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The Call of the Sword
Book One of The Chronicles of Hawklan
a Mushroom eBooks sampler
Copyright © 1988, Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the Author of this work.
First published in United Kingdom in 1988 by Headline Book Publishing.
This Edition published in 2002 by Mushroom eBooks,
an imprint of Mushroom Publishing,
Bath, BA1 4EB, United Kingdom
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This is a sampler of The Call of the Sword by Roger Taylor. If you enjoy reading these sample chapters and would like to read the rest, you can buy the complete Mushroom eBook edition from the usual bookshops online, or find more details at www.mushroom-ebooks.com.
Fantasy Books by Roger Taylor
“The time of Hawklan is so far in the past that it could be the distant future”
In the ninth hour of the Last Battle, Sumeral, warring with Ethriss in ways beyond the knowledge of men, gazed upon the pitiless slaughter being wrought by the two great armies and, wearying of it, was overwhelmed with a desire to seize at one stroke His final victory.
Then He left the high vantage where His Uhriel held at bay the Guardians, and with silver sword and golden axe cut a shining path of gore to the heart of the fray where stood the mortal frame of His enemy.
For Ethriss had come to the battle unarmed, lest concern for his mortal form distract him from his greater battle with Sumeral’s dark spirit. In the whirling agony of that day, while the army of the Great Alliance battled with His demented hordes, he stood alone, ringed only by his chosen Fyordyn High Guards. An Iron Ring of his oldest and most faithful allies. The least corrupted of men, and His greatest mortal enemies.
Nine hours they had stood unwavering as His ravening armies had broken over them like wind-whipped waves. But they were mortal, and they wearied, and at each onslaught they were fewer, and the Iron Ring shrank inexorably. Now a terrible fear came over them as His approach was seen, bright like the morning star through the swirling mist and smoke of that awful field.
For He was a glorious and radiant sight in His beauty and power, and all knew that mortal weapons would turn from His body, armoured as it was with the Power of the Great Searing from which He had come. And all knew that His gaze alone was beyond the will of any man to withstand.
But it is said that all things create the means of their own destruction.
So it was now. For in that grim circle was one who was of His creating. Old even then. Made old by His scornful, dismissive blessing. Old beyond loves and hatreds. Old in implacable resolution that He would be thrown down this day though it destroy the world.
And as He raised His spear in triumph to strike the blow that would make all His, Sumeral’s gaze fell upon the face of this one, and eyes He had long forgotten stared fearfully but uncowed into His very soul.
And He faltered.
In that timeless moment, His protection fell from Him, and His breast was pierced by a true Fyordyn arrow forged with Ethriss’s skill. Then another and another and another, thick through the death-stained air like a cleaning summer storm. And with a great cry His mortal body fell, and turmoil reigned as His Uhriel, bereft of His will, fell before the Guardians, and the earth and sky and sea were torn from their grasp. So too were scattered His mortal armies.
But in His falling, two things He did. His mortal hand loosed the spear that struck down Ethriss, and His spirit shrank and vowed and learned and hid in the hearts of His most faithful until some future time would come. For He knew that His ways lay now deep in the hearts of all men, and that as surely as He now fell, so He must rise again in the fullness of time.
* * * *
Even the gentle land of Orthlund cowered under that winter. The like had never been known in living memory. It seemed that almost every day there were dark clouds gathering in the north, like armies awaiting reinforcements. And when the howling winds brought them and their bloated burdens of snow relentlessly southward, the Orthlundyn were more than content to surrender their villages to the assault.
Content as they sat and talked and carved in the warmth of their homes, and were grateful for thick walls and stout roofs, and for the past summer that had given them a fine harvest and locked more than enough warm days into their flickering radiant stones to warm them through a dozen such winters.
Inevitably though, all things were dominated by this untypical manifestation. No conversation ended without some allusion to it, and virtually no carving was made during those months that did not enshrine some aspect of it. In most villages, the Carvers’ Guilds held equally untypical formal meetings. Some to discuss the new devices that were being discovered to capture the subtleties and richness of their new land. Some to discuss not only that but, horror of horrors, a rationing of stone, for there was no way into the mountains to replenish stocks, and even communication between villages had become difficult and dangerous. It became a time of the miniature.
On the days when it was bright and sunny, the Orthlundyn donned their warmest clothes and wandered through the snow-filled streets of their villages, revelling in the sight of the white, new-shaped fields, and their houses, now strangely decorated with bellying white eaves and wind-blown buttresses. And they would stand in open admiration of the splendour of the mountains – sharp, stern and forbidding in the tingling air.
The children learned new games and devilments and accidentally stored up bright white memories for future, balmier times. The wits founded the Snow Carvers’ Guild and filled the streets with strange creatures and carved likenesses of their neighbours, to the amusement of some and the considerable indignation of others.
Only at the very heart of the winter did a little concern creep darkly into the lives of these civilized people. A blizzard blew for seven consecutive days, howling and screaming and so hiding the world that it was folly to take but three steps from a threshold. Then, as the land was shaped and reshaped unseen, conversations faded, chisels were laid aside, and eyes turned pensively to hearths to seek stillness and reassurance in the flickering, summer-stored glow of the radiant stones.
At the height of this storm, high in the mountains where all was impassable, a figure appeared: a man. Wrapped in a long enveloping cloak with a deep hood pulled well forward, bowing against the pitiless, biting wind, he moved slowly through the grey swirling gloom.
Occasionally, finding some rocky outcrop, he would stop and rest for a while in its lee, straightening up, grateful for a brief respite. Then, wrapping his cloak about himself for greater warmth, he would move off again.
All around him the wind screamed and clattered and echoed through valleys and clefts, bouncing off ringing rock faces and hissing over the snow, to sound sometimes like the clamour of a terrible battle, sometimes like the mocking laughter of a thousand tormentors, sometimes like a great sigh. From time to time the man paused and turned and listened.
That he was lost, he knew. But that was all he knew. That and the knowledge that, for all his cloak and hood were thick and warm, he would surely soon die in this fearful place if he did not come across shelter and warmth soon.
Then through the tumult around him came another sound. The man paused as though his own soft footsteps might obscure it. But it came again and again. Distant and shifting, but persistent. It was a cry. A cry for help.
The hooded head cast about for the direction from which it came, but the wind mocked him and brought it to him from every angle, now near, now far. Then for an instant the wind was gone. Dropped to a low sighing moan. And the plaintive cry rode on it like a distraught messenger, revealing its true self before the wind returned to rend and scatter it. The man turned and moved forward, ignoring the many wind-born counterfeits now tempting him elsewhere again.
He soon came upon the caller, a small figure dark in the snow, held fast by the leg in a cruel, long-forgotten trap. Despite his desperate need and long pleading however, the caller cried out in terror as the hooded figure loomed out of the gloom towards him. But the man bent down and laid a calming hand on him.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said.
The metal of the trap was bitterly cold and the man had to wrap his hands in his cloak to prise apart its heavy sprung jaws. As he strained, the wind blew his hood back and the trapped figure looked up at him and gave him a name. Then the jaws were open and their captive rolled away with a cry of relief.
The man examined the injured leg closely and grimaced.
‘It stopped hurting some time ago,’ said the victim faintly.
The man nodded. ‘That’s the cold,’ he said. ‘It’s stopped the bleeding too and probably saved your life.’
‘For a little while,’ the figure said weakly.
The man nodded. ‘Neither of us have long, without better fortune,’ he said quietly. Then he looked again at the leg. ‘But whatever happens, I’m afraid this is lost. It’s almost completely severed.’ And with an unexpected and powerful twist he tore away the remains of the damaged limb and dropped it into the snow. Its owner fainted.
Bending forward the man picked up the unconscious form and, angrily kicking the trap shut, moved off again into the storm.
Slowly, his unguided footsteps took him steadily downwards, across icy rock slopes and through drift filled gulleys, a seemingly endless pilgrimage towards what must surely be a chill final sleep.
Gradually the terrain softened, but such light as there was began to fade and, unrelenting, the wind increased, making the man lower his head so that all he could see was the snow before him. Shifting his burden occasionally he thought no thoughts in his mounting weariness but the placing of one foot in front of the other, and did not notice that after a while he was once again walking uphill.
Then his journey ended as a sheer, snow covered vertical face appeared abruptly before his downcast gaze. He looked up and to the left and right, but in all directions it disappeared into the gathering darkness.
Reaching out uncertainly, as if for reassurance, he placed his hand against the wall and brushed it from side to side. As the loose packed snow fell away, some of it was pressed into deep crevices etched into the surface, and he saw that it was not rock, but metal, and intricately carved.
He stared at it for some time, as if waiting. Then, as he watched, his fingers searched out a pattern in the snow-packed surface and, unbidden, his hand took from his pocket a small medallion and placed it against the pattern. It clicked softly into place, and so well did it fit that its outlines could no longer be seen. The man felt an ancient silence stir within him and, bringing his face close to the great metal wall, he whispered softly.
A thin black vertical line appeared in front of him and slowly he stepped back. The line widened into a crack and then widened further as the wall revealed itself to be a huge gate.
As its two great leaves swung open noiselessly and majestically, the man, still holding his burden, was silhouetted against a radiant and welcoming light that rose to fill the courtyard beyond.
Far to the north, a chill and brooding presence stirred also, though uneasily, like one who has heard floating down the long deserted corridors of his ancient, empty mansion, a soft and feared footfall.
