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Its name had been Galasien once, a city of broad streets and thriving markets, of docks crowded with bright-sailed river craft. The shrines of its gods and heroes, their altars asmoke with incense offerings, had watched over commerce and statecraft, lords and ladies, workmen and peasant farmers alike, in long and pleasant prosperity.
Its name under the Sihhë: lords had been Ynefel. For nine centuries four towers reigned here under that name as the forest crept closer. The one-time citadel of the Galasieni in those years stood no longer as the heart of a city, but as a ruin-girt keep, stronghold of the foreign Sihhë: kings, under whom the river Lenúalim's shores had known a rule of unprecedented and far-reaching power, a darker reign from its beginning, and darker still in its calamity.
Now forest thrust up the stones of old streets. Whin and blackberry choked the standing walls of the old Galasieni ruins, blackberry that fed the birds that haunted the high towers. Old forest, dark forest, of oaks long grown and sapped by mistletoe and vines, ringed the last standing towers of Ynefel on every side but riverward.
Through that forest now came only the memory of a road, which crossed a broken-down, often-patched ghost of a bridge. The Lenúalim', which ran murkily about the mossy, eroded stonework of the one-time wharves, carried only flotsam from its occasional floods. Kingdoms of a third and younger age thrived on the northern and southern reaches of the Lemialim, but rarely did the men of those young lands find cause to venture into this haunted place. South of those lands lay the sea, while northward at the source of the Lentialim,lay the oldest lands of all, lands of legendary origin for the vanished Galasieni as well as for the Sihhë: the Shadow Hills, the brooding peaks of the Hafsandyr, the lands of the legendary Arachim and the wide wastes where ice never gave up its hold.
Such places still existed, perhaps. But no black-sailed ships from the north came in this third age, and the docks of Ynefel had long since gone to tumbled stone, stones slick with moss, buried in mud, overgrown with trees, indistinguishable at last from the forest.
Call it Galasien, or Ynefel, it had become a shadow-place from a shadow-age, its crumbling, weathered towers poised on the rock that had once been the base of a great citadel. The seat of power for two ages of wizardry had become, in the present reign of men, a place of curious, disturbing fancies. Ynefel, tree-drowned in its sea of forest, was the last or the first outpost of the Old Lands ... first, as one stood with his face to the West, where the sea lords of old had fallen and new kings ruled, so soon forgetful that they had been servants of the Sihhë: or the last edge of an older world, as one might look out north and east toward Elwynor and Amefel, which lay across the Lenúalim windings and beyond Marna Wood.
In those two districts alone of the East the crumbling hills retained their old Galasieni names. In those lands of upstart men, there remained, however few and remote in the hills, country shrines to the Nineteen gods Galasien had known - while in Elwynor the rulers still called themselves Regents, remembering the Sihhë: kings.
Nowadays in Ynefel birds stole blackberries, and built their nests haphazardly in the eaves and in the loft. A colony of swifts lodged in one great chimney and another in the vaulted hall of Sihhë: kings. Rain and years eroded the strange faces that looked out of the remaining walls. Gargoyle faces - faces of heroes, faces of the common and the mighty of lost Galasien - they adorned its crazily joined towers, its ramshackle gates, fragments of statues seeming by curious whimsy to gaze out of the walls of the present fortress: some that smiled, some that seemed to smirk in malice, and some, the faces of Galasien's vanished kings, serene and blind.
This was the view as one looked up from the walls of Ynefel. This was the view over which an old man gazed: this was the, state of affairs in which he lived, bearded and bent, and solitary.
And, judging the portent of the season and the clouds, leaden-gray at twilight, the old man frowned and took his way in some haste down the rickety steps, well aware of danger in the later hours, in the creeping of shadows across the many gables and roofs. He did not further tempt them. Age was on him. His power, which had held the years and the shadows at bay, was fading, and would fade more swiftly still when this night's work was done: such strength as he had, he held close within himself, and guarded, and hoarded with a miser's single purpose.
He reached the door and shut it with a word, a tap of his staff, a touch of his gnarled hand. Thus secure, he caught a calmer breath, and descended the steeply winding stairs with a limp and a tapping that echoed through the creaking maze of stairs and balconies, down and down into the wooden hollowness of Ynefel.
He lived alone here. He had lived alone for - he ceased to count the years, except tonight, when death seemed so close, so ... seductive in the face of his preparations.
Better, he had long thought , to fade quietly.
Better, he had determined unto himself, to deal no more with the shadows and to stay to the sunlight. Better to listen no more to the sifting of time through the wood and stone of this old ruin. He owed nothing to the future. He owed far less to the past.
We deserved our fate, he thought bitterly. We were too self-confident. Fortress in the Eye of Time
. Copyright © by C. J. Cherryh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.