“Then what is your concern, Eld?” Lord Grell asked, clearly agitated. His face held the same expression of a hundred other clan chiefs before him. It was an expression of haughty insolence.
Master Eld Drangeth straightened his robes and swallowed back his anger. Grell was nothing more than any of the other chiefs that Drangeth had counseled in the past. He was an ignorant body, unwittingly placed in a position not deserved.
The Eld drew back his lips in a fatherly smile and envisioned Grell squirming under a sacrificial knife. It calmed him considerably. “The silence of the Gree is no more, my Lord,” he said gently. “There is something in the wind that does not bode well for you or this house.”
Grell stood quickly from his throne, his brown eyes flashing dangerously. “Unless you have something more than these clever words you keep repeating, I will not hear it! I am the first Lord of Lorimon to rule without fear of ruin.” He stopped and took in the room with a glance. “Clan Lorimon is the sole power of Kelidon!”
The chamber erupted with cheers. Drangeth silently cursed Grell for constantly giving company to his favorite warriors. The incessant posturing sickened him. He closed his eyes to the noise and envisioned Grell’s intestines wrapped around an oaken stave. He took a calming breath and thought on how the pride of men always won over the voice of the wise. “If you will not move your seat, then at least, you might move your men—”
“For what purpose?” Grell countered. “I tell you these words are meaningless! Day after day, you come with a message of gloom and doom. You ask for the same thing without explaining the why of it. No! We will not move to Hillfort Darmah!”
Drangeth smiled again, wishing it were for a better purpose. “My Lord, the Gree have revealed that we are in peril from the sea.”
The room filled with laughter and quiet jeers.
“The sea?” Grell challenged. “What enemy would be foolish enough to throw himself at the rocks below? Again, as I have asked every day that you have brought this to me—who is this enemy?”
“I do not know.” Drangeth answered, knowing full well that these were the words that snared him in this interchange. “All signs point to the sea, the Gree have said no more.”
“Then enough!” Grell threw his tankard to the floor and outstretched his arms. His black flowing robes were lined with thick fur from the red deer. It expanded his large form on the dais.
Drangeth mused on what that form would look like engulfed in a blazing inferno. “But my Lord, it is only your safety that I seek.”
“Then reveal the enemy so I can dispatch him!” Again the room shook with the cheers of drunken sycophants. This seemed to bolster Grell’s belligerence. “Do not press me further, Eld. Your presence here is a gift from my dead father as payment for past deeds. Of late, I have reaped little from you, except aggravation.”
Drangeth took in the chamber with a dramatic glance. He wasn’t seeing the great hearths, the peeked ceiling or the great windows that overlooked the sea. Instead, he saw the unsteady faces of a half-hundred intemperate sheep. He bowed slightly and smiled again, never faltering in his assurance of who actually led this drove. He would find the answers they required, and if not, there were others waiting to be guided. “I chance my fate in your presence Lord Grell, I will bother you no more on this issue. But I beg your lenity if the answer comes soon. Only then will I revive the issue.”
Grell returned to his seat and nodded. The others favored the motion with a series of half-hearted grunts and cheers. Drangeth bowed again, and then left the chamber. The great doors slammed behind him.
Outside, several of his fellow Eld’s were waiting.
“There is no moving him, Drangeth,” one offered.
“I know this,” Drangeth returned, now allowing his hands to clench in a white knot.
“The Gree’s silence is broken,” said another, “but they seem unwilling to say enough.”
“Don’t speak the obvious,” Drangeth snapped. He tried not to think about how little his brothers understood. None of them had lived long enough to see the pattern. “Come, we will seek further.”
“But in what manner?” the first asked. “Have we not approached them in every way?”
“No, Sallik, we have not,” Drangeth said. “Now come and attend me!”
He stepped through the eight quickly and moved down the hall, listening to their hurried steps from behind. Just like the others, they were sheep, though some of them showed promise.
They traveled through the great stone place, moving down torchlit halls where servants and warriors alike stepped gingerly from their path. Their eyes spoke for them, telling a tale of fear and respect. At least outside the hall, he was still considered a formidable power. Grell and his trucklers would learn, and if not, their deaths would be answer enough to the next who replaced them.
Finally, the journey ended at a heavy door, set firmly at the close of a long hall that only certain of the Eld’s were allowed to attend. Drangeth produced a steel key and uttered a silent prayer to Dagida releasing the protection the lock had on it. It almost seemed folly to set a lock with a death ward, when his presence alone kept the idle curious from attempting the quarter. People in the hillfort called this place “Drangeth’s Tower”, and rightly so. He smiled as he opened the door outward and stepped through into the square base of the tower entryway.