Anderras Darion was the name of Hawklan’s castle. Situated above the village of Pedhavin, it looked out over the undulating farm and forest lands of central Orthlund. Its construction showed little sign of age, though it was known to be ancient and its location was unusual in that its huge bulk sealed the mouth of a hanging valley. The great front wall bedded deep into the surrounding rock made it appear as if it were growing from the mountains like a natural outcrop, and its builders had fitted the local rock so cunningly that no line could be seen where the wall met the sides of the valley, nor where block fitted to block. Only the Great Gate and the towers rising from and behind the wall marked it as being other than one of nature’s extravagances.
The Gate was double-leaved and unusually high and, from a distance, appeared to be of timber overlain with plain polished bronze. However, closer examination showed it to be covered with countless tiny carvings depicting scenes from a great war and a great peace, and while no one knew what the Gate was made of, the intricate texture of the carvings was unaffected by both the onslaughts of winters and summers alike, and by the hands of generations of people who had travelled to see them and marvel.
Carvers from the Guild would climb the steep winding road up from the village: sometimes alone, to learn again humility in the face of this wonder; sometimes with their apprentices, to sharpen the edge of their young aspirations. Fathers too would bring their children and read to them the stories enshrined in the seemingly endless patterning of the Gate, for Hawklan was no severe overlord: he was a healer. And though his castle overlooked the village, it blended so harmoniously with the mountains that, like them, it offered not menace, but stability and calm.
Although the Orthlundyn took little interest in myths and legends, on special days the villagers would picnic and dance on the grass mounds that fringed the foot of the Castle wall and, in token of the long ages when Anderras Darion was sealed and unassailable, someone would bring a ladder and climb high up the Gate and, painstakingly running his finger along the carvings for fear of losing his place in such fine workmanship, would tell the stories that could not normally be told. For even within the height of an ordinary man, there were stories enough for a lifetime.
Sometimes a blind man would come to the Gate and run his hands over its finely etched and scored surface, and the villagers would sit spellbound. For always he would tell a story different to the one that they could see, and always they went away laughing and excited.
Of the many strangers who visited the Gate, one alone lingered in the memories of the villagers. He was a tiny man and he came out of the mountains on a sharp and frosty day, trailing his tiny shadow in the wintry sun. He stared at the Gate for many an hour, and ran his hands across it with his eyes first open, then closed. Then he brought his face close to the surface, gently blew a long humming stream of misty air at the ornate patterning, and turned his ear to it in rapt concentration. Those standing near say they heard a faint singing as from a great distance. The little man nodded and sighed, though not sadly.
‘This is a miraculous gate,’ he said to the group of curious children that had followed him. ‘You must listen to it when the wind blows. And even when it doesn’t. It holds more stories than you can see or feel, and they are all true.’
Then he went on his way and was never seen in the village again. The children puffed and blew at the Gate, but heard nothing, and soon forgot the little man, although occasionally, one of them, quieter than the others, would raise his hand suddenly for silence when a soft wind drifted up from the fields below.
‘Listen,’ he would say. ‘The Castle’s singing.’ But the others would laugh.
To the left of the Great Gate was a bubbling pool, the water from which spilled over the rocks and tumbled and cascaded its way down to join the river that ran through the outskirts of the village. This stream was from the valleys beyond the Castle, and its water was cold and clear and sharp. No one knew how deep the pool was, as nothing would sink in it, such was the uprush of water from it, even in the driest summer.
Atop the eyeless wall, towers and solid rectangular blocks of buildings grew in a random but not disordered manner, soaring up and raking back in tiers beyond the sight of anyone standing at its foot. Only the birds could see all the splendour of the Castle, but such as could be seen by earthbound creatures filled them with wonder and awe, and sober contemplation of the people who had made it. There were many skills in the land, but none could pretend to such as had made this edifice.
Anderras Darion gave a benign security to the village of Pedhavin. Its occupant was known and loved; the wicket in the Great Gate was always open, and the Gate alone was a joy and a wonder and a point of proud gossip in villages all around. And yet the Castle stood immovable and solid, its walls seeming to hold the mountains apart: unassailable by stone and ladder, fire and iron. Not even treachery would open the Great Gate once sealed, while the only other entrance was filled with churning, rushing water and who knew what else under the Castle’s deep foundations. The valley beyond was lush and fertile, and surrounded by high crags, made sheer and impregnable by the same skills that had made the Castle itself. Anderras Darion was a comforting place, nestling in the mountains, like an old matriarch who radiated security, but whose merest glance could scatter her towering offspring.
* * * *
Hawklan sat alone at a table in one of the smaller dining halls. Size, of course, is relative, and even though the hall was indeed smaller than many in the Castle, it would have comfortably accommodated several hundred diners and attendants. In the past it probably had. Hawklan however, was unaffected by his inappropriate scale in this echoing room. He was slouched back in a carved chair and gazing idly at a splash of multi-coloured light making its leisurely but inexorable way across the table as the sun shone through a round window above. Cutting through the dust motes, the yellow ray left the scene enshrined in the glass resting uncertainly and inaccurately on the heavily grained table.
The window showed a warrior bidding farewell to his wife and child. Hawklan could see the red of the warrior’s cloak and the blue of his wife’s gown, but the green of the fields in the background did not survive the sun-carried journey, and the gold of the warrior’s sword mingled with the yellow of the child’s tunic. Hawklan turned and looked up at the original. He knew that if he walked across the room and gazed up at the scene he would see that the artist had caught the distress and conflict in the warrior’s face as his child shied away from his fearsome armour. It was a masterly piece of work that always made Hawklan want to reach up and embrace the three and comfort them. It also made him thankful that he had no such conflict to face. He returned his gaze to the tabletop and breathed a sigh.
High in the beams above a feathered ear caught the sound, and a single shiny black eye opened and turned a gimlet gaze onto the figure below with a businesslike twist of the head. The owner of the eye was a raven. He was called Gavor.
Spreading his wings he craned forward and, resting on the warm air that filled the cavernous roof, he floated silently into the void. With barely a twitch of his delicate feathers he spiralled gracefully down through the sun-striped air and came to rest a little way in front of Hawklan. The landing was not quite as graceful as the flight, and certainly not as quiet, for Gavor’s wooden leg was apt to give him trouble from time to time. Not least when he wished it to.
The hollow thud of Gavor’s landing and the regular clunk of his wooden leg made Hawklan lift his head to look at the approaching bird. It stopped in front of him and returned his gaze.
‘Rrrukk,’ it said. Hawklan did not speak.
‘Rrrukk,’ it repeated. A slight smile flickered in Hawklan’s eyes and spread reluctantly across his face.
‘Very good, Gavor,’ he said. ‘Very good. Your bird impressions are coming on very nicely. You will be in demand at the next village fair. How’s the nightingale coming along? Is your throat still sore?’
Gavor raised his head with regal disdain.
‘Dear boy,’ came his cultured tones. ‘Such irony doesn’t become you. It really isn’t your style.’
‘I do apologize,’ said Hawklan with patent insincerity, laying a hand on his chest. ‘Please accept my humblest apologies. I was overwhelmed by the sight of you. May I ask to what do we owe the pleasure of your august presence at our repast?’
Gavor maintained his hauteur. ‘You sighed, dear boy. You sighed.’
Hawklan looked at the bird quizzically and suspiciously.
Gavor shrugged. ‘You sighed,’ he repeated. ‘There I was. Up in the rafters. Brooding, as it were. Contemplating the mysteries of the universe. When my reverie was shattered by this heart-rending sigh soaring up through the hall. “Ah, such pain,” I thought. “My friend and saviour is being crushed under some unbearable burden. I must help him.” And down I come. And what do I get? Sarcasm – base ingratitude. There’s friendship for you.’
‘I’m touched by your concern, Gavor,’ said Hawklan. ‘But I didn’t sigh.’
Gavor turned away and started clunking up and down the table, pecking at various morsels left in the silver dishes. He paused to swallow something.
‘Ah yes you did, my friend. Most distinctly. Mind you, I will admit I’ve never actually heard anyone sigh before, but I know what one sounds like. I’ve read about them on the Gate.’ He levelled a wing at Hawklan. ‘And what you produced was a sigh. Quite unequivocally. A sigh.’
He paused and rooted out a piece of meat.
‘Mm. Delicious,’ he said. ‘My compliments to the cook. Loman’s cooking is improving noticeably – for a castellan.’
‘If Loman hears you calling him a cook, we’ll be eating raven pie for a week,’ said Hawklan.
Gavor ignored the comment. ‘As I was saying,’ he continued. ‘You sighed, Hawklan. A great heaving outpouring of despair. Almost knocked me off my perch. So I’ve come to see what’s wrong, dear boy. If I allow you to get away with sighing, you’ll be groaning next, and you’ve no idea how it echoes up there. I really can’t preen myself if you’re going to assail me with such a tragic cacophony.’
Hawklan laughed. ‘I may concede that perhaps I breathed out rather heavily, but I give you my solemn promise that I will not allow it to degenerate into groaning. I’ve far too much respect for your feathers.’
‘Huh,’ Gavor grunted, cracking a nut with a shuddering blow of his great black beak. ‘You’ve been very quiet recently. Not that you were ever particularly raucous. But you’ve been . . . solemn. Sad almost.’ Gavor’s tone had changed. ‘What’s the matter, Hawklan?’ he asked suddenly, with concern.
