She sat alone in her chambers, draped in twilight's shadows and evening's solitude, her thoughts darker than the night descending and heavier than the weight of all Paranor. She retired early these days, ostensibly to work but mostly to think, to ponder on the disappointment of today's failures and the bleakness of tomorrow's prospects. It was silent in the high tower, and the silence gave her a momentary respite from the struggle between herself and those she would lead. It lasted briefly, only so long as she remained secluded, but without its small daily comfort she sometimes thought she would have gone mad with despair.
She was no longer a girl, no longer even young, though she
retained her youthful looks, her pale translucent skin still unblemished
and unlined, her startling blue eyes clear, and her movements
steady and certain. When she looked in the mirror, which
she did infrequently now as then, she saw the girl she had been
twenty years earlier, as if aging had been miraculously stayed. But
while her body stayed young, her spirit grew old. Responsibility
aged her more quickly than time. Only the Druid Sleep, should
she avail herself of it, would stay the wearing of her heart, and she
would not choose that remedy anytime soon. She could not. She
was the Ard Rhys of the Third Druid Council, the High Druid of
Paranor, and while she remained in that office, sleep of any kind
was in short supply.
Her gaze drifted to the windows of her chamber, looking west
to where the sun was already gone behind the horizon, and the
light it cast skyward in the wake of its descent a dim glow beginning
to fail. Shethought her own star was setting, as well, its
light fading, its time passing, its chances slipping away. She would
change that if she could, but she no longer believed she knew
She heard Tagwen before she saw him, his footfalls light and
cautious in the hallway beyond her open door, his concern for her
evident in the softness of his approach.
"Come, Tagwen," she called as he neared.
He came through the door and stopped just inside, not presuming
to venture farther, respecting this place that was hers and
hers alone. He was growing old, as well, nearly twenty years of
service behind him, the only assistant she had ever had, his time at
Paranor a mirror of her own. His stocky, gnarled body was still
strong, but his movements were slowing and she could see the way
he winced when his joints tightened and cramped after too much
use. There was kindness in his eyes, and it had drawn her to him
from the first, an indication of the nature of the man inside. Tagwen
served because he respected what she was doing, what she
meant to the Four Lands, and he never judged her by her successes
or failures, even when there were so many more of the latter than
"Mistress," he said in his rough, gravel-laced voice, his seamed,
bearded face dipping momentarily into shadow as he bowed. It
was an odd, stiff gesture he had affected from the beginning. He
leaned forward as if to share a confidence that others might try to
overhear. "Kermadec is here."
She rose at once. "He will not come inside," she said, making it
a statement of fact.
Tagwen shook his head. "He waits at the north gate and asks if
you will speak with him." The Dwarf's lips tightened in somber re-
flection. "He says it is urgent."
She reached for her cloak and threw it about her shoulders.
She went by him, touching his shoulder reassuringly as she
passed. She went out the door and down the hallway to begin her
descent. Within the stairwell, beyond the sound of her own soft
footfalls, she heard voices rise up from below, the sounds of conversations
adrift on the air. She tried to make out what they said,
but could not. They would be speaking of her; they did so almost
incessantly. They would be asking why she continued as their
leader, why she presumed that she could achieve anything after so
many failures, why she could not recognize that her time was past
and another should take her place. Some would be whispering that
she ought to be forced out, one way or another. Some would be
advocating stronger action.
Druid intrigues. The halls of Paranor were rife with them, and
she could not put a stop to it. At Walker's command, she had
formed this Third Council on her return to the Four Lands from
Parkasia. She had accepted her role as leader, her destiny as guide
to those she had recruited, her responsibility for rebuilding the
legacy of the Druids as knowledge givers to the Races. She had
formed the heart of this new order with those few sent under
duress by the Elven King Kylen Elessedil at his brother Ahren's
insistence. Others had come from other lands and other Races,
drawn by the prospect of exploring magic's uses. That had been
twenty years ago, when there was fresh hope and everything
seemed possible. Time and an inability to effect any measurable
change in the thinking and attitudes of the governing bodies of
those lands and Races had leeched most of that away. What remained
was a desperate insistence on clinging to her belief that
she was not meant to give up.
