Chapter Twenty-Five: Guarding the Horn
A din of fear and confusion hung over the harbor where men scrambled in terror, afraid of the angry earth that quaked beneath them. They ran down cracked streets, dodging bricks as they fell from buildings that shook, seeking firmer ground away from the chaos.
There were few men at the harbor when Efkin stepped onto the wharf with the king’s corpse in his arms. He made no effort to hide his features since he went unnoticed amidst the clamor. Sailors dashed by in haste, oblivious of the elf lord and their dead king.
He made his way along the pier as he wept. Looking seaward, he saw a ship through the misty haze. He came to the edge of the pier and stood with his scarlet shirt tossing in the breeze as the galley came into the wharf.
A white knight hailed him from the towering deck and then he saw Ebin appear beside him. Efkin smiled, cheered by the sight of his two friends.
“My Lord,” Ebin greeted. “It seemed likely that sorcerer would seek this land with its ties to Mor.”
“I was confident you would find me.”
“I see you’ve recovered the horn.”
“And a corpse with a crown,” said Colun.
“He is King Modrus,” said Efkin. “His brave spirit has saved this world and now he rests with a peace he did not know in life.”
Efkin lowered the king to the ground and all three were surprised when, in that moment, his skeletal body shimmered with a pale green light and vanished.
The ship sailed under a bright moon. Below deck in Lord Efkin’s quarters, three restless companions sat talking as the night passed.
“I made my way through the broken streets toward the harbor,” Efkin said holding the horn, “unnoticed by the people who ran past me in a panic.”
“I doubt the rulers of that land would be pleased to know an elf was in their midst,” said Ebin.
“I was concerned you might have trouble entering the harbor with a ship full of elves.”
“Only our men were visible when we entered the wharf,” said Colun. “Mor has a tight hold on this land, but it is not entirely closed to strangers and I knew we could make our way into Khad-Amryn if we did not attract undue attention. Though I did worry that someone might recognize this elven ship.”
“Thankfully, those at the harbor were too occupied with the earthquake to bother with us,” said Ebin.
Efkin put the horn on the table. “Many hazards have been avoided in our escape, but we still have many miles ahead of us and we are not safe, for our enemy will try some foul trickery to stop us.”
“There may be others among my company in league with those dark powers,” said Colun. “We must be watchful, lest another should steal the horn.”
“No others will steal this horn,” Efkin assured. “We three will guard it.”
Colun smiled. “You honor me, Lord Efkin, for I know the horn is sacred to the Braey.”
“Know also that you are trusted no less than Ebin or any member of the council,” Efkin said, “for your sword is true, Colun.”
Colun bowed gratefully and Ebin raised his cup to salute the knight, drinking a generous portion of his wine. Ebin looked at the horn and pondered a mystery.
“How do you suppose Ggrrom entered the king’s body?” he asked.
“I think I have an idea of how such a thing might occur,” Efkin said. “Recall that the forest appeared over his grave and, apparently, roused him back to life with its strange power. It is conceivable this power is in some way related to Ggrrom who, I have been told, represents the collective forces of the earth, and possibly this power affected the ground in some way that acted to animate Modrus.”
Ebin was stunned by this reasoning, which, though fantastic, seemed somehow plausible.
“It seems the horn played a role as well,” said Colun, “rousing whatever part of Ggrrom was inside Modrus.”
Efkin nodded, sipping his wine as he glanced at the white relic.
“We are fortunate the forest appeared when and where it did,” Ebin observed. “For things might have taken a dire turn without it.”
Efkin grinned. “I have wondered if fortune plays no part in our quest,” he said as he leaned back in his chair. “That the forest should appear at this time and this place when we are seeking the horn seems the most baffling coincidence.”
“You think the dryad steered it toward us,” said Colun.
“Perhaps, or possibly it was destined to appear when it did. It may be that its course through the planes has been predetermined by some greater power whose designs unfold flawlessly before us.”
Ebin eyed his friend curiously. “I sense your adventures in this land have influenced you profoundly.”
“Perhaps,” Efkin smiled. “I wonder, though, if I have influenced these adventures.”
Ebin laughed. “That is a question to ponder, I suppose.”
