That ye may be the children of your Father
which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the
evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and
on the unjust.
The best education is education in the best
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not re-
ceive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no
wise enter therein.
Trouble in Class
The West, as most people who lived there called it, was
a beautiful land, stretching from the Delor Mountains to
the Calasian Sea. It was a land of rugged mountains and
evergreen trees, of wild rivers and dense forest. But it
was also a harsh land, as dangerous as it was beautiful,
with freezing cold winters, wild animals, and the ever
present threat of war with The East.
The people of the Western Alliance matched the
land. Strong and simple, they challenged the wilderness
with unwavering determination and hard work- and
They had not always lived west of the great
Delor Mountains; centuries before they had lived east
of the great mountains. But then came the Great Disper-
sion, and Sotthem, God’s most graceful of all the
created beings, grew proud and sought to destroy all
mankind. A few escaped the slaughter and fled west,
and in the centuries since their flight they had birthed a
nation, carved out a government, and enjoyed an uneasy
sense of security. Sure, there were still the border
skirmishes and whispered tales of what happened to the
few caravans of merchants that ventured too far into
The East. But, all in all, most Westerners were far too
busy to worry, or to remember, the past.
Yet, within the Western Alliance, there was a
single boy who was different. And, although no-one
knew it at the time, his great differences would shape
the history of the pre-Genesis Earth then called Elethra.
On the particular morning our story starts,
Loriden Ulrich sat at his desk in a little school; a square
stone and wood building nestled in a break of the forest
within the state of Estralin. He stared intently at a piece
of paper on his desk, and drew a picture while the
teacher taught the class. His blond hair was striking-
almost white-and complimented his fair complexion
and light blue eyes, a stark contrast to the black hair and
tanned features of the common Westerner. He was so
intent he didn’t notice when the teacher stopped speak-
ing and quietly snuck up behind him.
She was a fairly large woman (a rarity in The
West) but she could move as silently as a cat when she
needed to (and at that moment she thought she needed
to). He never heard her coming. In one swift movement
she pounced and jerked the paper out from under his
pencil. Surprised, he bolted upright and grimaced as his
knee collided sharply with the underside of the desk.
She waved the paper triumphantly.
“What is it you drew this time?” She said.
Loriden gulped, knowing things could go
quickly from bad to worse. It's… it's… it's a horse.” He
"I know it’s a horse! Anyone can see that!" She
scolded, her forehead wrinkling as she studied the
drawing. "But what are those fluffy things under its
Oh no, he thought. Not again. He considered
telling a lie-only a small one-but quickly ruled it out,
knowing that once you started telling lies it was hard to
stop. He squared his shoulders and answered truthfully,
"Those are clouds Miss Ute. It’s not a normal
horse- it’s a magical one."
Around the room there was a sharp intake of
breath. The other children, who until now had turned in
their seats to watch the events, turned back to their
desks and pretended to do sums and spelling words. But
in reality they were listening as closely as before, and
not a single sum was worked, nor a spelling word
The reason for their peculiar actions was the fact
it was illegal to use the word “magic” anywhere in the
Western Alliance. Something had happened long before
that had turned The Council against any form of magic.
And well, you couldn’t even talk about it now. Not if
you valued your freedom.
"Well, Loriden, what have you to say for
yourself?" Miss Ute’s voice had taken on a dangerous
Loriden stood to his feet and rested his hands
nervously on the desk, staring at the floor. His cheeks
burned in embarrassment, causing a faint red spot to
tinge his normally fair cheeks as he cleared his throat,
"Miss Ute, I'm sorry for interrupting the class.
I’ll make sure it doesn't happen again." He began to
absently run his finger up and down a crack in the cool
wooden desk top.
In one quick motion she brought her thick
wooden cane down and rapped his knuckles. He
flinched and jerked his hands back protectively, cra-
dling the wounded right one in the palm of his left.
How it stung!
“See that it doesn't.” Her cold voice replied.
He dared not look up and instead kept his eyes
glued to the floor, fighting back the tears that threatened
to spill over and humiliate him further. Slowly, Miss
Ute turned and began walking back toward the front of
the room, her wooden shoes clomping with each
measured step. He dared a single peek just as she
stopped, crumpled his drawing into a little ball, and
flicked it into the fireplace. Her eyes met his and he
looked away, doing his best to appear crestfallen and
chastened. It must have worked. Her footsteps contin-
He exhaled in relief. She had let him off easy.
Nothing more happened out of the ordinary that
morning; Miss Ute continued to teach the class, the
students daydreamed, and Loriden sat as rigid as the
pine tree which stood outside the window. Then, as she
always did, she gave the students some problems to
solve and sat behind the big desk in the front- dozing.
At precisely twelve noon everything changed.
She suddenly rose from her chair and walked to the
back of the class, picked up a small silvery bell, and
then hesitated. This was her finest hour, the time when
she held the hopes of all the children in her hands.
Although not a single child looked her way, she knew
from their taut shoulders and shallow breathing every
student’s attention was directed at her. She flicked the
bell briskly and its clear tone shattered the silence.
Instantly, the classroom erupted in chaos as thir-
ty-five children pushed, elbowed and jostled to get into
their coats, hats, and gloves before bursting through the
door and onto the playground, laughing and shouting as
they escaped the tedium of their morning’s lessons.
They broke into little groups to eat their lunch, sitting
on the benches just outside the door or congregating in
the play area.
All, that is, except one boy. Loriden ran in the
opposite direction toward the woods and his favorite
fallen log. He glanced about to ensure he was alone,
and was rewarded to see only the tall evergreen trees
and the thick carpet of pine needles that blanketed the
forest floor. He breathed in the rich pine scent and
relaxed. Here in the forest he felt more at home than
anywhere else in Elethra, any place at all.
His thoughts instinctively drifted to the memo-
ries of his mother. A familiar, almost comforting
melancholy descended as he thought about her. Life
had been so wonderful before she died, and sometimes
he missed her so much he ached. But thinking about her
was worth the pain. The memories were so vivid
sometimes it was like she was right there beside him.
She had been an exceptionally beautiful woman,
with long hair as black as midnight, framing delicate
features encased within the familiar olive skin. And
except for her striking blue eyes, she had resembled all
the other Western women. Yet it wasn’t just her eyes
that had made her different, it was her spirit. She
possessed a grace and carefree demeanor that set her
apart. It was like she walked on air; above the harsh
life and pressures of The West-always smiling-always
with a kind word. And most people loved her for it; and
for the ray of sunshine she brought with her wherever
However, Loriden knew something else about
her that other people hadn’t known. Something so
secret, something so dark that if it had come to light
would have ruined her. People would have been afraid.
They would have whispered about her in secret places,
probably even imprisoned her.
What was her secret? What dark crime had she
committed and then hidden from the world? Was it
Murder? Treason? Blackmail? No, her crime had been
that she believed the stories. The stories that were
illegal to tell in The West: stories about magic and
Angels, of true history, and of God. She would whisper
them to Loriden late at night after she tucked him into
bed and her blue eyes would flash and sparkle as she
spoke. Then she would make him repeat them back to
her, and warn him again and again to never forget them,
and to never let anyone know he knew them, no matter
And then something did happen: the fire. And
she had left him alone. But the stories still remained.
And he would keep his vow to remember them and
He shook his head as hunger shattered his
reverie. He felt the melancholy lift off of him as fast as
it had descended.
"So, what‘s for lunch today?" He muttered
under his breath as he lifted the cloth from off his lunch
basket. “Let me see,” he continued “some cheese, a
piece of bread….”
"Loriden, who are you talking to?"
His hand jerked back in surprise as Gandriele
skipped into the clearing, her brown eyes sparkling as
"Oh, it's just you, Gandriele." Loriden said with
obvious relief. That’s all he needed, for someone to find
him talking to himself.
“Just me!” She countered with a toss of her
head, her black braid flopping over her shoulder, her
smile fading as abruptly as it had appeared.
"Oh, you know what I mean, Gandriele."
"You should be glad it was just me that caught
you talking to yourself, especially after what happened
this morning!” She jested lightly, plopping down next
to him and peering uninvited into his lunch basket.
Loriden rolled his eyes, "Gandriele, let’s not
talk about it." He was trying hard to forget the morning
and his sore knuckles, but her comment brought back
the painful memory. He flexed his sore hand.
“She shouldn’t have been so hard on you!”
Gandriele said, more than a little miffed.
“I thought she let me off easy.”
He started to say something else but was inter-
rupted when a boy bounded into the clearing.
“Gandriele,” he said, panting and trying in vain to catch
his breath, “Miss Ute sent me to find you. She said you
left for lunch without cleaning the boards and it’s your
"I forgot!” Gandriele jumped up in panic. The
boy began running back toward the schoolhouse.
Gandriele quickly stuffed the rest of her lunch back into
her bag and then raced off. Just as she reached the edge
of the clearing she skidded to a halt and turned back.
“I’m going to grandfathers today.” She said
quickly, “Do you want to walk together?"
"Sure," Loriden said. "I’ll wait for you at the
beginning of the trail.” She sprinted off.
Back in the clearing, Loriden couldn’t help but
smile and shake his head. Good old Gandriele. She had
been a good friend, and about the only person who he
felt understood him- well, almost understood him.
His mind traveled back in time. The melancholy
bitter-sweet feeling came back. In his thoughts his
mother smiled at him, then began another story.
He said unto them, Unto you it is given to know
the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that
are without, all these things are done in parables:
And without controversy great is the mystery of
godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,
1 Timothy 3:16
The secret things belong unto the LORD our
The Old Tower
The door to the schoolhouse flew open and children
fled in every direction, quickly disappearing into the
lengthening shadows like birds escaping a cage.
Loriden and Gandriele ran across the clearing and into
the thick woods, then slowed to a walk and started up
the trail which led to the Estralin Castle. Side by side,
they laughed and talked about the days’ events. They
didn’t often get to walk together, but today was an
exception as Gandriel’s parents were away on business.
They were tailors by trade, and although business
around Estralin was brisk, once a month they traveled
to the shops in the capital city to sell their leftover
stock. They didn’t profit as much selling to the shops in
Chalcony as selling to individuals in Estralin, but it kept
the money flowing, the stock low, and the larder full.
On the days her parents traveled, Gandriele stayed the
night with her grandfather at the Estralin Castle, the
same place Loriden’s father worked as Lord Estralin’s
The trail which they traveled served as a
shortcut from the Castle to the Central Highway. And
although too narrow and rocky for carts and wagons, it
served nicely for people on foot. Rugged and rocky, it
wound around the mountain and through the thick
woods like a serpent in tall grass, sometimes making a
sizable break in the thick canopy of trees, and other
times nothing more than a thin stain of brown peeking
through the course meadow grass from tree line to tree
line. Yet it was passable, and a Godsend to the few
people who relied on it.
Yet there was a particular section the trail that
was far narrower than the rest, as if the forest itself
resented its presence and fought to overcome it. It was
the place where the trail cut through the densest part of
the wood- and try as they might, the workman couldn’t
cut the brambles down as fast as they sprung up again.
There had been a time they had tried to master
it, and Lord Estralin had sent a score of workman to
open it up. They had worked feverishly- swinging picks
and spades, carting in rock and digging with shovels.
Yet even as they worked they grumbled and
complained, some feeling that they were being watched
and others believing the stretch of trail were cursed, and
try as they might they couldn’t make any headway.
They would arrive each morning to find that the briars
and thorns had seemingly popped up overnight and
choked out their progress. Finally, they simply gave up
and left it alone.
Loriden and Gandriele arrived at this stretch of
trail and she fell in step behind him. She was telling
him a funny story about her grandfather and waved her
arms in lively animation as she spoke.
“Anyway, so there he was, eating soup with a
grasshopper in it, when, oomph!”
She was cut off midsentence as she collided
with Loriden. Catching her breath, she found him
standing as still as a statue, looking out over the stump
of a broken signpost.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
"Gandriele, if I tell you a secret, will you
promise not to tell?”
“Of course.” She replied a little hesitantly,
cautious at his sudden change in demeanor.
“I mean, tell NO-ONE!”
Gandriele stamped her foot. “I said I wouldn’t
Loriden pointed over the broken signpost and
spoke slowly. “This path leads up to the old stone
Her eyes widened. She looked down his finger
and sure enough, there was an old faded trail from the
signpost to the tree line. You could barely see it and the
fact was you would have missed it completely if you
weren’t looking for it. She felt a chill creep up her
“The old stone tower? The one they say is
haunted?” She couldn’t quite keep the tremor from her
Surprised, Loriden snuck a peek at her from the
corner of his eye. She looked serious enough- rather
spooked. “It’s not haunted. THEY just say that to make
sure no one goes there! “
“How do you know?” She asked softly.
Loriden took a deep breath, “Because I’ve been
She didn’t think it was possible, but she was
even more shocked then before. She had always known
that Loriden had a fascination for magical things, but
never in her wildest dreams would she have thought
this; the old stone tower! The tower the other kids
talked about only in whispers! She honestly didn’t even
know what to say- she didn’t know what to think. Was
he brave? Or stupid? She never had time to decide as
“Would you like to see it?”
She looked again over the broken signpost at the
faint, overgrown path that ran up the mountain and
disappeared into the forest. And the forest seemed dark-
darker then it had a few moments before.
Oh, what am I going to do?
His face glowed with anticipation as he waited
on her answer. And although she truly wanted to refuse
she heard herself say,
“Sure, but I have to be at the castle and have
dinner ready before my grandfather arrives.”
“No problem. I’ll have you back in time and
you’ll love it!.” He leapt over the signpost and without
a moment’s hesitation bounded up the overgrown path.
“We’ll see.” Gandriele muttered under her
breath as she stole one last wary glance at the trail and
then raced after him.
The forest was dark in shadow, but they moved
quickly, dodging branches and jumping over fallen
logs. Loriden knew the path well; darting left and right
like a rabbit- sometimes bypassing obstacles and
sometimes leading her over them. Gandriele stayed
close to his heels, excitement welling up in her despite
her fears. A few minutes later had them standing in an
old courtyard which enclosed the enormous stone
tower. Amazed, Gandriele tilted her head back- way
back- as far as it would go, then placing her hand over
her eyes to shield them from the sun, she looked up to
the top of the old stone tower which seemed to reach
“Wow,” she whispered.
Her neck began to ache as she soaked in the
spectacle. The stone tower seemed to go on forever, as
if reaching for the clouds. Tall and straight, the stone
exterior was broken only by a single window at the top.
Reluctantly, she dropped her gaze and walked to the
courtyard wall where she gingerly, almost reverently,
ran a finger over one of the stones, feeling the rough-
ness against her finger tips. You would expect that
living in a land whose people made almost all their
buildings from stone and wood that she would have
found them quite commonplace. But it was really quite
the opposite. For one thing, these stones were much
larger than any of the stones that were used to make the
houses in town, or even the castle fortifications for that
matter. The other was the beautiful color. It was as if
sand had been mixed with white chalk to create a
striking gray and white marble. Yet the gray was not
the dark gray like low hanging clouds on an overcast
day, but a light one you sometimes see on the edge of a
puffy white cloud. And the white ran like rivers
throughout the stones. Sometimes in thin lines like little
creeks, branching out in intricate patterns, and other
times thick and wide like rivers. Yet it wasn’t chalky,
and her finger came away quite clean. The whiteness
didn’t sit on or stain the stone as she first thought; it
was part of the stone, an intrinsic quality of the foreign
“No man could lift these stones into place," she
marveled, speaking her thoughts out loud.
"I know," Loriden replied, smiling and joining
her at the wall. "I tried to ask about it once…. Well,
let's just say it didn’t turn out any better than this
morning.” After a brief hesitation he added, “Come on,
I have something else to show you."
He led her through an archway and into a
smaller courtyard bordering the tower. Brush and
brambles had overtaken the enclosure, but couldn’t
obscure the magnificence of its past. A polished foun-
tain sat proudly in the middle, fashioned from the same
stone in which the tower was made. Yet it was of a
higher quality, and the craftsman must have been a
master- as the stone basin sat at the foot of a sculpted
waterfall. And even through the clinging vines and
branches that fought to find a perch on its polished
surface, Gandriele could almost imagine the beauty of
the water cascading through the hole in the wall and
down the stone, coming to rest in a final plunge of the
basin. Loriden pointed at the stone archway they had
just passed under. Etched into the stone were strange
letters and symbols.
"What does it say?" She asked him.
"I don‘t know," he answered a little sadly, “And
I guess I never will.”
She couldn’t help but also feel a little disap-
pointed, then slowly turned her head and looked
intently at her friend, almost as if seeing him for the
first time with his striking blonde hair, fair skin, and his
bright blue eyes. In that magical moment she realized
that he was as much a mystery to her as the tower, and
she wondered if they weren’t connected somehow.
He looked back to her and she quickly looked
away. If he had caught her staring at him he didn’t
show it. Instead, he motioned her to follow and led her
to a small, dark doorway leading into the tower itself.
She watched him step through the dark opening and
disappear. Many of the stones around the door were
missing and she couldn’t help thinking it looked like
he’d been swallowed by a big gaping mouth. She
paused just a moment, mustered her courage, and
stepped through the doorway.
The first thing she noticed was that it wasn’t as
dark as she had expected. A large portion of the tower
ceiling and smaller portions of the tower walls had
crumbled, allowing shafts of late afternoon sunlight to
stream into the old tower and brightening the place. To
her right, a large stone staircase wound from the floor
of the tower along the outer wall and then disappeared
high above her in the shadows- only to reappear at
intervals where the light shone through. She could see
where entire sections of the stairs were missing: the
stones having fallen and now laying in heaps on the
floor. She took another step and spied Loriden sitting
on one of the stairs at the bottom of the spiral staircase.
He was watching her.
She began to explore the room, careful to avoid
the piles of stone and rubble. She had gone about
halfway around the tower when she noticed a raised
dais in the very center of the section she had just
passed. It was made of stone, about four feet high,
circular, and maybe ten feet across. She circled it and
found herself standing before a small stairway that led
from the ground to the dias floor. Her feet seemed to
climb the steps of their own accord, and before she
knew it, she was standing before a large clear stone
which was anchored in the very center of the dias. It
was almost as large as she was, milky white, and criss-
crossed by metal bands. The strangest thing was
although everything in the tower was crumbling and
covered with dust, the stone was clean and showed no
signs of age or decay.
Intrigued, she reached out to touch it.
She jerked back in alarm and almost fell off the
edge. Catching her balance, she spun around and locked
her flashing brown eyes on Loriden.
“You’d better have a good reason for what you just
"I'm… I’m… sorry Gandriele,” Loriden stut-
tered apologetically, taking a step backward. To be
truthful, he had never seen her so angry before, and it
unnerved him just a little. She stood there with her
hands clenched, glaring at him. "It’s just…" He looked
at the stone. "It seems to me … like it’s… alive."
“Alive? “ She said angrily. “How can it be
She turned back and looked hard at the stone.
Now that he mentioned it… Was it pulsing?
The hair on her neck stood up as she backed away.
"Loriden, I think we need to start back." Her
voice trembled slightly.
Loriden’s heart sank. “Ganriele, it’s not going to
hurt you or anything. I just…”
“OK” Loriden replied reluctantly. He wasn’t
about to keep her there against her will, but he wished it
hadn’t gone this way. “Follow me."
They ran silently back through the forest to the
broken signpost, and as they stood there huffing from
the exertion the late afternoon sun flickered between the
pine nettles and made little patterns at their feet. The
birds sang as a fresh breeze rustled the leaves of the
trees, wafting the fresh scent of pine throughout the
As the memory of what had just happened
blurred a bit, Gandriele began feeling like she had
possibly overreacted. Had it really been pulsing?
"Gandriele," Loriden began, "I’m sorry for sug-
gesting the tower. I shouldn't have dragged you up
"Loriden Ulrich!" She said in a reproving tone,
trying to hide the fact she had been scared (even to
herself), “I went to the tower because I wanted to. She
couldn’t help but shudder, her false bravo slipping
away. “But there’s something about that stone. It drew
me and scared me at the same time.” She wondered if
this made sense to him, it really didn’t even make sense
“That’s exactly how I felt the first time I went!”
He said excitedly. “But I promise you, it gets easier
each time you go!”
Gandriele smiled back, finally back on familiar
turf. She voiced the one thing she was sure of concern-
ing the tower."I'll take your word on it, because I'm
never going back!"
As she said the final words she turned and raced
down the path toward the castle, her black braids flying
behind her. Loriden raced to catch up.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days
may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God
Except the LORD build the house, they labour
in vain that build it:
Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmos-
phere where individual differences are appreciated,
mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and
rules are flexible -- the kind of atmosphere that is found
in a nurturing family.
Home Sweet Home
Loriden beat Gandriele to the gate- but barely. After
telling her goodbye, he ran until he reached a little
house within the castle wall, threw open the door, and
bolted into the sparsely furnished house that he and his
father called home.
Walking briskly to the fireplace, he took the last
of the kindling from the wood box and soon had a
cheery fire popping and crackling in the hearth. The
heat from the fire spilled into the room, chasing away
the autumn chill. When he was certain the fire was
good and hot, he filled the black iron kettle with water
and added some black beans and a piece of pork. Soon
he could smell the thick soup and felt his stomach
grumble in anticipation. When it came to a boil, he
swung the black kettle off the flames and set it to the
side where it would keep warm, then leaned back on the
crude kitchen chair and waited hungrily for his father to
The minutes marched by slowly. Loriden could
do little to break the monotony except to occasionally
stir their dinner with a wooden spoon,. When the
minutes stretched to an half hour- and then to another
quarter-hour Loriden decided his father must have been
delayed. It wasn’t unusual; often some last minute
delivery caused him to be late. But just as he reached
for the kettle the door banged open and along with a
blast of cold air his father stepped wearily into the
room. His shoulders were slumped, and he walked
slightly hunched over, as if he were carrying a heavy
burden. After issuing a long sigh, he hung his overcoat
on the peg by the door, without so much as a glance
"Hello Father.” Loriden ventured.
"Hmmm, Oh, hello, Loriden." His father mum-
bled as he shuffled by and sat wearily on the other chair
near the fire.
He’s in one of those moods again, Loriden
thought to himself.
He often thought that when his mother died, a part of
his father died too. And the part of his father that was
still alive drew back into a shell, a shell that Loriden
couldn’t penetrate. In a way, he’d lost two parents in
He carried the black iron pot from the fireside to
the table. Then after dividing the steaming contents
between their two bowls he said,
“Father, Dinner's ready, better come and eat it while it's
Wordlessly, his father pulled the chair to the ta-
ble and sat down to eat. He methodically began spoon-
ing the contents from the bowl to his mouth, as his eyes
stared out across the empty room.
Loriden was taking his first bite when his father
unexpectedly broke the silence, "What happened at
"What do you mean? Loriden hedged, a knot
forming in his stomach. Surely he couldn’t know this
"I overheard Yurgen telling his father about you
today. Something about a picture?"
Loriden took a deep breath before answering.
Yurgen was one of the older boy’s at the school, and
one of the boys who also lived at the castle. His father
was in charge of the stables, and Yurgen often had to
help him after classes. The knot in his stomach grew
bigger. "Miss Ute caught me drawing in class."
"Hmmm.” His father said slowly. “That doesn't
sound so bad.” He turned and looked squarely at him.
“What did you draw?"
"I drew a horse." He replied quickly, hoping
desperately the discussion would end there. His father
bent over the bowl and continued to eat his beans.
Relieved, Loriden lifted his spoon once again.
But before he could take a bite...
"Seems like a lot of fuss over a horse. What
kind of horse was it?" His father asked.
I‘m in for it now! He closed his eyes and
breathed deeply. "It was a flying horse."
His Father’s hand suddenly slammed down on
the table. The move was so sudden, so unexpected, that
Loriden jumped and for the second time that day
banged his knee. His father exploded, "Loriden, I’ve
told you a thousand times to give up all this crazy
magic business! His eyes, which a moment before were
lifeless and gray, burned with intensity.
"Father," he began to argue, "Yurgen should
"That's enough!" His father slammed his fist
down on the table again, causing the bowls to jump and
dance abut the table.
Defeated, Loriden dropped his head and stared
at the floor. He could feel the hot burning in his cheeks
as he fought to suppress his anger.
His father ran his hands through his hair, al-
ready regretting his sudden outburst. What’s the matter
with me? He wondered. Looking at his son, he felt a
twinge of guilt creeping up over him. Ever since his
wife died, he just could not seem to show love to
anyone. He couldn’t shake this depression. It was like a
fog, it tainted everything he saw, everything he
touched, even those he loved.
His voice softened. “You know what people
think. All this talk about magic is going to get you into
big trouble one day.”
"I know," Loriden answered distantly, "It won't
His father quickly pushed back his chair and
rose to his feet.
"I almost forgot,” he stammered. “We have a
shipment of supplies coming in."
Without waiting for a response he crossed the
room, snatched his cloak off the peg, and threw open
the door. As he disappeared out into the darkness he
called out over his shoulder, "Don't wait up for me.”
Then with a blast of cold air he was gone.
Loriden sat alone at the table for a few minutes
before standing to his feet and pulling his chair from the
table to the fire.
As if the evening couldn’t get any worse it did:
his beans were cold.
Then this Daniel was preferred above the presi-
dents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in
But every man hath his proper gift of God, one
after this manner, and another after that.
1 Corinthians 7:7
An ounce of heart knowledge is worth more
than a ton of head learning.
The In-Between Years
The next two years passed quickly in the little house,
with nothing of much interest happening. Loriden went
to school, studied, and for the most part, stayed out of
He still visited the tower, but only by himself.
He was careful not to discuss his visits with anyone-
except Gandriele. In his heart he still believed in magic,
but outwardly, he blended in with the masses. Besides
Loridens’ peculiar looks, he seemed no different than
any other fourteen year old boy. There was one excep-
"You're early today!” A deep booming voice
thundered from directly behind him.
Loriden whirled to see the Swordmaster leaning
against the door frame, watching him intently. At just
over six feet tall, with a broad chest and wide shoulders,
the Swordmaster was one of the largest and strongest
men in Estralin. Despite his size though, he moved as
silently and stealthily as a cat, showing up at times and
in places Loriden least expected, like he had just done.
“Clean out the stables and fill the hayloft, then
we’ll have your lesson.” He ordered.
Loriden nodded and moved off quickly to the
The Estralin Pell was comprised of a single
large building, a small house, and the stables. As the
place responsible for training all the young men in the
discipline of war, it was well known throughout the
land. Almost all men in the state of Estralin had passed
through its walls at one time or another. And for all of
them, it was a place of fond- or not so fond memories.
Loriden threw himself into his chores and soon
finished. Sweaty, and with bits and pieces of straw in
his hair, he ran from the stables back to the pell.
Most boys didn’t start the required weapons
training until age fifteen. But Loriden was different, and
for this difference he could thank his father who
secretly hoped that his son might excel as a soldier. In
the Western Legion, his father knew men were not
judged by their looks, their beliefs, or even by their
birth. Instead, a man was judged by his sword arm and
his mettle- traits he hoped the Swordmaster might help
to instill in his son. Also, he hoped that it might find the
home he had failed to provide.
Much to his father’s delight (and the
Swordmaster’s surprise) Loriden was showing great
aptitude in swordsmanship. In fact, he was showing so
much promise that the Swordmaster began training him
individually after just the first year.
It hadn’t started out so well. At the beginning,
Loriden loathed the training. Right after school he had
to run to the Pell just as soon as the bell rang and his
classmates were walking home to dinner. Then he was
required to muck the stables or pitch hay before finally
falling in with the older boys for training.
Each day was the same with the Swordmaster
putting them through a series of grueling physical
exercises: running, jumping, and calisthenics. Then
they ran the obstacle courses, conducted defense drills
(all he did was dodge and weave while an older boy
tried to hit him with a padded stick), and finally the
agility course. Not that he minded the exercising so
much, but the Swordmaster was hard on the boys,
pushing them beyond their endurance every day. He
never had anything good to say, if you did badly he was
short and curt. If you did your best, he chided that you
should have been doing that good all along. At the end
of each day, Loriden trudged home bruised, discour-
aged, exhausted, and dreading the next day’s lesson.
But around halfway through the first year it be-
gan to change. The harder the Swordmaster pushed the
better Loriden rose to the challenge. The more he grew
accustomed to the hard training, the more he liked it,
especially after they were given wooden swords called
‘batons’ to practice with. At first, he felt awkward and
clumsy wielding it, but as time went on it, it became an
extension of his hand. Soon, he was surpassing even the
more advanced students and began looking forward to
training each day. Now, after more extensive training
he was well used to the routine and his muscles were
growing strong and hard.
"Have you been practicing the new moves I
showed you?" The Swordmaster asked as he began
donning his practice pads.
"I have, but I’m struggling with the inverted
whatever you called it.” Loriden slipped the padded
breastplate over his head, “I can't seem to get it right."
“It is called the Inverted Binding Lock.” The
Swordmaster replied, strapping on his helmet.” He
looked out through the open face, “And it’s a very
difficult maneuver. I normally don’t teach it to new
students, but I think you can handle it. You seem to
have the aptitude.”
Loriden was surprised to hear his teacher’s
compliment. In the last year he couldn’t remember him
complimenting anyone- let alone him. He glowed
inwardly at the praise.
"I wish that ’natural aptitude’ would spill over
into arithmetic," Loriden answered glibly, "Miss Ute
says I am ... how does she say it. “Oh, I remember."
Then he screeched in a false high falsetto voice, "Im-
possible and dim witted."
The Swordmaster couldn't help but chuckle.
"You had better hope you have a sword in your hand if
she ever catches you doing that!"
He reached up to the practice rack and for a
moment his hand hung over the wooden baton, but then
he seemed to change his mind, and instead took hold of
a metal broadsword. Without warning, he tossed it
toward Loriden. It flew end over end, the shiny steel
glimmering in the light.
Loriden was caught off guard, but the throw was
a soft one, and he deftly stepped to the side and caught
it by the grip. He stood stunned a moment, and then
after seeing an encouraging head nod from the
Swordmaster understood that their training had ad-
vanced to a new level. He liked the feeling of the cool
leather against the palm of his hand instead of the
grainy wood. This was a real weapon. His eyes traveled
slowly down the ornate hilt and then down the long
shiny blade. He never realized before just how clumsy
his wooden baton was. Now that he held a real steel
sword, he felt the difference.
“The edges have been dulled and the point
blunted. It’s called a rebated sword.” The Swordmaster
explained, walking over and pointing to the swords’
Loriden could clearly see the marks where the
once razor sharp edges had been filed down. He had
used metal weapons many times in training, but only on
the wooden practice stump anchored into the wooden
floor in the center of the pell, and never in an actual
sparring session. And they had been claymores; clumsy
practice weapons meant to do nothing more than build
the strength of his sword arm. He balanced the sword
on the back of his wrist, noticing for the first time the
engravings on the hilt.
“You have to use one sometime.” The
Swordmaster was watching Loriden’s reaction closely
as he spoke. He felt that he could tell a man’s potential
by his first touch of a real blades: some showed fear,
others apprehension, but Loriden showed respect and
passed the test. If anything aggravated the
Swordmaster it was young men who treated weapons
They both began waving their arms in wide cir-
cles and bouncing on the balls of their feet, stretching
and warming up before they sparred. Then, each
strapped a practice shield on his off arm and assumed a
fighting stance. The training session began in earnest,
the sound of steel-on-steel echoing off the wooden
walls. The Swordmaster shouted instructions and
warnings as they slashed and parried, saying things like,
"Keep up your guard!” or "Too slow!" Oftentimes, if
Loriden was too slow to react, the Swordmaster would
painfully drive home his point with a quick prick of the
At first, Loriden struggled with the new weap-
on. It was lighter and faster than the practice batons, so
he consistently arrived at the point of impact too soon
or out of position. After a little while though, he began
adapting to the feel of the new sword and began using
its strengths. He found it a precise weapon, light and
well balanced. He could start a maneuver later, yet
execute it quicker, allowing him to try more difficult
maneuvers. It was exhilarating!
The minutes flew by and sweat began dropping
out from underneath their practice helmets. Their pads
dampened, dark patches appeared through their cloth-
ing, but still they moved untiringly around the practice
floor. After a while neither spoke and the only sounds
were their heavy breathing, steel clashing, leather
creaking, and the muffled sound of boots on wood and
Loriden held nothing back. He jabbed and sliced
and darted around with all the strength of youth. The
Swordmaster was not hard pressed to counter his
maneuvers, but was hard pressed to remember his
opponent was only fourteen. He easily fought at a level
of students almost twice his age.
"Inverted Binding Lock!" The Swordmaster
shouted as he spun and purposely moved his sword in a
pre-planned arc. Loriden caught the sword edge on the
flat of his own sword, dropped the hilt down, and
executed a quick twist on the grip. His sword was
wrenched from his hand and skittered across the floor.
He shook his head in embarrassment.
The Swordmaster stepped back a pace, allowing
Loriden to recover his blade. They went through the
movements once again.
"Inverted Binding Lock!" The sword arced
down, Loriden parried and the sword flew from his
hand again. They tried a third time, then a fourth, but
all with the same result. Finally, Loriden pulled off his
helmet and put up his hands in exasperation. He had
just been disarmed a fifth time and it wasn’t getting any
"It's no use. It just doesn't feel right to me.”
"Doesn't feel right?” The Swordmaster dropped
his sword point to the floor and leaned on it. “Well, you
had better learn it or you may find that an enemy’s
sword sticking in your belly doesn‘t ‘feel right either’."
"I know." Loriden didn't know how to say what
he was thinking. Finally, he just blurted it out. "I think I
found a way that works better."
"Oh really?” the Swordmaster grinned but it
didn’t come from being amused. “A better way than the
inverted binding lock?” He jerked his gauntlet straps
and stared at the youngster. “I gotta’ see this!”
He planned to teach Loriden a lesson. He would
let him try his new move, but he wouldn’t hold back on
his counter. Loriden would learn a painful lesson, a
really painful lesson and one that he would not forget
for a long, long time. You don’t improve on the old
They squared off again. Nervous, Loriden won-
dered if it would work. He had tried the new move on a
practice dummy with his baton and it worked well. But
would it work with a person, the Swordmaster no less?
Doubts swirled through his mind as he waited for him
to begin. Thankfully, he started quickly, and Loriden’s
apprehension melted away in the ensuing session. Their
swords rang out as they cut and parried, blocked and
moved into better positions. Then all of a sudden the
Swordmaster called it out again, a mischevious glint in
"Inverted Binding Lock!" and brought his sword
down harder and swifter than ever before, fully expect-
ing to catch the teenager by surprise.
But Loriden was ready. He deftly caught the
sword, taking most of the force of impact but then
allowing the rest of the force to drop his own sword tip.
Quickly, he raised his sword hilt and jerked sharply.
The Swordmaster’s sword was wrenched from his hand
and flew across the floor. Stunned, his teacher stared at
his empty hand, as if his sword would somehow magi-
cally reappear. Then he walked over and picked it back
Loriden’s was elated and a little scared at the
same time. He had actually disarmed the Swordmaster!
True, it was a new move and a total surprise, but he had
done it! On the other hand, he was a little fearful of a
reprisal. Loriden knew he had never experienced the
full skill and strength of his teacher.
“Try it again.” The Swordmaster said gruffly.
They repeated the maneuver with the same result.
"Show me how you did that."
Loriden showed him, explaining each move in
detail. When he finished, the Swordmaster nodded.
"OK,” He said. “I think that's enough for today.”
Loriden bowed slightly and placed his sword
back on the practice rack, then unfastened his pads and
hung them on the practice dummy. As he was walking
out the teacher stopped him. “Let’s just keep this
between us.” He said.
Loriden nodded and walked out.
No man can come to me, except the Father
which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at
the last day.
And when he is come, he will reprove the world
of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
A sinner can no more repent and believe without
the Holy Spirit's aid than he can create a world.
The Tower Re-visited
Three years later:
Loriden’s slim childlike build of adolescence
disappeared, replaced by the broad chest and muscular
arms of a young man. His features were still fair, but
now partially covered with the start of a blondish beard
The morning found him walking back to the
Estralin Castle from the pell. It had been a hard start to
the day: the workout had been brutal as he moved into
his final stage of training. He knew better then to
practice without the proper warm up, but he had been in
a hurry and perhaps a little too confident. Anyway, he
wouldn’t forget it soon- his pulled muscle wouldn’t let
To get home, he had to pass his old school and
then walk the same trail he had walked with Gandriele
years earlier. As he passed through the schoolyard, he
paused for a moment and watched the smoke curl up
from the school chimney and dissipate into the blue
He walked slowly onward, enjoying his free
afternoon. It was a luxury as every other day of the
week found him grooming and caring for the stable
horses at Castle Estralin. And while he loved the work,
he found that the twelve hour shifts made for long days,
especially those days he had to race to the pell after-
wards to train. But he was happy and content, well; he
was almost happy and content. He still had that tug on
his heart that something was missing in his life. He just
didn’t know what.
He reached the narrow place in the trail and
spied the broken signpost, his gaze drifted up to the
little faded path that led to the tower.
It’s been a long time. He thought. Since he
stated working at the stables, he hardly thought of
anything besides training, work, and sleep. Thoughts of
the tower were pushed aside for more practical matters.
“Why not!” He said out loud, then started up the
ill used trail and disappeared into the woods, emerging
a short time later in the courtyard.
Standing with his eyes closed, he could almost
feel the magic of the place. I forgot how wonderful it
was here, he thought as he felt the sun warming his
cheeks: chasing away the cold chill of the day. He
stepped through the old doorway and entered the tower.
It was just like he remembered: the piles of stone, the
raised platform, and the crumbling old stairway.
He wandered slowly around the old tower floor,
looking and remembering- feeling like he was with an
old friend. For the first time in a long time, he thought
about his mother. This place reminds me of her. It
seems out of place, like it belongs in a different time, a
better time. Just like the stories… just like mother. He
drew in a sharp breath. He had never connected them
before. Could the tower, the stories, and his mother be
connected somehow? He had the same feeling in here
that he had felt when he was hearing the stories: the
same excited, hopeful feeling.
As if by chance, he stopped at the foot of the
stairs leading to the dais. He began climbing the little
stairway, hearing only the soft sounds of his boots on
the stone steps. He reached the top and stood looking at
the clear stone- still clean after all these years. Almost
without thinking, he took a step closer. ..then another
step… then another. Finally, he was only a foot away.
He reached out his hand. His fingers drew closer…
closer… closer to the stone. Then his fingers touched it.
It’s not cold and hard like I expected, he thought, It
feels warm and … alive.
"Crash!" Loriden’s thoughts shattered as he
jerked back in surprise. The sound hadn’t come from
the stone, but from somewhere behind him. His heart
pounded as he whirled around and faced the darkness.
Crouching, he peered intently into the shadows, search-
ing and probing the grayness for the cause of the noise.
With a slight clatter, a single stone fell from the stairs,
bounced off a broken column, and landed on the tower
floor. He relaxed. It was nothing more than some old
stones falling from the stairway! However, as hard as
he tried to convince himself that it was just happen-
stance, it was a little too coincidental that it happened at
exactly the same time that he touched the stone. Was it
some sort of sign? Was the tower trying to tell him
“I’m overreacting.” He told himself. Still….
I’m too busy to come here again. But what if the
stone is trying to tell me something? What if those
stones falling weren’t a coincidence? He began look-
ing around the tower, his eyes stopping on the crum-
bling stairs that wound up the inside wall of the tower.
"That's it!" he exclaimed, his voice echoing off
the tower walls. All at once he made a plan. He would
do what he had always wanted to do: he would find out
what was at the top of the stairs! If the stone was trying
to tell him something, if some kind of magic was
calling out to him, it would more than likely be from a
place in the tower he had never been. He was certain he
had explored every inch of the tower floor, but had
never been to the top of the stairs. Suppose something
was there that could help him sort out all of this? On the
other hand, if there was nothing at the top of the stairs,
he could leave knowing he had just imagined it.
Quickly, before he had time to really consider what
he was doing, he ran from the tower and trekked into
the woods, then using his knife he cut an armful of stout
branches and vines. After securely wrapping the vines
around his waist, he reentered the tower and began
climbing the decrepit old stairway. The beginning of
the climb was easy. The stairs at the bottom of the
tower were in decent repair, and as long as he watched
his step there was little danger of slipping. As he
climbed higher however, it became more dangerous: the
stairs deteriorated rapidly as the increased weight
fought a losing fight against gravity. He quickly devel-
oped a plan to deal with more treacherous areas. When
he came to a place where the stairs were severely
cracked and weakened, he would stand with his back
against the wall and then slowly inch past the worst
part. It was slow going, but if he kept his weight close
to the wall where the stairs were strongest, it was
After about an hour of climbing, he stopped to
rest at what he hoped was the half-way point. He
estimated that the stairs wound around the tower about
ten times, so he leaned out and counted how many turns
were below him. One, two, three, four, five…six! He
was more than half way to the top.
Also, for the first time he fully realized that he
was risking his life. If he fell from this height he
certainly would be killed. Maybe I should go back. He
thought, but dismissed the idea almost at once. Two
things drove him on: First was an overwhelming
curiosity to see what was beyond the stairs. The second
was the feeling that the stone wanted to tell him some-
thing. He feared that if he turned back now, he may
never again have the opportunity. That somehow he
would be failing a test. He stood to his feet and pressed
Then he ran into another obstacle. Toward the
top of the stairway a large chunk of the stairs had fallen
away completely, leaving a chasm ten or fifteen feet
wide. Luckily, although he couldn’t have seen this from
the bottom, he was prepared for it. He placed two
branches on the stairs, then after unwinding the vines
from around his waist, began making a ladder. It took
almost an hour of painstaking work, but finally he was
satisfied it would hold his weight. He then shaved off
four little triangle shaped pieces from the ends of the
branches, wedged two into cracks in the stone, and
placed the other two in his pocket. Finally, he stood at
the edge of the precipice and stood the ladder up.
Grasping the bottom firmly, he began letting the ladder
fall across the opening. It started slowly, but quickly
gained momentum as it fell away. Bracing himself for
the impact, and perhaps for the entire stairway to
crumble, he was relieved when it landed on the upmost
stair with nothing more than a soft ‘thump.’
He exhaled, only then realizing he had been
holding his breath. Bending down, he tied the sides of
the ladder to the wedges with a piece of vine. Getting
on his hands and knees, he began slowly creeping
across the ladder. The ladder held firm. He was halfway
across when things started going awry. Up until then,
most of his weight had been on the bottom of the
ladder, the part that was anchored. But as soon as he
reached the half way point, his weight shifted to the
uppermost part of the ladder, the part that wasn’t
secured. The stairs tilted inward and his weight caused
the ladder to begin sliding toward the center of the
As it slowly slipped toward the abyss the
wedges holding the bottom of the ladder popped and
snapped as they strained to hold. He closed his eyes,
knowing that if the bottom wedge failed, nothing would
stop the top of ladder from falling off the upper stair
and falling to the floor below.
But then as if by a miracle the ladder abruptly
stopped and held fast to the top stair, like an invisible
hand held it in place. Shaking slightly, Loriden began
inching his way backward. The ladder held. He inched
forward. It still didn’t move. With a dash of courage, he
gritted his teeth and scrambled forward. The ladder
shook wildly as he bolted to the top but it held firm. He
reached the upper side of the chasm and pulled himself
onto the ledge. Trembling, he sat down a few minutes
as he waited for his heart to stop pounding.
Curious, he bent down and examined the spot
on the stair where the ladder had stopped. What stopped
it from falling? He wondered. He gripped the ladder
and itslipped freely on the smooth lip of the stair. There
was no dip in the stairs, no small projection of rock,
nothing that could explain why the ladder had stopped
so suddenly. Shaking his head in disbelief, he removed
the two remaining wedges from his pocket and secured
the top of the ladder.
Now there was only one thing that separated
him from the top floor: A vertical wall about eight feet
high. From the splintered wood scattered over the
ledge, it was evident that there used to be yet a small
wooden stairway that spanned this wall- possibly a last
resort defense in case the tower was ever breached. It
had long ago succumbed to decay.
Loriden stood directly in front of the wall and
tensed his muscles. Then, in one fluid motion he
crouched and sprang upward. Reaching out as high as
he could, his fingers barely caught the ledge as his body
collided with the rock wall. He hung on by his finger-
tips, mustered all of his strength, and pulled himself up
onto the upper floor.
He rolled over and struggled wearily to his feet.
Before him, there was a single wooden door hung into
the ancient stone. As he approached it, he could smell
the sweet pine scent. He reached out and grasped the
cool metal of the latch. As he began to push the door,
one last desperate thought went through his mind… I
hope it's not locked!
The door swung open easily. Except for the
squeaking of the hinges, it was as silent and still as a
tomb. He stepped through the doorway
It is superstitious to worship angels; it is but
proper to love them. Although it would be a high sin,
and an act of misdemeanor against the Sovereign Court
of Heaven to pay the slightest adoration to the mightiest
angel, yet it would be unkind and unseemly, if we did
not give to holy angels a place in our heart's warmest
The angel of the LORD encampeth round about
them that fear him, and delivereth them.
