Authors: Margaret Weis
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To my daughter, Lizz “Blizzkrieg” Baldwin, who never fails to astonish and delight me!
To Jon Seyster and Miracle Pelayo. You are my heroes.
Farinn settled himself in the chair his son had placed near the roaring blaze that filled the Great Hall of the Torgun with light and warmth. Outside the hall, snow was thick on the ground. The winter wind growled and muttered and sometimes struck the hall with a gusty fist that caused the beams to creak. Gray, foam-whitened waves crashed on the shore, spraying froth that froze instantly on anything it touched, covering the fir trees and rocks with a crust of white.
A storm is coming, Farinn thought. The sun will not rise tomorrow.
He no longer had to worry about such things. He had seen eighty-five winters come and go, and tomorrow he would lie snug in his bed beneath fur blankets, drifting and dozing.
This winter would be his last. He could feel it in his bones. He would not live to see another. He was content. He was the only Vindrasi to have ever lived so long and he was weary and ready to go his rest.
First, though, he would tell the tale one last time, so that it would never be forgotten.
“I am Farinn the Talgogroth, the Voice of Gogroth, God of the World Tree. Attend me! For now I will tell the tale of Skylan Ivorson, Chief of Chiefs of the Vindrasi, the greatest of the chiefs of the mighty dragonships.” Farinn paused, then said gently, “The greatest and the last.”
Women quickly filled the mugs with ale, then picked up small children and held them in their laps, prepared to quiet any fretting that might interrupt the old man's story. Older children who had been running between the long tables, playing a noisy game of tag, hurried to settle themselves on the floor in front of Farinn.
Three young people, two young men and a young woman, took up a defensive posture near the door that was shut and barred against the storm and the night. They knew that no enemy was likely to burst through that door, requiring them to perform acts of bravery in defense of their people, but they could always dream.
A collective sigh rustling among the men, women, and children let Farinn know that all gathered in the hall this winter night were ready to hear his tale.
Farinn drew in a breath and began. His voice was strong this night, unusually strong. He was the only person left alive who had made the epic journey with the great Skylan Ivorson and his warriors, and this would be the last time he told the tale. He wanted his people to remember.
“To remind you where we left off last night,” Farinn began, “Skylan and his friends, sailing in the great dragonship, the
, with the mighty dragon Kahg, had escaped slavery in Sinaria and were setting out to sail back to their homeland. Skylan had divided his crew, sending some back in a captured ogre ship to warn the Torgun to prepare for war, while he and the woman he loved, Aylaen, now a Bone Priestess; the Legate Acronis; and the fae child Wulfe remained aboard the
“They had obtained one of the spiritbones the Goddess Vindrash had told them they would need if they were to save their people. Skylan's plan was to find and recover the other four, but the threads of their wyrds had taken them in a different direction.
was beset by enemies: Skylan's cousin, Raegar Gustafson, now Priest-General of Aelon, god of the New Dawn, had attacked them, as had the ogres, led by their powerful chief, Bear Walker.
“The most powerful enemy of all, however, lurked in the deep. A gigantic kraken rose from the sea, crushing the ogre ship in its tentacles and dragging the
beneath the waves.”
Some of the children squatting on the floor clapped their hands and one rowdy youngster cried out, “Tell the part about the kraken again!”
Farinn glowered at the offending child, for he did not like to be interrupted. The child's father, looking grim, left his seat, retrieved the youngster, and handed him over to his mother. After this momentary interruption, Farinn was free to resume.
“As you recall, Skylan and his friends were saved by Aquins, humans who dwell in cities beneath the sea. They had many adventures, which I related last night and which I will
relate again.” Farinn fixed a stern eye upon the children, who nudged one another and grinned.
“Skylan and Aylaen had been wed in the city of the Aquins. The Sea Queen had given them the Vektan Torque, containing one of the spiritbones, as a wedding gift, and Akaria, the Sea Goddess, had given them the third and told them where they could find the fourthâin the land of the Stormlords.
“Raegar had captured Aylaen and brought her on board his ship, demanding that she tell him and his god, Aelon, where to find the spiritbones. Skylan had sailed after them in the
, determined to rescue Aylaen. She fought Raegar and managed to escape. She and Skylan were reunited on the
“It was then that Raegar picked up a spear and threw itâ”
Farinn was interrupted by a wail from a little girl sitting in front of him with her hands over her ears.
“Hush, Greta! What's the matter?” her big brother asked irritably.
“I don't want to hear this part!” the little girl whispered. “I don't like this part. Skylan dies!”
“But he doesn't; not really,” said her brother.
“He does so, too,” said the little girl, removing her hands and glaring at him. “Raegar strikes him in the back with a spear and Skylan dies in Aylaen's arms.”
“And then Skylan goes to Torval's Hall, but Torval won't let him in,” whispered her brother. “Wait for the rest of the story. You'll hear.”
“Who's Torval?” asked the little girl.
“Some old god,” her brother replied with a shrug.
“Listen, both of you, and you will find out,” Farinn rasped and the children meekly quieted.
He did not really mind this interruption, for it gave him a chance to sip the honey posset that soothed his throat after many nights of storytelling. He paused and drank and remembered.
One day, someday soon, he would look out across the ocean and there would be the great dragonship, the
. His friends would all be on board.
Well, perhaps not all.
He would wade into the waves, and his friends would reach out their hands to him and, laughing and jesting, haul him into the dragonship. He would sail away on the voyage that had no end.
But until that day, he had a tale to tell.
Farinn moistened his lips, which tasted of honey, and began. “Skylan Ivorson strode up to Torval's Hall of Heroes, his sword in his handâ¦”
Skylan Ivorson trudged through the deep snow up the mountain, keeping his head bowed against a biting wind, trying to find Torval's longhouseâthe Hall of Heroes, the hall where those warriors who had died a hero's death came to spend the afterlife with the god and fight the battles of heaven. Skylan carried his sword in his hand to show the god he had died in battle, slain by his cousin, Raegar.
Aylaen had survived. Skylan had breathed his last in her arms and although leaving her had been harder than dying, he took comfort in knowing she would live and keep his memory alive.
Lost and wandering in the storm, Skylan was growing more and more angry. Freilis, the dark Goddess of the Tally, who searched the battlefield for heroes to bring to Torval, should have escorted him to the hall. He had been forced to find it on his own, and he was cold and tired and alone.
He came to a grove of tall pine trees, standing straight and tall as sentinels, and pushed his way through the snow-covered boughs. The scent of pine was sharp and crisp. The trees blocked the wind. Snowflakes fell lazily from the gray clouds. And there was the Hall, an immense longhouse with a vaulted roof, built by giants who had labored on it for many centuries. According to the songs, the giants had ripped up mountains to build the foundation and dragged enormous trees from the ground for the logs that formed the walls and the cedar shakes of the roof. A thousand shields of brave warriors decorated the outer walls.