Chapter 1
The Summons

A.C. 288, Early Spring

“Flint Fireforge of Solace, dwarf and mastersmith, by summons of the Speaker of the Sun!” a voice rang.

Flint peered warily through the gilded doors that swung open before him, and then his steel-blue eyes went wide with wonder as his gaze traveled up, up, and up—following walls of white marble, unaided by column or buttress or brace—nearly six hundred feet to the domed ceiling. To Flint’s eyes, the dome seemed almost as distant as the sky itself, and indeed, the illusion was completed by a tiled mosaic that glittered on the dome’s surface, portraying night on one side and day on the other. The two realms were divided by a translucent rainbow. The vastness of the Tower made him giddy just to look at it. Flint’s jaw dropped and his eyes watered as he squinted to examine the tiled pattern far above, until a polite cough on the part of the servant who’d announced him brought him back to his senses. “Fireforge, don’t act like a tourist,” the dwarf chided himself softly. “Anybody’d think you’ve never been out of Hillhome.” His tiny native village lay far to the south of the elven lands. He stood as tall as he could, straightened his blue-green tunic and stepped farther into the chamber. A dozen courtiers, dressed in silver-belted, knee-length tunics in tones of brown, green, and russet, turned to follow his progress as his iron-heeled boots, so practical for battle, thundered on the marble floors. The padded shoes of his escort, in contrast, whispered on the marble. Flint tried to tiptoe, a difficult prospect in boots. He caught a slight smile, quickly stifled, on the face of his companion, whose brown, almond-shaped eyes nonetheless showed kindness. A few courtiers smiled, but most of the elven faces remained as if carved out of the ice of the polar cap to the south.

The western—Qualinesti—elves were descendants of the Silvanesti elves, who lived many weeks travel to the east. Nearly twenty-five hundred years before, the western elves had split with their eastern kin and, led by the hero Kith-Kanan, traveled to a forested refuge along the borders of the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin. The Qualinesti elves had joined with the Thorbardin dwarves to build the Tower of the Sun. They also had cooperated to build Pax Tharkas, a massive fortress between the two kingdoms, and had manned the fort together for more than fifteen hundred years, until the elves withdrew to Qualinost at the time of the Cataclysm, three centuries before, in the time of Flint’s grandfather.

Since then, no nonelves had entered the Qualinesti capital.

A hiss dragged Flint’s thoughts back to the present. “The surroundings are a bit grand for a dwarf.” The words that startled Flint came from a tall elf who stood near a pillar to the dwarf’s left. The elf’s silver-gray robe complemented the white hair that framed an icy face; elderly lips puckered in disdain.

Flint stopped, considered, and spoke to the elf, whose face showed the arrogance sometimes seen in those who believed a long life had given them reason to speak their minds regardless of the consequences. “Have we met, sir?” Flint queried, his voice low. “If not, it seems to me that you’ve formed an opinion with little information.” His hand strayed to the battle-axe at his belt.

Blue eyes met brown for a moment, grappled, then elf and dwarf grew aware of the courtiers who gaped around them. The elf turned on one leather heel and noiselessly left the Tower.

“Who was that?” Flint asked his escort in a too-loud whisper.

The servant’s voice was barely audible. “Lord Xenoth, adviser to the Speaker of the Sun since longer than you or I have lived. Some say he was here when Kith-Kanan and his dwarven allies fashioned the Tower,” came the answer. The escort was remarkably agile at speaking out of the corner of his mouth, Flint decided, yet the elf seemed to be struggling to mask some emotion—his lips twitched almost uncontrollably.

Flint was the first dwarf to lay eyes upon the central chamber since the Tower had been constructed long ago, in an age more than two thousand years past. Not bad, he thought; his mother would be proud.

Only short weeks ago, he’d been back in Solace, sipping ale in the Inn of the Last Home. He turned to his escort to ask if Qualinesti elves drank ale, but his companion was gazing elsewhere.

