Vorrodion looked up at him, a horrendous expression of disbelief on his face as he was struck to the ground, beset by five Daegs. Everything was moving slowly, too slowly, as if the man and the Elf were surrounded by an time-distorting aura, and the man tried to turn his head away, but his neck felt like stone. Vorrodion still stared, his face twisted in agony, but the man knew it was not the physical pain that agonized him. The horse reared and turned away, beginning to run, and the man turned his head from Vorrodion’s gaze as the beast galloped away.
“No!” Rawar bolted upright, sweat dripping from his forehead. Nearby, a crow cawed angrily and flapped noisily away, disturbed by the sudden noise in the night. The
wind whistled lightly among the dense trees, and Rawar wrapped his cloak around himself tighter, more to warm his mind than his body. The dreams became more frequent
this time of year, he knew that by now, but it did not make bearing them any easier. Sighing in sorrow, Rawar turned over, and closed his eyes, trying to go back to sleep.
But he knew it would not come. He could never sleep after having the dream; after remembering. Even now, almost twelve years after his failure, he could still hear Vorrodion’s voice as though his mentor were standing right there, instructing him as he always had.
“I have wandered this earth for many long years, too many. And I have grown to understand many things; also, too many. But one of the things that still eludes me, that I cannot understand, is the traitor. You know the tales, all the lore that I have taught you; you know of the betrayals of Nalosath, and Crenviel. What drives a man to betray those close to him, to betray all that he is?”
Cowardice, Rawar thought, it was cowardice that drove me.
“Perhaps I cannot comprehend the mind of a traitor simply because I am not one, nor will I ever be, lest the heavens fall and all that is be overturned. Perhaps it `takes one to know one’, as it has been said. In any case, my conjecture is fruitless; I will never know.”
Nor I. Rawar remembered thinking. What a fool I was. Am, he amended. My
heavens have fallen, all that I was has been overturned. There is nothing left. He bowed his head, and wept. How long he lay like that he didn’t know, but when the tears finally
stopped, he turned over onto his side, staring into the impervious dark.
“Why must you torment me?” He moaned, not sure to whom he was speaking. “Why must I torment me? Let it end, and all that was be forgotten.”
“Forget naught; you will wish you had remembered when the time comes.” The words echoed in his mind.
“Let me be!” He cried, stumbling to his knees in the darkness. “Let me be! I cannot overcome voices in the dark!”
But you can, came a voice, and it was not Vorrodion’s. Why have you been wandering these past eleven years like a lost sheep, fool? Was it not to learn of those who destroyed your master? Who destroyed you? Is that not the question you have been striving to answer all these long years? This is no time for weakness and self-pity, fool! Finish the job, and you will have peace!
“Peace.” Rawar said, his voice cracking, but filled with resolve, and with hope. “Yes, peace. And revenge!” An edge came to his voice then, and it no longer cracked.
“I must have vengeance, and then I will be complete. Then it will be finished.”
It was this last thought that passed through his mind before he drifted back to sleep.
Rawar awoke to a cold, rainy, overcast morning, with water constantly dripping from the leaves overhead, but the gloomy weather didn’t trouble him.
`In the morning counsels are best, and night changes many thoughts’, or so it has been said.
Yes, sir. Rawar thought. What a difference the light makes.
Though the light was only dim here. He looked up at the canopy of trees overhead, and several raindrops struck his face, but he relished the feeling. In the morning everything was best.
The leaves beneath him that had served as his bed had been pressed into the ground and mingled with the mud, and his cloak was dirty, though the canopy of trees
had kept him relatively dry. He ate a quick breakfast from his rapidly disappearing store of food, and then set out west. He was bound for the Drallikomnerost, more commonly
referred to as the Dral, which was a small lake that was just south of the city of Trillock.
He emerged from the western edge of the small grove of dense pine trees and was immediately beset by the pouring rain; he whisked the hood of his cloak onto his head
and continued on, now quickening his pace to a steady jog.
The sun had long since reached and passed its zenith when he stopped to eat lunch near a small thicket of thorny bushes. He estimated that he had travelled over half the thirty miles to the Dral, and could afford to take the time to rest; he was moderately fatigued, though his endless wandering had kept him in uncommonly good physical
condition. The rain was still falling, so he could not start a fire. A shame, too, because this was one of the few places where he could light a fire without fear of attracting unwanted attention. In recent years, he thought, those places had become scarce.