Hawklan stood up, pushing the heavy chair back as he did. He was a tall man, but lean and spare. His face looked weathered, yet ageless and relaxed, its dominant feature being bright green penetrating eyes. It was the combination of these eyes with the angular, high cheek-boned face and prominent nose that had prompted Gavor to call him ‘Hawklan’ when they first met, twenty years ago, in the snow-filled valleys to the north. He, Gavor, dying, with his leg caught in an old, forgotten trap, and the strange quiet man with no memory, who freed him and nursed him to health with magical hands.
Hawklan shrugged his shoulders as he walked away from the table. Gavor, partly mistaking the gesture and partly to be nearer his friend, glided after him with an imperceptible movement of his wings. There was no graceless landing here, as his good foot closed gently on Hawklan’s shoulder and his wings folded to avoid Hawklan’s head.
Hawklan tapped the black beak gently with his finger. ‘You’ve known me too long, Gavor,’ he said.
Gavor cocked his head on one side. ‘As long as you’ve known yourself, dear boy. Now tell all, do.’
Hawklan’s eyes flitted briefly to the round window with its coloured glass picture.
‘Ah,’ said Gavor, catching the movement. ‘A sensitive artist and a sad tale from harsher times. But their pain is long over, and would ever have been beyond your powers.’
‘Look at it, Gavor. Look at the background. Tell me what you see.’
Gavor jumped off Hawklan’s shoulder, dipped almost to the floor, and then soared up towards the window, his black plumage iridescent with purples and blues as he cut through the beam of sunlight.
‘What do you see?’ called Hawklan.
‘Fields, dwellings, hills. The closer I look, the more I can see. It’s a remarkable piece of craftsmanship.’
‘Sky and clouds.’
‘On the horizon, Gavor. In the far distance.’
Gavor turned over in mid-air and flew slowly past the window. A small feather drifted down.
‘Black clouds, Hawklan. Just on the horizon – very symbolic.’
‘Yes, but it’s settled in my mind and won’t go away. Black clouds in the distance. Foreboding. Like something in the corner of your eye that disappears when you look directly at it.’
Gavor landed back on Hawklan’s shoulder. He knew his friend was not given to self-indulgent flirtations with matters dark, and he dismissed immediately any intention of teasing him out of his mood. It was, however, Hawklan who initiated the change.
‘Aren’t you going to tell me it’s Spring, and that I should get a wife?’ he asked.
‘As a matter of fact I was, dear boy,’ replied Gavor with mock testiness. ‘But you’ve spoilt the surprise.’
‘Some surprise. You usually give me the benefit of your highly dubious experience in these matters every Spring. While you have the wind left, that is’
Gavor shook his head indignantly. ‘I’m a creature of wide but discerning tastes,’ he said. ‘Not to say stamina. I never lose my wind.’
He saw that Hawklan’s mood was passing.
‘I fail to see why I should allow myself to be distressed by your peculiar lack of interest in such matters, dear boy. It’s not natural. You’re bound to have gloomy thoughts.’
Hawklan paused and smiled resignedly. ‘Gloomy thoughts I could deal with, Gavor. But vague presentiments . . .’
Gavor took off again and flew in great arcs around the hall.
‘Hawklan,’ he shouted. ‘You know there’s only one thing you can do with a presentiment, don’t you?’
Hawklan stared up at him, black and shining, flitting in and out of the roof beams and sunbeams. He swooped down close.
‘Wait, dear boy. Wait.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ said Hawklan. ‘There is nothing else I can do really.’
‘Of course I’m right, dear boy,’ came the echoing reply from the rafters. ‘Always am. And I’m right about you finding a woman. Oh, excuse me, a spider.’
There was a brief scuffle overhead, and then Gavor glided into view again. He perched on a high window ledge and looked out.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘talking of women. Look who’s coming across the courtyard in a hurry. Hair rivalling the sunshine, mouth like winter berries, and a grace of movement that not even my words can encompass.’
He sighed massively. ‘I tell you, Hawklan, if I were a man . . . or she a bird . . .’
‘Gavor!’ said Hawklan menacingly, interrupting his friend’s lecherous flow.
‘I know, dear boy. Proud father and all that. Gavor for the pot, etc, etc.’
‘Yes. And I’d help him pluck you.’
‘More ingratitude. Well, I fear you’re beyond my aid, so I’m off to the . . . er . . . north tower, I think, today. To . . . a friend. If anyone wants me I’ll be back later.’ He paused and looked down at his friend below, his head on one side, as if listening to some far off voice. ‘Wait, Hawklan,’ he said. ‘That’s all you can do. But watch your back.’
And then he was gone, into the sunlit air; a dwindling black spot against the many towers of the castle and the blue spring sky.
Hawklan’s brow wrinkled slightly then he smiled and shrugged off the last of his mood. Outside, in the corridor approaching the entrance to the hall, he heard Tirilen’s light and confident footsteps. He wondered why she was hurrying, and instinctively straightened his long habit as he walked across the hall to greet her.
Pedhavin was a village of several thousand souls, and as such was quite large by the standards of Orthlund.
It was situated at a crossroads. The River Road ran east to west, starting as a narrow track wending a weary way over the mountains from the Decmilloith of Riddin, before becoming a wide road to sweep across Orthlund, and eventually fade away near the banks of the Great River in the west.
The other road ran north to south, and skirted the western edge of the mountains. It was known simply as the Pedhavin Road; at least, near Pedhavin it was. Elsewhere it bore different names, dependent on the whims of the local population.
As with Anderras Darion, no one knew who had built the roads, or why; but also like the castle, they were made by a people with skills now lost. Innumerable small blocks butted together so tightly that the joints between them could scarcely be seen, let alone felt under the feet. Joints so tight that not even the most vigorous of weeds could find a roothold.
Not that these two roads were in any way unique. Almost all the roads that criss-crossed Orthlund were similarly built, and provided a network for travel far beyond the needs of the Orthlundyn. Only towards the borders of the country did the roads begin to deteriorate, particularly in the west, near the Great River. But the Orthlundyn rarely travelled, even in their own land, and such deterioration was of no interest to them.
The houses of Pedhavin were, for the most part, two storeys high, built in stone, and crowned with low-pitched roofs which jutted out at eaves level like so many resolute chins. They were scattered indiscriminately about the slopes beneath the castle, forming a rambling maze of little streets and open squares and courtyards, unadorned by tree or garden.
They all bore a similarity of style, but individually were very different. The inhabitants of Pedhavin were mainly farming people, as were most of the Orthlundyn, but their passion was away from the changing mysteries of growth and decay, away from the yielding of grasses and soil. It was carving. Carving in the hard mountain rock, permanent and solid. Carving with subtle techniques nurtured and preserved by the Carvers’ Guild, a meritocracy appointed by public acclaim, and the nearest thing the Orthlundyn had to a public institution. Lintels, arches, thresholds, balconies, walls and roofs throughout Orthlund all bore testimony to this passion.
In their farming was their shared peace, their common wealth, but in their carving was their individuality, strong and determined. There was an ancient and watchful patience in the Orthlundyn, and nowhere was it more evident than in the carvings that festooned the houses of Pedhavin.
* * * *
One day, down the Pedhavin Road and into this quiet village, shadowed and lit by the spring sunshine, came a tinker, bowed under an enormous double pack, looking like a creature from legend.
While Hawklan sat musing in his dining hall, and Gavor sat drowsily on a high beam, this tinker was entertaining a crowd on the green near the crossroads.
He was a strange-looking creature, dressed in a tunic that had more coloured patches than original material, with a similarly tailored cloak and a sharp nebbed hat sporting a prodigious many-coloured feather. His odd appearance was further enhanced by his posture, with his neck craning forward, one shoulder higher than the other and a bending at the waist as if he were eternally preparing to pick something off the ground. His head jerked this way and that, as did his eyes, although frequently head and eyes went in different directions. His long arms bore long hands with long bony fingers, and all twitched as much as his head. Then his thin, tight clad legs would bend and flex in such a way that watchers were inclined to put their hands over their ears in anticipation of the great cracking that their appearance indicated they might make.
With an elegant flourish he produced a shimmering cloth, and with practiced hands laid it out on the ground, hopping round it jerkily and flicking out creases here and there. Then another and another, pausing only to wink broadly at one of the silent, gathering crowd, and to expose two bright white rows of teeth shining in his brown, wrinkled face. It was a smile that few could resist.
Then he plunged into his voluminous pack and waited for a moment with his arms immersed, sweeping his smile across his entire audience. With a slight movement of his head, he mimicked their own involuntary craning curiosity. The adults reflected his smile knowingly back at him and the children laughed, the strangeness of the man beginning to fade. The Orthlundyn were reserved, but neither unfriendly nor inhospitable.
Abruptly, there were more flourishes, and even more frenzied activity, and all manner of things started to appear on the three cloths. As they appeared, so the reserve of the crowd faded further, and as people started to gossip and point, so the tinker started to underscore his actions with a jerky stream of staccato chatter delivered in a high creaking voice that seemed to fit his creaking shape.
‘Here, ladies. Laces from the north and the south. Ribbons woven and dyed by the Eirthlundyn over the Great River.’
He draped the laces around the necks of the women, and whirled the coloured ribbons high and twisting into the air, as he twisted himself in and out of the crowd.
‘Not many Eirthlundyn left now, but they know how to adorn their women,’ he noted more confidentially to the men. ‘And, ladies. These perfumes.’
