Chapter Eight: The Kyre
The light of dawn was spilling over the forest when Efkin entered the queen’s hall with Ebin close at his side. The chamber was stirring with nervous movement as the council prepared to argue its case for war. All knew it would be difficult to convince the queen that they must march into the east, for she was opposed to any movement in the lands of men, but they hoped to persuade her. Most of the lords had arrived and gathered near the throne, waiting for the queen to appear, but Efkin noticed that Chaelos and Peledomn were apart from the main group, involved in some discussion. Of all the lords, Chaelos felt most strongly that a war with men could not be avoided and he was sure to seize this opportunity to prove his contention that men threatened all elvenkind. Efkin thought he and Peledomn were planning something special. He watched them conferring, rehearsing as if for a play, and then the queen entered the chamber and they took their places before the throne.
“My lords, there has been a discovery of some importance in the troll caves,” she said. Chaelos took a step toward the throne, ready to begin the debate, but the queen halted him with a gesture. “But first we will hear from Lord Dhaen who brings news from Khazinth.”
Dhaen nodded and came forward. “Some days ago, I and a few others ventured east to speak with King Gahn. He is one of the three kings of Khazinth who rules a sizable kingdom that borders King Dinnisien’s realm.” Dhaen paused a moment. “He is also one of the four kings who have seen the Runes.”
There were gasps of surprise among the younger lords. None of them had heard of these four kings.
“Have you forgotten the oath they took,” said Chaelos. “They will not reveal what they have seen. They cannot.”
Dhaen glanced at him and then turned to the others. “Some time ago, the kings were called to a meeting by the lords of Mor who seek to gain their alliance. When they refused to side with Mor, the dark lords said they would show them a secret they have kept hidden for ages, but only after they swore a sorcerous oath never to reveal what they were shown. They took the oath and were taken to the Runes, and when they saw the terror of the dreaded signs, they all relented to the will of Mor.”
“Can they break the oath?” asked Efkin.
“One of them tried,” said Dhaen. “There were five kings. Now there are four.” He looked at the young lords and saw he had their full attention. “King Modrus attempted to raise an army in Khad-Amryn to destroy the Runes. There are few who would dare to oppose the dark lords, but the royal line of Khad-Amryn is said to have some enchantment upon it, and Modrus was a willful monarch with no patience for tyrants. It should not surprise us that he would defy the oath to reveal the secret that has kept the Runes hidden for so long, but alas, he died before he could tell anyone. Two of his knights swear they saw an apparition strangle the life out of him.”
“The four kings will tell us nothing,” said Chaelos. “They cannot be trusted. These men of the East, whether by force or by choice, have aligned themselves with Mor.”
“It is true they cannot reveal where the Runes are,” replied Dhaen. “But they can offer clues that may lead us to the place of power.”
“What sort of clues?”
Dhaen stepped toward Chaelos. “The Runes are hidden deep in the earth, but not in any cave. They are carved in stone with a hand of fire and filled with death. That is what King Gahn told us.”
“He spoke of the Runes?”
Dhaen nodded. “He is wary of elves and would not meet with us when we arrived in Khazinth. We sent messengers for days until at last he agreed to see us. He does not openly oppose Mor, but we hoped his ties to the West would work in our favor.”
“There are three kings in Khazinth. What of the other two?”
“King Lein told us nothing useful and King Dinnisien would not receive us. Gahn was the only one who would speak of the Runes. Mor has not sent troops to his realm yet and I gleaned from our meeting that he has no wish to see their black and gold armor marching in his streets.”
“If the Runes are not destroyed, we will find soldiers on this isle,” Chaelos warned, seizing the moment to begin the debate. He shot Peledomn a quick glance and the White Lord came forward. Then he turned to the queen and, with a nod, she let him speak.
