across the sea

 A frisson went through the silver sands, and the waves that washed upon the pearl strewn strands seemed restless. Then like some Leviathan of the depths, slowly, ever so slowly, the isle of Tol Eressea started to move.

 Gilfanon, Lord of the House of Ingwe and Captain of the Faring Forth stood atop a spike of rock. The setting sun was a blaze of glory behind the spires of the mountains of Aman, but his back was turned to it. His eyes looked ever into the darkening horizon before him, through the high airs of Ilmen that flesh unaided cannot endure. Straight his sight went, even as the waters of the Bent Seas curved below them, to the rocky shores and frothing seas of the mortal lands where so many of the Elder Kindred had fought and bled and laughed and loved.

Meril i Turinqui rode in haste across the withered waste of rocky outcrops and scree-covered slopes. Her Elven steed never lost his footing, the colorless scrubs flaming to green in the wake of the thudding hooves. 

 As she rode into the meagre settlements dotting the edge of the Black Forests, men and women shut their doors, put cold iron horse-shoes before their doors. Geese yammered and livestock ran amok. This was no meek wood-elf but one of the Firstborn coming down in a mad speed. She kept the silver fires of her eyes hidden however, and mortals but thought of a loud passing wind whistling through the copses and attrributed it to spirits of the wild and old forgotten things of yore. 

 She had heard in her mind the call of the Starlord. And felt within her the impending arrival of the Faring Forth and Gilfanon, her kinsman in an almost-forgotten childhood in the Uttermost West. So she woke from her icy slumber, and washing the sleep of Ages away in a pool of starlit tears she arrayed herself in arms that bore the craftsmanship of Celebrimbor himself that the Lady of the Golden Wood had set aside for such a young warrior back in the Third Age before the lords of the Eldar had left Middle-earth.

 The words of the Starlord Elentyaro still hummed and hissed across the vast distances. Young one, I have gone on a voyage to the East to meet the last of my Order and also to retrieve if I may the Flammifer – a horn of silver that  can be sounded so that what remains of the Elder Kindred in mortal lands can rouse themselves to seek out the standard of GIlfanon. Else it is impossible to round up every Elf in every wood. Ride hard Lady Meril, to the ruins of Mithlond where Goldberry awaits with the others. The Swordhand I met is also with them. 

 Meril came at length from where she could smell the salt of the Sea and the faint cry of circling gulls. 

 And then she saw the crude cross. With yet another gruesome load.

 There was a whisper of steel.

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A Question of Whys

In one of the several villages that dotted the country, the mortal who would become the Swordhand sang a slow, sad melody for his dead wife. She had drowned in the gushing river following which he vowed to never ride the water. To his mind, the water god was a murderer and a raper, and he was powerless in front of such corruption. He was known to be a simple man – a little passionate in his passions, but otherwise a sundry farmhand who would not venture anywhere near the river – nor harbour any love for the sea like some of his juniors.

His mind was younger than those of his age – sharp but naïve, able but untrustworthy. When Elentyaro would engage him in a battle with his battered hand, the Swordhand would not give the Rider his fight – at least not the one Elentyaro would expect. A strong, slow hand that was suited to maces and flails would greet the Rider with a clumsy cudgel, yet a mind that would not waver at the strongest of suggestions – an ear that would not falter to the velvet bass of the Starlord. It would be a long time before the two would come to amicable terms and Elentyaro would explain the reason for seeking him out – at the deathly hour of the forest wisps.

It would be a still longer time before the Swordhand agreed. “There is devilry at work here, I know it” is what he would keep repeating to himself a countless times before his mind pieced together several unrelated events that Elentyaro told him and showed him after their tiring fight.

“There is devilry at work here, I know it, Rider.”

“If that is what you think of it, so be it. But I can tell you one thing – you can ask a fey of the river that burning question in your heart.”

“If such a thing were to exist, the first thing I would do it slake it on a hot and dry slab and let it rot in the midday sun here.”

“She does exist, Hieger. You’ll see her soon. Ride with me.”

“I will. And I will know why.”

—–

Ottor had now hired a young boy to refill the little pool that was evaporating at an alarming rate. Goldberry tried to croak out a song, but soon fell into a stupor that was interspersed with tales of great battles, a story of fey wife and a husband who was at once the Eldest evil and the Eldest good – someone that kept the peace but made the war. When the water was refilled again from a pool far away from the little tavern, a little measure of gold returned to her cheeks and her eyes refocused on the Shipwright.