The dwarf knew he cut an odd figure amid the grace of the Tower and the elves. Just over half their height, he boasted a barrel-shaped chest and forge-hardened arms twice the thickness of those of the strongest among his hosts. Besides his blue-green tunic, he wore rust-colored breeches belted with a thick strap of leather, and he had tossed a gray, travel-stained cloak over it all. He had tucked the end of his thick beard in his belt and had bound his black hair with a leather thong at the back of his neck in an effort to make himself presentable. Unfortunately, Flint hadn’t had much of an inkling of how one was supposed to dress when presented to the ruler of an elven kingdom, and though he had tried his best, he had the sinking feeling that it hadn’t been nearly enough. But the dwarf’s wardrobe was a bit short of tunics spun of golden thread. His travel gear, he thought with a sigh, would have to do.

They were queer folk, these elves, he thought as he walked through their midst, their chatter continuing before and behind him but stilling as he passed. All height and no substance they were, thin and shimmering as aspen saplings, but beautiful, too, cloaked in golden light—or so each of them seemed to the dwarf’s eyes. Perhaps that was only a trick of the light. Long ago, when the Tower had been constructed, the dwarven craftsmen had arranged a thousand mirrors so that the Tower might always know the light of the sun, no matter what its position in the daytime sky.

The elves, their voices stilled, watched the bearded dwarf with expressions of polite curiosity, and finally, after what seemed an age, Flint found himself standing before the low rostrum in the center of the chamber.

“Welcome, Master Fireforge,” said the elf who stood there. His clear voice held a tone of warmth. The Speaker of the Sun of Qualinesti was tall, even among his people, and his stance on the rostrum gave him still more of an edge. Flint felt physically overwhelmed. The Speaker, a descendant of the hero Kith-Kanan himself, overawed him.

The Speaker smiled, and some of the nervousness fled Flint’s stomach. Solostaran’s smile was genuine, and it touched his wise eyes—eyes as green as the deepest forest. Flint sighed, feeling more at ease. The chilled glances of the elven courtiers seemed less important. “I trust your journey was uneventful,” the Speaker said.

“Uneventful! Reorx!” the dwarf expostulated.

He’d been summoned peremptorily from his favorite chair at the Inn of the Last Home by a pair of elven guards and asked to accompany them to the mysterious elven capital, the city that so few nonelves had seen over the last centuries. They had traveled up staircases hidden behind waterfalls, along precipices, and in damp tunnels.

To say the city was well protected was putting it mildly. The peaks to the south of Qualinost loomed so daunting in their height and ruggedness as to give the most determined foe pause. Two converging streams in deep, five-hundred-foot-wide ravines sheltered Qualinost to the west, north, and east. Two narrow bridges—easily cut down in case enemies managed to find their way through the woodlands and forests to the city proper—formed the only passages across the ravines.

The Speaker was waiting for an answer, the dwarf realized. “Oh. I—uh—fine, thank you. Sir. Sire,” he stammered, trying to recall what Solostaran had asked him. His face blazed even as those of the courtiers gathered around him tightened. His escort bowed and padded away. Flint felt suddenly bereft.

“Have you found our beloved city to your liking?” the Speaker asked politely.

Flint, more comfortable at his forge than in what his mother would have called “polite company,” found himself once again at a loss for a reply. How to describe his first view of what might well be the most beautiful city on Krynn? The Qualinesti elves celebrated their forest home with buildings that called to mind the aspens, the oaks, of the surrounding forest. Eschewing the ninety-degree angle as a vestige of the too-analytical human mind, the elves created dwellings as varied as nature. Conical, tree-shaped homes and small shops dotted the blue-tiled streets. But the dwellings themselves were built, not of wood, but of rose quartz. In the light of midafternoon, the city had glittered, light refracting from the faceted quartz. Pear, peach, and apple trees bloomed in profusion. Even in the Tower of the Sun, the thick scent of blossoms penetrated.

“The city is beautiful, Sire,” Flint finally said.

His heart sank as several courtiers gasped. What had he done wrong? The Speaker descended from the rostrum and bent toward the dwarf; Flint stood firm but quailed within.