But that alone was not enough. It would never be enough. Not
for someone who had come out of darkness so complete that
any chance at redemption had seemed hopeless. Not for Grianne
Ohmsford, who had once been the Ilse Witch and had made herself
Ard Rhys to atone for it.
She reached the lower levels of the Keep, the great halls that
connected the meeting rooms with the living quarters of those she
had brought to Paranor. A handful of these Druids came into view,
shadows sliding along the walls like spilled oil in the light of the
flameless lamps that lit the corridors. Some nodded to her; one or
two spoke. Most simply cast hurried glances and passed on. They
feared and mistrusted her, these Druids she had accepted into her
order. They could not seem to help themselves, and she could not
find the heart to blame them.
Terek Molt walked out of a room and grunted his unfriendly
greeting, outwardly bold and challenging. But she could sense his
real feelings, and she knew he feared her. Hated her more than
feared her, though. It was the same with Traunt Rowan and Iridia
Eleri and one or two more. Shadea a'Ru was beyond even that, her
venomous glances so openly hostile that there was no longer any
communication between them, a situation that it seemed nothing
Grianne closed her eyes against what she was feeling and wondered
what she was going to do about these vipers--what she
could do that would not have repercussions beyond anything she
was prepared to accept.
Young Trefen Morys passed her with a wave and a smile, his
face guileless and welcoming, his enthusiasm evident. He was a
bright light in an otherwise darkened firmament, and she was
grateful for his presence. Some within the order still believed in her.
She had never expected friendship or even compassion from those
who came to her, but she had hoped for loyalty and a sense of responsibility
toward the office she held. She had been foolish to think
that way, and she no longer did so. Perhaps it was not inaccurate to
say that now she merely hoped that reason might prevail.
"Mistress," Gerand Cera greeted in his soft voice as he bowed
her past him, his tall form lean and sinuous, his angular features
sleepy and dangerous.
There were too many of them. She could not watch out for all
of them adequately. She put herself at risk every time she walked
these halls--here in the one place she should be safe, in the order
she had founded. It was insane.
She cleared the front hall and went out into the night, passed
through a series of interconnected courtyards to the north gates,
and ordered the guard to let her through. The Trolls on watch, impassive
and silent, did as they were told. She did not know their
names, only that they were there at Kermadec's behest, which was
enough to keep her reassured of their loyalty. Whatever else happened
in this steadily eroding company of the once faithful, the
Trolls would stand with her.
Would that prove necessary? She would not have thought so a
month ago. That she asked the question now demonstrated how
uncertain matters had become.
She walked to the edge of the bluff, to the wall of trees that
marked the beginning of the forest beyond, and stopped. An owl
glided through the darkness, a silent hunter. She felt a sudden connection
with him so strong that she could almost envision flying
away as he did, leaving everything behind, returning to the darkness
and its solitude.
She brushed the thought aside, an indulgence she could not
afford, and whistled softly. Moments later, a figure detached itself
from the darkness almost in front of her and came forward.
"Mistress," the Maturen greeted, dropping to one knee and
"Kermadec, you great bear," she replied, stepping forward to
put her arms around him. "How good it is to see you."
Of the few friends she possessed, Kermadec was perhaps the
best. She had known him since the founding of the order, when
she had gone into the Northland to ask for the support of the
Troll tribes. No one had ever thought to do that, and her request
was cause enough for a convening of a council of the nations. She
did not waste the opportunity she had been given. She told them
of her mission, of her role as Ard Rhys of a new Druid Council, the
third since Galaphile's time. She declared that this new order
would accept members from all nations, the Trolls included. No
prejudices would be allowed; the past would play no part in the
present. The Druids were beginning anew, and for the order to
succeed, all the Races must participate.