“You should start building, now shouldn’t you?” Her lilting whisper scared the man who took two steps back and started assembling all his notes. He knew his work, but did not know why.

——

Beta Runok pinched the earth beneath his claws and turned it around over him. His sinews pulsated with every rushing step and he let out a shout that ended with a howl. He did enjoy the moon. But he was troubled more by the dreams.

Runok’s people believed moths in the sky secreted the ingredients required for dreams into the entrances of caves – caves his people inhabited eons ago.  This potent mixture from the moths entered the nostrils of only those who were to have the dreams that day. But sometimes there was an armada of moths that covered the sky like locusts and the entire race dreamt one dream.

The Wolf Dream.

For Beta Runok, something in bluecloak’s eyes told him this was a dream across races. A Dire Nightmare.

If the bluecloaks were having the same dreams, he had to find out why.

Of visitors in the night

Ottor cautiously lifted the leathern flap over his tent’s doorway, hand automatically tracing the runed hilt of his dagger. His small crew had camped near the shore, in sight of the longboats. Harald was always a bit partial when Northmen sailors visited his realm, and allowed them leeway. Such as camping by the sea without too many permissions or tolls.

The soft knock on the wooden shorings his tent had come from the taller of the two hooded figures. The other one seemed to be lolling, almost collapsing. A drunk tavern-wench perhaps? Ottor did not budge from the door.

“Aye?”

“May we come in? It is a dire time, and you do know that you have always waited for something like this.” The Rider from the tavern! The rest of it was not spoken words, but things Ottor himself seemed to think: in those sudden gusts of chill clarity out of the West. When you dreamed of sailing beyond the westering Sun. Into the Uttermost West. This may be the time to sail the waves of your dreams

He did not know how, but next they were seated as well as they could on his lumpy mattress. The Rider’s companion was a woman – all green eyes and golden tresses bundled up in a dark cloak, breathing raspy and uneven. Near to death. Ottor stared, bereft at this strange spectacle.

“My name is Elentyaro, known as the Hargrim Rider in these parts. And you are Ottor, who shall sail beyond the Sundering Seas to those white shores that have often pulled at your soul.”

Ottor felt a vast understanding through his bewilderment, that needed no words. “And she is…”

“Very sick. Her time here in this diminished world, little remaining as it was, is now almost used up.”

Goldberry was like a guttering flame throughout that night. Elentyaro laved her feet in the brackish water that stood in a pail. Ottor sat silent and watching, as beings that peopled his half-forgotten childhood yarns passed before his very eyes.

At last she spoke. “Elen..tyaro. I must see the Swordbearer, since you too cannot bear the burden.”

Ottor then saw that part of the Starlord’s swordhand was charred, with jagged rune-like patterns somehow etched into it – an eerie menace emanating from them.

Elentyaro grimaced. “This is the Shipwright, my lady. Since the Starsword is broken (he looked disgustedly at his own injured arm) we shall need a new one.”

“Can the Shipwright not weild both tiller and flail?”

“No.” The answer was definite. “Nay lady, this is not the age of Heroes. Better two mortals for two tasks.”

“Very well” A sigh like the wind in weeping willows. “Then go forth my lord and bring the Swordhand hither. I shall tarry as long as I may. Ottor shall guard me til then, will you not?”

Ottor looked into the limpid pools, and bowed his head.

Without a word the Rider left, his cloak billowing out as he rode away like a grey ghost into the stony hills.

 

 

Of Moonlight Messengers

Alatar slammed his cup on to the table and looked straight at Pallando, “How much longer are we supposed to just sit around waiting? We’ve been here a week already and you haven’t even told me why we’re here.”

Pallando calmly kept chewing on his food, “Patience, my friend. I told you I’m waiting for a message. And besides I thought you’d like spending some time at an inn after our wanderings. Doesn’t it remind you of home?”

“It did. Until I found out that the pillows are thin, the bread is too dry and the wine is too sweet. I’d never let my business come to this. Anyway, how are you supposed to get this message?”

“I’m not entirely sure. But I think I’ll know when the time comes.”

Alatar scoffed at this, “You’ve always been one for riddles. In all these years you haven’t learned to talk straight.” He got up to get more wine. Pallando smiled to himself and kept eating. As he looked out the window we could see the sky gradually darkening. Tonight the moon would be out in all its glory.