Small crystal bottles appeared from various mysterious pockets in his tattered tunic, and like the ribbons and laces they were handed around indiscriminately. He looked pensively at one.
‘Such a journey to bring these to you, dear ladies; such a journey as you could not imagine. From rare hot lands that burned and wrinkled my skin to its present delicate leathery hue. And what it did to my feet, I must walk on, but we need not dwell on. And my pocket. Ah . . . But I was ever foolish in such matters, and their women kept so fair and beautiful in that terrible sun. How could I resist? Only the women of Pedhavin are worthy of such treasures I thought, and here I am with the most subtle and fragrant perfumes you will ever know.’
Then again, confidentially. ‘With these, no man will be able to resist you, ladies.’
As the hubbub of the crowd grew and the women started to dab themselves with perfume and hold the ribbons and laces against one another, heads cocked critically, the tinker deftly isolated the men like a sheepdog cutting out sheep from a flock.
‘For the ladies, gentlemen, the finery and the frippery, but for you . . .‘ More plunging in the pack. ‘For you . . .’
Chisels and knives and all manner of tools appeared.
‘Steel such as you’ve never seen. Edges that even your Pedhavin stone won’t easily turn. Careful, sir. When Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor says edge, he means edge. You’ll lose your finger and not even know it’s gone.’
‘Hawklan will put it back on for me,’ laughed the young man who was holding the knife, and his friends joined in. However, he eased the knife back into its carved leather sheath very carefully.
‘From Riddin sir, the leather. The finest leather you could possibly find. No one works leather like the Riddinvolk.’ Then he rested his hand on the young man’s arm.
‘Hawklan, sir? Who is he?’
The young man turned and pointed up the hill to the castle.
‘Our healer. That’s his castle up there.’
‘His castle?’ said the tinker, eyes widening. The young man nodded.
‘Ah,’ said the tinker with a great exhalation. ‘I was going to ask you whether the great lord might allow me in to show my humble wares to his servants, and you tell me that this splendid castle houses only a healer.’ His voice became almost contemptuous. ‘A mixer of herbs and stitcher of gashes.’ He shook his head. ‘Orthlund is a strange place.’
An older man caught his eye. ‘We have no lords in Orthlund, tinker . . . Derimot,’ he said in a friendly, but firm tone. ‘No man holds sway over another here. Hawklan had the key to open Anderras Darion when he came, and he speaks nothing of his past, so we respect his wish. He’s a most exceptional healer. And much loved.’ He looked significantly at the tinker who was still for a moment before bowing his head and twisting it round to look up at the man.
‘Had the key when he arrived?’ he said quietly. The man nodded.
Then, like a wave returning down the shore to the sea after lingering at the storm line, the tinker burst into movement again.
‘I meant no offence, sir. I’m much travelled, and not all healers are deserving of honours by any means. In other lands, such a castle would house a most mighty Lord, with many servants, and . . .’ he winked, ‘many needs.’
So Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor flitted through the crowd gathered around his three cloths, gangling like a huge, amiable and multi-coloured spider. Chattering endlessly, bartering and bantering, as soft hands tested linens and silks, and soft eyes looked knowingly as rare perfumes were bought. Chattering, as brown, experienced hands examined chisels and sickles, and brown voices asked cautious questions, carefully trying to hide the desires bred from the love of the land and the love of the carving that saw fulfilment in the glitter of the shining tools.
But nothing was hidden from Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor. Least of all the tall blonde girl who whispered something to her large, brawny companion and then ran off towards the Castle Road, clutching the tiny golden trinket she had just bought.
Tirilen was the daughter of Loman, the castellan of Anderras Darion. She was born in the same year that Hawklan had come out of the wintry mountains with Gavor in his arms, and opened the long sealed castle.
Not as tall as Hawklan, she was nonetheless tall for a woman, and tended to look even taller because she stood at once erect and relaxed. Her long blonde hair was normally bound by a single ribbon, but occasionally it would fly free, and then she would subject it to an endless sequence of unnecessary groomings, running it through her hands and teasing it this way and that, before sweeping the whole back with a toss of the head.
Her eyes slanted slightly and their blue was like a reflection of the spring sky, while her straight and rather narrow nose overtopped a straight and rather narrow mouth. A mouth that could become tight and resolute with grim determination, or peevish and pouting if she were caught in some misdemeanour that perhaps provoked her father too far.
Now she was a quiet, alert young woman, but for most of her young life she had behaved like a riotous twelve-year-old boy and had been the continual despair of the women of the village charged by Loman with her education into womanhood since the death of her mother. Tirilen looked and moved like thistledown in the breeze, but in her time she had hitched up her skirts and waded into the river to tease the slumbering fishermen, scrambled and run across the rocks like a rabbit in rowdy games, and routinely knocked the heads of any of the local boys who showed signs of becoming unusually tender. Generally she had shown little inclination to behave in anything approaching a ladylike manner.
Loman was a stern and solid man, with a strong sense of justice and integrity which he shared with most of the Orthlundyn. He had frequently castigated his daughter when taxed by the village women, but he had had little heart for it, and Tirilen had only to smile and put her arms around him to ensure she could carry on as usual. Since her earliest years he had recognized his own independent temperament housed in his wife’s frame, and he took solace from the knowledge that while she knew of his love and affection she would come to no great harm, nor do any, and he would keep her as a friend as well as a daughter when life eventually eased them apart. They had always been happy with one another and were more so now.
Only with Hawklan had Tirilen’s quieter nature appeared. He had asked Loman to be his castellan at their first strange meeting, but Loman and his toddling daughter only moved into the castle some three years later when, despite Hawklan’s aid, Loman’s wife died. Then Hawklan had helped with the upbringing of the noisy, blue-eyed child as Loman pulled himself through the blackness that followed. He was a second father to Tirilen, although their relationship was very different from that she had with her real father. Hawklan it was who received those confidences and confessions which Tirilen preferred not to bring to her father’s attention, but which needed to be excised by utterance. And Hawklan it was who guided her into looking behind the surface of the dour man to find the true father within.
Hawklan it was also, who found she had no small gift for healing, and who took charge of her instruction. Thus when the mood was right, she had learned about the herbs and other healing plants that could be found in the fields and among the rocks, and about repairing gashes and fractures. He could not teach her how to speak to the animals, because he himself did not know how he did it, but she was sensitive to their silent distress calls and frequently appeared in Hawklan’s workroom with some injured creature that she had found because ‘on impulse’ she had turned from her path.
* * * *
Like Gavor and Hawklan’s other close friends, Tirilen too had noticed his growing preoccupation; a lessening of his gentle ironic humour and, she alone noticed, an occasional strange, distant expression in his green eyes. In conversation and everyday intercourse he seemed happy enough, but he was increasingly to be found alone and pensive, and she sensed an unknown and mounting pain.
It was only Gavor who asked the question directly and received any semblance of an answer. And vague though it was, he was pleased, because he knew that once question and answer began to appear in the mind, then the inner conflict was beginning to be resolved. With the emergence into the light of this slender bloom from the depths, Gavor deemed it advisable to leave lest their normal banter trample it underfoot, and he was pleased to see the arrival of Tirilen, to whose hands it could be more safely entrusted.
However, the bloom having appeared, it transferred a portion of its uneasy perfume onto Gavor. Hawklan’s powerful intuition was not lightly set aside and Gavor felt dark clouds gathering distantly on his own inner horizons. Hawklan’s words began to crystallize unspoken concerns of his own, though not clearly. A change was in the air, and not a good one. He croaked at himself disparagingly as he flew above the rooftops of Anderras Darion. He had no intention of visiting his ‘friend’ in the north tower. Uncharacteristically, he too now wanted to be alone. Spiralling high above the Castle, resting on the warm spring air rising up from the front wall, he looked down at the crowd on the green by the crossroads, and at Tirilen leading Hawklan down the road to the village.
He started crossly as a small brown bird whirred past him at great speed and disappeared in the direction of the green.
* * * *
Not many could resist Tirilen when she chose to be persuasive, and, his heart lightened a little by speaking of his concern to Gavor, Hawklan made only a token opposition to her invitation to see the strange tinker and listen to his chatter.
He had to stride out to keep up with her as they walked down the road to the village. She, unusually, was talking incessantly.
‘He’s so funny, and he’s got so many wonderful things in his pack, you’d wonder how he could possibly get them all in, let alone lift it. And he seems to know so much about everything – sewing, farming, carving . . .’
‘And emptying purses,’ said Hawklan dryly.
Tirilen smiled at him knowingly and then linked her arm in his.
‘Look at this,’ she said, carefully unwrapping the pendant she had bought. Hawklan looked at it studiously.
‘It’s an unusual design,’ he said, ‘although there’s something vaguely familiar in the style. Gold too, by the feel of it.’
They were almost leaning on one another as they examined the pendant and they strode out in step down the last, steep part of the road. Hawklan rubbed the pendant gently between his thumb and forefinger and wrinkled his nose slightly.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Tirilen.
Just clouds on the horizon, thought Hawklan.
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘I just thought I felt a tiny sharp edge, but it must have been my imagination.’
* * * *
At the green the tinker was still in full flow and the crowd was even bigger. Most of the people they had met on the way were either laughing or carefully examining purchases, and Hawklan had become increasingly anxious to see this phenomenon that had landed so randomly on the village.
