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Volume 1 - Escape
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Volume 3 - Consolation
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Varlarsaga Volume 3 - Consolation
Chapter - 51 The Mayhenyodaro
The dwarves led Corin and Darkelfari a long and winding road through vast halls and down many thousand steps. How long they plodded the mansions of Zwerge-Drysfa, Corin was never really sure. No night was there inside the dwarf citadel. Everywhere was light that leapt, dazzling, from ceiling and walls: red and yellow, blue and white light; all revealing the rich tapestry of Zwerge society. Much treasure and wealth had they amassed; some, of their own making, Corin guessed, and other, plundered or bartered from far and wide. Great chambered treasuries they passed, vaults that gleamed golden and silver. And armouries too, there were, where burnished bronze and brazen copper glowed amidst tin and leaded weapons, brass helms and horns.
Through solemn tomb apartments they walked, dust stirring at their feet; busts stone carved, of the dead, staring hollowly at them as they strode by. The massive blocks that were the cists of the dead, cut from the mountain's core, loomed mutely. ‘This is Level Seventeen-down,’ whispered Thekk, the leader of Corin's five guides. ‘Now we must go up to Sixteen-down, to the arcade of colonnettes and the shaft that leads to the west porch. Perhaps no enemy lurks beyond the doors there. Still, we must wait, watch and see.’
‘Why,’ questioned Corin, whilst Darkelfari clopped and clipped along behind, ‘did we not go straight through from Level-One? Why down beyond Level-Sixteen and up again?’
Thekk, young Thekk, who claimed to be ninety-seven years old, chuckled and nudged Grig, a dwarf his contemporary. ‘Because, Master Black-hood, there is only one passage that opens to the west. Sixteen-down is where it leads. There are no side shafts. No other levels open upon it. Sixteen-down itself can only be reached from below; the way we travel. Fifteen-down has no entrance or access to Sixteen.
It is an ancient defence; any invader who manages to pass the west porch, must follow the shaft until entering Sixteen; though they would have no knowledge of how deep they were. From Sixteen to Seventeen is but one narrow ramp, such that only the girth of your steed might squeeze through. A most defensible site, one that none unbidden have ever passed. And it is always watched.’
After a long time, they came at last to the ramp and the dwarves who guarded it. Soon they were climbing the upward slope, compressed by dark walls on either side. At times, Darkelfari struggled to find passage, but eventually the way opened and before them lay Sixteen-Down.
‘There, beyond the statues of our kindred, is the arcade itself,’ said Thekk, pointing with his stubby arm out-thrust. ‘It is a goodly way yet. Though it is the only way.’
‘So you have said,’ replied Corin, wishing to be free of the endless stairs and ramps. ‘I guess us to be somewhat over half way?’
‘That is correct. We shall halt here and take food and wine,’ answered the dwarf, motioning his companions to unload and spread open the hampers and packs they had been carrying.
‘You see,’ laughed Grig, ‘ we travel prepared inside our own mansions, for distances are wide and journeys long.’
‘I do see that,’ Corin nodded, ‘but I see also that dwarves do not keep horses. Glad will my companion be to champ sweet grass once more, in the world outside.’
In the end, they reached the entrance to the world outside, after winding up ramps and steps that seemed to twist backwards and forwards upon themselves, so that direction, other than up and down, was totally lost. Eventually however, they came to a blank wall that terminated the long shaft and there, picked out by a pale, bluish light, they stopped.
‘Here we will say farewell to rider and steed,’ said Thekk. ‘Provisions you will find, enough for long time, within these packs.’ He handed up bags tied together. ‘Beyond this door is the wide land of the west. A guard of the Zwerge is without, watching over it.’ The dwarf took a ring from his byrnie and pressed it to the stone. After a moment he withdrew his hand, the ring glowing on his palm. For some little time they waited, but nothing else happened, until finally Thekk, drawing an axe from his belt, said, ‘This is indeed strange. Exceptional. Something is amiss outside.’ The dwarf braced himself. ‘There is but one way to find out. Stand well back, Master Corin. Ready yourself. Here you have room to mount and fly if need be. We Zwerge shall stand and fight to protect you, if that be necessary.’ Thekk took hold of an iron ring embedded in the stone before him, and without letting go, gave a gentle push.