Kermadec had stepped forward almost at once, offering the
support of his sizeable nation, of its people and resources. Prompted
by her gesture and his understanding of its importance to the
Races, his decision was made even before the council of nations
had met. His Rock Trolls were not imbued with a strong belief in
magic, but it would be their honor to serve as her personal guard.
Give them an opportunity to demonstrate their reliability and skill,
and she would not regret it.
Nor had she ever done so. Kermadec had stayed five years, and
in that time became her close friend. More than once, he had
solved a problem that might otherwise have troubled her. Even
after he had left for home again, his service complete, he had
remained in charge of choosing the Trolls that followed in his
footsteps. Some had doubted the wisdom of allowing Trolls inside
the walls at all, let alone as personal guards to the Ard Rhys. But
she had walked in darker places than these and had allied herself
with creatures far more dangerous. She did not think of any Race
as predisposed toward either good or evil; she saw them all only as
being composed of creatures that might be persuaded to choose
one over the other.
Just as she saw the members of her Druid order, she thought,
though she might wish it otherwise.
"Kermadec," she said again, the relief in her voice clearly
"You should let me rid you of them all," he said softly, one
great hand coming to rest on her slim shoulder. "You should wash
them away like yesterday's sweat and start anew."
She nodded. "If it were that easy, I should call on you to help
me. But I can't start over. It would be perceived as weakness by the
governments of the nations I court. There can be no weakness in
an Ard Rhys in these times." She patted his hand. "Rise and walk
They left the bluff and moved back into the trees, perfectly
comfortable with each other and the night. The sights and sounds
of Paranor disappeared, and the silence of the forest wrapped them
close. The air was cool and gentle, the wind a soft whisper in the
new spring leaves, bearing the scent of woods and water. It would
be summer before long, and the smells would change again.
"What brings you here?" she asked him finally, knowing he
would wait for her to ask before speaking of it.
He shook his head. "Something troubling. Something you may
understand better than I do."
Even for a Rock Troll, Kermadec was huge, towering over her
at close to seven feet, his powerful body sheathed in a barklike
skin. He was all muscle and bone, strong enough to rip small trees
out at the roots. She had never known a Troll to possess the
strength and quickness of Kermadec. But there was much more to
him. A Maturen of thirty years, he was the sort of person others
turned to instinctively in times of trouble. Solid and capable, he
had served his nation with a distinction and compassion that belied
the ferocious history of his Race. In the not so distant past, the
Trolls had marched against Men and Elves and Dwarves with the
single-minded intent of smashing them back into the earth. During
the Wars of the Races, ruled by their feral and warlike nature,
they had allied themselves with the darker forces in the world. But
that was the past, and in the present, where it mattered most, they
were no longer so easily bent to service in a cause that reason
would never embrace.
"You have come a long way to see me, Kermadec," she said. "It
must be something important."
"That remains for you to decide," he said softly. "I myself
haven't seen what I am about to reveal, so it is hard for me to
judge. I think it will be equally hard for you."
He slowed to a stop in the darkness and turned to face her.
"There is strange activity in the ruins of the Skull Kingdom, mistress.
The reports come not from Rock Trolls, who will not go into
that forbidden place, but from other creatures, ones who will, ones
who make a living in part by telling of what they see. What they
see now is reminiscent of other, darker times."
"The Warlock Lord's domain, once," she observed. "A bad
place still, all broken walls and scattered bones. Traces of evil
linger in the smells and taste of the land. What do these creatures
tell you they see?"
"Smoke and mirrors, of a sort. Fires lit in darkness and turned
cold by daylight's arrival. Small explosions of light that suggest
something besides wood might be burning. Acrid smells that have
no other source than the fires. Black smudges on flat stones that
have the look of altars. Markings on those stones that might be
symbols. Such events were sporadic at first, but now occur almost
nightly. Strange things that of themselves alone do not trouble
me, but taken all together do."
He breathed in and exhaled. "One thing more. Some among
those who come to us say there are wraiths visible at the edges of
the mist and smoke, things not of substance and not yet entirely
formed, but recognizable as something more than the imagination.