—–

Later that night Pallando stood high up on the hill that bordered the north side of the village. Below the village was asleep under the moonlight. Like most villages of the Sun-Lords it was small but orderly. The streets were clean, the houses laid out in order, the border wall was well-kept and there were constant guards at the gates. However tonight no guard had seen Pallando in his blue cloak slip past them and none would see him enter.

To his back were the outer fringes of the great Northern Woods. The villagers mistrusted the woods, rightfully so. Though nothing had been seen in many lifetimes of men stories were told of strange creatures coming out of the North, killing men and women in their sleep and stealing the children. Walls had been built to protect villages like this. Pallando couldn’t help but think that the walls were both too short and too thin to keep out any of those creatures if they should return. But that would not happen, he would see to it.

His reverie ended as the moon fell behind a cloud and he heard the rustle of leaves behind him. Anyone else would have called it the wind, but Pallando knew better. Without turning he said, “You are far from home, Gamma Runok”.

A voice answered him from just inside the wood, “I could say the same for you, Bluecloak. And it’s Beta now.”

Pallando turned towards the voice and as he did a man stepped out of the wood. He was tall and muscular, his face obscured partially obscured by a dark beard and flowing dark hair. But his eyes were sharp and keen. His bare chest bore many bruises and scars. As he walked out he stood tall and perfectly straight, there was an air of pride, even nobility around him.

Pallando held him silently for a moment. “Beta? I take it Alpha Laanor did not survive?”

“No. He died three days after you left. Kamil leads the pack now.”

“And the child?”

“He is safe, the Duchess and Romar the Elder take care of him. The castle is guarded day and night by both our peoples.”

“Then Laanor’s death was not in vain. The truce is safe.”

“For now. It is still early days and many are still not sure it is the right way. The blood-feud has been long and the distrust runs deep.”

“It will take time. And the boy holds to the key to the future of both your races. But you already know that. There are other matters we must take care of now. What does the Prince say?”

“The Prince agrees with you. His smiths have begun to forge Mirrors, but he says it will be a long time before any of them are ready. He is less willing to send an emissary. He still remembers how few returned from the last mission.”

“I don’t blame him. But the last mission was one of war, this one will be of peace. We must know what is happening beyond the borders. We cannot afford to be caught unawares. Will you be returning to Rorikshore?”

“Yes. I will rest here tonight and meet with some of my brothers tomorrow.”

“Then be so kind as to tell the Prince that I am coming to Rorikshore. I have… artifacts… that I believe will help him. I won’t keep you any longer, I know how much you enjoy the moon.”

Runok’s face curved into a half smile under his beard. “I do enjoy the moon. And it is a good night. But before I go, there is something else I think you should know about.”

“Oh? About the Prince? Or the child?”

“Neither. Do you know about the Moonlight Circle?”

“Yes, I’ve passed it in many times… the phases of the moon carved into fourteen stones in a circle. I believe one of your Alphas had it placed there long ago.”

“So our legends say. I rested there three nights ago. It is said the Circle is sacred to our people, that while we are in it nothing can harm us. So I slept there and I had the strangest dream. I was in the Circle, but it was a full moon night and the stones were glowing in the moonlight. And it was beautiful. But I wasn’t alone. There was someone else in the Circle with me. The thing is, I can’t remember who this person was, or what he looked like. I only remember one thing.”

“And what is that?”

Runok lowered his voice, as he feared there was someone listening to him, “Darkness will fall. That’s what he said to me, just that one line. I woke up soon after. I fell asleep again, but I didn’t dream. I didn’t think much of it then, but I thought you might be interested to know it.”

“Hmm… I can’t think of what it means. But thank you for telling me.”

At that moment the moon came out from the clouds and Runok turned to look at it. It seemed to make him happy again and wash away all memory of his dream. “Enough talk of darkness and dreams. I shall be off now. The Prince will get your message. Farewell, Bluecloak.”

“Farewell Beta Runok. Safe journeys.”

Runok turned and disappeared into the woods. If he had noticed the bright Ring on Pallando’s finger, set with a large white stone, he did not say anything of it. Pallando, for his part, had not said much of Runok’s dream, but in his mind he kept turning over the words: Darkness will fall.

The Standard Bearer of the Star.

