A.C. 288, Early Fall
Tanis strode along the road from Flint’s shop, his moccasins scuffing against the blue and white tile. He cursed himself for his stupidity. Why had he been so curt with the dwarf? Flint Fireforge seemed to have the best of intentions; why hadn’t the half-elf responded in kind?
Without paying much attention to where he was going, Tanis found himself pacing across the Hall of the Sky in central Qualinost. Patterned into the tile of the open area, now shrouded in twilight, lay a mosaic showing the region of Ansalon centering on the elven city; the map detailed lands from Solace and Crystalmir Lake at the northwest to Que-Shu at the northeast and Pax Tharkas at the south. The half-elf stared at only one point on the map, however: Solace, the dwarf’s adopted home. What kind of place was it?
“Imagine, to live in a house in a tree,” he said, his whisper swallowed by the silence hanging over the deserted square. He thought of the elves’ stone buildings, which never quite lost their chill. Would a wooden house in a tree be so warm?
He kicked at a loose tile that marked the position of the village of Gateway, between Qualinost and Solace; the movement sent the shard spinning. Contrite, and hoping no one had seen him deface the sacred map, he bounded after the chip and returned to replace it, kneeling. Then he sank back on his haunches and surveyed the open area.
The chilly twilight air carried delicious scents of supper and warm echoes of dinnertime chatter. Tanis stood slowly and stared around the Hall of the Sky; around him, the purplish quartz spires of elven homes, rectangles of lamplight along their curved sides, poked like the beaks of baby birds above the rounded tops of trees. Girdered all around by the arched bridges, with the gold of the tall Tower of the Sun still reflecting the sun’s rays in the evening sky, the city was a remarkable sight; understandably, the Qualinesti elves believed it was the most beautiful city in the world. But how could elves bear it, living and dying in the same place?
Did his dissatisfaction, Tanis wondered, come from his father? From his human side?
Tanis raised his gaze to the deepening sky; almost as he watched, the evening darkened and stars began to appear directly overhead. He wondered about the myth that the Hall of the Sky once had been a real structure, guarding some rare and precious object, and that Kith-Kanan had magically raised building and object into the sky to hide them, leaving only the map that had formed the building’s floor. As a toddler, he’d been told by the other young elves that the exact center of the map was a “lucky spot”; stand there and wish very hard and you would get what you desired, they claimed.
Looking around embarrassedly, hoping no one had seen or heard him, Tanis nonetheless continued to wait—not really hoping, of course, that a magical being would appear to grant his wish. Naturally not, he told himself. That was a child’s dream, not a young man’s. Still, he waited a few minutes more, until a breeze through the pear trees raised goose flesh on his arms and reminded him that it was time to go home.
Wherever that was, he thought.
“History,” Master Miral told Tanis the next morning, “is like a great river.”
The half-elf looked up. He knew better than to ask the tutor what he meant. Miral would either explain his point or make Tanis figure it out himself. Either way, questions would gain the half-elf nothing but an irritated wave of the hand.
Today, however, in the dim light of Miral’s rooms in the Speaker’s palace, the mage was inclined to be garrulous.
“A great river,” he repeated. “It begins with small, clear streams, single voices, rushing quickly past their banks until they join their waters with other streams, growing larger and larger as they mingle again and again, until the small voices of a thousand tiny streams have been collected into the roaring song of a great river.” He gestured widely, caught up in his metaphor.
“Yes?” Tanis prompted. The half-elf widened his eyes in the shadowy room; for as long as he could remember, the mage had kept the windows in his quarters blocked off. Bright light, Miral explained, affected the potency of the herbs and spices that formed the basis of the little magic he did. Besides, strong light hurt the nearly colorless eyes that Miral kept shaded in the hooded recesses of his deep burgundy robe. Tanis had long wondered why the Speaker had hired a mage to tutor his children; at one time, Miral had taught Laurana, Gilthanas, and Tanis—Porthios had been too old for a tutor when Miral arrived at court—but Laurana now received lessons from an elf lady. Gilthanas and Miral, on the other hand, had clashed from the start; the speaker’s youngest son now took lessons in weaponry only—from Ulthen, one of Porthios’s friends, who was well-born but chronically without money.
