|OF LOVE AND DREAMS
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
They were running through the dense forest in the early morning air, their breaths sending puffs of mist out behind them. They were running hand in hand for they had finally escaped, escaped from her jailer, the mage Mattugur. And now they were free, and together. They had snuck from the castle, had crept through the town, and had been seen by no one. Together they had finally escaped.
Finally, deep in the primeval forest, they stopped. They stopped just inside a secluded clearing in which flowed a bubbling stream. There the rising sun reflected off the water and danced patterns on their faces as they finally kissed. Finally they could show their true love for each other, for Mattugur was gone. And they kissed each other again, not noticing the dawning sun clouding over; not noticing the quieting of the forest around them. But they did notice the crack of thunder as a huge cloud of black smoke rose into the air, totally blocking out the sun for an instant as Mattugur appeared before them. They turned to face him.
"Escape? From me! Never!" He laughed. Their hands fell limply to their sides. "And now I will retake my property!" Mattugur gestured with his arms and Isilya vanished from her love's embrace.
"No!", Sindagil shouted, as he drew a dagger and threw it at Mattugur's face. And he watched, helplessly, as Mattugur vanished, and the dagger passed through the thick cloud of black smoke he left behind. And as Mattugur left, Sindagil could hear his mocking laughter...
And Sindagil awoke.
"No! Not again!", he shouted as he sat up in his bed. The bedclothes were wet with sweat. "Damn you Gyselle! You said that this time it would be real!" He stopped, breathing deeply, bringing back a modicum of calmness. His chambers were still dark, only Luani's light could be seen creeping along the richly carpeted floor. It's size was still short so it was still early. Sindagil made a decision and got up. He would pay a visit to Gyselle this night. He put on his dark clothing, his black fur cloak. He would have a talk with her whether she was awake or asleep in her bed. He strapped on his short sword, and assorted daggers. He rarely took his pistol as it was too noisy. This night he would speak with her. And he would finally find out the truth of these dreams that he had had every night for the last two weeks. Of the woman of whom he dreamed and whom he now loved. He pushed the velvet curtains from the window and opened the shutters. Tonight, one way or another, it would be ended.
As he plotted and prepared, he failed to notice one thing. He failed to notice himself still asleep in his bed.
Like a cat he leapt up onto the window sill and started to climb the wall. He knew the way well for he had used it in the dark a thousand times. He chuckled as he remembered when he had first bought his home, his first legal action. He reached the roof and walked along it. Looking down upon Clothier's Row he remembered his youth as he had scurried along it, begging for a few coppers as the rich and wealthy passed him by. He remembered years ago when he had flown this same way as an eagle. That had been a wonderful experience, worth more than the gems he had needed to shapeshift to steal. Alone worth every silver he had paid for the potion he had bought from Gyselle to allow him to become an eagle, and a cat. But now he had to walk. He looked down at Clothier's Row and saw only a beggar asleep against the opposite wall. There was no one else about. Two houses before the East Gate into King's Town he reached the crossing. Here, on both sides of the streets, rich merchants had built 2nd storey balconies and had had them roughed. Gently he lowered himself down onto the first one and, in a path followed many times before, ran off and leapt towards the roof of the balcony opposite. He landed exactly where he always had, and made a sound a cat would be hard pressed to hear. He remembered the first time he had tried that crossing. He had started from this balcony, his legs shaking ever so slightly as he examined the jump and nerved himself up to it. He smiled to himself.
He crept up the remaining wall and continued along the roofs along Crystal Road. Below him he noticed the young Vadir and a couple of companions walking. They looked drunk but he could tell from their motions that they were only faking it. They were probably returning from the Timberwright's Guild. He hadn't gone there for years, the pickings were no longer worth the effort. But, when he had been young, the few coins had seemed like the world to him. He continued walking and smiled as the three didn't even notice him. He debating tossing a rock down upon them, but finally decided not to as he couldn't see anything suitable. Now he was almost there. Just as the East Gate came into sight, he turned and crossed the roof, crouching his body low so that the guards couldn't see him in the faint moonlight. At least it was easier now since they had torn down the old wall fifteen years ago. He probably should have gone by street, but since it was so late he might have run into a guard and with his reputation, his being out alone after dark probably would have resulted in his immediate arrest. Ah well.
He finally reached Mage's Square and lowered himself to the street with barely a sound. He was almost there. He walked to Gyselle's front door and slipped a tool into his hand. Within 5 seconds the lock clicked and he pushed the door open.
The entrance hall was dark and unlit, and although Sindagil himself couldn't see the tapestries and chairs, he felt the woven carpet beneath his feet as he made his way through the room. He passed into Gyselle's office and deftly stepped around the fine oak table in the middle of the room where the guildmaster had first introduced him to Gyselle. The guild always kept her well paid as thieves can find many uses for a good alchemist. He pushed open another door and slipped up the stairs, avoiding the 3rd, 5th and 12th stairs which creaked loudly. He slipped down the upper hall and listened at the door to Gyselle's bed chambers. He heard only silence. Ah well, she was probably upstairs in her laboratory, but he might as well see if she was here. He softly pushed the door open and crept up to the edge of the bed. She was there, for he could see her face and mane bathed in silver moonlight. Sindagil reached down and grabbed the end of the bed and shook it. Gyselle didn't wake up.
He shook harder. She didn't even move. He grimaced. He looked around the room for something to throw on top of her to wake her up (he had a policy of never waking anybody up by touching them, there was no telling what the results might be if the person reacted, or was warded). As he turned towards the door he saw a figure standing in it.
What? He had heard no one. It had been years since someone had been able to sneak up on him.
He reached for a dagger to throw at the figure but stopped as Gyselle walked into the moonlight. Her black mane and pale face were silvered in the moon and her fur appeared silver and black in Luani's glow.
"So it was real." Gyselle said.
Sindagil was taken aback. "What was?"
"Yes! And I did what you said. I quaffed that foul potion you gave me, that you promised would take me to her."
"If she was real. And not a dream."
"She's not a dream! She's as real as you!"
"And I am a dream, as are you. My body asleep in that bed is real, just as is yours."
"She could have been a dream. I had to be sure, for if she was I could never bring her to you. I could only let you dream forever of her."
"Is she real?"
"Yes. She is from beyond the edge of The World. For if she was not, you would have truly awoken and you would have entered, and you would have truly awoken me...", she gestured towards herself still asleep in her bed, "...and our conversation would have been quite different."
His anger fell from him as Isilya's face appeared in his mind, "Then I can find her, truly?"
"You can but try."
"How?" He would have shouted but his habit of years prevailed and his speech was barely above a whisper.
Gyselle walked past him, her paws silent on the floor. "For that you must pass beyond The World and seek her."
"How can I go beyond The World?" he asked as she sat upon her bed. Her body left no crease in the mattress.
"The mages know that The World has an edge, and beyond that edge is the primal chaos which brought forth The Gods. From this primal chaos comes all magic, even the potions that I brew. Reality is simply the imposition of form upon the chaos, and magic is simply the imposition of a new form overtop the old."
Her explanation simply made him impatient, for his love still held his mind's eye. "But how do I get there."
"For that you must drink this." She held out her pale arm. In her hand was a small crystal vial which radiated a golden light that varied in its brightness, colouring her fur golden and flashing from her eyes. "I couldn't give you this earlier for it is fashioned from the essence of dreams. It is truly made from Luani's light, the sighs of lovers, and all the other wondrous and impossible ingredients of which the bards sing. It has no reality. It is only a dream." She held it out to him.
Gingerly he grasped it in his hand, partially dousing its light. A warm glow passed from it to his hand and through his body. "I drink it?"
"No! Not yet!", she shouted, reaching out with her hand to restrain him. "It must be poured into the mouth of your sleeping body. Then your soul, what is here now, will journey beyond The World. Drink it now and I know not what will happen. My books hint only at horrid and dire disaster. I have no wish to know what they imply."
He lowered his arm. "What about my sleeping form?"
"I will visit you this morning and put protections about it. Fear not, as long as I live it shall be safe."
"Then I shall leave you know, with thanks." He turned to go.
"Wait a moment. There are a few other things that you should know. You need not walk the roofs now as only others who are half adream as am I can see and hear you. Those awake would feel your passing only as a sudden chill. And be warned. Beyond The World, the realms are entirely of magic. Although it may seem as real as reality to you, it is only held that way by the belief of its inhabitants and its master. Beyond The World belief is law, and that is the secret of magic." He turned again and began to walk towards the door. "And be warned, for when a mage dies, his soul goes not to the Gods, but instead goes beyond The World to live for all eternity in the midst of their magics. To rule over the others who have somehow journeyed there and can do little to gainsay them. Now go, and may the Gods go with you."
He stopped and turned to thank her, but she was gone, only the motionless form of her sleeping body could be seen.
Sindagil passed back down the stairs and left the house. He walked through the East Gate and along the Crystal Road, holding the vial tightly in both hands. He turned onto Clothier's Row and passed halfway through Vadir before he even noticed him, so occupied was his mind with his impending passage. He looked back and saw Vadir shiver. Then he quickly walked the rest of the way back to his home and pushed open the door (he never locked it as thieves would never rob one of their own).
He stopped. Did he open the door? Did he imagine opening the door? Did he open an imaginary door?
He shook his head for he had no way of knowing, and he had something more to do. He would have left the door open and raced back to his bed but his old caution made him close the door and pace silently upstairs.
He was still asleep on his bed, and the window was still open. He pulled it closed and looked at himself asleep. He would finally find her. He held the vial above his partially open lips and poured it in, barely holding his hand steady as the vial vanished as he poured. Finally, it was gone. He looked at himself sleeping. Then the world blurred, and he began to sway and lose his balance. Then he lost consciousness.
Sindagil awoke laying on the ground in a clearing in a forest. His clothes were damp from dew and the grass around him glistened silver. The glade was small, only about 100' across at its widest, and he could barely make out the monstrous oak trees surrounding it in the light of the early morning sun. Around him he could hear the song of a thousand birds as they greeted the morning, accompanied by a continual hooting. He looked up and saw the source - a great brown owl sitting in the tree above him watching him.
He looked around the glade for some clue as to where to go, but the trees all looked the same. Isilya wasn't there. Nobody was there. He shrugged and began to walk. He didn't know what way to go, but the way he went felt right. Maybe that meant something.
For the entire day he walked through the dense forest, resting occasionally, eating berries that he recognised from the city markets. He tried to move quietly through the first wilderness he had ever experienced, but brush rustled with his every movement, and he often heard the cracking of sticks beneath his feet. He saw no animals, and heard only the birds. Once, in the afternoon, he heard a loud, shrill screech from above him, and dived to the ground behind the nearest tree. But nothing ever came into sight. Throughout the day his was bitten by bugs, tripped by roots, and slashed by branches. By the time night suddenly fell, he hated the forest he had so recently thought beautiful. He was cold, tired and itchy, and plunged into darkness with no shelter. He just collapsed against a tree and fell into his first dreamless sleep in weeks, uncaring of what animals would attack him in the night.
"Man! What do you here!"
Sindagil sat up, cold, thirsty and starved. He could see no one around him. He whipped out a dagger and stood up, dew dripping from his clothes, and spun around. Nobody.
"What do you!"
He started to throw the knife towards the voice, but stopped. He had never killed before unless it was necessary. Was it necessary now? He relaxed slightly and responded, "I seek my love." He always tried to speak truthfully, as lies could become so hard to maintain.
"Love...", he heard behind him, the word fading towards the end. There was a moment of silence and then it continued, "You smell of men's magic. Why!" The voice demanded an answer.
"I come from The World." He wished he had paid closer attention to what Gyselle had told him of the chaos. "Even now I am asleep elsewhere."
He heard it mumble "True love" to itself. This time he heard the voice louder than before, almost immediately behind him. He spun around with a dagger drawn.
And before him he saw a greater vision of beauty than he had ever imagined. He dropped his knife. She was a little shorter than he was, dressed in a flowing, shapeless dress of white silk that served to accentuate her shapely figure rather than hide it. The dress was draped in branches of red roses, all abloom, and their aroma filled his lungs. Her skin was the white of alabaster, without flaw of blemish, smooth and unwrinkled, free from the ravages of time. Her hands were smooth and untouched, the nails coloured the same red as the roses, and each nail almost an inch in length. Her face was heart shaped, with a barely noticeable chin, and very slightly red cheeks, red enough only to be different from the pale skin around it. Her eyes were huge, but looked perfect in her face, their huge black pupils sought to swallow his soul into the sea of green that surrounded them. Her hair was a deep green, almost black. It flowed from her forehead, rose above her shoulders, and then fell down, covering her back and floating just above the ground behind her. He could just make out the white tips of her ears piercing through it. All he could do was stare.
Then she spoke, her voice as sweet as it had been harsh, its tones reminding him of the choirs he had heard singing the praises of the Gods in his childhood, reminding him of the sweetest of the songs of birds and of the promise of honey from the humming of bees.
"Do you like me?"
The voice hypnotised him and he just stood there, his jaw hanging open, his hands limp at his sides. He couldn't speak as she drifted to him, sat down beside him on a log that suddenly appeared, and pressed her body against his. He could feel the smooth, perfect curves against his own body as she turned to face him, her eyes looking up into his. He couldn't help but sit down beside her, swallowed in her eyes.
"I get so lonely, all by myself." He could barely hear her speak. "Often have I wished for company. Could you stay, please..."
He shook his head, trying to gather enough wits to speak. The perfume from the roses was so intense he was ready to collapse in her arms. Finally, as she looked up at him, he managed to stammer, "Ah...but,...ah, I really have to go. Really."
"I love you." Her eyes melted and a single tear formed at the base of each.
He swallowed. "Ah...that's nice. I must." He paused as she continued to look at him. One of the tears slowly crept down one cheek. "Really, I do. Ah...I have to go. I must." He had never been so out of control in his life.
She wrapped her arms around him and held him close, her eyes still staring into his own. The other tear began to roll down, and he felt pressure in his loins. Then she kissed him. Her lips against his destroyed what control he had left. His knees collapsed and he would have gone with them had she not been holding him. A red hotness shot from his lips to his toes, and part of him wanted to sing. Another part wanted to flee. His loins tightened against hers. Her scent filled his mind, her vision his eyes. He desired her. Gods how he desired her. For the first time since his dreams he desired someone else. He was lost in her grip until he heard a word whispered in his mind. Isilya. His dreams. His love. But she wasn't here, just the fey being who held him, and kissed him. But Isilya...
Her lips fell from his, and his begged for hers to return. He felt throbbing between his legs, expectant, waiting. She was still looking at him. Her face sweet and unblemished, new tears in her huge eyes. "I love you.", she whispered, the words meant for him alone. Isilya...
He threw her from him, the memories of his love for Isilya flooding into his mind. He shouted, "No!" and leapt up from the woman. She sat there, tears in her eyes, staring up at him. Isilya. "No!", he shouted again. Isilya. He loved Isilya. He turned to flee. A sudden gale blew him from his feet.
"You would take a mortal!"
He rolled over and looked up into her face as she stood up. Her voice was no longer sweet. It was filled with hate. Her dress was blown around her, and her hair was wafted about her face, isolating it. Her eyes glowed with a golden light and the world seemed to dim and she seemed to grow taller and taller.
Her voice took on thunderous tones which echoed throughout the forest. The wind was silent, even though he could still feel it. She stared at him, her eyes now piercing, golden, and filled with rage. "Isilya...", he whispered.
"You will stay here!"
The trees shook with her rage, and he heard the boom of thunder somewhere above. He knew not how he managed to do it, but he spoke her name: "Isilya." He held it before him as shield against a sword.
"You will love me!"