He sat upon a small rock several yards away from the thorn bushes, shrugging off his unusually light pack as he did so. This was why he was going to Trillock; he needed
supplies, especially food.
Rawar shrugged a bow from his left shoulder, reaching into the pack for some stale biscuits, but abruptly some sense within him tingled, and he picked up the bow,
leaping to his feet as from his right there came movement in the underbrush, and from the bushes there sprang three Daegs, their claws outstretched, their teeth bared, froth
bubbling from their hideous mouths. Rawar drew an arrow from a quiver strapped to his back, stringing and firing in one smooth motion, hitting the lead Daeg in the neck before it could reach him. Letting the bow fall to the ground then, he drew a sword, slicing into the neck of the next beast; it fell beheaded, and it was simple work for the man to impale
the final Daeg upon his blade.
Rawar wiped his sword upon the grass, picking up his bow; he straightened, shaking rainwater from his hair, and put the sword back in its sheath, which was strapped
perpendicular to the quiver on his back. He kneeled upon the wet ground, searching the last Daeg he had killed; it was the biggest of the dog-like beasts, and alone among the
three was adorned in a red scarf, a sure sign of leadership. Even the barbarian Daegs had a primitive hierarchy. Suddenly, the thing jerked, and more of the foul estuation issued from its mouth. A growl tried to escape its lips, but all that emerged was a faint moan, and Rawar perceived words among the animal noises:
“It… is failed. Not fancy… master.”
Rawar stared at the Daeg, a hundred thoughts rifling through his mind simultaneously. This was not logical. Daegs filled the earth, they were everywhere, and everyone knew it, but never had he come across one that could speak.
Vorrodion knew of them. The thought came unbidden, and he shook it away, gritting his teeth in anger — or pain, he could hardly distinguish between the two anymore.
I can’t rely on him anymore, he thought vehemently, but the words kept coming:
“If ever you should come across a Smart Daeg, (one who speaks), then you are either in dangerous and evil lands, (which is the better, because your folly at having
wandered into such lands can always be corrected), or you have been marked by the beast’s lord, which is the worse case by far, for the master of a Smart Daeg must certainly be a terrible and powerful lord, and to have incurred the wrath of such a being would be an evil plight indeed.”
“I am not in an evil land.” Rawar said to himself, aloud, convincing himself of the fact just as much as stating it. I’m not even anywhere near anything that could be
regarded as dangerous or evil, he thought. And with this thought he smiled, but there was no merriment in the expression, only grimness, and determination. Finally. It had been more than eleven years now, but at long last, he was getting close. Finally, he would have his revenge. Finally, he would wreak his havoc upon the beings that had
The day had fully succumbed to night when Rawar reached the lake. The not quite full moon reflected elegantly off the still water, and still it was, for no more than three or four ripples could be seen on the tranquil surface of the lake, as though even the fish were a part of the peaceful mood permeating the area. Drallikomnerost meant The Lake of Enduring Peace in the common tongue, and `komnerost’ was a favored word in many countries.
Rawar sat on the southeast bank of the lake, gazing into the reflective surface of the water, trance-like, deep in thought.
It’s illogical that there were only two other Daegs with the Smart one, he thought. He was obviously a leader of some sort, and it doesn’t make any sense that he would have only two subordinates with him.
There were possibilities, of course, perfectly reasonable ones. The rest of their band could have been killed, further to the northeast near Saratolen.
But if that happened, they would have returned to their master, whoever that may be, for reinforcements or new orders. No, that can’t be it. They might have been scouts, but then why would they have attacked?
No wait, he argued the point with himself. I give them too much credit. Smart Daegs are still Daegs. The word `smart’ relating to them is a misnomer. They are
half-animals, I must remember, and will make irrational decisions; even a captain. He must have seen me as an opportunity for glory. I need not worry about more of them, then, not until I reach the Derglim. There would not be two scouts so close together.
His deliberation ended then, and he found his mind wandering as it often did, and felt himself fading into a world he knew well.