The door swung silently out-ward, and the sun's first rays splintered through the widening crack of portal and jamb. Outside, a crow was heard to wail complaint, but nothing more. The dwarf dared a glimpse beyond the partly opened stone.
From within, clinging fast to Darkelfari's neck, Corin heard Thekk mutter an imprecation and watched, breath-held, as the dwarf stepped outside. The opening grew, and near blinding light flooded in.
Beyond, as a shock greater than the day, Corin made out the forms of several dwarves; hacked and mutilated, some truncated. One, set upright, upon a skewering goblin lance that protruded from his mouth.
‘Beware,’ warned Thekk, still not releasing the door-ring, but signalling out his four followers. ‘Grig and Vali, take up the watch positions. Rekk and Nithi, see to the fallen; drag them within, and make haste. The enemy was upon the doorstep, and may well still be near. Bring Narr foremost, as he was their leader and a friend of mine. And find Nýrath, for both carried rings, and I see him not here.’
Swiftly was the work done, and whilst the grisly remains were taken inside and the dwarves cast about for sign of the goblins, Corin rode free of the dwarf realm and sat upon Darkelfari in the sunlight.
‘One ring have I found,’ grunted Rekk struggling beneath the weight of a mailed dwarf, whom he carried slung over his shoulder. ‘It was still within his mail-coat. Poor Nýrath had fallen alone down in that hollow.’
‘And here is the other,’ muttered Thekk, prizing apart the clenched fingers of a dismembered hand. ‘Narr's ring. Dearly kept he the token and, with life's loss, dearly lost it, but...’ Thekk looked up at Corin, where he waited astride the tall horse. ‘But it comes to my hand now. And for some reason that I can only name the right, I offer it to you, Black-Rider. Take it as a passport and a token of Zwerge esteem. And if you return, and our halls still stand, use it to find entry within. Only, promise me an oath that you shall never, not even at death's doorstep, give up the gift.’
Corin reached out his fingers and closed them about the Dwarf's open palm. ‘I shall take your conduct-pass, and give my word as Corin, Mylor of men, and Avarhli of Elloræ, never to give up this honour, though death envelops me.’ He took the ring, and Thekk drew back his hand, gazing upon it, as if in some kind of wonder.
‘Do me one final thing,’ said Corin. ‘Bid a last goodbye to your Dwarf-Lord, and to Farinmail. And if it so chance, that your folk and Elvedom meet again, say unto them, and to He'Remon the Wizard, my farewell.’ He steadied Darkelfari, who seemed now eager to be off. ‘For it is that I feel this may be a journey from which I shall not return, or if I do, that all shall not be as it is now. You see, the world is changing, and so am I.’ With that, they wheeled away, the horse and rider, and black into day-sun they sped.
No sign now was there of nugobluk, or any other untoward, and the dwarves and their realm were left far behind in the south, before even first nightfall had caught the two travellers in its searching web.
For six days they went, always northward galloping.
Darkelfari, somehow matured, seemed never daunted; no fallen log too much to clear, no stream unfordable. Night, day, he ran: trotting, plodding, pacing, stepping, racing. East and north, Corin bore, hoping somehow for contact that way, though never did they come close enough to the realm of Menkeepir. All about, the lands lay empty, overgrown, rank and weedy. Occasionally, fresh streams offered drinking water and sparse, wild bounty of herb, plant and bush offered food. At other times, most was desolate the further Corin and Darkelfari travelled. They ate and slept, when and where they could, these two lonely wanderers. Their road grew grimmer, effort harder. Yet Corin and Darkelfari were cemented stronger, together.
‘What is happening now, in all of Varlar?’ Corin said, whilst he rode. ‘Everything in this world seems caught up in a monstrous whirlpool. Even those on its outermost boundaries are being drawn closer and closer: soon, maybe, to be swallowed up. But what is it that I am to do? Am I to be saviour, or destroyer? Should I somehow gain the key, the Power to open Earth-mouth, will it be right that I use such to enter? Or, if there is a goal to this mystery, this ponderable and vague quest, am I to reject it? Who will help me choose, if the time comes? Yet I must hurry, I know that. I can feel it with all my heart. Is that because I fear others, or another, who may already know what is required to break the enchantments? Have I been used to lead them, to reveal the lost and hidden way? Nay, surely not. The nugobluk were gathering before we came to the Tjärnwash. But without He'Remon's powers, they could not even have beheld Croh-Yah. Is it that? Were we both used; I to guess, and he to do the revealing?’
