The Most High of Kalhera looked at his visitor.
‘This is most irregular. What you propose is possible, but forbidden.’
The magister replied, ‘I realise that, Your Holiness. That’s why I’ve come to see you. I need your permission to perform the rite, and to provide a cleric who can do it.’
‘You would deny Kalhera some souls. She doesn’t like that, you know. If you deny her these, she will demand some others in recompense. That is the way.’
The magister looked the Most High in the eye. He held the gaze of the other as he told him, ‘It will not be for all time.’
He held up his hand as the Most High opened his mouth to speak. ‘I cannot say for how long these souls will be denied to Kalhera.’ he went on, ‘It may be a few years, or it may be millennia. Your Holiness, I have had a dream. Sometime in the future these souls will be returned to Kalhera. Please grant me permission to perform the rite.’
The Most High looked at the magister and then he rose. ‘I will go and commune with Kalhera. If she permits it, I will grant you both your requests, permission to perform the rite and a cleric to perform it. I believe it requires both a Cleric of Death and a mage?’
With that, the Most High of Kalhera, Goddess of Death and the Underworld left the room through a door obscured by a black curtain.
‘Symbolic, I suppose,’ thought the magister.
They carried the body of their king across the land and over the mountains until they reached the place he had asked to be his final resting-place. It was a beauteous place. A deep, forested valley surrounded by high mountains and with a steaming lake in the bottom. The lake was fed by water from deep within the volcanic mountains and was a warm and pleasant temperature. It had been the king’s favourite place in the entire world, albeit not in his own lands. It was here that he had met his true love. She was not mortal, but his love had been reciprocated and he wished to be near her in death.
The king was buried in a burial mound that they prepared, and then they prepared two others, one on each side. They interred their king with due ceremony for all there were only fourteen of them there. The magister had half expected a fifteenth, but then she may have been watching from hiding, as she was shy of people. He looked at the others.
‘Are you all ready?’ the elven magister asked the assembled young warriors.
‘Yes!’ they chorused.
He looked round the group of twelve. They were so young. He had asked for volunteers, and they were all more than eager. At the beginning, that was. Now one or two of them seemed more than a little afraid. Not that he could blame them. It was a very frightening thing he was asking of them. He noticed the youngest of them was visibly trembling. He was a lad of only sixteen turns of the sun, and yet he had volunteered readily enough when asked. The old elf sighed. Better give them one last chance to change their minds. He hoped that not too many did or maybe there would not be sufficient for the task. Certainly twelve was the recommended number, but maybe less would suffice.
‘There is no censure to any who wish to change their minds. It is a fearsome thing you are volunteering to do.’
One member of the group looked at the youngest. ‘Are you all right, Bry?’ he said. ‘No one will think you a coward if you withdraw.’
‘Maybe not, but I would,’ replied the young man. ‘I said I’d do it, and do it I will.’
‘So be it,’ the mage said. ‘Form the circle.’
The twelve young men formed a circle around the mage and the cleric of Kalhera, who had also accompanied them on their journey. They drew their swords and knelt, sword tips on the ground and hands clasped over the hilts. They bowed their heads.
The young man known as Bry closed his eyes. He did not know what was to happen, only the outcome. His fear was almost palpable. The others felt it too, but they were all warriors, and none of them, not even Bry, allowed it to affect their determination to go through with it. Bry heard the cleric begin his chant in the centre of the circle, and then the mage joined with a chant of his own. The two chants seemed to weave around each other, in and out until the two men seemed to be chanting one chant.
‘A bit like a choir singing in harmony,’ Bry thought.
He felt a little strange, light headed almost, and then there was a sudden wrenching pain, which seemed to be accompanied by a crack. It was gone almost as soon as he felt it and he wondered if the spell had failed. He dared to open his eyes. Yes, something had gone wrong for there were his companions still kneeling in place. He glanced down at himself. Yes, there were his hands grasping his sword. But just a moment! What was that lying in front of him? With horror, he realised it was his own body. The spell had worked after all. He was dead, but his soul was tied to Vimar. He would remain here to guard the body of his King until the prophesied time came.
The group of twelve warriors looked at their bodies. A little sadly, thought Bry. He himself was thinking of all the things he had not done in his sixteen years. He would never now marry and have the love and companionship of a woman, never hear his children and grandchildren laughing and playing. Never again eat a good meal or get drunk with his companions. For centuries to come he would patrol this lake and the hidden tomb in the caves below, protecting them from harm until the eight came. The Wolves.