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to
minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
The Room at the Top of the Stairs
It was like a dream. The chamber was dim; the only
light coming from a single, narrow window at the far
end. Yet even in the twilight Loriden could tell it was a
large room, comprised of four stone walls and a dark
tiled floor. But above all it was silent. Not the normal
kind of silent you would expect in a room right before
someone arrived. But a kind of silence that maybe no-
one had been there- or maybe no-one should have been
there- for a century or more. It felt a little like trespass-
ing, and he wondered if he were somehow doing
A thick undisturbed layer of dust covered every-
thing. Yet all the furnishings- from the place settings on
the table to the quill and ink stand on the desk were in
perfect order, as if whoever left it had gone on a long
trip and expected to return: The bed was neatly made,
the iron kettle hung over the ashes of an ancient fire,
and there was even a book opened on the desk next to
the little window.
He walked toward the open book and stopped
short. Where a normal sized table reached no higher
than his waist, the table top in this room was level with
his chest. He looked quickly at the chair, and it too was
almost twice the normal size!
What had lived there- whatever it was had been
big! He looked to the bed and it must have been almost
twelve feet long. A giant? But no, the furnishings
looked human and well made- bordering on ornate. His
mind began racing through all the old stories. He faintly
recalled something that his mother had said about large
man-like creatures in the old days. But he couldn’t
remember what they were called.
Then he remembered. Angels! They were
large, supernatural creatures. One had lived in the
West…in a tower she had said! What was his name? He
began pacing as he tried to recall the story. A few
moments later he stopped abruptly, “Michael.” he said
aloud. “His name was Michael.” Could he be standing
in Michaels’ Tower? The ancient home of the Angelic
guardian of The West? Why had he never thought of
this before? Why had no-one- even Mother- ever told
He ran his finger over the table top leaving a
long thin line where he pushed aside the dust. She had
said that there was a time when men and angels had
lived together. Far to the east, on the other side of the
Delor Mountains, where men didn’t dare to tread these
“But it was not always so.” She had said. “The
East used to be a happy and prosperous place. But then
everything changed when an angel named Sotthem
rebelled against the Creator. He was defeated by God.
But when he was cast back to Elethra, he began to
enslave the men who dwelt here.” At this point of the
story her eyes would always grow troubled, as if it
pained her to think about it. But them she would smile
and go on with the next part of the story.
“Some of the men escaped and fled to The
West, beyond the Delor Mountains. Yet even there
Sotthem sought them and would have enslaved them
but for God’s intervention. He sent a mighty guardian,
an angel, to The West to protect the people who had
escaped. It is written that Michael built a tower and
placed within it some special magic to protect the
Western Alliance- a magic that was lost to men. “
It had to be this tower! He almost couldn’t
believe it, but it made too much sense to ignore.
Excited, he examined the closest bookshelf. The
shelves were filled with all kinds of strange things.
There were vials of different colored liquids that were
hard to see through all the dust, exotic metals twisted
into different shapes, and a bowl with what could be
powder in the bottom. He wanted to reach out and
touch these things, to feel them in his hands and smell
their aromas, but his initial curiosity had turned to
caution when he realized the towers’ former master. So
he was careful not to touch anything he didn’t under-
stand- wary that something unique and interesting
might also be dangerous. But his caution didn’t extend
to the books that were stacked row upon row on the
upper shelves. After all, he thought, how could books
He reached up and selected a book at random.
Surprisingly, it was not much bigger than the books he
had used in school. He blew off a thick coat of dust,
revealing a bright red cover inlaid with an intricate gold
design and foreign lettering.
He ran his finger over one of the raised letters,
thinking he had seen the writing before. The archway!
The top of the archway leading into the courtyard had
some of the same letters!
He opened the cover and found the first two
pages had more of the same strange writing. It was
smaller, but with the same beautiful script. Turning the
page again he was rewarded to see a color picture
covering both pages, and although the book was
ancient, the colors were still vibrant and the pictures so
real it looked more real then what you saw with your
own eyes. The trees not only looked like trees, but
Loriden could smell a sweet pine fragrance drifting up
from the page. And maybe it was only his imagination,
but the clouds seemed to be drifting across the top of
the page. Slowly but steadily, they seemed to change
shape as they moved along. But what really drew his
attention was in the middle. In the very center of the
page was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
It was wearing armor of the purest white; not white like
snow, but a white so clear and crisp it made fresh snow
look gray. His eyes moved to the creatures face. Its’
eyes were as black as midnight, and so filled with pride
and hate that Loriden could almost feel it pulsing
around him like waves- the eyes moved.
Loriden jerked back and dropped the book. He
stood frozen to the spot and stared down at the beautiful
volume lying innocently at his feet.
“Wouldn’t Gandriele laugh if she saw me
now?” He mumbled under his breath. He bent down
and looked closer at the book, a little hesitant to touch
it. Finally he reached out and gingerly lifted the book
with two fingers as if it were a serpent, holding it at
It must be some sort of magical book. He
thought to himself, and then closing his eyes he quickly
flipped the book back open (ensuring he skipped the
first few pages). He heard the soft rustling of pages
stop, and then with a mixture of excitement and more
than a little trepidation he looked back down at the
This time the picture was only on one of the
pages, and the opposite filled with a beautiful script that
Loriden was certain explained the picture. At least, that
was normally how it worked in Elethra. This time the
same creature was leading others like him into battle.
They were in the heavens above the ground and
fighting what he guessed might be other angels- and
from the look of things, it wasn’t going well for him. A
great host of angels were descending down upon him
from above, driving him back toward the ground. One
angel in particular held a lightning bolt in its hand and
was about to hurl it at him. The others were closing in,
flaming swords at the ready.
Loriden had no idea what he was looking at-not
really- but he had picked up a history book: not the
dead false history they teach kids in school, but real
living, breathing history. The kind of history only
magic can tell- the real history that makes men feel
small and insignificant.
He turned to the next page.
This time the creature was sprawled in a crum-
pled heap on the ground, its armor battered and spotted
with its own blood. Its sword had been broken and its
shield tinged black by fire. Around it laid the corpses of
its army, with only a few of its warriors still alive. It
looks like he lost. Loriden thought. Good. He began to
turn another page when he felt a nagging thought that
something was wrong. Lifting his eyes from the page he
realized it was perceptibly darker in the room.
He walked quickly over to the small window,
his boots making alien hollow footfalls in the tomb like
stillness. He peered out of the window, and although he
did not know it, his was the first face to do so in over a
thousand years. The sun was just beginning to sink
below the tree line. It was much later than he had had
realized! He raced back into the room and began
searching in earnest: opening drawers, peering into
chests, scanning shelves, seeking whatever it was he
should find. But nothing in particular seemed to call out
to him-nothing that would explain the strange longing
in his soul.
He began sifting through what he thought was a
writing desk. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a
parchment, and although he handled the delicate
parchment as gingerly as he could it disintegrated in his
hands. He peered into the farthest reaches of the drawer
to see if something could be hidden in the back. Noth-
ing. He was starting to feel desperate. The shadows
deepened as the sun ran its course and dipped even
closer toward the horizon.
It was then he spied a small box on a shelf high
above him. It was the same kind of box he had opened
numerous times already, so at first he dismissed the
thought of climbing the shelving to get it. But then he
stopped abruptly as he felt a strange presence slip into
the room. Goosebumps popped out on his arms as he
slowly turned around, fully expecting to see ‘who
knows what’ standing behind him. And he saw…
nothing. The room was as it had been before.
He strained to hear anything moving. The si-
lence pressed in around him, thick and complete, as a
fog encloses a ship at sea. And then he heard it, music
so low and fair that at first he thought he imagined it. It
was coming from behind him, and it was so warm and
inviting that Loriden’s fear melted away as he looked
back at the box. It was calling out to him, and it was
playing his song- the song that was written for him and
him alone. He didn’t know what was in the box, or
where it came from, but he knew he wanted more of it.
He walked to the bookcase, climbed two shelves, and
reached out for it. He felt pleasure like he had never
felt; it grew stronger as his hand drew closer to the
prize. The music grew louder. And then, when his
fingers finally touched the box it stopped. It was in his
mind one moment, the next moment it was gone. It was
so abrupt, so completely unexpected Loriden froze on
the front of the bookcase in surprise. What was happen-
ing? What did it all mean? He still felt a lingering
sweet afterglow in his spirit. And then he remembered,
in the strange stopping of the music he had forgotten
the box altogether. He brought it to him and examined
it closely. It was nothing out of the ordinary to look at,
but Loriden knew there was something inside that had
moved him as much as his anything ever had. And now
it was time to find out what it was. He leaped from the
bookcase to the floor, placed the box on the table, and
with a trembling hand lifted the lid.
Inside was a single stone. More like a diamond
really, clear and pure. And with a gentle touch Loriden
pulled it from the box and held it between tow fingers
in the last rays of the dying sun. It was identical to the
stone at the bottom of the tower, only smaller. As he
gazed into it, he thought (or maybe imagined) he heard
the song again. The small stone was the reason he was
here in the Tower- he was sure of it, and whatever it
was, he would have braved the stairs a hundred times
more to get it.
At the same instant, in the most magical of
moments, the sun dipped below the horizon. It cast one
final dazzle of light: catching the stone and causing it to
sparkle like a pebble of fire- then darkness fell. Not
pitch black darkness, but the sudden gloominess that
coming rushing in as everything turns grey. He quickly
shoved the stone in his pocket and ran to the door,
stopping at the doorway to insure his prize was safe.
When he was certain it was secure he left the room
without even a backward glance, the magic book
forgotten. He stopped in order to let his eyes adjust to
the darkness. When he could see, he jumped the short
distance from the wall to the steps, and then made his
way quickly to the chasm. This time, with the ladder
secure he crossed easily. Finally he emerged from the
tower into the courtyard. There, he stopped and pulled
the stone from his pocket to examine it more closely.
I forgot the book! He chided himself.
Looking down at the stone, he changed his mind.
No, he thought, I have what I came for.
As if in agreement, a loud crash came from
inside of the tower. Rushing back to the entrance,
Loriden peered through the thick cloud of dust and saw
the where a large portion of the tower wall and stairs
had just collapsed
The stairway to the upper chamber had served
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary
the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking
whom he may devour:
1 Peter 5:8
He was a murderer from the beginning, and
abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.
When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he
is a liar, and the father of it.
He can never be content till he sees the believer
utterly devoured. He would rend him in pieces, and
break his bones, and utterly destroy him, if he could.
Do not, therefore, indulge the thought, that the main
purpose of Satan is to make you miserable.
"So there I was, with no weapon, and facing no less
than six ForBeasts at one time. All of them were
growlin’, and snarlin', and wantin' to tear my throat out!
I tell you, it wasn't a pretty picture.” Gunther leaned
back on the bench and dramatically folded his arms, his
leather armor creaking in protest as it stretched across
his broad chest.
Loriden hid his smile behind a hot cup of coffee
as the new kids’ eyes grew as wide as saucers. The rest
of the squad ate in silence, each fighting desperately to
keep a straight face. The rookie’s eyes glanced nervous-
ly around the room, resting on each member of the
squad for only a moment before flitting to the next. His
food forgotten, he waited for someone to ask the
question that was burning in his chest. No one said a
word and the kid mistakenly thought it must be a
common subject to talk about battle and death at
breakfast. Yet he had to know. After licking of his lips
and swallowing he leaned forward and almost whis-
"So, Gunther, what'd you do?"
"Well," Gunther continued dramatically. He
glanced around almost as if he didn’t want the others to
overhear, then he leaned forward like as if divulging a
“Then I…” Gunther paused again, almost as if it
pained him to recount the story. An actor at heart,
Gunther was spreading in on thick. His face clouded
over. The new kid responded by leaning even closer,
his bottom almost coming off the chair as he stretched
to close the gap between him and the squad leader. He
could feel the rough wood biting into his stomach but
he didn’t give it a second though. He didn’t want to
miss this- even a word. When Gunther composed
himself, he turned his eyes back into the new kids, his
face the picture of seriousness; he reached out and took
the rookies arm.
His face fairly exploded into merriment as he
"I threw him the new kid. Then, when they et'
him they got sick. Reckon it was cause’ he was so
green... just like you!"
The table of scouts erupted in laughter. The
scout directly next to Gunther guffawed so hard he shot
bits of mash and bacon all over the table, but he didn’t
care in the least.
The new kids’ face turned beet red as the scout
to his right clutched his stomach and laughed himself
backwards right off the bench. He had been had, and
boy was he taken in. His father had warned him just the
day prior about the jesting and hazing of new recruits.
But so soon? And by his own squad leader? Gunther
held his sides as he hee-hawed at his expense, slapping
another scout good naturedly on the back and not in the
least bit put off that the man still had mash dribbling off
his sparse scruffy beard.
Loriden, a bit more reserved than the others, still
couldn’t help but chuckle as he remembered falling for
the same story almost eleven months earlier.
Finally (it must have been several minutes), the
merriment died down. Scouts wiped their faces clean
and many had to return to the table. The new kid saw
Gunther peer out from around his kerchief to gauge his
reaction and then held out his hand "No hard feelings?"
He looked at the outstretched hand and felt the
ire rising in his cheeks again, a fact not lost on the other
men at the table. They were dead quiet, and the new
recruit realized this was more than a joke- it was a test.
A moment later he smiled broadly and eagerly grasped
the outstretched hand in response, "No harm done."
The moment of tension passed and the other scouts
smiled, a few even slapping him good naturedly on the
It had been the same for generations. Yet alt-
hough fathers passed on what they knew to their sons,
there was an unwritten law that good natured hazing
was not talked about. Each man felt each man should
pass through the fire, and the teasing and joking helped
then to quickly develop a tight bond. And in a place
where men could live one day and be fighting for their
lives the next, that tight bond wasn’t just a good thing-
it was necessary. And like all new recruits, William was
assigned to the scouts for his first year. There were no
exceptions to this rule. It didn’t matter who his father
was, if he were rich or poor, or if he was related to the
Senior Councilman himself. No questions were asked,
they were assigned to the scouts, the group designed to
be the eyes and ears of The West. He had arrived only
yesterday, but after one meal he was already part of the
group, and already going on his first patrol.
The reason new recruits became scouts was
pretty simple: no one else wanted the job. It was a
specialty that was both difficult and dangerous. Their
primary mission was to watch over The Barrens, the no-
man’s land between the Western Alliance and the
Eastern Kingdom. At the best of times, you rose early
in the morning and rode long hours in the dark to reach
your hide position, only to sit in either the hot sun or
freezing cold all day. It never seemed to be in-between.
On the worst days? Few lived to talk about those. Plus,
since they were mostly ‘yearlins’ or ‘one year wonders’
as the veterans called them their gear was shoddy, their
food second rate, and their accommodations the worst
in The Wastehold. No-one ever thought that if they
made the life of the scouts better they may attract a
higher class of soldier. After all, it had always been that
way and would probably always be.
So naturally the scouting duty fell to the newest
recruits as a rite of passage or the pre-requisite to better
Western Legion job. Most would spend their mandatory
year of military service as a scout and then leave The
Legion, but a few would stay, the vast majority of them
switching to the cavalry or some other military special-
ty. Only a few chose to stay on with the scouts: a crazy
few, those who craved the danger and loved the harsh-
ness of the elements. Gunther, their squad leader was
one of those.
Of course, he had always been that way. Even
as a child in the orphanage he always found some way
to be different: a feather in his cap, a brightly covered
blanket, possessing the resourcefulness to find things
others couldn’t get a hold of. He was what you called a
survivor, and this instinct was why he had run away
from the orphanage a few days before his eighteenth
birthday- the age he would be required to serve his year
in the military.
Let someone else defend the border. He had
thought to himself. I have better things to do. That
hadn’t lasted long. He was smart, but not street smart,
and in less than a week he was caught and shipped off
to The Wastehold: horseless, penniless, and with only
the clothes on his back. Yet no one was more surprised
than he that he took to it.
Yet some things never change. He still pushed
the limits and tested the patience of the command. It
began when he refused to carry the issued single
handed short sword but instead found a monstrous eight
pound two-handed claymore. It was more of a sharp-
ened fence post than a sword, but he wielded the thing
so aggressively that even better swordsman though
twice about challenging him. He slept outside during
the full moon (said it was good for his complexion) and
even altered his uniform for “camouflage”. No one
asked him how a few beads or tassels helped hide him
from the enemy, knowing that he would have a plethora
of long winded explanations. In the end, they just
accepted his quirks and only a few eyebrows rose he
made the decision to stay with the scouts.
On the other hand, Loriden was getting close to
his year of service and wasn‘t sure what he wanted to
do. He didn’t hate his life at The Wastehold. On the
contrary, he rather liked it. His squad was the closest
think he had known to a family, and he had proven
himself one of the best swordsmen. In the tournaments,
he not only bested the other first year soldiers, but some
of the veteran’s as well. His future looked promising.
But something still held him back. He wasn’t sure what
it was. But it seemed to him that if he chose to stay he
would be somehow accepting life as it was, almost like
he was giving up his on hope to find something more,
maybe even on his dreams. He wasn’t ready to give
those up, yet- no matter what the Legion offered.
With the sound of wood scraping against the
stone floor the group of scouts pushed back from the
table and headed out of the dining room into the dark-
ness. Before they left, they stopped and picked up their
weapons leaning against the wooden wall. The jesting
stopped as each man gripped the steel and was remind-
ed of the uncertainty of the day. The gray of dawn was
still several hours away, but such was the life of a
scout. They entered the briefing room and with a great
jostling of armor and with each man holding his shield
they sat on the rough wooden benches. They didn’t
have to wait long.
Major Holt, the second in command at the
Wastehold, strode confidently into the room from the
command entrance near the podium. A long plain
sword hung from his waist in its scabbard, neatly
tucked under the long leather cloak which stretched
from his shoulders to his knees. He wore plain leather
boots, course woolen pants, and a gray cotton shirt. And
though he wore no armor, with a little imagination a
man could still see the marks of a warrior. True, much
of his muscle was nestled behind a layer of good
cooking, but his shoulders were still broad and his
hands strong and calloused. A scar ran from his right
eye almost to his chin, and was only partially hidden by
his long gray mustache that perched on his lip like a
caterpillar. He was every bit a soldier, and one of the
few who had tasted both the enlisted and officer sideof
service. As an enlisted man, he too had served as a
scout and then entered the cavalry. Then, after distin-
guishing himself in battle, was commissioned as an
officer where he rose quickly through the ranks. He was
the kind of leader that many men would secretly
emulate, and most all would openly follow.
His voice carried easily through the building.
"Good morning men, I trust you rested well?"
As he expected, the men replied with the usual
grumbling and complaining. “How could I, on that hard
mattress?” and, “Too much snoring here to get any
sleep.” The Major ignored them and continued looking
at the sheet of parchment in his hands, gathering his
thoughts before continuing on. He let them grumble a
few moments longer then silenced them with a single
glance up and across the room. His piercing blue eyes
raked from one end of the building to the other, and he
had the men’s complete attention.
He cleared his throat. “First, you men will occu-
py hide position one, located here." He pointed to a spot
the map which hung on the front wall. It was slightly
east of The Wastehold and just inside The Barrens.
Not too bad, Loriden thought, realizing it would
take only an hour or so to get there. They watched that
portion of the barons often, and it was always an easy
ride followed by a long but uneventful day- much better
then riding for hours to get to their position.
He cleared his throat again and Loriden picked
up the edge in his voice: he definitely didn’t like what
he was about to say. Loriden’s ears perked up.
"However, as you know,” he stopped and
cleared his throat a third time; “There has been almost
no activity in the Barrens over the last fourteen days,
which is highly unusual.”
He stopped and scanned the assembled soldiers
intently, knowing what he was about to say wouldn’t be
received well. Deliberately he turned back to the wall
and pointed at the map “You will make a jump from
hide position one to a second hide position… ‘here’…
at two o'clock.” This time he pointed well into the
Barrens- almost halfway- and father than Loriden had
A low murmur broke out from the benches; like
a wave the men’s disapproval washed over the room.
Major Holt’s jaw tightened at the response. He didn’t
like it either, and just an hour ago had voiced his
disapproval to the Colonel. But he had a job to do and
would get it done.
Sometimes he wondered if his becoming an of-
ficer had truly been a promotion. He used to know who
the enemy was; now all he fought was the bureaucracy.
He knew he was just following orders, but what was he
to do when the orders were more politically given then
tactical? He knew as well as anyone scouts moved
under the cover of darkness, and when the sun rose,
they were supposed to be hidden and invisible to the
enemy. That is how they stayed alive. The only time
they moved in daylight was if they were spotted by the
enemy or compromised. Traveling in the daytime! That
was insanity. They were neither equipped nor trained
for it. But all his objections had been noted by Colonel
Sven, and in the end he was overruled. The Counsel
wanted answers, and they at the Wastehold were duty
bound to get them: even if it was for a bunch of soft
clothed noblemen who wouldn’t know a ForBeast if it
"Quiet!" the Major commanded, his voice com-
ing out a little harsher than intended. “Now listen up!"
His booming voice echoed off the walls. The room
quieted down, but many of the scouts remained stand-
ing, their hands folded across their chests in silent
"As I was going to say, a group of heavy cavalry
will be traveling to your first position as you travel to
your second position. It you run into any trouble, they
will be in over watch."
Another murmur rose from the benches. The
men weren’t convinced. One spoke up from the bench
to Loriden’s left. “They’re gonna’ be a good way
behind us, aren’t they?” It wasn’t really a question,
more of a complaint, but it was what had been on each
of the men’s mind.
The worry lines around the Major’s eyes deep-
ened. He too knew the danger the men faced. And he
too knew that the distance was too great for the heavy
fighting force to fully cover the scouts. But the enemy
had to be found, or else they had to know the Barrens
were clear, and the Colonel thought this the best way.
The voices of the men rose again.
This had gone on long enough. Major Holt not-
ed their objections, but nothing was going to change.
This was neither a tea social nor a school picnic, it was
the Western Legion. Men didn’t get to vote- and
although he loved these men as sons, he wouldn't allow
things to get out of hand. He stretched to his full height
and placing one hand on his sword, he gestured for
silence with the other.
Once again his piercing eyes gazed out from
under his gray hair, this time daring any man to speak.
No one challenged the gray haired warrior; the room
quieted down as the men waited for him to speak.
He did, he said three simple words: three words
that spoke volumes, three words that left no room for
“You are dismissed.”
He would wish a thousand times that he could
take those words back. But by then it would be too late.
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest
not what a day may bring forth.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy
soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those
things be, which thou hast provided?
Do not think that you are stable, fixed in one
position; fancy not that you are standing still; you are
not. Your pulses each moment beat the funeral marches
to the tomb. You are chained to the chariot of moving
time; there is no bridling the steeds, or leaping from the
chariot; you must be constantly in motion.
The sun rose and greeted the morning in its cold
embrace, its golden rays streaking mile after mile over
the desolate landscape; past the red scorched rocks,
over the boiling sulfur springs, and through the branch-
es of the scrubby trees, finally coming to rest on the hill
where the scouts were hidden.
Loriden and William lay on their bellies a few
feet apart, squinting through the glare into the harsh
landscape and searching for anything that moved,
glimmered, or looked even remotely out of place. They
were high on a hilltop which gave them a good vantage
point, along with the other men who occupied similar
positions a few hundred yards in each direction; all eyes
The Barrens were aptly named. As the unofficial
border between the Eastern Kingdom and the Western
Alliance, it was a cursed place, poisoned by a terrible
event that only a few books recorded, and even fewer
It was in this desolate place that Loriden and
William watched over as the sun rose large and red over
the distant crags and spires.
William drummed the toe of his boot on the
ground nervously, his toe making a dull thumping
sound each time it hit. Loriden tapped his shoulder and
pointed to the offending foot, shaking his head to
indicate he needed to be quiet. William grimaced
sheepishly but complied.
He leaned over and whispered, “I see now why
they call this the Barrens," His thin smile did little to
hide his nervousness.
” Why is this piece of nothing so important?"
Loriden’s eyebrows furrowed in disapproval: he
had been standing alongside when Gunther warned him
to be silent in the ‘Hide’. Noise could carry a long
distance in The Barrens revealing their position: and
giving away their position normally meant giving up
your life. They were the shadows of the Army, seeing
without being seen, moving without leaving a trail-
these were the traits that kept them alive. Instead of
speaking they learned to communicate with arm and
hand signals. With a gesture, a scout could communi-
cate his need for food, give a command, or even tell a
joke. They even had a sign for laughter if the joke was
especially amusing, or one to show disapproval if it was
especially bad. But they never spoke aloud, especially
not in whispers.
But Loriden remembered. Only eleven months
ago he had been the new recruit sitting in his first
‘hide’. Had it only been a year ago? He bristled at the
thought. So much had happened. But he too had also
been overwhelmed at all the changes and experiences:
arriving at the Wastehold, his first patrol, the stories
and rumors about monster. It was amazing he had
made it through the first day!
Realizing that the wind would blow any sound
behind them he motioned for Williams to come closer
and whispered back,
"We’re sitting at The Wastehold Gap at the en-
trance to The Barrens. This is the only place in the
Delor Mountains that's large enough for an army to pass
through.” He pointed out across the miles of red sand,
scrub, and jagged rocks which stretched to the eastern
horizon, broken only by the occasional rocky spires and
hemmed in by the high cliffs on each side.
“If you keep going through The Barrens another
twenty miles, you'll come upon the Eastern Keep of
Bratsilva, that’s where The East watches this same
William nodded, his curiosity satisfied for the
time being. He had a lot of new information to ingest,
and Loriden knew he had more questions. Sure enough,
a minute or two later, he tapped him on the shoulder.
"Loriden, have you ever seen a ForBeast?"
He glanced back at William before answering.
Even wearing his newly issued armor of a Western
Scout, he looked strangely out of place. He nodded and
whispered back, "At a distance, but never up close.
Whenever we see them we just ride back to the
Wastehold and report."William let out his breath in
relief and was quiet the rest of the morning.
At precisely two-o’-clock, Gunther rose up from
a position to their right. Loriden nudged William.
"Time to go."
They scrambled the short distance over the
hilltop to where their horses were tethered. Moments
later, Gunther lifted his arm and they started out at a
Loriden felt exposed- like every eye in The Bar-
rens was looking at him. Even the cheery sun’s rays did
little to lift his spirits. This wasn’t right. He stole a
glance at the sun. To most, it would be an omen of
good, a bright cheery morning promising a warm day.
But to him, the sun seemed like an omen if bad luck,
pointing all the evil in their direction.
They spread out in their usual traveling for-
mation: The guide leading followed closely by Gunther,
and then the rest of the men in two columns abreast.
Loriden turned just as a formidable party of heavy
cavalry wheeled about to occupy the hill they just left.
It did little to cheer him.
They rode for well over an hour in a northwest-
erly direction, traveling deep into a part of The Barrens
which was foreign to him. The terrain went from flat to
hilly, with small depressions and rises hiding them from
view one moment, then sky lining them the next.
Gunther signaled a halt. The men responded by
spreading out in a tight circle, each facing outward
while Gunther and the guide occupied the middle, able
to concentrate on the map in relative safety. The men
didn’t dismount, but instead fidgeted in their saddles,
their eyes darting behind every rock and crevice,
looking for the danger they all felt but that no-one could
see. Only the horses seemed unconcerned, swishing
their tails at the few flies that buzzed about their backs
Gunther glanced around nervously, and then
spoke in a low voice so he wouldn’t be overheard,
"Fendrel, where are we?"
Fendrel scratched his head and stared at the map
in response. It didn’t make sense- nothing seemed to be
where it was supposed to be. And in all his years of
scouting, he had never had this much problem finding
his way. He was one of those people who seemed to
carry a compass in his head, but two things worked
against him this day. First, the Barrens were a cursed
place. A place that made a man doubt himself, and he
didn’t know it but he had ceased trusting his instincts.
Secondly, few people had been this deep in the Barrens,
and the few who did pass through knew little of geog-
raphy. The information they passed on to the cartogra-
phers was sketchy and incomplete, and although they
did the best they could to fill in the gaps they weren’t
"I think we’re right here." He said a little hesi-
tantly, pointing at the map spread out on his saddle.
Gunther looked down where he pointed at the
map. "That can’t be right!” He shot back in a whisper,
“These mountains aren't there, and we never passed that
Fendrel squinted at the map again “Hmmph,
your right.” He resisted the urge to crumple up the map
and throw it away. “All these wades’ and hills got me
confused! Listen, if we followed the trail to here (he
pointed at the map again at a point slightly east) I
should be able to see out into the valley, and figure our
“You sure? Gunther didn’t sound convinced.
“I’m certain of it! Well… pretty sure.” His
voice trailed off.
Gunther faught his growing frustration. What
choice did he have?
"All right, but just a little further"
The two galloped through the upmost side of the
circle and the patrol fell in behind. They followed the
trail as it passed between two boulders and up a slight
rise, then the trail turned abruptly and the squad unex-
pectedly found themselves riding on a ledge about
fifteen feet wide- a cliff rising to the left and a chasm to
their right- none of which annotated on the map.
Gunther knew things were getting dangerous:
they were going too far and things were changing too
fast- he was losing control. The brass back at the
Wastehold wouldn’t like it, but he wasn’t going to
jeopardize the squad any further: they were turning
back. He began to call out when Fendrel suddenly
pitched backwards in the saddle and fell to the ground;
he rolled a few times before coming to a stop on his
back, a black arrow protruding from his chest.
The trail opened up, and although they were still
boxed in-between the cliff and chasm on the other,
Loriden was able to draw abreast of Gunther. His
pulsed raced as he drew his sword and readied himself
for whatever was coming. He was just in time; they
rounded the bend and ran straight into a large group of
ForBeast standing in the middle of the trail, and from
their lack of organization, they seemed just as surprised
as the scouts were.
Loriden heard the sound of Gunther’s sword be-
ing drawn from its scabbard as he pulled ahead. In
response he bent down low over his own horse’s mane,
dug in his heels, and charged with him. Side by side
they thundered toward the mob of ForBeasts, Loriden
with his sword and shield, Gunther clutching his two
handed claymore like a club. Behind them the addition-
al twelve scouts readied themselves. They were a
moving wall of steel and crashed into the waiting
ForBeasts like an avalanche: cutting through their ranks
and trampling down the defenders as though they were
straw. Gunther brought down his sword in a wide arc
and almost cut a ForBeast in half. To his right, Loriden
used his smaller sword with finesse- cutting deep into a
ForBeast’s arm, and then quickly stabbing another in
the neck, only to turn and slice another accross the
shoulder. Arrows whizzed past then like angry bees,
launched from the few Goblin archers who had the
presence of mind to take up their bows, but he never
paid them any mind. They were all too focused as they
parried, thrust, and stabbed everything that came in
As Loriden charged past, a wolf-like creature
began parallel him from the flank. Its tongue lolled out
from between razor sharp teeth as it focused on the man
in the saddle. It ran on two legs, and although it could
have moved faster on all fours, it meant it would have
to sheath its sword and it didn’t want to take the time. It
would have enjoyed sinking its teeth into the soft skin
of the human, but efficiency required he use its sword-
this time. And although it used only two of its legs, the
mounted soldier was forced to slow time and time again
as it parried or sidestepped a blow, and these little
hesitations were all it needed to keep up.
The riders’ horse stumbled, not enough to throw
his victim from the steed- but enough to distract him.
The Wolfen bunched his powerful leg muscles and with
a beastly growl leapt to snatch the man from the saddle.
He flew through the air and quickly closed the distance.
At the last moment the man turned and plunged his
sword deep into his chest, its metallic blade not even
hesitating at it pierced his leather chest armor and drove
deep toward its heart. It felt a quick prick of pain as the
human twisted his sword and jerked it free. The Wolfen
fell to the earth with a dull thud.
Loriden had no sooner dispatched the Wolfen
beast that had been stalking him then he charged
through a pack of smaller ForBeasts. Unlike the others,
these were more human than animal, but with a terrible
deformation. One with a misshapen head slashed wildly
at his leg as he passed: he parried the blow and stabbed
the creature. He barely glimpsed another, this one with
an abnormally large mouth that seemed to take up half
its face, as it jumped in front of him. The war horse
never faltered as it ran it down. He glimpsed another
rushing at him from his flank, this one with almost no
nose but huge nostrils, and another behind him whose
skin had a grisly greenish hue. Now there were so many
on either side that Loriden had trouble seeing individual
features- as a single mass they rushed toward the trail
from opposite sides in an attempt to overwhelm them.
They all carried smaller black scimitars, built more for
stabbing a man in the back than real sword work, but
what they lacked in strength they made up in numbers,
and Loriden and Gunther barely escaped being
Another ForBeast stood directly on the trail. It
was almost twice Loriden’s height, and dumbly stared
at Loriden as approached. His simple face resembled a
child’s, but yet Loriden could see the cruelty behind its
eyes. Just as he swerved aside it lifted a crude spiked
club and swung it in a wide arc, trying to bash his head
as he passed. It was the wrong maneuver. If it would
have aimed for the horse he would have probably killed
them both. But is it was it had never fought a human on
a horse before, and this human was especially agile.
Seeing the danger, and knowing that his sword was
useless to block such a powerful blow, Loriden threw
himself backwards and watched the short spikes pass
just inches from his face. And in all the confusion the
giant had forgotten about Gunther. Unopposed and
forgotten, he passed the giant on the other side, and
with all his might swung his two handed sword at the
giants unprotected neck. It bit deep as he passed. A look
of surprise crossed the giant’s face, then a look of pain,
and then its legs buckled as it fell bleeding to the
It took less than a minute from the beginning of
the battle for them to win their way free on the down-
ward side of the trail. Both Gunther and Loriden were
breathing hard as they wheeled their mounts about to
check on the rest of the group. They were alone.
“Where are they?” Gunther roared over the
sounds of battle.
Loriden pointed back up the trail- through the
confusion of battle and clouds of dust. “There’s one!”
A hundred yards back up the trail a scout fought
valiantly from the saddle. He was wheeling his horse in
circles, using his sword well against two ForBeasts at
the same time. Beside him, another scout fought
desperately on foot, his horse lying mortally wounded
only a few feet away.
But even as they watched, the man on foot
stumbled. It was all his opponent needed- his scimitar
snaked out and he buried it to the hilt. Loriden watched
the scouts face register surprise; his eyes went down to
the sword hilt buried into his chest and then up into the
Wolfish face. His face contorted in pain as the ForBeast
jerked it free. The Soldiers fell and joined his steed in
the dirt. A moment later, the other scout was pulled
from his horse and disappeared under the press. Gun-
ther loosed a war whoop and raced back into the fray.
Loriden felt something akin to fire course
through his veins. It blazed hotter with every heartbeat
until he was consumed with a rage so intense his eyes
glowed red and his skin took on a light reddish hue.
Had he known the true history of his people, he would
have known that he was inflicted with what was once
called the ‘Rottobin’ or the ‘Red Rage.’ It was a special
gift (some wrongfully thought it was a curse) which
God had given to the men of The West. When in battle,
the Rottobin could double a man’s strength and make
him fearless in battle. There were stories of whole
Western Armies charging under the effects of the
Rottobin, rolling across the land like a great red wave,
ForBeasts fleeing in terror from before them. The
Rottobin was thought to be long gone. But now it had
returned- at least in one man.
He charged again. Another wolf like ForBeast
sprang at him from the cliff side- intending to knock
him from the saddle. Loriden didn’t even look its way.
His shield shot out and bashed the creature in the face,
the impact breaking the creature’s neck and sending it
spiraling backwards where it collided against the rock
wall. He was focused on only one ForBeast, the one
who killed his comrade. It was running back up the
trail, probably trying to get to another battle- trying to
get another kill. Loriden felt the slight hesitation as his
sword sliced cleanly through the creature without losing
but a breath of momentum.
He had little time to celebrate as he ducked and
felt the wind from a large Troll’s club as it just passed
over his head. It was a tall and clumsy creature, and
looked at the club as if it was its fault it had missed. At
the same time Loriden brought his sword over his body
and held it out at arm’s length. The tip of the blade bit
into the wrist of the Troll and almost severed its hand.
The Troll howled in pain. Dropping its club it danced
around while clutching its wrist, accidently stomping on
a smaller ForBeast that was coming to its aid.
Loriden left it to its suffering. Already his horse
had bolted onward and he glimpsed another scout
fighting for his life. The blood surged through his body
as the Rottobin awakened afresh. He heard a roaring in
his ears as the thrill of battle raced through his veins.
He could do this forever! It was so easy! Bring on a
thousand ForBeasts, he could destroy them all! The
scout fell to his knees, and with his shield above his
head, barely warded off the blows of a small giant. Yet
with each blow from the giant’s wooden club, the shield
gave way more, and the scouts battered shield arm
failed; one or two more blows and the shield would be
useless. As the giant raised its club for another strike,
Loriden streaked by. He didn't have time to attempt a
full swing with his sword; instead, he extended it out
and used the inertia from his charge once again. It
glanced off the side of the giants misshapen head, and
although it didn't pierce its thick skull, it was enough to
"Oooww Oowowoo!" The surprised creature let
out a high pitched, beastly wail. It soon forgot about its
pain: the scout drew a dagger and plunged it into the
Then Loriden found Gunther. His claymore cir-
cled in every direction at once, his large muscular arms
sweeping in broad strokes, and from the look of things;
he was holding his own. At least half a dozen ForBeasts
lay slain around him- yet for every one that lay pros-
trate, two more circled warily, just out of swords reach.
He couldn’t keep it up forever.
The sound of his horses hoofs echoes off the
canyon wall as he closed the distance. He drew in a
sharp breath as he watched a small ForBeasts slipping
up behind his squad leader. Gunther, who’s focus was
the ForBeast before him, had no idea the creature was
closing in from behind and continued battling the
creatures he could see. Loriden tried to cry out a
warning but his voice was drowned out by the chaos of
battle. It was a race for Gunther’s life. Loriden arrived
just in time to bat away the creature’s scimitar as it
leaped for Gunther’s unprotected back, and then
delivered a blow of his own. Gunther whirled around as
the creature died. With a grim expression he nodded his
thanks to Loriden, then turned and engaged another
Loriden reined his horse to a stop as he cleared
the press for a second time. As the effects of the
Rottobin lessoned he began thinking more clearly.
Victory was out of the question, - already they were
down to just a few scattered men-but perhaps a few
They had one chance: if he could charge close
enough to Gunther, maybe- just maybe, Gunther could
grab hold of the saddle and Loriden could carry him
free. It was a small chance but he had to try.
He had stopped close to the edge of a small crag
and began moving his horse away from the chasm to
prepare for his final charge. His mind was racing- it
would take split second timing, and he would have to
pass just close enough without being too close- but it
had to work, or else none of them would survive. He
was ready- it was now or never, but just before he dug
his heels into the horse he saw movement to his side.
He quickly scanned the cliffside and spied a
large creature holding a bow. There was a long black
arrow notched on the thick string, and it was pointing
directly at him. In the moment before the creature shot,
time seemed to freeze. Loriden looked past the barbed
arrow and into the creature’s eyes. I‘ve seen him before!
Then, as the creature loosed the black arrow, he threw
up his shield. The black arrow flew from the bow and
raced through the sky. It found its mark, penetrating
Loriden’s shield and his arm, and stopping just an inch
from his face. The force knocked him from the saddle
and over the cliff side.
He was falling… falling… Then everything
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the
fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange
thing happened unto you:
1 Peter 4:12
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it
cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is
no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
It is according to the nature of things that in a
world which bringeth forth thorns and briars in all its
furrows some of the sharp points should pierce thy
After the Encounter
The pain in his arm was unbearable. His eyes fluttered
weakly for a moment then jerked open as a small moan
escaped his lips. He looked about in confusion. He lay
on the small ridge that had saved his life; about fifteen
feet below the cliffs edge.
It was incredible that of all the places to fall, he
had happened to hit the ledge. It was more than incredi-
ble, it was all but impossible. Yet, here he was, trapped
on the little rocky island with a black arrow through his
arm. But he was alive.
He froze in place, listening; expecting to hear
the sounds of battle, or perhaps the sounds of ForBeasts
shuffling around as they looted the dead. But it was
strangely quiet. How long had he been there? The sun
held part of the answer. It was low in the Western sky,
and this time of year meant it was evening. He had been
on the ledge for several hours. He slowly shifted to a
kneeling position, and then looked down through his
matted hair at the place where the arrow pierced his
shield and forearm.
The pain throbbed with each heartbeat, forcing
him to clinch his teeth to keep from crying out. Stay
calm, he told himself, you don’t know what may still be
up there. He wasn’t certain the ForBeasts had already
moved on or not. But one thing he was sure of; if he
made any sound, any sound at all, and if they heard- he
He breathed deeply, forcing himself to remain
calm and thinking the problem through logically. He
placed the edge of the shield on a rock, taking the
weight off his arm and easing the pain a little. The
enormity of the situation pressed in on him: he was all
alone, wounded, and with no means to get up or down
the cliff side.
With his good hand he reached under his armor
and brought out the stone he wore around his neck. It
shimmered and sparkled in the late afternoon sun.
"No," he said softly, almost in a whisper "I
won’t give in." Hope flamed up somewhere in his spirit.
He didn’t know how he would get off the ledge, but he
believed somehow the God which led him to the stone
was capable of helping him again. Inside, he had this
strange feeling he had a destiny that was yet unfulfilled.
He had never prayed, but remembered that many people
in the stories talked to God. He looked up into the sky.
“God, I have only heard of you through the
stories my mother told me. I don’t know you like she
did, but if you can hear me, and if you will, help me to
That was it- nothing incredible happened. He
was still sitting on the ledge with an arrow through his
arm. Yet he did feel a little better – that was at least
something. He resolved to do whatever was necessary
to survive. Alive, there was still a chance he would find
what his heart yearned for. Dead, he would have no
First things first, I need to get this shield off. He
thought. With his good hand he pulled his knife frim
the sheath. Then, reaching down he began sawing the
arrow at the point between the arm and shield, but as
the serrated edge bit into the wood, the vibration caused
the pain in his arm to come alive. Through his blurred
vision he tried a second time but couldn’t bear the pain.
Ok, he thought, I need to try a different way.
He examined the thin, light weight shield,
searching for any defect or weakness that might help
him be rid of it. For the first time he cursed the indus-
trious artisans that made their equipment so well. He
couldn’t find a single blemish. His eyes stopped at the
point where the arrow pierced the hardened leather.
That was it! Where his blood pooled on the leather it
had softened. Using his knife, he pierced the softened
leather next to the arrow and began working his dagger
back and forth, widening the hole just a little. Encour-
aged, he repeated the procedure on the opposite side
and the arrow wiggled slightly.
I hope it’s enough.
Placing his good hand on the top of his shield
and the bottom against the rock, he pulled his arm away
from the shield. The large, black arrow slid easily
through the widened hole. But after the first few inches,
the leather reached the part of the arrow where the
feathers were notched. He stopped pulling, turned his
body, and then placed his feet on both sides of the
shield. Gritting his teeth, he gripped his pierced arm as
tightly as he could to his chest- and kicked. For an
instant, the shield stuck, causing the arrow to pull on
the wounded arm. The pain was excruciating but he
kicked all the harder. Just as the pain threatened to
overwhelm him the shield slipped over the arrow shaft
and skittered across the ledge and over the side, plum-
meting to the valley floor below.
He felt the sudden relief and fell backwards.
Already the pain had lessoned and free of the cursed
shield he could now focus his energy into finding a way
off the ledge.
Leaning slightly over the rocky edge of the
ledge he spied his horse lying at the bottom of the
ravine sixty or so feet below. The rock wall between
him and the valley floor was almost as smooth as glass,
so climbing down the cliff face was out of the question.
He looked closely at the rock wall between the ledge
and the path. It was also smooth, but the face was pot
marked with just a few irregularities where tree roots
had weakened the stone or else broken through.
He had to think of another way off the ledge and
quickly. Time was running out. There was no chance of
climbing the rock wall in the dark. And spending the
night on the ledge? He might as well accept death as his
supplies lay in their bags next to his dead mount. He
would never survive the night.
Using his knife point, he began chipping with
his good arm at the weak spots where a root had broken
through the cliff wall. The stone began to crumble and
within a few minutes was large enough for a foothold.
He went to the next root- fighting a race the approach-
ing darkness. His hand became numb from the cold, but
he refused to rest- knowing that if he quit he might not
have the strength to start again. After an hour he had
made enough footholds to attempt a climb. Holding his
wounded arm close to his body, he began using the
handholds and the protruding tree roots to climb the
wall. Even with only one good hand, he found the climb
easier than expected. He quickly reached the top and
pulled himself back onto the trail.
He had been so intent on getting from the ledge
to the trail that it had never occurred to him what he
would find there. He looked over the grim scene of the
battle. The scouts still lay where they had fallen,
interspersed with the bodies of the slain ForBeasts. A
cold breeze blew softly, oblivious to the carnage that it
swept across and the smell of death it unknowingly
. Where did they go? Where were the ForBeasts?
He began staggering from scout to scout,
looking for survivors but not really expecting to find
any. Each loss hit him like a closed fist. He rolled each
body onto its back and placed their sword into their
hands as was customary. As he looked into their
graying faces, he couldn’t help but think of their
families back home, their brothers and sisters, fathers
and mothers- family who would never see them again.