The Dark was whispering something sultry and seductive to the night as it danced around It. The formless thing was about as beautiful and oppressive as the lament of a hundred dying nightingales in a conflagration. The ravens cawed and the choughs cried and the crows tore and the rooks battered at them.

For a moment it would seem that Goldberry sought far into the cloud to see the Dark – to see the shadow disperse and coalesce into something she knew. Someone she knew. The only one she knew.

The Dark encompassed their corporealities, entrenched itself in the little cavities of their skin, filled up their imperceptible imperfections (the Valar, they were not) and unfurled Its true shape to their true eyes.

She was dismayed and gladdened when the masked thing saw them through Its eye and drank their scent them through Its mouth. That was not he. Yet the one eye saw her hungrily, lustily.

The Starlord waited for the Dark to form in front of Goldberry. He knew what It was trying to do, yet he knew not how he knew. It seemed there were a few surprises left for him as well. As the Sun hastily and selfishly slipped away from the scene, the stars – nay – the Star erupted from being a faint smoke-swirling point of light to an excruciatingly powerful candle in the Starlord’s hands. It swirled and weaved itself around his fingers, becoming stronger and more powerful with every strand that seemed wound around the star so far above them all.

The Dark saw it all and knew it all. Yet it screeched and scratched at them with the feathered proxies that would be dying in a moment or two.

And that is when Goldberry saw it all.

Of old havens and river daughters

Alalminórë.”  The lean-faced traveler muttered the word suddenly, as memories of that place arose unbidden in his mind, as if borne on some last breeze out of the Forgotten West. Those shady copses of elm – the heart of the Isle of Elvenhome, the midnight skies unblemished under a  starry dome, the times that he had walked amidst the Elves as an emissary from Valimar. The silent hope of the Elven race as they bid him adieu, standing on the white prow of a Telerin vessel. Young Gilfanon’s stern face on those white shores as he shouldered the burden of the Faring Forth on his untried shoulders.

It seemed that salt sprays from the gulf of Lune to Belfalas had weathered his limbs as he tarried by the havens at Mithlond. Leaning upon the broken edifices he squinted across these brazen waves.
There were no gulls any more.

Inside the tavern the fiddler is a blur of elbows and tapping feet, the sound of thumping tankards and slosh of ale. The warm of humanity pervaded him like the familiar glow from a hearth. Running his hand over the rough-grained wood of  tables polished by the grease of countless meals.
Someone hollers for another round – burdens made light as light fails outside.

 Who shall refill the cup for me?

Drifting to his favoured shadowy nook, out of the way. Watching the merry folk traipsing by. The deep-throated chuckle of hefty men back from the hard fields, the swing of a shire-wench’s skirts, the quiet enjoyment of a crew resting from a voyage. Whither?
The South they say, beyond Harad and Khand and East thence.

Elentyaro turned away. They speak of what he had seen: loud mouthed merchants peddling their wares. Not the swift ship that he wanted for this voyage that he was planning. And suddenly he felt a small ripple in the chorus of thoughts and voices, and probed curiously towards the source. He did not know what he was searching for, something…anything that would give him some hope. That when the Eldar sallied forth under Gilfanon to rescue the Lingerers, at least a few Men would come to their aid.

Ottor son of Eadwine son of Oswine was a sea-farer of many winters, though a man of about a score and 8. He had sailed both as captain, mate and soldier – as reaver, raider, emissary, merchant and simply … wanderer. He glanced quizzically at the newcomer. Most patrons of the tavern knew each other –  villagers, a few guardsmen of the local thane to keep the peace, sailors that met once or maybe twice a year to swap tales of long cold voyages. He had heard word of this man from several of the resthouses on the King’s Way. One who had gainsaid Thane Harald’s will, yet lived to tell the tale. About yet another killing of the Elvenfolk. He winced. He had always had a longing for something undefinable and barely delineated, and the few times he had seen one of the forest folk … somewhere he sensed a bit of his beloved sea.

He shook his head and drained his cup. It seemed the traveler too had given him a sharp brief glance. At that moment a serving-wench swirled his way, slightly more slender than the others. Dark eyes and dark tresses. He laughed good-naturedly and passed her on to his more hungry shipmates. A sudden chill hand seemed to grasp his heart, then again the warmth washed over him. The sea calls me as ever.