He soon found himself at the front of the crowd as it was in continuous movement, and the villagers, invariably glad to see him, virtually ushered him through. The tinker was at the edge of the little clearing around his laden cloths, busily expounding to someone the virtues of an intended purchase, but he turned round the instant Hawklan appeared and made straight for him, or as straight as his jerky gait would allow.
His eyes stopped flickering for a moment and held Hawklan’s gaze fixed.
‘Hawklan,’ he said to himself softly, as if sending the word to some deep part of his memory.
‘Hawklan.’ Again with the same strange softness. Then, in his normal voice. ‘Hawklan? Hawklan the healer? From the . . . ?’ A long finger unfolded in the direction of the castle.
Hawklan smiled and nodded. The tinker clapped his hands, and his face lit up as he returned the smile.
‘Ah, what have I for a healer?’ he said, screwing up his face thoughtfully. ‘Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor, who has everything for everybody, must have something for a healer – especially a rich healer like yourself.’
This last he said in a loud whisper accompanied by an enormous wink and a complicated nod of the head in the direction of the castle. Hawklan laughed out loud along with many in the crowd.
‘I’m afraid you’ll starve to death waiting for my gold, Derimot. Although I’ll happily give you some food and drink if that becomes likely.’
‘Take the food, Derimot,’ shouted someone in the crowd. ‘Hawklan has no coffers, but he has the finest kitchen in Orthlund.’
‘In that case I may accept your offer one day,’ said the tinker, bowing low, but creaking his head round to look at Hawklan. ‘Local knowledge is always worth more than gold.’ And he sent an acknowledging nod to his unknown adviser in the crowd. Then he turned his attention once more to Hawklan, looking him up and down professionally.
‘Look at my wares, Hawklan. There are things here that only I could obtain. No one – no one – has the skill and knowledge of Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor when it comes to trading. And all of it is the very finest. When I leave, you may never see such things again.’
Hawklan inclined his head in acknowledgement. ‘Thank you, Derimot, I shall,’ he said, and he walked across to the articles now scattered and disarranged by the villagers.
He always took an interest in objects from beyond Orthlund, in the hope that they might stir some memory of the time before he found himself walking in the wintry mountains some twenty years ago.
The tinker flitted away and gathered a crowd of children around him.
‘Now, children,’ he said very slowly. ‘Your turn.’ He put his long arms around several of them, and crouching on the floor brought them together in a confidential huddle. His mouth pursed up into a disparaging expression.
‘Fol-de-rols and fripperies are alright for the women, and tools and suchlike will quieten the men. But what should a tinker bring from far lands for the people who really matter, eh?’
He waited, eyes wide in expectation.
‘Toys,’ came the ready chorus in reply.
‘Toys indeed,’ he echoed. ‘Sewing and carving are to keep the grown-ups out of the way, but toys are the really important things aren’t they?’
Hawklan heard the laughter and squeals of the children counterpointing Derimot’s chatter as he looked at the various articles laid out before him. He picked up one or two things and then laid them down again gently with a small twinge of regret. For some reason, it did not distress him that he knew nothing of what he had been before he came to the village. He seemed to be full of happiness and light, and he fitted into this peaceful, tolerant and wise community as if he had been born there. He doubted that he had ever been anything particularly unpleasant.
But inevitably he was curious, and he was ever watchful for some flash of knowledge which might illuminate that part of his life. However, there was nothing here; even though almost everything was new to him and obviously came from distant places as the tinker claimed. For a brief moment he felt a warning forming inside him . . .
‘Look at this, Hawklan.’
The tinker’s voice startled him and he turned round suddenly to find himself with his face only inches away from Derimot’s twinkling eyes.
‘Hold out your hand,’ said the creaking voice, with odd seductiveness.
Without thinking, Hawklan proffered his right hand and Derimot took it from underneath in his left, holding it like a tiny bridge between their two faces. Then he snapped the fingers of his right hand and placed his clenched fist on Hawklan’s extended palm.
‘Ha-ha,’ he cried, and releasing Hawklan he brought his hands together with a loud crack.
Hawklan found himself gazing at a small doll. It was a tiny soldier, and it was marching up and down his hand. Apart from its rather stiff-legged walk, it was remarkably lifelike. Every detail was perfect. Even its tiny eyes moved, and Hawklan noticed that a button on the tunic had come undone, revealing an ornately decorated shirt underneath. By its side hung a tiny sword, which it proceeded to draw and use in an intricate drill, cutting glittering silver arcs in the bright sunlight.
Hawklan stared, spellbound. The Orthlundyn made ingenious toys for their children, but this was far beyond anything they could do.
Suddenly and without anything apparently happening, he found he was both cold and sweating. The tiny creature just inches from his face moved hauntingly, hypnotically, but its eyes . . .
Hawklan felt an overwhelming urge to tighten his grip around it to stop its obscene, tortured performance. An urge to hurl it onto the ground where he could stamp it out of all existence. He felt a great pit open at his feet.
The tinker seized the tiny figure with a swift movement, and Hawklan staggered forward with a gasp.
He heard Tirilen’s voice, concerned, in the distance.
‘What’s the matter? You’re white as a sheet.’ The voice was closer now.
‘Wasn’t that a remarkable toy, then,’ said the tinker, looking at him intently. For the briefest of moments, Hawklan looked straight into the tinker’s eyes. They were lit with a sinister red glow; a red like the heart of a volcano. And there was a doubting recognition in them. For that moment, Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor looked as if he was standing straight and terrible. Hawklan seemed to feel the earth rumble under his feet and he felt his left hand clutching for a sword scabbard that was not there.
Tirilen laid a hand on his arm, and he looked around, surprised. The chattering crowd had suddenly fallen silent and all were looking at one another awkwardly. The tinker clapped his hands and laughed. ‘Ah. A goose has walked over my grave,’ he cried, and everyone laughed and applauded, the old saw cutting through the embarrassment. The crowd became louder than ever.
‘Hawklan?’ Tirilen’s voice was full of concern. He smiled rather foolishly.
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘Just felt a little dizzy. Standing up too quickly probably.’
He moved between her and the tinker, who was holding a wooden box containing the tiny doll, now innocuous.
‘Isn’t it a most incredible doll, sir? Most skilfully crafted,’ he said.
Hawklan felt tiny ripples of unreasoned anger still flowing somewhere deep within him but his natural courtesy and an unexpected caution kept them under control.
‘It is indeed,’ he replied. ‘A most unusual toy. I’ve never seen anything like it, and the locals here are not without skill in making such things. Where did you get it from?’
The tinker looked sideways at Hawklan, long-forgotten doubts and fears starting to bubble deep within him. What had possessed him to break his journey and stop here? Here of all places? And in this, the most ludicrous of his guises, noisy and clamorous like some frightened child clattering and shouting to keep night-bred terrors at bay. And what power had prompted him to test the sight of this . . . this healer with the mannequin?
Abruptly his doubts and fears faded as another, greater, spectre came to him and filled him with a terrible paralysing chill. Could this be Ethriss? Lying watchful in this green-eyed, mortal frame? Ethriss the Terrible One, who had thrown down the Master and His Uhriel into millennia of silent and impotent darkness? His very presence radiated a profound healing knowledge. He had seen instantly the corruption in the mannequin. But most damning of all, he had the key to that sinkhole, Anderras Darion. Anderras Darion stood open. Open! And had for twenty years according to these village oafs. Orthlund was a dreadful place. His chilling fear deepened and froze both his mind and his body.
‘Are you all right?’ Hawklan’s gentle voice penetrated into the tinker’s darkness like a sunlit dagger, making him start. He disguised the movement with an angular twitch.
‘Just trying to recall, sir,’ he said thoughtfully, clearing his throat. ‘So many places I’ve travelled to.’
No. Ethriss awake would have felt his presence and swept him out of existence like dust in the wind. But still, Ethriss he might be – dormant, as He had been, waiting only the sign to rise again.
Then the black favour of his Master loomed suddenly in his mind. Was this not perhaps the true purpose of his journey? Was it not He who had said he must go south through the darkness of Orthlund rather than through Riddin as was his wont? Riddin could be seen. Riddin was known. But the Harmony of Orthlund blinded and deceived all the eyes he sent into it.
A treacherous shaft of ambition entered his swirling fears. Bind him, it said. This is His will. Bind him while he still sleeps. Bind him in a deeper sleep for His delectation. But gently, very gently. It could not be here – he shuddered inwardly – nor could he be drawn too near Narsindal too soon. There His presence pervaded the very air, and would beyond doubt waken the dormant Guardian, if Guardian he be. Then . . .
‘The Gretmearc, sir,’ he said. ‘That’s where it was. The Gretmearc at Altfarran. They have many such toys there. Many.’
Something had changed. The image of the tiny marching doll wavered in Hawklan’s mind and troubled him greatly, as did the fleeting glimpse he had had of the tinker, tall and menacing. Something seemed to be shifting deep inside him, like moving pebbles presaging a landslide. And like those pebbles, it seemed to be beyond control. He felt a need to do something, but nothing had happened that warranted any action. And yet, things were different. The dark clouds on his horizon were unequivocal.
He left Tirilen at the green and wandered slowly back through the village. Behind him he could hear friendly cries of dismay as the tinker started to load his wares into his pack, and the tinker’s protestations as he reluctantly made yet another last sale.