A tall, white-capped mountain stood regally illuminated by the evening sun, the greenery of the lower slopes tinted red and yellow with a hint of purple in the sunset; if you stood at the foot of the colossal landform, the peak with its cold snow could not be seen, and it appeared instead as a sort of tilted meadow, laden with countless trees of many types, and absolutely littered with all manner of flowers. Lovely, dazzling, resplendent, it didn’t matter what it was called, the word was far too shallow to fully describe the beauty present on that slope.
But even as he beheld the awe-inspiring scene, it darkened as when the sun passes behind a cloud, and there came a blackness, and uneasiness and foreboding possessed
him, as though there had passed over the land a shadow which not only obscured the sun but penetrated to a man’s very soul and darkened all hope and joy. And the plants began to wither, the fruit on the trees rotting and falling from the branches, while the leaves instantly faded to brown and fell to the ground. The flowers wilted and died instantly,
and all that was green turned to brown.
A cry came forth that seemed to emanate from within the mountain, and it was a high, keening wail that chilled his heart, and he backed uneasily away from the sound, which began to grow louder. But then from behind him there came a human scream, and it distressed him so that he turned and ran toward the noise, but all was darkness, and he could not see. He stumbled on an unseen object, and his face struck the ground hard, and he was dazed…
When Rawar awoke, (for he had fallen asleep), the sun was already beginning to peek over the horizon; he lay curled up against the cold, for he had not meant to sleep
there, and hadn’t covered up for the night. He rose at once, his knee joints protesting with a series of sharp pops, angry at having been abused all night.
He silently berated himself over his carelessness, glad that he had proved correct in his conjecture regarding the Daegs. But he was furious.
You idiot! He yelled inwardly at himself. First you allow yourself to be surprised by Daegs, and now you leave yourself defenseless for a full night. This foolishness must stop, or you will die long before you ever have a chance of revenge.
“I know!” he said vehemently.
I know. He found that he was defending himself. I have not wandered for these eleven years fruitlessly. I am disciplined, and I am steadfast, and I will follow the path to its end, though it take me all my life. I will finish it.
Will you? Came the reply. Words are meaningless, Rawar. Your actions show that you are wavering.
Words! What of the visions? Are you not disturbed by the dreams, Rawar? No, I say you will be mastered. You could not handle the pressure then. Why should I believe that it has changed?
Have you been asleep all this time? Have you not seen that I am changed? I was but a whisper then of what I have become; I have gained strength and stability, and I no longer tremble at the thought of battle. The visions have not mastered me, nor any difficulty that I have faced. I have overcome it all, and now I am near; I will not waver now.
There was no response, and he began to walk, now that the stiffness had begun to leave his legs, setting out north along the east edge of the lake. As he walked, his
thoughts returned to the vision that had lulled him to sleep, and it disturbed him. It was recurring, just like every dream he had ever had since his failure, but it was perhaps the most disquieting of them all, because whenver he experienced it, he was struck with an overpowering sense of yearning; a desperate longing to go to the mountain, to be in that beautiful place. This feeling was was wholly incongruous with his psyche: he had never had a home, growing up as he had with Vorrodion the Rambler, as Rawar’s mentor had liked to call himself, because of both his wandering ways and his habits of speech, Rawar recalled. And so the fact that anything could evoke a sense of homesickness in him was utterly illogical, downright absurd. But he could not deny his feelings.
Rawar left the lake behind just after midday, and came into the western fringes of the Farala, which was a small, bumpy territory of small knolls and mounds. He was
entering into the land of Alarost, the Peaceful Hills, and expected to reach the city of Trillock in two days. Trillock marked the westernmost point of Alarost; if one continued
further to the west, he would reach the forest of Derglim, and a fortnight’s travel west of that lay the Iarof Mountains, Barrier of the West. Very few who dwelled in the lands east
of the mountains knew what lay on the opposite side, and none cared to know. It was renowned as a land of great beauty that had been destroyed by a deep, nameless evil that still dwelt there, which was enough to discourage most from trying to pass the impassable mountains.
But as he pondered this, his mentor’s voice echoed again in his head:
You must follow where you are led, having faith that it is not coincidence or dumb luck that leads you on your path, for such things do not exist. All has been ordained, from the doings of great leaders on the ancient battlefields, to the business of a simple peasant or the course of a wanderer such as I am destined to be. Have faith, and
follow the path on which you are led.
“I’m trying.” Rawar said to no one in particular.