The sun was just started to dip below the horizon as he
searched for the last three members of the squad. He
found Gunther toward the top of the trail, a large black
arrow protruding from his side. Loriden pried his
claymore from between his stiff fingers, rolled him on
his back, and placed the large sword in his hands.
“Goodbye old friend.”
He found the next member lying on the trail a
little further on. He gently turned him and noticed
another broken shaft of a black arrow lodged in his
"William" he said aloud. He hadn’t even had
time to draw his sword.
Tears began running down his face, washing
white rivers through the dirt and blood that clung to his
cheeks. His sturdy shoulders heaved with sobs as he sat
alone in the midst of his fallen comrades, mourning the
loss of so many good men.
Only one more to go, but at least he knew where
the guide had fallen. It took only a few minutes to
prepare him. He stood shivering above the body and for
a fleeting moment thought about taking his cape-
knowing it would help stave off the approaching cold.
He knew Fendral would want him to have it, but he
couldn’t bring himself to take it- he looked so peaceful,
so restful. He had lost enough in one day and he
wouldn’t add to it by taking anything more. He began
walking westward with nothing but his light armor to
keep him from freezing.
The pale moon arose to find the lone figure
stumbling through the barrens.
As for the stumbling figure, Loriden had no idea
how to get back to the Wastehold, but he reasoned that
as long as he kept the North Star to his right, he would
at least be traveling in the right direction. Time droned
on. The cold crept into his joints and slowly stole his
remaining strength. He began to stumble as exhaustion
and loss of blood caused his feet to feel like they were
filled with lead. Just moving became a chore as he
lifted one weary foot and placed it in front of the other,
then did it again.
I must keep moving. I must keep moving. His
own thoughts sounded distant and far away.
His footsteps grew shorter and shorter as the
moon rose higher in the sky- and then his strength
finally failed. Falling to his knees, he stared out into
I’m going to die, he thought. Strangely, he
didn’t feel any fear, or dread, or even relief. He felt
only loss as he realized that he would die alone and
without the answers he sought. As he fought for
balance, he thought he saw horses silhouetted on the
mountain but was too weak to call out. He fell forward.
The riders wheeled and charged toward him.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then
face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know
even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
It is for us, therefore, to judge carefully, and not
to think that any opinion will do. Besides, opinions
have influence upon the conduct, and if a man have a
opinion, he will, most likely, in some way or other,
have wrong conduct, for the two usually go together.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
1 Corinthians 13:9
Back at the Wastehold
"Tell me again Corporal Ulrich, how did you survive
Loriden swallowed hard, trying to suppress his
anger at Major Holt’s intense questioning. He stood
rigidly at attention, opposite Major Holt and Col Sven,
the Commander and Deputy Commander of The
Wastehold. They sat behind a large, ornately carved
wooden desk in Col Sven’s office: a room that looked
more like a museum then an office. Still, he couldn't
help but feel he was on a witness stand.
"Sir, if you read my report…"
"I know what you wrote!" The Major slammed
his hand on the table, cutting Loriden off mid sentence.
He grabbed a bunch of papers from off the desk and
held them in a tight fist.
"I’ve read this report a hundred times, but it
doesn’t make any sense!" Leaning forward, he said in a
slow, controlled voice,
"OK... let's ... hear... it... again."
For what seemed like the hundredth time,
Loriden told the story of the encounter.
With a wearied voice, he began, "We had just
begun going down into a slight depression . . .”
For three more grueling hours Loriden relived
the encounter. It wouldn’t have taken more than an
hour, except that Major Holt continually interrupted,
asking question after question and examining every
detail. Loriden found it exhausting. Only three weeks
had passed since the encounter with the ForBeasts, and
although his arm was healing, he tired easily.
"Corporal Ulrich, I find your description of the
ForBeasts archer confusing." The Major rifled through
the paper. "Here it is. I am reading from your report."
"I turned and saw a creature holding a recurve
bow and sighting in my direction. The creature was
approximately seven foot tall and encased within black
and red armor. It was manlike, with jet black hair, black
eyes, and black lips. The creature’s skin was black, with
streaks of red running from its hands up to its shoul-
Corporal Ulrich, this doesn’t fit the description
of any ForBeast ever encountered before."
He paused a moment to let his words sink in, then
"Are you certain this report is accurate?"
“I know what I saw sir!" He spat loudly through
He immediately regretted his loud outburst.
They were only doing their duty, and he’d seen
firsthand what the two leaders of the Wastehold were
facing: distraught families, angry soldiers, accusations
from the council... But to be called into question after
what he had gone through?
The Major jumped up from across the table.
"You will not speak-" He stopped abruptly as Colonel
Sven gripped his shoulder and pulled him back down to
his seat. Major Holt fumed. He began to speak again
but changed his mind instead clamped his mouth shut.
The Colonel spoke calmly. "Corporal Ulrich,
thank you for the information, you are free to go." It
was only the second or third time he had spoken the
Relief flooded across Loriden’s face. He salut-
ed, turned sharply, and walked toward the door. As he
began pressing the latch, the Colonel spoke again,
Loriden turned with his hand still on the latch.
"Good job out there."
It was the first time anyone had said anything
positive to him about his part in the encounter. Not
trusting himself to speak, he simply nodded, opened the
door, and stepped out into the hallway.
The room was silent..
Major Holt cradled his head in his hands and
began rubbing his temples, trying to ward off the
migraine headache coming on. "Thanks’ Colonel, I was
getting carried away. I was too hard on him- it wasn’t
his fault. But I can’t forget I was the one who sent them
out there." He sounded old and tired, even to himself.
"I understand." The Colonel replied evenly, all
too well understanding the guilt of the men’s
death."We’re all frustrated. But Godfrey, that boy is our
only link with what happened out there." Stroking his
mustache he continued thoughtfully, “And I don't think
he’s holding anything back."
"Neither do I." The Major replied with a sigh,
"But it doesn't make any sense. Why were the bodies
undisturbed? And what were they doing out there? And
why so many? “He tapped his finger on the table for
emphasis. “ForBeasts are not that disciplined. They
always loot the dead… always”
"It could be that,” The Colonel paused deep in
thought, "They’re on a very important mission."
Both men looked at each other as the serious-
ness of the situation pressed in around them.
I’m getting too old for this. Major Holt thought.,
as the throbbing in his head intensified.
“Sir, could this be somehow connected to the
reports about other men living in a valley to the east?
Could this ‘thing’ Corporal Ulrich reported be one of
“I’ve wondered the same thing.” The Colonel
answered, “I’ve also heard the same rumors of another
race of men living beyond the DelorBountains, men
that are not in alliance with The East. But if the rumors
are true, the council refuses to talk of them, even to
“But certainly they would tell us if the reports
“No Godfrey, The Council is too fearful of the
past. If the existence of other men were known, it
would expose the alered history commoners are taught-
and that would undermine their position.”
“Certainly they will let you see the reports now,
especially with all that’s happened.” Major Holt contin-
“I wish they would.” The Colonel replied. “I’ve
already requested to see any confidential reports
pertaining to The East, but they’ve staunchly refused. If
there is another race of free men to the east, they aren’t
going to tell us. We will have to figure it out on our
“I just hope we’re not too late!”
The Colonel stroked his mustache, “So do I
Godfrey, so do I.”
The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools
die for want of wisdom.
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the
multitude of counselors there is safety.
One marvels at the little things over which an
assembly will waste hours of precious time, contending
as if the destiny of the whole world and the fate of the
starry heavens depended upon the debate.
The Council Meeting
"Please, Gentlemen!" Senior Councilman Chalcony
rapped his gavel against the wooden desk, "Order
Councilmen. Please, re-take your seats." The murmur-
ing ceased as the councilmen reluctantly sat back down.
Undaunted, Councilman Andreas continued.
"Fellow Councilmen, I have been saying for
"You should say for decades!" Another of the
councilmen chimed in angrily. The murmuring began
anew and it looked like the council was once again
slipping into chaos.
"Enough!" the Senior Councilman bellowed the
command from his elevated place just above the main
floor. He continued forcefully, "Councilman Andreas
has the floor, and until he finishes you will give him the
respect his position deserves!" The room quickly came
back to order.
"Please continue." The Senior Councilman said
with a slight hint of disapproval. Tradition and proper
polity required him to give the rebel Councilman his
time, no matter how fanciful his story may be.
Councilman Andres continued with a nod of
thanks in his direction. "As I was saying, I have be-
lieved for years a great evil is rising in The East." He
paused for effect, aware he finally had their undivided
attention. However, he also knew that it wouldn’t last
long so he got to his point quickly.
“I believe that what has transpired in The
Barrens is direct proof that the Eastern Kingdom has re-
organized! We must bolster our defenses and prepare
for war! Even Colonel Sven, the commander of the
Wastehold, sent us word that The East is acting unusu-
al. If we don’t act now, it may be too late."
Councilman Andreas glanced at the men who
comprised the Council of The Western Alliance to see
if he was getting through to them. The Council had
been formed hundreds of years before out of sheer
necessity, uniting the scattered people west of the Delor
Mountains into a loose alliance. Through the years, the
alliance had become more viable and then finally
evolved into a stable government with its own laws and
currency. The Alliance included thirteen territories,
each with a governor which also served as its repre-
sentative in federal affairs. Every ten years they elected
from their midst a Senior Councilmen, and then ranked
the remaining councilmen according to their im-
portance. In this decade the senior chair was Council-
man Chalcony, and the last chair was Councilman
Councilman Estralin rose to his feet. “Each one
of us has been moved deeply by the recent tragedy
which has happened on The Barrens." The Councilmen
around the table nodded their agreement.
"But a call to arms? This seems a little extreme.
It’s true we lost a patrol, but we have losses from time
"A whole patrol!" Councilman Andreas inter-
jected, "This is different, and what about this new
ForBeast in the report?"
"Councilman Andreas," Councilman Estralin
continued in a condescending tone, as if speaking to a
child. "The report is constructed solely from the 'so
called eye witness' account of an eighteen year old boy!
To ask for the expense and difficulty of a national call
to arms off one scout’s testimony is... ludicrous! We
must have more substantial proof." There were more
murmurs of agreement from around the table.
"Councilman Andreas," began Councilman
Dietras, "I understand your concern, and I think that
your words have voiced all our fears." He hesitated,
"You tell us to call for war, but, war against whom, and
for how long? You surely couldn‘t expect us to make
this decision off such sparse evidence?"
I’m losing this argument. Councilman Andreas
thought to himself. Still, he had another card to play.
"Senior Chair, I ask to call a witness for my
"Call your witness."
“Gentlemen, I call to the floor to give his
testimony, Loriden Ulrich." The man sitting behind
Councilman Estralin visibly started. Stephan Ulrich,
Loriden's father, looked up quickly from the notes he
was taking, completely dumbfounded that his son had
been called to testify.
The council all turned, expecting to see a
military expert or aged scholar. To their great aston-
ishment, a blonde headed young man wearing Western
Scout armor strode into the room.
"What’s the meaning of this?" Councilman
Estralin exploded."Why, this is the son of my Steward!'
"And the eighteen year old 'so called eye
witness' you mentioned earlier." Councilman Andreas
countered, smiling at his nemesis’s discomfort.
"Loriden, please tell The Council all that
transpired the day your patrol was attacked."
His father looked on as intently as the others, his
note taking forgotten. He had not yet heard the whole
story. He’d heard rumors about the ambush, but hadn’t
known until recently that his own son had been in-
volved. The letter from the Wastehold had been sent to
his home in Estralin where it sat several weeks before
someone thought to forward it to Chalcony. When the
letter finally arrived telling him his son was injured,
there was a second letter from Loriden himself in the
same mailbag telling him not to worry; he was recover-
ing from his wounds and should be home shortly.
Loriden scanned the faces around the room,
noticing that every Councilman’s gaze was fixed on
"The day started by getting our normal patrol
As he described the patrol briefing, the coun-
cilmen were transported back to their days at The
Wastehold, his vivid descriptions sparking their memo-
"We saddled up and began moving toward our
second hide position..... -we rounded a turn and’." He
described the battle in detail: The clashing of swords,
the man-like creature, and his fall over the cliff. As he
spoke the room was as silent as a tomb. He neared the
end of the story and recounted finding all the other
members of the patrol on the trail. Despite his best
efforts, his voice broke with emotion as he remembered
their faces. Finally, he was finished reliving that terrible
day and stood wearily in front of the council.
As he stood waiting to be released, The Senior
Councilman broke the silence, "Corporal Ulrich, thank
you for telling us what happened that fateful day. You
have shed some personal light on this matter before us."
Councilman Estralin rose quickly to his feet,
breaking the almost reverent air of the chamber. "Senior
Council, may I ask Corporal Ulrich a question?"
Startled, the Senior Chair answered with an affirming
nod and he continued, "You mentioned a man like
creature with incredible strength, yet you told us the
creature has never been documented before. Is that
"Yes, that's right." Loriden answered.
The councilman pressed him, "So, couldn’t it
have been a man who attacked you? Not a new kind of
creature?" He stopped and looked at Loriden from
across the table. "In battle sometimes our senses are...
well... askew. It may be that in the heat of battle you
just saw a normal human archer?." He eyes flashed in
challenge as he sat back down.
In answer, Loriden slowly reached inside his
tunic and pulled out two pieces of a black arrow- the
same arrow which had pierced his arm. Holding the
pieces together, it was longer and thicker than any
arrow used in The West. There were sharp breaths from
around the table. Everyone in the room knew it would
take superhuman strength to launch that bolt with any
force or accuracy.
Seeing his chance, Councilman Andreas jumped
to his feet, "Certainly you see that the threat in the
barons is far greater than a simple random patrol! I tell
you, a great evil has arisen in The East!" He was
bolstered to see some approving nods. “I ask we vote to
raise an additional twenty five thousand men to rein-
force the Wastehold!"
The room erupted again. Calls of "twenty-five-
thousand," and "preposterous," could be heard through-
out the chamber. The Senior Council called the room
back to order.
"Councilman Andreas, your argument and
Corporal Ulrich’s testimony has moved us to some kind
of action. But action must also be balanced with pru-
dence. Therefore, a call of twenty-five-thousand will
not even be considered at this time. I do think some-
thing should be done. Therefore, I move that we call to
arms an additional two thousand six hundred men, two
hundred from each province to re-in force the
Wastehold for a duration of six months. All in favor?"
With the heat of Loriden’s testimony still
warming their blood, the Councilmen cried in unison,
"Aye," said councilman Andreas softly,
The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth
among the wise.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the
countenance of his friend.
We are all by nature in such a mixed up state
that we need not wonder at any strange statement or
An Unwelcome Surprise
Loriden quickly exited the Council Hall and strode
briskly through the archway and down the stairs. I’m
glad that’s over. He thought to himself. He turned
down an adjoining hallway and entered a room with a
large, ornate fountain built into the wall, It was shaped
like a waterfall with cool water spilling over the top
ledge and cascading down several tears into a pool.
Loriden sat on the edge of the fountain, letting the
sound of the water calm his nerves. He absentmindedly
dipped his hand into the cool liquid as he thought over
the last few hours.
He had hoped to spend some time with his
father, but the council meeting was expected to last well
into the night. And after Loriden’s testimony, neither of
them thought now was a good time to ask Councilman
Estralin any favors. He had been civil enough after their
encounter, but they could tell he was still a little chafed
at being bested by the youth and they wisely decided to
let the matter rest. Instead, they intended to meet the
following morning for an early breakfast and then
spend what part of the morning they could together.
"Loriden!" Councilman Andreas stormed into
the room, breaking into his thoughts. He paced back
and forth, wringing his hands. "Listen," he began,
"Thank you for all the help. I just wish they had lis-
Loriden stood to his feet, not understanding
what the Councilman was talking about."It seems to me
they listened. They’re calling more soldiers to arms."
"Twenty-six hundred!” Councilman Andreas
snorted in disgust. “Do you really think that would
make any difference? It would take ten times that
amount." The Councilman glanced at Loriden and was
surprised by his blank expression.
"Loriden… He paused for emphasis, “He‘s
"Who’s back?" Loriden asked.
Councilman Andreas examined him intently, as
if seeing him for the first time. After looking up and
down the hallway, he leaned forward and whispered,
"Sotthem. He’s back!"
"Sotthem?" Loriden repeated the name loudly.
"Ssshhhhh" The Councilman cautioned.
"Be more careful!" He warned. He had expected
to find Loriden an ally, not a critic- he already had
enough of those. Now he realized he may have assumed
too much. He had to be more careful- start at the
“Loriden, do you even know who Sotthem is?"
Loriden knit his brows together in thought. "In
school, we were taught that Sotthem was a fairy tale."
"And magic, what do you think of magic?" The
Loriden hesitated, not sure if he could trust him
or not. However, his hesitation spoke volumes.
"So, you do believe. Was it your mother that
Loriden face registered his shock. "What do you
know of my mother?" He asked cautiously.
The councilman stepped back and crossed his
arms. "You really don't know, do you?" He asked in
wonder, "Her blue eyes... your blonde hair. I never
dreamed you wouldn’t know."
Loriden watched as Councilman Andreas’s
disposition suddenly changed. Whereas before that
moment, he was open and trusting- as if speaking to a
friend. Now, he looked on him with suspicion.
"I'm sorry Loriden, I misunderstood. I had
better go." The Councilman abruptly turned and strode
toward the archway.
Loriden stepped forward and grasped him by the
elbow, turning him roughly about to face him. His grip
tightened as he looked him eye to eye,
"What do you know of my mother!"
The Councilman’s eyes shifted to the hand
clutching his arm causing Loriden to drop it quickly. In
his anger, he hadn’t thought about what he was doing.
Assaulting a Councilman, even one as low standing as
Andreas, carried the severest of penalties.
The Councilman rubbed his bruised arm.
Without a word, he reached into his tunic and brought
out a book. Then, before Loriden could object, he
shoved it roughly into his hands.
"If you really want to know more about your
mother, read this."
Even before looking down at the volume
Loriden suspected what it was. In The West there were
certain books known as Forbidden Books, and the
penalty for reading, or even possessing one, was death.
Panicked, his eyes darted around the room. He began
trying to give the book back. "Take it! I don't want it!
Do you know the punishment-?"
"Yes, I know the punishment." Councilman
Andreas interrupted, letting his hands fall to his sides.
"There is always a price for truth."
The statement stopped Loriden dead in his
tracks, "Will this really tell me more about my moth-
But Councilman Andreas was already walking
back toward the Council Chamber.
Loriden quickly concealed the book under his
"Councilman Andreas!" He called after him as
he disappeared through the arched doorway, "Council-
Two words echoed back to him from the stone
Buy the truth, and sell it not;
For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heav-
Always stand to it that your creed must bend to
the Bible, and not the Bible to your creed, and dare to
be a little inconsistent with yourselves, if need be,
sooner than be inconsistent with God’s revealed truth.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is
The Forbidden Book
Loriden walked quickly out of the fountain
room and through the archway opposite the Council
Chamber. He wrestled with conflicting emotions. On
one hand, he loved the West and did not want to
alienate himself further by reading the forbidden book.
On the other hand, he longed to know the truth about
his mother, and the Councilman had hinted the book
He felt the book pressing against his chest as he
walked; the book that could possibly fill in the missing
pieces of his mother’s life. His mind continued to race
as he argued with himself. Finally he made his decision.
Just like in the tower, he knew he would never forgive
himself if he passed up this opportunity. If he ignored
the book, he would always regret it. And if he was
going to move ahead, he had to leave the safety of his
past behind. He had already made that decision the day
he climbed the tower stairs.
The decision made, his mind turned to more
practical matters. Where can I read it? He wondered.
He was not a stranger to the Castle- he had been here
with his father on several occasions and knew it well.
But where in the busy seat of government could he be
sure he wouldn’t be discovered? Then he remembered,
The Library of the Council! Located at the dead end of
a long hallway in the subterranean portion of the castle,
The Library of the Council was a large room in the
subterranean portion of the castle that was seldom used.
He couldn’t think of a better place. Loriden lengthened
his strides and covered the distance quickly and without
passing a single person.
Standing in the hallway, he looked into the
darkened, deserted library. Despite the coolness of the
corridor small beads of sweat clung to his forehead and
ran down the nape of his neck. There was a little shelf
just inside the door with a neat little row of candles,
obviously supplied for the convenience of the few
library patrons that still visited. He took down a candle
and after lighting it from one of the torches in the
hallway, stepped through the door.
The flame from his candle threw soft shadows
across the walls as he slowly wound around the tables
toward the back of the massive room. There was little
fear in being discovered, his shoes left footprints in the
dust, evidence the library hadn’t been used in a long
time. He made his way to the back corner and after
placing his candle on a small square table, sat on an old
wooden chair. In the light of the flickering candle he
withdrew the book from his tunic. After a quick glance
back around the room he looked at it closely. On the
cover was written,
THE HISTORY OF MAN
by Clause Hisslar,
Arch Historian of Estralin.
He turned the front cover and started reading,
THE CREATION OF MAN
The history of man begins with his creation. Originally
created to rule the earth alongside the Angels, mankind
was commanded by God to subdue all things and to
multiply and replenish the Earth.
Loriden stopped and pondered the statement for
a moment, wondering what had gone wrong? It was a
little confusing to piece together the whole story as-
many pages were missing, and it was only with much
difficulty he finally pieced together some semblance of
the creation story. Later, he came to another section
which was especially intriguing, it read,
THE REBELLION'S AFFECTS
At Sotthem's rebellion, men were forced to take sides.
Those who sided against Sotthem were not immediately
slain. The reason for this is unclear. It has been theo-
rized that Sotthem fully expected to be victorious in his
overthrow of God. Therefore, he assumed the remain-
ing defectors would recant their former position at his
glorious triumph. However, at his defeat, he may not
have possessed the means sufficient to wage an all out
war to destroy the rebels but instead chose to unify his
surviving Army and wait for a better opportunity.
Years later, the opportunity arose. Using the power of
the Black Stone, Sothem successfully mixed his four
surviving angels with humans and created the
ForBeasts- a race so hideous they were considered
more monsters than men. But they also possessed great
strength, and through their creation Sotthem was able
to seduce many of the defectors to join his ranks. This
re-alignment caused the Great Dispersion as Sotthem
launched an assault against the confederates. The
rebels fought valiantly, but were quickly overcome and
The survivors split into three groups and fled for their
lives. In the end only three "tribes" survived the Great
Loriden was thoroughly intrigued. He wished he
could have read more about the three tribes, but the
next several pages were missing. He was getting close
to the last pages now, and although it was fascinating,
he wondered why Councilman Andreas would have
mentioned his mother. So far, nothing seemed to link
her with anything he had read. He began the last
MEN IN THE WORLD TODAY
The men escaping to the West formed what is called,
"The Western Alliance." Populated by thirteen original
families, they have prospered and been protected by the
Delor Mountains and the Wastehold. The race possess-
es great strength and are easily recognized by their
black hair, olive skin, brown eyes, and broad shoulders.
Well, that certainly is a good description.
Loriden thought. I wondered what happened to the
other two tribes?
The book continued.
The men escaping to the North formed the Elicidorian
Kingdom. Populated by five original families, they also
have prospered, aided by the protection granted by the
Elicidorian Forest. To the valley tribe was given great
intellect and dexterity. They are easily recognized by
their blonde hair, blue eyes, and slim figures.
There was nothing after the sentence as the page
ended and the last few pages were missing. He read it
"...intellect and dexterity. They are easily recognized
by their blonde hair, blue eyes, and slim figures..” he
read again....”by their blonde hair, blue eyes…”
He slammed the book shut as one word
screamed from his mind.
The chair flew back as Loriden stormed from
the Library with the book in his hand. The candle
flickered for a moment and then went out, plunging the
library into total darkness. He never even noticed the
candle- he was too focused on the one man he knew
could give him the answers.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not
thyself in any wise to do evil.
He that is slow to anger is better than the
mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a
Once imagine that you are badly treated, and
then you will think that everything is done out of spite
to you, and the next thing is to think spitefully of
Confrontation with Father
Stephen Ulrich sat quietly sipping his coffee. It had
been a good day, at least the closest thing to a good day
he had experienced in a long time. He sighed and
pushed his feet a little closer to the fire, enjoying the
warmth as it seeped through the thin stockings and into
his aching feet. His mind wandered into the faraway
places of his past, lingering on the memories of his
departed wife. Memories which he normally refused to
remember, as their pain did little but usher in regret and
guilt. But the warmth of the fire was like a medicine, it
dimmed the sharp edges of his bittersweet recollections.
He swallowed another gulp of the strong liquid and
closed his eyes.
The door flew open and slammed against the
wall. He whirled at the noise and spied his son standing
in the doorway, his jaw clenched and his eyes blazing.
Something was clearly wrong.
As Loriden strode into his room he spied the
book clutched in his hand. He rushed to the door,
quickly glanced up and down the hallway to ensure no
one had followed, and relieved to see that his son had
arrived unnoticed pulled it shut and slid the latch in
place. He turned to face him, but before he could say a
“Why didn't you tell me about mother?"
"Son," His father spoke in a hushed tone, trying
to calm him and reaching for the book at the same time.
"Where did you get this?"
Loriden jerked the book away. "Never mind
where I found this!" He held it between them and
thumped the cover. "Why didn’t you tell me? Why
didn’t you tell me she was from The Valley?"
"Son, listen to me.” His father said. “You need
to quiet down,"
But Loriden was far from being calm. “I want
to know the truth. And I’m not leaving until you tell
His father seemed to wilt as the years of guilt
and pain tumbled back onto his shoulders. It was time
tell his secret, and Loriden would have the choice to
forgive him, or blame him, he deserved that much at
"It’s time you knew." His voice was just above a
whisper. Then his eyes glazed over as his mind sped
back through the years.
"It was over twenty years ago. I was a young
man and had just been discharged from The Legion
after my year. I found a job delivering messages for
The Alliance. It didn’t pay much, but the opportunity to
travel all over the country made up for the low wages.”
His father smiled at the memory. For a moment
he was on horseback again, hearing the pounding of the
horse’s hooves and feeling the wind in his hair.
“Anyway,” His father continued, “I was sup-
posed to deliver a message to an outpost high up in the
Delor Mountains: one I had never visited before. I
traveled to where they said the outpost should be, only
it wasn't there. Someone had written the directions
down wrong. After thinking about it, I figured it was
probably located on the eastern side of the mountains.
So I scouted around and located a small path, a goat
trail really, and crossed over to the eastern side. As I
made my way down the slope, the ground gave way and
my horse and I fell into a small ravine. It wasn't a long
fall, but it was enough to break my horse’s leg and bang
me up pretty bad. I was able to climb out, but only with
the barest of essentials. I had my sword, a little food,
and some water. I don’t need to tell you that I was in a
straight! A routine delivery had quickly become a fight
for survival. If I didn’t find the outpost before sunset
the elements could kill me.
I searched for hours… The sun sank lower to-
ward the mountains and the temperature began to drop.
I realized that I would have to find whatever shelter I
could and try to survive the night. As a dropped lower
onto the east side of the mountains I saw smoke out on
the plains. By this time, the sun was almost down and I
was desperate! I didn’t know what to do! Was the fire
our soldiers raiding the enemy? Or was it a ForBeast
camp? I figured I wasn't going to do anything but die in
the mountains, so I risked being caught in the open.
At this point his father stopped as tears welled
up in his eyes. With determination, he fought down his
raging emotions and continued.
“I found a caravan that had been attacked. It was
terrible… there were bodies everywhere…strange
looking bodies- interspersed with the bodies of some
slain ForBeasts. I searched through the wreckage and
found some blankets and a little food. When I finished,
I turned to leave. But just as I passed the last overturned
wagon I heard a noise. It was soft, like a muffled sob or
whimper, and it came from under an overturned wagon.
Prying off a board with my sword I peered into the
darkness. Huddled in the corner was the most beautiful
girl I had ever seen. Her hair was as white as new snow
and her eyes as blue as amethysts.
At first she was terrified and shied away from
me but after a while she began to respond. I don’t know
who was more surprised, her or me, that we could
understand each other! It took awhile, but I was finally
able to coax her to come out from under the wagon. We
covered the bodies the best we could in the darkness,
and fearing the ForBeasts returning, we traveled back to
the mountains and pitched camp in a ravine which
would mask our fire.
As we huddled in blankets about the fire she
told me her story. She said she came from a family of
merchants and they had landed on the coasts in order to
mine the minerals and gems on the eastern side of the
Delor Mountains. It was a risky venture, but times had
been hard and they were in danger of losing everything.
They brought guards, but the ForBeasts had attacked so
quickly and in such great numbers they were over-
whelmed. When it was clear the battle was lost, her
father hid her in the wagon bed. Then when the
ForBeasts tipped it over she was trapped- it saved her
life. The next thing she saw was me.”
He turned to face Loriden and sat on the end of
the bed. Although it wasn’t pleasant to remember, it
was relieving to finally share his past.
“So there she was, alone in a hostile land. She
had no way of returning to her own people right away,
so she returned to The West with me. At first, I figured
I could hide her until I found a way to return her to her
home. But as time went on, we fell in love. I think you
can figure out the rest of the story."
The room was silent as both men were lost deep
in thought. After a long paused Loriden asked,
"What about her hair?"
"Easy enough to conceal, she died it black."
"And her eyes?"
"Ah, that took a little explaining. Actually it was
the elders who explained it for me; they simply said it
was a birth anomaly."
The room fell silent again and Loriden could see
that re-telling the story had cost his father a great deal.
His own anger drained away as he viewed his father
through new eyes. He was a man who had loved- and
But there were still questions he wanted an-
"Father," he ventured further, "Why didn't you
tell me? Why have you hidden this from me for so
many years? Do you know how hard it‘s been?"
A thin, tired smile formed on his father’s lips,
"When we knew your mother was expecting, I thought
it would be best to hide your true lineage. Then you
were born with that shock of blonde hair!" He chuckled
at the memory and the irony of it all.
"You were our pride and joy. We, no- I should
say, I, believed that you would be a true Westerner and
believed that by hiding your true heritage you would
not be torn between two worlds. Your mother never
agreed. But you know The West, if you had even
mentioned your lineage… well, I wanted you to live. "
"I still wish you had told me." He whispered
He could hear the regret in his father’s voice.
"Loriden, I should have. I’m sorry. I watched you
struggle but kept thinking you would find a place here.
And with your ability with a sword…” he let the rest of
the sentence trail off.
"Father," one last thing,” he said, "Where was
my mother from?"
"She said she was from a city of waterfalls in a
far away valley, a place of beauty and of...magic. That’s
all I know. I really never felt comfortable talking about
Loriden smiled thinly at his father and stood to
his feet, wanting to find a place where he could go and
sort this new information out. He began walking toward
the door, only to be stopped when his father placed a
hand his shoulder.
“I’m sorry.” He said again.
Loriden turned away. He now knew his father
had not meant to cause him pain, but he still felt angry-
and he wasn’t ready to forgive- not yet.
He stepped through the door.
For a few moments, his father simply stood and
stared at the doorway. His son was gone. With a heavy
heart, he closed the door and returned to his chair, and
back to his memories.
Loriden began walking aimlessly around the
Who am I? He thought to himself. Where do I
His footsteps echoed down the long corridor as
he wandered toward the outer courtyard. Pushing open
the door, he stepped into the crisp, cool night. The
sudden cold helped to clear his thoughts. He crossed the
courtyard and sat on a bench, the cold air turning his
breath into little puffs of steam. Pulling out his crystal,
he let the light from the castle windows reflect off the
different facets as it slowly turned. In his world of
uncertainty, the crystal was an anchor, something
bigger than the confusion and hardship he faced. As it
slowly twirled he looked toward the stars and reflected
on all he had experienced during the last few weeks.
He shook his head in frustration. It seemed
every new bit of information led to more unanswered
Would life ever make sense?
Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be
weak: for your work shall be rewarded.
2 Chronicles 15:7
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
The weakest of minds are those which go for-
ward because they are borne along by the throng; the
truly strong are accustomed to stand alone, and are not
cast down if they find themselves in a minority.
The Journey Begins
The sun crested the horizon, spilling its warm rays into
the cold valley, causing the dew to sparkle like a
thousand tiny diamonds scattered over the grassy
plains. At the castle, the early morning sun reflected off
the frosty windows, the refracted light turning them to
brilliant squares of light. In a particular window, a ingle
young man leaned against the glass, looking out over
the world as it woke from its nocturnal slumber.
Loriden yawned. He hadn’t slept well, but
instead tossed and turned through the night as his mind
wrestling with what he had learned about himself.
Finally he had just given up on sleeping and with only
the moon for company; he retreated to the chair, stoked
the fire, and sat musing as he stared into the flames. Yet
despite all the thinking he was unable to sort out the
jumble of emotions and find the truth; but he knew who
He turned away from the window and strode
quickly to the basin. He splashed the cold water onto
his face and peered at his reflection in the polished, flat
steel plate that served as a mirror. A confident- if not a
little desperate-face stared back at him. His mind made
up, he practically jumped into his clothes and after
carefully hiding the book under his leather tunic he
stepped out into the cold hallway, quickly making his
way from the visitor’s quarters to the Councilmen's
Hall. He stopped before the door with “Andreas”
engraved deeply into the wood. After glancing up and
down the hallway he straightened his clothing, took a
deep breath, and knocked.
Somewhere within the room someone began to
stir, and not to happily by the sound of it. Loriden first
heard a loud crash and then angry muttering as muffled
feet shuffled to the door. A moment later the latch
clicked and the door creaked open, revealing a dazed
and confused Councilman Andreas. He was quite a
sight. He had donned his overcoat but still wore a
nightcap which hung precariously off the left side of his
head. He rocked slightly from side to side, rubbing his
eyes- trying to get them to focus. Finally, he shook his
head and recognized Loriden. All at once he was wide
awake. He looked quickly down the hallway and
wordlessly nodded for him to enter.
Once inside, he said quietly."Follow me."
The inside of the room was luxurious- like all of the
councilman’s rooms, regardless of their rank. And
although Councilman Andreas was the lowest ranking,
he was still treated with great respect.
Fine tapestries hung from the walls of the bed-
chamber. An ornately carved bed with elegant blankets
sat in the corner, and from the rumpled covers, it was
clear that was where the councilman had been sleeping.
They passed from the bedchamber through a doorway
into the study. As they entered, Loriden reached out and
touched the dark expensive wood that both framed the
door and paneled the walls. His hand brushed the
smooth finish which felt cool to his touch.
Tall bookshelves lined the stone outer wall in which
there was a single large window.
Councilman Andreas stopped at the fireplace,
threw on another log, and prodded it smartly with a
poker. It broke apart and the red coals glowed merrily
for a few seconds before bursting back to life. The
councilman motioned for Loriden to sit. The warmth
from the burning log began to seep into the room, only
slightly beginning to dispel the cold of fall.
The councilman swung a pot of water over the fire and
"So, you read the book." It was more of a
statement than a question.
"How did you know?" Loriden answered.
The councilman turned his head to face him, his
nightcap awry and his bare feet sticking out from under
his nightshirt. He wiggled his toes.
Loriden grinned sheepishly. “I guess it is a little
The councilman chuckled in agreement and then
asked more seriously,
“What are you going to do now?”
"I was hoping you could tell me.” Loriden
answered. “I don't know where to start."
The Councilman continued to stare into the fire-
how much could he tell him? How much did he already
know? He sat several minutes mulling over his options.
He had tried once to take Loriden in his confidence and
it almost backfired, but the young man who sat beside
him now was different somehow; humbled.
"Have you ever wondered why the Andreas
family always sits in the last chair? Why we always
occupy the least seat of honor at the council?"
Loriden answered hesitantly. "I don't know, I
never thought about it." What does this have to do with
anything? He wondered. Had the councilman changed
the subject? Had he decided not to help him after all?
The councilman continued. "It was almost a
hundred years ago that the Field of Blood Rebellion
took place. The prophets at the Estralin School of
Magic rebelled and tried to seize control of the council
by force. In the battle that followed, the prophets were
defeated. The West took revenge on the school, burning
it down and slaughtering the families that lived there,
even the ones who had nothing to do with the rebel-
He paused and began pouring water from the
kettle hanging over the fire into a cup. Loriden sat
enthralled, he had always wondered what had happened
to so taint The Council against magic. Now, he was
finally hearing the story!
When The Councilman’s cup was full he leaned
back and reached into a little box next to his chair.
Taking out a few some tea leaves he crushed them in
his hand and then sprinkled them into the hot water.
The aroma of fresh tea wafted through the room. He
looked to Loriden and nodded toward an extra cup.
Loriden took the cue and clumsily mimicked the
councilman’s moves. He had never tasted such a fine
drink: it was rich- an expensive blend that tasted faintly
of peppermint and helped to warm him against the
When he finished the councilman continued.
"My family knew one of the prophets and warned him
of the advancing soldiers. He tried to get to his fami-
ly… but it was too late. My great grandfather helped
him escape by smuggling him to the coast. The Council
found out, and although the law stated that a Council-
man could not be put to death or imprisoned, he was
publicly humiliated and the name of Andreas disgraced;
ever since we have occupied the last chair.
Loriden glanced at the Councilman. He didn’t
seem to be bitter about the fact; if anything, his smug
smile conveyed he was proud of the disgrace. And the
truth was; the Councilman was proud. What the world
thought was a humiliation he thought an honor, and it
gave him leverage to do what was right as he had
nothing to lose.
The ramifications of the story became clear to
him. All the prophets were dead- destroyed over a
hundred years ago. There was no help to be found in
"There are no prophets left then." Loriden
remarked, taking a drought of the hot liquid.
"That’s what I thought too..." The councilman’s
eyes sparkled at his untold secret.
Loriden suddenly choked on his tea, "You,
The Councilman shifted in the chair and leaned
toward him like a schoolboy about to tell a secret.
When the Councilman continued his voice was low but
full of life and vigor.
"When I was a young man, my family had a
tradition that the oldest Andreas boy would work a
trade before assuming the duties of Councilman. After I
served my year in The Legion, I chose to work as a
sailor. As my ship was returning from a voyage, we ran
straight into the eye of a terrible storm. It was ferocious
and I have never seen, or heard-,of another one like it
since. During the storm, the main mast broke away and
the sea drove us into the mainland. The ship struck a
rock near the shoreline and fell to pieces. By some
miracle, I reached the beach alive, the only survivor. As
I sat recovering on the beach contemplating my deliver-
ance, and waiting for morning something happened.”
Although no-one could be listening, Councilman
Andreas lowered his voice to almost a whisper. Some-
thing approached me from behind… Something…
At this point the councilman took another long
drought of tea. He was a natural storyteller, and knew
the pause would only heighten Loriden’s expectation.
"It took every bit of courage I had to turn
around. And I saw…
Here he paused again…
“A man! But not an ordinary man- no, he was
pure white, so white he shone like the sun. And his
face! He seemed so angry I thought he was going to kill
me outright. He pointed a long staff at me and demand-
ed to know the name of the ‘man who dared to trespass
onto his isle.’ I don’t have to tell you Loriden I was
scared. If given the chance I think I would have chosen
to still be out at sea-even as terrible as the storm was!
Finally I stammered out the words Andreas… Dieter
Andreas… It was like a miracle! His face softened and
the anger melted away. Just like that! (He accented the
‘that’ by snapping his fingers.) Then, he raised his staff
and I blacked out. “The next thing I knew, it was
morning, and I was lying on the continent-my head
bandaged and with a bag of provisions at my side.”
The Councilman sat back in the chair.
To say Loriden was astonished would be an
understatement. He wanted to believe that the Council-
man made it up- but something in the telling of it:
whether it was his face or the words he used- attested to
his sincerity. But something troubled him though;
something didn’t quite make sense
“You never went back? Not to thank him or
"He wasn’t really the kind to go back and thank,
Loriden." The Councilman stated matter-of-factly,
"Besides , my father died soon after the shipwreck and I
had to assume his duties."
After a brief pause he said slowly, "But I still
know where the cape is.
Loriden caught his breath in surprise. "Are you
saying that you think this is the same prophet your
family helped escape? It’s been a hundred years!”
The councilman dismissd his outburst with a
slight wave of his hand, "Prophets are said to be strange
"But you said he almost killed you? Why do you
think he wouldn't just as soon strike me down than look
In answer, the councilman reached out and took
hold of a lock of Loriden's blonde hair. "Because if
anyone can approach him it’s you- and he may be the
only chance we have."
Later that day, with a hand drawn map and
several days’ provisions in his saddlebags, Loriden met
with Councilman Andreas once again. After the initial
shock Loriden had readily agreed to search out the
prophet. The morning was spent in a flurry of activity:
readying his horse, gathering provisions, and visiting
his father. But now he was ready for the long ride, and
the only thing remaining was to get the councilman’s
last minute instruction as he stood aside his mount and
gently stroked its neck.
"I wish I could go with you Loriden but there is
work for me to do here. You need to learn more about
this prophet and if he’s willing to help us fight Sotthem
if the need arises. Also, see if he knows anything about
"I will." Loriden replied, “And thank you for
“Fell free to use my name. It helped once and
may do so again.”
After a brief look around to make sure they
were alone the Councilman whispered, “May God be
So the councilman knew the stories too! It
wasn’t surprising, but it was still wonderful to hear
another human being speak The Creator’s name. They
smiled at each other- the secret safe between them.
Then it was time for action. After a quick hand-
shake Loriden spurred his horse into a gallop. Horse
and rider shot past the gatehouse, the sound of the
horse’s hooves striking the cobblestone echoing loudly
as he bolted past the startled guard.
He traveled hard and fast until sunset, alternat-
ing between a hard gallop and a brisk trot. He was
pushing too hard; he knew it, but there was something
driving him, or something he was running from, he
didn’t know which. Either way, it was getting dark, and
it would have been foolish to try and ride after sunset-
especially this late in the fall. The road would be there
He guided his horse into the trees, made camp,
and started a small blaze crackling.
He ate, but he hardly tasted the rich flavor of the
dried meat and berries The Councilman had supplied
him for his trip. As he sat in the evening stillness, the
thoughts he had been pushing away flooded back into
his conscious, taking him back to the Wastehold, his
mind reaching out to the memories of his former squad.
It was the wilderness that brought the memo-
ries. Back at the Castle- it was all so unfamiliar, so
different, that his former life was like a dream. But out
here, in the open wilderness; well, it was just like it
used to be. The all too familiar knot in his stomach
returned, and he hastily shoved the remainder of the
uneaten trail mix back in his pack.
Could it only be a week since I was in Colonel
Sven’s office? He wondered.
It seemed like a lifetime ago. So much had
happened: so much was still uncertain. And all the
while the questions and memories haunted his mind like
a ghost. Why did HE survive? Why couldn’t HE have
saved any of them? Accusing thoughts pressed in on
him until his head felt like it would burst from despair
and guilt. Something had to change- he couldn’t go on
like this! He had to find the answers somehow.
In hopes of distracting himself he gain exam-
ined the hand drawn map that Councilman Andreas had
given him. His eyes traveled to the X on the map- his
destination, a place called Cape Faerival. It was on the
coastline of the most northwestern part of The Alliance:
a lonely, forgotten part of the country.
He felt his resolve slipping. What if the prophet
wasn’t there? What if he was dead? Even Prophets
couldn’t live forever. Could they?
Making matters worse, he and his father had
parted on bad terms. Right before he met with Coun-
cilman Andreas at the stables, he had stopped by his
father’s room to explain his sudden change in plans. H
hadn’t gone well.
"Loriden, think about this decision."
"I have," Loriden snapped back.” I have to try!”
His voice softened but was still laced with frustration,
“I have to find out more about mother, and where I fit
in this world."
He fought his growing irritation. The last thing
he had expected was for his father to be so opposed to
his leaving; especially after their talk the night before.
"But Loriden," his father implored, "You don't
know what you're giving up!" He placed a hand on his
shoulder. "Last night, after you left my room, Council-
man Chalcony stopped by to talk about you. You really
impressed The Council. Anyway, they were looking for
some way of rewarding you!"
Loriden interrupted, "Reward! I don’t want a
reward...My friends died out there and…"
"Listen,” His father interrupted,” I know how
you feel; I was a soldier once too. But let me finish.
While we were talking, Councilman Chalcony asked if
there was any way they could help you.”
His voice trailed off, giving Loriden a few
moments to consider his words. He had to admit he
found it intriguing. His father was effectively causing
him to doubt his decision. How could he not be in-
trigued that the most powerful man in the empire had
taken a personal interest in him? After all, Councilman
Andreas was the lowest member…
"So, I told him of your dream to become an
officer- He seemed very glad to hear it. Councilman
Chalcony said that he would personally present you for
a commission! Think about it Loriden- your dream
His father paused and then added slowly, "But
Loriden, if they hear that you are going off chasing
fairies and rainbows, especially arm-in-arm with
Councilman Andreas, you can be assured their attitude
toward you will change. You will lose this opportuni-
Loriden dropped his eyes to the floor as his
mind fought to understand all the implications. He
began considering all his father had said and saw a
"Father, give me two weeks. I’ll take care of this
and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll return and take the
His father answered quickly. "The Counsel
session ends this week! It’s now or never. Most of the
Councilmen would normally be opposed to you, a
commoner being presented for a commission, but your
passionate testimony has given you an advantage-
though a short lived one. Later, even if Councilman
Chalcony could be persuaded to wait, you would not be
in their favor."