Unlike most, Ottor had not ventured South more than he could help. The bleak expanse of the North Sea, its terrible squalls and freezing sleet: somehow they beckoned him with their sternness.

Outside again, and the hearth-fires twinkle from the dusk-cloaked hillsides eastwards. Like portholes of some mighty argosy to take him hence forthwith. To the white shores that called all wanderers unceasingly, beyond the setting Sun and sickle Moon, hope and despair. Driving them to unheeded rapture when the wind tears at wayward thoughts, when the sun blazes it’s ascetic’s incal upon bared forehead in a last gesture of commiseration.
Baring his teeth in a mirthless grin, Ottor mused to himself. My motley crew seem happy here, a whiff of peace from the snarling waves or the deathly stillness of a sea becalmed.

Striding down the wooden jetty, thinking of the graceful harbour that Elentyaro once knew. Hearing snatches from conversations ages ago, with those that had now passed beyond mortal ken. Swift glimmers of that free laughter (so free, so free!) sparkling like wine under a youthful sun. Living my days out on echoes from the past. While the voices of the living fade to oblivion. He felt the pull of another sentient.

Where the meandering stream trickled into the salty marshes at the mouth of the sea, the Starlord knelt by the bank. He did not see, or paid no heed to the shadows had lengthened across the hills.

There was a gentle sound of water running over stone and then Goldberry was there, her golden hair falling about her as water ran in rivulets down her smooth limbs.

“Ah, the wandered from the Stars, on an errand for the lords who sit beyond the setting Sun. Pardon my appearance, I was much in haste to change myself to suit the Ring-bearer’s old song.”

Elentyaro smiled. “Yes, that thought was in my mind too. You shall be knowing the errand which has brought me forth. And we shall need all the aid that powers such as yourself can give.”

“Power …” The Riverdaughter mused. “We never sought it, yet never gave up what was given us either. And now we must linger. The Elves shall have my aid, what little remains. Come let me walk with you to the edge of the trees. I had not dared walk on land alone, for fear of the cold iron that Men now carry. These are hard times indeed.”

“And harder yet to come.” Elentyaro made to cast his robe about the water spirit, but she waved him away.

“These leaves and shoots beneath my feet remind me of Iarwain before he wandered off into the dark forests.”

That was when the Dark attacked. A howl of rooks and ravens battered down on them, cruel beaks and glinting claws. But behind the cacophony was a chaotic discord as the force of the Dark beat down relentlessly upon their senses.

Goldberry stood defiant, golden tresses flying in a whirlwind about them both, but despairing – too far from the water to call on her full powers. The Starlord resisted the onslaught, taken at unawares and weaponless. Through the maelstrom they caught a glimpse of a distant figure, slight of build with dark hair falling free, as if directing the malevolence around them.

Another adventure

Pallando was awoken by the bright sunlight streaming through the window onto his face. It was close to noon, he had slept far longer than he had planned to. As he clambered out of the bed he tried to remember the last time he had been able to sleep so late. He couldn’t. In fact he had to think awhile before he remembered the last time he has slept in a proper bed. It wasn’t easy traveling across the world, especially when you were trying to stay out of sight. But now he was under the watchful eye of an old friend and he could afford to let his guard down, if only for a night.

When he came down Maric was washing his mugs, like a good barkeeper. “Ahh, you’re awake” he said in a cheery voice, rather different from his demeanor the night before. “Would you care for some lunch?”

“Lunch? Have I really slept that late?”

“Indeed you have. But you wouldn’t be the first weary traveler I’ve seen to do that. Have a seat and I’ll get you some food.”

“Lunch sounds wonderful. But first, do I call you Alatar, or do you prefer Maric Whitehood now?”

Maric stopped washing and for a few seconds stood silently. If Pallando was close enough to see his blue eyes under the bushy white eyebrows he would have seen them glazed over as if his mind was far away, in both space and time. Finally, he said, “Alatar will do, old friend.”

Over lunch the two old friends talked and talked. They talked of the incessant wars in the West, the rise of new powers in the South and the growing strength of the so-called Centre Alliance. Pallando brought news of just how low the old kingdoms of the West had fallen, of the shrinking woodlands and the plight of the last of the Eldar. But in the South the jungles were vibrant still and in them were different beings — rakshasa they called themselves — immortal and strong like the Eldar of old but dark skinned, quicker to rage and given to illusions and deceptions. Pallando spoke of strange creatures that stirred in the Central Plains — man-horses gifted with great knowledge and wisdom rumored to have the gift of seeing through time. They were secretive and aloof but Pallando thought that they were the powers that propped up the thrones of the Centre Alliance. He had skirted around the Great Desert on his journey East but even in the border cities he had seen amazing sights and sensed the presence of terrible magic — powers that were Maiar-equal at least but seemingly commanded by mortal Men. And finally he had passed over the Red Mountains and come at last to Shi Taiyang — great capital of the Sun-lords of the East.