The sun was now quite low in the sky and beginning to cast long shadows, etching out the patterns of the spring evening on walls and quiet streets. Hawklan nodded acknowledgements to the few people he met who had come out to look at the shadows. There was always someone, somewhere in Pedhavin, looking at the shadows, for the carvers worked their stone not only to represent animals and people and ideas, but so that they could tell other tales when the light of the sun, or the moon, or the stars, fell on them and painted strangely solid shapes in their tenuous wake.
Some shadows would be large and grandiose, spilling out over the streets and houses, while others were changes within the carvings themselves. Hawklan found himself looking at a small frieze on which was carved a group of people gathered at the green he had just left. He knew the figures were arranged in such a way that at a certain time of day they would apparently turn to look at the sun, while at another they seemed to be looking at one another and to be engaged in deep conversation.
‘Not a bad piece of rock spoiling,’ came a deep voice from behind him. He recognized it and turned with a smile. Isloman was Loman’s elder brother and he was standing in the middle of the street looking critically at the frieze. In his arms he cradled a huge rock effortlessly. Although Hawklan was as tall as Isloman, he always felt dwarfed by the man’s massive frame and enormous strength.
‘Do you want any help with that?’ Hawklan asked, knowing the answer. The grime on Isloman’s face cracked as he grinned.
‘No thank you, Hawklan. It’s only a pebble for a lady’s bracelet,’ he said, swinging the rock up onto his shoulder, and supporting it lightly with one hand.
‘Then I should prefer not to meet her,’ retorted Hawklan. Isloman bellowed his great laugh.
‘Are you sure it wasn’t a woman who lured you out of your castle today?’
Hawklan nodded an acknowledgement. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Much more of a woman than she was but twelve months ago, and even more of a match for both of us than she used to be.’
Isloman was the third member of the triumvirate that looked after and doted on Tirilen. The women of the village had little doubt why she used to behave the way she did, with no mother and three fathers.
The two men walked slowly up the street together, Isloman pausing every now and then to examine some grotesque shadow he was making with the huge rock on his shoulder.
Hawklan liked the bluff openness of Isloman. He had a presence like the mountains themselves, honest and direct; and as they walked, Hawklan welcomed his company, the companionable silence dispelling a little the effects of the strange tinker and his tiny, sinister doll.
By common consent, Isloman had been for a long time the Guild’s First Carver and, as such, he was the only villager who earned his bread by carving alone. No stranger, however, would have associated the delicate and sensitive work he did with the rocklike figure he himself presented.
Reaching his workshop, Isloman dropped the rock back into his two hands and, with a grunt, bent his knees to lower it to the ground. He gave it an affectionate pat as he stood up.
‘It’s taken me weeks to find that. I could hear it calling, but could I find it?’ He shook his head ruefully. ‘Just look at it. Isn’t it magnificent?’
Hawklan looked blankly from him to the rock and back again, and Isloman growled and clapped a huge hand on his shoulder.
‘Ah. I forgot. You’re rock-blind aren’t you? Not being a local.’ Then, with a great wink, ‘Still, you’re useful enough when someone needs to be put together.’
‘That’s a great relief,’ said Hawklan, rubbing his shoulder. It was an exchange they had had many times before.
Isloman stripped off his leather apron and stained shirt, and then plunged his great torso into a nearby water butt. When he emerged he was blowing like a granite leviathan and he completed his toilet by rubbing himself with a handful of small sharp pebbles from a box next to the butt. It was the dexterity with which his huge hands manipulated these pebbles that offset for Hawklan the physical distress he felt whenever he watched this ritual. Even so, he usually had the feeling he was being skinned. He knew too that Isloman enjoyed his discomfiture and would very soon start to laugh. And he did. He leaned back, boomed his hands on his great chest and roared with laughter.
‘I’m sorry, Hawklan. I can’t help it. I’d be the greatest carver in the history of all Orthlund if I could capture the look on your face when I dry off.’ He raised a finger significantly. ‘In fact, I may well make it my life’s work.’
‘Not if I have to keep watching you do that, you won’t,’ said Hawklan in mock alarm.
‘Ah. It’s only a knack,’ said Isloman with a chuckle as he rolled the pebbles in his hand. He looked wistful for a moment as he stared down at them. ‘I’ve used pebbles like these on a baby before now. Many a time, when Tirilen was little.’
Hawklan nodded and smiled.
‘Come on,’ said Isloman, pulling on a clean shirt. ‘I’ll show you what I’m going to coax out of that piece we just brought up.’
Inside the workshop there was the chaos that only an artist could create. Isloman shuffled through sketches and sheets of writing and figures, talking earnestly and enthusiastically as he did. Hawklan however, was lost, as usual. The sketches were inordinately complicated and were works of art in themselves. The scripts were in the ancient carver’s tongue, and Isloman’s explanation was full of technical nuances which were utterly beyond him. Still, he enjoyed Isloman’s enthusiasm. It was like being bathed in sunlight.
He found himself absently handling a chisel while Isloman was talking.
‘I see you made a purchase from our visitor,’ he said during a lull.
‘Yes,’ said Isloman, with a slight frown, gently taking the chisel from Hawklan’s hand.
‘Hm,’ he muttered doubtfully.
‘Is anything wrong?’ Hawklan asked. Isloman shrugged slightly.
‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘There’s something peculiar about it that I didn’t notice when I bought it, but I don’t know what it is.’ He shrugged again and laid the chisel back on the table. ‘I think that tinker could sell anything. I’ve never seen the like of him before, have you? And we’ve had some characters come through here on their way to the market from time to time.’
‘The Gretmearc?’ said Hawklan.
A tiny doll walked jerkily through Hawklan’s memory and made an invitation.
‘I’ve never been to the Gretmearc,’ said Hawklan, pushing the chisel with the end of his finger.
‘I’ve only been a couple of times,’ said Isloman. He smiled at the recollection.
‘It’s a long way and not too easy through the mountains. But . . .’ He sat up and smacked his hands on his knees. ‘Everyone should go to the Gretmearc at least once in his life. Tirilen’s always pestering to go. I suppose Loman or I will have to take her one day.’
Then he looked at Hawklan in some surprise. ‘It’s a strange place for you to mention, Hawklan. You, who’ve never been more than two days’ walk from the village. Are you getting itchy feet?’
A small black certainty floated into Hawklan’s mind. He returned Isloman’s gaze.
‘It seems I have to go, Isloman. I don’t know why, and I’ve only just realized it; but yes, I have to go.’ Hawklan’s tone was suddenly serious. Isloman’s great square head tilted a little to one side, his brown eyes full of concern and puzzlement. The sun shone in through the window and lit up grey flecks, like stone, in his short-cropped hair. He could see into the heart of any rock, and into the hearts of many men, but that of Hawklan was ever closed. And yet he trusted him completely. Rockblind the man might be, but his inner sight was beyond that of any other Isloman had ever known. Without hesitation or further questions he said, ‘Shall I go with you?’
Hawklan smiled and patted his friend on the arm. ‘No, Isloman,’ he said. ‘It’s just a whim. You follow the songs of the rocks. I must follow this song.’ Isloman nodded in reluctant acceptance.
‘You can tell me how to get there and give me the benefit of your great experience in travelling far and wide,’ said Hawklan, to ease his friend’s concern.
* * * *
Derimot Findeel Dan-Tor pleasantly declined the hospitality offered by the villagers as he filled his enormous pack and fastened it in a great flurry of knots and tapes and splendid shining buckles.
‘You’ve already been generosity itself to an impoverished wanderer, and I’ve a friend I hope to meet in the next village tonight.’
So he was escorted to the leaving stone by an entourage of laughing children.
Some way outside the village he stopped, lowered his pack to the ground and straightened up. His crooked form seemed to unfold for ever, until eventually he stood very tall and very straight, and quite free of the twitchings and twistings that had characterized him in the village. He looked up at Anderras Darion, still visible over the hillock that separated him from the village, and reddening now in the setting sun. The red glow from the Castle reflected in his eyes, and he averted his gaze as if in some pain.
Raising his left hand he snapped his long, bony fingers with a crack like a snapping twig. Out of the deepening gloaming a small brown bird with blank yellow eyes appeared and perched on the still upraised hand. He lowered it until it was opposite his mouth. The bird tilted its head and the tinker spoke to it long and earnestly. Then, as abruptly as it had appeared, the bird was gone, flying in a straight line towards the mountains, its wings whirring purposefully in the evening quiet.
Watching it, the tinker tapped his foot unthinkingly. The ground around it rippled like water and churned up tiny dust devils which danced around him, as if in homage.
Loman ran his finger along a small ledge as he walked down the winding corridor. He examined the slight skim of dust on the end of it carefully, then brushed it idly with his other hand.
‘Scallywags,’ he muttered.
The scallywags in question were the apprentices of the Carvers’ Guild who, amongst other things, were charged with the cleaning of the Castle and who were allowed special days away from the fields to do so. It had been Isloman’s idea. He believed, in fact he knew, that the apprentices could gain nothing but good from the close proximity to the countless carvings that were to be found throughout the Castle, covering almost every wall and ceiling as fully as they covered the Great Gate. And it would be a small repayment to Hawklan from the village for his many services.
Loman however, had earthier reservations, as the organizing of these ‘scallywags’ fell on his shoulders, and, as he had said at the very beginning, some of them were far from being as diligent as they might be. He went through the duty list for the day in his mind, and narrowing his eyes, fixed the apple-shaped face of the negligent culprit for later attention.
He grunted to himself as he went down a short flight of stairs.