Loriden sighed deeply. Why does it always have
to be this way? He wondered. Why do you always have
to give up so much to gain so little? His mind darted
through the options, trying to find another way to both
visit the cape and not lose his chance for commission.
But it was no use. If he accepted the commission they
would surely want him to return to duty right away. If
he faltered, the council meeting would end and his
opportunity would slip away. His father was right, it
was now or never. He had to make a choice.
"I'm sorry Father, tell them I can’t accept."
He saw the emotions flit across his father’s face.
It went from surprise, to bewilderment, and finally
settled on disappointment. He turned away from his
son and walked to the window.
The silence between grew oppressive. Their
conversation was over.
With a heavy heart, Loriden turned and walked
to the door. Before he opened it, he turned and said to
his father’s back, "I'm sorry."
His father never even acknowledged he heard.
With a heavy heard Loriden walked to the stables to get
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he
is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD
directeth his steps.
But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on
his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because
I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man
seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but
the LORD looketh on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
The next day Loriden traveled northward, the
miles steadily moving from before to behind him.
Slowly the terrain changed as he left the deep
forests of Chalcony and dropped into the low flat
grasslands of the steppes. The mountains grew smaller
and then finally disappeared, replaced by the flat
horizon where the earth met the sky. Instead of the
pungent smell of pine and woods he breathed in the rich
fragrance of prairie grass and earth.
For two full days they traveled through the prai-
rie, stopping only for short rests and a little food. Each
mile was like the last. There was the same grass, slowly
waving in the wind like the ocean waves, the same
unbroken horizon, and the same deep drumming of his
The terrain changed again right before the even-
ing of the third day. They were subtle changes at first:
the grass seemed a little thinner, the sound of the
horse’s hooves hitting the ground a bit softer, and the
whisper of the wind through the grass slightly harder to
hear. At first he thought it was just his imagination, but
as the changes became more pronounced there was no
denying the plains were giving way.
He topped a small hill and jerked at the reins as
his eyes widened at their first glimpse of the ocean. He
sat mesmerized in the saddle, scanning the seemingly
endless water. It was a blue-green plain that stretched
out as far as he could see. He closed his eyes and
breathed deeply, surprised by the tartness of the salty
offshore breeze. Straining his ears, he could barely
make out the faint cries of birds as they swooped and
dove in the distance.
As they cantered toward the surf Loriden took in
every new sight. Everything was foreign and strange:
pieces of knotty driftwood sat half covered in the sand,
green slimy plants lay wet and flat on the beach, and he
even glimpsed a small shelled creature walking side-
ways away from him toward the water. He reached the
surf and dismounted. Up close, the water was even
more powerful and majestic then it had been from a
distance. The waves seemed to roll toward him then
tumbled and broke apart as if struggling to be free from
their watery bonds, only to be subdued and slowly
crawl up the sand to his feet.
He remounted his horse and pulled out the map.
Scrutinizing the rough sketch, he figured the small
fishing village the Councilman had told him about
should be north. There he could get lodging for the
night, some good food, and hopefully a guide. He was
fairly certain he had hit the ocean where he had
planned, but it was hard to tell with so few landmarks.
He reached down and patted his horse. “Almost
there- just a little more.”
The horse lifted its head and snorted. It was as if
it too understood and wouldn’t mind some fresh oats
and a roof over its head.
They turned north and galloped hard along the
surf, the wind blowing their hair as they sped toward
civilization and a well earned rest.
He was disappointed. He sat in the saddle
looking out over the dozen or so squatty little cottages
that marred the bluff overlooking the beach. Everything
was in a different level of disrepair: buildings missing
boards, cracked chinking, other shacks missing more
materials then were still intact. And the trash! It was
everywhere: piles of rotting fish, broken pottery,
mounds of kitchen scraps rotting just outside of win-
dows. Here and there forgotten remnants of fabric and
string were caught on broken boards and swayed like
flags in the breeze. It was truly a town steeped in
neglect, slowly dying as it clung tenaciously to its old
way of life.
Almost as if on cue, the sun dropped below the
horizon, the last disappearing rays causing the squat
buildings to cast long shadows for a few lingering
moments, then the shadows disappeared as twilight
settled in on the coast.
Within the village, the people settled in for the
night. They weren’t bad people really. In the past they
had taken pride in the little village, back when they
could catch large droughts of fish and sell them to the
other cities on the coast. But then the cities found
cheaper sources, and most of the village fishermen
moved closer to their markets, leaving just a few
remaining behind. Now only a few boats fished the
waters, and primarily to provide for the scattered
remnants that were too poor- or too stubborn to leave.
In the ensuing years, necessity became much more
important than beauty. And without anyone to remind
them, they had forgotten about the finer things life
But Loriden didn’t know this, and grunted in
disgust as he dismounted. He felt his heel land squarely
on something squashy and by the smell and the yellow
goo which squirted out from under his foot surmised it
must have been a fish head. He hoped it wasn’t a sign
of what was to come. After wiping his boot on a tuft of
grass, he slowly led his horse through the lonely
garbage filled streets, looking for an inn and almost
wishing he had camped on the beach.
It wasn’t hard to find the inn, or what at least
served as an inn. It stood-rather it leaned-to the south
on the north side of the city square, a sad looking
building with peeling paint and a makeshift stable in the
back. Still, Loriden was relieved to see a welcoming
glow coming from its windows; a hint the village still
had some life left. As he passed in front of the building
he heard the sound of faint voices and the tingling of
dishes. The inn was the nightly meeting place for most
of the residence, the heart of the village, and although
shabby on the outside, the place still had a little pride
on the inside. As he turned the corner he almost collid-
ed with a shabby boy who had been walking along with
his head down.
“Sorry sir!” The boy jerked back in surprise.
“No problem.” Loriden replied, “But I need to
stable my horse. Do you know where the stable boy
“You’re looking at him sir.” The boy said.
“You’re the stable boy?” Loriden asked skepti-
cally, eyeing his threadbare clothes. He looked more
like a beggar than a stable boy, and Loriden knew that
many men had lost a good horse to such a ruse.
“And I wash dishes, and keep the fire going, and
I clear tables.” He said proudly, reaching into his
pocket and pulled out a large ring of keys to prove his
story. They were the sort used to lock up a stable at
“All right” Loriden replied, “I get the point.” He
removed his belonging and handed him the reins.
Holding up a coin he added, “You make sure you treat
At the sight of the coin, the boy’s eyes widened,
“Of course sir, I’ll give him the finest oats and hay.”
Loriden flipped the coin and the boy caught it
deftly. In an instant it had disappeared into his pocket.
Loriden watched the boy depart. Satisfied his
horse was taken care of he walked briskly to the front
of the building. His stomach growled in anticipation,
reminding him it had been a long time since his last
He stepped through the front door. It was
cleaner and cozier then he had expected. A hearty fire
blazed in the hearth, and the steady chatter told him the
town did indeed have a tongue. He walked to an empty
table across the room and sat down with his back
against the wall, where he could observe the entire
room. As he waited, he pulled the map from his pocket
and spread it out on the table; realizing the fishing
village was considerably further south then Councilman
Andreas had marked on the map.
"What do you want?" A harsh voice asked,
breaking into his thoughts.
Loriden glanced up from his map. A serving
girl stood just on the other side of the table. Hand on
her hip; she was the personification of impatience. Her
foot tapped rapidly, and her face (it may have been
pretty once) wore a scowl that was equaled only by her
"What do you suggest," he asked.
“Fish.” She answered tartly.
“Fish?” He questioned.
“Fish.” She answered irritably. Then rolling her
eyes she looked out over the room. Her foot tapping
continued, even grew faster.
She looked back at him and said slowly.
“Cooked- fish. Catch-of-the-day. It’s-what-we-have
“I’ll take the fish.” Loriden conceded, glad to
just be rid of her.
"What to drink?" She added curtly.
"I'll take whatever you have." He answered
quickly, trying to bypass her banter. Without another
word, she turned a disappeared through the door which
led to the kitchen.
"I hope she’s not the one who makes my food."
Loriden mumbled under his breath as he stood to his
feet and scanned the room. His meal would take a while
to prepare and he wanted to make good use of the wait.
He noted several rough looking men loitering near the
door. Sailors apparently, or so he thought by the knee
britches and black caps they wore. They stood in a
circle by the doorway; now and then breaking out in
unbridled laughter and frequently spitting thick black
liquid toward a nearby spittoon. As he approached them
the merriment abruptly stopped and they eyed him
"Well," the oldest of the group said, "It looks
like we got’s us some company." He looked Loriden up
and down, slowly moving his mouth around as he
readied himself for another attempt at the spittoon. The
other men silently stood their ground, letting the older
man do the talking.
Feeling the tension between them, Loriden
decided to get to the point quickly, “I’m looking for a
guide. You know where I can find one?"
The gnarled old man paused before answering.
"We don't take too kindly to strangers around
here. But I reckon if the price is right, one of the boys
might be persuaded." He emphasized the word,’ might’.
Then, he scrunched up his lips and a long thick stream
shot out of his mouth and streaked toward the open can
next to the door. A little of the man’s saliva found its
mark, but most of it rolled slowly down the side.
"Where ya’ goin?"
"A place called Cape Faerival."
Throwing a live rattlesnake within the circle
couldn’t have generated a more animated response. The
knot of men began muttering oaths and making warding
signs as they broke ranks and shuffled off to different
places in the building.
Only the old man stayed. He opened his tooth-
less mouth revealing his brown gums.
“Son, you’d better give up any idea of going
there. Turn around and just go back where you came
from. Leave that Cape alone. That is, if you value your
life…or your soul.”
Without waiting for a reply the old man saun-
tered to the door, tarrying only long enough to send one
last black stream in the general direction of the spittoon.
Then with a slam of the wooden door he stepped out
into the blackness and left Loriden standing alone.
He felt every eye following him as he walked back to
his table. In his absence the serving girl must had
brought him his drink; a tall fresh tankard of ale sat on
the table. He drank deeply, letting the sweet cold liquid
refresh his parched throat. He wiped the froth from his
mouth with his sleeve. As nonchalantly as possible he
scanned the room. Many of the sailors were still eyeing
him with suspicion and a few looked downright threat-
ening. This wouldn’t do.
Loriden reached into his pack and drew out a
dagger, placing it in open view on the table. It was a
simple gesture, not forward or challenging, but the
message was clear. And it had the desired effect. The
sailors looked away, and the few who still peeked at
him did so in secret.
Soon the inn was back to normal with some men
gathering in little groups to talk while others went back
to eating. When he was certain that the danger had
passed he pulled his map out again. He wanted a guide-
it might take him days to find the right cape, but he
doubted he could find help in the village. And with the
last reaction, he wasn’t even sure he should ask again.
He felt a shadow move over him. Instinctively,
his hand seized the dagger but he quickly released at the
sight of the stable boy. This time he had a dirty towel
slung over his shoulder.
"I couldn't help overhearing what you told the
men over by the door." The boy said, his eyes darted
back and forth to ensure no one was listening. He began
to wipe off the table next to him, although it was sill
"And…" Loriden replied.
"So you’re looking for a guide?"
"Yes I am. Do you know one?" He answered,
his interest beginning to peak.
The boy continued to wipe at the table. He
hesitated, as if afraid to go on. And then he seemed to
make up his mind and said "Yes I do… me! I can take
you to Cape Faerival."
Loriden leaned back on his wooden chair, his
eyes studying the boy in a new light.
A boy? He thought. Can’t be more than twelve
or thirteen. Yet the soiled towel in his hand attested to
his willingness to work, and he had been impressed by
the boy’s confidence. He didn’t flinch under his close
scrutiny, and he could see honesty in the boy’s face.
He wanted a more experienced guide, but really all he
needed was someone who could show him the way as
he wasn’t expecting a fight. Plus, he really didn’t want
to spend any more time in the village then he had to.
“What’s your name?” He asked the boy.
"Have you ever been to Cape Faerival?"
"Yes sir, I used to hunt with my father… “ His
voice broke a little and Loriden could guess what had
happened to his father; probably killed at sea or in a
hunting accident. It also explained why the boy worked
so hard. ”I have been by there plenty of times but never
to the cape itself. There is a shallow ford that leads to
it. I could take you there if you want!” His eyes im-
plored Loriden to say yes.
Something in the boy’s spirit impressed him. He
didn’t know what. It could have been the fact that he
was a lot like himself; young and lacking, but pressing
toward the unknown with an abandonment most people
couldn’t understand. Or maybe it was that he seemed
needy. He really didn’t know, but what he did know
was that what the boy lacked in stature, he made up for
in spirit. The boy had grown up fast.
“What would your mother think?” Loriden
“My mother depends on the pennies I bring
home, whether it’s from odd jobs or my job here at the
inn. She won’t mind."
“Well it’s settled then.” Loriden extended his
hand. I’ll see you at first light. That is, if you want the
Oliver’s face lit up in a wide grin. “I sure do, I‘ll
see you then. If you don’t-”
At that moment, a piercing cry interrupted their
meeting. “What are you doing little wretch? That
table’s not dirty! ” The serving girl’s swooped down
upon him from behind carrying Loriden‘s food. “You
had better get busy or the master will box your ears!”
Oliver darted away nimbly and quickly began
clearing a table of dirty dishes.
“Worthless boy!” She sneered, not bothering
even to look his way. “Don’t know why the master
keeps the little urchin around.” She placed a thick
steaming bowl of salmon mixed with onions, garlic, and
leeks along with a large piece of dark rye bread on the
table, then took his cup to re-fill it.
I sure hope the boy knows where he’s going.
Loriden thought to himself as he bit into the bread. But
deep down, he figured he probably did.
"There it is.” Oliver pointed across the thin
stretch of water to Cape Faerival. It was a picturesque
strip of land, with high thinly wooded terraced cliffs
atop a tall rocky spiral. A strip of beach was nestled
invitingly between the two cliffs, offering a foothold
onto the cape which would otherwise be unreachable.
Some would see it as a beautiful stopping place. But to
Loriden, who knew what may lie beyond, it seemed
ominous and threatening.
Loriden dismounted his horse. He could see
from Oliver’s drooping shoulders he was tired. He also
noticed the boy favored his left foot, holding it slightly
off the ground as he looked over the water. And he
knew why. Earlier in the day he had pretended not to
notice as Oliver pulled a long thorn from the sole of his
pitifully thin shoes.
” I never met anyone brave enough to cross the
ford." Oliver said.
He swallowed, and Loriden could tell he was
nervous, even though he tried hard to hide it. His voice
was a little too steady, unnaturally so.
He had to force himself not to smile.
"I don’t know what’s over there, but you and I
will fight it head on, with cold steel and our own blood
if necessary." Loriden said in his best imitation of
Oliver’s eyes grew wide as Loriden unsheathed
his sword and tested the edge.
"But then again," Loriden said slowly, "It’s
already into the afternoon, and I would hate for you to
be late to the inn. And of course, I would have to pay
you double." He sounded undecided.
Oliver never took his eyes from the sword. "I
know you would feel better having another sword by
your side, but I also understand your need for economy.
Either way, a deal is a deal."
It was all Loriden could do to not laugh outright.
Another sword? The boy carried nothing but a small
skinning knife, and it so dull he doubted he could cut
himself with it. Yet he was willing to cross over to the
Cape all for the sake of a handshake and a promise?
The boy would make a great scout one day.
Taking out three silver pennies, he flipped them
one at a time to Oliver who caught them eagerly. It was
a lot of money for such a simple task, probably more
than Oliver earned in two weeks at the inn.
"Thank you for your services Oliver, but I bid
you return. I will cross over alone."
Obviously relieved, Oliver tipped his hat. "If
you ever need my services again, you know where to
find me." He extended his hand and shook Loriden’s
heartily. Then clutching the silver pennies, he sprinted
eagerly back toward the village, the thrill of glad tidings
helping him to forget his foot.
With Oliver gone, Loriden looked back out over
the small strip of sea that separated him from the cape.
Like most of the capes on the coast, the tide had a lot to
do with its accessibility. In high tide, the ocean water
rose and effectively made the cape into a small island.
Then, as the water receded the cape and mainland
He was glad it was low tide. Only a strip of
calm sea no more than thirty feet wide separated him
from the beach. Yet Loriden still felt uneasy. Someone
or something may still live on that cape, and whatever it
was, it did not like visitors. Yet here he was, about to
cross… and without an invitation.
His horse stepped into the water anyway.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying,
We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to
meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
… whosoever, whether man or woman, shall
come unto the king into the inner court, who is not
called, there is one law of his to put him to death,
except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden
…when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the
court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king
held out to Esther the golden scepter.
Esther 4:11 & 5:2
I have known good men with whom I shall nev-
er be thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at
least, we shall agree best on earth when they go their
way and I go mine.
Loriden was able to reach the island with little
difficulty. The water was still only a few feet deep, and
when he reached the opposite beach, not even his boots
or stirrups were wet.
He dismounted and looked about, noticing
nothing but a few pieces of driftwood and a scattering
of the sea: a broken shell, a bit of seaweed, a tangle of
some kind of net or fishing line. He searched for a way
into the interior of the cape and quickly found a narrow,
rocky path that wound up through the cliffs. Had it been
used? He bent down and examined the trail, using his
tracking skills to find any evidence of a previous
traveler. He found none. The soft dirt was devoid of any
sign of footprints and not even a blade of grass was
bent. In all indication he was the first one to travel this
path for a long, long time. The thought unnerved him.
What if there was no-one on the island? What if the old
prophet was dead and all he found were his bones? The
idea of the island being empty scared him more than it
He turned, and looking back at the mainland
was alarmed to see it retreating. Already almost fifty
feet of water lay between him and where he had stood
with Oliver only a few minutes before. The tide had
changed, and soon the surging water would cut off the
cape from the continent. He briefly thought of returning
before the water was too high, not that he was worried
about retreat, he had come too far to turn back, but he
had hoped that he could explore the cape on his own
terms. But here he was again, being forced down a path
of someone else’s choosing- or so it seemed.
He led his horse further away from the water.
He was not a seaman, but even he could see where the
sand’s texture changed. Toward the sea, the sand was
smooth and crusty. Beyond the line opposite the sea,
the sand was rippled, as if blown about by the wind.
Remembering what Oliver had told him about the tides
on their journey, it stood to reason the line must be the
high water mark. He led his mare well beyond the line
and picketed her to a large piece of driftwood.
“Sorry girl. “ He said reassuringly as he patted
her flank affectionately, “But you can’t come up that
trail. It’s too rocky and narrow. “She whinnied and
seemed to shake her head in response, as if she under-
stood and was content to be left behind.
The trail leading inland was rocky and steep,
wedged between two cliffs which rose straight up on
both sides. And although the scenery was beautiful,
with the rising cliffs and the sandy beach stretched out
white and shiny against the deep blue of the sea, the
trail was narrow and confined. To make matters worse,
he was entering the island from the most likely route,
and at the most expected time. He strained to hear even
the slightest sound, but all he heard was the light surf in
the distance and the sound of his own footsteps.
He climbed for almost an hour, stepping over
rocks and sometimes sliding through narrow crevices.
Finally, sweating and breathing hard from all the
exertion he decided to stop and rest. Removing his
water flask he drank deeply. Just then, a small rock
clattered by, dislodged from somewhere above him. He
crouched down quickly and placed his hand on his
sword, his eyes scanning the cliff side. He began to
wonder if he was being watched, yet resisted the urge to
unbuckle his sword. If he were being watched, he didn’t
want to seem aggressive. If the prophet were still on the
island he wanted to talk with him-not fight.
His heartbeat slowed as the minutes passed.
Nothing out of the ordinary moved; he felt only the
light touch of the faint sea breeze and heard only the far
off cry of seagulls. All was quiet and peaceful.
Yet something was amiss. He could feel it. If
there was someone watching him, they could do much
more then dislodge a few small rocks. He had to get to
open ground and away from the narrow pathway where
he couldn’t defend himself. He took a step and immedi-
ately another rock came skipping and bouncing down
the steep cliff side. Throwing himself against the rock
wall, he ducked just as the stone passed, missing his
head by only a hair’s breath. He jumped back to the
trail and saw movement high above on the cliff, a shape
which moved quickly out of view. He had seen some-
one. Only for a moment- but in that brief second he saw
the unmistakable form of a man. And the man had sent
him a clear message- he wasn’t welcome.
He stooped down and examined the rock. Much
larger than the first one, it wasn’t big enough to kill, but
it certainly could wound a man. Also… he turned it
over in his hand. Slightly bigger than his fist, it wasn’t a
cliff rock. A cliff rock would have been jagged and
rough. But this rock was smooth and round, probably
from a river or stream. There could be no mistake; this
rock had not been dislodged accidentally but rolled
down on purpose. It was clearly a warning; far worse
could be done if he didn‘t turn back.
Loriden weighed his options. He considered
calling out to the stranger, but knew he would just be
wasting his breath. He wasn’t looking for a frightened
child who wanted to be found, but instead a reclusive
hermit who wanted to be left alone. He could call out
until his voice failed; his calls would go unanswered.
He decided instead on another course of action.
As nonchalantly as possible he reached down and
unbuckled his sword. He tried to make it look natural,
to make it look like his hand brushed against the sheath
as he flicked the rock away. The leather restraining
strap popped loose- freeing the sword.
Yet as long as he was in this tight narrow gorge
he was at a disadvantage, he needed room to maneuver,
to use his sword if need be. He couldn’t see the
stranger, but he knew that the stranger would be watch-
ing- knew he probably saw him as he unclasped his
sword and would be calculating his next move. He had
to throw him off.
Without warning he sprinted up the trail. Dodg-
ing over rocks and around the twists and turns, his
muscular legs pumped as he raced to the cliff top. He
planned this unexpected move to catch the stranger by
surprise, and even now hoped the stranger was trying to
catch up to him, either making his way along the ridge
or else racing up the trail behind him. Either way, he
was off guard and prone to making mistakes Loriden
could capitalize on and use to his advantage.
After several minutes at the breakneck pace he
slowed down, breathing heavily. He shielded his eyes
from the sun and scanned the tops of the cliffs; pleased
it had taken only a few minutes to reach the top of the
trail. That should slow him up. He thought as a slight
smile formed on his lips and his breathing regulated.
Just a little further to the top.
He had only to squeeze through a narrow open-
ing between two rocks and the trail would widen,
giving him some breathing room. He grasped his sword
and straightened to his full height, exhaling to make
himself as thin as possible. The rocks scraped his back
and chest as he began squeezing through. It felt like he
was caught in a vice. He wriggled and pushed harder,
trying to reach the open pathway just ahead. Something
pulled at him from behind, something strong enough to
hold him back. He felt a wave of panic.
Could the stranger have caught up to him that
quickly? Was he even at this moment looking at the
helpless victim in his clutches? But no, that was impos-
sible, no-one could have traveled that fast. It had to be
something else. He cursed the rock that held him so
tightly in its grip he couldn’t even move his head.
Using his right hand, he felt behind him- his
fingers searching and then brushing across his sword
scabbard which had twisted free and wedged sideways
against the rock opening. Breathing a sigh of relief (it
was actually more of a grunt) he jerked the scabbard tip
downward and freed it from the rock. He actually
chuckled as he thought of his momentary panic. It was
so simple really; how could he have thought any man
could travel that fast? He was confident he had won this
round against the stranger.
Free from the wedged sword, he began to inch
forward again when he heard a noise from above. His
eyes darted upward and confirmed what he already
knew. An avalanche of small rocks swept toward him.
He had just enough time to throw up his arm before the
first stone slammed into his leather glove. Rocks
bounced and skidded all about him as he heard the low
roar of the avalanche thundering by. Mercifully his
glove and gauntlet absorbed most of the impact, but he
choked and coughed as a thick cloud of dust rose all
around him. Just when he thought he couldn’t take any
more the avalanche finally subsided. A few final rocks
slid by and all was quiet. He lowered his arm. As if by
design, a single rock came bounding down the cliff
side, skipped nimbly over the rock, and struck him just
above the ear, the force knocking his helmet off. He
cried out as a searing pain shot through his temple and
the impact started a small trickle of blood dripping
down his neck.
He violently forced himself through the gap, his
anger overcoming the pain. He reached down and
picked up the stone which had struck his helmet. He
could tell it was the correct stone by the small red
splotch of blood- his blood- which stained one of the
sides. It was smooth. Reaching into his pocket, he
jerked out a small piece of cloth and placed it against
his head, wincing as the cloth made contact with the
gash. He had lost the second round with the stranger.
"Hello!" He shouted loudly. "I have come in
peace.” As his voice echoed off the rock he realized
how foolish he must have sounded. He sure wasn’t
acting peaceful, nor was he dressed for peaceful negoti-
ation. After all, he was wearing armor and carrying a
sword, not exactly the picture of a peaceful emissary.
He chided himself. Maybe he should have left
his sword and armor at the bottom of the trail? Or
maybe he should have waited on the shore? But wait for
what? He would probably have rotted down there. He
felt like he wasn’t doing this right, as if there was any
‘right’ way to approach a reclusive hundred year old
hermit who wanted to be left alone.
But perhaps he should go back and try to find
another way to the cape, a trail or path that offered
more cover and concealment? But that would require
traversing the narrow gorge again… he was tired of
trying to figure it all out.
Thankfully, whether he knew it or not, the deci-
sion was about to be taken out of his hands. As Loriden
fought to calm his swirling thoughts, his eyes alighted
on an old man standing in the middle of the trail, only
twenty or so feet ahead. The man stood perfectly still,
his long white robes not even waving in the stiff breeze.
In his wrinkled left hand he gripped a gnarled wooden
staff, resting one end on the ground, the other end
carved in what looked to be an open fist at about
shoulder level. His face was expressionless; no life at
all seemed to radiate from the piercing green eyes that
stared out from under his thick gray eyebrows. He was
wrinkled and weathered, as one who has passed better
days, and now lingers on because there is nowhere else
They stood facing each other. Finally, Loriden
broke the silence. “My name is Loriden Ulrich, I have
come as a representative of the Western Alliance. “
The old man didn’t move, didn’t even blink, just
stood there motionless- like a statue, staring- and
Loriden stared back. Something wasn’t right. The man
didn’t seem natural. Loriden began cautiously moving
toward him. He held his hands high, far away from his
sword. He took a step- the man didn’t move. He took
another. Still, the man didn’t acknowledge his presence.
Loriden’s mind began playing tricks on him. Could the
man have been here all along? Standing alone, perhaps
enchanted by the prophet, for the last hundred years?
But no, he had looked thought the opening before he
squeezed through and the trail was empty.
Another step; there was now only a few feet
separating them. Still the old man stood as motionless
as the rock walls that surrounded them. Loriden
reached out to touch him, and he didn’t know why, but
he expected something terrible to happen. Just as his
finger brushed the white sleeve of the old man’s
garment he disappeared. Not a slow dissipating like fog
in the afternoon, but an abrupt “now you see it-now you
don’t” immediate disappearing. Loriden jumped back in
surprise, staring at the empty spot where the man had
just stood. There were no footprints or any other signs
the old man had ever been there. He stooped and
examined the ground more closely, finding that not
even a pebble was disturbed.
He was almost to the top of the trail. The path,
which before was narrow and constrictive, had become
as spacious and open as a Chalcony street. And alt-
hough the rock walls to either side of the path were still
steep, the distance between them allowed room for
Scanning the cliff to his right he gasped as he
spied the old man again. This time he stood with his
back facing him, staring out toward the mainland. But
this was no illusion; his robe swayed in the breeze and
his hair waved slightly as it poked out from under the
white hood. Loriden suspected a trap.
He crept quietly to the top of the trail, all the
while keeping one eye on the lone figure silhouetted
against the blue sky. With each step, the cliffs grew
smaller and then finally disappeared altogether as they
met the ground at the head of the trail. The old man
hadn’t moved, and if he knew that Loriden was behind
him he didn’t show it.
Loriden knew something the stranger did not,
and he hoped it might give him an edge. He was a
scout, and so could move without making hardly a
noise. Perhaps, just maybe, the old man had underesti-
mated him. And although Loriden was certain he was
being led into a trap, there was still a chance the prey
might turn the tables on the hunter. So he did what he
did best- what he was trained to do; he knelt down and
waited. Minutes became an hour, and then two hours.
The old man never moved. The sun had long reached its
zenith and their shadows began to lengthen. It was to
Loriden’s advantage as the sun should be in the old
man’s face, blinding him. It was time.
Moving like a shadow, making no more noise
than a cat, Loriden crept toward his quarry, hugging the
terrain and using it to shield himself. One hundred
meters, fifty, twenty-five… He melted into the bushes
and used the additional concealment to draw within a
few yards of the white robed figure.
He was almost close enough to touch him. Had
it worked? Could he have outsmarted the old man? The
answer came with his next step as his foot came down
something jerked at his leg and the world turned upside
down. A sharp pain bit into his ankle, and looking up he
couldn’t miss the small white cord reaching from his
foot to a small limb of a sapling. He was caught!
Wasting no time, he drew his dagger from its sheath
and slashed the cord. He landed hard, and with the
weight of his armor the jolt knocked the wind from
But he couldn’t stop to think about it. The old
man had to be close, and only his reflexes could get him
into a position to meet what may be coming next. He
painfully rolled onto his hands and knees, shaking his
head to clear the cobwebs and looking for his sword
and any sign of the old man. He found them both at the
same time, freezing in place as he felt the sword tip
prick the skin just under is chin. The old man held a
sword- his sword-to his throat.
The sword tip rose, causing him to tilt his head
back to keep the razor sharp edge from cutting deeper
into his neck. The effect was that he was now looking
his captor full in the face. The arm that held the sword
didn’t waver, and the prophet’s eyes bore into him with
"Tell me, how it is a Valleyman wears Western
Armor?" The old man sneered.
Loriden swallowed before answering, "I was
hoping you could tell me!"
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold
nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
I believe that many professing Christians are cold and
uncomfortable because they are doing nothing for their
Lord; but if they actively served him, their blood would
begin to circulate spiritually, and it would be well with
Friend or Foe
"Be glad your helmet was knocked off your
head!" The old man led Loriden through the front door.
"If I hadn’t seen your blonde hair you can be assured
you wouldn’t have found my reception so pleasant!"
Still holding a handkerchief to his bleeding
temple, Loriden answered.” Considering I was half
crushed, snared, and almost skewered, I would hate to
see what an unpleasant reception looked like!"
The old man pause mid-step and looked back at
him intently. His mouth twitched, and a hint of a smile
broke through his callous disposition. "Um, well, I
could see how you would think that.” When he spoke
next, his voice held a hint of warmth. "You have been
the first to visit my home in a long while, I normally
wouldn’t allow it, but I will make an exception for a
Loriden answered a little hesitantly, and then
winced as the kerchief shifted and touched a tender spot
on his head. "I’m not actually a Valleyman, I’m a
The old man sat in the chair in front of the cold
"So you think."
He snapped his fingers and a fire ignited in the
hearth. Loriden’s eyes widened in surprise. Magic!
And the Old Man had made it seem so easy and natural.
The crystal Loriden wore around his neck vibrated as if
in response to the magic in the room. His hand instinc-
tively reached up to where the crystal hung behind his
leather armor. The old man watched his reaction
carefully, his bushy gray-brown eyebrows rising as he
saw the effect his simple magic had on the young man.
“Why have you come to Cape Faerival?" He
Loriden was still transfixed-staring into the fire,
half expecting it to do something unnatural. It took him
a moment to realize the old man had spoken. His
mission rushed back into his mind along with a sense of
"We are seeking a man- a man we believe may
have answers we need."
"And, who might this man be that 'we' seek?"
He asked slowly, emphasizing the 'we'.
"A prophet that escaped from The West after
the Field of Blood, from the School of Estralin."
For the first time, Loriden saw emotion in the
old man’s face as it clouded over with a pained, wistful
expression. He broke his gaze away and leaned back in
the chair. "I have not heard that name in a long time,"
he replied in a faraway voice.
"Are you that Prophet?" Loriden asked directly.
The old man wasn’t ready to answer- not yet.
He had to admit the mention of the old school had
shocked him, but he had recovered and was in control
"You keep saying 'we,' who are these other
people you represent? You do not seem the typical
"Well," Loriden began slowly, "I don't actually
represent The West, only myself, and a councilman
named Dieter Andreas."
"And how did you know to look for me here?"
He pressed, leaning forward in the chair.
Loriden took a deep breath. The close scrutiny
was unnerving, but he told himself that he would
probably be doing the same if the positions were
reversed. He started at the beginning and told the old
man the same story Councilman Andres told him in his
chambers; about the shipwreck, his narrow escape from
the sea, and how he had met the old man in white on the
beach. He also told him he had been sent by the Coun-
cilman to get answers about Sotthem’s power- and to
collaborate the fact of his return.
When he finished his tale, the old man asked
more questions. He asked Loriden about his childhood,
his father, his mother, his friends, and even his weapons
training. He questioned him on his military service and
especially about the ambush. By careful manipulation,
the old man learned much more then Loriden realized.
Much by what he said, more by what he didn’t say.
Finally the old man seemed satisfied and the questions
His questioning complete, he sat thoughtfully
and slowly rocked back and forth looking into the fire.
He reached up to the mantle and took down his pipe, lit
it, and then motioned for Loriden to pull in a kitchen
chair and be seated. Outside, the sun dipped below the
distant horizon, the last of its pale rays dancing and
flickering on the water and then spilling weakly into the
cabin windows. The red glow from the pipe illuminated
the old man’s weathered features as he sat in the
deepening shadows. The fragrant tobacco smell re-
minded Loriden of happier times; of nights back in
Estralin when his father sat by his own hearth and his
mother still lived, before the life changing fire.
The room grew darker as night settled upon the
cape. Neither man noticed. They sat inspelled, staring
into the dancing flames. Each lost in their own memo-
ries: Loriden re-living his happier days, the old man
struggling to understand.
I’ve often wondered the reason I found the
sailor on the beach. Could God have sent him to me?
Could he have also sent this young man? Am I to play a
part in this?
The old man’s thoughts whirled as he tried to
make sense of it all. But there were still too many gaps.
What was God doing? He sighed deeply. "I’m the man
you seek. I’m the Prophet from Estralin.”
Loriden had already guessed as much so it came
as no surprise. "Can I at least know your name?"
"I am called Thorston, and I was the First Chair
of the School of Estralin along, long time ago." After a
brief pause he continued, "The Councilman is right,
Sotthem has returned. He’s amassed a great army of
evil men and ForBeasts, and even now is moving to
make war against The West. As we speak, his army
marches to The Eastern war city of Sophja where they
will marshal their forces. Then they will travel to
Bratsilva to resupply, move across the barons, and
begin their invasion. He spoke with little emotion, as if
the event had already passed.
Loriden stuttered, his emotions reeling with the
horrible thought of what the prophet had said. "How do
you know these things? Why haven’t you told anyone?
Were you just going to idly sit by and let people be
Undisturbed by Loriden’s outburst, Thorston
continued rocking slowly back and forth. He surprised
Loriden by asking his own question,
"Do you believe the old stories?"
What does that have to do with anything? He
asked incredulously. He couldn't get the picture of
William and the others out of his mind. He remembered
their gray faces and lifeless eyes staring out into the
sky. Something had to be done to warn The Western
Alliance, and quickly. If the Old Man didn’t care or
want to help then so be it.
"So do you believe the old stories?" Thorston
Ignoring the question, Loriden stood from the
chair and grabbing his cloak, began walking toward the
door. He figured if he could travel hard and rest only
when necessary, he could cover the ground to Castle
Chalcony in two days. Four words changed his mind.
“The tide is in.” The Prophet said from his
Loriden stopped dead in his tracks and fought to
organize his thoughts. All of the sudden he was so very
tired, as if all the stress and long miles had just caught
up with him. But even with the present danger, it was
suicide to try and cross the channel at high tide, and at
night. Defeated and feeling a little foolish, he turned
and made his way slowly back to the chair here he sat
“Do you believe the old stories?” He asked a
Loriden struggled to answer. “Me? Why, I’m
here of course, so I guess I do.” He fought for the right
words. “When I was a little boy my mother told me
stories about the Creator, and angels, and history, she
also told me The Creator had given magic to men and
"That is true.” Thorston replied. “But Loriden,
do you believe it? Would you stake your soul on it?"
The question troubled him. It was one thing to
want the magic, to believe in it, but to trust in it? To
give himself wholly to it? That was another matter
entirely. And one he didn’t feel comfortable with.
"I don’t know. I want to believe… but it seems
impossible. Yet I’ve seen things with my own eyes that
just a few weeks ago I would have never believed, and
now I feel like a stranger to two worlds."
Thorston muttered under his breath. "Or part of
two worlds.” But then he said much louder, rising up
from the chair, “It’s getting late and you need rest."
Loriden looked to the window and saw nothing
but blackness. He wondered how long it would be until
a different kind of darkness covered the land.
"Wait, my horse! I-"
"Nothing to worry about, there is nothing on the
island that will trouble your horse. And while it tides in,
nothing can cross from the continent. She’ll be fine
With no other option, Loriden followed
Thorston down a short hallway. Opening the door to a
small storeroom Thorston said, "I don’t often have
company so you’ll have to sleep in here. On the shelf
you’ll find a blanket. Curl up anywhere you can get
Loriden stepped in and the prophet shut the door
behind him. A moment later Loriden gently pushed the
door and it opened a crack. At lease he wasn’t a prison-
Yet he was too uptight to even think about
sleeping. He began pacing back and forth, his mind so
full of the impending danger he couldn‘t relax. His
body cried out for rest, his legs and arms felt like they
weighed three times their normal weight, but he fought
the growing tiredness and his own discouragement.
But had he thought about things more clearly. If per-
haps his mind had not been so tired and discouraged, he
might have seen everything in another light. After all,
he had accomplished his mission. He found the prophet,
delivered his message, and learned about Sotthem’s
plans; all within a few hours. But as it was, he couldn’t
think through the gloom of the impending invasion. He
rolled a blanket out on the floor and sat leaning against
a bag of potatoes. He yawned. Axhaustion crept in and
claimed him. He fell into a fitful sleep and began
dreaming of marching ForBeasts, prophets wielding
powerful magic, and then toward morning, about his
But unknown to him, while he slept, Thorston
sat at a renewed fire long into the night. His own
memories flooded over him, forcing him to remember
things he thought were long forgotten. And bringing to
light hopes he thought were lost in darkness.
Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot, ye shall
have help. And the messengers came and shewed it to
the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.
1 Samuel 11:9
And if one prevail against him, two shall with-
stand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
When we have good work to do for our Lord,
we are glad of the company of kindred spirits, deter-
mined to make the good work succeed;
The Next Morning
The following morning Loriden awoke to find Thorston
dressed and sitting at the breakfast table. He sat down
in the chair opposite the prophet and hungrily eyed the
plates of meats and cheeses, bowls of porridge, and
various breads and fruits. His stomach growled, but he
was careful to wait for the prophet to invite him; not
comfortable enough with the old man to help himself.
He didn’t have to wait long.
"Loriden, eat heartily, you’ll need it for the
As they ate together, Loriden watched the
prophet for a sign, anything that might indicate his
intention in the coming war. He wasn’t certain of the
prophets powers, but it was evident he possessed great
knowledge, and knowledge would be invaluable in the
coming conflict. Yet he was disappointed as he Proph-
ets face was as impassive as stone.
Finally, he couldn’t stand the silence.
"Have you considered our request?"
The prophet continued eating as if he hadn’t
heard. He slowly spooned the last of the porridge into
his mouth, sat back in his chair, and wiped the corners
of his mouth.
"If you mean help you fight Sotthem, the answer
Outwardly, Loriden showed no sign of emotion.
He took a bite of sausage and slowly chewed on it. But
inside he seethed that the old man could refuse so
calmly and emotionlessly. Did he not care thousands
would be butchered? Did he not care that the free world
may fall into slavery and death? Could he be so heart-
"So, you are going to sit rocking by the fire
while Sotthem overruns the West?" His tone was cold-
"I didn’t say that!" Thorston retorted hotly,
betraying his own emotions. "I said I won’t fight! At
least not now, there are more pressing matters. Let me
remind you, I do not have a great love for The West.
Our last meeting was not a pleasant one."
Pushing his bowl away he stood and motioned
for Loriden to follow him. Loriden rose quickly and
they walked back down the same hallway they had
traversed the night before. This time however, they
passed the door to the storeroom where he had slept and
then stopped at the next. Thorston lifted the latch,
pushed open the door, and led him into a library which
smelled strongly of dust and musty old books. Piles of
parchments and mounds of books were haphazardly
piled in heaps around the room. It seemed that in some
places the piles had collapsed into one big pile, only to
have new piles started on top of them again. Yet
without hesitation, Thorston walked across the room to
a bookshelf and pulled down an old volume. He blew
off a thick layer of dust and handed it to Loriden.
"Look at the first page and tell me if you
recognize anything in the picture." He said.
Loriden opened the cover and immediately
realized it was the same book he had studied in the
tower. It had been almost two years, but he would never
forget it. He felt the same tinge of fear as he examined
the picture of the fearsome white creature surrounded
by its army. What would I recognize? He thought,
looking at the page. But unlike the last time, he was
able to study the picture without the overwhelming fear
that assaulted him in the tower. He started with the
white creature, and then moved around the circle,
studying each of the others in detail. He froze.
Thorston raised his eyebrows.
"I've seen him before." Loriden stammered, his
eyes glued to the page.
"Sotthem, the one in the middle?" Thorston
"No, not him, this one." Loriden said, pointing
to one of the smaller creatures. It was dressed in black
and had red lines moving up its arms. The last time
Loriden had seen him had been in The Barrens, and
only for an instant, but that moment was one he would
never forget. Nor would he ever forget the pain it had
caused him with its accursed arrow. Unconsciously, he
rubbed his forearm where the arrow had pierced his
"Prince Madranth," Thorston said, shaking his
head in disbelief.
"You know who this is?" Loriden replied in
"Yes," I know of him. Are you certain he was
the one?' He asked as he took the book from Loriden
and snapped it shut. "Are you absolutely sure."
Loriden spent the next few moments reliving the
ambush; the narrow path when they were attacked, the
wild charge, the creature and the look in its eyes. "I'm
sure- Absolutely sure."
"Then it’s worse than I thought." Thorston said
as he tossed the book carelessly on a pile close at hand.
He sat wearily in the chair next to the door and stroked
his beard. "If Prince Madranth’s doing Sotthem’s
bidding, then they have united again.”
Loriden looked at the Prophet with a blank
"That was a history book Loriden. It begins long
before any of the books in The West."
"I know," Loriden answered, "I saw it before."
"What?" Now it was Thurston’s turn to look
surprised, "Where did you see it?"
Loriden explained about climbing the tower
stairs and about finding the room and the book. He told
him everything about the harrowing trip up the stairs,
and everything he could remember about the furnish-
ings, strange viols and metals in the room at the top of
the stairs. But for some reason he didn’t tell him about
finding the stone. He couldn’t have told you why, but
something held him back. It was just too personal.
"So the tower is still there, and it’s intact? Yes,
strange things are happening indeed." Thorston stroked
his long, wiry beard, his head moving slowly from side
to side. His eyes again rested on Loriden and he was
jerked away from his reverie. With an apologetic half
smile he picked back up his explanation.
"As I was saying, the book you saw tells the sto-
ry of God's original creation and how he placed men
and Angles in Elethra. The world was beautiful and
peaceful then. But Sotthem, the most powerful of all
God’s Angels, grew proud and rebelled. He was able to
seduce many to follow him and launched an attack
against God. The battle that followed was fierce, but
Sotthem was defeated and cast back to Elethra. He is
now bound to Elethra like a dog on a chain. Yet I think
he believes that if he can somehow gain control all of
this world’s magic he can still overthrow The Creator.
Four of his fallen angels survive with him, and Sotthem
still has great power. But without going into too much
detail, something happened that caused his hold on the
demonic world to shatter."
"The Pact of Four?" Loriden injected.
Again, Thorston was surprised. "Why yes, I
guess your mother told you the story?
“It was one of my favorite stories when I was a
boy. I loved to hear about the four heroes who de-
stroyed the Black Stone and saved The West.“ In
Loriden’s mind, many pieces of the puzzle were
starting to fall into place. But he still had more ques-
"You mentioned that they have united again,
what did you mean by that?"
"I mean that since his initial defeat, Sotthem has
kept his Lieutenants in line by brute force. However,
about a century ago he disappeared. No one knew why
at the time. Upon seeing his departure, his princes
immediately rebelled and fought amongst themselves-
seizing his lands and peoples. Then just as suddenly he
reappeared- with another black stone. I’ve heard rumors
that he was able to bring two of the fallen princes back
into line, but I wasn’t sure about the third and forth. I
know that Prince Polluck still holds out in the south, but
it now seems that Madranth has re-united with Sotthem.
“What of this Prince Polluck you mentioned?
Do you think he’ll also join Sotthem?
"I don’t expect that Prince Polluck will align
with anyone, not out of fear anyway. He was a messen-
ger before the fall, and is gifted with a knowledge not
matched in The West. But you can be sure that Sotthem
is trying other means to coax Polluck into committing
his forces to this invasion."