Colun set his chalice on the table and fell silent for a moment, staring thoughtfully out a portal at stars that lit the night sky.
“I have had similar thoughts, Lord Efkin. Remember that my life was saved by the dryad in the desert of Yoor, where I might have perished if her forest had not appeared.”
“She certainly travels a lot,” Ebin said. “It must be the greatest wonder to pass through the planes as she does.”
“I was wounded and she healed me,” said Colun. “For years my memory of her was clouded, but when we found her in Rynne I remembered at once. I was lying in the desert with my knights, defeated by the armies of Yoor. I fell unconscious and when I awoke, the forest surrounded me. I thought I was dreaming, but now I know there is no dream as wondrous as that woodland. All around me, I felt the power of that mystic place, and it seemed that a gentle voice was whispering, as if the wind and every rustling leaf spoke to me. And then she appeared glowing in the moonlight, and I felt her bright power flowing through me and I knew I would not die.”
Colun paused and drank his wine.
Efkin stared in wonder at the knight, considering that he may have felt the dryad’s presence more intimately than any others.
“Did she speak to you?” asked Ebin.
“I do not think so,” said Colun. “Though I did perceive some unspoken communion between us. I am grateful that I may remember these things now, for when I recall her bright gaze upon me, I glimpse the true beauty of this world which is often hidden to men.”
Ebin sat with his eyes wide, as if he saw every gnarled bough and green leaf of the forest as Colun spoke.
Lost in his own thoughts, Efkin touched the horn, feeling its power course through his hand. It was a daunting thing, a timeless instrument that sang with the power of creation. It glowed with a dim radiance that was barely perceived in the candlelight, a faint shimmering aura that seemed full of mysteries.
The night sky flashed suddenly and the crack of thunder broke the silence. Efkin glanced out a portal and saw clouds racing over the earth.
“A storm wind blows from the east,” said Colun.
Efkin kept his gaze on the darkening skies for some moments before he replied. “Something far worse comes out of the east. The Runes are nearly completed. As we speak, the dark lords carve the final strokes that will finish the sorcerous signs.”
“What must we do?” asked Colun.
“We have the horn,” Efkin said. “We must take it eastward to Mor where dire powers are gathering. We must take it to the Runes, to the very heart of all earthly sorcery. There the horn will sound the missing note and the Runes will be broken.”
“How will we avoid their fleets?”
“There are ways to enter the land of our enemy,” Efkin said. “Through the straits of Khazinth, we will have a safe passage toward Mor’s southern shore where few ships brave the ice and chill of the cold sea. The territories of Mor are vast and the dark lords do not keep watch over all the land, only those parts where they have built cities or strongholds.”
“We will be many miles away from Aegon if we come from the south. It will be a long journey through the ice.”
“We may not have to cross the ice,” Efkin said. “Long ago, the men of Mor built a network of tunnels that run through all parts of their empire. The passages are sealed with sorcery, but some of our spies have found ways to overcome these barriers.”
“Few of those spies still live,” Ebin added.
“What happened to them?” asked Colun.
“They came too close to the Runes,” said Efkin. “Too close to a place of unspeakable power that radiates a force no elf can survive.”
Colun fell silent and his expression was grim with concern for his two elven friends. The three paused to consider what must be done. Their course would take them into the heart of darkness to face the powers that had scarred and weakened the earth. Even if they succeeded in winning their way to Mor and destroying the Runes, there was scant chance they would return to tell the tale of their adventure. They looked at each other, taking a moment to ponder the perils ahead.
“We must hurry,” Efkin said rising. “The enemy is on the move.” And then the three swept out of the room and up the stair to the deck.
The skies were grey with clouds when Efkin called to an elf at the wheel. “We are turning east.”
“Where are we heading, my lord?”
“We sail to Mor,” Efkin said.
The elf gasped and stared at Efkin, plainly aghast at their course.
“Take us through the straits of Khazinth.”
“Yes, my lord.”
The elf turned the ship eastward without argument, knowing Efkin was a wise lord. Then he glanced at the horn Efkin held in his hand, as if to remind himself he was also a mighty lord who commanded powers of sea and air like their ancestors of old, and he grinned.