He conjured Isilya in his mind. Isilya, the woman he truly loved. Finally, he was able to speak. "I love Isilya." The words squeaked from his parched lips, their tone barely above a whisper.
"You love me!"
He was deafened by her screech of rage, and he smelled more than saw the lightening strike before him - the sight of her overpowered all else. He began to gather his will to prop up the shield he held. He spoke its name again: "Isilya." His voice no longer wavered.
"Then you will die!"
She screeched those words louder then before. Then all light vanished, except the golden glow of her eyes as she stared at him. The wind from behind her rose its voice to a howling scream that whipped the breath from him. He smelled the lighting that struck behind him. Still, he managed to speak again. He managed to raise his voice above the howling wind. Above the crackling lightening. Now he knew the true force of his love. Now his fortress was secure. "Isilya!", he shouted. "It is her I love. Only her." The woman before him just glared at him. "And for her I will die!" He threw the last words down before her as a gauntlet. The challenge given. His love was true. He would die in joy for that love.
As suddenly as it had started the wind died, the darkness vanished and the sun shone again. The woman before him lowered her arms as the quiet air lowered her hair and dress. She became as she had first been as she walked towards him. But the glory was gone. The magic of her was gone. Still she was beautiful, but it no longer overpowered him. He raised himself on his elbows and watched as she approached. Then, as he again heard the hesitant singing of birds, she stood before him.
"Come. You have much to learn." She turned and began to walk back into the trees. "And try to sound a little less like a boar tramping through the brush."
She stopped and turned to face him. "Do you want my help to save her or not. Well?"
He just stared, astonished by the change.
"If you don't come now, I'll just leave. And you need all the help you can get." She turned and began to walk, silent as a breeze.
What had happened? Two minutes ago she had been ready to kill him. And now she wanted to help? He shrugged his shoulders. It was a strange world. If she wanted to kill him, he couldn't stop her. He stood up and ran after her.
He soon caught up with her. The branches seemed to part, at least slightly, not to hate him as they had. But before her they seemed to open a path. For a long while it continued that way, the only sounds being the crack of branches he broke, the slap of branches against his face. And she spoke never a word. Finally he was able to speak to her.
"Why didn't you kill me."
"It would have rebounded onto me."
He was taken back. He had no magic. He had no defences. After a while he spoke again, "Why would it rebound?"
She kept walking as she spoke again, "Love is the strongest of all magics in the world. All the rest bow before it. If the love is hindered, he who hinders it will pay a price. If the love is aided, he who aids it will be rewarded. So Gaenan willed when she made the world. So it still is."
"That's it? You're helping me just because of my love?"
She stopped and spun to face him. "Love is all. Love is what powers the world and rewards the Gods. Love is what began, and love is what will end. Love is magic and magic is love."
"And what does that riddle mean."
"The riddle means what it means." She turned and continued to walk.
He ran to catch up again. It was time to change tactics. "How will you help me?"
She continued walking as she spoke. "Isilya is imprisoned in the castle of the wizard Mattugur, in a crystal in a tower. There she struggles to escape and return to her people whom Mattugur has enslaved through her seeming."
"Mattugur is real?"
"Yes. He is. Long, long ago he was a mortal like yourself. He lived in your world and wove his webs of magery throughout his life. And when he died he came here. He created this land and his castle in a single night a thousand years ago, the same night he imprisoned Isilya. I will teach you what you need to know."
"And that is?"
She didn't answer. Nor did she answer any of his other questions as they walked through the forest. She without a scratch; he with cuts, bruises and bites. He finally stopped asking and they walked for a long while in silence with only the birds for company. Finally they arrived at a huge tree.
The trunk was a wide as his house, and it reached up into infinity. Built against it was a small sod house with the grass still growing. She led him through an opening that was covered by a tanned hide. He only saw the opening when she pulled it aside, even though it was a pale brown amidst the green of the grass.
Inside the house was simple and elegant, and much larger than seemed possible. There was a plain bed against the trunk of the tree, the mattress consisting of nothing but dried moss. On top of the moss there was a simple woollen quilt into which a single rose had been embroidered. There was a table and a chair, both of wood still covered in white papery bark. Beneath the table he could make out carved wooden jars and boxes, and the room was filled with the scent of pines and spices. She motioned him towards a smaller pile of moss, with another woollen blanket, in another corner. Above it a window sat open, and looked over the forest the way they had come. But he had seen no window when they arrived.
"Sleep now. I will teach you in the morning."
He discovered that he was tired. But he was even hungrier and thirstier. "Do you have anything I can eat and drink?"
She lifted a bowl of broth and a wooden mug from the table. He stared at it. He would have sworn it wasn't there a second ago.
She handed it to him. Then she turned and went back outside. The broth smelled wonderful and the mug seemed to hold a pale white wine. He tasted both and was immediately refreshed. He had never tasted such a wonderful repast before. He put the mug on the table and held the bowl in both hands so that he could drink the thick broth it held. When it was done he put it softly on the table and drank the rest of the wine. He hadn't tasted wine this good since he had sampled the wines in the king's basement. He put the mug down and was suddenly very tired. Much more tired than he had been a moment before. He stumbled over to the bed she had shown him and fell prone, immediately asleep.
Sindagil raised himself on the bed he'd fallen asleep upon, the thick quilt covering him falling silently towards his feet. Around him the small hut was empty, the woman was nowhere to be seen. His clothing was cleaned, neatly folded, and piled on a small table beside the bed in which he had been sleeping. The chill air in the hut removed the last cobwebs of slumber from his mind. Where was she? He slipped off the bed, leaving the quilt pushed onto the far end. The wooden floor was cold under his feet. Had she undressed him? He didn't think he had. He began to dress, first with the dark silk undergarments, then the tanned leather on top. Amazingly, the clothing was wonderfully warm, as though it had been hanging above a fire until just an instant before. It had taken him almost three years to train Lydwella to have his clothes ready for him in this manner in the morning. He sighed as the warmth seeped into his bones. The training had indeed been worth it. He sat down on the bed as he pulled on his soft boots and laced them up. Where was she? The door to the hut was closed, but the small window was open and the sun shining through it was all that lit up the room.
When he was completely dressed, he smelled hot porridge from across the room. Breakfast. He stopped. It hadn't been there before. It was as though it just appeared upon his being dressed. Will, his benefactor was capable of magic. He walked over to the table and there was a big bowl of steaming porridge, with a spoon. Service was good. A warm drink was beside the porridge. He sat down and began to eat. It wasn't until the third spoonfull that he wondered what he was sitting upon.
There hadn't been a chair at the table before. And why had he sat down? Ah well, it was nice to see magic being used for comfort for once.
Sindagil finished his meal and washed it down with the warm herbal tea from the cup. It tasted almost like cinnamon, but was slightly different. He couldn't quite place it.
He pushed the chair out from the table and stood up. Time to find the lady. He walked towards the door a couple paces and then stopped, turned around and looked back at the table. The chair, bowl and cup were gone. It figured. He walked the rest of the way to the door and pushed it open.
Outside it was still early morning. The sun was warm upon his face but even though it shone into his eyes, there was no glare. He looked out into the flower filled field and his eyes lingered here and there over the wildness until he spied her near the trunk of a mistletoe entwined oak. She was kneeling down, her hands entwined about the neck of what he thought was a deer, whispering into its ear. He had only a glimpse, for as soon as he spied her, the deer, if it was one, leapt to its feet and bounded from the clearing. She turned and stood before him.
"Are you ready to begin?". Today she was slightly taller than he was and she stared at him as she continued, "You have much to learn in a short time. First, you must learn to move silently."
"But I can."
"You sound like a bear in the brambles. Not only must you move yourself silently, you must move within the forest silently. Everywhere you step you break branches. Every time you move, branches and leaves are pushed aside and rustle back. You must move thusly."
She slipped towards the edge of the clearing and he followed, doing his best to imitate her motions. Throughout the day he followed her, and learned from her. He learned to duck the branches and to avoid the roots. And when that was mastered he learned how to survive. He learned what to eat, what roots were safe, what berries were ripe. He learned of the shelter provided in the forest, and how to make his own. He learned where to find water, where to find fish, and where the signs of animals were. As the day progressed, he learned to live in the wilderness. And as the day passed, as his mind filled with as much wilderness lore as it already had urban lore, he began to wonder. How was he learning all of this so quickly and so well. For once she had demonstrated something, and he had repeated it, he knew it. It was memorised in his muscles and sinews, just as the skill of lock picking he had mastered over decades of practice was. Finally, after he was told how to swim, and had tried once, and was then amazingly proficient he resolved to ask. He dressed as she watched, standing before him clothed only in her hair. He reached down to tie his boots and when he looked up she was fully dressed, and completely dry. Then he asked.
"How am I learning all this. It is barely mid-afternoon, yet I know years worth of knowledge which I didn't know yesterday. I am told a thing and I immediately know it. How?"
She answered him, "Through love."
"Love? Yours for me?"
"And magic." She ignored his last comment.
And for a while he inquired no more. Yet, as he continued to learn, her words ate at him. She had said that magic was love, and love was magic. Were they both the same as she said? Was love all that was necessary? Then why didn't lovers create magic around themselves. And why had he never seen magic like this. Never was a word or a gesture used that he could detect, other than that required to teach him. The magic he had always seen was ritual laden, requiring special words and gestures. The potions made by Gyselle required strange ingredients, and were supposedly mixed to the chanting of magical formulas. He became caught up in these thoughts, and began to require a second demonstration of new techniques. Yet, she was endlessly patient. She didn't seem to notice the difference. Then, like a thunderbolt, the thought struck him. Who was she? She had tried to seduce and then kill him. She had guested him. She had taught him as a child. Yet, he didn't even know her name. He hadn't even thought to ask.
"Who are you." The words burst from him, seemingly of their own volition. She dropped the mushroom she was holding and stared at him. Why had he said those words? Was she going to kill him now? As the pause grew longer, he became more and more apprehensive. More and more self-critical. But he needed to know. Maybe if he just knew her name, "What is your name?"
"Names are power."
"You know mine, you know Isilya's."
"Those are not your names."
"Then what are they?"
"They are labels. Not even you know your name."
"Then what is your 'label'?"
"I have only a name."
"More riddles. Can you not answer even a simple question with a straight answer?"
"I answer only the truth. My name I will not tell you."
"Ok. Have it your way. Then tell me,", he would try to get something out of her, "what are you."
"I am a daughter of Gaenan."
"She is the earth-mother. She created everything. We are all her children. That tells me nothing."
"It is the truth."
"You want the whole truth?"
"So be it. When I was born from Gaenan's womb ages ago, I was told that the mortal to whom I revealed exactly what I was would live only a short while after learning. I am of the Elder Fey who remained loyal. I have lived since the First Age, and will live until the End of All Things. I am of the fire and the water; of the earth and the air; of love and hate; of life..." Her eyes darkened as she continued, "...and of death. Oh man of mortal birth, I sought to save you from the fate you would embrace."
She stopped and stared at him. Slowly the light returned to her eyes and finally she continued as though nothing had happened, "This mushroom..."
"That's it? Warnings of doom? Names from legends? Contradictions?"
She stopped and turned again to face him. She changed not at all this time, but her voice froze his soul. "Man, twice would I have killed you where you stood. Twice have I withheld my wrath. Risk not the third."
Throughout his life he had been pursued by guardsmen. Had assassins sent after him. Had been imprisoned. Had even been minutes away from hanging before he was rescued. But he had never been as frightened as her words had made him. Not the words but the voice. The voice that felt like a cold wind whispering through his soul. He would ask no more questions. He would be very, very careful.
Finally she continued, speaking in her normal voice. "This can be used..." He asked no more questions.
As the sun set they returned to her hut against the tree. This time she actually sat with him. She ate and drank nothing, and said not a word while he ate. He also remained silent, remembering her last warning to him. Finally, he finished the silent meal, feeling her eyes upon him the whole time. Careful of every move he made else she destroy him.
"You have learned all that I was created to teach you. Now you must know of Mattugur."
Finally he would learn of his enemy. Of the man that kept him from Isilya. His heart beat slightly faster but there was no other physical evidence of his eagerness as she continued.
"Mattugur died, in your reality, 1500 years ago. Before he died he had visited beyond The World numerous times and had prepared magics to travel there permanently upon his death. His magics were successful. Upon his arrival, he proceeded to the tower he had prepared and began to study. He had noticed differences in the working of magic beyond The World and quietly mastered those differences whilst hiding from others living around him. He knew of other mages who had arrived, and had been killed before they could adequately defend themselves. The inhabitants of the chaos beyond The World learned ages ago to fear those who came from elsewhere as almost all were mages, and almost all sought to conquer."
"Mattugur remained hidden for almost 700 years, mastering his old magics, and continuing on until he was the mightiest sorcerer anywhere. Then he abandoned his tower and swiftly and easily, almost contemptuously, conquered all the lands he could reach. The last thing he conquered was a small village ruled by Queen Isilya. Some believe that he brought the entire village from The World to take vengeance upon its queen, but no one knows for sure. Mattugur imprisoned Isilya and proceeded to enforce his will on her people. Those who resisted either fled, or were horribly transformed, and then mercifully slain. Over the centuries other mages have left The World but all feared Mattugur and have remained hidden from him. A few have tried to defeat Mattugur, but all who entered his castle never returned. Not even Gaenan knows what became of them."
"Isilya has long sought a hero to save her and has finally settled upon you, although I fail to understand her choice. I have taught that hero all I was created to teach him, though I fear it will help little."
Sindagil could no longer remain silent. At least death from her would be quick and merciful. A mage could keep him alive indefinitely. "This is all the help you can give me?" Oh Isilya.
"Isilya has chosen, and Gaenan has blessed the choice. You must do what you must, for The World depends upon you. Even the Gods have come to fear Mattugur's power."
He thought of his choices. He could go home and forget the whole thing, or he could go after Mattugur. And Isilya. Never could he forget Isilya. He couldn't leave her in Mattugur's hands. He would go to her, or die going. "When shall I leave?"
She stared at him, motionless and unmoved, although he thought he saw a faint quiver of her lip. "Please stay with me." The words seem torn from her.
He watched her. She did love him, just as he loved Isilya. Oh Isilya, soon I will be on my way to you. "I'm sorry. I can't." He turned to leave, sensing Isilya far, far away.
"Wait.", she said. I have one more thing for you. It is not magical, but it will help." She handed him a plain wooden harp which she hadn't been holding a moment before. "Years ago you wandered as a Bard. Do so again and sneak into Mattugur's holding. You cannot defeat him by force, you must defeat him by cunning. I made it years ago knowing you would need it." He took it from her. "Now sleep, for in the morning you must leave." She raised her arms above her head and Sindagil fell to the earth. He felt her lips brush his own before he fell wholly into sleep. He heard not at all her whisper, "Let love guide you, and defend you."
Sindagil awoke cold and cramped, asleep against the same oak he had slept against before he had been awakened by the magical being. Had it all been a dream?
He looked around. A quiet wind blew through the bare limbs of the trees and cradled the last red and yellow leaves to the ground. Fall? He leapt up as the season before winter filled his senses. He heard the rustle of every leaf as it flew off its branches and gradually settled to the ground. It had been spring, or at the latest summer. He looked around, frightened. Leaning against the oak beside where he had lain was a harp, the same one as the woman had given him. It hadn't been a dream. He picked up the harp and watched as another leaf drifted to the ground. He had to get going, for too much time had been wasted already. He looked around him and wondered. He had always been told that magic had its costs. And so did the knowledge he had learned, evidently. Oh Isilya, I'm sorry I took so long he whispered to himself. I will come some. He walked off through the forest towards her, silent as the deer that had once fled from him.
