Table of Contents
THE ELVEN WAYS:
THE FOUR FORGES (Book One)
THE DARK FERRYMAN (Book Two)
Copyright © 2008 by Rhondi Vilott Salsitz.
All Rights Reserved.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1443.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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First Printing, June 2008
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
James, Jessica, Maureen and Aaron
You are my heroes.
A Tale of Desperate Times
As told through the smoke haze of a Toback Shop
"THOSE OF YOU who aren’t wanting t’ hear the story of our own Rivergrace and her love Sevryn and how they came to their deaths at the hands of a Demon and a Goddess, I give my blessing for you to shove over or leave, because th’ shop is nigh filled and other folks are wantin’ to come in and listen.”
Murmurs greeted the voice of their much-anticipated tale-teller, one of their own, a good ranch and orchard man. A willowy young woman by the door gave a fleeting smile and took the hand of the tall elven man by her side. With a nod of her head, she bid a silent good-bye to the speaker and withdrew into the bitter cold of the outside. He watched her go, the tale-spinner. A Dweller still in his prime, with his face weathered and his hair tinged with gray, a man of good stock, Tolby Farbranch studied his callused hands a moment.
Outside, the man chided his companion. “Not staying?”
Grace smiled again before kissing his cheek gently. “I know how the tale ends.”
He put his hand on her wrists and drew her close to his chest, guarding her from the wind and the winter and the inevitable. “It’s only the beginning. It’s not done,” he whispered to her temple, “but I promise to stay with you until it is.”
She leaned into him, saying, “The queen calls us to her.”
“And we’ll go,” Sevryn told her. “Together.”
From the shelter of his embrace, she looked upon the Dweller town, and the shop, and the people of her beginning as if she might never see them again once they left Stonesend. After all, she had already died once.
Small clouds of fragrant pipe smoke floated out of the shop after bouncing about the rough wooden beams of the ceiling, as the audience tamped pipes themselves or squirmed to find a squidge more room for perching comfortably. Dwellers filled the room, mostly men, for the toback shop was one of their sanctuaries, but a few of other races sprawled with long legs and gangly arms, winter cloaks pulled about their bodies, as drawn in for a pouch full of savory leaf and news as the next man be he Dweller, Kernan, Galdarkan, or even Vaelinar. Women and children sat on the walkway outside and watched Rivergrace and Sevryn leave before turning their ears keenly to the speaker and spinner.
“I have in mind,” Tolby said deliberately, “to be tellin’ a tale of my own today, with your indulgence, a true telling, of the Demon sword Cerat, and the corrupting of the sacred river Andredia, and how they came to be undone,” and the lines in his face deepened. “These are grim times, my friends and fellows, not a doubt of that. Raiders and such driving us from our holdings, taking from us our good sons and daughters, talk of war on the horizon.” His eyes glanced toward the Barrels at that, his mouth turning in a grimace. “Aye, a true tale, but one I cannot say will illuminate the fates awaiting all of us, for like a weaving, there are many threads tangled in the pattern afore its true appearance can be known. So, like many things in our lives, this tale is not quite finished.”
Tolby began to speak of the Warrior Queen of the Vaelinars and the shadowy weaponsmith known as Quendius, and the prophecy which knotted them together, a prophecy hidden in a child’s gaming rhyme.
“Four forges dire
Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire,
You skip low
And I’ll jump higher.
One for thunder
By lands torn asunder
Two for blood
By mountains over flood.
Three for soul
With no place to go.
You skip low
And I’ll skip higher
Four on air
With war to bear.”
A solemn tone fell over Tolby Farbranch’s voice as he related the dire workings of Quendius and the smith who worked under him in forges which poisoned the river Andredia and their own swift-flowing Silverwing. He told them of how Narskap, the slave to Quendius, captured the Demon Souldrinker into a mortal-made sword and caged the River Goddess of the Silverwing in the same. He spoke to them of Queen Lariel and her brother Jeredon and the Hand of the Queen, Sevryn the half-breed. He reminded his audience of the vow of her House to protect the Andredia and its river valleys. In astonishment they listened as Vaelinars and Kernans and Dwellers, even arrogant Galdarkans and rough Bolgers were plaited together in the pattern of assassins and raiders and Demon-ridden swords. They gasped as they heard of their own Rivergrace taking up Cerat after the attempted murder of Lariel and Sevryn who put his own body in front of Cerat to save his queen and was killed, then swallowed by the Souldrinker. Then Tolby swiftly led them on Rivergrace’s own journey to the font of the sacred river Andredia with her companions who fell one by one till only she faced the foul altar which made the sword and damned the river with its poisons to break one upon the other, ending the curse. There was more to the story than he told, for he did not know of all the moments within the tale and he knew better than to reveal all that he did. Still, his words were enough to send shivers down the spine of every man listening. And, as difficult as it was to speak of the deaths and hardships of friends and family, and of even more troubled times to come, he held a purpose beyond that of telling the story and its truth to those gathered there. He had a mission, as it were, to smoke out the old enemy. To warn that enemy that they knew a great deal of what had been secret, and what he planned, and that they stood together, the intruder Vaelinars, and the Kernans and Dwellers of the First Home.
He finished as the toback shop owner shuffled softly about the room, lighting candles and oil lamps, as the afternoon grew rain-cloud dark. Finally, one muttered, “Our thanks for the telling of that, Farbranch. It proves what my grand-da oft used to say.”
“And what is that?” Tolby asked not unkindly of him.
“It is better to have Death knock on your door than a Vaelinar.”
"WHO WOULD YOU DIE FOR?” A blade bit into his neck, awaiting his answer.
"My lady and my queen,” Sevryn said before a rough hand stilled further words. He lay with a thin campaign blanket tangled over his knees and counted the daggers he could get into his hands quickly: four, one at each ankle and each forearm. No longer slave, no longer an unfettered street brat, he was the Queen’s Hand amid a troop of her finest. What would his odds be against besting an intruder who’d crept into a military camp without warning? He sank into his Vaelinar senses. They flared out to identify the good steel made by one of their own, the edge so keen that it drew blood just brushing his neck.
Horses tied at the night lines stayed quiet. He could no longer feel warmth against his side where Rivergrace had lain curved against his body. She must have rolled away, curled into her own blankets. Sevryn, and Sevryn alone, dealt with the intruder.
“I need you to come with me. Take your gear and horse.” A firm voice tickled his ear, and the knife withdrew. Then and only then, he recognized the one man he knew who could have gotten into the guarded and warded camp without attracting attention. “I am chasing matters of dire import.”
He would have asked questions, but Daravan moved away with silken speed, so he got silently to his feet and followed, taking up those bits of his life the other had told him to retrieve and leaving Rivergrace, the largest part of his life and the only one that mattered, curled in sleep. He drew on his Talent of Voice, pitched in words barely audible even to himself as he walked between his friends and allies, telling them they did not feel him, hear him, or see him move among them. His Voice quieted the horse line as he took his mount out and saddled it quickly, already checking the girth when a hand tugged on his sleeve.