They flutter like caged birds seeking to be free."
Grianne went cold, aware of the possibilities that the sightings
suggested. Something was being conjured up by use of magic,
something that wasn't natural to this world and that was being
summoned to serve an unknown purpose.
"How reliable are these stories?"
He shrugged. "They come from Gnomes for the most part, the
only ones who go into that part of the world. They do so because
they are drawn to what they perceive in their superstitions as sacred.
They perform their rituals in those places because they feel it
will lend them power. How reliable are they?" He paused. "I think
there is weight to what they say they see."
She thought a moment. Another strangeness to add to an already
overcrowded agenda of strangenesses. She did not like the
sound of this one, because if magic was at work, whatever its reason,
its source might lie uncomfortably close to home. Druids had
the use of magic and were the most likely suspects, but their use of
it in places beyond Paranor was forbidden. There were other possibilities,
but this was the one she could not afford to ignore.
"Is there a pattern to these happenings?" she asked. "A timing
to the fires and their leavings?"
He shook his head. "None that anyone has discerned. We
could ask the Gnomes to watch for it, to mark the intervals."
"Which will take time," she pointed out. "Time best spent
looking into it myself." She pursed her lips. "That is what you
came to ask me to do, isn't it? Take a look for myself?"
He nodded. "Yes, mistress. But I will go with you. Not alone
into that country--ever--would I go. But with you beside me, I
would brave the netherworld and its shades."
Be careful of what you boast of doing, Kermadec, she thought. Boasts
have a way of coming back to haunt you.
She thought of what she had committed herself to do in
the days ahead. Meetings with various Druids to rework studies
that members of the order would undertake. Those could wait.
Overseeing the repairs to the library that concealed the Druid
Histories--that one could not happen without her presence, but
could wait, as well. A delegation from the Federation was due to arrive
in three days; the Prime Minister of the Coalition was reputed
to lead it. But she could be back in time for that if she left at once.
She must go, she knew. She could not afford to leave the matter
unattended to. It was the sort of thing that could mushroom into
trouble on a much larger scale. Even by her appearance, she might
dissuade those involved from pursuing their conjuring. Once they
knew that she was aware of them, they might go to ground again.
It was the best she could hope for. Besides, it gave her an opportunity
to escape Paranor and its madness for a few days. In the
interval, perhaps a way to contend with the intrigues might occur
to her. Time and distance often triggered fresh insights; perhaps
that would happen here.
"Let me tell Tagwen," she said to Kermadec, "and we'll be off."
They departed Paranor at midnight, flying north out of
the Druid forestlands with a full moon to light their way,
riding the edge of their expectations just ahead of their
doubts and fears. They chose to use Grianne's War Shrike, Chaser,
to make the journey, rather than a Druid airship, thinking that the
Shrike would draw less attention and be less cumbersome. An airship
required a crew, and a crew required explanations. Grianne
preferred to keep secret what she was investigating until she better
understood what it meant.
Tagwen accepted the news of her sudden and mysterious departure
stoically, but she read disapproval and concern in his eyes.
He was desperate for her to tell him something more, a hint of
what she was about so that if the need arose, he might be able to
help. But she thought it best he know only that she would be gone
for a few days and he must see to her affairs as best he could.
There would be questions, demands perhaps, but he couldn't reveal
what he didn't know. She braced his shoulders firmly with her
hands, smiled her approval and reassurance, and slipped away.
It went without saying that Tagwen would make no mention
of Kermadec unless she failed to return; a visit from the Rock
Troll was always to be kept secret. There were too many who disapproved
of the relationship, and the Dwarf understood the importance
of not throwing fuel on a fire already dangerously hot.
Grianne could depend on Tagwen to use good judgment in such
matters. It was one of his strongest attributes; his exercise of discretion
and common sense was easily the equal of her own. Had
he the inclination or the talent, he would have made a good Druid.
That accolade bestowed, she was just as happy to have him be
what he was.