“Call me Speaker,” Solostaran said softly, his voice too quiet to catch the ears of the nearby elves. Flint nodded, and Solostaran straightened again. But one pair of sharp ears had caught the Speaker’s words. A giggle, quickly stifled, made the dwarf look behind the Speaker and raised a tremor of annoyance on the Speaker’s face. Three young elves—no, one, a resentful-looking lad with auburn-brown hair, was a half-elf, Flint realized—clustered at the back of the rostrum. The Speaker gestured toward the two full elves. “My children. Gilthanas. And Lauralanthalasa, who needs a lesson in court decorum.” The girl giggled again.

The boy was clearly a young version of his elegant, slender father. And the girl …! Flint had never seen the likes of the elf girl. To say she was lovely would be like calling the sun a candle, Flint reckoned, although he was no poet. She was willow-thin, with eyes the color of new leaves and hair as gold as the morning sunlight. The Speaker narrowed his eyes at her, and the radiant girl pouted. The only creature in the room shorter than Flint, she had the ways of a human child of five or six years of age, but he would bet she was at least ten.

“And this?” Flint asked, nodding to the half-elf, who reddened and looked away. The dwarf felt suddenly as though he’d embarrassed the lad terribly by calling attention to him. He was older than the other two, and Flint didn’t think he was related to them. There was a certain huskiness to his frame where the others were thin as switches, a bit less of a slant to his eyes, and less smoothness to his features. All of it put Flint in more of a mind of some of the human folk back in the village of Solace.

The Speaker spoke smoothly. “This is my ward, Tanthalas, or Tanis.”

Once again, Flint found himself without words. The boy was obviously uneasy with the attention. At that moment, the adviser that Flint’s escort had identified as Lord Xenoth emerged from an anteroom behind the rostrum and slipped in front of the young half-elf. Tanis edged aside. Resentment radiated from the boy like heat from a campfire, but at whom the emotion was aimed, Flint couldn’t tell.

The Speaker gestured toward another elf, standing off to the right under one of the carved marble balconies. The elf lord had dark blond hair and square, regular features and might, Flint thought, be considered handsome save for the set of his eyes; they were close together and deep beneath his brow. His face probably glowered even when he was happy, the dwarf conjectured. The elf lord stood with three other equally proud elves, two men and a woman.

“My elder son, Porthios,” Solostaran said proudly. The elf lord inclined his head slightly. Oh ho! Flint thought, that’s a prideful one; and probably not too happy having anyone other than a full elf—one with bloodlines pure all the way back to the Kinslayer Wars—in his precious Tower, either.

The Speaker, once again, seemed to be waiting for something. Flint decided that honesty was the best idea.

“I’m afraid I know little enough of noble houses, and of elves even less, though I hope that last will be changing soon,” he said, allowing his shoulders to relax somewhat.

“Why did you accept my summons?” Solostaran asked. His green eyes were so deep that Flint felt momentarily as though no one else were in the rotunda with him. Briefly, the dwarf spied the authority that must have been every Speaker’s since Kith-Kanan. I would not want to cross him, he thought.

“I’ve had time to ponder that, on these last few weeks’ journey,” Flint said. “I must say my chief reason is curiosity.” Lord Xenoth curled a puckered lip and turned aside again, silver robe swishing against the rostrum. “Curiosity killed the kender,” the elderly adviser said in a stage whisper to the boy and girl the Speaker had called Gilthanas and Lauralanthalasa. Gilthanas snickered. The girl looked askance at the old elf, glanced pointedly away, and sidestepped toward the half-elf, Tanis. Tanis stood unmoving, seemingly unaware of the nearness of the exquisite young girl.

Solostaran gave Xenoth a look that caused the old elf to blanch, drawing a tight smile from the half-elf. When the Speaker turned back to Flint, however, his eyes were kind. “Curiosity,” he prompted.