For three days Sindagil travelled towards Isilya, unerringly feeling the way. He moved silently and left no trail. Each night he slept in shelter that he knew existed from her teachings, and throughout the journey he was never hungry as food was all around him. Throughout the two days he saw not a soul, although the animals were plentiful. He practised walking so quietly that he would touch them before they saw him, and he laughed when they suddenly fled. He begrudged the time lost, but thought it was better to delay a bit and perfect his skills, than to rush into her arms, and his destruction at the hands of Mattugur.
As the third evening approached, Sindagil heard the loud breaking of branches and talking of men. Men! Discretion being the better part of valour he slipped into some nearby bushes and watched as two men leading a horse approached down the trail he had been following. The horse was heavily laden with packs and was led by one man who was dressed in soft leathers and wearing chainmail and carrying a scabarded sword. He was talking to another man walking beside him who was dressed and armed similarly. The man leading the horse was red haired, and the other wore a leather hood so that his face could not be seen. Sindagil listened as they talked, the forest around silent at the intrusion.
"Are we almost there?" the younger man leading the horse asked.
"Oh definitely, a short while and we'll be able to sit ourselves down to Angina's generous broth before a roaring fire. She'll be glad to see me, I'll tell ya."
"Sure. From the stories you've told me, she'd be glad to see anyone as long as they were male and whole." They both laughed.
They quieted and walked a few paces before the young man spoke again, "Gods I hate these woods. The trees stare at you. They seem to hate you, to wish they could..."
"Nonsense! They're only trees. A good axe and down they go. You're too jumpy."
Sindagil watched as they passed him.
"I've heard that there are bandits around, fools out to fight Mattugur." The young man's voice was now barely audible.
"Oh they're here. Waiting for ya, one behind each tree. In fact, there's one now!", the older man pointed off into the trees. The younger jumped and turned to run when the older man began to laugh.
Sindagil watched then walk off down the pass, the older one laughing at the fright in the younger. So, this must be one of the ways into Mattugur's village, Sindagil thought. Oh Isilya, tomorrow I will come, walking into your kingdom as a simple bard. Mattugur, your doom is upon your doorstep! Sindagil smiled to himself as he slipped through the woods a short distance from the path. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would truly see her. He found a hiding place and went to sleep for the night. Tomorrow.
Sindagil was woken from his quiet sleep by the hooting of an owl. He quietly awoke and turned to look at it sitting on the ground right beside him. It was a large horned owl, with the usual brown colouration but, curiously, the markings were in red. Then the owl hooted once more and flew away. That was unusual.
Sindagil heard the sound of a branch being broken near him. Damn, someone was coming. He put his hand on his sword and feigned sleep.
"Surrender or die."
At these words, Sindagil truly knew he was in trouble, but he made no action. He moved not a muscle and kept his breathing steady. He opened one eye slightly and glanced around moving only the eye. He could make out three men standing in front of him with spears, each dressed in boiled leather, one getting ready to prod him. He could see another five nearby with bows ready and aimed at him. Why didn't they have guns? Doubtless there were others outside his range of vision.
A spear jabbed into him. "Get up!", the same man shouted.
Sindagil jerked awake (long hours of practice had perfected the acting), carefully dropped his hand from his sword and mumbled, "What...?".
"Say another word and you'll die. Mattugur won't charm us through one of his spies. Now get up."
The spear jabbed into Sindagil again. He slowly got up and stood motionless as two men walked up to him and bound him hand and foot. They also gagged and disarmed him. He looked around for escape but there were at least ten. He would wait - an opportunity always presented itself eventually. Sindagil made no movement as the men strung a pole through his tied arms and hands. He made no movement as two men lifted the pole onto their shoulders and carried him between them. And he made no movement as the whole group came together and swiftly, and quietly, walked off into the forest. They knew how to move silently.
As they carried Sindagil through the woods he awaited an opportunity to escape. He could have gotten free from the bonds in a couple of minutes, but his motions would doubtlessly alert his carriers. Gods this was embarrassing, captured like a dog in the garden. He hadn't been caught this easily in years. The last time he hadn't been able to get away until a diversion was supplied by the guild just minutes before his scheduled hanging. He wouldn't have help this time - an opportunity would have to present itself. Oh Isilya, fear not, I will come soon.
Sindagil waited as his captors carried him swiftly through the trees. They made little noise and said not a word. As he turned his head he could see them make nervous glances both at each other and around at the wilderness, as though they were deathly afraid of something. But they said not a word the whole time. They travelled for a long time and encountered no one and no creature. The world was silent except for the occasional rustle of a branch, and the breathing of the men.
About mid-afternoon, with a suddenness Sindagil wouldn't have believed, his captors suddenly burst into talk around him.
There were suddenly children, older men and women, all staring at him. Then the two men carrying him dropped the pole and Sindagil fell to the ground on his back. The people around him laughed and began to call to him.
"What's wrong, little spy? Mattugur took your tongue?", was mockingly said. "Can't talk now that your strings are cut?" More laughter. It was embarrassing. Some mocked him, others spit, and small children threw rocks at him. Sindagil made no movement. Then, suddenly, there was silence. The children fled.
"What have you brought Tolstan?" an old man said. Sindagil turned his head and saw an old man, twisted with age, drag himself towards Sindagil with a staff.
"We've caught a spy Anwyn. Mattugur's failed again." Tolstan laughed.
"Shh! Speak his name quietly. Even my magics can't stop him if he knows we're here.", the old man snapped.
Another man approached. He was younger than Anwyn, but older than the one who led those who had brought Sindagil.
"He's young, Anwyn," the newcomer said, "and just a little impetuous."
"His impetuous may have cost us our souls," the old man snapped back.
"Sorry. I brought him so you could question him. Find out what Mattugur suspects. We told him nothing.", Tolstan interrupted.
The old man looked at Sindagil for a moment, and then turned back towards Tolstan. "You fool! Not only can Mattugur hear and speak through his slaves, he can see through their eyes!"
The old man sighed. "It's too late now. Mattugur can't use him within the defenses I've set, but if he knows where his slave was taken... We'll have to move." He turned from Tolstan. "Gilburn, throw him in that hut," Anwyn pointed, "and I'll question him once I've prepared. And get the camp moving. We might not have much time!"
"Immediately." Gilburn picked up one end of the stick Sindagil was tied to and dragged him into the hut. Tolstan was dragged off by Anwyn. Sindagil watched see men and women scurrying around preparing to move until he was pulled into the hut and could see no more. Gilburn dropped the stick, stepped over Sindagil, and left the hut, pushing the door shut behind him.
Now was the time to escape. Sindagil worked at the ropes and in a couple of minutes had freed his hands. In another minute he had freed his legs and removed the gag. He got up and began to pace around the hut, walking softly as circulation returned to his limbs. How could he get out? The hut was strongly constructed of cut wood, but the door might not be locked. He pushed it slightly and confirmed that it wasn't latched. He could hear many people running around outside and knew he'd be seen. He'd have to wait until night. But did he have the time? They were going to question him and then probably kill him as soon as they could. And that would probably be sometime this afternoon. Were there other exits? Yes, there was an open window opposite the door. He carefully looked through it. Damn! It too opened up on the clearing, he could people hurring around outside it. It wouldn't work either. Besides, he couldn't fit through the window. But he had escaped through a small window before. How had... Right! He had earlier drank a potion from Gyselle, turned into a cat, leapt onto the window sill, leapt out, turned into an eagle and flew away. It had been a tower room. He remembered what it had been like to fly, the wind on his arms, the freedom, the earth far below him. The memories were so strong that he lost himself in them for a moment. And then he fell to the ground on his face.
What? He pushed himself up with his hands, and felt a dragging along his arms as though sticks were growing from them and dragging along the ground. What was going on? He turned to look at his arm and saw feathers. Feathers? A wing? What? Then he remembered Gyselle's words. The chaos beyond The World was totally magic. Magic was the imposition of form upon chaos. He must have remembered himself as an eagle so thoroughly that he had changed himself into one. It had to be the reason, he couldn't think of any other. Now he could escape. He turned towards the window, spread his wings, ran about and flew! Thump. His wings hit the walls beside the window and he fell to the floor. It wouldn't work! He had to get up to the window first. How had he done it before? As a cat. He had to become a cat. Could he? He had become an eagle. What was it like to be a cat? He remembered the experience. The black and white vision. The brightness of the world. The feeling of walking on four legs. He pictured it in his mind. He remembered stalking along the floor, leaping up onto the window. He remembered. Then he heard the door. It was being opened. Damn! He had to ignore it. He had to become a cat. A cat. He was a cat... And he was on all fours! The door opened. He leapt for the windowsill.
"What...where is he?"
He was on the window sill.
"Look, that cat!", he recognised the voice of the old man.
He leapt onto the ground and ran pell mell across the clearing for the trees, dodging legs.
"Get that cat! Its the spy!", he heard Gilburn shout behind him.
He ran faster, straight towards the trees. He felt a hand touch his tail but leapt away before it could be grabbed. The trees. He dashed into the brush and kept running. He had escaped.
Sindagil ran until he could no longer hear voices behind him, and then he leapt up onto a tree and continued up, far up, into the branches. Finally he stopped and waited and listened. He heard nothing below him. Then a bird started to sing. He swallowed. He had lost them. But he would wait, just to be safe.
He waited for what seemed like hours and he still heard no sign of humans. As he began to calm down the belief that he had escaped grew, and when the sun was finally set, he knew he had escaped. Now all he had to do was get down. Around him the branches were still full of the multicoloured leaves of fall. He lay on a small branch near the trunk of the tree. To get down all he had to do was back up to the trunk and then climb down the trunk. He cautiously stood up to creep backwards and suddenly the branch began to sway underneath him. He fell flat on his belly to keep from falling off but began to slip anyway. He scrambled frantically with all his limbs but slowly he fell off the branch and began to fall. He hit one branch and tried to grab it but it slipped from his grasp. Then his stomach hit a branch and the impact knocked the wind out of him. Somehow he managed to wrap himself around the branch. He had stopped his fall. He hung on for dear life until the branch stopped its swaying and was still.
Now what? He had always wondered how cats got stuck up trees. Well now he knew. Idiot! The greatest thief in Kyndar, in the whole Dragon Empire. Successfully escaping from a prison in broad daylight. And now he was stuck up a lousy tree! Damn! How the hell was he going to get down? He carefully looked around him. Just up from him a large horned owl was starring at him, again with the strange reddish markings. He could swear that it was laughing at him. And to make matters worse, he was on an even smaller branch, and was further from the trunk of the tree than he had started. Great. If he changed back into his natural form the branch would break and he would indeed reach the ground. Unpleasantly. How could he get down? Sigh. He couldn't get down as a cat. He couldn't get down as a man. What else could he do? Then he had it. It was so obvious he would have hit himself if he didn't have to hang onto the branch. He could also become an eagle. And eagles could fly. Well, it was almost dark so he had better get down now. He imagined himself, his whole being, an eagle. And again he was. A big eagle. The branch he was clinging to broke under his weight. He screeched in frustration as he fell, and outstretched his wings in an attempt to hold himself up. Bang. His left wing hit a branch. Snap, another branch broke as he hit it during his plummet. He struggled frantically and tried to grab anything but failed. Thump, he hit another branch, fell off it, and was below the leaves. He outstretched his wings and flapped frantically, trying to keep from hitting the ground. And then he did. His landing knocked him out.
When he finally awoke, he was sore all over. His arms and legs were scratched and bloody but his clothing wasn't torn at all. He was a man again. And Gods, did he hurt. He hadn't hurt like this since his first day of knife training back at the guild. He slowly and carefully pushed himself up from the leaves with his arms, the pine scent reviving him somewhat. At least he had gotten down from the lousy tree. Now what? He was stuck in the middle of the woods with nothing but the clothes on his back. Then he felt her again. Isilya! She was that way. He got up and began to walk, to work the soreness from his muscles. He limped and massaged his thighs as he slowly walked towards her. At least he hadn't broken anything.
He walked most of the rest of the night and finally came to the edge of the forest and looked upon the castle of Mattugur and the village surrounding it. Isilya was near, he could feel her. But he couldn't just walk to the castle as he was. He had no money, and no way to earn any (other than burglary). But he wanted to avoid that if he could, there was no telling what magical defences there might be. If only he had that harp. Hmmm. He should be able to find where they had grabbed him by circling around the castle until he came to the trail. Then he could find his tracks and go from there. Yes, he could do it. "Isilya", he whispered to himself, "Soon, soon."
Through the setting moon and the beginning rays of the morning sun, Sindagil walked and watched the castle. As dawn broke he found the trail and silently crept back along it. As the birds awoke and began their singing, amidst the scent of wild flowers, he found where he had seen the travellers. From there he easily found where he had so recently slept. Around it were many marks, poorly scraped out. The stuff he had carried were scattered about. Damn them. Spy for Mattugur indeed! They must have feared that he carried Mattugur's charms. With a short search he found his short sword, still scabbarded, and two of his daggers. He even found the pouch containing the tools of his trade. Apparently they hadn't taken anything. And leaning against the tree against which he had slept was the harp, completely untouched, as though they hadn't even seen it.
Curious. Now why was that? There wasn't even morning dew on the case. He carefully picked it up, checking first to see if it had been trapped in anyway. There were no tripwires, no darts, no liquids poured on its leather case. Strange. He picked it up and opened the case and pulled out the harp. It looked as good a new. He played a few notes and the strings were perfectly in tune. Now that was impossible. The coldness of the night alone should have forced it out of tune. And the notes! He had never heard such a sweet wondrous sound. Then it came to him. Magic. She had ensorcelled it. That explained everything. Then he yawned. And he remembered how sore he was. While he had stood there he had became so stiff that he could hardly walk. He yawned again. He needed some rest. He looked around and after a short, incredibly painful, walk, found a hollow tree that he had somehow missed before. He looked inside to make sure that it was unoccupied and then crept within and lay himself down on the soft bed of leaves and needles that blanketed the floor of the hollow. He sighed as he slowly lowered himself down. He fell asleep almost immediately after closing his eyes, hardly noticing the strong scent of pine that arose around him.
He woke up late that day, still sore, but now he could at least walk without great difficulty. His legs stung, and the scratches on his arms itched. Damn. He tried to scratch but failed because of his undamaged clothing. He stopped. He could easily walk into the village and claim that he had been attacked by bandits. The conversation he had overheard ensured that he would be believed. He even had the scratches and bruises to prove it. Unfortunately, his clothes were untorn. He looked down at himself. Isilya, the things I do for you. He got out one of his two daggers and proceeded to rip and tear his clothing in appropriate locations. In only a few minutes, he looked as though he had indeed survived bandits. He picked up his harp and slowly and clumsily walked over to the road the two travellers had been using and proceeded to walk into the village.
He left the forest in early evening and watched as the sun set behind the tallest tower of Mattugur's castle. Soon Isilya, soon. He walked along the road, between two harvested fields, now filled only with stubble. There were still a few animals grazing occasionally lifting their heads to watch him pass. They watched as he crossed over a wide, strongly-built, bridge. Soon afterward he entered the village proper and followed the sound of merrymaking, and the smell of hot cooked food, towards what he presumed was the inn. The building he approached was the only multi-story building in the entire village, and was by far the largest. It was crafted of wood covered with dried mud and clay, and hanging over the open door he could see a badly faded sign. He could barely make out the symbol of a rooster and, though careful examination, was able to make out the name of the inn: The Rooster's Rest. He walked through the door.
The common room was filled with people and abuzz with talk. The smells of roasting meat and warm ale fought with the harsh pipe smoke for dominance. He could see only 15 feet or so into the room through the smoke that hung like a cloak around the crowd, twisting and swirling this way and that as though it were alive. As he forced his way to the bar, the conversation around him began to quiet as people turned to look at his torn and battered form. Once he reached the bar, all conversation had stopped, and all attention was on him, although two old, bearded men, kept playing dice, oblivious to the world. He stood before the bar for only a moment before a thin man, who looked about 35, dressed in homespun wool and wearing a high leather hat, walked up and stood opposite him on the other side of the bar.