The flight took the rest of the night and most of the following
day, a long, steady sweep out of Callahorn and across the Streleheim
to the peaks of the Knife Edge and the Razors, where the
ruins of the Skull Kingdom lay scattered in the valley between. As
she guided Chaser onward, the rush of air in her ears wrapping
her in its mindless sound, she had plenty of time to think. Her
thoughts were both of what lay ahead and behind. But while the
former merely intrigued, the latter haunted.
Her efforts at this new life had started so promisingly. She had
returned to the Four Lands with such confidence, her identity regained,
her life remade, the lies that had misled her replaced by
truths. She had found her lost brother Bek, whom she had never
thought to see again. She had broken the chains that the Morgawr
had forged to hold her. She had fought and destroyed the warlock
with her brother at her side. She had done this so that she might
be given a chance at the redemption she had never thought to
find. The dying touch of a Druid, his blood on her forehead marking
her as his successor, had set her on her path. It was a destiny
she would never have chosen for herself but that she had come to
believe was right and had therefore embraced.
Walker, a shade with a shade's vision, had reappeared to her at
the Hadeshorn, and given her his blessing. Druids dead and gone
passed in review, their shades materializing from the ether, rising
out of the roiling waters, infusing her with their knowledge and a
share of their collective power. She would rebuild their order, resuming
the task that Walker had undertaken for himself and failed
to complete. She would summon members of all the Races to a
Third Druid Council and from it found a new order, one in which
the dictates of a single Druid would no longer be all that stood
between civilization and anarchy, between reason and madness.
For too long, one Druid had been required to make the difference.
Those few who had done so--Bremen, Allanon, and Walker--had
persevered because there had been no one else and no other way.
She would change that.
Such dreams. Such hopes.
Ahren Elessedil had talked his brother, the Elven King Kylen
Elessedil, into supplying the first of the new order, two handfuls of
Elves Ahren had led to Paranor personally. After Kylen discovered
he had been tricked, that Walker was dead and the hated Ilse
Witch had replaced him, he had sought to recall those he had
sent. But it was too late; the Elves who had come were committed
to her and beyond his reach. In retaliation he attempted to poison
the minds of the leaders of the other Races against her at every opportunity.
That did not prove to be too difficult with Sen Dunsidan,
by then Prime Minister of the Federation, who already feared
and detested her. But the Dwarves and Trolls were less easily persuaded,
especially after she made the effort to go directly to them,
to speak in council, and to insist that she would place the order at
their disposal so far as it was possible to do so. Remember what
the Druids were created to do, she kept reminding them. If you
seek a source of strength in the cause of peace and goodwill among
all nations, the Druids are the ones to whom you should turn.
For a time, they did so. Members of both Races came to her,
and some from Callahorn, as well, for they had heard good things
about her from the Rover Captain Redden Alt Mer and from the
Highlander Quentin Leah, men they respected. Besides, once they
learned that the Federation did not support her, they were inclined
to think that was reason enough for them to do so. The war between
the Federation and the Free-born was still being fought,
mighty armies still locked in combat on the Prekkendorran, leaders
still waging a war that had been waged since the passing of
Allanon--a war pitting unification against independence, territorial
rights against free will. The Free-born wanted Callahorn to be its
own country; the Federation wanted it to be a part of the Southland.
At times it had been both, at times neither.
There was more to it, of course, as there always is in the case
of wars between nations. But that was the justification most often
given by those involved, and into the breach left by the absence of
any sensible attempt to examine the matter stepped the Ard Rhys.
It was a fateful decision, but one she did not see how she could
avoid. The Federation-Free-born war was a ragged wound that
would not heal. If the Races were ever to be brought together
again, if the Druids were to be able to turn their attention to bettering
the lives of the people of the Four Lands, this war must first
So, even as she struggled to strike a balance in the diversity of
temperaments and needs of those who came to Paranor to study
the Druid ways, she was attempting, as well, to find a way to resolve
the conflict between the Federation and the Free-born. It involved
dealing with the two leaders who hated her most--Kylen
Elessedil of the Elves and Sen Dunsidan of the Federation. It required
that she put aside her own prejudices and find a way to get
past theirs. She was able to do this in large part not through fear or
intimidation but by making herself appear indispensable to them.