“Like most, I had not seen Qualinesti,” Flint explained. “It’s common knowledge that the forests of Qualinesti are nearly impossible for common folk to penetrate. To have escorts offered to me—by the Speaker of the Sun, no less—is a rare honor indeed.” Not a bad speech, the dwarf thought, and the Speaker’s slow nod gave him the nerve to push on. “The craftsmanship of the Qualinesti elves is known throughout Ansalon. Your crafts are prized in Haven, Thorbardin, Solace, and other cities of the region. Truth, I hoped to pick up a few pointers for my own metalwork.”

And besides, the dwarf added to himself, the Speaker’s envoys had bought so many rounds of ale for Flint’s friends at the Inn of the Last Home that the dwarf’s head had swum. He had awakened the next morning, his traveling gear packed and slung across the back of a mule. And he had been slung, head and feet drooping, right along with the baggage.

“Do you mean what you’ve said, Master Fireforge?” the Speaker asked him evenly, and Flint blinked.

“I—I’m not sure what you mean,” he managed to stutter.

“You said you knew little of elves, and that you wished to change that. Is that truly so?”

Flint looked around himself, at the airy Tower, at the golden-haired elves, and at the regal figure of the Speaker, resplendent in his robes of green stitched with gold. The odor of spring blossoms was growing a bit thick, but even that carried a note of the unique. Strange as it all was, especially for a hill dwarf more accustomed to battlefields and taverns than gilded towers, Flint found he could only nod “yes.”

“I must confess that, of late, our knowledge of dwarvenkind has become poor as well,” the Speaker said. “Our people were friends once. Together they built the great fortress of Pax Tharkas—and this city. I do not propose such a dramatic undertaking for ourselves, Master Fireforge. I would be content if, together, you and I could simply build a friendship.”

Some of the elven courtiers murmured their approval. Several, including Lord Xenoth and the conclave surrounding Porthios, remained silent. Flint found he could only grin sheepishly as he stuck his hands in his pockets. “Reorx!” he swore suddenly, and then his eyes went wide. “Er, begging your pardon, uh … Speaker.”

Solostaran no longer made any attempt to temper his smile. “I imagine you are wondering why I summoned you, my dwarven friend,” he said. He raised a gold-ringed hand, and a silver and moss-agate bracelet slid from his wrist to his forearm; Flint gasped, recognizing his own metalwork. Then a servant stepped forward with a silver tray decorated with the likeness of a silver dragon. Atop the tray were two goblets made of silver hammered thin and polished to a brilliance. Three aspen leaves “grew” out of the stem of the goblet, cradling the bowl that held the wine.

“That’s …” Flint blurted, and stopped. The servant waited until the Speaker and the dwarf each had selected a glass from the tray, then Solostaran lifted one goblet.

“I drink to the artisan who fashioned this bracelet and these goblets, and I hope he will do us the honor of staying at court here awhile to fashion some items especially for us.” He took one sip, watching Flint from almond-shaped green eyes.

“But that’s …” Flint started again.

“You,” the Speaker finished. “I have commissions for you if you accept our hospitality. But we can speak more of that tomorrow. For now, please drink.”

Mind reeling with the idea that the lord of all the elves of Qualinesti, a people noted for their own craftsmanship in silver and gold, would laud the efforts of a dwarf, Flint bolted the entire contents of the goblet he’d fashioned a year earlier. On the bottom of the drinking container, he knew, was his mark, the word “Solace,” and the year. He wondered at …

He lost the thought as the taste of the elven wine slammed into his brain; his eyes misted and his throat went into paroxysms. “Reorx’s hammer!” Flint squawked.

He’d heard of elvenblossom wine. It was known for its stultifying bouquet of fruit blossoms and the battle-axe power of its alcohol content. Only those of elven blood could stomach the sweet stuff, he’d heard, and it was the alcoholic equivalent of being kicked in the head by a centaur. The odor of apple and peach blossoms seemed to permeate his body, inside and out; Flint felt as though he’d been embalmed alive in perfume. Two or three Speakers wavered in front of him; the cadre of three elves around Porthios turned into a convention of fifteen or sixteen. Lauralanthalasa’s giggle rose above the chorus of Abanasinian nightingales that soared suddenly in his brain. Flint gasped and tried to sit on the Speaker’s rostrum—protocol be damned—but the rostrum seemed to have grown wheels; he couldn’t quite catch up with it.