‘Worse than being a nursemaid sometimes. I could do the jobs myself by the time I’ve sorted those imps out.’
He was a little out of sorts today because of the disruption of his routine. It was a good routine and he did not like to change it. In fact he did not like change at all very much, and today seemed to be full of it, with Hawklan suddenly wanting to go to the Gretmearc. ‘On a whim,’ no less! And Isloman more than half encouraging him. Then Tirilen almost throwing a tantrum like the old days because Hawklan refused to take her. Now, thanks to his own zeal, he had to find him a sword. A sword – for Hawklan! He grunted again.
And that damned tinker with his fancy tools. Loman was not only the castellan of Anderras Darion; he was, unusually for one of the Orthlundyn, a consummate smith. As his brother saw into the heart of the rock, so he saw into the heart of metals, and as his brother heard the song of the rock and drew a greater beauty from it, so he did with metals.
The tools he made were part of a greater harmony, rarely spoken of but always understood by the Orthlundyn. They did not tear shape from the rock; that would be destruction. They discovered it and drew it out gently, parting it from its parent when the time was right, like the natural and painless dropping of fruit from a tree for the benefit of both. That was creation.
He stopped for a moment and raised a pensive hand to his mouth. He had not seen the tinker nor any of his wares and he wondered why Isloman had bothered to purchase anything from him. And the other people as well. Why had they bought tools and implements they did not really need, nor knew the origins of? They, above all, knew that ill-conceived implements could rend and destroy. What blindness had come over them? More change. And not for the better, he was sure.
Shaking his head, he strode out again, dismissing his reveries in favour of the business in hand. He moved for some time along corridors and down stairways until, turning a final corner, he paused and clenched his fists nervously. This was never easy and always he had to pause and take his fear in hand despite the familiarity of the route ahead.
Always too, as he stood here, as if as an antidote to the grimness ahead, he recalled the events of some twenty years before. Events presaged by his brother bursting noisily into his workshop on the coldest night of that long bitter winter.
Only recently returned from the horror of the Morlider War with its terrible winter night-fighting, Loman was brought to his feet by cruelly learned reflexes and, seizing a nearby hammer, he found himself facing his brother wild-eyed and savage, hand poised for a fearful blow, and mind uncertain for the moment where he was.
Isloman screwed up his face in self-reproach, seeing immediately the folly of his hasty intrusion. Briefly be cast his eyes downwards.
‘I’m sorry, Loman,’ he said. ‘I’m so sorry.’
But then his urgency overrode his regret. ‘Come quickly. Quickly. The castle.’ And seizing his brother’s arm, he dragged him out into the deep snow.
Loman swore robustly and stepped sharply back into the warmth to gather up his cloak. Fastening it about himself with a scowl, he prepared to take his brother severely to task for his conduct, but Isloman merely pointed up into the blackness that shrouded the mountains. Loman followed his gaze.
Where all should have been darkness, a single light shone out, soft and warm. For a moment he was again disorientated, then . . .
‘It’s the Gate,’ he whispered in disbelief, his breath cloudy in the light from his own door. ‘The Gate’s open.’
He could never remember clearly what must have been a leg-wrenching walk up the steep, snow-clogged road to the castle, but he remembered standing awe-stricken with several other villagers in front of the long sealed Gate, its two great leaves now swung wide like a welcoming embrace.
He remembered too, following the line of footprints that led him across the snow-covered courtyard lit gently by lights whose source he could not see. Footprints that brought him to an open door and whose melting remains took him down a long passageway and into a low-ceilinged hall illuminated by a flickering fire.
The cowled figure sitting in front of it with a great black bird perched on its shoulder, might have been an image of terror, but Loman’s heart told him there was no terror there. Only a great peace. It told him he had not known such peace for many a year, if ever.
The figure rose as he entered and turned to face him. Before he could speak however, it turned to Isloman and held out its hands.
‘You’re hurt,’ it said.
Isloman’s left hand went involuntarily to his right arm. It had been gashed by some poisoned Morlider weapon and the wound had resisted all attempts to heal it and was daily draining the big man’s strength. As if surprised at his own actions, he stepped forward, rolling up his sleeve carefully as he did so, and offered the wounded arm to the figure.
The figure’s long hands, at once powerful and delicate, took hold of the bandaged wound and held it silently for some time. Then the cowled head looked up and Loman could feel its eyes searching into his brother.
‘You’re sorely hurt,’ it said. ‘But you have a great harmony within you. I can help make your arm sound again, but it will be a long time before your heart is quiet again.’
Isloman withdrew his arm and nursed it gently against himself. ‘Thank you,’ he said softly.
The figure then turned to Loman and looked at him quietly. ‘Your heart also will need time to find peace. Will you tend my castle for me?’ Such was the presence of the figure that Loman felt his eyes water and an ache tighten his throat.
‘Yes,’ he whispered, the cry of his heart deafening his mind’s questions.
But one of the villagers asked them in his stead.
‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Where have you come from in this weather? How . . .’
The figure turned towards him. ‘I know nothing,’ it said, in a tone that was gentle but irrevocably final. The bird on his shoulder made what sounded like a dismissive grunt and flapped its wings impatiently. Then with a flick of its head it threw back the figure’s cowl to reveal the wearer’s lean face, with its green eyes and prominent nose.
‘I call him Hawklan,’ said the bird, to everyone’s considerable surprise. ‘He calls me Gavor. We met in the mountains. He’s done wonders for my leg already – look.’ And it proffered a makeshift wooden leg to its startled audience.
There was a long silence and it cocked its head on one side. ‘He really is quite bright,’ it added reassuringly. ‘Just a bit shy. And we’re both hungry.’
The memory of that night alone always served as a reaffirmation for Loman. I forget too easily, he thought as he looked at the waiting columns. Forget too easily the darkness his presence alone lifted from me. Then he strode forward determinedly.
As he walked into the sinister gloaming between the columns, the sound of his soft footsteps and the creak of his clothes started to rise up ahead of him loudly and unmistakably, to warn all around of his presence. He knew from bitter experience that if he stepped from the correct path, those noises would rebound on him a thousandfold, as would then the increasing sounds of his desperate struggles to escape. The noise would multiply and grow until, staggering blindly, he would crash into column after column, heedless of pain and injury, pursued by his own terror until eventually he would perish, crushed by the sound of his own screaming.
The labyrinth carried memories far less welcome than those of the arrival of Hawklan, for even with Hawklan’s patient help it had taken him a long time to learn the correct path, and twice in the early days he had missed the way while unaccompanied. On both occasions some destiny had brought Hawklan along, to quiet the mounting tumult with a soft word, but still it had taken many days of Hawklan’s care to restore Loman’s mind and soothe the wild-eyed terror from his face. Even after all this time the noises from the labyrinth echoed distantly in his darker dreams.
He paused. Around him he could hear faint whispers hissing and murmuring to and fro, their source unknown and unimaginable. Whispers that were waiting expectantly for his tread to falter and lead him astray and into their maw. Waiting. Waiting and watching. He shuddered involuntarily, and the sound rumbled into the dark distance before rolling back towards him like grotesque gloating laughter. It was a terrible place. Unlike anywhere else in the castle.
‘There is some darkness in the heart of all things, however fair,’ Hawklan had said.
As with so many other things, Hawklan himself had known his way through the maze, and whence it led, but not from whence his knowledge came. ‘I know nothing,’ he replied gently to all his questioners until they stopped asking. Stopped not out of frustration, but out of the realization that he told only the truth. Whatever mystery surrounded Hawklan, it was not his for the telling and he must be accepted for what he was – a great healer and a strange bearer of light into the hearts of those who came near him.
Loman glanced around at the waiting columns again. This was the dark heart of the labyrinth itself, where all avenues faded into the ominous gloom and all were identical. Only faith could guide his feet for the remainder of the journey and he placed his trust in it until finally he emerged from the whispering horror into a hall bright with spring sunlight.
This was carried along a maze of its own by the mirror-bright stones of the creators of Anderras Darion. Window-like openings set in the walls showed the village and the countryside below as clearly as if he were standing on top of the main wall. But he knew he was far, far below that. Here, he was deep in the heart of the castle, for this hall was the antechamber to the Armoury of Anderras Darion.
Taking a large key from his pouch, Loman moved over to a small wicket set in one leaf of a pair of massive doors, not dissimilar to the Great Gate in appearance. It opened smoothly and he stepped inside.
Outside, the sun shone on forests and fields, rivers and mountains. In here it shone on row upon glittering row of weapons. Swords and clubs, axes and spears, lances, bows, arrows, shields and armour of every description, all arranged as if for battle, and all immaculate. And in numbers far too great to count.
Loman stood and stared and reminded himself that it was his idea that Hawklan should have a sword. ‘There are bad people in this world, Hawklan,’ he had said. ‘And for all your knowledge and healing skills, you’re not well travelled. If you’re armed and carry yourself well, that’s some protection in itself. But there are some funny animals in the mountains as well.’
Hawklan was unconcerned. ‘Loman,’ he said, ‘I’ve no fear of animals. I mightn’t be able to hear the rocks singing, but at least I can talk to any animals I might meet.’
‘Dear boy,’ Gavor had interrupted. ‘Your talking, and their listening are two different things – take it from a carnivore. Listen to Loman’s advice. We’d hate to think of you being eaten by a deaf bear.’
Gavor’s logic won the day.