The half-elf leafed through the book that he was studying. He was due to take the tests to end his apprenticeship soon. Mabryl, his master and adopted father had sent off to the Mage Tower in Hambara asking for the young man to be considered for the tests at the next opportunity. He was a tall, handsome young man, just over six feet with shoulder-length auburn hair, a closely trimmed beard and eyes of an intense blue. He was sitting in the study at the home of Mabryl in Bluehaven, which was situated on the south coast of the land of Grosmer. With him were Mabryl's other two apprentices, 14 year old Tomac and 16 year old Emmienne. Tomac pushed a lock of his unruly dark hair out of his eyes.
'I think that's the Master coming in now, Carthinal,' he said. 'You'd better get looking as though you've been doing something instead of moping around waiting for that letter, or you'll be in trouble.'
Just as he said this, the door opened and Mabryl entered shaking his cloak out as he did so.
'It's pretty cold out there,' he said, 'And it's turning to snow if I'm not much mistaken. Unusual this far south.' He turned to his three apprentices. 'Have you finished the tasks I set you?' he asked as he hung his cloak on a stand by the door. Carthinal stood up and walked over to the fire, putting a fresh log on to the flames.
'Come and get warm, and, no I've not finished. I can't seem to settle down to anything until I hear about whether I can take the tests soon. I think Emmienne has finished though. I can't say about Tomac.'
'Nearly,' replied Tomac, jumping down from his chair and carrying his workbook to his master. 'I was a little stuck on the moon phases though. It's complicated trying to work out both moons at the same time.'
'Stick to it, youngster,' came from Emmienne on the window seat. She grinned across at the younger boy, the grin lighting up her otherwise rather plain face. 'I had problems too, but it comes eventually.'
Tomac groaned and went back to his seat.
'I've finished though, Sir,' she said. 'I've learned that new spell you gave me and am sure I can make it work. When can I try it?'
Mabryl laughed. 'Such enthusiasm. We'll try it out tomorrow, I think. In the meantime, I've made what I think may be a big discovery. Perhaps the most important one for many, many years. Look,' and he put an ancient looking book on the table. The three apprentices gathered round.
'I think it may be a spell book from before the Forbidding,' he went on.
Emmienne gasped. 'That is old. And if it is, we'll be able to find lost spells. You'll be famous, sir.'
'Calm down, Emm. It may not be the spell-book of a magister, or even an arch-mage,' smiled Carthinal. 'It may have just the spells we already know and not any of the lost ones.'
Five hundred years previously there had been a war between conflicting mages. It had caused such devastation and hardship to everyone that the king had forbidden the use of magic on pain of death, and all spell books were ordered to be burned. Some, however, had been rescued and these came to light occasionally. During this time, much knowledge had been lost and there were mages working to try to re-discover the lost spells. If this book were to be of use, it would need to be taken to one of these mages.
Just then the door opened and Lillora, Mabryl's housekeeper entered.
'Sorry to disturb you, sir,' she said, 'But a bird arrived a few minutes ago. I thought you should know.' She glanced towards Carthinal and smiled. 'Probably nothing important though,' she teased.
'I'll come and look then,' replied the mage and left the three apprentices to their own devices.
Carthinal picked up the book and began to leaf through it. He could understand little of what was written there. Firstly it was in an archaic script and language, and secondly he was as yet only an apprentice and had not the knowledge to understand more than a limited number of spells. He frowned as he tried to read the words on the page. He lifted the book from the table to take it nearer to the light when a loose page fell onto the floor. He stooped to pick it up. He realised as he looked at it that he could read it, unlike the rest of the book, and that it was not a page that had fallen out, but a note that had been inserted there. He took it to the window seat and sat down by Emmienne to read it.
'What's that?' asked the brown-haired girl, straining to read it upside down.
'I'm not sure.' replied Carthinal. 'It fell out of this book that Mabryl has bought but it doesn't seem to be the same writing, nor is it in the same archaic script. It's a note of some kind.' He paused to read it.
Just then, Mabryl came back holding a piece of paper in his hand.
'It's good news, Carthinal,' he told the young man. 'There is a space for you to take your tests in the next batch, which take place just before Grillon's Day. That's in about five sixdays time so we'll need to leave here in three and a half sixdays to allow us time to settle in before your ordeal.' He saw that Carthinal was holding a paper. 'What's that you've got there?' he queried.
'It fell out of the book you bought,' replied Carthinal. 'It doesn't seem to be by the author of the book though. It's in a more modern script that I can read. It doesn't make much sense though.' He handed it to the other man who read it, then read it again, this time out loud.