Loriden stood next to the book table digesting
all the information. It seemed the danger was growing
worse with every new detail.
Thorston rose from the chair."Well, we had
better get going. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
"You, you're going? Loriden stuttered, "But I
thought you said you wouldn't fight?"
"And I meant what I said! But we’re not going
to fight. Not yet. First, we must find some answers. It
seems that God is moving again to thwart Sotthem’s
latest plans, and somehow, you’re right in the middle of
it. Now by coming here, you‘ve pulled me in with
Startled, Loriden replied. "How can I be a part
of this plan? I don’t even know this God you keep
With a sigh, Thorston replied, "That may be
true. But he seems to know you!"
When the Old Prophet made up his mind, he
was decisive and moved quickly. He barked orders and
moved with such swiftness that they were ready in less
than an hour, their provisions packed and mounts
readied. As they hefted their packs onto their Loriden
voiced a question that had been bothering him.
"You mentioned the way was dangerous."
"Yes, very dangerous in fact. Sotthem’s spies
are everywhere; and we’ll have to travel secretly and
with haste. Even then, I don’t think we’ll go unno-
"Well, couldn't you," He was having trouble
finding the words, "Couldn't you just- get us there?
Like you did with the fire?" Loriden snapped his
Thorston rolled his eyes as he shook his head.
What people believed about magic.
"There was a time when magic was that strong
in The West. Then it may have been possible, but that
time is long past. Magic is failing… but we are not
without hope." And with that comment he walked to a
chest in the corner of the room and lifted the lid.
Reaching in, he brought out a small, milky white stone
and placed it atop his wooden staff. It glowed bright a
moment, then became milky once again.
He spied Loriden open his mouth to ask another
question, but he cut him by stepping out the door,
"Shut the door tight Loriden, if I live through
this, I don't want to return and find the door left open.”
The journey had begun.
And it came to pass, when I heard these words,
that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days,
and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,
David therefore besought God for the child; and
David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the
2 Samuel 12:16
A smothered grief is hard to endure.
Journey to Delor
They by-passed the little fishing village where Loriden
had stayed the night, using secondary roads and game
trails to remain unseen.
“Better for them to think you disappeared like
the others.” Thorston explained as they by-passed the
little village. “I shop in the town now and again, but
always in disguise. If they saw you with me, they might
“Thorston, what happened to the others who
visited?” Loriden asked. “What did you do to them?”
Thorston chuckled, his floppy hat bouncing up
and down with the motion of the horse and the wind
causing his gray hair to trail behind him. “No one has
traveled up that path in ten years. A few cross over and
stand on the beach, but no one dares climb the cliffs.
Not until you that is.”
“But what of all the rumors? Who started
Thorston shrugged his shoulders in response.
The truth dawned on him and Loriden called out
good naturedly. “You started the rumors didn’t you? “
Thorston smiled broadly as he answered. “I did
at first. But the way people talk, the rumors grew to the
point they are now. People are so terrified of the island,
no-one comes anymore. I like it that way. “
They continued southward at a moderate pace,
Loriden shaking his head. He already respected the Old
Prophet, but to hear how Thorston tricked the whole
town, that was brilliant.
“So where are we going? Where are these
answers you spoke about this morning?”
“We’re going to the city of Delor.” Thorston
“Delor? Why are we going there? Nothing’s
there but a small garrison that guards the Delor Bridge.”
“You’ll see.” Thorston answered.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, Loriden
tried to remember everything he had heard about Delor,
the small town located in the south-eastern portion of
the country. He knew it was one of only three passages
in the Delor Mountains; the other two being The
Barrens and Stormcloud Hold.
But back at the Wastehold, the veterans talked
about Delor with disdain. They called it a small, back-
woods village out in the middle of no-where which
housed only a small forgotten garrison of soldiers. The
garrison’s sole purpose was to guard the rickety old
footbridge that spanned the gorge between Delor and
The Wilds. The veterans of Delor told tales of inhuman
screams and groans coming from the other side of the
bridge. And some said they saw shadows- inhuman
shadows- in the deepest watches of the night. Naturally,
it was rare that anyone would ever cross the foot bridge
into The Wilds, but once in a long while mercenaries
crossed the bridge for various reasons; always in good
numbers and heavily armed.
What could Thorston want there?
The afternoon of the third day they stopped to
make camp near the Estralin Castle. Thorston had
insisted on speed and secrecy, but was strangely
receptive to stopping near Loriden‘s home. There were
two arguments Loriden made for stopping. First, he
needed to post a letter to Councilman Andreas telling
him what he had learned about Sotthem. And secondly,
he wanted to visit both his father and Gandriele. Yet he
was puzzled on how quickly Thorston had agreed. After
all, he could have sent a letter from Delor, and a
personal visit home was hardly a worthwhile reason to
stop. Still, he wasn’t going to complain.
But even more puzzling was Thorston’s change
in demeanor. When they had first left Cape Faerival, he
had been pleasant; even lighthearted. But as they closed
on Estralin he seemed to grow moodier and more
withdrawn with every mile, his face settling into a
perpetual frown. So the day they stopped Loriden was
careful to say little and stay well out of Thorston’s way.
Even so, Thorston found several reasons to be cross and
snappish. Finally, the tension exploded into a full scale
“Thorston, be reasonable. There’s no reason
why we shouldn’t stay at my fathers’ house!” Loriden
simply couldn’t understand why the Prophet insisted on
staying in the woods; especially when the castle and his
house were within sight.
“No!” Thorston exclaimed. He swung from the
saddle and began snatching things from the saddle bags.
“We’ll sleep here!”
Loriden clinched his teeth together as he fought
to hold back his tongue. He knew arguing wouldn’t
olve anything. But still, he was growing more and more
frustrated as they traveled. He was tired of the secrecy
and even more tired of Thorston’s attitude. In the end
though, he just gave up. If Thorston wanted them to
camp in the woods near the old tower, then so be it.
Loriden had slept on the hard ground countless times.
One more time wouldn’t kill him.
"All right,” He conceded. “But at least come
with me for a visit."
"I already told you, NO!" Thorston spat back.
They had been arguing for almost an hour now,
and Loriden had had enough. But he didn’t want to go
into town and leave the Old Prophet to sit in camp all
day eating trail rations; especially when good food and
a hot bath were just a short ride away. However, try as
he might, Thorston wouldn't budge.
"All right, sit here all day if you want to, but I’m
going into town." Loriden said irritably.
“That’s what I keep telling you to do!” Thorston
‘Fine, just sit here brooding all day!”
Exasperated, he spurred his mount and rode
toward town. But before he crested the hill he looked
back where Thorston sat with his back to him, bending
forward as if he were going to start a fire. He looked so
alone… and so miserable; a tired old man sitting in his
misery. Loriden started to go back and plead with him
again, but just as quickly changed his mind. I’m not
going to let him ruin my day, he thought to himself.
Then with a heavy heart, he wheeled and started away.
"Father, it’s me!" Loriden called as he opened
the door to the small house. Looking around the front
room, he marveled so little had changed since he left
the year before. The same broom sat propped up against
the hearth, the same two chairs were slid neatly under
the table, and even the same cooking pot lay next to the
fireplace. Yet the house was silent. Perhaps father is
away? He checked the closet and his suspicions were
confirmed. Most of his father’s traveling clothes were
missing. I wished he could have been here, he thought.
Ever since there last argument Loriden had been
troubled. He knew he made the right choice in leaving,
but disappointing his father weighed heavy on his
He looked on the small shelf where his father
kept their writing supplies. Sure enough, the pen and
paper sat in its usual spot. He sat down at the table and
I hope this letter finds you doing well. A lot has hap-
pened since Chalcony, and I hope to explain it to you in
person one day. Please try and understand.
He then wrote a letter to Councilman Andreas,
explaining in detail all he had learned about Thorston,
Sotthem, and Prince Madranth. He could almost
imagine Councilman Andreas arguing and prodding his
fellow Councilmen to action with his new facts. Then
after stopping by the stables to post his letter, he went
in search for Gandriele.
Thorston watched as Loriden rode away from
camp. After waiting for him to crest the hill and get out
of sight, he quickly re-saddled his horse and raced
through the trees. A few minutes later he reached his
destination: Michael’s Tower. He sat in the saddle
looking out over the courtyard. He could almost see the
procession of prophets walking through the archway
and through the dark door. But that had been long ago,
before they locked away the magic within their walls.
And before their pride drove a wedge between them
and the people they swore to serve.
He dismounted and stepped through the door-
way. Slowly he walked to the dais, amazed it was still
in good repair after all these years. It makes sense, he
thought, that God would keep the conduits between
himself and man open, even if men refuse to listen." He
stared at the stone. Something within him yearned to
reach out and touch it: to hear what God would say to
him and feel the warmth and presence flow again, but
he held back. Too much had happened- he was still too
bitter. He turned and fled the tower, the peace he sought
still eluding him.
He wheeled out of the courtyard and rode wildly
down the trail, whipping his horse and demanding
speed the horse was unaccustomed to from the kindly
old man. After almost an hour, the Prophet reigned in
the exhausted animal at the ruins of The School of
Estralin. Dismounting his trembling steed, he walked
about the ruins, seeing the ghosts of his past around
each corner. He remembered what the buildings had
looked like before the uprising: the chapel with its
archways and arched ceilings, the classrooms where
prophets were trained, and then finally the housing
square. He walked toward a specific door leading to a
small apartment. The door was askew and the stone
walls were crumbling, but it was still recognizable.
Entering what had been the front room, he found a
small rock, sat down, and wept.
Loriden rode into camp later that day with high
spirits and practically leapt from the saddle.
"You stayed here all day?"
Thorston’s nod was almost unperceivable as he
reached forth and stoked the fire.
"Did you get to see your father? Or that girl you
were talking about?"
"My father, No. Gandriele, yes!" My father is
still at the council meeting at Chalcony. It seems the
raids in The Barrens are increasing, and The Council is
trying to figure out what to do."
Thorston sat transfixed, staring into the fire,
smoking his pipe.
"But I was able to surprise Gandriele! She has
changed in the last year. She seems so much ...older."
He stopped and looked out into the forest. “We went to
lunch and then we-" He stopped in mid sentence.
“Thorston, are you listening?”
"Sorry, I guess you caught me daydreaming."
Then with a forced smile he said, "Now, what were you
Loriden picked up right where he had left off,
telling of his lunch with Gandriele: what she was
wearing, what they ordered, and even a little of what
they had talked about. If Thorston had been listening,
he would have realized that somewhere within the
story, Gandriele had turned from a ‘girl’ to a ‘woman.‘
He would have noticed the flush in Loriden’s cheeks
and the sparkle in his eyes. But he wasn’t listening.
Instead, his thoughts were chained to a past that he had
run from years before; only to find out all of his run-
ning had only led him back to the beginning.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put
his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the
kingdom of God.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will
hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to
the one, and despise the other.
I am always glad when men cannot be happy in
the world; for, as long as they can be, they will be.
A tempting Offer
The two men walked into the little inn near the center
of Delor. Like the rest of the town, the inn was a
simple, sturdy structure comprised of wood and stone.
As they stepped into the lobby, they were greeted by a
warm fire blazing in the hearth, and the fresh smell of
baking bread. This sure beats sleeping on the ground!
Loriden thought to himself. He edged up behind
Thorston as he registered, hoping to get some infor-
mation on their destination or at least how long they
would be staying.
In the three days they had traveled from Estralin
to Delor, Thorston had been tight lipped concerning
their destination. No matter how much Loriden prod-
ded and cajoled the Old Prophet, he wouldn’t as much
as give a small hint the direction they would take from
Delor. When Loriden asked, Thorston would put him
off with short answers such as “You’ll know when it’s
time.” or, “Some things are better left unsaid.”
Loriden didn’t know it, but it was not a matter
of trust that silenced the prophets tongue, but concern.
He was trying to spare the young man the fear and
worry that gnawed on him. His trepidation never left
him alone, he feared to reach their destination: and at
the same time he feared they would never reach it.
Sometimes, he worried which would be worse.
"How many nights are you planning on stay-
ing?" The innkeeper asked, peering through his specta-
cles at the old prophet, his face drawn up as he tried to
see him clearly in the dim lantern light.
“Two nights.“ Thorston replied
Loriden stepped away quickly. A moment later
Thorston approached him with a knowing look. Then,
without a word, he led the way up the stairway to their
room. When they arrived at a door about midway down
the hallway, Thorston pulled out the key and placed it
in the lock. He turned it sharply and with a slight click
the door latch released. Thorston pushed on the sturdy
wooden door and it swung inwards with a creak of
protest, revealing a cozy room with two beds, a
nightstand, and little else.
They traveled light, and so it only took a few
minutes to settle into the simple room. After washing
the trail dirt from their arms and faces, they stepped out
of the inn and into the crisp night air. Thorston led the
way down the main street and toward the eastern side of
town. As they reached the outskirts of the city, he
stopped and stared out through the darkness. In the
distance, he recognized the outline of a guardhouse and
gate that led to the bridge spanning the gorge. He could
also distinguish the outline of two sentries standing in
front of the gate, and faintly heard their voices as they
passed the lonely hours of guard duty talking. Beyond
them was the outline of the Delor Mountains, the
official starting place of The Wilds.
Loriden leaned over and whispered harshly into
Thorston’s ear. “Why didn’t you tell me we were
crossing into The Wilds?” When Thorston led him here
it had only taken him only a few moments to figure out
the prophets intentions.
Thorston started to reply but was interrupted by
a booming voice.
"Loriden!" A tall, broad shouldered man
stepped into the weak torchlight and slapped him on the
shoulder affectionately. He wore Western Legion armor
and was evidently one of the garrison quartered in the
"Rhein?" Loriden questioned.
"That’s Captain Bortnyk to you now!" The big
man answered good naturedly.
"It's good to see you." Loriden struggled to
remember the man.
He thought back and remembered that Rhein as
you as you and him and him and him and him ehold
when he was, but he was in the Cavalry and reassigned
months before he ambush. Loriden also faintly remem-
bered that Rhein was the son of a merchant and a pretty
high ranking one at that. It figured that his family
would have the clout to buy him a commission, and by
the Captain's bars on his shoulder pads they had been
successful. For a moment he felt a tinge of envy, but
quickly pushed it aside.
How did he know I was here? He wondered. His
unasked question was answered when the Captain
continued, “Saw you pass by the garrison this after-
noon. I was busy at the time, but the first chance I had I
went to the inn to find you. The inn keeper said you
headed this way and I figured I’d try and find you
before posting the new guard shift." What are you
doing here?" The captain asked.
Loriden was careful to maintain a casual de-
meanor and focused on the cover they had decided on
before coming into town.
"I ‘m escorting this merchant through South
Delor." He said, pointing to Thorston who had not as
much as moved a muscle during the exchange.
"So, you have been discharged then? You're all
done with the Legion?"
Loriden answered a little hesitantly. "Well… not
quite. I'm on extended leave at the moment." Then
hoping to change the subject, he asked, "What are you
"I’m the Captain of the Guard. It's my job to
ensure the shifts change on time and the men keep to
their posts." He shrugged, "I wouldn't call it exciting,
but it beats some of the other duties. As if on cue, two
guards marched past them on their way to the bridge.
"Well, I had better go. It was good seeing you."
Captain Bortnyk began moving toward the guardhouse.
But before he left the circle of torchlight he turned
"I have a table at the Alstadt tonight, would you
care to join me for dinner?" Loriden glanced at
Thorston who nodded in affirmation. Surprised at
Thurston’s sudden hospitality, he answered a little
"Seven O’clock, I'll see you then.” The captain
blended into the darkness and disappeared into the
night. Thorston quickly took Loriden’s sleeve and
guided him around the corner.
"The Creator’s with us," he said. “Perhaps the
Captain can help us get across the bridge."
The Alstadt was a simple, small wooden struc-
ture but with the reputation of serving good food and
about the only good thing about being stationed in
Delor. As Loriden and Thorston weaved their way in-
between crowded tables they couldn’t help but breath in
the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. They
followed a short, stout serving girl who told them she
would take them to the Captain's table. After taking
down their orders, she promptly left them to await the
"Loriden," Thorston whispered. "We must be
careful to not give away our intentions. Yet at the same
time listen for any clue as to the changing of the guard
or any lapse of their security."
"I'm not a spy!" Loriden countered in the same
low voice. "You best remember that."
Thorston’s face was hidden in the shadow of his
traveling hood so Loriden couldn’t gauge his mood. He
wished Thorston wouldn’t wear the cowl, besides being
old and tattered, it gave him the appearance of some
kind of ghoul, and the shadows of the flickering fire
were not helping things. He thought back on the last
week and realized how much Thorston had changed; he
seemed to be growing older before his very eyes: as if
something was haunting him and wearing his down.
He had little time to muse on it though, the
"Glad you could make it Loriden...." he seemed
a little puzzled to see the hooded old man at the table,
but with his easygoing nature quickly accepted the
situation and even firmly grabbed Thorston’s shoulder
in greeting.”And of course your employer is welcome
too." After sitting down, he motioned to the serving girl
he was ready to order.
"Bring me a leg of lamb." He said.
The girl smiled broadly, made a slight curtsy,
and moved off. Captain Bortnyk leaned back and
relaxed, placing his helmet and gloves on the table. His
large muscular arms flexed as he interlaced his fingers
behind his head.
"So Loriden, how have things been for you
since the encounter out on The Barrens? I’m really
sorry to hear about Gunther and the others." There was
real compassion in the Captain’s voice. To Soldiers,
losing another Soldier was like losing family, even if
you didn’t know them well. Something about sharing
the same dangers and fighting for the same cause
created a bond that outsiders could never know. All that
mattered was they wore your uniform. For the first time
in a long while, Loriden felt that soldiers bond; some-
thing he hadn’t felt since leaving The Wastehold. He
found it reassuring and he too began to relax. Soon,
they were talking and laughing about old times.
Throughout the entire exchange, Thorston
scarcely moved. In silence, from under the cowl of the
traveling hood he studied Loriden and Captain Bortnyk
and listened intently to their conversation.
Finally, the serving girl weaved through the
crowd with a large plate of food. Both men stopped
talking and ate with gusto. The food was as delicious as
rumored. Rhein’s leg of lamb was smothered with
gravy and mushrooms and then seasoned with local
herbs, so tender it practically fell off the bone.
Loriden’s plate was heaped with venison, along with a
sizable portion of potatoes and carrots. So intent on his
meal and conversation Loriden never noticed Thorston
barely touched his plate. When they finished, CPT
Bortnyk pushed away his empty plate and unbuckled
his chest armor, which had become uncomfortable
around the waist.
"Say Loriden, I heard that you performed
superbly in The Barrens. I think every soldier has heard
about you climbing that cliff with an arrow in your
Loriden tried to deflect the praise. "Really, it
wasn't that big of a deal-"
The Captain chimed in, cutting him off, "Oh,
quit being modest!" He laughed heartily, nudging
Thorston with his big forearm, a nudge that almost sent
the older man sprawling from the chair to the floor. The
Captain grew more serious as he continued.
"Loriden, I know that you were one of the best
swordsmen at the Wastehold. We sure could use a
swordsman of your caliber here."
Loriden began to interject, “No I couldn’t-” but
the Captain interrupted again. “No listen, hear me out. I
am authorized one Lieutenant here, and at present I
don't have one. I have been thinking about field pro-
moting one of my own guards, but can’t seem to find
the right man for the job. Then you show up: battle
tested, a great swordsman, it would be a perfect fit. I
could reinstate you back onto active duty, and then send
up your commissioning to Col Sven and bypass The
Council. I've heard he already thinks highly of you."
Loriden couldn't conceal his surprise. His face
lit up as his desire to both please his father and fulfill
his dream was again dangled before his eyes. "Really?"
he asked in astonishment.
"Of course! We can get you geared up and
working this week!" He paused, "That is, if your work
for this gentleman is close to an end."
The comment about unfinished business brought
him back to reality.
"I’ll definitely think about it, but it will take a
little while until I’m available. We still
"Loriden, think about this. I applaud your
faithfulness to fulfill this contract but it will be no
problem to find another soldier to escort this man." He
leaned across the table, "This is probably a once in a
lifetime chance. If you say no, then I won’t be able to
hold the position for you. Colonial Sven has been
pushing me to make a decision."
Loriden’s heart sank, "I understand, I’ll let you
know tomorrow." He felt guilty about even considering
the offer, but it seemed that ever since he had disap-
pointed his father.... he couldn't help but consider.
"Good enough. Gentlemen, the meal is on me
tonight. Thank you for the company." After wiping his
mouth, he retrieved his helmet and gloves and placed
some coin on the table. Then after firm handshakes all
around he weaved his way back toward the door.
They sat in silence for a few moments before
Thorston rose to his feet. "Well Loriden, you have some
thinking to do." Loriden glanced up but still couldn’t
see the prophet’s face through the shadow. “Remember
one thing Loriden, when God calls you it is best to obey
that call, wherever it may lead you. When you resist, it
gets become easier to resist the next time. Trust me, I
The words struck deep. "Thorston, do you really
believe I’m being called? What would God want with
me? “Thorston could see the struggle in the young man
and couldn’t really blame him if he turned back. He
wished he had the right words, something that would
ease his companion’s mind- but he didn’t. His fear was
as real as his.
“Thorston,” Loriden continued, “I’ve heard
stories about The Wilds and about what lives there. It's
not that I'm scared, but something has become im-
portant to me; something I don't want to lose. "
Thorston looked hard at him before responding,
"Only you know if God is calling you Loriden, but I
can assure you, if he is, then you’ll never be content
doing anything else-;with anyone." A moment later he
It was almost two hours later the serving girl
stopped at the table of her one last remaining customer.
"Are you ready to leave yet?"
"Yes I am," Loriden replied. He reached in his
pocket and pulled out a coin, "Here," he said, "Thanks
for letting me stay."
“You seemed deep in thought.” She replied as
she waved away the money. "No reason sir, the money
from the Captain was more than enough."
"For all the trouble." He urged.
With a nod of thanks she pocketed the coin qnd
began wiping down the table.
Loriden opened the door and was met with a
blast of cold night air. He stepped into the deserted
street and slowly meandered back to the inn. But just
as he reached for the door handle he hesitated. There
was still a decision to be made and he wasn’t ready to
meet Thorston with the question unresolved. Instead he
drifted slowly to the edge of town, his mind wrestling
with his conflicting emotions. On one hand, he wanted
to accept the commission and make his father proud. He
could almost picture his father’s pride as he rode into
the castle square arrayed in the armor of a Western
Legion Officer. He knew he could do the job, and with
his skill with the sword, it was possible he could
quickly rise in the ranks. Then there was Gandriele. He
closed his eyes and remembered the look on her face
when he had surprised her in Estralin. Who knew what
might come of that? Being an officer and raising a
family seemed like a good life, and maybe protecting
The West be enough of a purpose to make him content.
At the same time he was beginning to doubt Thorston
and their quest. At first, the prophet had wanted
nothing to do with The West or Sotthem’s invasion.
Then, he abruptly changed his mind- with no explana-
tion- and left his comfortable solitude to traipse across
the country. And why did he do it? Try as he might, he
just couldn’t understand the old prophet’s motives.
Leaning against the building, he watched the
moon rise over the valley from behind the Delor
Mountains. That really is what I am deciding. He
thought. I cross those mountains and lose all I have
here, or I don't cross and lose all that is over there. All
I have to do is list what I will have on either side, and
the decision should be easy.
If stay on this side I’ll have prestige, a promi-
nent and secure position, possibly Gandriele, my father,
and my homeland. On the other side, I have cold,
monsters, a grumpy old prophet, and at best, a chance
to find God and the source of the magic I have been
He closed his eyes and thought it all through.
Sometime in the midst of his musing he made up his
mind. And with the decision made, he walked quickly
back to the inn and quietly entered the room as to not
awaken Thorston. Taking off his boots, he lay down on
the soft bed and slept like a baby.
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we
with patience wait for it.
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and
peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through
the power of the Holy Ghost.
Take nothing for granted, my brethren, but your
own possibility of self-deceit.
Quest in Jeopardy
Early the next morning Thorston awoke to the
sound of whistling. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he
sat up and spied Loriden sitting on the opposite bed
pulling on his boots. His armor was already latched and
he was about ready to leave.
"Where are you going so early?"
"To see a man about a job!" Loriden replied
cheerfully. And without further explanation crossed the
room, opened the door, and tromped noisily down the
Thorston fretted as he prepared for whatever the
day may bring. He fervently hoped Loriden would
refuse CPT Bortnyk’s offer as quickly as he had refused
the Council's, but something had changed in the young
man since Estralin. But what could it be? His mind
rehearsed their journey and then lingered at the
campsite in the woods. It was obvious.
"How could I have missed it?" He moaned.
Loriden had been unusually excited when he returned
from Estralin, especially about that young girl. Oh,
what was her name? He struggled to remember,
Gandriele. He sat down, feeling the weight of failure
pressing down on his shoulders. If only he had listened!
Maybe he could have helped Loriden understand his
feelings. But no, he was too busy brooding about things
he couldn’t change about the past. Now it was too late.
He hung his head and sighed. There was nothing he
could do now but go on by himself, though somehow
he doubted that it would work. He couldn’t explain it
but something whispered that he would fail on his
own… yet he had to try. He couldn’t give up again.
He was trimming his graying beard when the
door opened and Loriden burst into the room.
“That didn’t take long.”
He didn’t trim his beard often. He rather liked
the wild main of hair that fell from his chin almost to
“So, you accepted the job?"
"I expect you will start right away?"
"Within the hour." Loriden replied. He stepped
across the room and began packing his travel bag.
Thorston finished trimming his beard with one
last, angry snip of the scissors. He straightened up and
prepared himself for a heated argument. He had made
up his mind that he would convince the young man to
continue on their journey, hog-tie him if he had to.
There was simply too much at stake to stay behind, no-
matter what the reasons. He would hold nothing back,
even describe the invading army and all the atrocities
they would commit if allowed to invade The West.
He never had the chance.
"I turned down the commission!"
Thorston hesitated. "But… but… you said you
accepted the job?"
"I did accept a job, but not the one you were
thinking about.” He paused, thoroughly enjoying the
prophets’ confusion for a change.
“I also found a way to cross the bridge."
Thorston shook his head in confusion. It was too
much to sort through this quickly. “What… How?” He
Loriden filled in the details, "When I left earlier,
it was to tell CPT Bortnyk that I couldn't accept his
commission. He tried to talk me out of it but I was
adamant. Needless to say he didn’t understand why I
was turning down a chance of a lifetime."
He paused to let Thorston digest the infor-
mation, a moment later he nodded to indicate he was
following him thus far.
“On my way back to the inn, I took a little walk
to clear my head. As I passed a mapping office I
remembered The West is always looking for new routes
and maps. So I went inside and told them I would be
interested in mapping some of The Wilds.
Here he stopped and grinned broadly.
“Thorston, you should have seen them! They’re
really desperate to get their hands on maps of that area!
But no one they send into The Wilds ever return. They
told me that if I was willing to try they would provide
me the tools."
For emphasis, he reached down and pulled out a
cartographers scroll case and some drawing supplies
from a little pack.
Thorston sat down on the end of the bed and
rubbed his beard thoughtfully.
"We still have to approach Captain Bortnyk for
permission to cross the bridge."
"No we don’t.” Loriden countered.” I already
have his permission.”
“How” Thorston asked?
“The Cartographers office has a stack of signed bridge
passes.” He pulled a square, thick card out from under
his armor. Thorston could tell even from a distance it
Thorston was stunned. This morning when he
awoke he believed their quest was in jeopardy of
failure; a few hours later not only was it still on course,
but many of the perplexing issues had been miraculous-
ly solved, without his help! Would wonders never
“Well done Loriden.” He said in admiration,
An hour later both men were packed, fed, and
approaching the guardhouse that watched over the
One of two guards stepped forward."What’s
your business?" He asked in a tired, nasally voice. He
obviously wasn’t one of the best The West had to offer.
Unkempt gray hair spilled out from under his helmet
and deep wrinkles creased his cheeks like mud dried
too quickly in the sun. Loriden doubted he had seen any
less than sixty winters; probably more. Over his shoul-
der they and could see the rickety old bridge swinging
slowly over the gorge.
Loriden handed the pass to the guard.
"Mapper huh? Well, if you know what’s good
fur ya' you’ll just turn around and go back."
"Thank you for the advice, but if it's all the same
for you, I have a job to do." Loriden replied confident-
The guard eyed them quizzically, "Who's he?"
He asked, pointing at Thorston. "Why doesn’t he have a
"Were together," Loriden said quickly, his mind
racing to come up with a story, "He's the... he's the....
artist!" Secretly, he hoped that cartographers actually
employed artist, or at least hoped the guard was igno-
rant either way.
"Well, alright then." The guard unlocked the
wrought iron door that led to the bridge. "But don't say
I didn't warn ya!"
They stepped through the doors and the guard
slammed it shut and re-locked it behind them. The other
joined him and they stood staring at them through the
iron bars, like tourist eying animals at the zoo.
Up until now Loriden had been intent on getting
past the guard and to the bridge. Now that he was
there… well, he hadn’t thought quite that far. It was a
long way down. Standing at the head of the bridge the
trees at the bottom of the gorge looked like little heads
of broccoli and the river only a thin line. Looking
across the bridge wasn’t any more encouraging. Low
lying clouds swept through the pass, obscuring the
mountain on the far side and making it seem like the
bridge disappear into thin air. To make matters worse,
the bridge itself was in disrepair: the boards rotten or in
many places simply missing.
He turned and noticed Thorston wasn’t looking
overly anxious to start himself, and behind him Loriden
glimpsed the withered face of the old guards grinning
knowingly through the bars. Embarrassed, Loriden’s
head snapped back and without giving himself time to
think he stepped confidently off the solid rock and onto
the narrow bridge. He grabbed the two uppermost
ropes that secured the bridge to both sides of the chasm
and stepped carefully, mindful that a mistake could
send him crashing through the boards and to his death.
The boards creaked ominously as each step, but they
didn’t give, being more solid than they had looked from
a distance. He began to think that crossing would be
easier than they first though.
He was wrong.
As they moved farther away from the rocky
ledge the bridge began to sway back and forth. It was
gentle at first, but as they approached the center of the
gorge it picked up until it bucked back and forth like an
unbroken horse. And then there was the wind- it howled
at them like a ferocious animal. Both men were flung
from side to side as they fought forward step by step,
and except for the stout ropes that help up the bridge,
they couldn’t have gone any farther. As it was, their
knuckles grew white as they gripped the ropes and
"ARE YOU OK?” Loriden’s tried to call out but
his voice was immediately snatched away by the wind.
But Thorston understood. He nodded and waved
Loriden trudged until he reached the midpoint.
It was all he could do to hang on, and for a moment he
really believed they were doomed. He willed his feet to
take a step. Then another. Then another. Finally, to his
great relief, he felt the swaying began to lesson. Then,
almost as quickly as it started the bridge settled into a
gentle sway and the wind died down.
Quicker than he expected they were stepping
off the bridge and onto a simple wooden landing. They
were safe: if you could call stepping into The Wilds
safe at all.
After a brief rest they began the steep trek up
the mountainside. Loriden instinctively took the lead,
falling back on his training as a scout. He moved
cautiously, as he’d been taught, taking a few steps and
pausing to listen intently, and then another couple of
steps, another pause.
After just a few minutes of this an impatient
Thorston pushed by him and marched ahead.
"Don't worry about this side Loriden." He said,
“It’s the other side of the mountain that you need to
worry about, and trust me, you’ll hear them coming!"
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a
workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly
dividing the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be man-
ifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it
should come abroad.
A Few Answers
They pitched camp at dark on the side of the mountain
facing Delor, only a short distance from the summit.
From their vantage point, it seemed like they sat on top
of the world. The city of Delor sparkled with a hundred
pinpoints of light, the street torches twinkling like stars
in the distance. Loriden started a small fire and
thenThorston cooked a simple meal. Both ate heartily;
each still recovering from the effects of the long day.
"Loriden," Thorston began as he scraped the last
of his dinner from a wooden bowl, "I need to tell you
more about our journey. It’s possible that once we cross
the mountain something may happen to me. I want you
to be ready to go on alone."
Loriden shifted his gaze to Thorston as he
"First, do you know how The Wilds were
"They were formed when the Pact of Four
destroyed the first Black Stone. It happened north of
here, at the eastern side of The Barrens. When the
Black Stone ruptured the evil magic ran wild. It covered
the Southern Mountains and much of it was... trapped
you might say. It created all kinds of mutations in both
men and beast; even I don’t fully know what we’ll find
when we cross this mountain. I’ve heard rumors, but I
don’t know how much is true."
"Isn’t there one more city of free men in The
Wilds, one that can be reached by ship?" Loriden asked.
“Hopguurd” Thorston spat out the name as if it
"He took a crude hand drawn map from his tu-
nic. Loriden briefly wondered how he had acquired a
map of The Wilds when none supposedly existed, but
thought better than to ask. Prophets had their ways.
Thorston pointed at the map with his bony
finger. "The city of Hopguurd lies at the far eastern
edge of The Wilds. It’s an outlaw city inhabited by
thieves and mercenaries and still exists only because
their governor has made alliances with several key
leaders. In return for certain favors, they leave him
alone. If possible, I would have chosen to travel there
by ship, but it is only in the summer that the city has
any trade worth the merchant's time. We can’t afford to
"What kinds of things live in The Wilds? Do
you know anything about them?” Loriden asked, his
eyes scanning the area between Delor and Hopguurd on
“I know this much. When we cross the moun-
tain we’ll first pass through a region known as Oshgar.
It’s bordered by the mountains on this side, and a river
and smaller mountain ranges on the other. A tribe of
giants and ogres live there; the Lotun and the Jotun.
The Lotun are ogres, and are led by a fierce ogre known
as Thiassi. They are dumb, slow witted creatures, but
their strength and numbers more than make up for their
stupidity. But if we travel carefully, and stay away
from their camps, I think we can get through easy
enough. But then we’ll cross into the Jotun's territory:
The giant people. Their leaders name is Hrungnir, a
large, cruel and unfortunately for us, a giant of some
intelligence. However, although I think we should be
able to sneak through most of their land, there is one
area I am worried about."
He threw another small piece of wood on the
fire and sparks flew upward into the night sky.
“Their eastern border is a small chain of moun-
tains honeycombed with caves where most of the Jotun
live. We’ll have to pass through one of these caves to
get to the river. I fear we may have a hard time getting
past without being detected."
"Couldn't we wait them out? Maybe find us a
hide position and watch them? They can’t stay there
"Hmm, that might work." Thorston replied,
looking thoughtful, "We’ll have to wait and see.
Perhaps if we‘re fortunate, they’ll be off raiding the
"Well,” Loriden said, “if that’s the only thing
we have to get through, it doesn't seem so hard." He lay
back on his bedroll and closed his eyes.
Thorston shifted and sighed deeply, I must be
getting old, he thought to himself. It seems like I don't
have the heart or strength for this anymore.
"Oshgar is only the first of three areas we must
Loriden jerked back up to a sitting position.
"The second area we have to cross is ‘Polluck’s
Hold.” Polluck was one of Sotthem’s remaining Angels
I told you about before in the Library. Remember?
Loriden shook his head to indicate he did.
“He rules from a great keep located right in the
middle of his territory and he is always on guard."
"You said there were three areas?" Loriden
interrupted, none too pleased at the turn of events.
"Yes, the last area is a great swamp between
Polluck’s Hold and Hopguurd. It is controlled by a
great wizard. He has tamed, or perhaps enslaved is a
better word, the wild creatures that lived there, so there
is little that happens that he doesn’t know about. We
must stay away from that wizard at all costs!” He
unconsciously tightened his hands into fists until his
knuckles turned white.
Finally, if we make it all the way to Hopguurd,
our final destination lies east in the Forbidden Woods."
As he finished the dismal description of their
journey, the only sound in camp was the crackling of
“Well’ Loriden said. “I guess nothing is easy.”
He lay back again and reclined on one elbow. Why did
everything have to be so hard? Instinctively he pulled
out the crystal from around his neck and watched it
slowly spin in the firelight.
Across, the fire, Thorston noticed the crystal.
"Where did you get that?" He asked in wonder.
Surprised by the prophet’s reaction, Loriden
retold the story of his trip to the tower, but this time
filled in the missing details.
After hearing the story Thorston grew silent as
he thought through the strange turn of events. In his
wildest dreams, he never expected to see another stone;
not here, not anywhere. Unintentionally, he mumbled
under his breath, "His ways are past finding out."
“What did you say? Loriden asked."
Thorston ignored his question and asked his
own. “Do you know what you have there?"
"No Loriden, I mean, do you know what it
"No, not really. I mean, I know it’s like the
stone in the tower. I know it seems to draw me and I
take comfort in it, but that’s all I know."
"What you have is called a Spirit Stone."
Thorston explained, "They are powerful stones that
God placed in this world to channel magic. Your stone
is clear and is called a ‘Seeker Stone’, or the ‘Stone of
Innocence’. Some called it ‘The Neutral Stone’. There
was a time when these Seeker Stones were abundant.
But we- I mean, there were people that thought they
should be taken from men, and that men should come
only to the prophets to hear God speak."
"Why?" Loriden asked. "If a person could talk
to God directly, it seems that making them come
through a person would just complicate things."
“Truly said.” Thorston looked away.
“Then why did they do it?”
Thorston paused a moment to gather his
thoughts before answering, "Fear, at least at first. If a
possessor of a clear stone chose a path apart from God,
the stone turned black. Instead of God empowering it
outright, it would feed off the magic already here in the
world and could be used for evil. The prophets feared
that if too many stones were lost to the darkness it
could tip the balance... Really, they just lacked faith."
"And if a person chooses God? What then?"
"It turns white, and is empowered by God to do
his will." Loriden snuck a glanced at Thorston’s staff
leaning against the rock. The white stone was a dull and
milky, as if clouded by some impurity. Thorston
followed his gaze. "This is the only white stone I know
of anymore, and yours is the first Seeker Stone I’ve
seen in a long, long time."
Loriden let his eyes rest on his clear crystal once
again; more precious to him than ever before. He felt
its warmth and could almost believe he heard the song
again. "We’ll make it through Thorston, we will."
The voice of the young man was so full of
conviction and passion; it caused Thorston to do what
he had failed to do for a long time; he hoped.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as
in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac
and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
For he looked for a city which hath foundations,
whose builder and maker is God.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a
They crested the mountain just as the first gray tinge of
morning stained the horizon, carefully picking their
way down the steep pathway, careful to keep their
footing, knowing that even a slight mishap would be
Loriden stopped and squinted into the rising
sun, trying in vain to recognize any landmarks or terrain
features that might help them along the way. It was a
lost cause. Never had he seen such an endless, unchang-
ing prairie. It stretched out from horizon to horizon like
a great sea; seemingly without a break, a gentle wind
blowing across the grass tops causing them to roll in the
breeze like ocean waves.
"Doesn't look like there’s much down there."
"There is more down there than you think."
Thorston remarked knowingly.
They reached the bottom of the mountain path
without incident and immediately plunged into the
grass. To Loriden’s surprise he found the way easier
than expected. The grass was tall, ranging from three
foot to almost five foot in places, just right for con-
cealment, but not so thick as to impede his progress.
They had covered many miles without incident
and without seeing a soul. Thorston was leading,
pushing his way through an especially tall patch of
scrub. Suddenly he dropped to the ground.
Loriden instinctively hit the dirt behind him. He
wasn’t sure what had startled the prophet, but he wasn’t
going to take any chances and slowly crawled forward
on his hands and knees until he drew up alongside.
Thorston nodded toward the direction they had been
traveling, and then by moving his finger to his lips
warned Loriden to be silent. Together, they leaned
forward and peeked through the tall grass and into the
What are they? Loriden thought.
In all of his years, he never heard of, or even
imagined creatures like the ones spread out before him.
They were at least twelve feet tall, powerfully built,
with abnormally small heads sporting only a few tuffs
of braided hair which seemed to grow straight up from
the top of their head. Their clothes consisted of grass
mats tied securely around their waists, with a few
wearing the same matting over their upper torsos as
well. They would have almost looked comical except
for the weapons they carried. Each warrior carried a
club several feet long and at least a foot thick, with
sharp bones and slivers of wood protruding at odd
angles. Loriden shuddered to think of the damage they
would do to a man.
"Brgghheed deeerth thuff thuff." One of the
Thorston leaned close and whispered."Ogre
camp, we’ll have to be more careful from now on. They
don't see well, but their hearing is exceptional, so be
They skirted the camp giving it a wide berth,
and only when they were well away on the downward
side did they stand and continue the journey. Thorston
traveled slower and more cautiously than before. They
spotted ogres several times that day: once on a hilltop,
twice in a valley, and many times traveling from one
place to another. Luckily, the wind worked in their
favor and brought the smells of an ogre to them long
before they were in sight. And each time the stench
reached them they dropped quickly out of sight, slowly
lifted their heads above the grass, and after finding the
ogres painfully crawled around the camp. It made for a
long hard day.
Thorston halted for a rest just as the sun began
to disappear behind the horizon. He led them into a
slight depression and then sat down heavily on the
grass. Both men rubbed their sore knees and drank only
a little water; neither knowing how long it would be
until they reached the river. The shadows lengthened
and then disappeared all together. The wind ceased
blowing and an eerie calm settled over the prairie.
"Don’t get too comfortable Loriden. We’ll rest
here for a little while, but I think it’s best to travel
through the night."
Loriden nodded in agreement. He was bone
weary, and his knees ached something fierce, but they
needed to get off the plain. It was just too open. They
were too exposed- even with the grass cover.
Breaking into their packs, each man ate a small part of
their traveling rations and rested. A short time later,
they continued their journey under the cover of dark-
It turned out to be a good decision. In the dark-
ness they spied the large ogre campfires while still a
long way off, and skirted them easily in the dark- and to
Loriden’s relief- without crawling.
Then something unexpected happened. They
were walking along when they almost bumped into a
steep hill. It was completely out of place and marred the
plain like a long ugly scar; nothing more than a pile of
dirt twenty foot high imbedded with sticks and bones
and stretching as far as they could see southward and
northward. They did not know it, but they had stumbled
upon the crude barrier that acted as a border between
the Lotun and Jotun.
Traveling south, they paralleled the mound in
hopes of discovering some type of opening to slip
through. They hadn’t gone far when they found one-
and froze; two ogres stood sentry before a break in the
earth mound. Slowly they crept closer until they could
see them clearly. Unlike the others, these wore some
kind of crude armor. It looked like they had woven
grass and mud into plates and hardened them, with one
massive plate hanging on the front and the other on the
The men were careful to stay downwind, using
the shadows to draw within a few feet of the sentries.
Thorston bent down and picked up a large rock, handed
it to Loriden, and pointed out into the open prairie.
Loriden shrugged his shoulders in confusion.
Thorston mimicked a throwing motion.
Loriden nodded silently, realizing that Thorston
sought to create a distraction. He leaned back and threw
the heavy stone out into the darkness, it arched out into
the darkness and disappeared.
"Thunk." It landed fairly close to where he had
Their diversion had the desired effect as both
ogres startled. "Sheed deeerth thuff guff?
The other answered, “Deeesth huff guff."
But neither moved.
Encouraged, Loriden pulled a large bone from
the mound and threw it out into the darkness once
again. It hit a stone and shattered.
This time the ogres were more animated.
“Deeesth guff, guff, huff, hutthhhe!" One said,
his voice rising in alarm.
The others answered in the same high voice,
“Deeesth deesh, huff, guff." It took a step forward and
peered intently into the darkness, while the other rocked
from foot to foot, lifting its club as he danced about.
After a while they grew tires and settled down, continu-
ing their silent vigil.
Loriden tried again and again throughout the
night to lure the ogres away from their posts but with
no success. Perhaps they were under strict orders to stay
in place? Or maybe they were too lazy? Either way, he
began to grow desperate as the mooned waned. Time
was running out and soon the pink streaks of dawn
Loriden picked up yet another stone. Thorston
raised an eyebrow at him as if to say “Why?”
Yet this time he had come up with another plan-
a daring one. It would either get them past the sentries,
or they would have the fight of their lives. Either way,
it beat standing there waiting to be discovered, or
slinking back to hide through the day. The stone was
rough and the sharp projections bit into his palm.
Perfect. He let the stone fly. It sailed in a high ark over
the first sentries head and then dropped to strike the
other ogre on the leg just above the knee.
"Hop guff shoo hoo!" The ogre hopped around
and rubbed its bruised leg, before raising its club and
shaking it at the other. “Guff shoo hoo!”
"Deeert thuff guff guff?" The other shrugged its
The first returned to its post but not without
casting one last ferocious look. Pleased with the first
reaction, Loriden picked up another rock. It was much
larger than the first and had a wicked sharp projection
on one side. Maybe it was the stress, or perhaps the
exhaustion was getting to him, but it was all he could
do to keep from chuckling. That was about to change.
What was about to happen was anything but comical.
He stepped back, needing a little extra momen-
tum to get the boulder into the air. He then stepped
forward and heaved with all his might. To his immense
relief it slipped just over the bald pate of the first ogre
and across the opening where it struck the other square-
ly against the side of its head. Blood exploded from
where the rock cut into its scalp. What happened next
shocked the men.