After all, the Druids were still in possession of knowledge denied
common men, more so than ever since the events in Parkasia. Neither
man knew for certain what knowledge she had gained from
the Old World that might prove invaluable. Neither understood
how little of that knowledge she actually possessed. But perception
is often more persuasive than truth. Without the Druids to offer
support, each worried that crucial ground would be lost to the
other. Without her help, each believed he risked allowing the
other a chance to grow more powerful at his expense. Sen Dunsidan
had always been a politician. Once he understood that she did
not intend to revert to her ways as the Ilse Witch or hold against
him his temporary alliance with the Morgawr, he was more than
willing to see what she had to offer. Kylen Elessedil followed
along for no better reason than to keep pace with his enemy.
Grianne played at this game because it was the only choice
she had. She was as good at it now as she had been when she
was the Ilse Witch and manipulation was second nature. It was a
slow process. Mostly, she settled for crumbs in exchange for the
prospect of a full loaf. At times, brought close by promises made
and fitfully kept, she thought she would succeed in her efforts,
her goal no more than a meeting away. Just a truce between the
two would have opened the door to a more permanent solution.
Both were strong men, and a small concession by one might have
been enough to encourage the other to grant the same. She maneuvered
them both toward making that concession, gaining time
and credibility as she did so, making herself the center of their
thinking as they edged toward a resolution to a war no one really
Then Kylen Elessedil was killed on the Prekkendorran, the
blame for it was laid at her doorstep, and in an instant everything
she had worked for nearly six years to achieve was lost.
When they stopped at midmorning to rest Chaser, Kermadec
reopened the wound.
"Has that boy King come to his senses yet, mistress?" he asked
in a tone of voice that suggested he already knew the answer.
She shook her head. Kellen Elessedil was his father's son and,
if it was possible, liked her even less than his father had. Worse, he
blamed her for his father's death, a mindset she seemed unable to
"He's a fool. He'll die in the same way, fighting for something
that to right-thinking men makes no sense at all." Kermadec snorted
softly. "They say Rock Trolls are warlike, but history suggests that
we are no worse than Men and Elves and in these times perhaps
better. At least we do not carry on wars for fifty years."
"You could argue the Federation-Free-born war has been going
on for much longer than that," she said.
"However long, it is still too long." Kermadec stretched his
massive arms over his head and yawned. "What is the point?"
It was a rhetorical question and she didn't bother to attempt an
answer. It had been a dozen years since her efforts at finding a solution
had broken down, and since then she had been preoccupied
with troubles much closer to home.
"You are due for a change of guards," Kermadec offered, handing
her his aleskin. "Maybe you should think about a change of
Druids at the same time."
"Dismiss them all and start over?" She had heard this argument
from him before. Kermadec saw things in simple terms; he thought
she would be better off if she did so, too. "I can't do that."
"So you keep saying."
"Dismissing the order now would be perceived as weakness on
my part. Even dismissing the handful of troublemakers who plague
me most would have that effect. The nations look for an excuse to
proclaim the Druid Council a failure, especially Sen Dunsidan and
Kellen Elessedil. I cannot give them one. Besides, if I had to start
over at this point, no one would come to Paranor to aid me. All
would shun the Druids. I have to make do with things as they are."
Kermadec took back the aleskin and looked out over the
countryside. They were just at the edge of the Streleheim, facing
north toward the misty, rugged silhouette of the Knife Edge. The
day was bright and warm, and it promised another clear, moonlit
night in which to explore the ruins of the Skull Kingdom. "You
might think about the impracticality of that before you give up on
She had thought about alternatives frequently of late, although
her thinking was more along the lines of restructuring and reordering
so as to isolate those most troublesome. But even there she had
to be careful not to suggest an appearance of weakness to the others
or they would begin to shift allegiance in ways that would
undo her entirely.