“We have seen strange things in these days,” he said. “The trolls defy the curse of wood and assail us with their dark craft. They summon foul things to our isle and poison our air with iron.” He took a step and looked at each lord as he spoke. “We have fought a terrible creature in the caves. It had the guise of a troll, but the powers it possessed were like none we have seen.” Another sharp glance and Peledomn came forward on cue.
“I hold in my hand the creature’s crystal eyes,” Peledomn announced. “And two demons as well.”
There were gasps as Peledomn held the crimson gems high and all eyes stared at the demon stones that flickered with a queer light.
“Men have tainted our isle with iron,” Chaelos said. “Now they send us their demons.”
“We must strike them now,” said Callob. “Our fleets can defeat them in the south where they are still marshaling their forces.”
Voices were raising and heads were nodding. Chaelos turned to the queen, the hint of a grin curling on his lips, but before he could speak, she halted him with a gesture.
“We will not start a war.”
Chaelos stiffened for a moment. He glanced at the council, finding strength in his supporters, and then turned again to the throne. “You have not seen the horrors of their sorcery,” he said. “Their foulness spreads over the world while we do nothing.”
“Their dark arts have not escaped my notice, Lord Chaelos,” the queen replied with some austerity. “And while I agree Mor’s sorceries violate the natural order of things, a war would not serve our purposes at this time.”
“They have dared to mar this isle with their darkness,” said Peren. “It will not be long before they launch their fleets against us.”
“If they do we will fight them here where our strength is greater,” replied Gabreu. “I will not send more elves into the east until we know where the Runes are.”
“The Runes are in the canyon,” Chaelos said. “That is where Daras was poisoned.”
“The canyon runs for miles and we do not know how close he came to the Runes. He may have been a few paces or miles away from the source we seek.”
“We must move quickly,” Chaelos insisted. “Each day that passes brings men closer to completing the signs that will destroy us.”
“No elves will enter the canyon until we have found the Runes.”
Chaelos argued with the queen, adamant in his opinion that they must move on the East, and many voices rose up in agreement with him.
As they clamored, a blue radiance slipped into the hall through an arched window, wavering like a shimmering leaf. It grew brighter and suddenly the din was silenced as the elves became aware of the presence in their midst. All eyes turned to the bright being who materialized before them.
The druid stood for a moment, regarding the elves. Many had never seen him before, yet all who met his gaze were struck by the sense that he knew them. His eyes were knowing and wise and full of mysteries.
“Do not venture east,” he said. “The time for war is not yet upon us.”
“How can we do nothing?” said Callob.
“There are many changes happening in the lands of men as the world reforms itself. The Braey are strong, but the allies are not ready for the great battles ahead.”
“The Runes must be broken,” Chaelos persisted.
“You must find the Runes before you can destroy them,” said the druid. “The canyons of Mor are too vast. The elves would perish from the poison of sorcery before they found the place of power.”
“If men complete the Runes, we are doomed,” said Chaelos.
“Things are not as they appear,” replied the druid. “There are forces that work to restore the earth, great powers that will guide the elves in days to come, but for now, you must stay out of the east.”
“What shall we do, then?”
The druid came toward them, becoming fully corporeal. “You will find there is much to do on this elven isle.” He raised his staff and the great branch became longer, curling forth with a rapid and mystic growth. It stretched out an arched window and suddenly there was a horrible shriek outside. All eyes stared aghast at the vile creature that was dragged into the chamber, a hideous thing like a giant insect, black as coal, with many limbs twisting and clawing at the staff that seized its throat.
“You see, my lords,” said Nemral, “you have quite enough to deal with here on this isle.” The staff tightened around the creature’s neck and it fell lifeless. “This pitiful thing is only the beginning.”
There was restless talk among the elf lords who stared at the foul creature that had won its way to the palace.
“There are more of these,” said Nemral, “and other beasts are coming.”
“We have fought a dark troll,” said Wyn. “A corpse that was animated by the darkest crafts of men.”