Now however, this exchange was lost under the tide of ambivalence that always overtook Loman when he looked around this huge chamber. Fighting alongside his brother in the Morlider War had soon dispelled any idea that war was a glorious and ennobling thing. It was fear and horror and destruction, and while it had been necessary, and some good had come from it, this was only a reflection of the spirit of the people rising above the degradation, not a measure of the value of war itself.
And yet he had enjoyed the companionship and even some of the fighting, although the Morlider were not like those who had come in the past. They were vicious and cruel, imbued with an evil spirit hitherto unknown. While their forebears had plundered and looted the coastal regions of Riddin, the newcomers moved much further inland, and added the crimes of murder, rapine and senseless destruction to their record of infamy. So much so that the Muster of Riddin set aside their staves and cudgels and the near-carnival atmosphere of earlier conflicts, sent messengers to Orthlund and Fyorlund to ask for help, and took to sword and axe and grim determination.
Loman nodded reflectively. He could hear again the deafening sound of the last battle, when the Morlider had been swept back onto their remaining boats and had fled out to their floating islands. Men roaring and screaming. Animals bellowing. Steel hacking steel and flesh. Arrows hissing overhead. Flames crackling. The excitement and the horror of it was still vivid in his mind, and he could never reconcile the two. He took solace from the fact that, though tempted, he personally had done little evil, and had even prevented some by staying the hands of his battle-fevered comrades against excess over a defeated foe. Even so, he hoped that the lore of the Riddinvolk was true and that it would be many years before the Ocean currents brought the Morliders’ islands so near to the shores of Riddin again.
Leaning forward, he picked up a double headed axe from a rack, and spun it in his hand, flickering sunlight from the blade all around. Here was the paradox enshrined in metal for him as he closed his eyes and listened to its song. That it had killed was all too clear from its mournful tone, but it had been made by craftsmen whose understanding and skill exceeded his by far. Its balance was perfect, its edge unassailable and the inner harmony of the metal spoke not only of great skill, but of a love even greater than his own, though he found that hard to imagine.
Loman, probably the finest smith in Orthlund, felt like a gauche apprentice when he handled any of these weapons. He felt humility and awe, just as his brother did when he studied the castle’s many carvings.
He turned round sharply as he heard the door of the Armoury close gently.
* * * *
Physically, Loman was in many ways like his elder brother. He had the same brown eyes and craggy square head, and he maintained the short cropped hair, though his was almost black and free from any grey. He was, however, not as tall. In fact he was a little shorter even than Tirilen, but he was stronger than his brother by far, with his massive shoulders and arms, and his great barrel of a chest.
Stepping into the Armoury, Hawklan looked at him holding the axe and standing in the sunlight against the rows of shining weapons, like a reaper in a cornfield. When he thought of the two brothers, the images in his mind were coloured by their respective callings. Isloman reminded him of a tower of rock – tall, open and clearly visible – while Loman reminded him of a huge anvil – squat and solid. A darker and more introverted personality, he was more apt to take hurt to himself without comment than was his brother.
‘I’m sorry, Loman,’ he said. ‘I didn’t mean to disturb your contemplation.’
Loman grunted. ‘Only daydreaming,’ he replied, turning the axe one more time and then placing it gently into its place in the rack.
Hawklan nodded. He could not hear the song of the metal, but he knew Loman could, and he knew what this place meant to him for all its tormented implications.
To ease the smith away from his darker emotions, he adopted an ironic tone. ‘Well, have you found a suitable sword for me yet?’
Loman caught the intonation and eyed him narrowly, then sweeping his arms expansively around the tiers of weapons he replied with equal irony. ‘They’re all suitable, my lord.’
Hawklan chuckled but continued in the same vein.
‘Master smith,’ he said. ‘My needing a sword is your idea. You’re the metal-seer. The ex-soldier. Just find me something that’ll set your mind at ease and that won’t weigh me down! I have to carry the thing, don’t forget.’
Loman’s intended reply was halted by a metallic clatter ringing through the stillness of the great room. Both men started, and then Hawklan craned forward as if he had suddenly heard a distant but familiar sound.
Without speaking, the two men ran quickly along the wide, straight aisles in the direction of the sound. At the end of the Armoury, several minutes walk away, was a great mound reaching up to and touching the high ceiling. It consisted of weapons and armour, but of such different styles and designs that it was apparent they had come from many diverse and distant lands.
As with everything else in the castle, there was no clue as to the history of the mound, or why such precious items had been stored so carelessly. To Loman, though the styles might have differed, all possessed the same inner harmony as the castle’s own weapons – as he so classified those that were racked – albeit in varying degrees. From this he concluded that they belonged to allies rather than enemies, but he could not imagine why they had been left there, heaped so randomly.
As they stood gazing at the mound, looking for the cause of the sound, it occurred again.
‘Look,’ whispered Loman, pointing earnestly and turning Hawklan around to face the mound directly with a powerful grip on his arm. ‘Look!’
Gazing upwards in the direction indicated by Loman, Hawklan saw something sliding purposefully down the mound towards him. He watched transfixed as the object clattered to the ground at his feet. It was a sword. A black handled sword in a plain black scabbard. He looked at it for some moments and then slowly bent down and picked it up.
The atmosphere around the two men seemed to be charged, as if a storm were brewing in spite of the spring sunshine flooding all around them. Both knew that speech was inappropriate. Hawklan stood up and wrapped his right hand firmly around the hilt of the sword. As he did so, he heard a sound like a distant trumpet. A faint, infinitely distant clarion call from another age. For an instant he felt a surge of recognition, also from times past, but it slipped away like a dream at dawn.
‘My sword,’ he heard himself say softly.
‘Hawklan?’ said Loman, almost fearfully. Hawklan breathed out – half gasp, half sigh – and shook his head to assuage Loman’s concern. He turned and offered him the sword.
‘What do you think of it?’ he asked.
Loman took the sword reverently, his eyes still wide in amazement at what he had seen and felt. Carefully he drew the sword from its scabbard. It too was black. For a moment he seemed to go rigid, as if every fibre in him had been assailed in some way. Hawklan watched him, concerned, but did not speak.
For several minutes Loman scrutinized the sword intently, tested its weight and balance, held it up into the sunlight where it shone brilliantly, and looked along it, turning it over and over. Very delicately he touched his calloused finger on its edge. Then he too breathed out; a long whistling breath which seemed to carry away some appalling tension.
‘Well?’ asked Hawklan.
Loman looked at him strangely.
‘This is craftsmanship like none I’ve ever imagined. I sit at the feet of those who made these.’ He waved his arm across the waiting rows of points and edges. ‘But they are not fit to sit at the feet of the one who made this.’
His voice was strained and hoarse, and his breathing was shallow and nervous. His hands trembled slightly.
‘When you said “my sword”, did you mean it was or it will be’?’
Hawklan shrugged slightly and made a vague gesture with his hands, but did not reply. Loman did not press the question. Slowly regaining his composure he became businesslike.
‘The hilt is some kind of stone, and it has a device embedded in it though I don’t know what it means. We’ll have to ask Isloman about that. The workmanship . . .’ His craggy face became almost rapturous. ‘The workmanship needs a poet not a smith to describe it. And look at this edge.’
He lifted a loose hair from Hawklan’s shoulder and dropped it on the upturned edge of the blade. It parted without faltering in its slow fall to the floor.
‘And the black metal?’ asked Hawklan. ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before.’
Loman’s composure wavered again. He seemed to be struggling with some powerful emotion. Eventually he shook his head and without looking at Hawklan, said softly, ‘It’s beyond words. Even the finest poet couldn’t describe it. It has a harmony in it that nothing could sully. And it’s killed many evil things. Many.’ A silence fell between the two men.
‘A happy chance find then?’ said Hawklan. Loman looked at him and shook his head.
‘I’m no sage, Hawklan, and I always take travellers’ tales with a mighty pinch of iron. But there’s no denying there are strange forces in this world. Some good, some bad, and most of them beyond the understanding of ordinary men. Over the years I’ve spent many hours in here studying these weapons and nothing’s ever tumbled down of its own accord like that before – nothing. Nor have I felt the presence of such a creation as this, as surely I must have done had . . . something not been hiding it. Chance never laid this at your feet.’ He swayed a little. ‘This is something from your past. Take an old soldier’s tip . . . watch your back.’
‘How strange,’ said Hawklan. ‘That’s what Gavor said the other day. But no one would want to attack me. I’m only a healer.’
Loman replaced the sword in its scabbard gently and handed it to Hawklan. His hands were shaking.
‘If this sword sought you out then you have some great need and the enemies you could face will be worse by far than any an unlucky traveller might stumble across in the mountains.’
Hawklan looked at Loman in silence, his dour, down-to-earth castellan, whose only concerns seemed to be his smithing and the day-to-day running of the Castle. He had never heard him speak in such a way before, and the seriousness of the man chilled him. He shuddered in the spring sunshine.
Without realizing what he was doing, Hawklan swung the belt of the sword around his waist and fastened it. Loman watched him silently. The movement was practiced and familiar, and the belt fitted perfectly.
That's the end of the sampler. We hope you enjoyed it. If you would like to find out what happens next, you can buy the complete Mushroom eBook edition from the usual online bookshops or through www.mushroom-ebooks.com.
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Fantasy Books by Roger Taylor
The Call of the Sword
The Fall of Fyorlund
The Waking of Orthlund
The Return of the Sword
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