Corin grimaced and shook his head. ‘Curse me for a fool,’ he said, 'if that is so. I should have been content in my guessings and left well enough alone, for this time at least. Now time, time is what matters. And time runs against us. It is a part of the Mighty Fear into which all of us progress. Gain the secret of the quest, and use it or not, will there be time? Or has time already ceased to be of import? Have the barriers been raised, even as we travel. Do we ride this long road for nothing, to return and find Varlar in ruin!’ Within his mind, he flayed himself. ‘I should never have spoken, never have disclosed all that I guessed. Yet it is late, perhaps too late. There is nought to be done, but ride on. Ride on against hope, and doubt, and time. I must pray, for all that is good, to win out against the enemy, and all lying within the shadow of the Mighty Fear.’
And so he worried and tormented himself, whilst Darkelfari carried him ever northward. Gradually the country-side began to change; at first quite imperceptibly, a few greener trees, softer, sweeter-smelling earth, the soil redder and richer, wild flowers thrusting amongst a carpet of edible grasses, the air somehow brisker, cleaner.
Then, upon the summit of a rolling rise, Corin called Darkelfari to a halt. Before them, where the lands stretched down and away, there lay a wide and, somehow, exciting vista. Vast woods there were and between them, running east and west, the glimmer of many waters; tributaries to broad deltas far westward where Corin fancied he descried the sparkle of the ocean upon that furthest horizon, lit by morning sun. Turning to the north and east, he traced the lines of trees as they merged into forest that rolled away into the blue haze of the distance.
‘Well, this does look inviting,’ he said to the horse, as they went on. ‘Still, we must look sharp. There is an air of strangeness here too.’ Darkelfari snorted and tossed his mane, as if in agreement, his powerful legs forging through the cool grasses.
They came beneath the woven roof of the trees, and queer, but benign, seemed that living lattice work. Hornbeams flourished there and oaks. And mingling amongst the ash and silver birch, were the ancient, white-flowering sorbis. Corin marvelled as he rode. The going was not difficult, for though there were many trees, their spacing was set wide apart so that each might flourish the better, almost as if it had been planned that way. At length they came to a silvery stream, gurgling westward, and there forded it. Again they encountered another waterway; this one broader and deeper, so that Darkelfari had need to swim across its pulling current.
But soon it was plain that they must turn to the east, for each time they came to water it grew in volume, from trickle to mighty river; one of which, so broad that the opposite bank seemed distant and unattainable. ‘We have no choice,’ Corin said out loud. ‘Water lies before, the ocean at our left. We must follow the sun's path, and see if we may find crossings further up.’
And that is what they did, journeying deeper into the sprawling forest and day's unravelling.
By nightfall, the pair halted on the banks of the river, which had hardly grown less in width and might since they began following it. The stars were out, glittering through the lofty web of bough and branch and leaf, whilst the river gurgled and swirled in its passing.
‘Rest awhile, my friend,’ said Corin, climbing down, so that Darkelfari was free to graze the wild rye. ‘I will refill these dwarf jars from the river, clear and clean as it be.’ He set to work, whilst the near full moon rose, as if to aid him.
Listening to the sounds of the night, a great peace descended over Corin and he was content to sit, eating a portion of hard Zwerge bread and sipping the cool river-lode. Somewhere, at a distance, he heard the faint ‘Kwick kwick’ of a little wood-owl, and the soft noises that are made in all green woods. He spent a time of rest, wakeful of eye, though inwardly replenishing, and then rising, he drew up upon the horse and silently they passed away together, between the trees.
It was almost like a dream, the moonlight slanting through the lacery of the forest. The stars bejewelling the night. And far off, a tinkling, almost hidden by the river sounds, steadily growing. Darkelfari raised no alarm, and surely Corin felt none. Yet the tinkling of bells continued, and where the river veered and its noise fell away, the bells grew ever clearer and nearer. The oaks were thinning, a broad space opening beyond. It was magical.
