Tall, white spires rose above the gentle, sloping hills of Saratolen, interspersed with the shorter, darker roofs of the houses of the commonfolk of the city. The moon waxed over a lone horseman approaching the large, ornate gate on the eastern edge of the city. He reigned in the steed, and called out in a clear voice:
“Erolas, Master of Scouts returns from the long road and finds the gates barred before him? Open these doors at once!”
The mailed man standing at the top of the wall looked down at the horseman, unmoved. “And does Erolas, Master of Scouts think himself greater now than even His Majesty the King, that his word would supersede that of his ruler, who orders the gates closed and guarded at all hours of the night?”
The horseman smiled, though it was hidden in the darkness, and spoke now with a lighter tone. ” `Power beget arrogance,’ ” he quoted. “eh, Larwin? It seems that the
toils of the road have slowed my mind. Please, friend, open the gates and let a weary traveler rest his weary limbs.”
“Slowed your mind, indeed, Erolas,” said Larwin, his tone now bantering. “enough that you use the same word twice in a single sentence. Surely this is not Erolas the Silver-Tongued, Great Storyteller and adviser of the King himself?”
“You have grown cheeky in my absence, Larwin.” Erolas said, as his subordinate released the latch on the gate, and the doors swung open. “I will have to teach you a lesson in obedience during my time here.”
“I look forward to the chance to show you what Bergolaf has been showing me with the blade. You will not find me such an easy target as in my youthful years.”
Erolas, Master of Scouts knelt before his king in the Hall of Merilas, which was shrouded in the darkness of the night. All that could be seen of the great king was the foot of his robe.
“Rise, Master.” he said, his voice deep, full, and commanding without being demanding. “Your news is not good, I think. Never have I been awaken so hastily for
favorable tidings.” Erolas caught a faint tone of amusement in his king’s voice, as he rose and faced him in the dark.
“Indeed no, Majesty.” he said. “I bear ill news from the northeast.”
All traces of merriment disappeared from the king’s voice. “If I listened to the counsel of my heart, it would have me believe that we suppressed the northeasterners for good in the Battle of Vabrixa, but I know that this is not the case. As long as they have breath they will cause trouble. Now tell me, Erolas. Is it Crenviel?”
“Yes, Majesty.” he said, looking up at the shrouded figure, the surprise evident in his voice. “He has resurfaced. How did you know?”
“I saw him. Werowyn showed him to me, and warned me of his resurgence.”
“Never have I known Werowyn to be so clear on a matter.”
“He was not. He was very cryptic, indeed strange it would be if he were not, but I have learned to decipher most of his riddles.” The king’s voice grew distant and thoughtful. He shifted in his seat; Erolas heard the light rustle of fabric in the darkness, as the king spoke again. “But not all. What news do you have of him?”
Erolas hesitated briefly before replying. “Worse news than I have ever born before, Majesty.”
The sun was setting on Trillock when Rawar reached it two days later. The fact that there was no wall surrounding the city was a convincing sign of just how peaceful Alarost was. Rawar could see an assortment of small, wooden houses as he approached from the south, interspersed with the taller inns and taverns. There were few people to be seen on the dirt roads along the edges of the city, most retiring to their homes in the late hours, especially here on the fringes where the poorer folk lived. The city grew ever more sophisticated and rich as one neared the center, though no one who knew anything about it would ever say that Trillock was a cultured place. The people were simple and content, at peace with their ordinary existences, not knowing or caring about anything but what went on within their beloved community.
Trillock was shaped like a giant wheel, with the two Great Roads — one running west and east, the other south and north — coming out from the Hub of the city like great spokes; Rawar was now on what was called the Southern Road, which was wide enough to comfortably hold twenty men standing abreast. It seemed empty now with only one man to occupy it. As he came further into the city, he passed by many small roads and alleys which went this way and that in a bewildering pattern through the houses and other
buildings which filled the four spaces between the Great Roads. In reality, all the confusing roads formed one huge, meandering path which wound throughout the entire city, and if a man forsook the Great Roads, he could just as easily walk in circles for hours as make his way from one point to the next. It was hard to find a man who could confidently find his way around, even if he had lived all his life in Trillock. Indeed, it was quite unusual to follow the same path to a given place twice, and nothing much was thought of a man’s failure to appear at any sort of engagement or meeting, no matter how significant. As such, there were few parties or gatherings of any kind that took place in the outer districts of Trillock, although in the wealthier area in the inner city they were more common, because it was easier to find your way around there.
Rawar trudged steadily on, past dozens upon dozens of the rude huts before he finally began to near the heart of Trillock, and the houses gradually began to increase in size and elegance. He came still further, and began to see brick in a few of the homes, and then he became aware that the road was now paved with stone; this was a sign that he was very near indeed to the center of the city. And soon, (though it had grown quite dark), he could see ahead the grey pinnacle of what inhabitants of Trillock called simply the Tower; in the rest of the land it was known as Quorra, the Sentry Tower. Long ago, where Trillock now sat, there had once been just the Sentry Tower, which was just that, a tower for sentries, guarding the land against whatever evils there had been in those wild days.
