Dismounting Elben, he strode to the door of the tower. This place was peaceful and quiet, the wizards that walked about did so as silently as graveyards. At a far field, Aravoen saw his mother’s horse. Since he did not know who to talk to, he walked towards the horse, which did not show any sign of fear at his approach. As he patted the horse’s back, someone walked up behind him. He turned to see who it was.
A tall old man stood there looking back at him from behind dark brown eyes. His white flowing beard and hair ran smoothly around his face. His robes were of pure white. His staff that was in his hand was of white wood, unblemished. The stone on its top was pure white and shone in the sunlight.
“I am Cidarcorin,” he said. “You must be Aravoen, King of Eduin. Welcome to Horowitz.”
“Aravoen I am,” Aravoen said. “But no king am I. I am just the hidden prince, My Lord.”
“The line of hidden princes,” Cidarcorin replied, “lives on in you. Is not the line of the hidden princes the line of the kings of Eduin?”
“Is it not the line of Amleth eldest son of Eldon?”
“Is it not from Eldon that the line of Ebill was continued?”
“And is not the line of hidden princes, of which you are, the only surviving line in all the peoples of Ebill better known as the Easel?”
“Yes, My Lord.”
Cidarcorin looked at him with sympathy. “Do not run from who you are, Aravoen. The blood that flows through your veins is the very blood that flowed in Samhain, the first of the Taras of Ebill. You are the King of Eduin and in being the last of the eldest line you are the king of all the Easel; Eduin, Ebrithia and Elliyon.”
Aravoen looked at the old man calmly without fear, for a time gazing into the dark brown eyes. Only the stars knew if he had a choice he would not be the hidden prince at all, never mind a king. He wondered why it had to be he that was born as the hidden prince and why the task of reclaiming the dignity and honour of Ebill rested on his shoulders. Why could it not be one of his ancestors or even descendants?
As if he knew what Aravoen was thinking, Cidarcorin said, “A king is not made a king, a king is born a king. None of us choose how or who we are born to be, Aravoen. The path of life is different for all as they are born. The best you can do is to choose how to be who you are born to be. The sooner you accept it, My Lord, the better for all of Elasia, and from what I have heard time is not a commodity we have any more. Now come inside, the council awaits you.”
“Pay the horse no heed,” was the reply. “Let him wander the plains of Horowitz for food and drink, for there is plenty enough for a whole herd.”
Aravoen followed him through the great door. They entered a large chamber with stairs running in a winding sequence up to other levels in every corner. The lighted walls and high windows gave enough light to the chamber. In the centre stood around stone table. Set in the sides of the table were the words of an ancient craft, one long lost to Elasia.
They approached one of the corner staircases and went up, circling around all the levels in silence, Aravoen trying to respect the wizard’s silence. After what seemed to be hours, though it was a short time, they landed on the topmost floor. Aravoen looked over the rich wooden and well-embroidered rail. Down seemed so far that he could see only specks of people walking. He felt lightheaded at this sight.
“It takes time to get used to the height, My Lord,” said Cidarcorin, grabbing Aravoen before he toppled over. Together they walked and came to yet another staircase. This one did not wind or circle, but went straight up.
Aravoen, who had gained control over himself, waited for the wizard to start the climb. He did. Aravoen followed him. Walking ahead, he glanced around at the statues and armour. Had it not been for Cidarcorin’s long arm sticking out, Aravoen would have crushed into the large black door that stood before them.
“Watch your step.”
Aravoen stepped back as the wizard opened the door into a passageway long and brilliant. On the sides were great pillars of marble sprayed with paintings of the past. Aravoen followed Cidarcorin, looking at the pillars.
One of the pillars caught his eye more than the rest. It had a painting of the great west sea lined with many ships. Many men were upon the shore led by a tall handsome man in bright white armour and mail. The sword hilt protruding from the scarab at his belt was bright and wrought in a fashion not seen in Elasia. It was bright and long with gold and steel put together. The place the hand was placed was wrapped in leather, fine and inlaid with diamond dust.