They watched horrified as the first ogre dropped
his club and with a scream of rage lunged at the other.
Quicker than Loriden thought possible it tackled him,
and they barely had time to scamper up the earthen
embankment before the ogres collided with the ground
where they had just been standing. Their shouts and
roars echoes across the plain as they bit and clawed at
each other, their clubs lying useless in the dirt back at
the entrance. The earth shook as the ogres still back at
camp rushed toward the noise- certain no doubt that a
great battle was raging. Loriden was glad for the
diversion, but the violence and suddenness shocked
him. He stood paralyzed as he watched the two fero-
cious monsters locked in combat just a few feet away.
The moment to get through the breach was quickly
Thorston grabbed him roughly by the shoulder,
breaking his paralysis.
"Quick, follow me!"
They bolted past the two ogres, one of which
was sitting on the other and vainly trying to hit him on
the head with his fist. In their mad rush to the breach,
the ogre on the bottom saw them plainly.
"Ooshhee Sop hoo-" his warning cry was
interrupted as the fist of his opponent came down on his
open mouth. As his ears rang, he turned his attention
back on his attacker and forgot all about the humans.
The two men rushed into the breach and flat-
tened themselves against the wall just as the large party
of ogres arrived. The new arrivals rushed about in
confusion- looking for the enemy. But seeing none,
they stopped and stood watching the two ogres fighting,
their eyes wide in wonder. It seemed they found it
strange that the battle was only two of their own. But
ogres love a good fight, and moments later they had
forgotten anything but the good scrap and were squeal-
ing and grunting in excitement. In fact, they were so
intent on the fight, not one of them noticed the two men
climb over the pile of logs and stones in the breach. Nor
did they see them slip over the top and disappear into
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose,
and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David
hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.
And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a
stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his
forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he
fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over
the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote
the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in
the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon
the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the
sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head
therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion
was dead, they fled.
1 Samuel 17:48-51
Loriden drank from his water flask as he
watched the sun rise. They had made it through the first
leg of The Wilds untouched, and except for the toil of
the twenty-four hour trek he was in good spirits. He
stifled a yawn into his sleeve. His eyes felt heavy and it
was all he could do to keep them open.
"You sleep." Thorston whispered, “I'll take the
"How do you do it?" Loriden mumbled, but too
tired to argue, he lie back on the soft grass and quickly
Bright light forced him awake. Something
wasn’t right. He vaulted into a half crouching position,
drew his sword, and while using his free hand to block
the direct sunlight quickly scanned the area, his brain
struggling vainly to remember where he was.
His wild eyes stopped on a man sitting in the
grass and watching him. From his wrinkled clothing
and drooping eyes it was clear that he too had awoken
suddenly. In a rush Loriden’s memory returned and he
felt sheepish at his outlandish actions. But had Thorston
been sleeping on watch?
"Are you all right now?" Thorston irritably
flicked a piece of grass from off his shoulder.
"I guess I was just startled."
"Hmmm," Thorston lay back down, and after
placing his hat over his eyes mumbled sleepily, “Well,
remind me to not sleep too close to you."
Loriden craved more rest, yet his trained senses
rebelled against both of them sleeping at the same time.
"Thorston, don't you think one of us should keep
He barely heard Thorston’s muffled reply, "One
of us is."
Perplexed, Loriden scanned the depression.
What did the prophet mean “One of them was?” Then
his eyes caught it; in the middle of the little clearing
Thorsten’s wooden staff stood upright, the stone on top
He knew the staff was magic, but trusting his
safety to a staff- even a magical one- just didn’t sit well
with him. Finally he lay back just to rest his eyes as he
thought things over. It was too much; the warm sun, his
aching muscles, the exhaustion. Sleep stole over him
and his breathing deepened as his muscles relaxed.
Soon he was snoring softly as the sun moved slowly
across the sky. In the center or the clearing the staff
softly hummed, a silent sentry watching over the two
What seemed like hours later he felt a nudge
that woke him from a peaceful dream. Close by,
Thorston lay on his stomach intently peering at some-
thing through the grass. His nerves tingling, Loriden
rolled onto his stomach and positioned himself next to
the older man, his eyes straining to look out through the
grass as it swayed gently in the evening breeze. He was
wide awake now, and every muscle on edge and ready,
grateful the Prophet had insisted they both get their rest.
He didn’t have to wait long. He heard, rather he felt, the
ground beneath him trembling slightly. It came at
regular intervals, like footsteps. He gripped his sword
as the trembling grew stronger, and then stronger,
something was coming- something big. He could hear it
now, a steady “boom, boom, boom” which accompa-
nied each tremor. And then a head appeared above the
grass, well into the distance, but heading their way. It
was quickly followed by the wide shoulders of a giant,
and then the torso, and finally the legs which must have
been as thick as trees. It was at least twice the height
and half again as wide as the ogres, and although the
features were humanistic, its stupid expression left no
doubt that the creature’s intellect did not match its size.
A large, crude stone hammer rested on its shoulder.
With growing alarm Loriden realized it was
walking straight at them! But there was no time to
react, and in a few massive strides the giant had reached
the depression where they waited. Loriden looked up as
giant’s foot raised high above them, seemed to suspend
in space blotting out the sun and sky, and then crashed
down. Loriden fully expected to be crushed beneath its
weight, but instead with a mighty “boom!” it landed
just in front of him- so close he clearly saw a big hairy
toe, and then with the next step, the giant passed on.
Both men let out an audible sigh.
"That was close." Thorston said, visibly shaken.
“We’re fortunate he was walking into the sun or he may
have discovered us. As it is, except for losing a little
sleep, we’re none the worse for wear.”
"Yeah, we’re lucky." Loriden agreed offhanded-
ly, looking at the giant footprint in the dirt.
Thorston eyed him quizzically. “We had best be
packing up our things.”
A few minutes later Thorston stepped back into
the tall grass and began the trek toward the lairs of the
giants. Loriden held back a moment, again looking at
the giant's footprint in the grass, especially noting how
close it had come to the two imprints his elbows had
made. He reached under his leather armor and pulled
out his crystal. As the dying sun’s rays danced against
the stone he said softly,
“It wasn't luck."
Pushing the stone necklace back under his
leather armor he glanced toward the heavens, and then
hurried to catch up with Thorston.
There was still a long way to go.
And there were giants in the earth in those days;
And there was again a battle in Gob with the
Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a
Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite,
the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.
2 Samuel 21:19
Man becomes a bad enough sinner when he
lives to be seventy; but what he became at seven
hundred or more is somewhat difficult to guess. We
wonder not that there were giants in those days—giants
in crime as well as in stature.
What Happened at the Giant’s Caves
Loriden struggled to see through the darkness, barely
distinguishing the dark circles of the cave entrances in
the mountain. Nestled against the stone between the
cave entrances he marked the dim outline of crudely
built fences enclosing some kind of large shaggy
animal. It was just too dark to see anything else.
Both men lay on their stomachs on a small rise
flanking the caves. Patiently they waited for morning,
glad to be off their aching feet and getting a little rest- if
not any sleep. The sky turned from black to gray, then
from pink to red, and finally to the deep blue of early
morning. Another hour passed. Still nothing stirred
from the caves.
The animals in the pens awoke and chewed on
the prairie grass that had been wound tightly in large
shocks and placed in their pens. Loriden had never seen
such animals. They were large; four legged, with two
long curved horns protruding from their heads.
Thorston took out a piece of parchment, a bit of char-
coal, and spelled out L-I-C-O-A-S-H," then after
sketching a crude drawing of the creatures held it up for
Loriden to see. Nodding his head in understanding,
Loriden motioned for Thorston to give him the parch-
ment and charcoal.
He wrote, "W-H-E-R-E A-R-E T-H-E-Y?" and
handed it back. Thorston could only shrug. Although he
had heard of the giants that lived in Eastern Oshgar, he
really knew very little about them, and even less about
their sleeping habits. Still, he too thought it strange the
place was so quiet.
As if on cue, a small giant appeared in a cave
opening and lumbered sleepily out into the early
morning sun. It wore a hairy animal skin tied securely
around its waist but little else. And to Loriden’s sur-
prise he noticed the giant had only one eye! A big,
round eye right in the center of where two eyes should
have been. He was certain the giant yesterday had two
of them. But then again, it had all happened so fast he
couldn’t be sure. The giant abruptly stopped and began
scratching all over its hairy body, its single eye slowly
rolling about it its socket as it haphazardly took in its
surroundings, wearing the same stupid look on his face
as the giant the day before.
Morning had come to the giants. Others mean-
dered into the open ground, moving slowly and clumsi-
ly, trying to shake off the thick grogginess of the night.
One of the females began preparing breakfast-
at least he thought it was a female. It wore the same
animal skin as the others, but instead of just tying it
around the waist, she wore it more like a robe, hanging
from her shoulders to her knees. Digging into the old
fire pit, she uncovered embers from the night before,
added a handful of dry grass, and the cook fire roared to
life. It was more of a bonfire than a cook fire, and larger
than the ones they used at The Wastehold to signal
After adding some small logs, she reached in-
side a pen and effortlessly lifted a Licoash by its back
feet. Even from the distance, Loriden heard the terrified
squeal of the animal as she unceremoniously slammed
its head against the cliff. The dead creature was then
pierced with a stick, and placed over the fire.
Giants congregated about, each hungrily looking
at the roasting animal from their one eye. Finally, the
female pulled the spit from off the fire and just as soon
as the animal was free of the wood they closed in,
shoving and bickering over the meat.
Then they froze. A fierce looking, two eyed
giant with a large scar across its face stepped into the
clearing. Loriden immediately recognized it at once as
the giant from the day before. He was by a full head
taller than any of the other giants, and his thick arms
and shoulders left little doubt he could wield the
powerful hammer resting on its shoulder with ease. The
others backed away as he moved to the front, seized the
meat, and began tearing off large chunks and stuffing
them greedily into his mouth. He glared as the others in
silent challenge. None dared return his stare, and
instead meandered away a little ways and waited. After
several minutes he finished, then turned and disap-
peared into his cave. Immediately the other giants
closed in and the fighting resumed.
Finally, all the food was gone: either eaten,
burned to ashes, or else dropped and ground into the
dirt. The little giants moved off to play in a nearby
field, and the females began twisting prairie grass,
winding it into tightly bound shocks before stacking it
in the animal pens. The males didn’t do anything but
lounge around and loaf, watching the females work.
Loriden and Thorston watched the giants all
morning, waiting for a chance to slip past, but no such
opportunity arose, and the giants seemed content to
lounge around or work their menial tasks.
The sun was just reaching its zenith when they
heard the pounding of feet. With wild shrieking and
whistles a giant exploded into camp at a full sprint. He
slid to a stop, barely keeping his balance, and began
motioning wildly with his hands. The others circled
around, many scratching their heads idly as they fought
to understand his message. Yet even giants have some
intellect, and soon they realized there was some kind of
danger that needed dealt with. In a few moments they
had worked themselves into a frenzy; the warriors
jumping about in mock battle, the females dancing
around the males, and the young ones leaping about,
glad to just be part of the excitement.
Then the leader appeared. From his half closed
eyes it was evident he had been sleeping off his big
breakfast, but his visage quickly changed as he watched
the messenger pantomime his message. His face
changed from boredom, to concern, and then finally to
He raced back to his cave and re-emerged,
brandishing his great stone hammer and raising it high
overhead as he let out a ferocious war call that echoed
from off the rocks. The other males responded, some
throwing back their heads to utter their own challenge,
others rushing to their caves and re-appearing with their
own clumsy weapons, and others picking up rocks and
pounding them together. At some silent signal they all;
male, female, young and old, raced off in the direction
of the breach. Not a single giant was left in camp.
"What was that about?" Loriden questioned.
"I don't know," Thorston answered, "But we
best make use of it. It could be the Lotun are attempting
some kind of raid.
They ran from their hide position, across the
giant’s courtyard, and toward the shelter of the moun-
tains. As they had been closest to the leaders cave they
soon found themselves rushing into the shadow of the
tunnel entrance. The smell was overpowering; a mix-
ture of burnt hair, rotten food, and sweaty giant flesh.
Although used the smell of close quarters, Loriden
gagged and instinctively brought up his arm so he could
breathe through his tunic’s sleeve. He followed
Thorston through the front cavern, feeling like a rodent
or insect as they weaved in and around everything from
giant cooking pots to giant tools left scattered about. To
his relief, he could see a patch of daylight spilling
through the cave wall.
“Follow me!” Thorston gasped.
They bolted toward the sunlight and the fresh
air, just as they passed a small tunnel Thorston unex-
pectedly stopped. Loriden skidded and barely avoided a
“What are you doing?”
Thorston pointed down the small passageway in
reply. In the center of the stone room adjoining the
hallway was a huge pile of man sized weapons, armor,
and other odds and ends! They walked into the little
cavern and stood before the mismatched mountain of
human items-much of which was of a good quality.
“I wonder where this came from.” Loriden said.
Thorston, picking us a map case answered, “I
think we just solved the mystery of the missing cartog-
raphers.” It made sense. This was the reason the cartog-
raphers never returned to Delor. Loriden began looking
through the pile, searching for anything that could be of
To his side Thorston was examining a black
shield engraved with a foreign crest, his face scrunched
up deep in thought. Then suddenly he turned and
grabbed Loriden by the arm, beginning to loosen one of
his leather gauntlets.
"Take it off Loriden!" Quickly!"
"What are you talking about?” Loriden replied
with surprise as he jerked his arm away.
Thorston took a deep breath, struggling to re-
main calm, and met his eye. "We are going to the city
of Hopguurd," a mercenary city!" He said the last part
slowly and with emphasis. “We can’t have you parad-
ing around like an Alliance Soldier!”
"I am an Alliance Soldier!” Loriden replied hot-
ly. “I won’t lower myself to wear the armor of a hired
sword, I have-'"
"Enough!" Thorston thundered, louder than he
intended. Loriden stepped back at the force of the Old
When he spoke next his voice was calmer.
"Trust me on this."
It took Loriden only a moment to decide. He
remembered all too well the feeling of not being
trusted, and he realized that if they were going to finish
the task, they had to trust each other.
"He began stripping out of his armor as fast as
possible." Listen Thorston, I'm really sorry, it-"
Save it for later!" Thorston said curtly, unbuck-
ling his breastplate.
Soon the transformation was complete. "There,
that looks pretty good." Thorston stated as he pushed a
mercenary’s skull helmet down over Loriden’s eyes.
“You’ll pass. “He reached out and grabbed Loriden’s
sword and scabbard.
"Now, wait a minute..." Loriden began to argue,
but Thorston had already thrown his sword on the pile
and replaced it with a mercenaries’ broadsword. He
handed him a bow and a quiver of arrows.
"A bow?" I was never taught to use a bow."
Loriden complained. Could it get any worse?
"Yes," but mercenaries are,” Thorston replied,
and then added, “You don't have to use it, just carry it."
He stepped back and inspected his work. Not bad. He
thought. Loriden certainly looked the part of a merce-
nary, down to the scowl on his face.
Quickly he took up his staff and stepped back
into the tunnel with Loriden close behind. As they
turned toward the exit a large shadow passed into the
room, causing them to quickly jump back into the
treasure room. The giant had returned.
They looked about frantically for a place to
hide. There were no furnishings or tapestries hanging
on the walls, no furniture, and no adjoining caverns or
tunnels. They were trapped. They heard the giant begin
sniffing loudly in the front room; a long, deep sniffing
like a hound searching out a trail. A great crashing
followed as he overturned things, looking for some-
thing- looking for them! Only one place to go. Both
men began burrowing under the giant mountain of
treasure. They couldn't help but make a clamorous
racket as the helmets, swords, and armor cascaded and
slid around them.
Out in the front room, the giant cocked his head
to the side and listened. He heard a faint tinkling sound
coming from his treasure room. He lunged down the
short hall and through the archway. Everything seemed
to be in place… or was it? He bent over at the waist, his
big belly lopping over and almost touching the floor.
At first, he saw nothing out of order… but on closer
What was that odd bit of metal?
His meaty hand reached down into the pile and
pulled out a sword and held it between two fingers as a
child would a toy. It was not the black, course sword
that he had fondled and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ over
countless times. Instead, it was a shiny little thing with
a sparkly hilt. His mind began trying to remember
where he had found it. He thought back over his
numerous battles and those he had killed. And although
giants are stupid creatures, this one knew every piece of
treasure in the pile, and this didn’t belong.
Large wrinkles creased his forehead. The truth
was evident: someone had been, or still was, in his
treasure room! With a howl of rage his giant arm
swooped down and scattered the pile. Loriden and
Thorston flew out in different directions. Loriden sailed
the farthest, finally stopping as he collided with the
stone wall amidst a shower of sharp swords and chain
mail. Thorston was hit only a glancing blow, and
although he lost his staff, was thrown more to the side
and behind the Giant. It would save their lives.
Loriden groaned and sat upright. Blood oozed
from the dozen or so cuts caused both by the rock and
by the sharp edges of the weapons that armor. He tried
to rise to his feet but fell to the floor, fighting to stay
conscious, and then shook his head from side to side to
clear his mind a bit. Where was the Giant? He looked
across the cavern and was surprised to see the giant not
closing on him, but instead staring at him with its
The giant was confused. Never before had its
prized possessions walked about, and it was too simple
to understand that someone could inhabit them. He took
a few steps toward its treasure, more curious than
angry, and reached out his hand. He learned the truth
soon enough. Just as his hand began to close around his
prize it unsheathed the sword and deeply sliced his
wrist. It wasn’t a serious wound, but a fairly deep cut
that hurt something terrible, and caused him to stumble
He grabbed at his bleeding wrist in surprise and
looked closer, noticing the two cold blue eyes looking
out at him from behind the visor. There was a man
inside his treasure!
Enraged, he lunged forward and swiped, but his
fist passed unopposed through the empty air. The Giant
balled up its enormous fist and considered just crushing
the little pest, but stopped as it realized it would destroy
his pretty, shiny black can. Better yet, he would catch
the little man and pull him out like a bird pulling a
worm from a hole. Then he could crush him right and
proper. He lunged again.
Loriden dodged to the right, barely escaping the
outstretched giant’s fingers, desperately seeking a way
past the clumsy oaf. It was no use; its massive girth
blocked the entrance, stealing his hope of an easy
escape. He danced back and forth, focusing on moving,
staying just out of the giant’s reach and buying time.
Still, his ragged breathing and burning leg muscles
warned him he couldn’t keep it up forever. Sooner or
later he would stumble and fall.
The giant lunged again but he anticipated the
move and dove to the side just as the creature’s hand
passed where he’d been. In a moment he was back on
his feet and back peddling. A few steps and he bumped
into something solid. Across the way the giant stopped
and a twisted smile spread across its face. In all his
dodging Loriden hadn’t realized he was backing
himself into a corner. Now he had no-where else to run.
Resolved to fight to the end, he assumed a
fighting stance, squaring off against the twenty-foot
monster. He shook his head to fling the sweat from his
forehead and hair. He needed to see what was coming.
The giant’s began closing in, and there was no-where
else for him to run.
Meanwhile, Thorston was having an easier time
of things. After his heavy landing he was relieved to
find that although he was stunned, he wasn’t seriously
injured; just cuts and bruises. In just a moment or two
he was back up on his feet and brushing the dirt from
Across the room, the giant roared.
Realizing Loriden was in trouble; Thorston be-
gan desperately digging through the piles of weapons
and trinkets spread throughout the cave, looking for his
There it is! His partially hidden staff was uncer-
emoniously sticking out from under one of the piles.
One quick tug and it was in his hand.
Without a plan, but knowing time was running
out for his friend, he purposefully strode up behind the
giant. The creature, so intent on his quarry, never even
knew he was there.
Through its outspread legs Thorston spied
Loriden standing with his back against the cave wall.
He looked tiny compared to the massive hand that was
reaching out for him. He wouldn’t have a chance.
Maybe in the open, where Loriden could use his speed
and power to the fullest he could get away, but in the
cave he couldn’t brawl with the monster.
There was no time for planning. Thorston knew
he didn’t have the power to kill the creature, but he had
to try something. He used the first thing that came to his
mind. Thrusting the staff up and within an inch of the
flesh just behind the giant’s unprotected knee, he
uttered a short command in the arcane language.
Lightning leapt from the white crystal and burned
deeply into the tender skin.
It had the desired effect. The giant howled and
stood upright so fast Thorston feared he would topple
backwards and crush him. Thankfully the creature
stopped when vertical and reached back to explore its
Loriden seized his chance, and though not fully
understanding his good fortune, bolted between its legs.
He had just cleared the creature’s legs when the wailing
abruptly stopped. Loriden glanced over his shoulder
and spied the stupid monster peering at him from
between its legs, its face registering his surprise.
Loriden never broke stride as they sprinted pell-mell
toward the back entrance.
Faster than he would have thought possible the
monster spun around, and it a few long strides was right
behind them, its hairy feet pounding against the stone
floor and causing small tremors. It reached for him
again, and just as Loriden felt the thick fingers tighten-
ing a light brighter than the noonday sun exploded
through the cave. It bit painfully into his eyes and
blinded him, but thankfully he felt the giant’s grip fall
Thorston was the only one not blinded. Before
unleashing the light stored in his staff he had the
presence of mind to cover his eyes. Still, they weren’t
out of danger. The giant knew this cave, and although
temporarily blinded could use its massive girth to crush
them, even if it couldn’t see.
Without hesitation he grasped Loriden’s hand
and pulled him along toward the exit at the back of the
cave. Loriden stumbled along behind him, and by his
halting movement Thorston knew he was struggling to
keep his footing. As they turned the corner Thorston
cringed as he felt the drag of Loriden colliding with the
corner of the passageway. He would have to remember
to give him more room next time. He stole a quick
glance and was relieved that although the collision had
turned his helmet sideways, he was still running.
Moments later they half ran, half stumbled out
of the cave exit and toward the river’s shore. And just
in time. Behind them the giant lumbered into the
daylight, vainly groping about with its meaty fingers as
it sought it’s pray.
They beat the giant to the river. At least, the
map called it a river. Really, it was more of a stream in
the spring season and a soggy, muddy streambed in the
fall and winter. They plodded through the muck and
plunged into the dense forest which started abruptly on
the opposite bank. After moving a safe distance they
fell exhausted to the forest floor.
Loriden pulled the steel skull helmet off his
head, blinking rapidly as the world one again came into
“That’s better.” He breathed deeply, trying to
catch his breath, and at the same time rotated his sore
shoulder where he had collided with the stone hallway.
Was there any part of him that wasn’t bruised?
"Where did these woods come from?" Loriden
asked: perplexed the plains ended so abruptly.
Thorston was studying their map intently. “I
think we will both see stranger things than these
Loriden, we just crossed into Polluck’s hold!”
Behind them the giant roared in frustration.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall
be free indeed.
And when he went forth to land, there met him
out of the city a certain man, which had devils long
time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house,
but in the tombs.
When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down
before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to
do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I
beseech thee, torment me not. For he had commanded
the unclean spirit to come out of the man.
Then went the devils out of the man…
Then they went out to see what was done; and
came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the
devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus,
clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
Luke 8:27-34 (selected)
They trekked deeper into the forest, heading east,
attempting to put as much distance between themselves
and the giants as possible. They had little to fear
however. The giants didn’t ventured into the woods-
couldn’t really, as their great bulk barely fit between the
trees. But Loriden and Thorston couldn’t know this,
and so they pressed on through the afternoon with little
The shadows of evening deepened. Exhaustion
overtook the travelers as they fought through the dense
underbrush. Loriden especially looked haggard, the
fight with the giant having taken more out of him then
he dared to admit. Realizing they needed rest, Thorston
began looking for a suitable stopping place and soon
found what he was searching for; a little clearing,
moderate tree cover, with a small stream running cold
and clear. After his initial inspection, he unbuckled his
travel pack and dropped it to the turf.
“I think this is as good a place as any to make
Loriden nodded in reply, grateful Thorston had
chosen a good spot to rest. A thick canopy of tree tops
blotted out the sun, so even the natural lighting found it
hard to dispel the shadows on the forest floor. And
except for the large population of bugs (they seemed to
descend in a cloud) it was quiet and comfortable. He
sat heavily on the spongy turf, and leaning back against
his pack enjoyed the much needed rest. A sharp sting-
ing on his forehead spoiled his reverie, and he quickly
slapped in response. He felt something small pop from
between his hand and head. Examining his palm, he
saw blood- his and the insects- staining his skin.
Thorston didn’t notice and sat immune to the
stinging insects as he sat opposite Loriden on the
ground, his back propped up against a tree. Reaching
for his water skin, he downed a long drought. “We will
need to travel at night again, so we both had better
Loriden didn’t argue. He lay down on the soft
moss and almost immediately began to drift off, only to
be abruptly woken by another sting. His hand flew up
but this time he missed; the bug at least. His hand
struck his face and left a red mark which clearly defined
Thorston chuckled. Then, lifting his staff he ut-
tered a few strange words. The staff shimmered for a
moment and then vibrated with a soft drumming sound.
The insects retreated back to the forest and left the two
travelers in peace.
Loriden lay back on his pack and was soon
The staff continued its humming, silently keep-
ing vigil over the sleeping companions.
It was dark when they awoke. About an hour
after sunset, they both found themselves roused from
slumber, wishing for a few more hours respite. The
moon had already risen, and cast an eerie, soft light
through the treetops, bathing the clearing in hues of
Loriden could clearly discern the old Prophet’s
outline as he packed his things. But even in the dark-
ness it was easy to see the journey was taking a toll on
him. His robe was muddy and discolored from the
journey, and his beard, hair and mustache were wild
and uncombed. Why had he come? In that moment it
occurred to Loriden that although he hadn’t known the
dangers of their journey when they started, Thorston
had. And he had come anyway. Whatever his reasons
Loriden had him to thank for getting this far.
"Thank you," He suddenly said.
Thorston eyed him quizzically but said nothing.
"I mean, you’re risking your life to help me."
Thorston went back to packing, hastily shoving
the last of his things in his pack.
“Don’t be deceived” He replied. “It’s not just
for you that I came on this trip. I have my own reasons"
He finished tying his water skin to the pack; a
bit aggravated for a reason he couldn’t quite put his
finger on. On one hand he resented being relied upon,
yet it had been a long since he had heard the words
‘thank you’: a long time since he had been a part of
something bigger than himself, and it felt exhilarating.
Maybe he’d been wrong to shut himself away for all
Loriden nodded in understanding, "I know, but
still... without you I wouldn’t have made it this far." He
walked over and grasped the prophet’s shoulder in a
“You look terrible.” The prophet said, looking
at the young man. Not a single piece of armor fit his
traveling companion. Some pieces were too large; other
pieces pinched or squeezed him in various places. He
was unshaven, and blonde stubble poked out from the
dirty, unwashed face.
“So do you.” Loriden countered.
Thorston smiled at him through the darkness.
Not the false smile that would just be courtesy, but a
deep true smile that the prophet forgot he had. And in
that moment, a friendship was forged-a friendship that
would last throughout their lifetime. Much was happen-
ing that he didn’t understand. But at the same time he
couldn’t help but feel that he was right where he should
"Well," Thorston said, a little uncomfortable in
the moment, and unaccustomed to such overtures of
affection, “I fear the hardest part of the journey is still
ahead. We’re getting deeper into Polluck’s Territory,
and will have to watch closely for the Decnella." He
stepped away from Loriden and grasped his staff,
pulling it easily from the grassy turf.
"What exactly are the Decnella?" Loriden
asked, shouldering his own pack.
“They are the offspring of Prince Polluck and a
cross between a bat and a man. They can both fly and
walk, although they prefer flight. And although their
eyesight is weak, they more than compensate with their
bat-like senses.” Thorston scanned the treetops like he
was already looking for the creatures. “As long as we
stay under tree cover we’ll be safe, at least for awhile.”
"Why can’t we go around the hold?" Loriden
"We could, but we would have to travel far to
the south and it will take longer. I think that in the end
it would be even more dangerous. “
They set off into the darkness once again.
Loriden led the way through the jungle of tangled roots
and foliage. He was forced to travel slowly, picking his
way carefully through the vines and tangles. He paused
often, letting his ears and nose reveal to him what his
eyes couldn’t see. The night passed slowly. To the two
men, the world consisted of nothing more than shad-
ows, roots, tangles, and brush.
They dropped to the ground just as a dark shape
flitted above the treetops, silhouetted briefly against the
stars, and then disappeared into the blackness. Loriden
tensed as the telltale clicking sound passed overhead,
and then relaxed as it grew fainter and then disappeared
altogether. Evidently they hadn’t been noticed. But it
had been a close call, and he chided himself on growing
careless. As the night had worn on he chose to leave the
densest part of the forest and travel where the vegeta-
tion was thinner, and although they traveled faster, it
was at the expense of the concealment of the overhead
canopy. Now he realized his mistake; they were too
exposed. Reluctantly he returned to the dense tangle
and began the nerve-racking trudge through the forest.
High overhead the moon rose and shined brightly on
the treetops. And then, unseen to the travelers, it ran its
course and began the downward trek toward the hori-
zon. Decnella passed overhead several times during the
night, but still they felt relatively safe; the thick over-
head canopy shielded them from anything above the
treetops, and it was obvious nothing could move easily
through the underbrush. By all accounts they were
alone and had nothing to worry about. Still, something
nagged at the men, as if their instincts sensed a danger
they otherwise couldn’t discern. It slowed them down,
helped them stay alert, and caused them to move
carefully. It was a good thing.
They heard voices.
The voices were faint. But Loriden and
Thorston both knew that sounds in the forest were
deceptive. The foliage often muffled sounds from just a
few feet away, and many travelers came face-to-face
with dangers they thought were still distant. Thankfully
the part of the forest they had been passing through was
especially difficult, riddled with of thorn bushes and
forcing the men to crawl on their knees in order to slip
under the thick vines. They crept slowly toward the
The voices became more distinct as they closed
the distance. They stopped to listen. The first voice was
deep and guttural, the second high and shrill. They
spoke a rough dialect of the common language, and
Thorston and Loriden both caught a few words.
“Tell us!...make you pay!” The deep guttural
The high pitched voice answered.“…told you.
… not the men… looking for.”
Thorston motioned for Loriden to crawl abreast,
and after picking his way carefully, he pulled abreast of
"This isn’t our concern. Anything in these
woods at night is more than likely on Polluck’s side.
We’ll by-pass the camp.“ But things didn’t go accord-
ing to plan. ,Thorston tried to keep a good distance
between them and the voices, but try as he might the
terrain seemed to have another plan, and channeled
them toward the creatures. Soon they were close
enough that Loriden caught short glimpses of firelight
flittering through the trees. And each time he saw the
light, he stopped in hopes of catching a glimpse of a
Decnella or whatever other creatures might be there.
Finally he was rewarded. About halfway around
the camp they came to a small break in the foliage
where their path crossed an old stream bed. Loriden
lifted up a small branch and had an unobstructed view
of the entire scene; a small clearing, a fire roaring
brightly in a pit, and tied to a stake in the shadows ... a
man! At least, Loriden thought it was a man. The figure
was so covered with mud and grime he was hardly
recognizable. But what surrounded the man was just as
remarkable. ForBeasts! Not the Decnella he had
expected to see, but the same wolf-like ForBeasts he
had fought in The Barrens. It didn’t make sense.
Thorston crawled back and lay alongside him.
Together, they watched the scene unfolding around the
"Tell us," the ForBeasts hissed, "Where are the
"I told you, I don't know!' The captive answered
in a high pitched whine.
The ForBeasts leapt at the captive, its open
mouth snarling and snapping just a few inches from the
captive’s face. Terrified, the captive jerked backwards
and slammed the back of his head into the hard wood.
Then the Wolfen knelt down and slowly drew a
dagger from its belt, its eyes boring into the captive’s
and conveying its fiendish intent. The steel of the thin
glinted in the firelight, its razor sharp edge promising
pain and death. With one hand he grasped the captive’s
hair and jerked his head up until he was looking up
toward the starry sky. The other hand pressed the knife
against his exposed throat.
“Where’s the old man and the young soldier?"
The captive’s chest rose and fell as he gasped
shallow breaths of air. Beads of sweat broke out on his
forehead as he looked into the swollen red eyes of the
beast. He saw death, his death staring out at him from
those eyes. As he delayed the knife pressure increased
In the tree line close by, Loriden and Thorston
listened even more intently.
"Listen," the captive replied, licking his lips and
betraying his nervousness. "I don't know anything about
other humans in this forest.” He took a gamble, know-
ing that he had little room for error. Lying hadn’t
worked on the creatures, but perhaps he could intimi-
date them. What did he have to lose? After all, as it
stood he was a dead man.
“I work for Prince Polluck. And if you touch me again
it will be your death! Why, there are probably Decnella
roaming these woods searching for me right now." His
eyes darted the skies as if he expected them to appear at
The Wolfen hesitated; then withdrew the dagger
a few inches. This was a response he hadn’t anticipated.
A few feet away, Loriden and Thorston crawled
backward into the forest where they could speak
without fear of being overheard.
Thorston whispered, "I think it’s best to continue on our
way. If this man is truly a servant of Polluck, he’s
getting what he deserves."
“What if he’s not?” Loriden hissed back.
“You heard what he said!” Thorston shot back, eager to
be on their way.
“But we can't just leave him here!"
"We have to! We don’t have a choice."
Loriden didn’t respond, his face hidden in
shadow, making it impossible for Thorston to judge his
mood through the darkness. A minute passed and still
he didn’t say anything. Was he angry? Resolved? In
agreement? His next three words left little doubt as to
"Yes, we do."
He couldn’t leave a human to the ForBeasts-,
not after what he had been through. With or without
Thorston’s help, he would rescue the man or die trying.
Thorston sighed, realizing he had little choice.
"All right, but we have to plan.”
The ForBeasts leader named Gryll was per-
plexed. As he stood deep in thought, staring into the
fire, he marveled at the determination of the puny little
human. It was weak and small, stood on slow spindly
legs, possessed neither claws nor teeth, yet it had
somehow kept the ForBeast leader on the defensive. He
ground his teeth in frustration as it tried to think it
through. But Wolfens weren’t known for their intellect,
and although Gryll was smart compared to the others,
he couldn’t hope to match wits with the human. A fact
known to both or them.
Did this human know anything about the
That was the question he had to find the answer
to. He knew that humans prefered to travel in packs,
especially in The Wilds, yet he had found this one alone
in the woods. Why? Where was he going? His head
began to throb and for afleeting moment he wished
Sotthem had sent a human along, or better yet one of
the Elites to do the thinking. But then again the human
couldn’t have kept up, and Gryll would have rather died
than be saddled and ridden like a pack horse as would
have been demanded. No, on second through he was
glad to be alone, even if he had to figure this out
himself. He had to find a way to get the truth from the
human. His life depended on it.
His instructions were clear, find the two humans
and then deliver them to Sotthem; alive. He had
received the instruction personally, and then given the
authority to take anything or anyone he needed. His
mission was both critical and delicate, balancing the
need for haste against the dangers involved. He was to
spare nothing in its accomplishment, but was to ensure
that Prince Polluck never knew he’d been there.
It had been easy for Gryll and his three hand-
picked warriors to penetrate undetected into Polluck’s
Hold. Only now he couldn’t find the two humans! The
spy’s report indicated the two men crossed the bridge
several days ago and should be in the woods, but where
were they? A little hint of worry nagged at him.
Perhaps the two humans had slipped by? Maybe even
now they were racing further toward The Hold, going
where Gryll couldn’t follow. But no, his warriors had
scouted the whole wood. Their sensitive noses would
have caught the scent of any passing humans.
And that was just as distressing, that their
quarry had failed to get through Oshgar. Of course
Sotthem would require proof they were dead. He and
his squad would have to search every inch of Oshgar
until they found the bodies. It could take months, and
even in their pure wolf forms, it would be dangerous…
Earlier that day had just decided to quit the
forest and sweep west into Oshgar when this human
walked into their ambush and changed his plans. At
first, Gryll believed they had found the young man they
were searching for, but on closer scrutiny he didn’t
quite match the description. To confuse matters, now
the little maggot claimed he worked for Polluck. It
wasn’t impossible. Pollock hired human mercenaries at
times as did his master Sotthem. But this man? He wore
no armor, didn’t carry a weapon, and certainly didn’t
walk or talk like any of the human mercenaries he had
encountered before. No, he was lying… about some-
thing. At least, Gryll was almost certain of that- almost.
And it was that little bit of uncertainty that was staring
his hand, causing him to rethink the whole encounter.
What if he was telling the truth? What if he really was
on Prince Polluck’s payroll? If Sotthem found out he’s
angered Polluck his death...well, he didn’t want to think
He turned and glared at the little human through
his wolfish eyes. It's time to get this over. He thought to
himself. He figured his knife would either bring out the
truth, or at least the assurance the human knew nothing
more than what he’d said. Either way, it would end the
same. It would bury the human deep under the ground.
If he did work for Polluck, then he would make sure
Polluck never found him. If not, then it never hurt to be
too careful. And he knew no greater certainty than
He placed the tipoff his dagger into the fire,
watching the gray steel first change to a dull red and
then brighten as it soaked in the heat. It didn’t take
long. But he never used it as he intended, just as he
pulled it from the fire something in the flames explod-
ed, showering him in burning embers. He howled in
pain as the air grew thick with the smell of burning fur
and scorched flesh. He leaped away and began beating
his forearms into the grass and dirt.
The other ForBeasts stood rooted in place, con-
fused by the exploding flames and the sudden pungent
smell of magic in the air.
Loriden used the distraction to his advantage.
Leaping silently out of the forest behind them he
brought his black blade down in an overhead arc,
ending the life of the first ForBeast. The second saw the
movement from the corner of its eye, but as it turned
the sword snaked out and pierced its back.
Across the clearing, the third creature had
recovered from its shock and watched its two compan-
ions die at the mercenary’s hand.
It began shifting from man-form to wolf-form
just as the mercenary pulled its sword from his fallen
It took only a second for its arms to shorten and
the claws to lengthen. The next moment it hunched over
as its chest thickened and the black armor disappeared
into its body. The face, which moments before had
radiated a dull intelligence, lost all human resemblance
as its snout seemed to be stretched until it was twice the
Loriden saw all this from across the clearing.
One moment the Wolfen stood on two legs and looked
almost human, the next moment it had transformed into
a snarling beast.
It charged him, its mouth foaming and the eyes
burning red with rage.
But it never made it. Just as it lunged, and be-
fore it could reach full stride it saw- rather it sensed,
something stepping out of the forest to its right. Purely
by instinct, it changed direction and charged the closest
victim- intent on killing it quickly and then dealing with
the mercenary. It leapt at the unarmed human with a
stick; aiming for the throat and fully intending to sink
its inch long fangs into the soft unprotected flesh. It
never had the chance.
The crystal in the old man's staff flickered
brightly and discharged a single bolt of lightning. The
beast experienced only a moment of pain as the bolt
struck it full in the face and raced though its body,
effectively cooking it from the inside out. The charred,
smoking corpse landed with a heavy ‘thud’ at
Thorston’s feet. The eyes flickered and then went dark.
Undaunted, and with the presence of a skilled
warrior, Thorston leapt over the charred remains and
rushed into the clearing; there was still one ForBeast
unaccounted for. Back to back, Thorston and Loriden
circled and searched the shadows for some sign of the
missing Wolfen leader. They saw the scorched marks
on the ground where the beast had pounded his burning
arms into the sand and grass, but besides that he seemed
to have disappeared. Had it crawled off to lick its
wounds? Or was it even now circling, patiently waiting
for the men to lower their defenses and attack?
The y couldn’t know it, but neither of their hy-
potheses was correct; in fact, Gryll was dying. In its
haste, after extinguishing the flames, it had tried to
change form. But his wounds were much more serious
than it had realized, and partway through the transfor-
mation his strength gave out. Now caught halfway
between forms, the hideous misshapen creature half
crawled- half stumbled into the nearby forest. Caught
between forms, its body couldn’t function. It was
neither man nor animal.
Gryll fell to his knees as a fresh spasm of agony
rocked through his form. His bones rubbed against each
other as they struggled to realign. His human lung still
functioned, but the partial wolf lung had collapsed-
caught between the human ribcage and the wolf heart.
Its snout was only half formed and seemed to be trying
to full his jaw from its socket. He had to do something!
Anything to get some relief from the white hot searing
pain that seemed to be everywhere at once. It did the
only thing it knew to do.
Lifting its head it howled- a long eerie inhuman
cry that echoed through the forest. The haunting sound
reached the clearing where Loriden and Thorston
circled warily in the clearing, and both men instinctive-
ly gripped their weapons tighter. It penetrated the forest
and the forest seemed to shudder before it: Squirrels
nestled deeper into their trees, birds hunkered down
farther into their nests, and everywhere the eerie cry of
the predator went the heart of the hunted skipped a beat.
And then the howl ended. An eerie silence descended
through the wood as even the trees seemed to hold their
breath. Back at the origin, Gryll wavered, fell forward,
and trembled violently before finally curling up and
after one last spasm la still. Gryll the great was dead.
Back in the clearing, the men relaxed as the
forest quickly came back to life; the crickets began
chirping, a frog croaked, and a single bat darted be-
tween the treetops.
"Come on.” Thorston said, "There may be oth-
ers things around."
He sprinted across the clearing and stooped next
to the lone figure slumped against the tree. While
Loriden stood guard, he pulled his dagger from his boot
and cut the ropes that held the man bound to the sap-
ling, followed by the ropes binding his hands. The
captive tried to stand but swooned, and would have
fallen except Thorston grasped him by the shoulders
and helped him regain his balance. He swayed uncer-
tainly, but after a minute seemed to regain his equilibri-
um and raised his head.
Loriden looked at the captive-twice: first in cu-
riosity, the second time in surprise. Growing up in the
west knew only the Westerners- and Westerners looked
relatively the same. Yet this young man was far differ-
ent than anything he had ever seen. He stood a full
head taller than Loriden, thin, and sported a thick mop
of orange-red hair that seemed to stick out in every
direction. Small orange dots were scattered across his
cheeks and nose in little patches.
“A plainsman?” Thorston asked.
Thorston knew that a few plainsmen had sur-
vived the dispersion and the ensuing wars, but even by
all his magic he couldn’t find out where they had gone.
“Of course I’m a plainsman.” The ex-captive
answered, looking down at Thorston with an exaggerat-
ed confidence, as if it were an everyday occurrence for
his race to be captured and tied up by ForBeasts. He
began smoothing his clothes as he spoke again. “I must
thank you gentlemen; the situation was getting out of
hand.” Loriden stared back dumbly, taken off guard at
his nonchalance and his oily demeanor. The last time he
had heard a man this eloquent his father had paid far
too much for an old horse.
Ignoring the plainsman's words Thorston
addressed the stranger. "What did you mean you
worked for Polluck?"
"Oh, that." The plainsman dismissed the ques-
tion with a flippant of his hand. "I was just bluffing!
Really, I think I had them believing it!"
"Oh, did you?" Loriden shook his head, almost
as if shaking off a spell, and as he re-sheathed his sword
turned to face the former captive.
"Who are you?” Loriden asked,” Why don’t you
have any armor or weapons? Why are you alone?"
The strange smiled broadly, a comical site
considering all the bruises and his ragtag appearance.
“I am Niklos Burian, formally of the Tugurian Plains-at
your service." He finished with a flourish and a sweep-
ing bow, a move more fitting for a great hall than the
open wilderness. "And who are you my friend?" Niklos
asked with a wide smile, then reached out as if to grasp
Loriden by the shoulder.
Thorston stepped between them.
His voice was stern. "Why are you here, in
Polluck’s Hold? I’ve never heard of these Tugurian
Plains, or of any surviving Plainsman venturing into Te
Niklos’s eyes darted about quickly, a habit his
father had tried to break him of. Had he been speaking
to another plainsman, surely they would have spotted
his slight hesitation and capitalized on it. As it was,
neither Thorson nor Loriden caught the short pause.
“We are a small clan living beyond the great gorge on
the Barron Steppes. And you haven’t heard of us
because we like it that way. We are merchants, and out
business takes us East- to the barbarians of Agea. He
paused again; his tongue flickering in and out of his
mouth like a snake sensing its prey. Again, he was glad
he wasn’t addressing a silver tongued Plainsman. Here
he was, caught without a story, weaving a tale from
scratch to two Westerners. True, he hadn’t expected to
find other humans in The Wilds, and he had a story
ready for most ForBeasts, but his training left no room
to be surprised, at least not where the tongue was
concerned. Really it was quite embarrassing.
"I was here on … business." He was quickly
piecing together the lie in his mind and began warming
up to the story. He continued confidently. "I was
traveling with a company of Plainsmen to see about
trading with Polluck- times are hard in Agea and we
must do what we can- when we were attacked by these
ForBeasts. I am sorry to say I was the only one who
“Isn’t that fortunate.” Thorston replied slowly,
looking at Loriden with that ‘I told you so’ look. “And
what ‘business’ (he emphasized the word ‘business’)
would you have with Polluck? He’s no friend of free
men of any race."