As he ascended, torchlight from behind cast his bobbing shadow along the wall of the narrow stone way. He passed several open windows to his left and several closed doors to his right. On the first landing, he turned and climbed an identical stair, with similar windows and doors. The windows looked out over the sea and its great crashing waves on the rocky shore below. The doors hid the many treasures and secrets of the Elds, a large portion of which Drangeth had a hand in creating.
The tower seemed to him the perfect place for the Elds to convene their Common; a term often used for the gathering of Eld’s in a holy place. He had tried over the past twenty years to convince the others of its sanctity, but only recently found the order compliant. They were on the stone of Dagida, above the waters of Acoor, facing the wind of Duwath, and using the fires of Ferrigon within. Of Skyfire, he was considered no more than an honored fifth. Even Drangeth was unsure why he was being told by the Gree to abandon this place.
At the top of the seventh flight, a tall spiral stair curled inward and up. He could hear the wind gathering above from the sea, whispering Duwath’s secrets. But Duwath and her three known siblings were not the ones he would seek this night.
They emerged onto a broad flat, atop the tower. High above them a roof of interlaced stone slabs marked the night sky, graphing off the swirling starscape into readable segments. The ceiling was held up by great slabs of uncut stone, open to the night, causing the flaming oil basins to flicker and burn wild on their fuel. More ancient than himself, the structure nearly defied reason, and Drangeth always admitted to awe in its presence.
He turned to his brothers. “Come, we will See.” He walked to the far railing several paces away.
“Another night of failure, brother,” Sallik said from behind. “What else can we do?”
Drangeth ignored the insolence and looked about the deck. It was covered with the accoutrements of the Order, great chests and altars to the individual Gree were scattered everywhere. The most powerful tools of their mystic trade and practice, all showing signs of use, all reminding him of their recent failure. “Tonight we work there.” He pointed to a round spire of stone that broke up through the center of the flat. The door they had just entered was at its base. A railed, spiral stair wound its way around the stone, ending at a smaller flat located above the latticed roof.
One of the Elds nodded and began climbing, a few others began opening chests and pulling out the tools they would need.
“We must do this thing again, Sallik, until the Gree yield up their secrets.”
Sallik’s doubt spoke through his posture. If he were anyone else Drangeth would have had him thrown from the tower.
“All is ready, Eld Drangeth,” one of the Elds told him from the upper flat.
Drangeth nodded and began the climb. The steps were wide, but steep, well worn from centuries of use. It was called Kendishen, the stone of the Gree; one of the few remaining relics from the darker times. It was one piece, removed ages ago from the hills below, by Clan Lorimon, to protect it from the defiled hands of common men. It was one of the last true items of power through which the Silent Five spoke.
On the open top the wind was strong, blowing Drangeth’s long white hair wildly around his face. The cold bit through his heavy black robes, clawing at his bones, and making the metal and gem work on his garments clatter like breaking glass. “Prepare the stone and bread,” he ordered.
The others watched on as one of their fellows opened a small chest and lifted out a hunch of dark bread and a gold pitcher. He placed them on the squared off top of Kendishen, which served as a table. Drangeth looked around the low bowl shaped wall that surrounded them, also a part of Kendishen. He then looked up into the night sky, and took note of the racing clouds moving in from the sea. He smiled wryly, knowing that to most, the whole of this place was called Kendishen, but it was the alter that this place supported which truly carried the name.
He turned and faced the center of the open flat, where four Elds worked at the corners of the altar. Carved into the corners were small basins filled with burning oil. Their flames lapped wildly in the wind. He walked to the altar’s edge and grabbed its rough, cold surface in his aged hands, saying, “Burn the bread.”
Sallik took the small loaf and lifted it over the altar and gave a prayer of thanks to Dagida. Another Eld poured scented oils into a hollow carved in the center of the table. Then another poured large jugs of water into the same basin. Sallik placed a side of the bread over one of the corner fires burning it to a blackened husk. Smoky tendrils whipped the scent of it out into the darkness.
Drangeth spread his hands wide and lowered his head, while the others offered up a droning chant. “In this place of stone,” he said, “in this place of water, in this place of fire, in this place of sky and wind, we the faithful and the obedient, seek to see that which the Gree will allow.”
The chant changed its cadence to a faster song.
“Hail, you Gree!” he continued. “Creators of these elements four, and workers of their meetings in this world! Hail, you Gree, who in wisdom have seen to the ways of men in triumph and tragedy! Hail, you Gree, who among you have the nameless one, the Skyfire of the wild way. To him and no other, we give a fifth of our needs.”