On the edge of the last shadows, Corin, black on black, halted. Before him, across a moonlit sward, backed by the dark bulk of forest, there stood three tall, tall trees, alike to such that he had seen in Ravenmoor and Elfame. Tammerlinth, the Elloræ had named them. Corin and Darkelfari waited.
The bells tinkled on, coming, coming.
Then, into the clearing, beneath the three trees, at a slow pace, walked a score or more of white horses, riders all mounted upon. That they were elves, Corin could not have been surer; but he did not ride forward. And they not, also.
For a while all waited, the harness bells swinging slowly to nought.
The band of elves, clothed in moon-light-white and palest blue, sitting silent; a glimmering about their mounts and they, their eyes shining as the stars above them. At length, one of the three foremost called, ‘Ano mel! Quetsi tic Ele?’
And Corin answered, ‘Avarhli Ellormel! Corin, friend of the elves.’
After a moment, there floated across a single peal of laughter. It sounded full with delight and surprise, and almost of coy embarrassment. ‘Laro ti´ent,’ said another, beckoning.
‘I will come across,’ cried Corin. ‘If you pledge my companion and I no harm.’
‘Thus do we pledge,’ said the third, amidst the bell-tinkle and laughter. ‘We know your speech and you, it seems, know ours. Cross over, elf-friend, dark-rider, and let us see you by moon and stars.’
More light laughter, more bells.
Slowly Corin dismounted, and walked the still sward, Darkelfari following. When he reached the first of the white horses he stopped and drew back his hood. ‘I am called elf-friend to those whom I came with, over the seas from the isle named Elfame. And, I believe, I have heard tell of you from those who dwelt in Indlebloom and those who yet, maybe, dwell in Dorthillion.’
‘Dwelt in the valley Indlebloom?’ said the first speaker.
‘That is news indeed. And where do you claim them gone?’
‘They were mostly overrun. Mendoth city lies in ruin, the lands of that realm are laid waste and deserted. I know. For I have, not too long ago, come from there.’
There was a silence, whilst the group of shrouded elves looked from one to the other.
Corin smiled at them. ‘You are wondering if my words are true, and who I am.’
The third elf turned to him in some surprise. ‘Indeed we are and you are quick of wile, cunning in your guess.’ The elf paused, then said, ‘Or is it that you read minds, in truth.’
For answer, Corin laughed. ‘Forgive me, good folk. Take no offence. That was not the laughter of mockery but rather of good humour. For if it be that I know your thoughts, then you surely must know mine, and see at least, that I have spoken truly thus far.’
At this all the elves laughed in turn, their silvery voices a'pealing. ‘He thinks and speaks well, this dark stranger,’ said the second elf. ‘And he has already given us his name, along with some little news. Surely we must give that much in return, my name is Sianor,’ he said, doffing his white hood and indicating his two spokes-elves on either side. ‘This is Nivri-Allon, fairest Lady of our people, the Nolvæ.’
Corin drew a deep breath as the elvess unwound a filmy veil about her face and hair. That she was very beautiful, there was no doubt: her eyes were filled with shining light, her lips soft and textured like ripened fruit, her tresses of water-falling cascade, white-blue in the night.
‘We of the Nolvæ bid you welcome to bide a while with us,’ she said most courteously, lifting up her slender, pale arm; her hand holding forth a gilded wand of exquisite design.
‘Thank you gracious Lady,’ replied Corin, with due conviction. ‘In the wide lands of the North-World, I have seen many things, much that was good and wonderful and much of evil also. But I have travelled through all, not in vain, that my eyes be blessed by sight of you.’
At this compliment the Lady Nivri-Allon bestowed upon him the sweetest smile, saying, ‘Corin Ellormel, you are elf-friend with just cause, if your pretty words and glib tongue be any guide.’
‘Indeed,’ said the third elf, throwing back his cowl to reveal golden locks and a fair and noble face, ‘yet there is much more to any being than the outward shell. The nut within the husk is where lie both head and heart. We would know more of you and your ways, whilst in our company. For those who wander here within our borders fall under our scrutiny and our suspicions. There are those who never leave these woods; others who could spend their entire lives here and never see a single one of my peoples. You are fortunate even to have had sight of us. Yet do not take us lightly. You have been watched, since first you passed hither.’