At times, she thought it might be best if she simply gave them
all what they wanted, if she resigned her position and departed for
good. Let another struggle with the problem. Let someone else take
on her responsibilities and her obligations as Ard Rhys. But she
knew she couldn't do that. No one else had been asked to shoulder
those responsibilities and obligations; they had been given to her,
and nothing had happened to change that. She could not simply
walk away. She had no authority to do so. If Walker's shade should
appear to tell her it was time, she would be gone in a heartbeat--
though perhaps not without disappointment at having failed to accomplish
her task. But neither Walker's nor the shade of any other
Druid had come to her. Until she was discharged, she could not
go. The dissatisfaction of others was not enough to set her free.
Her solution to the problem would have been much easier if
she were still the Ilse Witch. She would have made an example of
the more troublesome members of her order and cowed the rest by
doing so. She would not have hesitated to eliminate her problems
in a way that would have appalled even Kermadec. But she had
lived enough of that life, and she would never go back to it. An
Ard Rhys must find other, better ways to act.
By late afternoon, they had crossed the Streleheim and flown
through the lower wall of the Knife Edge into the jagged landscape
of the Skull Kingdom. She felt a change in the air long before
she saw one on the ground. Even aboard Chaser, several
hundred feet up, she could sense it. The air became dead and
old, smelling and tasting of devastation and rot. There was no life
here, not of a sort anyone could recognize. The mountain was
gone, brought down by cataclysmic forces on the heads of those
who had worked their evil within it, reduced to a jumble of rocks
within which little grew and less found shelter or forage. It was a
ruined land, colorless and barren even now, a thousand years later,
and it was likely to be a thousand more before that changed. Even
in the wake of a volcano's eruption, in the path of the resultant
lava flow, life eventually returned, determined and resilient. But
not here. Here, life was denied.
Ignoring the look and feel of the place, even though it settled
about them with oppressive insistence, they circled the ruins in
search of the site where the fires and the flashes had been observed.
After about an hour they found it at one end of a long shelf
of rock balanced amid a cluster of spikes that jutted like bones
from the earth. A ring of stones encircled a fire pit left blackened
and slick from whatever had been burned. When Grianne first saw
it from the air, she could not imagine how anyone could even
manage to get to it, let alone make use of it. Rock barriers rose all
about, the crevices between them deep and wide, the edges sharp
as glass. Then she amended her thinking. It would take a Shrike or
a Roc or a small, highly maneuverable airship to gain access, but
access could be gained. Which had been used in this instance? She
stored the question away to be pondered later.
Guiding Chaser to one end of the shelf, they dismounted and
walked back for a closer look.
"Sacrifices of some sort," Kermadec observed, glancing around
uneasily, his big shoulders swinging left and right, as if he were
caged. He did not like being there, she knew, even with her. The
place held bad memories for Trolls, even after so long. The Warlock
Lord might be dead and gone, but the feel of him lingered.
In the history of the Trolls, no one had done more damage to the
nation's psyche. Trolls were not superstitious in the manner of
Gnomes, but they believed in the transference of evil from the
dead to the living. They believed because they had experienced it,
and they were wary of it happening again.
She closed her eyes and cast about with her other senses for a
moment, trying to read in the air what had happened here. She
tracked the leavings of a powerful magic, the workings of a sorcery
that was not meant to heal or succor. A summoning of some sort,
she read in the bits and pieces that remained. To what end, though?
She could not determine, though the smells told of something dying,
and not quickly. She looked down at the fire pit and read in the
greasy smears dark purpose in the sacrifices clearly made.
"This isn't good," she said softly.
He stepped close. "What do you find, mistress?"
"Nothing yet. Nothing certain." She looked up at him, into his
flat, expressionless features. "Perhaps tonight, when darkness cloaks
the thing that finds this dead place so attractive, we shall find out."
Copyright© 2003 by Terry Brooks