Part I – Glade of DeathChapter OneAron’s Fear
The wizard Aron stood on the summit of Crystalcrest and gazed at the valley of the River Fleet. The vast green valley stretched out to the horizon as it followed the river that carved it.. Dark figures moved along the road that followed the river’s course as it wound its way along of the Crystalline Mountains on its way to the sea. The last of the pilgrims were departing and he would again soon taste the flavor of loneliness. Each year the crowds came here bringing with them their ten-year-old children as they completed the Quest of the Covenant. Then each year they departed, leaving Aron, the Guardian of the Covenant, to his solitude.
Crystalcrest glimmered in the setting sun behind him. Arii, his task complete, had vanished back into its recesses. The royal standard came into view far below him. This had been a special Quest, as Prince Karo Vin, son of King Theros Vin, had turned ten.
His thoughts centered on the boy, Prince Karo, the reminder of his problem. Aron was getting old. He had not married and had no son. There was no heir to the post of Guardian of Covenant. His mind shifted to his nephew, Bernall. The boy was now almost five. It was time to begin his training. But Bernall was far away and the boy’s mother, Cyndi, would not allow him to train the boy.
His brother, Mikal, had deferred to his wife, and the boy remained unaware of his heritage and calling. He and Mikal descended from a long line of wizards, though the skill did not manifest itself in Mikal. Aron had felt the boy’s power. He knew that his essence was that of a great wizard. The legends of their family lore told of a descent from Arii himself that dated to the time of the fall of Gwaum, many generations ago. According to family legend, the stone cottage, Stone Haven, of Aron’s boyhood, had been in the family for many generations. Legend said that it had been the dwelling of Arii’s mentor and uncle, the great wizard Nerza.
He turned as a slight sound tickled the evening air. Arii had reappeared, the silver mist of his presence shimmering in the golden sun.
“Something is troubling you, Aron?”
Aron bowed his head, and then directed his gaze at Arii. “Yes, Arii. I am worried.”
“You have no heir, Aron. Is that your concern?”
“Yes, Arii. There is no one to take my place. In not so many years, I will join the other Guardians in the place of rest. I will leave you unattended.”
“Do not fear, an heir will come to you, Aron.”
“How is that to be, Arii? I have no wife. I have no issue.”
“You have a nephew.”
“But Cyndi and Mikal will not allow me to train him.”
The silver mist swirled in the setting sun, creating an iridescent halo in its fading light.
“A time of trouble is coming to Sylvanhaven, Aron. I looked into the soul of Prince Karo Someone has poisoned him against me. I could not take a part of his essence,” said Arii.
“How is that possible, Arii.”
“That I do not know, Aron. I know only that some wizard is at work in Vintown.”
“Who could it be, Arii?”
The mist swirled, reflecting the sun in a dazzling array of iridescence. “There is only one wizard that would dare to challenge me.”
Aron’s mind roved over the possibilities with no wizard coming to mind. “Who would that be, Arii.”
The name stirred Aron’s interest as Arii said, “Gault.”
“Gault? No one has heard of him of for many years. Many think that he is just a legend.”
“He is not a legend, Aron. He still lives. He is the same Gault that your ancestor Aris battled so many years ago.”
“He would not dare challenge your power. To weaken you is disaster. Gwaum will awaken.”
“He thinks he knows how to control Gwaum. He does not know Gwaum’s power as I do.”
Aron allowed this thought to simmer in his mind as Arii continued, “You must travel to Vintown and visit the king.”
“You want me to stop Gault?”
“I fear it is too late for that. If it truly is he, his presence has already poisoned the royal household. If it is not he then we must discover who it is that dares to meddle with the Covenant.”
“It has been too long since I visited Vintown. I will leave tomorrow.”
“The more haste, the better, Aron. There are other things happening that will need your attention.”
Aron gazed at the silvery mist and asked,”What are these things, Arii?”
“They will reveal themselves to you as needed. There are powerful forces at work, Aron. You have much work ahead of you.”
At this the silver mist spun, forming a vortex that descended into a crevice in the Crystalcrest. Aron’s audience with Arii was at an end.
As twilight encompassed his mountain home, Aron completed his evening tasks. The feeding of his yuhma birds gave him great satisfaction. The magic of the birds took many years to master, but the rewards were great. He enhanced their homing characteristics with his magic. They enabled him to maintain a communication network around the Six Kingdoms. With a special incantation, he could set a bird aloft and it would find any person that Aron knew. It surprised him that his network of friends in Vintown had not alerted him that there was a problem at the palace.
If he was going to Vintown then he must inform Hale, the proprietor of the Wharf Side Inn that he was coming so he could prepare his quarters. He went in his cottage and wrote a short note. After returning to the cage of yuhma birds, he tied the rolled up note to one of the bird’s legs and sent the bird aloft. The bird cooed, circled, and then flew off to the east, into the gathering darkness.
He walked the short distance to the stable. He patted the flank of his favorite horse as she fed at the trough. Again, he glanced eastward towards Vintown on the coast of the Great Sea. It was a four-day ride on a horse. But this special breed, enhanced by breeding and magic, could make the journey in two days. His ancestor, Aris, had begun the work of breeding this special horse. They were especially sensitive to the spell of the wind that propelled them along. Their special qualities made them able to gallop for long periods under the influence of this spell.
The horses had their limits, of course, as all magic had limits. If pressed too hard for too long a period, the horses would die of exhaustion.
However, these horses had rested well. He could make Bridgetown by tomorrow night. After resting in the stables and satisfying their immense hunger, they would be ready for the next day’s ride. He would be at Vintown by evening of the second day.
The possibility of Gault at the palace troubled him. No tale of Gault had emerged for many years. He had seized control of the Grand Council, many thought by murdering Grand Wizard Annos. No one had ever proved the charge.
Aris had known that Gault was seeking immortality. Zerena, of the Order of Solaun, had achieved this.
He remembered Zerena from his dealings in Niru, the Hidden City. She was old. Many said she had known and been the lover of his ancestor Aris. If so, she would be quite old. Aron did not think she looked old at all. She appeared to be in her mid twenties with luxuriant golden hair and penetrating blue eyes.
She was the head of her own order, the Order of Solaun, which had become a powerful Order on Six Kingdoms. She had managed to get it represented on the Council. The women of that order used magic to maintain their youth. They worked to maintain the peace by becoming consorts and mistresses of kings and princes. They used the powerful lure of sex to influence their lovers.
Aron was not sure if it was their influence, or the power of Sylvanhaven that suppressed the warfare among the Six Kingdoms. Maybe it was both. Nothing was ever simple.
His thoughts returned to Gault. If it was he, then he had returned from obscurity and somehow discovered the secret of immortality. His ancestor Aris had driven Gault from power.
It could not be Gault. Of that he was certain.
The encompassing darkness interrupted his thoughts. He glanced towards his dark cottage. He would take his evening repast and sleep. He must get up early tomorrow and begin his journey.