'“When Kalhera descends from the mountains, and orcs once more roam the land,
When impossible beasts occur and the never-dying man is once more at hand.
Then the Sword that was Lost must once more be found; only it can destroy the threat
And kill the immortal mortal to balance out his debt.”
Well,' he continued, 'It seems a rather random thing to write and it doesn't make a lot of sense. How can Kalhera descend from the mountains She's a god and the gods don't come down to Vimar.' He turned the page in his hand and saw some more writing on the back. 'This says that it is a quotation from something that the writer heard and wrote down. The author says he visited the Oracle on the Holy Island and this was what he was told the oracle had said earlier in the day, but to no one in particular. Only the attendants were present it seems.'
He replaced the paper in the book on the table and turned to Carthinal.
'We must take this to a colleague of mine in the Mage Tower when we go,' he continued. 'She is working on finding the old spells, I believe and this may be of use to her. The loose note may be a prophecy if it came from the Oracle, but who knows when it was made? It could be that it was centuries ago, or yesterday; and it could be referring to a time well in the future or even in the past. I think we should ignore it for now. Lillora says that our lunch is almost ready, so I suggest we go to the table before she gets mad.'
So the three apprentices forgot all about the book and the note as they enjoyed Mabryl's housekeeper's excellent cooking. After the meal they returned to their studies. Mabryl gave them all tasks to complete and then went out again to visit the Duke of Bluehaven, who was an old friend of his, taking the book with him.
Duke Danu of Bluehaven had trained at the Mage tower in his youth. He had some talent for magic, but with the death of his elder brother in an epidemic he had to take over the duties and preparation for becoming the Duke one day. He had never taken the tests to end his apprenticeship, but he retained an interest in magic and still practiced it in a small way. 'To keep my hand in.' he told people. He had blond hair and blue eyes and was clean-shaven
Today he was sitting in his study going over the accounts of the duchy when a knock came at the door.
'Arch-mage Mabryl to see you, sir,' said his butler.
'Send him in, then,' replied Danu, rising from his seat and walking over to clasp Mabryl in a hug. 'You've not been to visit in some while, my friend,' he scolded the other man 'Busy with your three apprentices, I suppose.'
Mabryl smiled at his friend. 'Yes, they do keep me busy. Carthinal is ready to take his tests and become a full mage now.'
'Is that so?' Duke Danu raised an eyebrow. 'Doesn't time fly? Hardly seems any time at all when you took that scruffy little urchin in off the streets. Everyone thought you were mad, you know. Taking a street child, off the streets to be your apprentice; and then adopting him? Well, it seems we were wrong. He's turning out all right.'
'Considering his background, yes. He still has his faults and I can't say there weren't times when I agreed with you that I'd done the wrong thing. He still needs to control his temper better and his good looks don't help him to control his baser instincts. Girls, and older women too, flirt outrageously with him, and he enjoys it a little too much! But I didn't come here to talk about Carthinal. I've made a discovery and I want your opinion.' He pulled the spell-book out of a bag at his side. 'I'm going to take this to Yssa at the Mage Tower when I take Carthinal. She will be the best to decide how important it is.' He handed the book to Danu.
The Duke whistled. 'This is important, Mabryl. I can't read it, but it certainly looks like a spell-book to me. It's old and could easily date to before the Forbidding.' He picked up the note that was still between its pages. 'What's this?' he asked.
'A little note that was in the book. Carthinal found it. It doesn't seem to belong to the book though, and I've thought it could be a hoax. Someone putting a seeming prophecy in an important old book.'
'Maybe, but I don't think so. Some research I've been doing suggests that Grosmer is about to face some danger. This may be a prophecy about that. I would suggest you take it to Rollo in Hambara when you go. His library is much more extensive than mine is and he can find out more. I've been in touch with him about this possible danger so he knows a little of what I suspect.'
'I don't know Duke Rollo,' Mabryl replied. 'He may not believe me. I've heard he's a suspicious man. I thought this note was a hoax even if you don't. I'll need to prove that I've come from you.'
'I'll write you a letter to give to him,' Danu said going over to his desk and picking up his pen. 'I'll also give you this.' He picked up a small statuette of a trotting horse about three inches long and two high that sat on his desk. 'It is one of a pair that we found in our adventuring days. He has the other. He'll know that I've sent you when he sees that, especially if you ask him about the other one. Now, sit down and I'll get some wine for us to drink while we talk about other things.'
So the two old friends passed the afternoon remembering past times and gossiping about the goings on in the city of Bluehaven as the afternoon passed into evening and the Duke's work lay unfinished on the desk.