nearing.
Sol sat cross legged on the floor, his old but still strong bare chest had markings painted on it and on his arms and legs as well. He had his eyes closed, listening to the traditional chanting of the Elvin Elders, feeling the calm wash over him and the insight in his mind became stronger. He would look into the Mirror of Souls with the highest members of the Elvin clan. They would ask the Mirror to show them what they needed to know, ask it to tell them what they needed to do. Sol remembered back to the last time he sat here, cross legged on the floor, listening to the melodic sounds of the elves in their ritual chant. He had learned then that the Chosen One, the baby of the Tanith Prophecy had been born, and they would keep watch over that child until the time came for that child to fight the creatures of darkness and rid the world of them. What they didn’t tell him then was who the child was. He remembered having doubts later when the Mirror of Souls told them that the child was a girl, but the Mirror of Souls did not lie, and Tomaz’s return, with news that she had indeed been born, rid him of those doubts. He was surprised to learn it was the princess but then chided himself for being so. The Elvin sword sang only to the one that was meant to have it, and there was no doubt it had sung for her. Over the years her oddity confused him, and he started to doubt again. Now he knew that his doubts were unfounded. She was indeed the one.
But there were other things that they didn’t know, things that he hoped the Mirror would tell them today. Was Fallon indeed the pawn for the Dark One to use to bring them out of the depths, to bring darkness to the land? Did he know that Melenthia was the one who would destroy him?
The chanting stopped, and he opened his eyes, looking toward the oldest member of the Elders. Pyramus poured a bowl full of water, with essence of rose and the powder from the crushed bones of the prairie mull rat, into the pool in the center of the room. The pool was so still it looked like a mirror, reflecting the image of everyone around it back at them. For a few moments after he poured the contents of the bowl, the water in the pool rippled, making rings a hundred wide. Then the ripples stopped, and the pool was still again, turning a darker color, grayish silver, and the reflection of the men no longer could be seen. Instead, there were images there of things that had already transpired, and images of things that were still to come.
Pyramus gazed into the reflective pool, and watched the images that came and went. The other elders, and Sol, sat still and quiet, watching the flashes of images come and go. They could not determine what they were looking at, because although they were privileged and could be present, the Mirror of Souls only revealed its secrets to the most holy, the most privileged one, and Pyramus was that one. He stared into the pool with the rest of them, never looking away, never even blinking. Sol sat still, knowing that Pyramus was memorizing everything he had to know, everything the Mirror told him so that he could enlist his most trusted to carry out the role they had. It seemed like a long time before the flashes stopped and the pool once again became clear. Pyramus looked around the hut, taking in all the faces that were present, all Elvin Elders, and Sol.
Sol was not an elf, nor did he have any Elvin blood within him at all, but being the only remaining sorcerer in the world, he was trusted as much as Pyramus’s own tribal members. Sol had been around for more years than anyone knew, and Theron Eadoin, the king of the elves, trusted him. He had worked with the elves in many conflicts over many years of strife and war. He had seen it all, and he knew Aelethia better than any living being, besides the elves themselves. He had been initiated into the Elder tribe more years ago than Sol wanted to recall, and he was the only outsider to ever have been invited to do so.
Pyramus looked around and then finally spoke. “As everyone here knows, twenty-one years ago a child was born into this world, a special child, the child of the Tanith Prophecy, the Chosen One. This child has been watched over, and without knowledgeable interference, has been taught many things that will prove helpful in the coming months. We have secretly watched over her, and now we feel it is time that our outside influence ends and our diligence in her full training begins. The Mirror of Souls has also revealed to me that Fallon is indeed the one who is bringing forth dark creatures from the depths. He has learned that Melenthia is the one who will destroy him. He has learned that bearing him a son is the final act to seal the pact he has with the Dark One. He will not rest until she has been overtaken, and he will not stop until she bears his child. We have been enlisted by the souls of our ancestors to stop him. We have to keep him from obtaining his goal. The Dark One is rising. The time has come. Her training time has arrived.” He looked over at Sol. “What news do you have in this matter?”
“I know that Melenthia has slipped out of Lachlan Castle and is being tracked by Bounty Hunter and King’s Counselor, Alekzand’r Morgan. He will find her and bring her to Drydon Keep for protection. King Dainard will look after her, but he doesn’t know why Fallon wants her. He will do everything in his power to find out though, that is in his nature.”
“Is she safe there?”
“For now. Fallon will eventually figure it out, his wraith will make sure of that.” He paused. “If I might venture an opinion.”
“Of course, you have the trust of this council.”
“I believe that this wraith is the real master of this game Fallon is playing. I believe he will be the one to carry out the Dark One’s plans. Fallon is only the pawn. The Dark One needs a human body to produce the child of his heir. Melenthia would be the host for his heir and once that happens, Fallon will no longer be useful.”
Pyramus stared at Sol for a moment, frowning.
“Perhaps you are right. It is he who will be telling Fallon how to bring forth his minions from the dark.” He looked to Tomaz. “You will go with Sol to Drydon Keep. It is time that all the players in this plan are given their roles and time for Melenthia to become what she was born to be. You must train her.”
“She will resist, Pyramus. She is fiery and stubborn. She will not want to believe what we tell her. It will take some convincing.”
“That is why I am sending you both, to make her believe and train her. She must be willing to fight for her world and do so out of love for it, or she will not be able to overcome the evil that will try to possess her. She must be ready in time, or she will fail.”
Tomaz and Sol bowed to their leader and then bowed to each other. They would go to Drydon Keep. The time for their role had come.
“There’s one other thing.”
They looked at Pyramus again.
“The Mirror of Souls has told me that she has not yet fallen in love.”
“That’s correct. She has refused every man that her father has suggested. She has refused every noble that has even shown the slightest interest. That is why Fallon was able to coerce her father into giving her hand over to him.”
“The mirror tells me that unless she finds the one that is true, she cannot expect to win over the darkness. She must not be alone in this fight. The one true love will make her stronger and make the bond Fallon has on her weak. He will present himself in time, and we can only hope it will not be too late.”
They both nodded to him again and left the hut.