Upon the man’s brow was a thin silver filament that blinded all that beheld it in the sunlight. Behind him were three men high and stately who looked like him and held swords not as brilliant as the elder man. Aravoen recognized one of the swords. It was the very one held by a belt round his waist. At sea, the ships were unloaded. Many men in bright mail with green cloaks, some even with black cloaks, were assembling around him.
Aravoen looked at the next pillar and its painting. This time the man pointed at something unseen in the pillar. Behind the man and his three sons was a bright and beautiful standard. A tree with long roots and large broad branches lay on the banner. Above the tree were the sun on the right, the star in the middle and the moon on the left, all white and shining as if real diamonds had been put in their place. At the roots of the tree, was a golden threaded crown with wings of an eagle spreading out and forming an arch below the tree of golden light and as bright as the sun. Aravoen stared in awe at the standard on the pillar.
“These two pillars tell the landing of Eldon and the Easel from the flood of Ebill,” Cidarcorin said behind him. “The banner you see is long lost, some say it lies with Eldon in his resting place. For they say Ebill died with Eldon.”
“That is the banner of Ebill,” said Aravoen softly.
“Come now, My Lord,” he said. “You shall have time to see the full story on the pillars.”
He entered through an archway that led into an open room high up in the skies. It was round and large. There were ten chairs around the walls. The light from the large torches set between the chairs bathed the large hall in dim soft colors. The most youthful and elderly collection of men and women Aravoen had ever seen, holding staffs and dressed in robes of varying colours, occupied nine seats.
“Aravoen,” Cidarcorin introduced, “the council of wizards.” They numbered ten in all. “Minarin the green, Corical the brown, Fendorin the blue, Stericalin the red, Mendrek the golden, I, Cidarcorin the white, Fedora of the earth, Akasha of the wood, Edelrich the seer and Eadella the silver. They are the council. Akasha you have met and Mendrek is your friend. Today even your mother joins the council. Sit by her, there.” He pointed to one empty chair beside a woman who Aravoen had not recognised. But as he drew nearer, he saw it was his mother, Eleonor. He sat next to her.
Suddenly Eleonor grabbed his hand and held it in hers. “We should listen as mother and child would listen, not as strangers.”
He nodded to her. A small stool was in the middle of the room. Upon it was a box wrought by the dwarves who now hid in the crater city of Dwarven. The silver curvings on the surface of the box shone in the soft light of the hall.
“Aravoen, you know why we are here?” asked Corical.
“How do I destroy the edelsteins?”
“Simple,” Eadella said. “At the four pillars of Namradden. The golden gates; that is how you know the place. It is a simple thing, Lord Aravoen. But the simplicity of the task makes it harder to do, my friend.”
“Yes, I have to agree with Eadella.” Mendrek spoke. “The edelsteins that you do not have lie in that box. There is the possibility that you might fight the three demons of ages past. Now that is where the task shall be harder.”
“I fear that an age-old magic deeper than all we know shall come into play that day if it so happens,” said the seer.
“Talk of no such things,” Fendorin interrupted. “Take the sun and moon that lie in that box, take them. They are to be used and destroyed. Once the essence is removed the stones shall be mere heirlooms of the house of Ebill.”
“How do I remove the essence, My Lords and Ladies?” Aravoen asked, standing and going to the box. He removed the lid. Upon the soft velvet cushion lay two gems: a sun-shaped jewel and another shaped as the moon. They were as brilliant as the one about his neck. He picked them up and placed them around his neck. He went back to sit beside his mother.
“Deri er moril estor le hewc frotnor ew endicir leaie wein do e edor sar estor hele un helper denimar hele, those are the words you will say once you set the gems upon the stone of the gate, My Lord,” Akasha said. “Remember the words when the hour is near.” Silence cloaked the room
“Please, where is the map to the golden gates?” Aravoen asked finally. “I need to know so I leave immediately.”
“Wait,” Eleonor said. All turned to her. “Is it not that the demons will come back?”
“Yes,” was the reply from Cidarcorin.
“Then how are we sure that they will be destroyed, how?”
“We will talk of that later, Eleonor,” Cidarcorin said firmly.
“Well Aravoen, you shall leave tomorrow,” said Fedora. “Now go and enjoy the paintings on the pillars.” Standing, the council dispersed out of the room. Aravoen sat with his mother in silence for a long time.