Sianor said, ‘Truly, the Lord of the Nolvæ speaks. There is that about you and your steed which has aroused a certain curiosity within us. Speak now of your past, and of the future to which you aspire, as my Lord Bel-Thalion requests.’
‘That name is known to me already,’ said Corin with a flick of his eyes. ‘It belonged to one who dwelt over-sea, I am told, and died in the brave defence of his home there.’
‘That may be so,’ said Bel-Thalion, with guarded interest, ‘ but what of it?’
‘Only this,’ replied Corin, drawing open first his great-cloak and then the elvish cape beneath, ‘I believe that I bear with me a thing which may interest you the more. It was given me by Elberl, King of the Elloræ of Elfame. Twice it has passed from my hand, and twice been returned. Will you not look upon it?’
He made to draw the elvish blade at his waist, though Sianor and several others began to protest. ‘Raise no weapon before the Nolvæ of Mayhenyodaro! Arnya Nolvæ lli, oli Ele tic!’
But the Lord of the Nolvæ held up a hand, saying patiently, ‘I believe you to mean no harm in your action. I give my leave to bring out this life's bane.’
Corin nodded, taking the sword from its encasing sheath and handing it, hilt first, to the elf lord. ‘Long, I guess, has this weapon endured masterless and for a short time have I been honoured to bear it. Now though, I give it into your care, if you will take it; so returneth the sword to its master's name-sake.’ Then he unclasped the scabbard and baldric and held these out. ‘Thus, this gift I pledge, as a sign of my good intent and honesty.’
Bel-Thalion took it from Corin's grasp and at once the silver blade lit with a cold, blue flame and in that flame was an elvish script. ‘I am Mâgaras,’ he read aloud, ‘culled from the earth and forged by Timbrian, smith of the Daræ. I am made, never to falter or fail, in the keeping of Bel-Thalion, whom faithfully I serve.’ The elf lord's eyes rested on the sword for some little time. About him gathered his followers, all now silent. Only the toss of their horse's heads, and the consequent tinkle of harness bells broke the stillness.
At last Bel-Thalion looked up and his gaze, burning with the same blue flame, locked with Corin's. ‘He, to whom this weapon, named Hunter, belonged, was of my blood from long ago, even as elves count. Now, truly, do we believe your words. You are no longer stranger to us, but guest. Ride a time in our company and do speak of your life and tidings'.
And so it was that Corin and Darkelfari came to the home of the Nolvæ elves, in the woods they called Mayhenyodaro; and there first met and spoke with Bel-Thalion, a scion of that long dead elf warrior of Elfame.
It seemed a simple thing, as they rode toward morning, to tell of all that had befallen, from the very beginnings of Corin's memories and much thereafter, on until the present. The time passed swiftly and peacefully, whilst he wove his tale and, always, the elves about him remained gravely silent. Sometimes the faint, rattling trill and ‘peu-peu,’ of a wood-warbler would break the stillness, or the babble of running water meander by in the thicketed shadows.
Toward the growing daylight they emerged on the banks of a grey stream where golden saxifrage crowded the waterline and willow-tits ‘chay-chay-chayed’ the new dawn. There, Corin ended his story, saying, ‘What since has befallen, I cannot tell. Beyond your realm now seems but a dreamworld. Herein appears reality.’
‘Herein is reality, for those who dwell within the margins of the Mayhenyodaro,’ Nivri-Allon replied, dreamily.
‘Yes,’ said Corin, ‘though you now know it may not last.’
The Lady of the Nolvæ acquiesced with the rising of an eyebrow. ‘Ah Mayhenyodaro, Mayhenyodaro. Ancient-wood-of-tree-shadowing-rivers; long the resting place of the Nolvæ, has time at last wrought your doom?’
But Bel-Thalion said, ‘Corin elf-friend, you have spoken your story, and much is there to think upon. We would dearly love to be reunited with those sundered folk of Elfame, for even in our memory they are but a far vision of what was, once. Still, come. It is just a short way hither that we bring you and then our journey be complete.’
The Lord and Lady led the way, Corin riding quietly beside Sianor's white horse, the bells and the steady clipping of hooves the only morning sound above the creaming stream.