"What happened to ya?", he asked, as he looked long and hard at Sindagil.
"It was bandits along the trail. The leapt out at me, calling me a spy. I managed to survive their ambush and fled into the woods. I think I wounded one or two."
"Well good for ya. We've asked his highness, Mattugur, for years to get rid of them bastards but he's too busy wooin Isilya up in that castle of his."
Isilya! For a second his eyes widened before he clamped down on the emotions caused by her name.
"Ya know her?", the innkeeper asked. "Ya looked surprised when ah mentioned her."
He thought quickly, "No, it was nothing. The name sounded familiar, but it was someone else."
"Once." He stared off into space, thinking of Isilya, pretending to think of a lover he once had.
"Anyways, what can ah do for ya? A drink mayhaps?"
"I would love one, except I have no money to pay for it. They took it all."
"Well, have one on the house. Ya could sure use it. Ya could help clean up later if ya like."
"Certainly, but I would like to play for it, if you don't mind."
"Ya're a bard, eh? Any good?"
"To an extent. Let me play and you can decide then." Sindagil began to unpack his harp.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, listen up here!", the innkeep shouted. "This here traveller is gonna play for his supper. Hope ya appreciate it. Its been a long time since we've had any entertainment here." He turned his attention back to Sindagil. "I'll bring ya a mug to wet the mouth, one might say. Just a moment." He turned away and walked out through a door into the kitchen.
Sindagil pulled out his harp and lovingly caressed it. It was the most beautiful instrument he had even seen, even better than the one he had stolen from the Dragon Emperor years and years ago. He pretended to tune the instrument until the innkeep returned, fiddling with the knobs intently, but changing nothing.
"Here ya go lad." The innkeep pushed a big wooden mug of ale towards him across the worn bar. It scraped slightly and a small amount of ale spilled and dribbled down the side.
Sindagil picked the mug up in one hand, holding the harp in the other, and quaffed the whole thing down at once. He thumped it back onto the counter and grinned at the innkeeper who grinned back. And slowly Sindagil began to play, getting the feel of the instrument and of the crowd. And as the crowd quieted and listened he broke into a lively melody and began to sign an old rowdy song he knew. The crowd knew it too. For the rest of the evening Sindagil played. He listened to requests, and those he knew he gave. Others he improvised as best he could. The innkeep kept him liberally supplied with ale, and halfway through the evening he took a break to eat a heaping bowl of broth and a meaty leg of lamb. As the evening passed, Sindagil grew into the harp and played better and better. Early in the evening he surpassed anything he had played before, and by the end he was playing at a level he had heard only once in his life, when the bard Eolyn had played for the Emperor in Kyndar. And finally, as the evening wore down, he played one last song, just for himself. He played an old song of love he knew. It was wordless, with the upper and lower registers of the harp each representing one partner of the pair. Each had his or her own melody and he had practised for years to gain a passable mastery of this tune. That night he played it perfectly, in fact heavenly. He lost himself in it, and for the first time felt its true meaning. When he finally finished, he was in tears, as were the remaining people in the inn. There was silence when he finished, and the crowd silently left, silent in their memory of the sounds of heaven they had just heard. The innkeeper waited a long time before he finally spoke to Sindagil. He didn't mention the song Sindagil had so recently played at all.
"Ya should rest now. There's a room ready ya can have. Come along, ah'll show it to ya. And here...", he passed Sindagil a large wooden bowl full of coins of various shapes and metals, "...it was gathered throughout the evening for ya. Now come along, it's late."
Sindagil followed the innkeeper up the stairs behind the bar towards the rooms above. He remembered the song he had just played and the story it represented. In the song, the lovers died separate, seeking one another but fated never to see each other again. Oh Isilya, he silently vowed, we will not suffer such a fate, we will be together soon, soon my love.
Sindagil was awakened from his reverie by the innkeeper, "Here's ya room. All cleaned up and ready for ya. Ah've taken the cost from ya earnings already. The meals on the house." He reached down and lit the candle in the room from the candle he was carrying. "Ah'll see ya in the morning now. Good night."
The innkeeper left the room and pulled the door shut behind him. The room was small and contained only a rough wooden bed with a straw filled mattress, and a small chest at its foot. The candle was on the chest. There was barely room to stand with the bed in the room. It was covered with a thick wool quilt, somewhat plain and dirty which had seen better days. Sindagil lowered himself gingerly onto the bed. The playing had made him forget his soreness but it was still there.
Tomorrow, Isilya, he thought to himself, tomorrow I will come.
And soon Sindagil was asleep.
Sindagil was awoken by the sun shining through the open window onto his face. It was late morning. With only a little difficulty, Sindagil sat up in bed and remembered the past few days. He turned to look out the window and saw the castle he had been seeking for so long. "Isilya", he whispered. He got stiffly out of bed and began to stretch his aching muscles, he hadn't had time yesterday, and he would need all his skill soon. After only a few minutes the stiffness was gone and Sindagil began to dress. He poured the bowl containing the money he had earned last night into a pouch which he hung on his waist, along with a second pouch which contained his tools, in case he needed them. Then he opened the door and walked down into the common room.
"Good morn to ya. Slept well?"
"Better than for days, thank you. Is there anything left for breakfast, or am I too late?"
"Too late? Why it be nearly lunch. Sit ya down and I'll be just a moment."
The innkeep walked off and Sindagil examined the common room. Last night he had been able to see only little due to the crowd. Now he could see that it was a large wood panelled room, with a high roof supported by roughly carved wooden rafters, a huge stone fireplace against one wall, and a long wooden bar along the adjacent wall. There were brackets along the walls upon which lanterns could be hung as needed. The floor was of worn wood, freshly swept and then sprinkled with sweet smelling straw. There were eight tables, some square and some round, most with five chairs, and the others with only one or two. There were no chairs by the bar. The room was empty except for a single man seated by the fireplace eating from a wooden bowl. He was dressed in fair quality leathers and wore a faded tan cloak about his shoulders. He was quite old, as what little hair he had left was grey, as was his rough beard almost a foot long that was trapped against his chest. An old wooden staff, topped by a band of metal, was leaning against the table beside him. Then the innkeep returned, carrying a wooden board upon which was a wooden bowl and a mug.
"Here ya go, the house special. The ale's on the house.", he said as he placed the meal before Sindagil.
"Thank you. And that'll be...?"
"Four silver and a half sir."
Sindagil reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of coins. He counted out two square and three round silver coins and handed them to the innkeep, "Is this sufficient?"
"Much so, sir. Thank ya. May ya be blessed before the Gods."
The innkeep turned to leave but Sindagil interrupted. "Who is that seated over there?"
"Him?", the innkeep asked, motioning towards the other occupied table with a gnarled and worn hand.
The innkeep leaned down conspiratorially to Sindagil and whispered, "That's old Fengal. He's mad, ya know. Every day he comes in here, eats a meal, and leaves. Speaks nair a word. He lives in a hut at the edge of town. Just sits outside it all day, summer, winter, rain, sun. Hasn't spoken for, must be almost 15 years now."
The innkeep leaned even closer and whispered in Sindagil's ear so quitely that Sindagil could barely hear him. "He use ta serve Mattugur."
"Shh... He was seneschal until Mattugur took his only daughter. His wife killed herself the next day, but he remained with Mattugur until he found out what Mattugur did with his daughter."
"No one knows. All we know is that the next morning he just walked out of that castle like a zombie. Built himself his hut and never spoke another word. The villagers and I feed him, give him clothes when he needs them, but otherwise just leave him alone."
"Can't you help him?"
"If Mattugur ever found out...", he shuddered and then turned away.
Sindagil watched Fengal while he ate. The meal was indeed delicious, although it could have used just a touch of salt, consisting of bits of meat, vegetables and herbs cooked in a broth of some sort. The ale, however, was overly spicy and tasted sour. Sindagil was just finishing when Fengal got up and left. Sindagil watched him go.
Sindagil sat a while, sipping the ale slowly, plotting what to do next. He needed to get into the castle and find Isilya. He couldn't stay in the village too long, else he would arose suspicion. And he needed to know where to start to look. Castles could be huge inside even if they looked small, and from experience he knew what a maze of passages and rooms one could be. He could change his shape and check it out that way, but Mattugur might detect the magic. He could, at least, look it over today before leaping into it. And he had another thought. Maybe Fengal would be able to help. It was unlikely, but it never hurt to try. Sindagil got up out of his chair to leave.
"Going already?", the barkeep asked.
"I'm just going to wander a bit, take a look around and stretch my limbs."
"Why don't ya visit Lydher while ya're about. Ya can get some half decent clothes from her."
Sindagil looked down at the ripped clothing he was wearing from yesterday. He had nothing else. Sindagil laughed, "Certainly, I could sure use it. Good day to you."
"And to ya."
Sindagil left The Rooster's Rest and walked down the only street in the village. It consisted of hard packed dirt, and here and there weeds grew out of it. Sindagil could see that the road left the village and eventually changed into the trail he had followed just a couple of days ago. But just before it left the village it branched, the other branch rising sharply upward to the castle. And Isilya. Sindagil walked a ways along it and remembered the dreams he had had of her. They had been so brief, and yet had created so much. He was halfway up to the castle before he realised what he was doing. Not yet, he thought. Tonight, Isilya, tonight.
Sindagil walked back down the road and at the base of the hill upon which the castle sat turned off the road and began to walk around the castle. For the first time he examined it carefully. It was a huge stone structure, as was to be expected, old and worn like the rock upon which it stood. That meant that the walls would be easy to climb. Good. It was fairly small, with a single large tower serving as a gate house, and the outer wall being only 300' or so in length, with only six other towers along it. The outer wall was joined with the inner keep, which consisted of 3 larger towers which rose above the outer wall. He imagined that they were joined by another wall that was hidden from him. Rising from the inner tower furthest from the gate was a thin tower that rose far above it, being twice as high as any of the other towers. There were a few windows along its height but clearly the only room in it was at the very top. At the top were four openings, all of equal height, all equally spaced about the tower. The tower was roofed with slate.
Sindagil remembered that tower from his dreams. Isilya was held in the room at the very top, waiting for him each time he came. She must be there now. But it was a hell of a long climb to the top, and there was no way that she could make it down the wall. They would have to pass along the stairs within the tower and make their way from the castle through the gatehouse which was the only entrance.
Sindagil stopped walking when he reached a quickly running stream. He visually followed its course up the hill and saw that it sprung out from the base of the rock upon which the castle sat. He crouched down by the stream and drank the cool water. A fish watched him from below. Then he sat down on the hill beside the stream and looked down into the village. The stream flowed down the hill towards the village and flowed into a large pond. The pond was created by a dam by a millhouse, and the water flowed down a wooden flue and turned the waterwheel with its force. He watched as someone left the mill carrying a huge bag upon his shoulders. The man was dressed in faded linen and was bowed beneath the weight of the sack. Probably flour ground from the harvested wheat.
The town itself consists of 20 or so buildings, one the mill, two religious buildings, one probably to Gaenan, the inn, a few smaller wooden buildings, and plenty of tiny mud huts. Most of the structures had a small garden about them. There were a few people in the village, but most were further away in the fields on the other side, harvesting the last of that year's crops. He looked back at the village and searched around it. Now, where would Fengal be? He searched until he finally found it, a hut, worse than any of the others, about a quarter mile from the rest of the village. There was a boy watching some sheep graze nearby, by no one else. Fengal was presumably inside. He lightly jumped across the stream and began to walk down the hill towards the village. He would have to visit Fengal, but first he would see about some clothes. What was it the innkeep had said? Lydger? No, it was Lydher. He would have to ask where she was.
It didn't take Sindagil long to walk back down the hill and into the village. He had barely entered it when one of the farmers met him.
"Good day to ya, minstrel. Have a pleasant eve?"
"Certainly. You have a marvellous inn."
"We pride ourselves upon it.", he said, beaming with pride.
"You should. Anyway, I'm looking for someone. I wonder if you could help?"
"The innkeep suggested I see someone called Lydher. About clothing you know. I could use some new ones."
"That ya could. Lydher's working in her garden. If ya want, I could lead ya to her."
"That would be much appreciated." Sindagil followed the man as he walked through the village towards one of the larger buildings.
"Ya sure can play. Ah've never heard such music."
"I'm not that good."
"Don't berate yourself. Ya shouldn't need to travel to places like this. Ya should play for kings."
"I have, but I prefer just to wander. Never knowing where I will be the next day, seeing as much of the land as I can."
"Now that's an attitude we rarely see. Its good to know that some have it." Suddenly the man grabbed Sindagil and pulled him behind the house they were passing. Sindagil could hardly see him in the dense shadow. "Ya must go, now. Before Mattugur hears about you."
"He'll send his guard down and drag ya to his castle a kicking and a screaming. And ya'll never come back. No one ever has."
"Not a soul."
"Anything but a soul. He takes them, and uses them. No one knows for what. Occasionally one comes back down, but they never speak. The walk around like they was mad, and eventually they drown or vanish into the woods." Suddenly he yanked them back into the sun. "Lydher's just back there.", he pointed towards the building across the path. "Just walk around and ya'll see her." He leaned over to Sindagil and whispered, "You must leave now, while ya still whole!" He turned to leave, "Good luck to ya then." The man walked away, nervous, as though he thought someone was watching. Sindagil turned away and walked across the street. His soul. Should he just leave? Forget Isilya, Mattugur and this whole thing. He stopped in the middle. He couldn't. Oh Isilya, I will come. Tonight I will come.
Sindagil walked around the building and did indeed see a woman working in a garden. She was very tall, old and wrinkled, and, unusually, very fat. She was dressed in rough-spun wool along with a cloth apron which might once have been white. She was kneeling in the dirt digging around a large grown tomato plant.
"Excuse me?" Ponderously she turned to face him, saying nothing. "Are you Lydhar?"
"Quite certainly I am, or at least I was last time I checked. You play very well you know, I heard you last night."
"I'm not all that good, really."
"Whatever you say. You want new clothes, do you?"
"That obvious?", he asked, looking at what remained of his clothing.
"Just a wild guess. Well come in, I'll see what I can dig up for you." She heaved herself up and slowly walked into the building. Sindagil followed. She held open a thick wooden door as he entered and then let go of it. It slammed shut.
"How does it do that? Magic?"
"Who needs such things. The house is tilted. Anyway, you just stand right there and I'll be back with some things in a moment."
Sindagil waited patiently for Lydhar to return. The room he was in was fairly large, clean and well kept. Against one wall there was a cupboard, dust free and closed. The shutters around the windows on the other walls were open letting the cool fall air into the room. He could hear a single robin singing.
Bang. Sindagil was awakened from his memorisation of his surroundings by Lydhar returning and slamming the door behind her. She was carrying a big wicker basket of clothing which she dropped in front of him. "Now get those rags off and I'll see what I have."
"Don't give me any of that. I've seen it all years ago. Men." She began to root through the basket, neatly piling most of the clothing to one side, but throwing a few items over her shoulder.
Sindagil shrugged and undressed himself. While he was doing so he asked, "You're not from around here, are you."
"Nope. Came in with my husband years ago. He came to Kymeril, wooed me, and dragged me off here. Couldn't stand my parents."
"Nope. Me. Now here, try this." She held up a pair of tanned leather pants, fairly old, but finely sewed together and very, very, soft. He tried them on.
"What happened to him?"
"I presume Rodwin is your husband."
"Was. Died almost six years gone. The pox got him."
"Couldn't the priestesses of Luani help?"