“Forgive my horrid behaviour in Elvhelm,” said Eleonor remorsefully. “I reacted badly to what you had done. You my son must remember that I love you dearly all through your life.”
“Mother, I understand your actions,” Aravoen said. “I apologise for the shame I brought you. I intend to do what will make this land a better place. A man is not a man who does not try to make the land a better place.”
“Yes, my son, you are right, but remember I will love you even in death.”
“Why do you speak like that, Mother?”
“I am just speaking my heart.”
He smiled at her. She stood up and went out. In the doorway, she turned to him, “Aravoen, we will meet soon, I go to Elvhelm.”
“It is something I must do, hush boy I will see you; now wander in this great tower.” She turned and left the room briskly. Aravoen followed suit and went back to the pillars. He realised that these pillars told the story of Elasia. He went back to the first pillar close to the door.
It showed a shadowy painting of three men around a stone. The sky was dark and the sea was striking the shore heavily. Around them were four pillars. Out of the stone three dark vapours were emerging. He moved to the next pillar.
The next showed three dark forms large and beastly seizing the three men. The sky was darker, but the sea was calm. The pillars were shining in the dull weather. The next pillar showed high mighty men. They looked like elves. They had long blades much like those of the elves of Elvhelm. They fought with dark shapes, three of them. Some fought with orcs and fell beasts. The sky was dark and many crows circled high up.
The next pillar showed the meeting, the higher men near a forest. The day was bright and birds were flying around. The third showed the united armies of the elves and men fighting those of the demons near a mountain. The three demons were fighting, throwing man and elf in the air.
The next pillar showed a woman and a high elf lord walking in fields of flowers. The field looked familiar. Their eyes were full of warmth. The next showed three small boys, a mixture of elf and man. They told the story of Ebill, all the history was told around the pillars. The final pillar showed a broken sword shining in the shadow, white armour placed near the shards of the sword. Above them was a crown in a bright room on the head of a man, his hair grey, the beard too. The crown on his head had a star shape in the middle, the thin silver rings that the linked its edges were inlaid with diamonds and gold. It was a beautiful crown, beyond any work of Elasia.
There were so many pillars and each had a captivating story. Aravoen knew that the wizards and witches kept the histories well. But he did not know that it was this magnificent.
Aravoen spent a lot of time staring at the pillars. Just as he was about to leave, he came across a new set of pillars. It was hidden from the rest, just behind the other pillars.
It showed a different tale: a tale of the making of the blade of Ebill.
A tall man with sandy-brown hair stood over a giant fire. His robes were all splattered with mud and he held a bright white metal in his arms. His eyes were bright and shining. About him three small boys ran, each staring at what he held. The woman with midnight-black hair sat not far off from the cluster.
He followed the pillars right to the one where the man with his hair tied back stood over the forge. His mouth was open in what looked like an incantation, hammer and tongs holding what appeared like a sword in its early stages.
The white metal or bits and pieces of it lay at his feet. Aravoen looked on in awe. He wondered how the blade was lost or even broken all those years ago.
The next pillar showed a man with coal-black hair, just like his own, holding the most magnificent sword he had ever beheld. The hilt was of pure gold with the darkest diamond encrusted leather. Its pommel shone a brilliant white. Aravoen could imagine how blinding it must have been. The blade itself was long and slender. The inscriptions were very visible, but too small for Aravoen’s eyes.
He spent another long time moving through the battle of ages. He smiled at the vividness of the pillars. Aravoen wondered where the blade of his ancestors had gone. It was last seen with Eldon, the day he fought Sarzgat for the last time. Never was it seen again in Elasia.
* * *
Aravoen had seen the map now and was standing on the wall looking south. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed someone coming towards him, smiling.
“So, you are of higher standing than Sedranor?”
“Yes,” she said. “But you do not show how important you are to those that need to be important.”
“I told you I would see you in the sacred lands. Well, I have come to warn you of what the seer saw in your future.”
“What did he see?”
“A great loss will bring you a great love,” she said, “one that will change everything. Your loss will be hard for all, but you mostly, and when you least see it the flower shall die and be replaced by one much better.”
“I do not see what you are saying,” Aravoen said, confused.