With that, he took the burnt loaf and pulled off the blackened portion. Sallik took the rest, as Drangeth lifted the charred piece to the sky.
“So that wild power is not forgotten, I partake of what belongs to that power. In this offense, I render blood! Through this rendered blood, I appease. Through appeasement, that I might see.”
Drangeth ate the black bread and then stretched his arm out over the basin. Sallik pulled up the sleeve covering the outstretched forearm and forcefully drew a small blade over its scarred surface. Blood came instantly and profusely, dripping into the scented water.
Again the chant changed, this time swelling upward in tone and pitch.
Drangeth lowered his arm and grabbed the edge of the altar, looking deep into the bowl. The water began to swirl, not from the wind, but from some force within its depths.
“Hail you Gree!” he shouted. “Let us see!” The scented, blood tainted, water continued to spin faster and faster, climbing the basin walls with a hollow sweep. “Hail you Gree! Let us see!” There was a sudden flash, as though the bowl beneath were glowing with a blue white light. The chant stopped and Drangeth gazed deep into the spinning light. Everyone did the same watching closely for their answers.
After several long minutes, Sallik broke the silence with a sigh. He said, “There is nothing there, just as before.”
“We are not finished,” Drangeth growled back. “I told you, tonight we seek through another means!” He looked out across the flat. “Brothers, bring me the piece, now.”
He watched as Sallik turned his attention to the two Elds that had not participated. Ledd and Jallice. They carried between them a long shaft wrapped in a red cloth.
“Bring it here Ledd,” Drangeth commanded.
The Eld complied, unwrapping it as he stepped forward.
The item’s polished black surface gleamed under the light of the glowing pool.
“The blade of Brod Garrin?” Sallik blurted, his voice filled with fear.
“Yes,” Drangeth said. “Skyfire’s voice is strongest here.” He took the blade carefully from Ledd and stepped back from the others. “Maintain the See brothers, do not take your eyes from the pool. Skyfire is tied to this blade and tonight we directly petition him.” The others looked on in terror. Drangeth, understood their fears, many were well grounded. Without the hilt to give him control, the blade would be unpredictable. What they did not know though, was how familiar Drangeth was with the intricacies of the sword. “Brothers!” he continued. “We seek the aid of the nameless one and the wisdom his powers will bring to us this night. We seek the name of our enemy, the danger from the sea!” He again stepped forward and placed the black steel directly into the spinning light of the basin. “Brothers, seek the face of our enemy!”
Instantly the glow brightened to a blinding argent of liquid light, the illumination shooting skyward like a thing of substance. In the same instant someone screamed. Drangeth set his will against the blade and silently petitioned aid from the other four Gree. His confidence faltered. He tried to see beyond the glaring light, into the heart of the basin, but his eyes watered and closed tightly. He heard a low rumble from Kendishen.
“Can any see?” he cried out.
“I cannot!” Sallik answered.
“Yes!” It was Ledd. “Something is forming! A shadow in the heart of the light!”
Drangeth struggled against the blade, and tried opening his eyes. He could not do both. “Do not lose sight of it, Ledd!” The rumble increased, until the entire deck began to quake. The wind seemed to howl from all corners. “What is happening?”
“There is a face!” Ledd screamed the words as if in terrible pain. “A man! No wait . . . two faces! There are two faces!”
“Do you know them?” Drangeth shouted back. There was no answer. “Ledd!” He tried opening his eyes, but could not, speaking and wrestling with the blade took too much from him.
“I do not know them!” Ledd finally answered. “But this man . . . By the Gree! No! This man is—”
A thunderous crack split the howling of the wind, and Ledd’s answer turned into a gurgling scream. The light in the basin ceased instantly and the wind died with it.
The power in the blade went silent too and Drangeth opened his eyes. The entire deck was black, all of the fires had extinguished with the See. “Light! I need light!”
Suddenly a green glow bathed Kendishen, someone had beseeched Ferrigon for light. It would have to do. Drangeth blinked his eyes several times and looked around letting them adjust to the weak illumination.
“Here Master,” the Eld replied. He was standing over a body, crumpled near the base of the low wall. Wisps of smoke trailed from the still form. Directly opposite from their position another Eld lay motionless, his head twisted at an ugly angle from his body, obviously dead. It was Jallice. “What has happened here?” Sallik asked.
“Don’t just stand gaping!” Drangeth barked. “See to him!” He pointed to the man at Sallik’s feet.
“Yes,” Sallik said, kneeling beside the smoking form. He rolled it over. “It is Ledd.”