When Rawar arrived at the Tower, it was fully dark, the only illumination now provided by various lanterns which it seemed were haphazardly strewn about the Hub. At the base of the Tower the Great Roads combined, and formed a circle around it, which was known as the Hub. The inhabitants of Trillock were simple people for the most part, and not inclined to “giving things fancy names that mean something in those old languages nobody uses nomore, that make the elders remember the `good old days’ “, or so a man had once said to him.
There were a few people about here, but they ignored Rawar; even though his dress was strange, and after the manner of a ruffian, the people weren’t suspicious in Trillock. Ever since the city had been built, there hadn’t been any trouble of any sort anywhere near the western parts of Alarost, and so the people naturally concluded in their own illogical way that it would continue on that way forever. And if not forever, at least for their generation. And if ever trouble came near Alarost, they reasoned, it would be warded off by the great peoples to the east. And so Rawar was ignored despite the
conspicuous weapons strapped to his back, which were a sight so rare in Alarost it was almost unheard of. Only the hunters carried weapons, and they usually only had the bow and arrows; swords were of little use.
Rawar went up to the base of the tower, which he estimated to be three rods in diameter. The stone structure tapered up from the base until it was no more than a single rod wide at the top. The entire thing was constructed of a drab grey stone, and an almost uniform grey color had been achieved throughout the outer surface of the tower. It was completely devoid of artistic touches or decorations. This was a thing that had been built with efficiency and durability in mind, with no consideration whatsoever for aesthetics. Rawar ran his hand lightly over the rough stone, wondering briefly if the Tower had seen any battles. He knew of only two that had been fought in this area, and he had learned much history from Vorrodion, and from the scrolls in the athenaeums in Tarkel and Saratolen.
“I’ve done that quite a bit myself.” A man’s voice startled him from his musings. “Connects you to the past, somehow, I think, to feel the old stone.”
Rawar turned, and saw a short, coarsely complexioned old man in tattered clothes rubbing his own hand over the surface of the Tower.
“Makes me think of all the glory and the great men in the old stories.” The vagrant continued.
“I was doing it simply because I like the feel of cold stone.” Rawar said sharply. “And I was enjoying the peacefulness of the night.” He strode away briskly, leaving the tramp behind him nonplused. Rawar went to the Eastern Road, heading for a small inn that he knew of that wasn’t far from the Hub. It would do for the night; although he did not like to admit it to himself, he knew that he could use the rest. A night of comfort would do him good.
He came to The Red Torch after a short walk, wondering with a smirk if the manager of the place was the same man that had thought up its redundant name. He
entered the plain, two-story building through an equally plain wooden door, and found himself in a small alcove that served as a foyer. The room it looked into was long and rather skinny. To the left was a bar, extending all the way from the foyer to the opposite side of the room; to the right, with scant room between them and the bar lay four round wooden tables, each with four empty chairs set haphazardly around them. A brick hearth was set into the western wall behind the tables, but there was no fire, not in the midst of Spring; the only lighting was provided by several lanterns hung at seemingly random points on the walls.
” ‘t can I do for ye?” The rustic voice came from behind the bar, and Rawar looked there to see a medium-sized man with unkempt hair and beard looking at him with a jovial expression on his face.
“I need a room for the night,” Rawar said shortly. When he said this, one of the two men sitting at the bar turned to look at him. He was rather tall, with fair features that contrasted pleasantly with dark, curly hair. But Rawar’s scrutiny was drawn to the eyes. He could see that the stranger’s eyes were a deep, mesmerizing green, and he felt himself being drawn in by the gaze. There was age, endless age in those eyes that was truly frightening, and Rawar was indeed frightened, as he hadn’t been for many years. His skin grew cold, and he felt the hair on his arms and neck rising, though it was a warm night. The deep green bored into his very soul, like a long, cold blade that stabbed at the deepest areas of his being, and he wanted to look away, but he could not. Then he became aware that he could see into the other man as well; Manquarë, he thought. His name is Manquarë. But as he thought this, the green-eyed man abruptly turned away, and it was like waking from the most intimate dream, and despite himself he wanted the feeling back. Then he realized that he had missed something the bartender had said, and turned, with supreme effort, to the bar.
“I got lots o’ rooms,” said the bartender with a tone suggesting he was repeating himself. “Jus’ fer you, sir?”
“Uh, yes.” Rawar said, obviously shaken and glad that there were only three people in the room.
Satisfied, the barkeep’s blithe expression returned full force, and he came from behind the bar, motioning for Rawar to follow him. “This way.”
As Rawar walked past the bar, he could feel the young man’s old eyes staring inquisitively at his back; he resisted the urge to look back as he trailed his guide through the door. He was led up a single flight of stairs into a hallway which extended back the way they had come. There were four evenly spaced doors on either side of the corridor, with a window on the northern end that looked out onto the Eastern Road. The bartender led Rawar to the last door on the right.
“Yer lucky,” he said in his agreeable, agrarian fashion. “Buck in this ‘un jus’ left no more’n two hours ago. Got a nice view o’ the Road–“
“Thank you,” Rawar interrupted. “I’m sure it will be fine. May I have the key?”