“Simple,” she said, “with death comes a new life, in this case with the death, a life shall replace the one that dies.”
“Well, we will see,” he said.
“Now,” she said, intending to go, “I must prepare for matters deeper than those at hand. So long, My Lord.” She walked off the wall and disappeared into the tower. Aravoen walked off the wall too.
He sought out his mother whom he found with Mendrek, preparing to leave. Mother and son embraced each other. Taking leave of him, she left Horowitz.
Aravoen looked for Elben who he found lying in the green courtyard near the wall. Settling himself next to the horse, he lay down and covered himself. A lot was on his mind, the task, the coming wars and the possibility of facing three demons. With all this in his mind, he went to sleep.
* * *
Dreams pounded his mind again. Their backs turned to him, two women stood in front of him in a field of green. One had midnight-black hair that fell to the base of her back, the other had greyed and black hair all mingled in one. The grey-haired lady walked far and turned around to him. He could not see her face clearly, but it was ancient beautiful and wise. Her blue eyes shone like sapphire gems in the night sky. She waved to him and pulled the other to her. Turning her round to face him, he saw she was beautiful, with clear emerald-green eyes. He could not see her perfectly well, but he could see the warmth in her eyes. Out of the blue, the older lady began to rise into the air, moving to the clouds and disappearing into thin air. Aravoen held out his hand and soft hands pulled him out of the dream.
Aravoen stood looking into Cidarcorin’s face. How had he come here? A moment ago, he was in a field of green with two women. He looked around in confusion. There was no light, it was still dawn and the courtyard was still quiet. There was no wind whispering in his ears. Resigned to the fact that he was in a dream, Aravoen turned to Cidarcorin.
“Take this with you,” Cidarcorin said, handing him a small parcel. “When all is dark, open it. Now, when you reach the golden gates, set the edelsteins upon the four pillars but stand next to the last and say those words that Akasha told you.”
He spoke now, a bit downhearted. “It is obvious you will face the three demons Shugori, Makabethir and Villien when their essence is drawn from them. Forgive us all for taking you to your certain death, but we will hope for you to come out better.”
Aravoen was shocked; everyone, even his mother, had driven him to a path of certain death. He could not ride away and keep the edelsteins, for Sarzgat had to fall and die and if the essences of the demons were to be drawn from the gems, what choice did he have? He let it be, but was angry. Why they had not told him the truth: Mendrek, his mother, the elves and the wizard council?
“It is of no consequence, Lord Cidarcorin,” he said, between clenched teeth.
“Good speed, Lord of the North.” Cidarcorin sighed, leading Aravoen out through the gates that were not seen. It was the first time he had been called the ‘lord of the north’. He knew it had to be him to claim the inheritance of Eldon. He was Eldon’s heir apparently. With that in his heart and mind he urged Elben forth, with renewed courage and energy.
Aravoen galloped through the wall and came out the other side. He galloped ahead. The wind whispered all about him. The winds had changed. Aravoen rode on, pushing Elben to the limit. Before the sun was high up in the air, Aravoen had reached the Emur hills.
Towering like great peaks over the plains, he passed them as they silently watched him. There shadow would soon fall on him. They ran from the coast to where he now looked. Eagles and falcons floated in the skies above the hills. Some darted towards the plain. As Aravoen rode on past them, his hand moved to the edelsteins.
As the sun moved, so did Aravoen. Towards the close of the day, the Emurs lay behind him as a shadow on the horizon. Far ahead of him, he could see the sea. Its blue colour mixed with the orange of the setting sun. The water danced boneless, and became clearer as he approached the coast.
At the close of the day, Aravoen reached a cliff that overlooked the sea. There along the shore he could see four pillars, ancient and watching, formed in a ring around a stone. The pillars were shaped in the form of giant spears that were broken. He had reached the golden gates. It was too late in the evening to do anything with the edelsteins. So Aravoen decided to look around the cliff for a place to settle for the night.
Looking around the cliff, he came to a small cave. Tying Elben to a rock near the cave, Aravoen went inside. Setting a small fire, Aravoen lay down waiting for the morrow when he would do the task he had set out to do, and hope for the best. Slowly sleep came over him, and he wandered into a deep anxious trance.