Chapter Fifteen: To Rynne
Efkin was still asleep at noon. He had spent the day gathering a crew and procuring a ship for the long journey to Rynne. The sails had not been raised when he collapsed in his bed. His sleep might have lasted longer if a sudden knock at his door had not roused him.
He rose slowly, opened the door, and found Ebin standing alert outside his room.
“My lord, there is something you should see.”
Efkin followed him up a stair onto the deck where Ebin pointed to a sinking ship in the distance.
“It is still too far to tell where it is from,” Ebin said, “or if survivors float in the water.”
His hand shading his tired eyes from the sun, Efkin focused on the ruined ship.
“We will steer toward it.”
The elves changed their course and headed for the ship. Efkin looked out over the water. There was no land in sight, only the rolling waves, slapping the hull as it skimmed across the curling sea. He wondered how long he had slept.
He could see the sailors now, floating on charred timbers. The shipwrecked crew hailed the elves and Efkin went below to greet them as they boarded. They were a weary band of men who filed onto the elven galley with lowered heads and broken spirits.
“What happened to your ship?” Efkin asked one of them.
“A dragon assailed us with its flames. There was naught we could do.”
“A dragon?” Efkin said surprised. “In these waters?”
“Aye,” the man said. “You should make haste to wherever you are going, for the beast might still be near.”
Efkin wondered if this dragon was the same beast that had destroyed many ships far away in the south near the islands of Issost. Then he saw a familiar knight step aboard.
The knight approached. “Lord Efkin, it is good to see you again, though I regret the occasion is not more favorable.”
Efkin smiled. “Yours is not the first ship that has been lost to a dragon, but come, we will talk more after you and your men have eaten.”
The two went below as the capsized ship sank deeper until it was swallowed whole by the churning sea.
Men and elves filled the main dining area as the evening sun fell in the west. At his table, Efkin had gathered Colun and his knights to pass the night with food and wine and speak of many things.
The men were quiet at first, for few of them had ever been in the presence of elves or dined with one of their lords. Efkin was not unused to the curious glances of men, but it seemed these knights were quite nervous, and he thought it was likely they had heard stories of his power over the sea.
The knights ate the strange fruits laid before them and slowly their moods lifted as they drank the wine they had brought and told the tale of their misadventure.
“She was a worthy ship,” said Gaen. “I shall not forget the starry nights I spent at her prow.”
“No finer ship has sailed the seas,” said Kaey. “Upon her proud decks, I crossed the world under moon and stars, for days and nights that cannot be counted, with only the sea and my fortune before me. She was a stout ship, weathering storm and battle through the years, but alas, she could not withstand the foulness that beset us this morning.”
“The dragon,” said Efkin.
“Aye, the dragon,” said Gaen. “A terror that swept out of the skies with talons and flames.”
“There is a dragon near the isles of Issost,” Efkin said, “a sizable creature, black as night, with wings eclipsing the sun.”
“This is the beast that attacked us,” said Gaen.
“It was enormous,” said Kaey, “larger and fiercer than any creature I have seen. The beast tore our ship asunder and there was nothing we could do, for no arrow or spear can pierce its armored hide. It is nigh invulnerable, I fear.”
“Be thankful there are no others like it,” said Dae.
“I have heard the men of Mor have many such dragons which they will ride into battle to conquer all the world,” said Gaen. “It has been told that one of their lords mastered the dragons in days of old, when darker powers were upon the earth, and that Mor still breeds these beasts for its purposes.”
“If we believe all that has been told of Mor and its lords, we should scarcely venture out into the world,” said Kaey.
“Verily, we should not believe all that is said,” agreed Gaen. “And we dare not dismiss such things either. There are fell powers in Mor and I do not doubt the lords of that land might be able to command dragons or fouler creatures unlike anything we have seen.”
“There are many stories of the dark lords and their dragons,” said Labon. “Since childhood, I have heard that the men of Mor spawned an entire race of dragons ages ago, using sorceries and demonic powers long forgotten to create the beasts. Some others have said that dragons were upon the earth long before men or elves existed. They say these creatures were mightier than any dragons we have seen in these days, possessing terrible powers, and that all sorcery comes originally from them.”
“I had not heard this,” Gaen said with surprise.
“A legend says that a dragon once dwelt in Mor,” said Labon. “It tells of a great warrior who hunted the beast for years and, at last, found it sleeping in a cave and slayed the creature, piercing it through its heart with a fearsome strength. And in that moment that his sword ran the beast through, it is said a dire power was unleashed on the world, spilling out of the dragon’s carcass and spreading over the earth, and all the sorceries men deal in today have come from the evil that was loosed that day.”
“I have also heard the legends,” said Kaey, “but I do not believe them.”
“What do the elves say, Lord Efkin?” asked Dae. “Do the dark lords ride dragons?”
Efkin drank his wine slowly before he spoke, aware his words would weigh heavily on these knights and must therefore be chosen carefully. All eyes were upon the elf lord as he lowered his glass on the table and spoke.
“I know nothing of dragon riders, but I should not be surprised if the dark lords use dragons as mounts, for even the elves do not know what strange forces are hidden within the sorcerous fog that hangs over Mor. But whatever foulness dwells in that land, we must remember there are worse things than dragons. Our greatest threat lies in the deeds of men whose hearts are turned to Mor’s purposes.”
A silence fell on them. No word was spoken for some moments as the sea tumbled outside and the air whistled with a rush of wind. There was no talk among the men who sat with heads lowered as they ate. Then their moods lifted with wine and they were laughing and telling stories once more.