Suddenly another elf was at his side. Flint found himself looking through tears into eyes so pale that they were nearly clear. The new face was framed by equally colorless hair and the hood of a dark crimson robe. “Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth,” the figure said hoarsely.

“Ark,” Flint croaked. “Uff!”

“In through your nose …” the elf repeated, and demonstrated. The dwarf, deciding he would die anyway, attempted what the elf commanded. “Wufff!” he wheezed.

“… Out through your mouth.”

“Hoooofff!” the dwarf responded. The elf scattered some herbs and uttered words that were either an old elven tongue or magic—or both. Flint immediately felt better. He lay sprawled on the rostrum steps, the empty goblet in his hand. The hall had been emptied of all but the Speaker, Lauralanthalasa, the young half-elf, and the magic-user who’d saved the dwarf.

“With all respect, Speaker, I would posit that our guest will not desire a refill,” the elf rasped, helping Flint to his feet. “Elvenblossom wine is an acquired taste.” The dwarf swayed, and the half-elf leaped forward to support him. Flint nodded his thanks.

“Perhaps Master Fireforge would prefer to conclude this interview at another time, Speaker,” the robed one said smoothly.

Solostaran raised his brows and looked at the dwarf. “Perhaps you are right, Miral,” the Speaker replied.

“Ark,” Flint hacked. “I’m fine.” He coughed and felt his face grow pale. The magic-user snapped his fingers, and thinly sliced quith-pa appeared in his outstretched hand. Flint chewed a slice of the bread while the Speaker, more casual now that court was over, waved his daughter forward.

The elf girl, pointed ear tips barely showing through her spun-gold hair, drew a slender chain from her neck. At one end dangled a single, perfect aspen leaf, glimmering green and silver in the golden light. Although it looked natural, as if it had just been plucked from a living tree, this leaf was fashioned of silver and emerald, so skillfully wrought it could not be discerned from a real leaf save for the sparkles of light it sent dancing across the little girl’s rapt face.

The dwarf gasped in surprise; the movement brought up a peachy belch, prompting another chuckle from Lauralanthalasa. “I made that leaf six months ago,” Flint exclaimed, swallowing the last morsel of quith-pa. “Sold it to an elf passing through Solace.”

“My envoy,” the Speaker said. Flint started to speak, but the Speaker held up one hand. “The leaf is perfect in every way. No tree is closer to the heart of an elf than the aspen. I determined to find the artist who could translate such feeling into his work. And I discovered that this artisan is no elf, but a dwarf.”

The Speaker turned away for a heartbeat, then paused. “You must be weary from your long journey,” he said. “Miral will show you to your chambers.”

Solostaran watched as the dwarf and the magic-user walked from the chamber. It had been a long time since a sight such as that had been seen in Qualinost. Too long. Times had been dark of late. It still seemed only a moment—instead of thirty years—since his brother Kethrenan had been slain, and such raids had not yet ended.

“Friendship …,” Solostaran echoed his earlier words. The world could do with a bit more friendship.

The streets of the elven city spread out beneath Flint’s feet. Before being shown to his chambers, Flint had asked Miral to take him someplace where he might see more of the city. The elf had led him along the tiled avenues, past buildings fashioned of marble and rose quartz, the crystals splintering the light only to spin it again in dazzling new colors.

Aspen, oak, and spruce surrounded the buildings so that the houses of Qualinost seemed living things themselves, their roots sunk deep into the earth. Fountains bubbled in courtyards where elven folk, the women in dresses of cobweb silver, the men in jerkins of moss green, spoke softly or listened to the music of dulcimer and flute. The air was warm and clear, its touch as gentle as midsummer, although Flint knew that winter had barely loosened its grip on the land.