At this point Alatar interrupted him, “But why, Pallando? Why? You have traveled across the world, farther even than Mithrandir or Aragorn did long ago. And now you come knocking at my door carrying impossible treasures. What is the meaning of it?”

“To tell the truth, Alatar, I don’t know, I can only suspect. But I suspect that the age of Men is coming to an end. This is a world of many creatures. In fact, I suspect it always has been. But till now they have been content to stay out of the affairs of the world, out of the knowledge of the Children of Illuvatar at least. But now they are stirring. They are coming out of their jungle hideouts, out of the plains and the desert and the ice. And they are not quiet farmers and brewers like the Halflings of the Shire. They are forming empires and alliances, gathering armies and building citadels. They have the power to move earth and water, they play with wind and fire. What else they are capable of, I can only imagine. All I know is that here in the East the Sun-Lords have established the last strong nation of Men on Middle-Earth.”

“And you wish to give them strength against the tide of change that now sweeps the world? Is that why you bring your treasure here? You think they are strong enough to wield the power of Ring-lore and not be corrupted by it?” As Alatar asked this his eyes seemed to grow brighter and sharper. They focused on Pallando, unblinking.

Pallando for his part smiled a little, “You are sharp as always. Yes, I think the Sun-Lords can wear Rings without falling to them. But as for the rest, you are not quite right. I brought them here, but they have not traveled far. They were forged in a small town just two days ride from here. They were made by and old man and his grandson.”

Alatar was visibly surprised. “Are you telling me that these Men of the East have rediscovered the making of Rings? I do not think I believe you. It took Celebrimbor years to perfect the art of Ring-making and that too under the tutelage of Sauron. Curunir himself only made the smallest steps and he tried for decades.”

“Yes, I know all that Alatar. But you have seen the proof with your own eyes. I saw their forging myself. The night I left it was raining; the old jeweler wore the ruby Ring and kept the fire going through the rain and the damp. These are Rings of Power, Pallando and the East-Men wield them like they are hammers and spades.”

“So what do we do now? Do we go to the Sun-lords and offer guidance like Mithrandir did to the Kings of the West?”

“No, no. It is too soon for that. And I feel the Sun-Lords should be allowed to grow accustomed to these powers on their own. For now we should only watch. Besides, affairs in the West are more pressing — the last of the Firstborn will not long survive the decay of the West.”

“The Sun-lords have mighty armies. But even if they wield the power of the Rings, they cannot march across all of Middle-Earth. And they have no alliances with the Houses of the Eldar.”

“True. But the Sun-Lords are not the only strength in this part of the world. There are powers here that are older than them by far and they owe us a debt, if you remember.”

“You mean to go North then? To Rorikshore? Or even further?”

“To Rorikshore. I have no intention of meeting the Frost Giants just yet. But there is an impulsive young vampire in Rorikshore I have been meaning to see for a while.”

“I thought the vampires had been purged from Rorikshore.”

“The vampires purged? Hah! Rorikshore would fall to the Sultanate within a day if the Vampires left. No, I suspect it’s an elaborate rouse. Or someone’s idea of a practical joke. We shall find out. Will you come?”

Alatar did not respond immediately. He furrowed his eyebrows and for a while his eyes had that far-away look again. And when he did speak he sounded like the tired old man from the night before. “I’ve lived a quiet life for many years, letting the world pass me by. I was content to sit by and watch the turn of the world. And then you show up to my door, uncalled for, with magic Rings and tales of man-horses and demons. You want me to aid a long lost people at the other end of the world. You want to drag me along to chase vampires and frost giants? You want me to give up home and hearth for danger and toil and a fool’s hope? Why, of course I’ll come!”

If Pallando and Alatar had been younger they would have laughed out together. But now they just sat together, silent, with little smiles on their faces. To be alone together and not say a word you must be very close friends. Alatar and Pallando were the closest.