Sindagil didn't know what to say to that, so he just continued putting on the pants. He had to remember he was beyond The World. Here the mages had the power, not the Gods. Maybe that explained the primitiveness too. Finally he finished.
Lydhar looked at him critically. "Well, they look a bit loose."
"Don't worry about it."
"Now, now, none of that. I'll tighten them for you." She pinched the looseness at his thighs. "About that much. Now got them off and try some of these shirts." She put a pile of plain wool pullovers down beside him. "I'll be back in a minute." She turned and left.
Now where had she gone? Ah well. Sindagil pulled the pants off and tossed them on the floor. Now, which shirt? The shirts were generally the same, mostly plain, but one was dyed a dark red, almost black. The other had flowers embroidered in it. Definitely not that one. Sindagil picked up the dark red shirt and pulled it over his head. The wool itched but it was clean and warm. The itching stopped just as Lydhar returned carrying a needle and thread.
"Looks good on you. Now just you wait and I'll get these things fixed." She reached down and picked up the pants. "Hmph. Just like a man, just toss it down for the wife to pick up.", she mumbled to herself. Sindagil watched silently as she quickly pulled in the pants. Then she handed them back. "Try them now." Sindagil pulled them from her hand and begin to pull them on. "Well, at least you're in good shape.", Lydhar said as she watched.
"Walking all day does that to you."
"An awful lot of scars on you too."
"An overzealous youth.", Sindagil snapped back.
Lydhar laughed. A pleasant sound which filled the room with its roar. Sindagil couldn't help but smile as he finished pulling on the pants.
Lydhar looked him over. She walked around him once, and then twice, scratching her chin with her left hand ever so often. Finally she said, "It'll do. But it should be tightened just a bit..."
"This is more then fine. I think you for it." Sindagil reached down to the pouch he had put on the floor earlier to get out some coins to pay her.
"Don't bother, they're free. Consider them my thanks for last night. Now be gone, I've more important things to do."
"Thank-you then Lydhar. Enjoy your gardening." Sindagil turned and walked from the room.
"Oh I probably will. I've done it all summer." This brought another smile to Sindagil as he left her house.
By this time it was late afternoon as Sindagil walked down the street. Now what? Then he remembered. Fengal. He hurried the rest of the way to where he remembered the hut being. He had little trouble finding it, even though he had only seen it from a height. He had done the same kind of thing back home for years. It was only a few minutes before he arrived.
Fengal's hut was generally as described. It was a small sod building, but the sod had grown so that practically a forest covered it. The only entrance was a hole hacked in the vegetation. There was no covering. There was no smoke or fire inside. And, as described, Fengal was sitting in front of the hut. He was sitting flat on his ass, his elbows on his knees, and his chins resting in his dirty, almost black, hands. Totally oblivious to Sindagil's presence he was just staring off into space. Sindagil looked behind him in the direction Fengal starred and saw the castle. It figures, he thought.
"Fengal?", Sindagil asked, trying to get his attention.
"Fengal." This time Sindagil demanded.
Fengal just starred at the castle.
Sindagil leaned down and grabbed Fengal by the shoulders and looked straight into his face. "Notice me, damn you!"
Fengal focused on Sindagil.
"That's better." Sindagil said, releasing him.
"He has you, you know."
"He's playing you like a fish. Drawing you closer and closer."
"He's coming for you. You can't escape. He'll have you, forever and ever." Fengal giggled. "A fish in a bowl for her."
"What are you talking about?"
"She's there, and she's there. Waiting. Oh, my poor Luvari. And tonight you'll arrive. She's been waiting so, so long." He giggled some more.
"For years and years. Soon you'll join me." He broke into an insane cackle. Then he suddenly stopped, and starred right through Sindagil at the castle behind.
Sindagil spun around at the sound from behind him. There were two men, both armoured in chainmail, each with a red surcoat. They both wore tall, plumed helmets, the plumes consisting of stiff horse hair dyed, alternately red and white. One carried a halberd, and one was armed with a sword, which was still scabbarded.
"You will come with us."
"Mattugur has invited you to dinner with him. Tonight. You will come now."
"I need my harp."
"It is waiting for you. Follow us." Neatly, militarily, they spun around and begin to walk towards the castle.
The man with the sword turned his head so that he was facing straight back, like an owl, while still marching. "You wouldn't want to get Mattugur mad, would you?" He turned his head back around and kept walking.
Well, he wanted to reach the castle anyway, Sindagil thought. What were those guards? They looked human. Ah well, it wasn't as though he had much of a choice. He jogged until he caught up with them and then walked behind them. He might as well enjoy his honour guard, it was the first one he had ever had.
Sindagil looked up at the castle, looming ever higher before him. Well Isilya, here I come, not as I'd planned, but at least I'm there. Tonight Isilya, tonight. We shall finally be together, no matter what Mattugur does.
The guards never said anything, and never turned to look at Sindagil as he followed them to the keep. The only sound that he could hear was their and his own footsteps on the gravel. Even the birds were silent around them. It was a long time in the silence until the trio finally arrived at the gates to the castle which loomed up before them. The keep was made of a pinkish-grey stone, each block being nearly the size of a man, and all of the blocks identical. There was no mortar, but the blocks fit together so well that one had to search for the joints. Fortunately the surface was rough so the wall would be easy to climb. The gate itself was a huge oaken drawbridge that lowered itself as they approached to bridge the ditch that had been dug around the castle. The guard's shoes rang hollowly on the wood as they marched. Sindagil could see no other guards around them although he could almost feel their gaze upon his back. When he turned to check there was no one there.
The passage through the gate house was long and narrow. It wound around and around within the tower doubling back on itself twice until it finally exited into the courtyard. It was barely wide enough for two men to walk abreast. Sindagil was acutely aware of the frequent holes in the ceiling above and was glad he wasn't attacking the castle openly.
The outer courtyard was bounded by the gate house, two sections of the outer wall, two larger inner towers, and four sections of inner wall. There were two buildings along the outer wall, one to each side of the gatehouse. The one to the right was a stables, although he couldn't see any animals kept there, and the left was a smithy, also apparently disused. Curious. He could see Isilya's tower looming above him atop the inner keep. The inner keep itself was constructed of a different grey stone, and consisted of a single triangular building cornered by three large towers. There were no windows in the lower floors and only small slits in the upper. The stones used to construct this section were so finely fit that Sindagil could see no joints at all, and when they walked through the open entrance into the inner keep he ran his finger along the wall and could not even feel a joint.
It was only a short walk through the inner wall into the keep. The room Sindagil entered was two stories tall, roughly triangular in shape, and walled in fine woods. The roof was also wooden and was supported by huge oaken beams below which hung, apparently suspended in the air, glowing yellow spheres which were the only source of light in the Great Hall. At the far end was a large marble fireplace, currently unlit. As Sindagil entered the room, the two guards who had escorted him turned and left, one passing to either side. Their departure revealed a large round table in the middle of the room and at it were set two places, one with its back to the entrance to the outer court, and the other directly opposite the first. The table was of bare wood, highly polished with the edges finely carved. The chairs were built of wood likewise, but were backed, and a thick red velvet cushion lined the seat and the back of each chair.
Standing across the table from Sindagil watching him was a tall man dressed in a seamless robe of red velvet.
The robes long, heavy sleeves were edged in white, as was the robes neck and hem. It was tied at the waist with a dark green sash, from which was suspended a high quality leather pouch, its outside surface beaded into the shape of a pentagram within a circle. The figure's head was bare except for a few wisps of blond hair. The man wearing these clothes looked fairly young, in fact he looked about 30. His face was clean shaven and unlined, his hands, which were placed upon the table in front of him, were dark and worn, although they were still smooth. The face was deep set, with the eyes peering from a virtual chasm, and the nose piercing from between them. The cheeks were boldly sketched, and sharply triangular in shape with the edges only slightly rounded. The chin itself was the dominate part of the face, as it was long and jutted far out, farther out even than the long pointed nose. The mouth was softly closed.
Mattugur. Finally they were together, although Sindagil had seen him many times in his dreams. He was careful to show no recognition as he examined the mage. This was the enemy. This was the imprisoner. This was Mattugur.
"Welcome minstrel, welcome to my humble abode. I heard of the skill you displayed last night and decided to invite you here. The tales of your playing are surely exaggerated."
"Such hostility, but we have hardly met. Come, be seated. I have held dinner for your arrival. I am Mattugur, the ruler of the village of Rynford and the region around it. And you are?"
"I am named Rhyfeltyn, of Yarvindil.", Sindagil responded, remembering the hero of stories he had read to pass the time in recent years. "I wish only that my humble skills will please you."
"Well said, now be seated, for dinner is served."
Saying this, Mattugur pulled out his chair and sat down before his plate. Sindagil did likewise, putting the harp down beside him. Then he heard footsteps to his left and turned to see who it was. It was dinner. Two silver plates were being born to the table by two women. The plates were each of silver and enclosed in a silver handled dome. It was the women however who drew the eye. The were perfectly formed, the ultimate dream of any man. They were even more beautiful than the fey he had met upon his arrival in this world. Both were identical. But they were obviously not human, for they were both of an identical brown colour. Their skin, their eyes, even their hair as it rustled about their back, for it extended to their waists, was the same wooden brown. And as they approached it was obvious why. They were carved of wood. Even as their knees bent, as their chest moved in and out as they breathed, as the wooden hair rustled, as their eyes blinked, they were simply carved and polished wood. Sindagil just starred, astonished.
"Amazing, aren't they?", Mattugur asked.
"Incredible, where did you get them."
"I made them years ago. I became tired of the frailties of human servants. These are so much more efficient, and more pleasing to the eye, don't you think so?"
Sindagil couldn't respond as the one approached him, lifted the cover from the platter she carried and soundlessly set a silver plate down before him.
"Better than a human wife, aren't they. Perfectly formed, perfectly obedient, and perfectly silent."
Upon the polished silver there was a wondrous meal. There was a large piece of meat, done perfectly to Sindagil's liking and drenched in a rich brown gravy. The aroma that wafted from it Sindagil recognised as deer. Around the meat there were various vegetables, some carrots chopped and mixed with whole mushrooms, and draped in melting butter. There were also two large buns, cooked and cut open, their dry heat mixing with the aroma of the meat. More butter could be seen melting on them. Beside the plate Sindagil's waitress placed a fine crystal goblet almost too thin to exist, within which there was a translucent red wine. It was perfectly still, without motion. It had been carried perfectly still, and placed before Sindagil perfectly still.
"So what do you think of my servants?"
Sindagil could barely think as the amazing odours of the meal before him wafted up into his nostrils, but he was finally able to respond. "Unbelievable."
"Almost magic you would say, wouldn't you?"
"Definitely, obviously magic. The most incredible piece of magic I have ever seen."
"Why thank you, I pride myself on my craftsmanship."
Mattugur began to eat, but Sindagil only stared at his, afraid of what it might contain hidden from his gaze.
"Well dig in, its perfectly harmless, I assure you." Mattugur's voice turned cold. "If I had wanted you dead, you would have been dead long ago, I assure you."
Sindagil dug into his meal and it tasted as wonderful as it looked. There was a silence for a long time as both ate, but after a while Mattugur spoke again.
"So what brings you to my small kingdom. We rarely see travellers of your skill." The warmth was back in the mage's voice.
Sindagil slowly chewed his mouthful thinking up a response. "I just wander, here, there, and about. I've no plan about where I go, I just go where I go."
"So rare and wonderful, such freedom. So many rush about their lives trying to do this or that, and so rarely achieving it. And here I thought you had come to see someone, a lover perhaps?"
Sindagil showed none of his astonishment in his face, but kept slowly eating. Lover? Isilya? Mattugur couldn't know. Finally Sindagil responded, "No, I just wandered here, no particular purpose in mind."
"I'm told you were attacked by bandits."
Good, a safer subject. "I was. They snuck up on me as I slept. I was awoken by an owl hooting and was fortunately able to fight my way to freedom, although I lost most of my possessions. Why don't you do something about them?"
"I've tried for years, but have had little luck. Some people in the village support them, and they have the aid of a strong sorcerer. He shields the bandit's, and those who aid them, from me."
He must mean that old man, what was his name? Right, Anwyn. But he wouldn't tell Mattugur that, anything that caused Mattugur problems was good. "All I saw was a few figures that were cloaked and hooded. In the morning light I could see almost nothing of their faces."
"They always work like that, but eventually they will make a mistake. Rest assured of that. And when they do, I will be there to make an end of it." Mattugur's voice turned cold as he said those words.
Now why would he be annoyed? Does he actually care for the villagers? "Do they cause much trouble?"
"Only to strangers, local people they ignore. But they stop trade. They stop visitors. They cause inefficiencies."
"For years I have ruled here. I have created better agricultural tools, I have given them better grain." Mattugur slowly rose from the table, passion taking over his voice. "I have brought in teachers to teach the young. I heal those who are sick, I repair those who are injured. I even work towards more efficient man!" The last line was shouted. But then, with a visible effort, Mattugur slowly seated himself, the rage draining from his face. He was quiet for a moment as Sindagil watched, and then he finally spoke, his voice once again slow and calm, "But enough of my troubles, I brought you to play." Mattugur made another motion with his right hand and one of the creatures that had served them came in carrying Sindagil's harp.
"Do you have any special requests?" Sindagil asked as he took the harp from the thing that carried it.
"Yes, just one. I heard it many, many years ago in my youth, and I still hear the words in my head now and then. I beleive that it is, or at least was, called Aderyn and Rhyfelic"
To Sindagil's amazement he actually knew it. He had come across it years ago in an old tome he had recently acquired and decided to learn it to provide something unusual for him to play. It would make him memorable as a bard, and distract from suspicion that he might be a thief. "I know it."
"You do? You are certain?"
"I read it years ago in a book my master had."
"Wait a moment before you begin, please." Sindagil waited while Mattugur motioned with his right hand once again, and once again one of the creatures who had served them dinner came. This time, however, she carried a harp of her own.
"Is she to play with me?", Sindagil asked.
"No, she is to learn from you. Play the song, sing its words. As you do so she will ape your every movement, and sing every word just as you do, although silently. Then she will be able to play it for all time. For the gift of that song alone I thank you. Now play." Mattugur sank into his chair. The wooden creature pulled up a chair of her own and sat beside Sindagil, facing him. "Please play."
And Sindagil began to. First he ran his fingers across the stings and quietly plucked the beginning few notes of the song. The creature did exactly as he did, but no sound came from the harp. Sindagil stopped, and it did likewise. Strange. He plucked the highest A string and watched as it did just as he did. It still made no sound.
"Enough!", Mattugur interrupted. "Everything you do, she will do. And every time she plays the piece, she will do everything you do, including the fiddling you're doing now. Play!"
Sindagil stopped. He didn't want to antagonise Mattugur. He licked his lips together, and so did the creature, and he began to play.
At first he played a bit hesitantly, but as he lost himself in the music, he forgot about the thing beside him, and played beautifully. The song of Aderyn and Rhyfelic, as Sindagil had seen in that old book, was extremely long, consisting of almost 900 lines of song, along with substantial additional music. It also was not an easy song to play, and had taken Sindagil almost a year to master. He almost gave up a dozen times, but the music sang to him and he came to love it almost as much as he loved the art of burglary. Playing was challenging, but in a different way, and this song was the longest, and one of the most challenging he had ever seen. It was not that it was incredibly beautiful, or incredibly fast, it was just that the melody wouldn't go away. It would stay in the mind forever. Even as you played, the memory of the melody was so strong that it had often confused him as he kept playing the song. But that he had overcome. And now it was worth the effort.