“You fought the direst evil in that cave, spawned ages ago by ancient powers darker than the arts of men who deal in sorceries that are mere shadows of the forces that once gathered on this earth.” The druid paused and beams of moonlight passed through him as he became incorporeal again. He came toward Peledomn and gazed at the crystals he held in his hand. “You cannot imagine the terrors that come.”
“How has this evil come upon us?” asked Chaelos.
The druid turned to him. “The greatest evil comes slowly, my lord, at a creeping pace. It hides in shadows waiting, gathering itself, and while the world sleeps, it strikes with its malice.”
Some young lords murmured among themselves and, a moment later, they had spread a great map onto a table and were debating strategies of war, oblivious of Gabreu who observed their treason with faint amusement. Standing near the throne, Efkin saw her glance at Nemral who met her gaze with his knowing eyes.
“My lords,” he said, “we must not despair in this dark hour. Though dire things are upon us, there is no creature who can balk the might of the elves. There will be fighting on these shores, but the Braey will smote the beasts. The war has not begun, but there are things that must be done. An evil spreads over the world, casting a shadow over men in the west. They are strong and true, but our enemy will try to crush them, using guile to poison their ranks with wickedness. Many kings will bow their heads to the dark lords before the war has begun and their lands will fall under the shadow of Mor. A dark time is coming when great kingdoms will be sundered and men will be cast into disorder. Thousands will die in the war that is coming, but before any are slain, countless others will be lost, corrupted by the powers that will seize them. Those that have not been turned will need the elves to guide them, and this will be the greatest battle, for our enemy does not merely seek to conquer the lands of men, but their hearts as well.”
The druid paused and a silence fell upon the hall. Then he stepped toward a window.
“In seven days, King Abernaeth will send his envoy to the elven isle. It is a perilous time in the lands of men and they will need the Braey to aid them in their struggle.”
“We will stand with these men against all who would threaten them,” said Ragner.
“Abernaeth and his knights are stout men, but some among them have fallen to our enemy. There are many battles ahead in the lands of men.” Efkin caught Nemral’s gaze upon him. “The elves will fight in some of them, and Abernaeth will find no truer swords among his knights.”
At that moment, a young priestess entered the hall.
“Come quickly, Fayer awakens!”
The lords hurried after the priestess. Efkin was moving, caught in the hastening throng. Before he was out of the hall, he glanced back at the throne and saw Gabreu sitting alone, for the druid had vanished from their midst.
He heard voices chanting in soft, soothing tones that seemed to caress his soul. He could feel his body being restored. A renewed strength and vitality entered him as the voices chanted.
There was a white light shining around him that was almost terrifying in its beauty. He stared into that wondrous glow and his whole being was overcome with a joy no earthbound creatures knew.
A figure appeared, tall and lean, with a youthful face and eyes that were full of wisdom. His shirt was leaf green, his boots wood brown, and he wore an empty sheath at his side. He seemed elf-like, yet somehow different, and his body shone with a white light.
He stood beside the being on a hill as a great serpent crawled out of a cave. It opened its mouth and a horde of men and beasts spilled out of its fanged jaws. He watched the horde spread away toward the forest. There were strange creatures in that monstrous host, frightful things with alien forms, and some others possessing aspects that seemed, in some vulgar way, to mimic humanity, making them even more terrible to behold. The horde swept over the landscape as more monsters emerged from the cave.
The white light surrounded him. He saw the tall being was fading. He felt himself fading, departing this bright realm, and he was saddened to leave this place.
Then he was hurtling through darkness, at once torn away from the light, traveling back to his own sphere.
“His eyes are opening,” someone said.
Two priestesses clad in the silks and bracelets of their order stared down at him. He looked at their bright faces and felt their healing hands upon him.
Another figure approached, tall and beauteous, and he recognized the High Priestess. She leaned over him and smiled. “You are Fayer.”
Ragner came forward and hailed the warrior. “I know this brave one. He is always wandering off on some adventure.”
Fayer was tired and felt he might fall asleep, but then he recalled the creature in the cave and he leapt up.