Drangeth moved closer with the other Eld’s trailing him. He looked on with anger and disgust. They had failed again. Ledd’s eyes and mouth were burned to black hollow pits, his forearms and hands charred to the very bone. His sleeves were burned away to the shoulder exposing the cooked muscle beneath. One of the Elds turned to the railing and vomited.
“Aaaargh! ” Drangeth bellowed. “I will have the truth!” He turned on the other Elds. “Throw them into the sea!”
“What?” Sallik blurted. “They must be buried!”
A wave of nausea took Drangeth, forcing him to pause. He would not be daunted. “I said cast them into the sea!”
Three Elds moved toward Jallice’s body on the opposite side of Drangeth. Sallik reached for Ledd’s mutilated shoulder, obviously reluctant to touch it. Ledd jolted upright and then wildly back and forth, a horrible gurgling sound issued from what was left of his mouth.
Sallik jumped back, screaming.
Drangeth rushed forward, kicking the scurrying Eld to the side. “He lives!” He reached down and steadied the convulsing form. “Good, very good!” The figure continued to squirm beneath his grasp. He called upon all of his knowledge to mollify the man’s pain. A thin glowing mist shrouded the two of them as he drained himself to the healing work. In moments he was finished and exhausted. The others looked on stunned.
The only visible changes in Ledd were his even breathing and calm posture. Drangeth stood as another wave of nausea grabbed at his stomach. “Don’t stand about like dullards,” he growled. “See to him!”
Two of the Elds came forward and carefully lifted the charred form off the deck. Drangeth watched silently, fighting the knot in his stomach.
“What has happened here?” Sallik asked. He was still shaking from terror.
Drangeth fought the urge to kick the fool over the wall. He turned away and stepped to the altar’s edge, steadying himself on one of its corners. A violent cramp seized his innards, forcing him to vomit. The contents of his stomach splattered into the empty basin. He doubled over and dropped to his knees.
“Master!” Sallik whined, “please let me help you.”
“Don’t touch me,” he spat, wiping the spew from his mouth. He stood on his own, and looked at the top of Kendishen, trembling. The basin was completely dry, save a small pool of blood and his vomit. The black blade lay before the basin where he had dropped it. “Refused,” he whispered.
Sallik looked into the bowl, saying, “blood from Ledd?”
“No. It is my blood and the burnt bread I ate.”
“How can this be? Do the Gree cast aside your appeasement?”
“No. Only one has refused me.”
Some hours passed from the time of the See, and Drangeth sat quietly in his chambers, two floors below the Kendishen, pondering the grisly event. He had experienced far worse in his life, giving little thought to the mauled forms of the victims. Jallice, who already floated at the bottom of the sea, was insignificant. It was the information locked in Ledd’s charred skull that caused Drangeth’s discomfort. He knew the game, the Gree had played it for centuries, and in all of that time he had been witness to it.
Skyfire refused the appeasement. It didn’t surprise him. In fact it pointed to the enemy. By refusing him, Skyfire admitted some part in this—but how much? That, he would know in time. The other Four would tell him, they always did. Perhaps Skyfire tied their voices for now, and if so, time would be the thing that released them.
He rose from his chair and walked to the window. The thick glass rattled against the wind rising from the sea. Through the glass he could see the night and its moon, reflected in mottled patches across the angry waves.
Someone knocked at his door and he turned to face it.
“Enter,” he said, while walking back to his chair.
The door opened and Sallik walked in, his hands folded and twitching beneath the heavy cuffs of his robes. The small man closed the door behind him and quickly tucked his hands back beneath the cuffs of his dark sleeves.
“What news?” Drangeth asked.
“He is dead,” Sallik answered, while seating himself opposite from Drangeth.
“He said nothing?”
“He could not. The healers claim the flame burned out his throat.”
“And the healers?”
“Instructed as you ordered. They will remain silent.” Sallik paused, scowling. “Ledd’s body should be cast into the sea by now.”
“Good,” Drangeth said, ignoring Sallik’s expression. “No one shall know of it.”
“Grell will wait,” he interrupted. “We have other matters to attend to.”
“You will not press him to move?”
“Not again. Not until I know the full truth. I’m convinced that Brod Garrin is the key to our knowledge.”
“You mustn’t attempt another See like that!” Sallik wailed. “It was horrible! The black blade is completely unruly without the hilt.”
“Yes, I agree,” Drangeth said with a sigh. “Even so, Brod Garrin is the key.”
“What will you do?”
“Something that should have been done years ago.”
Sallik’s look spoke volumes. So much potential wrapped in such a simple package.
Drangeth folded his hands and tapped his lips with his two extended forefingers. “We must find Jorgan Darmah and kill him.”