Mattugur sat quietly throughout the entire tale which consisted of the love between Aderyn and Rhyfelic, and their pursuit of it. They were born far away from each other, and would not have met except for a bet between a god and a goddess. Sildaya, the twin goddess of love and war, bet with Tarkrin, the god of battle, that any two mortals that he would pick, provided that they were male and female, she could make fall in love, without magically making them love each other. This Tarkrin took as a challenge. He selected Aderyn, the aged wife of a banker in the city of San-Tu, and the youth Rhyfelic, a slave in the galleys of the Syndic League. Sildaya began the love affair by transporting Aderyn into the dreams of Rhyfelic. There, she, her youth returned by the power of Sildaya, sang to Rhyfelic and charmed him into loving her.
She too fell in love with Rhyfelic as Rhyfelic was enhanced in her eyes by Sildaya. Then they both woke up. Rhyfelic escaped from the galleys and searched the world for Aderyn, learning the skills of a rogue and bard to aid in his quest. Aderyn woke up, killed her husband, and fled San-Tu with her husbands substantial wealth. The song continued, describing their many adventures in their search, as they were aided by Sildaya, who had won the bet, and frustrated by Tarkrin who desired to punish them for losing him the bet. Finally they met as the two ships they were on landed at the same island in the Andavi Sea seeking water, although the storms raised by Tarkrin nearly sunk both ships before they reached the island. Rhyfelic and Aderyn finally met, both still in the prime of their youth, this preserved by Sildaya, and would have lived years after as man and wife except for Tarkrin's final rage. In a storm that lasted for a full six months, and lashed the island with monstrous wave after monstrous wave, Tarkrin sought to destroy the two who had cheated him. But finally, as only a single rock that had once been the highest mountain on the island remained, about to be overwhelmed with the final wave that Tarkrin could raise, larger by far than any other, Sildaya transformed the two lovers into the first dolphins, so that they would live together forever in the oceans, freed from Tarkrin's wrath.
When Sindagil finally finished, he slowly put down his harp and looked at Mattugur. Mattugur, the mighty mage who had enslaved Rynford, who had imprisoned Isilya. Mattugur the mage who now had tears rolling down his face as he stared at the blank wall behind Sindagil. The silence rolled on, Sindagil not daring to make any move to break the atmosphere until Mattugur finally waved the wooden woman away.
"You shall stay here for the night, and tomorrow you shall be well gifted for what you have done for me. Follow her", Mattugur pointed towards the other carved woman who had entered while Sindagil watched Mattugur, "and she will lead you to your chambers. Good night, and thank-you."
Upon the utterance of these words, Mattugur pushed his chair back, the legs scraping on the flagstone floor, stood up and left. Sindagil stood up and walked towards the other wooden creature. When he was within arms length of her, she turned and walked through another door from the chamber. Sindagil followed her down a hall, through the lower level of one of the towers, and up to a privy. He stopped and used it. The thing leading him kept walking for a moment, then stopped, looked around, and then just stood and stared at him as he relieved himself. When he was finished, he got up, and then she began walking, and he followed again. They left the tower and entered a stairwell, the stairs of which wound around and around a centre pillar, past a landing and out onto another level of the tower, past another privy, and down another hallway. He followed her as she walked down the hallway to the only door on the left which she turned and opened. There she stood.
Sindagil walked up to the door and looked inside. Within there was a large L-shaped chamber. It was lit by a small glowing yellow-blue sphere beside which there was a large metal dome which could, he surmised, be used to cover the light. Both of these sat upon a small, plain wooden table at the foot of a large bed, the bed almost filling the one wing of the room. The bed was large enough for an ogre to sleep on and had a mattress almost a foot thick covered with a thick velvet coated blanket, the velvet having birds of various types and sizes, although two swans were pre-eminent, embroidered upon it. The wooden end at the foot of the bed, which was facing him, was highly polished and was carved in the shape of two swans, one at either end, leaping from the water into flight. The head of the bed was similarly carved, above which was a small window looking out into the night. Against the wall beside the door there was a large chest, richly carved in floral designs, open, revealing the empty velvet lined interior. Sindagil walked in. The wooden thing pushed the heavy oak door shut behind him and Sindagil heard the click of the lock. Mattugur didn't trust him. And with good reason for he was finally free to find Isilya. He would wait, and soon he would leave, and then he would find her, and then they would live together happily, just as Aderyn and Rhyfelic eventually did.
Sindagil walked over and sat down on the bed. Now, which way should he go? He looked over the bed at the window beside it. There was no way he could get out of that, it was just too small. For a human. An eagle couldn't get up there, but a cat could. But then what? He crawled along the bed and peered out the window. It was indeed little more than a glorified arrow slit looking over the inner courtyard. From what he had seen outside, there was nothing but sheer wall to climb. A cat couldn't do it, although he could. But then, where would he be able to change back into human form? It would have to be the door. Oh well. He laid down and closed his eyes to rest. Over the years of his life he had practised until he could rest for a chosen time, and wake up, fresh and alert, at the time desired. He covered the light and went to sleep for two hours.
After two hours, no more and no less, Sindagil awoke. The room was still dark, and he could hear nothing from outside the door. No crickets, no nothing. Silently he turned his head and looked around the room. Good, it was empty. Sindagil slowly got off the bed. The feathers beneath him made not a sound. Then he crept along the walls to the door, he didn't want the wooden floor to creak. At the door he listened. Silence. Good, hopefully that meant there was no one outside it. He hoped not, otherwise he would have to try the window.
He reached into his pouch and got out a small flask of oil from which he dribbled a few drops onto the hinges of the door which were, as usual, on the room side. It never hurt to make sure that the hinges didn't squeek, even though they hadn't when he had entered the room. He then held the flask over the keyhole and dripped a little oil inside. More metal that could squeak. Then he returned the flask. From inside his pouch he pulled out a long, thin, brass wire, with an ornate hook at the end. He slowly pushed it into the lock and with a deft flick of his wrist heard the soft click as the lock was opened. He slowly pulled the pick from the lock and snugged it back away into its place inside the pouch and again listened at the door. For a long while he heard nothing. Good. Then he opened the latch and pulled the door open a crack, silently, revealing the darkened hallway outside. He cautiously peered around. It was empty. He pulled the door open a bit more and slipped through the crack. Then he closed it behind him. Click. The latch engaged.
Now, where to go? The hallway was dully lit by a single one of those glowing spheres along the centre of its far wall. He turned left, right only led back the way he had come, although he could go higher up the stairwell. But those stairs probably led only to the roof of the tower. He crept a short way down the passage, along the wall in which the door to his chambers was, and then saw that it opened up into another tower room, with another passage also entering the tower. Slowly, cautiously, he crept further along the wall, looking around constantly. There was still no one. Was Mattugur this lax?
It took him much longer than walking would have to finally arrive at the end of the hallway. The tower room it led to was empty and unlit. Another hallway led into the tower and Sindagil peered down it and saw that it was identical to the passageway he was in. And it was empty. Then he examined the tower room more closely. Two doors led from it, and between the doors there was an entrance to a stairwell leading up. Given that he was on the third floor, and if he was oriented correctly those stairs were just below the high tower that he had seen at the top of the castle. This was almost too easy. Sindagil crept along the wall of the tower, careful to stay off the centre of the wooden floor where it might creak, and slowly worked his way around to the stairwell. No one entered either hallway, or tried to open either door, or even came down the stairwell. Then he entered the stairwell and glided slowly up the stairs, always hugging the pillar about which the stairs wound. The stairway became darker as he left the feeble light in the hallways below and soon Sindagil could only feel his way up the cold stone stairs.
The darkness began to lighten from what must be a light source above and Sindagil slowed until he hardly moved. He listened for any sound but couldn't hear a thing. Where was everybody? Finally he saw the light source. It was another of those glowing spheres set at the top of the stairwell above a heavy wooden door. The door was barred and probably locked, and unguarded. Sindagil crept up to the door and slowly tried the latch. It too was locked. Where were the guards? This was getting too easy. It made Sindagil nervous. He listened at the door for a long while, but heard nothing. Not a sound behind, and not a sound below. Then he slowly pulled out the oil flask and dribbled some into the lock. He returned it and pulled out the same pick he had used before and with the same motion opened the lock. Then he returned the pick. Again he listened. Sill silence. Then, after a long pause, he put both hands on the wood barring the door and slowly lifted it from its sockets, carefully leaning it against the wall beside the door. He listened again. Still silence. It was almost as though Mattugur was letting him do this. But he couldn't be. He had always stopped his and Isilya's escape.
Hopefully the hinges on this door wouldn't creek. They too were on the inside where, this time, he couldn't get at them. He slowly let out a breath as he pushed the door silently open.
Beyond the door Sindagil could see that the tower room was, essentially, a curved hallway around the central stairwell. There were no lights in the room, but the pale moonlight shone in through large windows starkly revealing the room. To his left he could see the base of a small fireplace almost hidden from his view by the curvature of the chamber. There was nothing to his left. He looked at the window. It had shutters but they were wide open. Down the room, to the left, about a quarter of the way around, was another window. To the right, the same. There was probably a fourth window opposite the one he was facing. He could see no one. He stood still and listened. He couldn't hear the slightest noise. Good, there was still no one around. Sindagil carefully examined the moonlight shining in through the window. From its angle, it was still early in the morning. He still had two or three hours until dawn. Good. Now, which way to go? Both were the same. Well, right was always lucky.
Sindagil closed the door and slowly worked his way around the room, hugging the inner wall of the chamber. All he could see inside the chamber was the bare stone wall of the tower. There was no furniture, there were no hangings. The only thing he could see other than the tower was dirt and a few leaves. It was almost as though the tower was abandoned, unused. But then why was it locked?
Sindagil stopped at the second window, after 1/4 of a circle, and listened. He still heard nothing, so he crept on. He had almost made another 1/4 circle when, looking ahead of him, he saw an old wooden bed, with an old straw mattress. The bed ends were of plain, though rough, wood, and were clean, unlike the rest of the room. And upon the bed, lying there sound asleep, hugging the thread-bare wool blanket to her chin, was Isilya! Her pale, almond shaped face was quiet and calm in its sleep.
Sindagil was about to rush to her when he stopped himself. It could be a trap. This room was disused. He would go slowly, just in case. Sindagil crept past the privy that was long the inside wall but smelled nothing. He slowly moved around the bed and then stopped, standing just above Isilya's head which lay flat upon the straw mattress. He watched as the breath slowly passed in and out through her nose, a single strand of her unruly copper hair rustling in her breath. This had to be her. Sindagil could resist no longer. In true heroic style he leaned over and kissed her. He thought it was an appropriate way to wake her up.
Isilya's eyes fluttered open and Sindagil immediately clamped his left hand over her mouth, putting one finger of his right hand against his lips. "Shh..." Sindagil slowly pushed the air past and then, when he saw that she recognised him, he removed his hand.
"What?", she whispered.
Her whisper was loud in the silence he had embraced for so long. "Shh. Not now." He leaned close to her so that she could hear his almost silent whisper. "I am truly here. Now come, we must leave." Sindagil would have hugged her to him, but the hardest part was ahead. The both had to get out of the castle.
Isilya slowly got out of her bed, dressed only in a worn grey woollen robe. Sindagil held her tight against him. A few seconds couldn't hurt. After a moment, still holding her tight, he whispered in her ear, "We must leave. Follow me, and do exactly what I do. Say not a word and move as quietly as you can. Now follow." He looked down at her feet. Good, they were bare. Nothing to make extra noise.
They slowly walked the rest of the way around the tower room, Sindagil leading, silent as a cat, and Isilya following, making only a little noise. They slowly passed the dirty, dusty, long disused fireplace. Curious, thought Sindagil, maybe Isilya hasn't been here long. They made it to the door and Sindagil motioned Isilya to stop. He listened. And heard nothing. Good. He got out his oil flask and oiled this door too. He had always gotten a smile over that - he always left the building he robbed in better shape than he had entered it. Slowly he opened the door revealing the dark staircase going down. There was no one there. He began walking again, and again, silent as a mouse, Isilya followed. At least she wasn't making too much noise Sindagil thought.
They crept, together, through the darkening stairwell, and then into the burgeoning light from the landing below. Sindagil motioned Isilya to stop and she did. He went on down the stairs alone until he could peer around the central pillar onto the landing. It was still lit, and he could still see no one. Good. In fact, perfect. He didn't like it. He crept back up to Isilya and motioned her to follow him down and she did. They stopped at the landing. Now, which way to go.
He turned to Isilya and whispered, "I don't suppose you can climb a wall?"
She shook her head.
Ah well, through the castle it would be then. Again, Sindagil motioned Isilya to follow him as he crept down the left-hand passage that he had came down before. They both stayed near the wall and off the centre of the floor. When they arrived at the room Sindagil had used, he motioned Isilya to stop. She did as he slowly pushed the door open and crept in. He wouldn't leave the harp behind.
It took him only a moment to get it and strap its case securely to his side, and then they crept down the hall into the other tower room. Sindagil stopped and looked down the stairwell. Good, he could still see no one. He advanced again, and again Isilya followed. Slowly they went down the stairs, Sindagil walking 5 paces ahead carefully scrutinising the stairs ahead for guards or other persons. He saw no one. They arrived at the tower's second story without difficulty. Again Sindagil motioned Isilya to stop as he crept onto the balcony and peered across the stone railing down into the great hall where he had played for Mattugur. It was still brightly lit as it had been before. The table was bare, the chairs neatly pushed against it. The room was empty.
Sindagil returned to Isilya and they resumed their passage out of the keep. They slowly descended the rest of the stairwell and entered the tower's bottom floor. Sindagil checked it first to make sure it was empty. They crept through it, Isilya's feet softly slapping on the stone floor. Then they went down the passage Sindagil had used earlier and stopped in front of the door into the great hall. Sindagil silently listened at it and heard nothing. He would have oiled it too but the hinges were on the other side.
Sindagil pushed the door silently open and slowly searched the room for any occupants but found none. He silently drifted into the great hall, Isilya following. After she had entered he oiled the hinges and closed the door. Together they slipped along the wall of the great hall, around the protrusion of the tower into the triangular room, and finally reached the main entrance. The single set of double doors were closed, the dark oak barring their passage. Sindagil stopped at the doors and pressed his ears against them and listened. And still he heard nothing. Where was everybody? Carefully Sindagil lifted the great oak board that held the doors shut, and leaned it against the wall beside him. He did it slowly and carefully, taking great care not to let its heavy weight bang or drag across the stone floor. Then he oiled the hinges of the left door and then opened it slightly and looked into the courtyard. He could see no one in the moonlit area. The two buildings against the outer wall were dark and silent, like the rest of the castle.
He pushed the door open a bit more and slipped through it, making room for Isilya to follow. Then he pushed it closed, slowly so that it wouldn't make a sound as it shut. Now for the hard part. There was really no where to hide in the courtyard, unless one went around its perimeter. Sindagil looked up, it was getting late. He estimated that almost two hours had passed since he had found Isilya in the tower. The moon would soon set, swiftly followed by the rising sun. They didn't have time to go around. Sindagil waited by the door, cautiously, slowly becoming worried. He was waiting for the moon to pass behind a cloud so as to darken the courtyard, but if it didn't soon they would have to go anyway. He waited a little longer. Damn. Well nothing for it.
He turned to Isilya and whispered, "We have to get across the courtyard. Don't run, walk swiftly but carefully taking large steps. I'll go first. Don't follow until I reach the gate house."
Sindagil turned and looked back into the courtyard. He swiftly scanned the walls and towers around it to look for guards but couldn't see any. Damn, where were they? Well, nothing for it. He waited a second, and then carefully rushed across the courtyard, walking carefully but quickly, and taking large, carefully placed steps. He reached the corner of the gatehouse, where the tower met with the one inner wall, and stopped. And listened. There was still silence. Good. He turned to Isilya and motioned for her to come.