“The demon! Wyn fights a demon in the forest!” He rose up with excitement and would have leapt out of bed if Jahan had not halted him.
“Lord Wyn is safe,” she assured him. “He stands here with our lords.”
The archer emerged and Fayer looked at the bright lord with a joy in his heart. “You saved me,” he said staring at Wyn. “He saved me in the woods.”
“Yes, he is very good at that,” said Jahan.
“I fell onto a web that stretched over a vast chasm. Then the demon was upon me and I could not move, held by its sorcery, and giant spiders came crawling out of the caves. Before they could reach me, I slashed the web with my blade and fell into the river below.”
“How did you break the demon’s hold?” asked Chaelos.
“I do not know,” said Fayer. “It seemed I was able to defy its grip somehow.”
The lords murmured for a moment as they tried to conceive how he could have escaped the demon. Any being who could balk a sorcerous power possessed a daunting will. He waited for them to speak again and met their curious stares with a raised brow.
Jahan smiled and touched the silver bracelet that circled his wrist. “Your sister is a member of our order.”
“Did she give you this bracelet?”
“Yes, she found it in the woods when we were children.”
Jahan eyed the bracelet that gleamed with sunlight. “That is a fine gift she gave you. It may have saved your life.”
Surprised, Fayer looked at the circlet he wore. “She said it was the work of dryads.”
“I would not doubt it,” said Jahan.
He glanced up at the High Priestess, then quickly resumed his tale. “I was carried by the current for some time, and then I was seized from the water and the shaith were all around me. I saw the demon again. It held me in the air with its sorcery and the shaith attacked me, tearing into my soul as I hung helpless. Then a blue flame shot past me and pierced the demon. The shaith scattered in fear and I fell into the river. Lord Wyn caught me as I drifted in the stream, and then the shaith were upon him and his flaming sword flashed through the air and slew many of the dark things. He was swift and brave and he saved my life.” He looked at Wyn and the archer smiled. “It is a fierce demon,” Fayer said, “with eyes like jewels.”
Peledomn came forward with the gems. “We are familiar with this demon.”
Fayer saw the red jewels and his eyes widened with surprise. “You have fought the demon?”
“We have slain it,” said Chaelos.
Fayer was stunned. “How long have I been asleep?”
“It has been three days since Wyn brought you to the palace,” said Jahan.
He looked at the crimson stones. “I suppose there is no demon who can match the might of our lords.” He sighed as he lay in bed. He grew drowsy and his eyes closed for a moment. Then he sprang up.
“The serpent!” he cried suddenly. “I must tell you of the serpent and the terrible things that are coming!”
“You must rest now,” said Jahan. “There will be time to talk later.”
He shook his head. “There is no time, I must tell you now of the light that was shining all around me.”
Jahan smiled. “Many who have come near death have seen this light.”
“It was brighter and more beautiful than any light I have seen. It shined through me somehow, and I could feel myself glowing, as if I were part of it. I cannot describe in words the beauty of that light.” He paused a moment. “I saw a being.”
“A being?” Jahan asked.
“He looked almost like an elf and wore the colors of the wood. He was young, but his eyes had the wisdom of ages.”
Jahan almost gasped. “He has seen a Kyre.”
A silence fell on the room. All knew that a portent of old said a Kyre would warn the elves when their isle was in peril.
“He took me to a hill and showed me a great serpent that spit armies from its mouth. There were men and foul creatures tearing their way through the forest.”
“The men of Mor in our land?” said Dhaen.
“It was a horde of men and beasts,” said Fayer.
The council stirred with restless movement as murmurs shot back and forth. A dark storm was coming out of the east, bringing steel and sorcery to the elven isle.
“There was one other thing about this Kyre,” said Fayer. “He wore an empty sheath at his side. Where was his sword?”
The room was quiet again. No one tried to answer the question, but a few turned to Efkin and eyed the mystic sword at his side with some interest.