Eventually they emerged into a dell, very much reminding Corin of Mossfelli, in Elfame. There, by the rippling fingers of several converging rills, amidst lily-of-the-valley and wild strawberries, and framed by pale primrose, dwelt the peoples of the Nolvæ. Hundreds, there seemed to be. Most, much at task; a few stopping to gaze briefly at this dark horse and rider, come into their midst.
After a time the riders halted; Darkelfari and his new-found companions to drink deep of water and bite the juicy grasses. Corin, to feast with elf-folk, and whilst, to talk.
‘Most of our peoples you see not here,’ said Sianor, draining a tiny cup at a draught. ‘The Nolvæ are border dwellers and have always been so. It is our way, you understand. If safe haven is to be had, then harbours must be watched. Thus, most of our folk are away, living far beyond this heart of our dominion.’
Corin stared about. The elves were hard put to work, industrious, but harmonious too: anvils rang and harps sounded all entwined, combined with lute and hammer, wood-plane and gong, and pipes. They were building, playing, fashioning, creating, moulding, melodying, laughing, coaxing and conjuring forth from wood and wool and stone and joy. So absorbed they were that, though halted by the appearance of a stranger, they resumed their crafts with hardly a delay. High platforms amidst the trees and low stoolways and forms and tables wandered off into the green depths, meandering in and around the great-girthed trunks of ash and sorbis, and lo, Tammerlinths! Mighty Tammerlinths that stretched into the sky with yearning arms and fingers destined to soak the blue pools of the void above. All that, that heart of the Nolvæ elves, was a poetry, a symmetry, a song. And the song was for, indeed was made by, the Nolvæ.
Not since Corin had departed the shores of Elfame, had he felt such richness, such perfection and wonder. If that beyond had not insisted, encroached and haunted him, he might well have been content within the bounds of this elf-land. But, of course, that was not how it was, or how it would be.
Gravely, Corin set down his cup, put aside bread, and said, ‘I have speech to make, yet I say this in small voice, for I am a stranger in your midst and about me there must be doubt. Who knows where I am come from, who and what I am? I might be a servant of some evil power, sent here to corrupt you, to deflect you from your chosen ways. If leave is granted me to pass, that which you decide thereafter, I guess will direct the path of your feet into the time beyond these days. Where wither I? And where wither you?’
He paused and saw that all were attuned to him, listening and watching. Everyone in that deep-wooded home awaited their weighing of judgement upon his words. Over-presiding and silent in the background, were the Lady Nivri-Allon and the Lord Bel-Thalion.
‘Your High have heard my story. They will retell it aright and true, of that I am sure. And two further things shall I say and ask of you, oh peoples new to me, and I to you. Firstly, I beseech that I be left to go my road, together with Darkelfari, companion foremost, thence steed to me. Secondly, pray guide us both northward toward our faraway destination and having seen us to your borders, thence beware and make ready for that which is surely to come. The powers of evil are greater than anything I know on this earth, but by the tip of the scales, the merest tip. Still I deem that even your lands will be overthrown. Who holds the balance? For this time and for all time to come, who can weight the scales?’ He sighed, and his shoulders fell, hunched. Then he went on, ‘Who will bear the burden, not only of leadership, but of right? I cannot, for I seek something else other than leadership or such like.’
The elves stood silent at their hammers and molten flowers, the jewelry and precious of the Nolvæ.
Corin lifted his head, drawing himself upright as he did, so that his bent body seemed to grow somewhat in stature. ‘I,’ he said after a deep breath, ‘seek that, which perhaps I alone in Varlar may attain; that is the key to Earth-heart. Somewhere, far in the north in Ice-Home, in the lands of the giants, beneath the stars of Necho's Othair, lies Tevel-air; Earth-eye. That is where Valandir the Drotnar and Sköl the Maadim, yet await entombed. And there is my destination. Though what my fate shall be there, I do not know.’
‘Then, you lay the burden upon us,’ said Bel-Thalion. ‘We, the peaceful Nolvæ, are to pick up the cudgel of war and take it beyond our borders.’
‘If you so choose,’ returned Corin. ‘I cannot force you to such decision. Though I say this; your kindred of old, Nemorion and Valdë, Pechts and Browneeth, even now, may be in dire combat against the goblins and their allies. Already there are those who will never walk the world again: Talba Brighteyes the Fane, Malva and Mîren, brothers together, IIvri, Lilla, Æron, and Mellitus, if those names mean anything to you. There are many more, too many for me now to tell. All, that is, save one.’