Sindagil watched as she dashed across the courtyard, and winced every time her bare feet slapped against the cobblestones. At least she was graceful, he thought, as he watched her pale form, leaping from step to step like a dancer, as she rushed across the courtyard. Then she arrived at his side, still breathing easily, not tired at all. Good. He motioned for her to stay and then slipped along the wall of the gatehouse to the entrance. It too was closed. Ah well. He oiled its hinges too. Then he listened. Nothing. This was the worst part. There were probably a hundred guards crouching above the murder holes waiting for them to pass. Nothing for it. He couldn't get into the tower to stop them, and even if he could, if they were there, they would certainly overpower him. He carefully removed the bar from the door and pulled it open a crack and peered inside. It was empty, as expected. He motioned for Isilya to come over and as she did he slipped into the passage and flattened himself against the right wall. He waited until Isilya was at the entrance and then began to slip along the wall, pressing his body tight against it, hopefully out of sight of the murder holes. She slipped in behind him and pulled the door shut behind her. Good, she was learning.
Together they slowly slipped through the gate passage. Inch by inch they pushed themselves along. Sindagil was constantly aware of the holes in the ceiling above, constantly expecting a shout, and a hail of stones and arrows. But nothing ever came. Slowly they slipped down the passage, the occasional drop of sweat spattering on the rough stones beneath. Slowly they drifted along, the murder holes always watching, watching their slow progress. But still nothing came. The passage turned and they slipped around the corner. Sindagil was aware of how late it was getting. He began to rush a little, and Isilya quickened behind him, making more noise than she had before. They crept on. Now the strain was beginning to tell on Sindagil. His lack of sleep was making itself felt. Even he made the occasional scrape against the stone floor. But nobody heard. They turned another sharp corner. By now the backs of their clothes were rough and torn from being scraped against the rough stone, and Sindagil's back was becoming sore. And still no one came. Then, finally, they reached the end. They were at the final door. Sindagil oiled its hinges and slowly removed the bar. Almost there. He carefully put the bar down in the corner and pushed open the door. Damn, he had forgotten to listen for people on the other side. Too late now. Sindagil slipped out the opening and was finally outside the castle. It was darker than it had been, as the moon had finally set, but the beginning rays of the rising sun were beginning to stain the east. No time left. Sindagil helped Isilya out and pulled the door shut behind them.
He leaned to her, "We have to run, there is not enough time to sneak across the fields."
"Hold my hand and stay close. If you need to slow down or rest just squeeze my palm."
She nodded again.
"Now!", he whispered.
They dashed away from the castle and out into the field. Sindagil led them off the road and across the fields towards the stream. Even through his boots Sindagil felt the stones under his feet and feared for Isilya whose feet were bare, but she never squeezed his palm, never complained. They reached the stream and Sindagil stopped and then slowly walked across, tightly gripping Isilya's hand. On the other side they began to run again, as fast as they could, for now the dawn was readily apparent, and the rays of the rising sun began to stain the valley around them. There, ahead, Sindagil could see the edge of the forest that surrounded the valley. Soon they would be there. They ran some more. Soon they would reach it. Sindagil began to breath heavily. He had to reach it. He ran a little harder, with Isilya following compliantly behind him. They were almost there. Sindagil could no longer control his ragged breathing. His lungs laboured to replenish his blood. Sindagil staggered, but recovered. The trees were just in front. He would make it. They would make it. He could run just a little further, a little further. The ground beneath their feet softened, the grass growing on the remnants of centuries of falling leaves. And then they were under the trees. They had made it. They were free. And now Mattugur would arrive, Sindagil thought. He always did. But now it wasn't a dream. Now he didn't. Sindagil could run no more. He stopped and leaned against a tree, huffing and puffing. Isilya quietly stood beside him.
Slowly Sindagil recovered from his run. His breathing slowed down and steadied, and his body cooled. Finally he turned and looked at Isilya. She stood there, draped in the dappled sunlight through the trees, and watched him. He looked at her, his clothing torn, his legs bloodied. She stood quietly, her woollen garment torn, but her skin unblemished, perfect. Sindagil couldn't contain his joy.
"We're free!", he shouted, and dashed towards her, and hugged her to him. "Free!"
"Nope. You're caught."
Sindagil turned, he recognised that voice. It was Gilburn. Damn! They had escaped from Mattugur, only to be caught by the rebels.
"Don't make a move, and don't make a sound. You won't escape this time."
Gilburn stepped out where Sindagil could see him. He looked the same, was still dressed in the same leather garb, and still carried a spear. Sindagil saw bows ready in the brush behind him.
"Move away from her. Slowly."
Sindagil did, and then watched silently, helplessly, as he and Isilya were tied up. He tried to protest, "But this is Isilya, your queen."
"And you're my mother. Now shut up."
Isilya said nothing as their hands were tied behind their backs and they were escorted off into the forest. Great. Escape from the castle and then this. Well, he had escaped before, he would escape again. And he would take Isilya with him where they would never be found.
The forest was silent as they walked and Sindagil began to realise how tired he was - he had only gotten a couple of hours sleep in the last day. He yawned and reflexively tried to cover his mouth and failed. Sigh. They walked on. The forest remained silent, and he said nothing. He could hear Isilya walking behind him but she, too, said nothing. They walked on, Sindagil beginning to stumble slightly with fatigue. Then they stopped.
"Gag and blindfold them," Sindagil heard Gilburn order.
This was achieved with little struggle as Sindagil was too tired to resist anymore. Then he was picked up on somebody's shoulder and spun around numerous times until he almost passed out. He was passed from hand to hand and spun some more. Then he was carried along, lack a sack of grain, off down a path. He had no idea which way they were going, or where they were. Their methods had succeeded in stumping him. Sindagil presumed they had done the same to Isilya.
They walked some more and finally Sindagil fell to a fitful napping. He didn't care what happened anymore, he just needed to sleep.
Sindagil was awakened when he was unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. He listened but heard no other thump, hopefully they had treated Isilya better. He could still see some light so he was still out in the open. Somebody kicked him from behind and he rolled so that his face was down. Was Isilya worth this? Yes! They would be free, and he would have her. He listened for an opportunity.
All Sindagil could hear around him was a couple of people mumbling. He couldn't make out what they were saying. Then he heard Gilburn.
"Anwyn, I've brought them, gagged and blindfolded as you suggested."
"Good, now you say that he claimed the woman was Isilya?"
"Yes. Our allies in Rynford told us that he had been spirited off to the castle last night. He appeared to go somewhat unwillingly."
"Well lets see what we can find out.", Anwyn said. He began to mumble and chant. Sindagil couldn't recognise the words, could hardly even make them out, they seemed to twist away from him when he tried. Then he felt a chill run through him, followed by a flush of warmth.
Then Gilburn spoke, "What did the magic tell you?"
"He is not under the influence or control of any mage. And curiously, he's from the other world."
"Nevermind. You can untie him, he's harmless."
Harmless! I'll show you harmless... Sindagil thought
Anwyn continued, "I'll check the woman now."
Sindagil heard the old man limp away, his staff thumping in the dirt, then he felt rough hands cut his bonds and then remove his blindfold and his gag. The light hurt his eyes and he squinted against it.
"Would you like some help up?", Gilburn asked.
Sindagil glared at him. "I'll do it myself," he snapped.
It was hard but he managed to get up. Gilburn just watched. Then Sindagil heard Anwyn beginning the chant again. He slowly turned around to see what he was doing.
Anwyn stood near Isilya, who was laying on a leather mat on the dirt. His hands were outstretched over her and he held his staff in both hands above her. He was chanting, the same type of twisting syllables he had used before, and a blue light radiated from the staff onto Ilsilya. Sindagil started forward but he was restrained by a hand gripping his shoulder.
"Don't. You survived it, so'll she." It was Gilburn.
Sindagil just stood and watched. The chanting grew, as did the light. And then there was a spark, it leapt from Isilya into Anwyn who staggered back, dropping his staff which slowly drifted down to the ground. Isilya began to violently struggle, she seemed to be trying to shout something but the gag stopped her. Anwyn fell on his back on the ground.
"Anwyn! What happened!", Gilburn shouted, dropping his hand from Sindagil's shoulder and running to the old man.
Sindagil took the opportunity to stagger over to Isilya. He turned her over to ungag her, to see what she was saying. She was trying to tell him something, he knew she was. Then, with a suddenness, her eyes glazed over and she stopped struggling. Sindagil spun around.
"What did you do to her!", he shouted across to where Gilburn stood helping Anwyn to his feet.
"Nothing.", Anwyn said. "Mattugur had ensorcelled her. His sorcery almost killed me, and caused her pain. Fortunately I survived it. I put her to sleep to give her rest."
Sindagil turned back to Isilya. Now she was indeed sleeping peacefully. He began to untie her, listening as Anwyn continued.
"It is Isilya. It really is. Finally she's been freed!"
"Truly? Queen Isilya?"
"Oh wondrous day. Come, we must bear the news to the others. Mattugur is doomed."
Sindagil finally removed Isilya's gag while Gilburn kneeled beside him and cut her bonds. Sindagil then carefully removed the blindfold and looked upon her sleeping face. Sindagil carefully lifted her up in his arms. Gilburn tried to help but Sindagil pushed him away. Isilya was his love.
"Can you carry her the rest of the way to the camp?" Gilburn asked.
"I will." Sindagil wasn't going to let anyone else near her. He had waited too long for this.
"Come let us go!" Gilburn shouted to the others who had captured Sindagil and Isilya. Sindagil had all but forgotten about them. "Our queen is returned to us!"
The rest of the trip was joyous, with the guards congratulating Sindagil, thanking him for his deed. They finally accepted him. The trip was short, for Anwyn had only come a short way from the camp to question them. It was only a few minutes until they arrived. But Sindagil had a few moments to think, bemused as he was by his joy. He had escaped. He had finally beaten Mattugur. It felt good. He felt magnanimous. He would even forgive Gilburn, after all he was only trying to protect Isilya's people from danger.
"Isilya has been returned to us!", Gilburn shouted as they entered.
It was a large clearing they arrived at, and inside the clearing were the same buildings he had seen when Gilburn had captured them, but the clearing was obviously different. The people that came out to greet them were roughly dressed in plain tanned leathers. There was only the occasional piece of wool or linen. But their clothes, and their bodies, were clean and well kept. The people crowded Sindagil and those with him, talking and occasionally cheering. The happiness was inspiring.
But then Sindagil stumbled, almost dropping Isilya. Immediately a dozen people helped him to his feet. Sindagil's tiredness had returned, with a vengeance.
"Do you have some place we could sleep?", Sindagil asked. "I've had a long night, and Isilya is already asleep."
Everybody immediately offered their own huts.
"Just point me to the nearest, a simple bed and a long rest are all we need."
Gilburn came over, "Just this way. Come I'll help you."
Sindagil didn't want to accept his aid, but couldn't make it alone. Fortunately it was a very short trip. Within, the hut was small, but clean. It was unfurnished except for two piles of what smelled like pine wrapped in skin. Fur blankets were on top.
"You can rest here," Gilburn said.
Sindagil just nodded. Carefully he set Isilya down and covered her. He wouldn't let Gilburn help. Then he stumbled over to the other bed and collapsed onto it. He was immediately asleep.
Sindagil awakened sometime that evening, substantially refreshed. Somebody had covered him as he slept, presumably Gilburn. He threw the cover off him and carefully removed the harp from where it still sat against his side. Fortunately he hadn't damaged it. Outside the hut he could hear the sounds of celebration, of singing, of poor playing of flutes and a mandolin. He got out of bed and walked over to the entrance of the hut and looked out.
Outside there was indeed a wild celebration. The clearing was brightly lit with great burning campfires and people sat, sang, played, and danced around and between them. Men and women twirled around and around the fires, their hair bouncing up and down, laughing and shouting. Children aped their motions, running around the dancers, and sneaking between pairs when they could. Elsewhere people sat on logs around the bonfire, eating cooked meat, drinking from wooden mugs. Another group sat on a log and played. One played a flute, and another played a mandolin. Sindagil winced as he listened to them. Various dancers, and most of those watching the dancing, sang along with the music.
Sindagil left the hut and wandered into the partiers. They quickly recognised him and invited him to join, but Sindagil was looking for Isilya.
"Thanks, oh thanks so much!", one women shouted to him.
"You snubbed Mattugur's ass you did, good for you!".
One woman even said, "Anytime you want, you saviour you! Just ask for Briduen!" The men around her whistled as she said this.
He walked by them, looking for Isilya, but was stopped by a tugging at his legs.
Sindagil looked down into the round face of a small girl. She couldn't be more than four.
"Thank you sir. Thank you for rescuing our Queen."
Upon uttering those words, the little creature giggled and ran away. Children! Now, where was Isilya. He had waited more than long enough. Then he finally saw her. She was at the far end of the clearing, carefully walking into the woods. Sindagil made his way through the partiers after her, ignoring the congratulations, the drinks, and the food offered him. He even passed Anwyn and Gilburn, who were in deep conversation. He heard them talking:
"...can show her to the village. Mattugur can be beaten. Her freedom will prove it. Then they'll rise against him. Finally we'll destroy him."
"Are you sure Gilburn, will they even recognise her. And even if they do, will she inspire them enough?"
"Yes she will, I know she will."
Sindagil moved away from the two men and could make out no more of their conversation.
Sindagil soon arrived at the edge of the clearing where Isilya had been and easily followed her trail. She had made no attempt to hide it. He slipped along it after her and after a short walk saw her sitting on the top of a small hill looking out of the trees towards Mattugur's castle. She was sitting down, hugging her knees to her dress. She was no longer wearing the wool robe she had in the castle, the rebels must have given her some of their own skins to wear. Then he arrived beside her.
"Do you mind if I sit?"
"No." Isilya kept staring at the castle.
Sindagil sat down beside her and followed her gaze. She was starring at the tower where she had been imprisoned. Then he turned and watched her as she stared at it, ignoring his presence. He began to wonder, does she love me? I'm here, and she just sits beside me and stares at yonder castle. Did her imprisonment have that great an affect on me. Why does she ignore me? And, do I love her? Sindagil turned and stared at the keep with her. Do I really love her, or did I just rescue her to stop the dreams? But then he remembered his encounter with that fey woman upon his arrival. His love for Isilya had saved him from her charms. He had to love her. He did love her. But why did this feel wrong? Sindagil turned back towards Isilya.
"Tired of the crowds?"
Isilya turned to face him. She did love him, Sindagil thought as she spoke, "Yes...I...". Isilya's face grimaced, as though she wanted to continue but couldn't.
"Is there anything the matter?"
There was a long moment of silence before Isilya responded, "Nothing."
Sindagil embraced her and held her close. He said to her, softly, "We're safe. We really are. Don't worry."
Isilya pushed him away and turned from him. What was the matter with her? Didn't she love him? Sindagil could hear her sobbing. He grasped her shoulders and turned her slowly to face him.
"We're safe.", he said.
She trembled, and tried to speak, but said nothing. She tried to turn away, but he held her.
"Our love is safe."
She clamped her mouth shut but it slowly opened as she stared into his eyes. He looked at her eyes as they looked at him. They were small, frightened. It almost looked as though she was trying not to speak.
Then she spoke, "Love?"
"What?", he asked, astonished.
Her eyes closed and then slowly forced themselves open. She continued, hesitantly, "I've..never loved...you."
Sindagil stared at her. "What are you saying?"
Her words became clearer, forceful, as her face became resigned, "I just used you."
"I needed to escape so I sent my thoughts out for a thief and got you. There was never any love."
Sindagil couldn't believe what she was saying, he could only stutter, "But..."
"I never loved you."