Niklos had anticipated the question and without
a moment’s hesitation relied. “The plains are in desper-
ate need of mid-grade ore. We’re running out and
Polluck’s mines are known to still possess it in abun-
dance. But of course, your young mercenary friend
would understand this." He turned his gaze to Loriden.
"I’m no mercen-"
"Quiet Loriden!" Thorston cut in sharply. "This
man has the tongue of his people."
"Oh, Loriden it is?" Niklos said easily.
Thorston chided himself for slipping. But then
what did it matter if a Plainsman knew their names
anyway? That is, unless he worked for Polluck.
What were they asking you?
"They were looking for an old man and a
Western Alliance soldier."
Thorston and Loriden glanced at each other.
“Wonder what they wanted them for?” The
Plainsman asked smoothly, rubbing the red stubble on
his chin and looking them over.
Neither of the men liked his tone of voice. He was
telling them outright he knew who they were. And
although the smug smile never left his face, they
recognized a threat when they heard one.
A hundred questions raced through Loriden’s
mind as he sized up the tall newcomer. He had never
met such a man before, and frankly didn’t know what to
think of him. He was a strange one, and although
strange was an adequate description, ‘exotic’ or ‘out-
landish’ might have suited him better, especially to the
practicality of a Westerner. He wore a brightly colored
shirt and pants, and although now threadbare, would
undoubtedly all but blinded a man when new. The suit
seemed to be fashioned from large patches of blues,
reds, yellows, and greens, all brought together by thin
black lines that started at the pant cuffs and ended at the
waist, only to start again at the hem of the shirt and
traveling to the collar. And although it was by far the
most extravagant use of color he ever witnessed, there
was a certain beauty to it. Obscenely gaudy, it was also
of fine workmanship, and the cascading colors had an
artist’s touch. A sash hung from his waist, and alt-
hough also highly decorated; with tassels, buttons, and
quill work it seemed to at least have a practical purpose.
The slight bulges and bumps showed plainly that it was
capable of carrying objects.
Unknown to the young man from The West, the
Plainsmen were a practical people. Living a nomadic
life on the plains, a barren thirsty place, they learned by
their wits, traveling from place to place and subsiding
on buying goods in one place and selling them at a
profit in another. And like all peoples, those who
survived were those who were the best at it, and alt-
hough small in numbers, they were as adept at speech
and as conniving a people as ever lived. The Agean
barbarians loved their goods almost as much as they
hated the people, and couldn’t help but watch their
wagons coming with both excitement and trepidation.
Too many times they found themselves swindled, or on
the wrong end of a business deal, yet they could never
quite tell when the smiling, heavily jeweled Plainsman
had bettered them. They learned to live with it.
Yet in many centuries not a single one had trav-
eled west of the Great Gorge, that is, until Niklos.
"Listen, it’s not safe to be here in the open.
What do you say we travel together for a while? It
would be safer for us all.” The Plainsman asked.
Thorston closed his eyes tightly. How did they
get into this predicament? Already they had battled a
giant, evaded the Decnella, and now a Plainsman? If
what he had heard of these people was correct, he was
better off with the giants. It would be easy, and profita-
ble, for Niklos to run straight to the Decnella and give
them away if allowed to leave, yet could they invite an
enemy into their camp?
"Loriden, step over here for a moment."
Thorston strode to the dwindling campfire and out of
Niklos’s hearing, which after a quick smile began
scouring the short grass for his scattered belongings.
They watched him as he threw the broken to the side,
salvaging those he could and tucking them carefully
into his sash or into a small, gold colorful bag that hung
from his waist.
"I don’t trust him. He’s either a smuggler or a
spy.” Thorston cautioned, then after a long pause
continued. “But we need to keep him close."
"You want him to come with us?” Loriden
asked incredulously. Suppose he sneaks off and reports
us to Polluck!"
“It was your idea to rescue him!” Thorston reminded
him hotly, “And what other choice do we have?”
Loriden assented with a nod of his head. “Your
right, But I don’t like it. I have a feeling we’re going to
“It’s a chance we have to take.”
Resolved, but far from happy, the duo returned
to Niklos. Thorston stepped right up to the Plainsman,
and although a full head shorter he made an imposing
figure. "All right, you can travel with us, but we by-
pass Polluck’s Hold and make for the city of Hopguurd.
Once there you’re on your own.”
Thorston shook his staff , the clawed end weav-
ing back and forth not an inch from the Plainsman’s
nose- the same staff Niklos had witnessed kill the
Wolfen. “But hear me well ‘Niklos of the Ugarian
Plains’, if you cross us you won’t live to tell about it.
He pointed to the smoking Wolfen corpse for emphasis.
Niklos never flinched, “Oh never.” He replied,
grinning from ear to ear.
"All right then." Thorston said bitterly, "We’d
better be going. I’m surprised this fire hasn’t already
Truly it was a miracle it hadn’t, and little did he
know he would need another miracle very, very soon.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only
thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both
almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast
young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou
wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch
forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry
thee whither thou wouldest not.
They traveled single file; Thorston leading, followed by
Niklos, and then Loriden bringing up the rear. As the
last man, Loriden worked to cover their trail; re-
arranging the trampled thick brush, propping up broken
branches, and sweeping away their tracks when neces-
sary. It wasn’t very effective. Even in the dark he could
make out the subtle difference in the vegetation they
passed through. Any tracker, regardless of experience,
could track them effortlessly, yet Loriden hoped that
they had accounted for all the Forbeasts and there were
none left hunting them. Still, they couldn’t be too
careful and so he continued the thankless task. Besides,
there was another reason for him to be trailing in the
rear. He could watch Niklos as he sauntered along as if
he hadn’t a care in the world.
Up ahead, Thorston muttered as using his staff
he through an especially tangled thicket. Suddenly the
thorny branch he was holding back with his staff
slipped and sprang back, slapping his face like a whip.
The thorns weren’t long, but he forced himself to stifle
a yelp as they raked across his face and cut long shal-
low trenches over his cheeks and forehead.
Niklos watched the old Prophet struggling along
and cringed at the clumsy attempt to navigate the forest.
When Thorston began pushing the thorn bush with his
staff, Niklos foresaw the outcome and nimbly danced
back just as it slipped off Thorston’s staff
Loriden frowned, and using the slight pause
wiped some of the grime from his face with his coarse
sleeve. Up until then, he had viewed the Plainsman as a
bumpkin, witty and silver tongued, but dangerous only
at the mouth. Yet his movements had been agile and
swift, as a warrior- or in his case probably an assassin-
and not as simple tradesmen he was pretending to be.
He now regretted their decision to let him keep the
twin knives, which in a pitched battle would have been
little value, but in the stillness of night could spell their
deaths. He would have to speak to Thorston about it- at
least, the soon as they were clear of this cursed forest,
and that couldn’t happen none too soon to suit him.
Niklos posed more of a threat than he first realized.
Thorston wiped the blood from his face where
the thorns cut through the skin. Things just weren’t
going their way.
Without warning he felt someone pass behind
him, and turned just in time to see Niklos brazenly step
and start picking his way through the dense underbrush.
He brought up his staff and began a chant when a hand
grasped his shoulder. Loriden leaned close to his ear
and surprised him by saying in a low voice, “Let him
Thorston lowered his hands and let them fall to
his sides. He had to trust him. Loriden showed wisdom
far beyond his years, and if he was willing to lengthen
Niklos’s chain there must be good reason. With a little
trepidation he fell into the last place in line and trudged
onward, wary of the turn of events but also glad to
leave the heavy mantle of leading to another.
Niklos was the perfect guide, and they walked
slipped almost effortlessly through the brush, leaving
little in the way of a trail behind and as silent as cats.
Niklos found small openings, and little places that
eased their way. He waved and ducked, folding back
some branches onto themselves, cutting select and
clearing the way almost effortlessly.
The sun rose on a distant horizon, spilling the
dawn over the horizon and chasing away the darkness.
It took longer in the forest. The darkness hesitantly
gave way to gray, causing the shadows to grow more
distinct. And then they began to gray, losing their sharp
edges and taking on a softer transition. Finally, the sky
blues overhead and as the first rays of the sun lit up the
tree tops the birds exploded into song. The men felt
their spirits lift with the dawn, as if the morning had
chased away the heaviness of their night’s ordeal.
Encouraged, they pressed on through the morning.
Then the forest stopped.
It was an abrupt end; like an invisible barrier
kept the trees and other vegetation from going a foot
further. There was no thinning of the greenery- one
moment they were crashing through the brush, the next
step left them standing exposed on a bare rocky plain
which sloped downward toward a low mountain range.
Loriden and Thorston instinctively stepped back into
the shadows. Niklos, on the other hand, raised his hands
and basked in the sun, his colorful clothing whipping in
the breeze like a flag on a flagpole. Thorston grasped
his shoulder and pulled him back.
“Do you want every Decnella to see you?” He
said in exasperation.
“Of course not.” He answered a little sheepish-
ly, “It just felt good to be in the open again.”
All morning they sat just inside the tree line and
rested. Thorston and Loriden alternated between
sleeping and watching, and although they would have
relished unbroken sleep, both the close proximity of
Polluck’s Hold and Niklos keeping them viligent. For
his part Niklos slept soundly, not letting their mistrust
or any danger mar his rest; so much so that at times
Thorston or Loriden were forced to wake him with the
toe of their boots to stop his snoring, fearful that he
might wake the Decnella in their far-off hold. Not
roughly, yet not too gently either. After all, it was hard
for them to forget that he was the reason (deserving or
not) they were missing sleep.
Yet there diligence also brought a benefit; in-
sight. The watchman had little to do but watch out over
the barren plane, their vantage point offering them an
un-obstructed view all the way to the mountains.
“What do you think Thorston, is it safe?”
Loriden asked after Thorston awoke .
“No. No-where in the Wilds is safe. But I’m
thinking the Decnella might be nocturnal creatures and
sleep most of the day. We may have a better chance
slipping by in the daylight.”
‘Why don’t we ask the expert?” Loriden said,
his eyes lighting on a newly wakened Niklos, who at
that moment was just sitting up and yawning. However,
he had heard their question.
“I don’t know. I’ve never actually been to
Polluck’s Hold. This was our first time going.”
“How convenient.” Thorston remarked, casting
a knowing glance in Loriden’s direction.
So, instead of walking under the protective can-
opy of the forest, they found themselves walking more
and more in the open. The ground became rockier as
they left the plain and started through the mountain
passes, and they stumbled as they scanned the skies for
Decnella. They followed the trail as it crested a small
rise and then turned abruptly left, before zigzagging
down the opposite slope. In the distance, a massive
fortress sat high upon a mountaintop sky lined against
the blue sky.
“Polluck’s hold.” Thorston said.
It must be every bit as large as the Castle of
Chalcony. Loriden thought.
Even at this distance, he could see that the gi-
gantic battlements and keep were carved out of some
foreign black stone. It shined and glimmered in the
sun, the stone shimmering like a black granite tabletop.
A tall black wall hit most of the keep from view, but
still a few of the taller spires and turrets rose up toward
the sky from behind the walls. It was well constructed,
a testament that this was not the work of an amateur;
quality artisans had constructed this keep- there was no
The Keep unnerved him. Before now, he had
pictured Prince Polluck as a rogue with a small band of
creatures hiding in the mountains of The Wilds-not
much more of a threat than a rabid dog that needed to
be caged. But this was no dog’s cage; it was a castle for
a king- and kings possessed large, well organized
Do I really not know anything about the world?
He wondered. He thought back to the council meeting
he had attended only a few weeks before. As he had
stood in the midst of the council, he had believed that
they were the most powerful assembly in the world. Yet
in the last few weeks, he found that the evil in The East
was far more powerful than anything he could have
They started down the trail and then veered off
onto a smaller trail that paralleled the keep, wanting to
keep some distance between them and the sentries they
knew were posted on its walls. It was hard going, the
smaller trail twisted and turned as it cut through the
jagged rocks. So far so good- they hadn’t seen a single
Decnella, and the party began to hope they would slip
Maybe it was the fact they had been up all night,
or perhaps the weariness of the journey, but they missed
the telltale signs of an outpost until they had walked up
Several creatures stepped onto the path and
barred their way. At the same time, others landed on the
trail just behind them. They were trapped.
"Stop!" One of the creatures stepped forward
from the small knot to their front. It was horribly tall
and thin, so thin you could see its bones through the
black shiny skin, reminding Loriden of an old man who
had seen a hundred winters. Its head was bat shaped,
topped with pointed ears, and angular. But it was the
face that was the most grotesque; somehow it almost
seemed human, almost, and that resemblance made it
all the more unnatural. Two beady eyes glared out from
under the sharp ridgeline where the eyebrows should
have been, and although they started straight at him he
had the feeling they couldn’t quite focus. Just beneath
the eyes two holes served as nostrils, and then finally an
unusually small mouth with a row of yellow pointed
Loriden caught a movement to his right as a
Decnella glided past. It moved with grace, its large
wings easily riding the currents of air as it sailed high
effortlessly overhead. With one quick flap of its wings
it dropped, speeding by him so closely he felt the slight
rush of wind from its passing. And then with a slightest
scattering of pebbles it deftly alighted on the trail just
behind him. It shook its wings, folded them up, and
they tucked them neatly against its leathery back, all the
while its head whipped back and forth in slight jerky
movements, emitting short clicks.
“Why are you trespassing upon Polluck’s
Hold?" The first Decnella asked its voice low and
raspy, as if unaccustomed to speech.
"We, um-" Thorston began.
"Hello Decnar!" Niklos slipped past Thorston
and strode fearlessly toward the Decnella. He walked
with a relaxed, easy gait: as one would approach a
"I am surprised seeing you here, Niklos. With
what happened last time." It rasped.
"Why do you think I've come back?" Niklos
answered easily, "I have come to make things right, and
to deliver your Prince a gift."
In response, the Decnella flicked his wrist, and a
long thin rapier appeared in its hand. Niklos stopped
short, the blade barely an inch from his throat. "Soon
you may wish you hadn’t come!" It warned, "Unless
your offer is as good as you promise!"
Niklos smiled and confidently pushed the blade
aside. “It is.”
He glanced back at Thorston and Loriden.
“I thought he hadn’t been here before.” Loriden
said under his breath.
“It seems he lied to us.” Thorston replied at a whisper.
They smiled at Niklos, all the while both wish-
ing they could get their hands around his scrawny neck.
Meanwhile, Decnar had sheathed his sword and
was looking their way as Niklos whispered in his ear.
They couldn’t hear what Niklos was saying, but by his
gestures and the way he was pointing they surmised one
thing; he was selling them out.
Loriden examined the swords the Decnella
carried, considering the odds. Though one and a half
times an average swords length, they were only about
half as thick. He figured the Decnella were trained and
equipped to fight from the air where they could dart in
and use the long swords to their advantage. It also
explained why their great keep was located in such a
barren portion of the land. Unlike the forest, in the
mountains there was no concealing an invading force.
Polluck placed his hold where any invading Army
would have to approach and fight in the open -giving
the Decnella the upper hand-a brilliant strategy that had
so far kept even Sotthem at bay.
Could they kill enough of them on the ground to
get the advantage? He wouldn’t find out.
Suddenly Decnar uttered a series of sharp clicks.
Swords appeared in the Decnella’s hands and they
quickly closed in on all sides. With Niklos looking on,
their weapons were taken and their hands bound.
Thanks to saving Niklos, they were now the prisoners
of the enemy.
Niklos never stopped smiling.
And we know that all things work together for
good to them that love God, to them who are the called
according to his purpose.
"Remember," they say, "that the darkest hour of
all is the hour before day."
The party stopped at a fork in the trail next to a small
guard post, the prisoners being forced to sit against the
cliff side. They had been traveling all day, ever since
their capture, with the party snaking their way slowly
toward the keep which grew bigger each hour.
"He betrayed us." Loriden said, tilting back his
head and closing his eyes.
Thorston didn’t answer.
Loriden couldn’t understand why Niklos had sold them
out. How could a man give another man?
But he thought he knew some of what had
motivated him. It seemed that he had an old debt to
settle with Polluck. And when they were ambushed by
the Decnella he must have realized that he did have
something to bargain with. Now Niklos and the
Decnella sat around a campfire like old friends, boiling
some kind of drink; Niklos not as much as looking
Loriden’s stomach growled in hunger. Doubts
descended upon him like the coming night, and he
struggled against the overwhelming sense of hopeless-
ness that seemed to be robbing his strength. Now even
raising his head seemed a great effort. So this is how it
would end? Not in battle, or in a rocking chair, but as a
prisoner in the cage. It wasn’t fair.
"I was the one who wanted to save his miserable hide!"
The words came out from between his clenched teeth..
"If I had it to do again…" He left the rest unsaid.
Thorston finished for him."You would do the
same thing. And so would I." Loriden’s eyes jerked
open at the strange response, his gaze alighting on the
Prophet who strangely looked at peace.
"Loriden, I have seen in you what I have not
seen in centuries: the true heart of a seeker. And
although I’ll probably not make it out of here, I think
you’ll find some way to escape. You’ll not die with a
Perplexed, Loriden leaned back against the cave
wall, taking comfort in the rough cool stone as he
pondered the Old Prophet’s words. Hope welled up in
him at the confidence of his friend.
His reverie was interrupted as raucous laughter
wafted over from where Niklos knelt by a cauldron
bubbling over a fire. By the smell, some sort of meat
was boiling, possibly a brace of rabbits, and Loriden’s
stomach sounded in protest. Somehow, Niklos had been
elected as the cook or this group, and again Loriden had
to wonder how they knew so much about the Plains-
man, and his abilities. When was the last time he had
eaten? Had it been that morning? He recalled only a
few handfuls of trail mix at first light, and that had long
ago been exhausted in the grueling, rocky trek. Loriden
hungrily watched as his betrayer spooned out a taste of
the meat and sampled it, and then as he smiled broadly
and gestured for the others to begin.
They did so greedily. Niklos filled their bowls
quickly, and then his own, and without even a glance
his way sat with his back towards him and feasted.
Decnar waved his plate away. From his vantage
point on a nearby rock he watched the proceedings.
He didn’t trust the Plainsman, with all his
abilities and usefulness he had never trusted him. Sure,
he had handed over the prisoners, but what choice did
he have? He doubted Niklos had ever planned to bring
the prisoners to The Prince, and more than likely was
just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And what had
happened to the score of Decnella he’s sent to bring
him back? The Plainsman had said he never saw them,
and he certainly couldn’t have bested them- resourceful
as he was-. Something else was at work here, maybe
something to do with the prisoners. He tilted his head
and focused intently on the cliff side. Like most
Decnella, his eyes were limited, but by forcing his eyes
to focus on the color spectrum, he was rewarded when
two wavy gray outlines came into view, right where
Niklos had left them. He could have just emitted a
sonar click, and then their shapes would have instantly
lit up in brilliant hues of red, blue and green. He would
have seen them clearer that a human could see in
daylight, but then that might alert the Plainsman he was
checking up on him. Better to let him think he was back
in good graces. Plus, the two hidden Decnella just
beyond the bushes would sound an alarm if something
was amiss. He would have to make sure they too were
He let himself relax, he had the prisoners, two
additional guards, and they were deep in their own
territory. What could go wrong?
Soon after the meal the Decnella drifted off to
find places to sleep. Nocturnal creatures, this was
normally the time they were most active, but the march
in daylight had depleted their reserves. Unaccustomed
to focusing of their eyes in daylight, coupled with
traveling on their legs instead of using their wings had
taxed them heavily. Two went on sentry duty, others
stretched out on the ground, and many more took wing
and perched upside down high in the cliffs above the
two prisoners, wrapping their wings around their bodies
like blankets. Niklos rolled out his own blanket and
after stretching out looked to have drifted off. The night
became quiet except for the occasional scuffling of the
sentry’s feet or an occasional snore from Niklos.
Decnar still perched on a rock where he could
see both Niklos and the captives, refusing to fully let
down his guard. One night’s rest was a small price to
pay for the reward tomorrow would bring, and those
greedy thoughts warmed his thin blood.
Let the soldiers sleep. He thought to himself, After all,
I’m the one who will deliver the men to Prince Polluck!
“Thunk!” His thoughts were interrupted as
something heavy fell into the rocks behind him. Leap-
ing up, he turned and clicked into the darkness, his bat
senses painting him a brilliant picture of what his eyes
couldn’t see. All seemed normal; nothing was out of
Must be nothing, he thought, returning slowly to
his perch, pushing a nagging doubt from his subcon-
scious. Soon his pulse returned to normal, and he let his
thoughts wander; he was making a grand entrance with
the prisoners, approaching Polluck’s throne, delivering
“Thunk!” There it was again!
This time he drew his sword and began slowly
moving toward the sound- all of his senses on alert. He
stepped a few paced, clicked, and then stepped again,
careful and cautious. Reaching the cliff, he looked
down and dimly saw two forms lying battered against
the rocks. With a warning flashing in his mind he
clicked, and just as he thought the forms of two
Decnella flashed into focus. Hearing a commotion from
above, he glanced up just in time to leap out of the way
as another of his soldiers fell heavily on the rock just
where he had been standing. He heard its bones snap as
its wings jutted out in awkward angles.
One name came to his mind…
He began to raise an alarm, at least to warn the
sentries, but never uttered a syllable. A dagger slid
deftly between his chest and shoulder plate, easily
piercing his thin skin and piercing his heart. The
warning never came. Not that it would have mattered,
all the Decnella were dead, overcome by the poison
Niklos slipped into the pot.
The trio ran into the dawn of the new morning.
Although no-one would know who poisoned the
Decnella, they doubtless would be missed, and Polluck
would mount a search for their killers; with a good heat
start the men would be far away before that happened.
Loriden still felt a little ashamed that he could
have thought so evil of Niklos. When he had come to
cut their bonds, he seemed genuinely hurt that they
thought he would give them to Polluck.
"I would do many things for money, but I would
never give you over to them." He had said.
“It was all part of my plan. I waited until the
food was ready. Then, in order to gain their trust, I ate
last. Yet I leaned when I was living among them that
they are terribly allergic to coix seed. I actually found
out on accident, well; let’s just say it was kind of an
accident.” Niklos broke off as he reflected how much of
the truth he should tell. With a shrug he went on, “Not
bad tasting stuff really, sorta sweet to me but they can’t
seem to detect it. I secretly poured the hidden poison in
my sleeve into the pot. Not even Decnar, saw me- the
rest was easy. My only fear was the two guard watching
you wouldn’t be affected, but when I saw a Decnella
leaving with two bowls I knew I was good.”
Loriden noticed the oily grin was back. Could
he ever trust this Plainsman?
Obviously proud of himself, he finished his story. “I
chose a slow poison, knowing that they’d die in the
Thorston and Loriden looked at each other
doubtfully. Even when Niklos was telling the truth, his
overall demeanor was that of a ‘hawker’ selling his
wares. You wanted to trust him…really wanted to… it
was just hard to. One thing was certain though; Niklos
had saved their lives. But why had he been living with
the Decenlla? That story would have to wait for a better
time, not that Thorston or Loriden thought they would
ever get the truth.
Shortly after sunrise the three men slipped into
the swamps and began the last portion of their journey.
But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpre-
tation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy
from the faith.
Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcer-
ers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like
manner with their enchantments.
I have known good men with whom I shall never be
thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at least,
we shall agree best on earth when they go their way and
I go mine.
The Sorcerers Swamp
They traveled most of the day, stopping only
when the shadows grew long and the darkness closed in
on every side. Earlier in the day, they had occasionally
heard the Decnella passing high overhead, but since
about noon the clicking above the treetops had ceased,
leading them to believe that either Niklos’s work had
still not yet been discovered or else they had passed too
deep into the swamp for them to follow. Still, there was
a sense of danger about the pace, and none in the trio
felt safe enough to build a fire; no-one even mentioned
it. So each man ate his meal cold in silence, their eyes
glued to the encroaching swamp. It was a damp, cool
place, with shallow pools of water broken by dank
muddy earth, which sucked at boots and made walking
difficult. Long strands of ivy hung down from the trees
like fluorescent green serpents, and tree roots lay
exposed above ground like wooden spider webs. And
everywhere something moved, creeped, crawled or
flew. As they settled for the night, they lay in a circle,
and thought tired from the long journey wouldn’t have
thought to all sleeping at once- even with the staff on
watch. As it was they weren’t quite comfortable with
only one awake, but after some discussion decided they
would have to risk it- they were too tired for anything
else. Niklos drew first watch, followed by Thorston,
and then finally Loriden.
With a yawn, Loriden lay down and settled into
the moss, next to Thorston, looking up at Niklos’s, who
sat alone staring out into the darkness. Beyond the
Plainsman, he could see mostly darkness, broken only
by what dim, murky moonlight could filter in through
the treetops. What a day. He thought to himself. Only
twenty-four hours earlier he was a prisoner, hungry, and
with little hope of escape. Now they were a day closer
to the goal, and with another adventurer in the party. He
wouldn’t say he trusted Niklos yet, as he wasn’t sure
what motivated the tall, red headed man, but he was
fairly certain the Plainsman wanted out of swamp as
badly as they all did- and so, even if just by sheer
necessity, they were allies. He closed his eyes and with
another yawn began to feel sleep drifting over him. It
hadn’t been a bad day, he decided. But the night would
get worse; the bugs came. As if on a hidden cue, they
came all at once, a swarm descending on the group like
a fog, stinging and biting at their exposed skin. Loriden
jerked awake, slapping and waving at the insects in a
vain attempt to keep them at bay. Exasperated, he
looked to Thorston and motioned toward his staff,
remembering its usefulness in the forest.
Thorston offered no explanation, but shook his
head vigorously in the negative; he either couldn’t- or
wouldn’t- use the magic here. Like Loriden, he swatted
at the biting insects.
Again the plainsman came to their rescue.
Reaching into one of his various pouches he drew out a
container. He quickly unscrewed the lid and rubbed a
salve over his face and hands. With a quick flip of his
hand he tossed it to Loriden, who gratefully caught the
container and reached in; just as quickly pulling his
finger out again in surprise. He felt bile rising in his
throat but clamped his jaws together, refusing to let his
He had smelled some noxious things in his life;
the stables, rancid food, waste, and even things in the
Barrens he didn’t know the name to. But this was by
far the worst. It had a strong vinegary smell, yet with an
unmistakable scent of decay and death. Yet not just
simple death, but a death so strong it was like you were
in the middle of it. He felt a slight tug and found
Thorston pulling it from his hand. His face contorted
slightly as he inhaled the rank fumes. His expression
turned first to surprise, and then quickly to confusion as
he stared at the container in the dimness. To Loriden’s
surprise, the Prophet reached into the container and
mimicked what Niklos had done. He leaned close,
“It has magical properties. I’m not sure where
the Plainsman ‘found’ it, but a powerful mage created
it- and not as a bug repellant!”
He held out the container for him.
He gingerly reached out and again grasped the
small clay jar. Ignoring the odor, he held his breath and
quickly smeared a little on his face and hands. Finally
he had to exhale. As he inhaled he readied himself for
the abhorrent stench, but to his dismay found it almost
scentless. He shrugged his shoulders at the Prophet in
Thorston couldn’t explain, at least not in full,
and especially to one who knew so little of the magic.
The truth was the salve was a creation of darkness, and
Loriden’s first reaction had been correct. It was death.
Not true death, but so close that anything lacking a
certain degree of intelligence would think you were
dead- or at least not alive. The Prophet assumed a dark
conjurer had created the balm of decay- more than
likely to gain access to things that shouldn’t be dis-
turbed. But if they were, he would pass as a creature
from the grave. It might come in handy. That is, if the
scatterbrained fool didn’t use it all as bug repellant.
The two men slept, and for all practical appear-
ances dead to the world.
The next morning it was a bedraggled but well
rested group that continued eastward. The swamp
seemed to fight against them; leading them into bogs,
grappling with them, clawing at their feet. The mud
constantly pulled at their boots, and each step was like
pulling your foot from a pail of molasses.
Slowly the ground changed. Loriden first
noticed that the watery pools became less frequent and
smaller, and then the mud seemed to thin, actually
drying on their boots at times. Finally, the moss began
giving way to grass; sparse at first, but thicker and
thicker as they moved along until they were traipsing
on a bed of it. Yet a strange change came over
Thorston, as the swamp grew firmer he quickened the
pace- almost to a run. At first, Loriden attributed it to
his wanting to make up for lost time, but as the hours
dragged on he realized it was much more. Thorston,
moved like a man possessed, as if chased by something
he couldn’t shake. His eyes darted to and fro as he
strode along, his long strides never faltering.
They entered a clearing and Thorston allowed
them one of the few rests they had all day. They were
all breathing heavily and drenched with sweat.
He seemed to have calmed down. "We’re only a
few miles to Hopguurd. I think we should push on!"
"The gates will be locked at dark." Niklos
responded between gulps of air.
"Still, I think the closer we get to the gates the
safer we’ll be. What do you think Loriden?"
He thought for a moment. They hadn’t seen
anything dangerous in the swamps, but something was
bothering the Prophet. Pitching camp close to men was
a comforting thought. "I say we press on." He an-
"Very well, it is time we get going then. We
Whatever Thorston was about to say was
interrupted by a deep, savage growl coming only a few
feet from where they sat. Loriden felt warm breath on
his neck and slowly twisted to face the new threat and
found himself staring into the face of not one- but two
dog-like heads. Their mouths were crammed with razor
sharp teeth, and the heads connected to the muscular
doglike body by thick powerful necks. Behind the two
headed dog was a second of the same kind, and behind
that a man holding their leashes.
It could have been Thorston’s twin brother. He
was old, gray headed, and bearded, with similar facial
features and build. Yet he was also unlike Thorston in
that he dressed in all black, his shiny satin robe stretch-
ing from his neck in one piece all the way to the tops of
his ebony boots. Only his neck and hands had color, a
pale sickly hue- as if his skin was to thin and stretched
too tightly over the bones. Clutched in his right hand
was a dark gnarled, wooden staff, and to Loriden’s
surprise topped with a black stone. The wood twisted
about the gem, as if it held it against its will- and even
from his distance Loriden could sense its power. It
pulsed, but instead of radiating light it sucked it in like
a hole. His eyes looked past him to where Thorston sat
transfixed, filled with cruelty and anger.
"Well, well, I never thought I would see you
again Thorston." He spat out the name with vehemence.
"And I never thought I would see you again Dalchis."
Both men studied each other for a long minute,
the dogs growled ominously, seemingly content to look
menacing- for now at least. Then Dalchis broke out in a
high pitched laugh. "So, this is the great Thorston, first-
chair of Estralin! This is what happens when you follow
God!" He cackled again.
Thorston blanched at his stinging rebuke, partly
because in his case it was true. Had he become so
weak? He looked at himself; at his torn filthy clothes,
small milky white stone, and all his doubts. He was a
pitiful sight, especially compared to Dalchis. The black
Prophet emanated power and no doubt had given
himself totally to evil since their last meeting. Yet his
abandonment had unlocked the myriad powers of
darkness, a striking contrast to what he had become.
True, he had chosen to follow God, but his faith had
become so weak- so small- that he was only a shadow
of his former self.
It was then he realized the truth. I can’t defeat
him. He’s too powerful.
The prophet looked quickly at his companions.
This is what he had been trying to avoid, the most
dangerous part of the journey, and he felt remorse they
would have to part here. But it couldn’t be helped, and
perhaps his sacrifice was something to be remembered -
something worth dying for.
He leapt into action. "RUN!" He shouted as a
bolt of lightning leapt from his staff and hit Dalchis full
in the chest. The unexpected assault was so effective
that Dalchis was thrown backwards and momentarily
paralyzed. Had Thorston been able to immediately
follow up, he may have been able to defeat the Black
Prophet. However the dogs, freed from their master’s
grasp, attacked the party, robbing him of the opportuni-
ty to press the advantage.
"Run!" he yelled again, fending off the first dog
with his staff. Loriden barely rolled free of the snapping
jaws as it lunged.
He replied a single word. “NO.” and charged in-
to the fray. The dog was fully focused on Thorston, its
heads spread out wide from one another. By doing so it
was able to snap from two distance angles, like two
separate dogs, and Thorston was hard pressed in those
first two moments to counter. Only by gripping his staff
in the middle could he counter both dogs at once, but it
also limited his ability to use magic.
Loriden charged in from the side, and although
he didn’t know it from its blind side. Unable to use a
more complicated maneuver, he simply raised his
sword and brought it down like using an axe splitting
cordwood. What the stroke lacked in finesse was more
than made up for in strength, and his powerful arm and
shoulder muscles drove the sword halfway through the
animal. It yelped in pain, both of its head whipped
back at the shock and wavered a moment, and then it
fell heavily to the dirt, opening the way for the second
to engage him. He jerked his sword free just in time to
parry its jaws as it snapped for his neck.
Loriden spun away and regained his footing just
to have a powerful blast hurl him backwards and off his
feet. Energy crackled and popped as he hit the ground
and fought to regain his breath. The black wizard had
recovered, and was beginning an attack of his own.
Loriden was lucky the black wizard had only re-
covered enough to fire off a quick spell. Had he had the
time to fully focus his power, the energy would have
never been turned aside by his breastplate. Instead, the
energy would have burned through it like butter; he
would be dead.
Thorston’s staff responded, and with a loud
“pop” launched an energy bolt of his own. It sped
across the field where Dalchis- now fully prepared-
deflected it with a wave of his hand, sending it harm-
lessly into the night sky. Now it was Dalchus’s turn,
and he flung a ball of fire back across the clearing. The
war of the prophets had begun.
Loriden was far too busy to watch. The dog
lunged at him again; its twin heads striking for his
exposed neck. He tried to bring up his sword to block
the creature but his arms were still too numb. He dug in
his heels and tried to scoot back, yet his legs had no
strength and all he could do was a feeble kick into the
creatures snapping maw. He was helpless, and time was
The animal sensed its victory. Its opponent was
on its back, feeble trying to get away, unable to use its
shiny stick. Seizing the initiative, the dog prepared to
spring on top of the human. It hunched down on
powerful leg muscles and retracted its heads, and then it
leapt, fully expecting to land on its chest where it could
tear out the creature’s soft neck- what actually happed
Niklos had been in the read when all the
fighting started, stunned by the sudden flashes of power
from the two Prophets. Not unaccustomed to such overt
magic, he had been temporarily rooted in place as the
Prophets moved off, seeking favorable positions in
which to battle from. He looked back just in time to see
Loriden fall, and then to lie helplessly before the
Magic he wasn’t so sure of, but this he under-
stood. He jumped over Loriden, spinning in midair and
throwing out a leg as his father had taught him. As
expected, his flying foot caught the leaping creature full
in the face, and with such speed and power the animal
was thrown backwards where it landed and rolled a
couple of times. In a blur the enraged animal was back
on its feet, and the smiling Plainsman met it with a
dagger in each hand. The battle was on.
Behind him, volleys of lightning, frost and cold
continued streaking back and forth across the clearing.
Yet Loriden lay like a defenseless child in the
midst of it all. Mustering his determination he willed
his numb legs to support his weight, and was relieved
when he was standing- although wobbly- on his two
feet. In another moment a prickly stinging feeling
rushed into his legs and hands, so strong he had to hold
his breath so he wouldn’t cry out. It was like every inch
of his skin was stung at the same time, and he almost
fell, but then as quickly as it came it left, and he was in
full control once again. And just in time.
Thorston wasn’t doing very well. At best he was
reduced to deflecting Dalchus’s attacks, and only
loosed his own magic to keep the Black Wizard at bay.
Then disaster struck. As Loriden looked on a bolt
slipped past Thorsten’s defenses. His face contorted in
agony as bluish green sparks bit into him, whirling
about him like a miniature tornado of green and blue,
burning and biting at the exposed skin. It lasted several
seconds, and when it dissipated Thorston fell to his
knees. Dalchus quickly followed up, and only
Thorston’s training and fortitude granted him the
resolve to force his contorted arm muscles to lift his
staff and parry the coming fireball. It struck with
enough force to knock him onto his back, and he lay
staring up into the starlit sky. Faintly he heard the
fireball exploding in the tree line.
Dalchus had won; and reveling in the victory he
walked slowly toward his defeated opponent, his staff
resonating with renewed power, his hair and robe rising
and whipping on waves of energy from his black stone.
“What a pity. I had expected more from you.”
He said in a voice dripping with contempt.
Thorston tried to raise his white staff, but the
feeble attempt was nothing more than a token to his
defeat. As he lay there with his robe in tatters, his white
stone barely radiating a thin light, Dalchius responded
by stomping on his hand, effectively pinning it- along
with the staff- against the blackened grass.
I have to help Thorston! Loriden thought.
Niklos was easily holding his own against the two
headed creature; looking as if he were enjoying it
really, and was so quick and agile that he could strike
the creature almost at will. And although his cuts and
slices did not inflict terrible damage, he was wearing
the creature down.
But they were directly between him and
Thorston! And there was no way he could get past them
to help his friend. In desperation he spied the mercenary
bow which had fallen when he was thrown to the
ground. Picking it up, he reached into the quiver on his
back and was relieved to find several arrows still in the
I wonder how you use this thing?
He placed an arrow on the string and drew it
back. The arrow wobbled and nearly slipped off the
string as he fought to keep it notched. He looked down
the shaft and sighted in on Dalchius, who, as he
watched, transformed his staff into a back sword. It all
seemed easy enough. Then he let go. The string hit him
on the forearm and the arrow dropped at his feet.
“What are you waiting for?” Niklos urged, having
noticed Thorston’ predicament.
“I’m trying!” Loriden shot back, notching an-
other arrow and sighting down the shaking shaft.
Niklos moved to the side, drawing the creature
out of the line of sight, trying to give Loriden a clear
With the loud “twang” the arrow flew from the
bow, turned sharply downward, and struck the dog’s
pay not five feet away. The animal yelped in pain.
Loriden’s frustration mounted as Niklos again glided
between him and the animal, shielding him.
"Draw your sword!" Niklos hollered.
“What?” Loriden shouted back, still holding the
Niklos didn’t have time to explain, and the next
instant he executed a backwards flip, easily clearing the
big Westerner and jerking the bow from his hands as he
passed, before landing softly on his feet.
Loriden’s jaw dropped in bewilderment. In an
instant he had went from a relatively secure position to
facing an enraged, monstrous dog. He hesitated; the
creature didn’t, and as it leapt he pummeled it in the
face with the pummel of his sword. The dog, already
weak from the loss of blood, retreated and bared its
teeth. Circling warily, it looked for a weakness.
Loriden snuck a peek over the field as he circled
slightly to the left, gaining some elevation over his
opponent. Thorston lay face down, his power drained,
weakly trying to rise up to his knees. Dalchis stood over
him, and as he watched, the Dark Wizard’s staff
transformed into a black sword. He raised it above the
helpless Thorston just the dog, sensing Loriden’s
preoccupation, lunged for his throat. Loriden caught the
movement from the corner of his eye and fell to a knee,
at the same time rising his sword point.
The creature realized its mistake, but too late, and
unable to reverse its course impaled itself on the thin
Loriden held the grip as the wounded creature
fell lifelessly to the ground, the light fading simultane-
ously from all eyes. It was dead. One quick jerk and his
sword was free. He spun and began sprinting toward his
friend. But he was too late, as he looked on Dalchus’s
sword began its downward arch, a look of maddened
glee radiating from the Black Wizard’s face.
Just then a thin dark shape bolted past his
shoulder, closely followed by the familiar "twang" of a
bowstring: Niklos had loosed an arrow. The black
feathered shaft flew true, slowly revolving as it neared
the mark. Dalchis caught the movement, and with only
a speed spurred by magic, he deftly redirected the
killing strike. His razor sharp blade met the arrow at the
tip, cleaving the shaft in two, and causing the pieces to
fly harmlessly by. He stood triumphantly, his sword
still in position. He had won again, and his eyes bore
into both the men as if in silent challenge.
Undaunted, Niklos spoke, “That was a nifty
move.”In a single fluid movement he notched another
arrow and let fly…then another… and another.
Dalchius met them all. In a masterful display his
sword danced through the air, and with each movement
an arrow split or was deflected to fly harmlessly
onward. It was uncanny, a man his age couldn’t move
that fast! And yet he did. Finally, Niklos reached down
and grasped empty air, he was out of arrows.
Loriden realized his mistake. He had been so
riveted on watching the exchange he failed to follow
up. Yet he doubted that in that few seconds he could
have closed the distance to the Black Prophet, especial-
ly running through the hail of arrows, yet he couldn’t
stand idly by and do nothing. In a single leap he cleared
the dog and raced toward Dalchus, his legs pumping as
he brought up his sword and issued a Western war cry.
Now Dalchus went on the offensive. His black
sword transformed back into a staff and he pointed it
toward the charging figure. His mouth began muttering
the arcane language and the tip of his staff exploded in
blue flame. He would enjoy this, and took his time, the
blue flame swelled as if ready to burst, and still he
chanted, piling additional magic into the staff. His face
contorted with the ecstasy of victory, and he reveled in
the power of meting out death.
Niklos dropped to his knees. There was only a
moment, and already he feared he was too late. But if
there was any hope of saving himself, or the crazy
Westerner, he had to try. His fingers closed around the
arrow Loriden had dropped earlier. He threw up his
arm, sighted quickly on the blue rimmed wizard, and let
fly. Even as it left he knew it was off mark and slightly
behind. It was a strange moment for him. Every nerve
in his body said to fly, to save himself, but as he
glanced back over the field; to the pained expression of
Thorston, bathed in blue, as he looked meekly on from
where he lay- to exhausted to move; to the form of the
noble Westerner as he charged into certain death, he
just couldn’t run. Not this time.
Thorston wanted the pain to end. He blissfully
felt unconsciousness began to steal his vision; the pain
lessoned and was replaced with a glorious numbness.
Time slowed until it seemed he was watching every-
thing happen in slow motion. Loriden charged over the
field as if he ran through water and just behind him the
slim silhouette of the Plainsman, all bathed in the eerie
blue light radiating from the end of the staff. As if
through water he faintly heard Dalchius reciting the last
line of the lightning spell- a bolt that would burn
straight through the man he had brought this far. He
had only a few seconds, but that was all he would need.
He willed himself back into the present, and like
a lightning bolt the pain returned. But so did his aware-
Ignoring the raw agony, he reached down and
snatched the dagger from his boot. It wasn’t made as a
weapon, more for skinning rabbits, but it would do. He
sucked in his breath and gathering his strength, drove it
deep into Dalchius’s thigh just as he muttered the last
word of the spell.
With a scream, Dalchis lurched backwards and
right into the path of an arrow. The bolt of lightning
intended for the plainsman streaking harmlessly into the
A moment later Loriden slid to Thorston side.
His eyes had closed, and his breath came in ragged
gasps from between ashen lips. He was still alive; but
“Where’s Dalchius? Niklos asked, arriving at the scene
and looking to more practical matters.
“I don’t know! I thought he was dead.” Loriden
replied quickly, still cradling the white prophet in his
lap as he tried forcing a little water between his parched
lips. It was useless; Thorston was too weak to even
Niklos’s critical eyes scanned the dark clearing,
and he quickly located the black robed prophet at the
opposite tree line It was only a silhouette in the soft
moonlight, but he was certain it was Dalchius hobbling
away, leaning heavily on a staff, trying to escape.
Gripping his daggers tightly he began forward toward
the Black Wizard. He made it only a step before
Loriden brought him to a stop.
“We need to get him some help. “ He said,
nodding at Thorston in emphasis, and then seeing the
Plainsman’s expression guessed his intent. “Leave him
be, now’s not the time. “We’re going to have to-“
“I say it’s time.” Niklos answered slowly.
A slow, half animal-half human wail drifted
across the clearing, "Ahooooooooo!"
“What’s he doing?” Niklos asked.
Wolves answered- some sounding alarmingly close,
others far away. Their wails rose in pitch and then
"Run!" Loriden shouted as he grabbed Thorston
and threw him over his shoulder. Niklos didn’t wait,
and leading the way sped toward a gap in the trees
opposite the black prophet. As they sped down the trail,
the barking and howling increased behind them. All at
once it increased in tempo, and they both knew they
had picked up their scent. They bolted recklessly
through the darkness, hoping the trail didn’t veer
abruptly and that the way was clear. It was, but still
with every step the barking grew louder. Thorston
began to grow heavy, and Loriden started falling
behind, his pace slackening. He wasn’t about to leave
Thorston behind, but the truth was evident; he wasn’t
going to make the city. They had just broken into a
large, broad meadow when he skidded to a halt.
"Niklos!" There was no reply. He couldn’t
really blame the Plainsman if he ran on. They had
known each other for just a short while, and he could
understand him not wanting to die this way.
He dropped Thorston to the ground and panting
heavily, turned and drew his sword. Is it going to end
like this? He wondered as he waited, all alone, torn
apart by dogs?
Just then a shadow joined him. Turning, his eyes
lightened on the tall thin form of the plainsman, his
twin daggers glimmering in the moonlight. He stood
resolute, looking toward the sound of the hounds, his
blades twirling about his fingers in nervousness. With a
smirk he glanced Loriden’s way, and back was the easy
smile Loriden was learning to accept. There was clearly
more to this man than first met the eye.