Put off by Rawar’s discourtesy, the rustic responded shortly: “Right ‘ere, buck.” He pulled a small brass key out of his pocket and handed it to Rawar. “Whatcha payin’ with?” There was a challenging tone to his voice.
Rawar handed the man four small coins from a pocket in his pack.
“It’s five a night.”
He pulled out one more, turning and unlocking the door as the bartender strode away without a word, jingling the money in his hand.
The room was small, but adequate. Rawar removed the straps holding his weapons, and then his cloak, sitting on the foot of a small bed in the far corner. Then he pulled off his boots and lay back with a sigh of relaxation.
From the door there came a single knock, and he gave a different sort of sigh. He said nothing, hoping the meddler would leave.
“I know that there is someone in this room,” a man’s voice came through the door. “I only request a moment of your time, sir.”
Rawar sat up, and retrieved his sheathed sword from the floor. The only person it could be was the green-eyed man from the bar; the bartender’s voice was different, and the other patron had been drunk. “Let me be!” He was startled to hear his voice quaver, and noticed then that his hands were also shaking. Calm yourself, Rawar, he silently
scolded. With an effort, he stilled his hands and his mind, and when he spoke again, his voice was firm, and filled with vigor: “What do you want with me, stranger?”
“As I have already stated, I request only a moment of your time, sir.”
He seems courteous, at least, Rawar considered. But it could be a trick, so that he can entrance you again with his gaze. Just keep your eyes from meeting his, he decided at last. “Very well,” he said aloud, lowering the sword but keeping it in his hand. “You may come in.”
The doorknob turned, and the door opened, swinging inward to reveal the green-eyed man; Manquarë, Rawar remembered, as he carefully refrained from looking at the strange man’s face. Manquarë motioned to the sword.
“You have no need to fear me.”
Rawar raised the sword, pointing it at Manquarë’s chest. “Your moment diminishes. Speak your piece, stranger.”
“I–” He stopped, looking uncomfortable. “I know why you fear me, and I know why you will not look at my face. I also know that you know my name.”
Rawar stepped forward so that the point of his blade touched Manquarë’s chest. “That makes two of us.” He had regained his confidence; this was only a timid boy with strange eyes. “You had better say something that catches my attention before I lose my patience.”
The young man with the green eyes stepped away, so that his back was against the door, and bowed his head. When he spoke, it was in a quiet voice hardly above a whisper, so that Rawar had to strain his ears to hear the words; almost as if Manquarë didn’t want him to hear:
“I knew Vorrodion.”
Rawar’s heart chilled, his jaw tightening in anger as he stepped forward, pointing the sword again at Manquarë’s throat. His intent this time was to run it through, but he gained control of himself, and a great shudder passed through his whole body as he suppressed his rage. “Explain yourself.” His voice was low and deadly, filled with malice.
“Your whole being cries out his name. It was like a shout in my mind when you entered the room. My eyes, I– I didn’t know it would affect you that way.”
“What do you mean it was like a shout in your mind?” There was fear evident in Rawar’s voice. And suspicion. “What are you?” He lowered his sword then, and stepped up near to Manquarë, lifting the man’s arm and looking closely at it. He noticed then for the first time the faint greenish tinge the skin held, like a radiance beneath the surface that shined outward, but showed up only weakly to the natural eye.
“You are a doehrn.” It was not a question.
Rawar moved back, sitting on the foot of the bed. His legs felt suddenly weak, and he was light-headed. “This explains much.” he murmured.
“Yes. I’m sure it does,” Manquarë said. “I’m sorry, for all that’s worth. People usually treat me… differently, once they know what I am.”
Rawar just sat, saying nothing, with a distant expression on his face, so Manquarë continued.
“I do not normally intrude on others’ thoughts,” he said. “But as I said, it was like a scream in my mind, and I could not, or at least did not, stop myself. But in the matter of the eyes, I am baffled; I have never affected a man that way before.”
At this, Rawar seemed to return from wherever his mind had wandered, and he looked back at the green eyes for the first time. The terrible light that had been there was no longer in them; it had faded to a dull glow, as though they had passed from the brilliance of midday into twilight.
“It is me,” he said. “Vorrodion — ah! you have no idea how it pains me to hear his name spoken aloud — it was the same way with him. He learned to keep his thoughts from mine, and to restrain the light of his eyes.”
Manquarë moved away from the door then, a look of wonder on his face. “You must have doehrn blood in you.”
“No,” Rawar laughed harshly, almost bitterly. “No; there is no elf in me. I think it a curse; a curse of the Shadow.” He shook his head then, as if to clear it, and he looked up without realizing he had looked down; his eyes seemed to focus. He rose abruptly from the bed, picking up the sword he hadn’t known he had dropped. “But that’s enough,” he said, and strode forward, opening the door. “I need to rest, for I will resume my travels tomorrow.” He took Manquarë by the arm and maneuvered him out of the room. “Perhaps I will see you again, or perhaps not. In either case, I will not count it loss. Good night.” He shut the door.
Why did you do that? came a voice. What if he knows something you do not?
“He will be back,” Rawar said. “And I really do need rest.” He lay back on the bed, and was asleep in an instant.