As he watched, the sun drew low in the west, the crimson sunset combining with the rosy hues of the living stone to bathe the town in pink light. The azure and white tiles of the streets deepened to purple. The scent of baking quith-pa and roasting venison filled the air, and few elves were too busy to come to the portals of their homes and businesses to enjoy the closing of the day.

The odor of blossoms still discomfited the dwarf, but he resolved to ignore it.

Miral led him to a lane that wound in arcs up a rise in the center of the city. The lane ended in a great square, the Hall of the Sky, walled only by the pale trunks of aspens and roofed only by the blue dome of the heavens. “This is a hall?” Flint asked after the magic-user identified its name. “There’s no roof.”

Miral grinned. “The sky is its ceiling, we say, although some believe that at one time there was a hall here, guarding something beyond value. Myth has it that Kith-Kanan caused the structure to rise into the sky to protect that which was within.” He looked wistful and drew in a great breath of pear-blossom-scented air. “Its said that whoever finds the structure will enjoy great success.”

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” Flint agreed.

Miral darted a look at him and, after a pause, laughed shortly. The two looked over Qualinost, details beginning to vanish in the deepening twilight. Pinpoints of lamplight appeared in the uncommon glass windows of elven dwellings.

From the Hall of the Sky, in the center of Qualinost, Flint could gaze upon much of the ancient city. Four towers rose above the treetops at each point of the compass, and between each stretched a single delicate span of metal, a bridge connecting each of the towers in a single archway high above the ground. The four arches seemed like gossamer, shimmering even in the absence of the sun, but Flint knew that each was strong enough to bear the weight of an army, and an ache touched his heart as he marveled at the skill of the ancient dwarves who had built them. He wondered if Krynn would ever know such greatness again. Directly north, on a hill higher than the knoll he stood on now, rose the Tower of the Sun, so tall Flint could not help but imagine that if one stood upon it, he had only to reach up to brush the surface of the sky. So high was the Tower that its gold surface continued to reflect the westering sun even after that orb had left lower buildings wreathed in shadow.

“Do you see the two rivers?” Miral asked him, gesturing to the deep ravines to the east and west of the city. Flint grunted. Did he see them? Reorx above, he had had to cross one of them on a swaying bridge that seemed hardly strong enough to hold a rock dove, let alone a stocky dwarf. The thought of that deep, rocky ravine yawning beneath him still made his skin shiver.

“The one to the east is called Ithal-enatha, the River of Tears,” Miral continued in a soft voice. “And the other is Ithal-inen, the River of Hope. They join at the confluence beyond the Tower to flow northward, to the White-Rage River and then to the sea beyond.”

“Peculiar names,” Flint said with a grunt.

Miral nodded. “They are very old. They were given to the rivers in the days after Kith-Kanan and his people journeyed to the forests of Qualinesti. The names represent the tears wept during the Kinslayer Wars, and the hope for the future when the wars finally ended.”

The dwarf’s companion fell silent, and Flint was content to stay in this peaceful place for a while, gazing out over the city. Finally, however, it was time to go.

Miral escorted Flint to the Speaker’s palace, just west of the Tower of the Sun, and Flint found himself shown to his temporary chambers, a suite of high-ceilinged, marble-floored rooms three times the size of his own house back in Solace. He was free to rest and refresh himself as he wished, the mage informed him, showing him the door that opened onto a small room with a wash basin filled with cinnamon-scented water. Then he was left alone, with promises of food and ale—but no elvenblossom wine—to come soon.

“A dwarf in Qualinost!” Flint said with a soft snort to himself one last time. Reflecting that elven taste in scents and wine scarcely matched his own, he shed his tunic and leggings and dipped into the spicy bath to wash away the grime and dust of the road.

When an elven servant arrived not long after, he found the dwarf ensconced in a russet robe and sprawled on the sheets of the bed, snoring raucously. Quietly, the servant set down the tray of red ale, sliced venison and diced potatoes, then blew out the few candles that lit the room, leaving the dwarf to sleep in the darkness, and dream.

Kindred Spirits