The first animals burst into view. They came
like black shadows from the wood line. Without
breaking stride they charged across the clearing. In ten
seconds they would be on them. Loriden recognized the
same two headed beasts they had fought earlier, mixed
within a pack of more wolfish looking creatures- black
furred beasts with long snouts. Five seconds now, both
men braced themselves. Two seconds. They could hear
the breathing of the animals; the closest one sailed off
the ground, its red rimmed eyes locked on Niklos.
The air came alive with arrows. They originated
from somewhere behind them and to their right. One
brushed uncomfortably close to Loriden, but struck the
closest wolf head-on, its metallic barb driving deeply
into its neck. Niklos ducked and it sailed by, mortally
wounded. Hope welled up with the men as the archers
continued their deadly work. As he looked on, a two
headed dog was pierced by no less than three arrows at
one time, and the beast couldn’t even yelp so quick was
their work. The clearing was in disarray as the creatures
darted about looking for their attackers, charging one
way only to be pierced from another direction. Loriden
and Thorston hadn’t drawn blood, and were all but
It didn’t take long. In less than a minute from
the time it began the volley abruptly ended. A few of
the creatures limped around, but from the darkness a
couple of well placed shots ended their suffering.
Silence descended upon the clearing. A cricket began
chirping, it was joined by a lone frog, and then as the
minutes wore on the chorus began anew; the normal
sounds of the forest, oblivious to the carnage in the
Loriden and Niklos waited hesitantly, knowing
that whatever had saved them could see them far better
in the dark than they could. They stood back to back,
each peering intently into the darkness; grateful they
were still alive but fearful of what they couldn’t see.
A voice spoke close-by, causing Loriden and
Niklos to jump in surprise.
"Are you all right?" The voice sounded human,
but where was he? Was he invisible?
As if in answer a torch was lit and illuminated
not a single man, but a large company of archers,
dressed in black robes and hoods. With their faces and
hands painted black, it was no wonder they blended
perfectly into the shadows.
"Thanks for the help." Loriden finally stam-
A man spoke, his voice rough and country
sounding. "We saw the lights in the clearin’ and came
to investigate. Good thing we did.”
"You saved our lives.” Loriden replied.
“Think nothing of it.” Came the slow reply.
“One of our party is hurt, Do you think you
could take us to Hopguurd?"
“Of course,” The man answered, “the Governor
is already expecting you!”
And among the cities which ye shall give unto
the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye
shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither:
and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.
Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of
refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which
killeth any person at unawares.
And they shall be unto you cities for refuge
from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he
stand before the congregation in judgment.
Numbers 35: 6-12
The City of Hopguurd
The next morning Loriden awoke to find Thorston
alive. He looked pale and drawn, but he was breathing.
He pulled a chair next to the cot and sat down.
As he waited for him to waken, he pulled the
crystal from around his neck and set it spinning on its
chain. As it twirled, he watched the light dance off the
facets and rehearsed all that had transpired since he
found it in the tower. More than ever he was certain that
God was watching over him; even drawing him to
whatever lay at the end of his journey. To come through
all he had been through and still be alive, it was a
miracle. But here he was, only a few miles from his
A female voice interrupted his thoughts, "Sir,
Governor Milo is asking to see you." She stood directly
behind him, wearing the white robes of a healer.
“However," she went on almost apologetically, "It
would be better if you would…clean up first." Loriden
felt his face grow hot as he blushed self consciously,
knowing he looked and smelled terrible.
“I would but…“ He went on a little hesitantly,
motioning toward Thorston.
“He’ll be fine. “ She assured him, taking him by
the hand and leading him toward the door.
She guided him down the hallway and into a
private room in which sat a large tub filled with water.
After showing him where he could put his clothes, she
left him alone. He lifted the large pot from where it
hung over the fire, carried it over the cold stone floor,
and poured the steaming water into the cold tub.
Testing it with a finger, he was pleased to find it was
quite warm, almost hot. Stepping out of the crisp air
and into the steaming tub, he let the warmth of the
water seep into his bones and sooth his countless
scrapes, bites, and sores. The minutes past blissfully,
then just as the water began to cool he reached out and
grasped the strong soap from off the nearby table.
Lathering up his hair and upper body, he began scrub-
bing his skin, the water quickly turning brown as the
miles of grime washed away. It was blissful, and
leaning back Loriden let all the worry and care slip
The door opened, and he opened his eyes a slit
to spy an old woman shuffling into the room. She
retrieved his old clothes, pinching them disdainfully
between two gnarled fingers and dropped them into a
basket. Then reaching into a burlap sack, she pulled out
new garments and replaced what she had taken. With-
out a word, or even a glance his way, she turned and
hobbled back to the door.
He finished rinsing off and stood to dry himself.
The cobblestone chilled his feet as he began trying on
the new clothing, and to his pleasure found that most of
it fit pretty well. The fresh garments made him feel like
a new man.
“We made it!” He said aloud. “We made it.”
"So Loriden Ulrich, why have you come to
The self appointed governor of Hopguurd,
Ratman Milo, interlaced his fingers and scowled down
his long crooked nose at the young man before him. He
was the most powerful man in the city, and with his
uncanny ability to make alliances when he needed to, it
was only logical he take charge. Bringing the other
factions into line had been a bloody affair, but it had
paid off handsomely. With his cunning and political
savvy he had thus far buffered the city from both
Sotthem and Polluck, no small task.
"We've traveling to the Forbidden Wood."
Ratman's raised his thick black eyebrows in
surprise. "Strange destination. Why are you going?"
"Our purpose is out own."
The governor sat thoughtfully. He was a shrewd
and clever man, but not particularly cruel. Still, he kept
alive by knowing what men were doing, or not doing.
It’s time to shake him up.
He leaned forward as he spoke. "So you're a
mercenary? Tell me, what clan do you represent?"
Loriden was caught in a clever trap. Frankly, he
had no idea about the organization or the relationships
of mercenaries. Ratman saw his discomfort, then after a
minute or two of uncomfortable silence, pressed his
"You really didn’t think you would fool any of
us with your disguise, did you?” He laughed, and
several others in the room joined in the merriment;
dangerous men, wearing swords and with the aura of
men who knew how to use them. Many were mercenar-
ies, he could tell by their armor.
Ratman continued, “To answer my own question,
you’re wearing the armor of several clans- clans that
are at war with one another."
He watched Loriden closely as he spoke, and
although his shoulders slumped he continued to meet
his stare. After a deep breath the young man began his
story, recounting their crossing into The Wilds, their
flight through Oshgar, rescuing Niklos, their capture,
and the confrontation with Dalchius in the Sorcerers
"Ahhh, which explains the Plainsman who came
in with you. My guards thought he looked familiar, and
even told him so. However it seems he has.... disap-
peared.” He scowled, wondering if Loriden knew more
than he let on.
Oh no, Loriden thought to himself, what trouble
is he into now?
Ratman’s homely face broke into a crooked grin
easing the tension in the hall. He loved getting to the
truth with people- especially when he could use his
wits. He was certain the young man had been truthful,
and although he still hadn’t revealed their purpose for
their long journey, he didn’t have to know what was
hidden within men's hearts, only their intentions.
"Listen Loriden," he said, leaning forward and
assuming a more friendly tone. "It’s no secret that
Dalchis and I don't get along. So in wounding him you
helped me. Please enjoy my city, and when you are
ready to go, you’re free to leave."
And with those words the meeting was over.
Thorston eyes fluttered open and darted around
the room, finally focusing on Loriden as he sat on the
edge of the bed.
"Well, I see we made it." He said in a horse,
"Yes, we did.” Loriden said cheerfully. “And I
have to say, we would have never made it past Dalchis
The Old Prophets eyes misted over at the
mention of Dalchis and a shadow passed over his
features. Loriden couldn’t stand it any longer.
"Who is he?”
"You still don’t know? Do you?" He was
stunned the astute youth hadn’t pieced it all together.
No matter. It was time to reveal the truth, and if
Loriden hated him for it; so be it.
"I was one of them that hid away the magic
Loriden.” He paused to give him time to digest the
“I figured as much.” Loriden replied.
“But there’s more. “ Thorston continued. “I was the one
who first thought about collecting the seeker stones. I
turned our focus from helping people to helping our-
"But I'm sure your intentions were noble."
Loriden said, not willing to think evil of him.
Thorston scoffed, "Noble? What’s noble about
persecuting those who wanted to seek God! No, it
wasn't noble, it was pride!"
His face softened a little, but Loriden could still
hear the bitterness in his tone, "I saw the error of my
ways… but too late. Men like Dalchis had grown too
accustomed to power. They wouldn’t listen to me and
tried to seize the throne.” Thorston had to stop and
compose himself. Before going on “In the days that
followed everything was destroyed... the school, the
prophets, even my..." He couldn't continue.
"Your family." Loriden finished.
"My family," he said sadly. Then, to Loriden's
surprise, he added,
"All except one. My brother survived."
"What? Where is he? I thought you lived alone
on the cape?
“I do Loriden…you see… Dalchis is my broth-
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in
the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in
the openings of the gates:
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the
man that getteth understanding.
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know
is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are
all the greater fools for it.
The Forbidden Forest
Loriden would have to go on alone
Thorston refused to go any further, and instead
seemed to shrivel up into himself, sad and forlorn.
Loriden pleaded, argued and reasoned but to no avail;
he might as well have been talking to the door. He had
one small comfort however as Thorston promised to
stay in Hopguurd until he returned. It had not been an
easy task to even get that concession from the stubborn
old Prophet, but Loriden was adamant that he wouldn’t
go on without it. Thorston reluctantly agreed.
So with a heavy heart, Loriden stepped out of
the healing hall into the crisp early afternoon, embark-
ing on the last leg of the journey: the Forbidden Wood.
When he asked what he should be looking for in the
forest, Thorston had replied with the same cryptic
“Don’t worry, what you’re looking for will find
Typical, Loriden had thought.
Now as he buckled his saddle into place he
wondered what the day would bring. Part of him was
excited, hopeful at the possibilities of finding someone-
or something- that would answer his question. Yet part
of him held back. What if he didn’t like the answer?
What if it wasn’t what he expected?
Only one way to find out.
The guard on the gate warned him as he gave
“Sure I know where the Forest is. But I tell ya’
it’s haunted. A white sorceress lives there. If I were ya’,
I wouldn’t have anything to do with it, those who enter
HER forest that aren’t ever seen again. “
“Thanks for the advice. “ Loriden replied, his
voice flat. He already battled giants and Dalchus, what
could be worse?
The guard spat on the ground. “Well, don’t say I
didn’t warn ya’. You can’t miss it.” He said, pointing to
the trees just visible in the distance. “The road goes east
three miles, when it turns to the north you’ll be there.”
Loriden nodded his thanks, tightened his grip,
and spurred his mount into a gallop. An autumn chill
tickled his exposed neck as he guided his horse down
the dirt pathway. Each step brought the trees closer
until the trail veered sharply to the north.
He sat for a moment looking out the twenty or
so feet between himself and the tree line. What lay
beyond the tree line? He wondered: A secret book? An
enchanted weapon? A white witch? A hundred possibil-
ities raced through his mind.
But whatever lurked in the shadows, he wasn’t
turning back. He gently urged his horse on and mo-
ments later disappeared into the trees.
The dense branches pulled at him and scratched
his exposed skin. Then a moment later he perpetrated
the trees and the vegetation thinned. He had no sooner
entered the forest when a felt a strange sensation that
something, or someone, was watching him. The forest
was unnaturally silent-too silent: no leaves rustled, no
pinecones fell, no squirrels chattered- nothing but
silence and the muffled sound of his own horses’
footfalls on the soft mossy ground. Yet he couldn't
shake the feeling he wasn't alone. He glanced behind
him and noted nothing but trees and bushes. Was he
just imagining things? He continued on.
After traveling for almost an hour he began to
relax and found himself thinking about his mother and
the stories. Strange, he thought, I haven’t thought about
her for a long time. He could almost smell her perfume,
feel her black hair, and see her blue eyes...
He heard the faint sound from behind him.
Normally a sound that soft would not have attracted his
notice, but this forest was so still it might as well have
been a thunder clap!
He wheeled his steed about, his hand instinc-
tively reaching for his sword. As his hand grasped the
cool leather of the grip he searched the shadows. The
forest was peaceful; nothing out of the ordinary- it was
I’m being followed, he thought, and although he
couldn’t find any evidence, his instinct warned him.
Someone had noticed he was here, probably had know
since his first step into the woods.
He spurred his horse into a slow trot in the
hopes of opening a little distance between him and his
pursuer. His heart pounded in his chest, not in fear, but
in exhilaration- the temporary rush that gives a Soldier
their heightened senses just before battle. It was always
better to face the danger than to run from it.
Ahead he saw a little clearing and quickly
formulated a plan. He veered his horse toward the open
ground. They quickly traversed the grassy oasis, the
scrubby lawn broken only by a single fallen tree, and
just before exiting into the far tree line he deftly slipped
off to the ground. As he fell he slapped the rump of the
horse to keep it moving, but not so hard as to make it
On hands and knees, he quickly crawled back to
the fallen tree, careful to keep it between him and
where he had first entered the clearing. It was an old
piece of timber, and its thick trunk easily hid him as he
crawled. He found a fork where a surviving branch
tottered weakly toward the sky and he nestled into the
natural hollow. After laying his sword against the
wood he waited, his eyes fastened on the place where
his pursuer would likely break the tree line.
A minute passed; two minutes; three. Something
was wrong. If he was being followed his pursuer would
have already come. Unless he was watching when he
dismounted… circled around… was behind him!
Another twig snapped. He spun on a knee and
just faced his attacker when he fell to the forest floor
His eyes fluttered open only to clamp down in
rebellion against the sunlight. With a moan, he shield-
ed his face from the harsh rays which streamed through
the canopy of a forest. His head was muddled as he
tried to remember where he was. His pursuer! It all
came back in a rush along with a sense of danger. He
rolled quickly to his knees, and as he blinked rapidly to
clear his vision he searched the ground nearby for his
He was startled to hear a voice. “Are you
looking for this?" The soft feminine voice came from
nearby, from the same fallen log he was just hiding
behind. His eyes landed on her petite form and quickly
She sat casually on the wood, her knees drawn
up to her chin. A young girl- at least she looked like a
young girl- wearing a white dress, which flowed
unimpeded from her slight shoulders to just above her
bare feet. Her hair was blonde-unnaturally so-, long and
straight, and it fell in a sweeping cascade over her
shoulders and down the full length of her body, stop-
ping just a few inches below her waist. But what caught
him most were her eyes; deep blue, a striking contrast
to her fair complexion, and framed within delicate
features. They flashed with an intensity that put him on
edge. They were the eyes of a sorceress. He would have
said she were beautiful if it were not for those eyes. As
it was, the word that came to mind was; frightening.
She held his long black mercenary sword in both of her
small, delicate hands, cradling it in her lap.
She spoke again, “Why have you come to my
forest, what do you seek?" Her voice was calm and
even, as if asking directions.
Loriden hesitated to answer. Who was she?
Why did she call this ‘Her Forest’? He began to believe
that she was indeed the White Sorceress. But surely she
wasn’t what he was looking for?
"I’m seeking answers."
She began to inspect of the blade, and seemed to
be infatuated with a small nick in the pommel. As she
ran her fingers across the imperfection she asked,
"Answers to what?"
"I don't really know." He stammered.
She looked at him again, and her eyes pinned
him to the spot. Those eyes! Loriden willed himself to
look away but couldn’t. They glowed; the blue of the
iris’s quickly spreading over the pupils and then engulf-
ing the whites.
She spoke again and her voice was deeper,
richer, and every word was accusing. “You travel into a
forbidden forest looking for answers, but you don’t
know the questions?”
It did sound a little silly even to him. He strug-
gled to speak, and finally only after a few failed at-
tempts stammered, "Who are you?”
For a few moments he feared she wouldn’t
answer him, and then the blue orbs dimmed just a little
as she replied. “I have many names. “
“Are you the White Sorceress?”
“Maybe,” She hedged. “I am not so much who I
am, but how men perceive me.”
Loriden struggled to understand but couldn’t
comprehend the riddle.
"Are you… dangerous?"
She laughed; a soft tinkling sound like ice
crystals falling on the cobblestones in winter. But when
she next spoke her voice had taken on a more danger-
"I am many things Loriden Ulrich. To some I
am dangerous; to others I am kind and gentle. It matters
why you’ve come to my forest. Why have you come
His scalp prickled. She knew much more about
him than he let on. He had never told her his name yet
she called him by it. What else did she know? Was she
sent by Sotthem as the ForBeasts had? To stop him
from reaching his destination?
"I’m not sure." He hedged.
The blue eyes blazed again. With a quick flick
of her wrist she threw his sword at his feet. It turned
end over end and stuck point first in the dirt directly in
front of him- the force embedding it almost to the hilt.
She slid easily off the log and stood motionless for a
few moments, almost daring him to reach for the
weapon. He didn’t- really he couldn’t- he was trapped
by those blue blazing orbs.
She smiled, and reaching out her hands wide to
her sides, and as if drawing in power from the forest,
she began to transform. She grew taller by at least two
feet, and where before Loriden looked slightly down at
her, now he looked up into her face. Her hair began to
whip as if tossed about by an unseen tempest, and her
skin shined forth like the noon-day sun, blinding him.
But the eyes were by far the worst, for in an instant they
changed from blue to red, and it was like looking into
pools of fire and blood. He saw his death in them.
Her voice thundered, and although he could still
understand the speech she no longer sounded human.
"Surely you don't expect me to believe you traveled all
this way, Loriden Ulrich, and you don’t know why?"
She stepped toward him.
"Why have you come to my forest, what do you
seek? Why are you here? Tell me!” She demanded.
He dropped to his knees and clutched his head
within both of his hands, shaking as he fought the
waves of fear she exuded.
He felt her entering his mind. She ripped away
his defenses and began to probe through his thoughts.
Memories, feelings, and thoughts long buried flashed
through his mind. Like a book she quickly scanned the
pages as he watched helplessly. He relived his child-
hood; the teasing, the yearning for magic, losing his
mother, and the journey up the tower stairs. Moments
later he was a young man and re-lived the ambush, The
Wastehold, Thorston, and his present Jjourney. And
then finally he saw the present, as if he were a bird,
looking down on himself kneeling before the great
shining lady. And then he knew why he’d come. And
he knew just as well that he couldn’t hide it from her,
she already knew.
“I’m searching for magic, for HIM.” He said.
He felt a slim hand grip his stubble covered
face. It firmly yet delicately lifted his chin up and he
looked into the eyes of the slim girl once again.
"To you," she said, "I am kind."
It will not save me to know that Christ is a
Saviour; but it will save me to trust Him to be my
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if
he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine
in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until
he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his
And when he cometh home, he calleth together
his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice
with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in
heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over
ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and
came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to
In Rebekah’s Tower
He followed her through the forest, her footfalls
silent as she walked barefoot along paths he couldn’t
see, leading him and his horse deeper into the wood.
"Does living here protect you from people?"
"It’s more precise to say that the forest protects
people from me. Those who seek me in truth are
broken; those who seek me falsely are crushed." She
"And do you live here all the time?"
"I live many places, especially the places that
have the greatest need.”
Loriden shook his head in confusion.
She continued sauntering along, her bare feet
leaving light impressions in the spongy ground.
“So it’s all true, all the old stories.”
"Loriden, you said you have questions, it’s best
not to waste time asking questions you already know
the answers to."
"At least tell me your name."
"Ah, another question to which you need no
answer to. But very well, to some, I am called a ghost,
many call me ‘The White Sorceress’, and others know
me as wisdom, but you… you may call me Rebekah."
"Rebekah?" Loriden questioned. That was an
uncommonly, common name. Somehow it didn’t fit.
Yet looking at her, what name would be fitting?
"Does it matter what I’m called? Did you come
seeking a name? Or answers? Call me anything you
wish. But I think the name Rebekah will serve as good
They walked a little while longer before abrupt-
ly breaking through the tree line and into a meadow.
Loriden squinted at the sudden brightness, and then his
eyes alighted on a white tower made of stone, as high as
the trees, and with a small balcony and several large
windows. It was situated directly in the middle of the
circular clearing, surrounded like an island within a sea
of thick grass. It was both simple and elegant at the
She led him through a small archway that served
as the door, down a narrow corridor crafted from the
same white stone, and into a sparsely furnished room
that boasted of only a single table in the center with a
bench on either side. A dining room; at least he thought
so, especially as bread and fruit sat in wooden bowls
upon the table. She sat down gracefully, and then
motioned for him to sit opposite her.
"Eat Loriden; you’ve come a long way."
It was strange but he didn’t feel self conscious
at all in her presence; it was if she were his long lost
sister, a far cry from their first meeting only a few hours
before. He reached for a loaf of bread from the basket,
and then after tearing off a piece offered to do the same
for her. She declined with a simple nod.
She sat with her arms folded and waited patient-
ly, her eyes never leaving him.
Famished, he spread a fruit topping over the
bread and took a bite. It was delicious, as were the
cheeses and various other spreads and delicacies.
All the while she reposed in the same fashion,
watching him intently.
He no sooner finished than she rose to her feet
and said, "Follow me. I have something to show you"
and led him up the winding stairs to the top floor. When
they reached the uppermost platform, Loriden noticed
she stopped at a door void of any handle or keyhole of
any kind; only smooth wood from the floor to the
"Loriden, do you like being different?" She
abruptly asked, running her hand along the smooth
"I don’t know anything else.” He replied
honestly, feeling that same knot in his stomach as he
struggled to understand his feelings. By now he would
have thought he would be used to the loneliness, but
here- in the tower- it was worse somehow.
She placed her arms around his neck. His eyes
widened in surprise as her delicate finger unclasped his
necklace and lifted it off of his neck. The stone spun
slowly from the chain, and after placing it in a small
indention beside the door, she spoke a few soft words.
He could not hear what she said, but the crystal glim-
mered in response and then an unseen lock clicked. The
door swung open.
She raised her hand and barred his way from
entering. "Loriden, through this doorway is what you
have sought for all your life. But I warn you, it would
be better for you to never known the truth, then to know
the truth and reject it. Are you sure you want to enter?"
There was no need to think about his response.
He had sought for this his whole life. He nodded in
affirmation and she stepped to the side, allowing him to
pass through the doorway. Behind him the door imme-
diately closed with a slight click and he found himself
The first thing he noticed was a fire burning in
the hearth. It was a bright, cheerful fire that crackled
and popped as if to welcome him. The second thing he
noticed about the simple room was that it too was
sparsely furnished; the only furnishings being a desk, a
chair, and a bookshelf containing four books.
He stepped cautiously to the bookshelf and read
the book titles: History of the West, History of Man,
History of the Angels, and The Creator's Plan. He
reached out and opened the first volume, his eyes
falling to the familiar script.
Hours passed as he devoured the pages. It was
all he had hoped for, the scraps of information he
already knew began to fit together with the information
in the books like pieces of a puzzle. At times, he
loathed himself as the books described the sinfulness of
his race. Other times, he was thrilled as the past and
future revealed the Creator’s master plan and his love
for all mankind. At some point in the midst of reading-
he couldn’t tell you when- he had sat in the chair, taken
off his armor, piling it haphazardly in the corner.
Yawning, he closed the last page of yet another
book. His eyes burned with fatigue and as he rubbed
them with his hands and wondered. “How long have I
been here?” He wondered. Piles of discarded books
were stacked about the desk, and although there were
always only four on the shelf, they seemed to replenish
themselves. Hours? Days? A week? He had no way of
knowing, and it really didn’t matter, all that mattered
was the next page.
He reached up and drew his hand back as if it
had been burned. Moments before there were four
books on the shelf- he was sure of it- now there was but
one. And even more shocking was the title, it read,
"The history of Loriden."
He quickly scanned the room. The door was still
closed, his armor still lay in an untidy bundle near the
door, and the fire burned unabated in the hearth. No-
one had disturbed him or entered the room. Yet the
book was there. He felt a tingling at the base of his neck
as his fingers closed in around the spine and he pulled it
from the shelf.
Up until that moment, he had felt that all the
books had been written for any man to read; the story of
the Creator to all mankind. Yet this book- there was no
denying it- was written for him alone.
He hesitated, realizing that this volume was the
one Rebekah had warned him about. He knew that once
he opened it he would be responsible for what was
written inside. He opened the cover.
The book began with the narration of his birth,
right down to the midwife’s name and what his mother
was wearing. It went on to describe in detail his child-
hood, his year at the Wastehold, the ambush, and even
his journey with Thorston to the city of Hopguurd. Not
only were the actions recorded, but often times his
feelings also; feelings and thoughts he never told
another living soul. It was as if someone had been
watching him and recording the events of his life it
better than he could even remember it.
He turned another page and found the writing
stopped halfway down the page, it read.
Loriden closed the last page of yet another book
and looked around the room, wondering how long
he had been there. He was startled to find only one
book left. The title read: "The History of Loriden."
He picked up the last book and read a detailed
Chronicle of his life. When he read the last page,
Loriden chose _______________.
The next page was blank, and then the next.
The writing abruptly stopped at the words
Puzzled, he read the words again and again, try-
ing to decipher the purpose of the abrupt ending. A
minute passed as he thought through different possibili-
In a flash it dawned on him; he was supposed to
fill in the last part himself! But what should he write?
He rehearsed all that happened and what he had
Like a flash he knew the answer. He couldn’t
have told you how he knew, but he knew. With a
shaking hand, he picked up the quill on the desk and
wrote the last two words.
"Loriden chose to believe," Then he set down
He experienced a joy he couldn’t put into words
as for the first time in his life he felt complete. I believe.
I believe! He just kept saying it over and over to
himself- I believe. I believe. And he did believe. He had
read the books, and had made a conscious decision to
believe them: God was real, magic was real, and he
believed! He felt The Creator’s presence, like a warm
glow, as he spilled over him and filled the void in his
heart. He wasn’t just touched by the magic, he was
immersed in it! It poured through him, cleansed him,
and then created him again.
And then it was over, leaving him sitting in the
chair feeling satisfied and strangely rejuvenated. His
journey was over. But just as strangely as he felt at
peace he also sensed urgency, as if something was still
left undone. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just a strong one, so
after donning his armor he made ready to leave the
room and find the one person he was sure would
understand; Rebekah. Just as he turned the knob (there
was a knob on the inside of the door) he turned and
looked one last time.
To his surprise the piles of books had disap-
peared, and on the wooden shelf were the same four
volumes that had been there when he first arrived. The
chair was situated just in front of the desk, and the quill
and ink perched just so one the corner of the desk. All
evidence of his time spent there was gone, and every-
thing readied for another lost soul. It made sense.
He pushed open the door, his footsteps echoing
confidently down the hallway as he descended the stairs
and entered the large dining room. He spied Rebekah
through the archway as she stood on the balcony
looking out over the forest, her hair and dress dancing
in the wind. As he approached her she continued
looking away but asked, "Have you been broken?"
"And put back together again." He replied.
She turned to face him, "And have you found
what you sought?"
It was his turn to look out over the forest as he
sought an adequate response- had it always been so
beautiful? "I didn’t know what I sought, but I have
found far more that any man could wish for."
Rebekah reached up and took hold of his face,
turning his so she could look into his eyes. To his
surprise he saw in hers both joy and sorrow.
"Loriden, you cannot say here much longer.
You will find that in this world pleasure is mixed with
pain, refreshment with hunger, and joy with sorrow.
You drank heavily from one cup today, but soon you
will drink of the other. But don't despair, the first is
bottomless, the second is limited."
Without warning, she grasped his temples with
both of her hands. The colors of the tower and forest
swirled. In his mind Loriden flew off of the balcony,
over the grassy meadow, and skimming the treetops
Only then did he realize that Rebekah still held
him. He looked up and she flew just above, her hands
still clutching his temples. Her eyes stared forward, her
long hair trailing backwards as they rushed on. The
Delor Mountains came into view, and he felt the change
as Rebekah turned and began skimming northward
along their rugged peaks. She weaved in and out of
them, and Loriden wondered for an instant what would
happen if they collided with the sharp rocky peaks. Was
he there? Or was he still on the balcony? Either way, he
didn’t want to find out.
He saw the Wastehold, sailed over it, and then
they shot through The Barrens. Bratsilva came and
went so quickly it was only a dot on the horizon and
then it was gone. The approached another city, one that
he instinctively knew was the war city of Sophja. As
they slowed it came into focus and he could make out
details: thick black walls, six large spires spiraling into
the sky, and even soldiers upon the ramparts as they
watched a massive army marching through the gates.
The Eastern Army!
He saw ForBeasts of every description: ogres in
heavy plate armor, Wolf men, Goblins, scores of
mercenaries along with shamans, rogues, and warriors
of every shape and size. He knew why they had come;
to make war on The West, and in great numbers they
blotted out the ground like a black wave stretching to
the horizon. Never could he have imagined such an
From far away, Rebekah’s voice came into his
thoughts, "Sotthem’s Army has already reached Sophja.
Soon they will march on to Bratsilva, and from there
into The West."
“I must warn them Rebekah!” Loriden cried out
"You will.” She said quickly, “That is part of
the reason I brought you here. But first, there is some-
thing else I must show you."
The army faded from view as they glided to a
nearby mountain. A warrior stood on a rocky crag
overlooking the assembly, his eyes shining like burning
coals through the two slits of his iron mask. His thick
muscled arms were crossed across is massive chest, and
although Loriden could not see the breastplate he knew
who he was: Sothem. The great figure tensed as though
he knew they were watching. The iron mask turned and
Loriden found himself looking into the fiery eyes.
“You.” The voice was flat and lifeless, and if
the dead could speak, Loriden heard it in that voice.
The stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils.
Loriden felt his skin prickle with the sense of
danger. The apparitions reached as if to seize him but
Rebekah whisked him away. The black clad warrior
grew smaller and disappeared. They traveled more
quickly than before and in less than a minute the
Forbidden Forest came into view, and then the clearing
along with the tower. For a split second he saw himself
standing before Rebekah, her hands on his temples, and
then he was home in his own body. He slid to the floor.
He tried to rise but found he still couldn’t quite
control his arms and legs. "I have to warn them Rebek-
Sit stooped down and helped him into a sitting
position. "Yes,” She agreed. “Sotthem must be
stopped. And warning the Western Alliance is the first
"But how?” He thought back to the power
Sothem exuded and his resolve began to waver, “Can
he be defeated?" He asked.
Rebekah paused before answering. "Loriden,
you’ve been chosen to unite the human race against the
Evil of Sotthem. On their own each of the three free
races will be destroyed. United, you possess the power
to defeat him. Sotthem is powerful, but he’s not the
most powerful force in Elethra. God is still watching
over the affairs of men, and there is still magic in the
"Sotthem can be destroyed then?"
"No,” She answered, not wishing to discourage
the young warrior but insisting he know the truth.
“There is only one who can destroy him, and he
has deemed that time has not yet come. But he can be
defeated for a time."
Loriden nodded in understanding. “That will
have to do then.” He tried to stand again and this time
his legs and arms responded. With only minimal help
from Rebekah he gained his footing.
“Tell me what to do." He said, pumping his
arms to get the blood flowing again.
"Not tonight.” She replied, “Go and get some
rest. There are some things I must attend to first."
"Rest?” He looked out over the forest. “How
can I going to rest while Sothem is on the march? I-"
He turned to find he was speaking to empty air;
Rebekah was gone. He threw up his hands in exaspera-
tion and strode quickly back into the dining chamber in
the vain hope to find her. He wasn’t surprised to find it
empty. He did find his bags propped up in the doorway
of a small bedchamber, and only then did he realize
how tired he was. Entering the room sat heavily on the
bed-began to worry but didn’t have the strength- and
instead lay back on the bed and fell asleep with his
boots still on.
Outside, Rebekah walked slowly across the
clearing to a hooded man standing with his head bowed.
As she neared him he lifted his head and she saw his
Thorston had arrived.
But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter
that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see
him, as he said unto you.
Mark 16:7 (Bold is mine)
It is not easy to persuade one who has been a
backslider to come back to his first love. The return
journey is uphill, and flesh and blood do not assist us in
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned
against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more
worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth
the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his
hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and
let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he
was lost, and is found.
A Surprise Visit
"Why have you come?"
Thorston refused to look at her, and instead stared
sullenly at her feet. "For the same reason I came before.” He
replied, his voice sounding old and tired, even to himself. ”I need
answers. I don’t know the way ahead, and I don’t even know
where to begin."
"Begin by taking the next step." She replied softly.
"Rebekah," His voice held a tinge of desperation and he
faltered. He almost looked at her then, but couldn’t bring himself
to do so. He knew what he would see there, and it would just
remind him how far he’s strayed. He was so tired- so tired of
trying, and failing, and hoping-only to try and fail again. "Rebek-
ah” He began again. “How can I take a step… after what I've
done? Surely he hasn’t forgiven me... He wouldn’t want my help in
"Loriden showed up on your door."
He turned away to keep her from gauging his reaction.
"That’s what confuses me. Why was I chosen to lead Loriden
here? I thought he was finished with me and was just waiting to
His face lit up as he continued, and although Rebekah
couldn’t see it she heard it in his tone. "Then here comes this
young man, so full of questions and full of life. What else could I
do but bring him here to you?" He turned back around and focused
on her. Seeing her brought back the painful memories, just as he
knew it would. Yet he continued to look.
Rebekah motioned toward the tower. "And here you are,
where you started, the place of beginnings. Through dangers, fears,
and hardships you arrived safely. And…” She added slowly, “You
didn’t need my help to find it this time."
He thought on this for a moment. She was right. It was
miraculous he was alive at all. Much less that he had found the
tower without help.
“You don’t think it was your power that brought you this
far, do you?" She questioned.
"No… I know it wasn't." He admitted.
“Then it could only be HIM.” She continued, "HE
delivered Niklos into your hands. HE ensured the Archers arrived
just in time outside of Hopguurd. HE lent you strength when you
battled your brother."
"It was him." Thorston whispered, hope welling up in him
despite himself. There was no use denying it. He had lived too
long to believe in luck or blind chance. “It was him.”
He felt a slight breeze stirring against his cheek, rustling
Rebekah’s dress and delivering the aroma of the tower to him. It
brought back a cascade of new memories, reminding him of the
happier days of his youth- when everything had been fresh and
Her voice interrupted his thoughts. "His mercy is infinite.
His love is pure. He has never forsaken you, you have forsaken
him. You have sinned, but your greater sin is in thinking that you
were chosen because you were worthy. Even at your best, you
were altogether vanity... you just finally realize it."
He nodded in agreement. She made it all seem so simple,
as if she knew what he had already been thinking but refused to
admit to himself. Now faced with such wisdom, he had no choice
but to agree.
"Rebekah, I need to be alone." She nodded in understand-
ing, and with a slight wave of her graceful hand gave him leave.
He sauntered slowly back into the forest. He had no certain
destination in mind, but instead ambled about the silent trees as his
mind revisited the past years. He mused upon his conversion with
Rebekah and his past ministry: the failures and the successes. He
stopped and ran his hand against the bark of a tree, feeling its
roughness against his fingers. “So many wasted years.” He said to
himself. “So many wasted years.” In desperation he fell to his
knees and prayed.
"God, many years ago you led me to this tower and I
believed. Then you called me to be a prophet. I did some terrible
things with the knowledge and calling you gave me, and then
blamed you for the outcome. I was proud. I believed that every-
thing depended on me, and now I realize that it always depended
on you. I'm sorry, I should have told you sooner... I was wrong."
As he confessed a great weight lifted from his shoulders,
and it was as if a great iron band was loosed from around his chest.
He went on but with a growing sense of confidence.
"Now you are calling me to serve you again. I know it.
You want me to help in this Great War. God, I accept this renewed
calling. And I can only hope it will in some way make up for all
the wasted years.”
Rebekah could tell it was a different man that stepped out
of the trees and approached her. She had not moved from where
she had been standing when he left, realizing that the battle the
prophet fought against his own pride would be decided- for good
or bad- quickly. His shoulders were straight and not slumped as
before. And he walked with purpose, as though he had a destina-
tion in mind, not shuffling like an old man.
"I have been forgiven.” He stated in earnest.
“You already were.” She replied.
“I know.” He said a little sheepishly. “It just takes some
of us stubborn old men awhile to admit it.” He laughed; a deep
booming sound she hadn’t heard in many years. Then he stopped
and became serious once again, “If he can forgive, then I can be
fervent. It’s the least I can do."
She cautioned him in reply, "Not to repay him Thorston,
you can never repay him. Instead, serve because you’re thankful,
and because you believe."
"Of course." he replied, smiling. He reached out and took
her hands in his.
"Thank you Rebecca... Thank you so much" He said the
words huskily, "It seems the world has been lifted off my shoul-
She smiled, and there was a hint of merriment in her voice
as she replied. "You’re thanking me for telling you what you
already knew but did not believe? It’s not me that you need to
Thorston just shook his head. Not even Rebekah’s
practicality could diminish his joy.
And the Children of Israel journeyed from
Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on
foot that were men, beside children.
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee
out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy
father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee:
God has a plan, depend upon it as if it were an
insult to the supreme intellect if we supposed that he
worked at random, without plan or method. To some of
us it is a truth which we never doubt, that God has one
boundless purpose which embraces all things, both
things which he permits and things which he ordains.
The Beginning of the End
“Thorston!” Loriden leaped from his chair in surprise,
then quickly closed the distance to his friend. It certainly looked
like Thorston- the same white robe, the same wooden staff, bushy
eyebrows and hair- but he seemed different somehow.
"Yes, it’s me," Thorston responded. He yawned, “I
haven’t slept so well in a decade!”
"You look different-I mean- better, I mean." Loriden
"I understand!" Thorston replied with a wave of his hand,
"I’ll tell you everything. But let’s sit down and eat first, I'm
famished." They sat on opposite sides of the table, talking and
catching up on the day’s events. Above them, Rebekah watched
unseen from the landing, joyful the two soldiers had found their
As they conversed, the morning waned and heavy gray
clouds rolled in, sitting low in the sky and promising rain. Both
men were eager to be on their way, yet both knew Rebekah wasn’t
quite finished with them. Yet they needed to be ready, and so as
the morning waned they began preparations to depart. Loriden had
just finished packing his things into his saddle bags when Rebekah
stepped out of the doorway. She cradled something long and heavy
under a cloth in both arms.
"I have something for you Loriden."
His heart began to beat faster. He wondered if it had to
do with her requesting his stone earlier in the morning, but he did
not have to wait long. She pulled the cloth from off of the object in
her hands and let it fall to the ground. A long beautiful sword lay
nestled in her small hands. The carvings and engravings were the
most intricate he had ever seen. His eyes went to the hilt.
"My stone!" He exclaimed.
He couldn't have known how, but he was certain that it
was his. Yet it was no longer the clear transparent stone he had
turned over that morning, but a white shining stone! She extended
her hands and offered it to him. Hesitantly, he stretched out his
hand and gingerly grasped it by the hilt. Never could he have
imagined he would hold such a fine weapon- much less have one
of his own! As his fingers wrapped about the grip, he felt a
connection, as if the sword was transforming to his grip alone;
forging a connection between them.
He stepped backward a few steps, then ran through some
simple maneuvers to test its craftsmanship. It was light as a feather
and perfectly balanced. Executing a few more advanced moves, he
was pleased to find it responded far better than any other sword he
had ever held. It was as if it had been made for his hand alone.
He stopped abruptly. "It’s really mine?" He asked in
"Forever.” She answered. “Wield it well Loriden, and
raise it to do the masters bidding." She kissed the tip of the sword
Thorston suddenly appeared in the doorway with a bundle
of his belongings, startled to barge into such a solemn scene.
"I'm sorry." he stammered as he began retreating back in-
to the hallway.
"Thorston, I must speak to you." Rebekah said, stopping
his retreat. "Alone."
She walked down the hallway and he fell into step behind
her, leaving Loriden to admire his new sword. She climbed the
tower and opened a little door that until now had been locked. It
was empty, except for a single chest sitting in the corner. From
around her neck she produced a key hanging on a golden chain,
unlocked the chest, and after reaching in brought forth a large
Thorston stepped back in surprise. "My stone!" He said
incredulously. "You have my stone, I thought it was lost!"
She held it where he could easily view it, and as he stared
reached out and took his staff from his trembling fingers. She
gripped the milky stone and in one swift motion pulled it off, then
re-placed it with the white one.
"This was your stone, not lost but safeguarded until you
could be trusted with it again. Yet it was always yours, and will
never be anyone else’s. Without it, you have been famished for
magic; age has racked your body, your sight has grown dim, and
you have felt incomplete. But in his mercy, he has chosen to return
it to you."
Thorston’s stared at the stone and the staff that Rebekah
held in her hand. It seemed to shimmer and sparkle, as if it was as
glad to see him, and he sensed a power he hadn’t felt in years. He
felt joy surge through him along with the familiar longing. He
But had he instead been looked at Rebekah he would have
felt far different. Her eyes were as hard as diamonds, and the face
which moments before was beautiful was fierce and terrible. Her
hair waved as if in a breeze although there was no wind in the
Just before his hands closed on the wood of the staff, he
glanced at her and froze. At her terrible visage a terror like he had
never felt before gripped his soul. He willed his hands and feet to
move, but they wouldn’t so much at twitch. As he stood para-
lyzed, she slowly reversed the staff and touched the white stone to
his forehead. As the stone came in contact with his skin a white
light flared from the crystal. Not the comforting light one gets
when sitting in the sun, but a punishing light which burns and
consumes. Raw power coursed through his body, causing him to
spasm and fall to his knees. Yet trough it all the stone clung like a
magnet to his forehead.
“Make it stop!” He screamed. Spittle began running down
the sides of his mouth and dropping from his chin as he convulsed,
yet the stone never faltered.
The light only intensified. Through the pain and blinding
light he glimpsed Rebekah holding the staff. She was terrible to
look upon! Standing at twice her normal size, her hands that
gripped the staff were on fire. Her eyes were nothing more than
empty sockets carved out of a brazen face of judgment.
“Make it stop!” He tried to beg, but his mouth couldn’t
form the words, and except for her magic his pleas would have
Her voice roared into his mind like powerful breakers
pounding a stormy beach. ”Power has a price Prophet, to whom
much is given, much is required! Remember this!" The fire grew
hotter still, and just when he thought he would go mad he passed
Later, how much later he didn’t know, he woke up on the
cool, stone floor of the little room. He groaned as the stiffness and
soreness in his muscles rebelled against movement.
He looked about cautiously; Rebekah was gone. Rising
unsteadily to his feet he looked about the room. Almost at once he
spied his staff leaning innocently against the wall. Taking a step
toward it, he stopped just short of reaching out for it, remembering
all too well the pain it had caused him. But then again, was it the
staff or Rebekah that almost killed him? Her words echoed in his
mind and he understood,
"To whom much is given, much is required."
Looking toward the ceiling he whispered,
"I ‘ll not fail you again."
He reached out and took his staff,
"Welcome home old friend."
Later that afternoon, all three; Rebekah, Thorston, and
Loriden met at the front of the tower. The horses were prepared,
the provisions packed, and now all that was left was to say
Loriden was the first to speak, “Thank you for your help
my lady, you have shown me the things I searched for." Instead of
the rebuttal he had come to expect, she only nodded, accepting his
Then it was Thorston’s turn,
“Goodbye old friend, I hope to see you again someday."
He hadn’t fully forgotten, and never would, the other side
of the lady in white, but it made her sweet side all the more
She answered, "You shall see me again, sooner than you
Thorston’s brows knit together, but then a merry smile
split his face. He turned and almost leapt up into the saddle.
Loriden couldn't help but laugh at the change that had come across
his old friend; it was as if he were young again. As they took up
the rains and prepared to leave, Rebekah gave them final instruc-
“There’s one more thing that I can tell you. In Hopguurd,
a Western ship has unexpectedly anchored for repairs. You can
book passage back to The West on that ship, and by-pass The
With a parting nod of acknowledgement the men spurred
their mounts in a swift gallop across the clearing. Above them, the
clouds still hung low in the darkening sky, and a crisp autumn
breeze hinted at the coming of an early winter. In moments they
had reached the wood line and Thorston disappeared into the
shadows of the thick trees.
Loriden jerked back sharply on the reins, reigning in his
mount. He turned back in the saddle for just one last look at the
tower; it was gone. The vale was now nothing more than an empty
clearing, and where it had just stood not even a blade of grass was
As Thurston’s hoof beats grew fainter and father away he
stole a moment to reflect on all that happened.
He was burdened, suddenly aware of the enormity of his
task and all that was at stake. But at the same moment, and in this
place, he felt free and joyful; and he wanted to enjoy it a moment
before racing off to face the unknown. He watched the dark clouds
swirl slowly around each other in the sky and felt happier and more
content than ever before. He wished he could stay there forever.
But then with a slight plop a rain drop hit a leaf close by, then
another struck his upturned cheek. He pulled the cowl of his
traveling cloak up over his head just as the clouds let go a deluge
that promised to soak him to the bone.
So much for staying here forever. he thought. Already a
sliver of water was making its way down the inside of his chain-
mail and sending prickles of cold down his chest. Looked back
over the clearing one last time, he turned forward and galloped
with confidence- toward an uncertain future.