“This has been a grand day for us!” Gaen said, rising out of his chair with his glass held high. “Some hours ago, our fine company was stranded, cast into the sea by a cruel dragon. We were lost and weary and any man who says he did not despair, does not speak truly, for it seemed we would perish.” Gaen stumbled and almost fell, but throwing his left hand forward, regained his balance and took a generous sip of wine. “We drifted under a merciless sun, and who knows what menace lurked in the waters. There was little hope for us. But then we saw a ship in that desperate hour, a glorious galleon built with a craft men have not learned, and our hearts rose at the sight of the elves! The bright elves who are ever our greatest allies and friends! A toast!”
Gaen threw his head back and emptied his glass with a gulp. Scanning the table, he found a bottle of wine and wasted no time refilling as he spoke. “And I should say this is not the first time the elves have found me in a time of need, for barely three years ago, I was caught in a foul storm at sea, trapped in a fog that covered the ocean and skies. With no stars or moon to guide us, we fought wind and sea, never knowing our true course, fearing we would not see land again. Then suddenly a light shone ahead of us and we peered through the dark mist and found a glowing orb that steered us out of storm and fog into calmer waters where elves hailed us from their decks.” He raised his glass once more. “To the elves!” he shouted. “Our mystical friends!” He glanced at Efkin and saluted the elf lord with a nod, then his hand leapt to his mouth with a quick jerk and he swallowed more wine. He paused a moment and stared at his empty glass. “There is no mightier ally, no dragon or sorcery that will match their great powers!” His eyes wandered across the table as he spoke and he glanced at a bottle of wine to his right. “Who will say they are greater than the elves!” He stepped casually toward the wine. “No sword is swifter! No heart is truer!” He edged his way along the table and, as his hand reached for the bottle, he raised his voice suddenly, hoping to mask his movements with histrionics. “We will fear no evil while the elves are near!” At last, he was tilting the bottle, his voice loud with praise as his glass filled with wine. “No armies of men or sorcerous hordes will daunt our mighty elven friends!” He brought the glass to his lips. “A toast!”
“I think we have done enough toasting for one night,” said Colun.
Gaen paused and glanced at the knight. Then he smiled and raised his glass again. “A toast!” he shouted. “To Colun, whose constant sobriety shames us all!”
“To Colun!” another saluted. “A stout and sober knight!”
The knights raised their glasses and burst into cheers as Gaen stepped toward Colun and laid a hand on his shoulder. “To Colun! Greatest of the king’s knights! Braver and truer than any man we have known! A peerless swordsman and loyal friend!”
The knights cheered and drank through the night, toasting each other and telling tales as they littered the table with bottles of wine. There was such laughter and mirth that some men sang, crooning outlandish songs that told of great deeds and happier times, while some others recited crude melodies in a drunken speech at times hard to understand, singing of women and wine and pleasures no mannered men should speak. It was a riotous din of howling laughter; bottles slipped and crashed on the floor, men fell out of chairs or dashed in haste to vomit with heads thrust out portals, singing and cheering, shouting like mad fools. The elves were confused, bewildered by these men who seemed to practice a curious ceremony of ritualized inebriation. But there were many knights who sat apart from the drunken turmoil, eating and drinking in a dignified manner, as if oblivious to the clamor around them.
Efkin rose and gestured to Colun. The knight followed him out of the chamber into an adjoining room where they sat and talked away from the din.
“They are good men,” said Colun. “The loss of their ship has been a grave blow to them.”
“I am thankful that only our ship was lost.”
“It is a foul creature,” Efkin said. “We hoped it would not stray far from the isles of Issost where our lords could hunt it down, but now that it has taken to the sea, it will be harder to find.”
“It will find us, I think.”
Efkin smiled. “You sound like Ebin.”
They paused a while, drinking their wine as the ship rocked upon gentle waves.
“Where do you sail to?” asked Colun.
“Rynne?” the knight said with surprise. “What is happening in Rynne?”
“We are meeting a dryad.”
The knight was plainly taken aback. “She is expecting you?”
“I am told she has been expecting us for a very long time.”
Colun paused. “I do not envy the task you have before you. Those elusive ones are not easily found. There are many who say they do not even exist.”
Efkin smiled. “I can assure you they do.”
“You have seen them?”
“Many dwell in the forest. As a child, I saw two of them outside the palace one night. They were clad in the colors of the wood, glowing in the moonlight, and moving like leaves that glide on a breeze. They were beautiful and seemed not unlike elves in some ways. I watched them a while and then they vanished.”
Colun’s eyes were wide with wonder, as if for a moment he glimpsed mystical beings, dancing somewhere in his mind’s eye.
“Where will you find this dryad?”
“She said to seek the high cliff when the moon is full.”
“She has called on you?” the knight said, startled.
“She came to me in a vision and said I must go to Rynne.”
“That is quite extraordinary,” said Colun. “I expect she will have something important to tell you.”
“She will guide us to the horn.”
“It belonged to one of our ancestors. It is needed to summon a great power that is our only hope in this dark hour when our enemy will seek to conquer the world.”
The knight paused. “I have come to learn that when elves talk of their enemy, they do not speak of Mor, but of some fouler menace beyond our realm, and I must confess I know little of such things.”
“Our true enemy is an ancient evil beyond this plane we inhabit who will threaten the earth in days to come. The time draws near when a dire power will cross the planes and pass into our realm. The horrors that will be loosed on the world are beyond description.”
Colun fell silent for a moment. “I assume the aid you will summon is of a supernatural nature unlike any that men have seen.”
“The forces we will summon are the same powers that shaped the earth. Such things are strange not only to men, but to the Braey as well, for though our ancestors had close ties with such powers, the Braey have been too long estranged from the elementals that were from the beginning of days our allies.”
The knight sat thoughtfully, intrigued. He sipped his wine as his mind wandered, drifting with thoughts of unworldly beings warring for control of the earth.
“These are strange times,” he said.
They sat for a while in silence as the skies darkened with clouds that blew out of the east.