Corin's eyes swept about the faces of the elves, so many faces that only a short while before had been filled with carefree laughter. ‘He gave me freely the sword which had belonged to a valiant one, he who wielded it in the name of Elfame and lost life in that cause. That weapon I have returned to its rightful heir, your Lord Bel-Thalion who bears it now, long shorn from Bel-Thalion of old. King Elberl gave it to me, for he thought never to cast sight on another of that name, akin to his lost friend. And in that was he right. South, beyond your borders, by a distant lake-side, he and many of the Elloræ fought a great battle against the nugobluk. And there did he fall and die from Varlar. I know, for it was I who found him amongst the slaughtered and saw his faded body back to the hands of those who loved him.’
‘We have been isolated a very long time, even as elves mark time passing,’ said Nivri-Allon. ‘Perhaps a stranger coming here might think time never altered.’ She shook her pale, white locks. ‘Not so. For time has at last caught us up in its grasp. The tempest descends, and we may either await its coming hither, or pass out to battle. In the end it matters little. By that which you tell us, Ellormel, we must fight.’
At that, Bel-Thalion drew forth the sword ‘Hunter’ and held it aloft, so that the blade glowed in the day. ‘This is Mâgaras, smithed ages ago by the Daræ Timbrian, and borne in war by my ancient forename and kindred of the Æsires. By many roads has it come to me; for what purpose, good or other, shall we see.’ He turned to Corin saying, ‘Go your road, and may it lead you not to death, but return you with the answer that you seek, for the redemption of troubled Varlar. Guides you shall have, as far as Mayhenyodaro's northern frontier. Meantime, messengers will hasten into Dorthillion, and there come to the realms of men and meet with them if that be possible. Perhaps it is not too late, for I will lead a force south, and see what might be done.’ He took Corin's hand, and for an instant they stared deeply at each other. Then the Lord of the Nolvæ bowed his head, knelt and said, ‘May safety through troubled lands come to you, and may the peace of this world come to us all.’ Then he rose and in company with the Lady Nivri-Allon, went away.
‘Come Corin Ellormel,’ said Sianor, mounting a white horse. ‘You are now rested, and again in haste. My companion and I shall see you to the edges of our lands. Let us ride forthwith.’
Thus Corin and Darkelfari departed the forest-locked home of the Nolvæ and followed their two guides, riding swiftly through the trees, to splash across streams and rivers and pound over tracts of wild and boggy land, where to be lost and forgotten would be but a simple matter.
Times there were, on that ride of days, when herds of white urus, red-eared like the dogs who tended them, bellowed forth out of deep dark glades, to stand, blinking at the passers by. Other times, Nolvæ folk ran beside the horses, offering flasks of water, wine and viands.
The way flew by like the finches that darted ever before them, until eventually they drew to a halt. ‘Here we leave you,’ said Sianor, turning toward Corin. ‘The Mayhenyodaro ends, and we must say farewell. Yet before you ride on, my companion would speak with you.’
The third rider, who had spoken not a word during all their journey, lifted a white hood, beneath which was hidden a face of unsurpassing beauty; brown, brown skin had she, so brown as to be almost black. Dusted blue maybe, there was as a sheen to it, giving a lustre and a depth that almost shocked Corin. Her eyes were black, her lashes and brows black-blue like the raven's wing. Shimmering black was the hair that now fell in rivulets over her white-gowned shoulders. Her nose seemed long, but delicate, crowned by those darkest eyes, and terminated by fullest, red lips. ‘I am Talisar,’ she said. ‘I have heard your tale, for I rode with the Lord and Lady when first they met you, though I have remained silent and unmarked. Yet now, I cannot see you pass away to other lands, without at least a token from someone who, in you, believes. And so, I would give you this, of my own contrivance and wroughting. It is a sword, fashioned of Orichalc, the most precious thing in all the world, above or below.’ She produced a white bundle from beneath her robes and gave it into Corin's hands. ‘I say, the most precious thing, and mean it,’ Talisar went on. ‘Though not Most Precious Gift. Life, and the world of life, Varlar itself by far, is worth more than all the Orichalc there ever was. I know this thing. For I am of the Daræ.’
Chapter 52 [next]
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