Sindagil could no longer speak, he just stared at her in disbelief.
"I only used you," she continued.
Sindagil continued to stare.
"In fact, I hate you."
At these words something inside Sindagil finally snapped. "No!", he screamed, turning and fleeing into the woods, away from the celebration, away from the betrayer. He couldn't hear the sobbing behind him.
Sindagil wandered through the wilderness for days. His wandering had no purpose, no goal. There was not even a mind behind it. He carried with him nothing but the clothing on his back, not even the harp. The rest was with the rebels, and he wasn't going back there. He couldn't clearly remember why, could only see a women's horrid, distorted face in his mind, whispering hate to him. His mind was numb.
He ate only berries, mindlessly applying the skills he had been taught. He didn't really care what he ate. He drank when he came to a stream, if he was thirsty. When it was dark he slept, when it was light he wandered. His clothes became torn and dirty, just like the rest of him became.
He didn't care.
After some time his clothes became an encumbrance so he just ripped them off.
He didn't care.
He ignored the temperature. At night he nearly froze, but he didn't even notice. He became thin, and sore, covered in half-healed scratches, covered in the bites of insects.
He didn't care.
And slowly, as he aimlessly walked, the voice in his mind quieted, and the face calmed. And slowly he healed inside.
One morning he woke up and remembered everything that had happened. Isilya hated him. He definitely remembered that. But did he hate her? He wasn't certain. He slowly got up and looked around. He had fallen asleep near the top of a cliff. Fortunately he had came back to his senses before he walked over it. He walked a bit closer to peer over the edge.
It wasn't a cliff, it was the edge of this island in the primal chaos.
Sindagil watched as reality was created. The cliff was slowly growing outward. Outward into the void beyond. He looked out into it. The sight unsettled him, for there was no depth. There was only a dim yellow glow that seemed to absorb the light from around him. He watched a tree appear out of the mist near him as the world grew out to reach it. He watched as a bird flew out of the mist. It slowly formed as it approached, being first a skeleton, and then a muscled form, and finally feathered. Its beak opened and shut as it flew from the mists, but it made no sound until it was over the island's edge into its reality.
Did he love Isilya? Sindagil wondered. He paced slowly forward, keeping the edge just in front of him. She hated him. She had told him that. But he didn't hate her. Sindagil knew that. He felt for her. He felt empty without her. But was this love? Sindagil watched as a mountain cat stepped out of the mist. It paced towards him and sniffed, and then walked away. It wasn't hungry. It had been created full.
"Isilya." Sindagil said her name out loud, tasting its sound as he said it. "Isilya.", he said again. His mouth slowly formed the word, tenderly enunciating each vowel. "Isilya!", he shouted out into the void.
But she hated him. She had said so. She didn't want him. But he did love her. He knew he loved her. And from the ache within him, he couldn't stop loving her. So, should he walk away, back into this island of reality, without her. Without Isilya. And live with the ache within him that could never be healed. He loved her, that was fact. Could he live with that love unfulfilled? At this thought the ache inside him became unendurable. He swallowed to try to push it away, but it wouldn't go. He couldn't live without her. So be it.
"Isilya!", he shouted into the void, "I love you!". Then he whispered, "If only I could see you before I die."
And then Sindagil ran off the cliff far out into the void.
Sindagil didn't fall, but just seemed to drift away from the bubble of reality. He could feel himself beginning to fade. His vision began to blur. And then he began to make out Mattugur. The vision of Mattugur wouldn't clear, it just remained blurred as it was, as though he saw him through thick crystal.
And then he felt her. Isilya! He couldn't see her but he knew she was with him. He didn't know how but she was there. For the first time he knew it was truly her!
"Isilya," Mattugur said, "its done." Mattugur rubbed his hands together. "The rebels have been destroyed, and the fool whom you loved helped me. And now he's dead too."
"No!", Sindagil heard Isilya shout.
"He's leapt to his death." Mattugur smiled. "I was going to let him live. I wanted to know what happened to him the first night he was here. For some reason I lost him for that one night. I would even have let him go for the gift of the music he gave me. But he chose death."
Sindagil could feel Isilya glare at Mattugur, but she said nothing.
"And now, what shall we do with you?"
"Kill me. At least in death we'll be together."
She meant him! She did love him, honestly, truly. Sindagil tried to hug her but he couldn't feel any response.
"Death is too good for you. You have two options. One, you can accept my offer of marriage which I've made so many times."
"It would be slavery!", Isilya shouted at him.
"But you would have a measure of freedom. Or...", he stopped, rubbing his hands together, leaning against the wall beside him. He paused, and then continued, "What else shall we do?" Then he smiled. "I know. It was such fun controlling Luvari," his smile widened, "making her betray the rebels, making her tell that fool Sindagil that you hated him." Mattugur laughed.
Sindagil could feel Isilya try to free herself, could feel her struggling, but nothing happened. Then he realised, amidst Mattugur's laughter. It was Luvari he had rescued, she had been ensorcelled to look like Isilya.
Mattugur continued, "I lost her for a moment you know. When I finally fought that fool Anwyn, I had to let her go to finish him."
That was what had staggered Anwyn. Sindagil began to peace together the tangled web that Mattugur had woven. That Mattugur had used him to play.
"See", Mattugur continued, "You'll even have moments of freedom."
Isilya could just glare.
"So. Marriage of your own free will, or of my will?", Mattugur's voice became sweet as he moved back a bit.
"Never!", Isilya shouted, "I'll die first!"
Mattugur shrugged, "Well, if that's your choice, I'll begin to work on your new wooden body right away." Mattugur turned away, laughing.
"Isilya!", Sindagil shouted. "You love me!"
Then Sindagil was back, still drifting into the abyss. He could feel his limbs dissolving into chaos.
"No!", he shouted, and became an eagle. "Isilya!", he screeched, "I'm coming!"
Sindagil winged out of chaos and into the island of reality, towards Isilya, towards love.
Sindagil could feel Isilya calling him, and he answered in screeches. He knew where she was, he could feel her flaming soul before him.
He flew all day, straight as an arrow. He ignored thirst and hunger. Robins and wrens fled at the sight of him but he ignored them, Isilya was near. He was coming. Oh, Isilya, I was such a fool. I'm coming, I'm coming. He screeched out loud in joy.
And as the sun set, as its last rays lit the home of Mattugur, Sindagil knew that he was nearly there. Soon Isilya, soon. Wait just a moment more. She was near, his love was near.
Sindagil circled the castle once. Now there were guards on the walls. No wonder it had been so easy before, Mattugur had wanted him to escape. But Sindagil was here again, and now he knew the truth. Mattugur, your days are numbered. Isilya, oh Isilya, soon, soon! He circled the walls again, and saw the bodies hung upon them. They were old and rotted, but Sindagil recognised them. One was Anwyn, now only a husk. Another was Gilburn, and another was the little girl who had thanked him in the camp. But Isilya waited. Sindagil circled the tall tower in which Luvari had been held, her unfeeling wooden body becoming surrounded in dust as Mattugur had waited for him. The windows were still open. Soon Isilya, soon.
Then Sindagil was a man again. He was tired, but Isilya needed him. He dashed to the door and pushed it open, his soft hide boots making no sound on the floor he run over. He raced down the stairs, he was too much in love for subtlety. He reached the lower hall and ran down its length. Joy filled him. Isilya, oh Isilya, I come for you! He didn't go down the one he had used before. He knew it led nowhere. He used the other one.
The other hall was the same as the one he had used before, but opposite. It was empty. The stairs looked the same and Sindagil went down them without pausing in his stride. Isilya was near. He knew it. She was down below. Somewhere near. Soon Isilya, soon!
The stairs led down past the balcony, and past the ground floor, and down into the basement. Isilya was there. He knew she was there. Isilya, I come, I come! The stairs ended at a door which was locked, but this wouldn't keep him from his love. A pick from his pouch, a flick of his wrist, and the way was open.
The door opened up into a dark and unlit corridor but Sindagil could still see clearly. He didn't even notice the lack of light for Isilya was near. The hallway branched. This way, she was this way, and then it ended at a door. Its lock too was no obstacle. And behind it, Isilya!
The room was small and lit by one of those glowing spheres that Mattugur liked so much, but for once Sindagil didn't memorise his surroundings. The room was bare, there was no furniture, no decorations, no water, no food, but Sindagil didn't notice that either. All that he could see was the great crystal embedded in the far wall. The crystal was huge, it stretched from floor to ceiling, and a tall man would have trouble embracing the exposed part with his arms. It glowed, radiating a faint light that was barely noticeable. And inside, like a fly in amber, was Isilya!
She was facing Sindagil as he entered, naked as the day she was born. She stood straight, her arms held before her chest, immobile. Her hair, those long copper strands that seemed to blow in a wind, held in the crystal that encased her.
Isilya had time for nothing more as Sindagil leapt the length of the room in a single bound and landed before the crystal.
"Isilya!", Sindagil shouted, "I've come for you!"
And then he embraced the crystal, trying to embrace the one he loved. And the crystal shattered, its million shards drifting to the floor like dust. And then, finally, Sindagil held Isilya and Isilya held Sindagil. They were together. But the embrace couldn't last, not here.
"Sindagil, we must go. Mattugur knows the crystal's shattered, I felt his astonishment when it broke. We must run!"
"I love you!", Sindagil shouted.
"We must leave, now. Mattugur is awake!"
Sindagil shook himself. Isilya was with him. But Mattugur, Mattugur was coming. "Then let us flee, quickly. I love you!"
Sindagil shouted the last three words and grasped Isilya and led her from her prison. He danced down the hall, joyous beyond belief, and Isilya could hardly keep up. Then they reached the steps and went up.
"He's coming, I can feel him coming!", Isilya shouted.
Sindagil's hand glowed and the great doors from the Great Hall opened silently before them.
What has happened to him? Isilya began to wonder, but then was swept up in his arms, in his love. Whatever it was, she wasn't going to complain.
He released her and they run together, hand in hand as they had dreamed together so many times, across the courtyard to the gatehouse. There were guards on the walls who drew their crossbows and shot at them. Isilya screamed, but Sindagil only laughed, catching the bolts as he danced to the gates and throwing them away.
"Isilya, my love! Freedom is ours!"
Isilya began to laugh with him, for she too was in love. They were in love together, and nothing could stop them.
The gatehouse opened before them, and the rocks and bolts dropped through the murder holes they skipped around. They were in love.
The outer gates opened and they ran outside. Together. In love. They ran through the grass, grabbing each others hands and twirling around and around each other. They didn't notice when the arrows stopped.
Then the air was shattered, a sound that almost shattered their eardrums, that drove off Isilya's pleasant madness.
Isilya remembered where they were, "Mattugur! He's after us! Run!", and she fled from the castle and Sandagil followed after.
Sandagil too heard the thunder. He too knew what it meant. "Mattugur!", he shouted behind him as he fled with her, "She is mine, you shall never have her."
The lovers fled down the hill.
Behind them the skies darkened above the castle, and the winds began to howl. Mattugur stood upon the roof of the gatehouse, a staff in his hand. He had it raised before him and he chanted into the wind. The top of the staff began to glow, and soon the glow became intolerably bright. Then the glow leapt from the staff and roared after the lovers, becoming a ball of fire. It lit the guards that pursued them down the hill.
Sindagil knew it was coming. He grabbed Isilya and pushed her to one side, causing her to fall to the ground. He leapt on top of her just in time to cover her as the fireball hit the ground where she had stood a moment before. As it hit the ground it exploded, spraying flame and rock on top of Sindagil, but Isilya felt nothing. Then the dry fall grass, which had not felt any rain for weeks, caught fire and began to burn.
Sindagil pulled Isilya up, "The pond, we have to reach to mill pond!", he shouted, and ran down the hill with her.
There was another roar behind them, and another boom. Another fireball landed just behind them, and they ran faster for their lives. Isilya just ran, but Sindagil also laughed. The guardsmen who followed them ran straight through the flame, not knowing or caring what it did. Mattugur had ordered them to kill the lovers. Their wooden bodies caught fire and one by one they fell to the ground, their burning lost in the roar of the dry grass around them.
A third ball of fire was launched and Sindagil and Isilya leapt into the millpond and under the water as it hit the surface above them. It too exploded, spraying scalding water onto the grass. But the water was deep and Isilya suffered only minor burns. Behind them the world was a wall of flame for the grass was burning. The fire raced down the hill towards Rynford, its roar drowning out the screams of its fleeing populace.
Then they surfaced, gasping for breath, gagging in the smoke filled air. And they heard another thunderous roar, and a wind blew which whipped the sparks of burning vegetation towards them. The sparks landed in their hair, and their skin, and on the far side of the pond igniting the grass there. They could run no further.
Then, with the same suddenness it had started, the wind stopped.
"Isilya, I love you!", Sindagil shouted over the roar of the flames.
Isilya hugged him, "And I love you!", she shouted.
And then they turned back towards the castle, from which they knew Mattugur was coming for them.
They watched, their souls and bodies entwined as a great horned owl, its plumage brown with the peculiar red markings, flew over the fire towards the pond. Mattugur was coming. They watched as a circle of fire vanished and the owl landed on the smouldering ground and became Mattugur.
He was dressed in a huge red robe that muffled his form. His head was bare, and they could see the few wisps of pale blond that grew from it. He still held his staff before him, its aged wood tipped in silver with strange shapes carved into it.
"Isilya!", Mattugur shouted, "You can still come with me. I love you!"
"I hate you!", Isilya shouted back. "I'll die before I marry you!"
"I'll send Sindagil home, safe. I'll make him wealthy, I'll give him power!"
"I refuse!", Sindagil shouted, "I won't live without Isilya!"
"Isilya! It's not too late!"
Sindagil held Isilya tightly against him, warming her with his love, "I will never leave you.", he whispered to her.
"Then kill me! I won't leave him!", Isilya shouted back to Mattugur.
"Enough!" Mattugur shouted. He held his staff before him and began to chant, louder and louder. Again the top of the staff began to glow as another ball of fire began to form. And simultaneously, the water in the millpond began to swirl. It formed a whirlpool beneath Isilya and Sindagil as it was sucked out into nowhere.
Isilya and Sindagil held each other tight as the water swept them round and round. Then they touched the bottom and still the water drained. Then sunk knee deep in the mud and held each other tighter. Then the water was gone. Each whispered, "I love you." to the other as the final fireball left Mattugur's staff.
She and her mother watched the two lovers flee from Mattugur. They watched as they dived into the pond and Mattugur came after them. They watched as Mattugur came to destroy them.
"Mother,", the one asked, "must they die."
"What will be, will be."
The fireball leapt from Mattugur's staff towards the lovers and impacted upon them.
Together they watched the miracle that followed, for the fireball didn't kill the pair. It burned them and their bodies fell to the newly dried ground, but their souls stood together. Their souls turned to face he who had killed them. Each soul held the other and together they drifted upwards, their arms outstretched. Then the vision was lost as the flames that burned the grass around the pond was swept up. It flew from the grass that fed it, whirled around and above the dried pond. Then it whirled up and around and around the two loving souls, and there it stayed, bathing them in its heat and light. As one they outstretched their arms and a portion of the fire that surrounded them danced away towards Mattugur. Joyfully, almost playfully it danced after him, playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse, until finally it consumed him.
"Daughter, you yourself said that Love is the strongest of all the magics."
"And never truly believed it until now."
"It was my love for Kor and The World that created it."
"And as was prophesised, the man who knew my origin is dead."
"His mortal being is."
"Was all this necessary? The pain, the suffering?"
"It was preordained. But go, daughter, you have done your work. I must go to welcome Sildaya and bring Her among the gods. For now She is a god, and now She exists in the past, and in the future, and until The End of All Things."
And the goddess Gaenan left her daughter.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org