Tanis, fond of the eccentric mage, had remained with Miral, who was one of the few people at court who did not treat the half-elf with polite iciness. Perhaps the difference in Miral’s attitude toward him had to do with the mage’s years outside Qualinesti, Tanis reasoned; although Miral was an elf, he had not grown up with elves. All the more reason to leave Qualinost someday, the half-elf thought.
Miral now pointed a bony finger at Tanis, and the hood fell partially back from his face. His eyelashes and brows, like the shoulder-length hair that puffed from the hood of his robe, were ash-blond, lighter even than Laurana’s tresses. Miral, with his shelves upon shelves of books, his magical potions, his habit of taking exercise indoors by pacing the corridors of the Tower late at night—a habit that raised giggles and conjecture from the young elves—had the colorless look of one who spent too much time in the dark.
“The great river,” Miral continued, and Tanis shook his head, trying to regain his train of thought, “in turn flows into the deep and endless sea. History is like that sea.”
The mage smiled at Tanis’s befuddlement, and the expression gave Miral’s sharp features the look of a falcon. “And although it might be simplest to study the great oceans and rivers—the wars and mighty events of ages gone by—sometimes the past is best understood by listening to the music of a few of those tiny brooks instead, the stories of the single lives that, one by one and drop by drop, made the world what it was.”
Awash in the mage’s rhetoric, Tanis inhaled the potpourri of spicy scents that managed to escape from corked containers around the room, knowing Miral would get to the point eventually. While another young noble might have dreaded these lessons, Tanis looked forward to his hours with Miral. There were other subjects to study, as well as history: the written word, the movements of the heavens, the workings and habits of living things. But all of it was interesting to the half-elf. “For example,” Miral said, settling back onto a huge pillow covered with cured hides of woodland stags, and waving Tanis into a similar, smaller, but no less comfortable, chair off to one side, “have I told you about Joheric?”
When Tanis shook his head, the mage told this story:
“As you know, Tanis, elves are the embodiment of good; theirs was the first race on Krynn.” Tanis opened his mouth to ask if the other races believed they too were the first, but the mage silenced him with a look.
“The elves were affected less by the passage of the Graystone than the other, weaker, races were, but—”
“Tell me about the Graystone,” Tanis interrupted, hoping this storytelling session would last into his early afternoon archery lesson with Tyresian.
Miral glared, and the shadows seemed to draw in deeper around the pair, as though the light reflected the mage’s ill-humor. “I’ve told you about the Graystone. Now …” The mage’s voice resumed hoarsely. “… We were less affected by the Graystone than other races were, but still the passage of the stone—which, as you know, is the embodiment of chaos—gave rise to unsettlement wherever it went.
“In Silvanesti, where I hale from …” This was news to Tanis, who sat up, prepared to ask a question, but instead slumped back down with another glare from the mage. “In Silvanesti, near the main city of Silvanost, lived an elven lord and his two children, a son named Panthell and a slightly younger daughter named Joheric. As was custom there in the years before the Kinslayer Wars, the eldest son stood to inherit his father’s title, his lands, and his wealth. The daughter, Joheric, would receive a large enough dowry that some young elf lord would be encouraged to marry her, but she would have no title to anything else that her father owned.”
“That seems unfair, put that way,” Tanis interjected.
Miral nodded and drew his robe tighter around him. “So it seemed to Joheric,” the mage continued. “The situation tortured Joheric, especially as it seemed obvious to her that she was the worthier child. Elven women, then as now, were trained in weaponry, though then, as now, their use of weapons was more ceremonial than practical. The men still did most of the fighting, when it became necessary.
“Well, Joheric was so skilled with a sword that she could defeat her brother, Panthell, in the mock battles they held about the castle. She was stronger than her older sibling, and smarter. But because she was the younger child, she knew that eventually she would see everything she thought she deserved passing to the unworthy one. Everyone should be able to see, she reasoned, that Panthell was a poor fighter, with no moral judgment at all. She knew that he was not above thievery, that he was greedy and a coward, and that, moreover, he was none too bright.”
Tanis’s stomach growled and he glanced at the plate of toasted quith-pa that the mage had placed just out of reach on a low table near the two chairs. The half-elf had come in too late the previous evening to join the Speaker’s family at the dinner table; misgivings about his conversation with Flint had kept him awake until the early morning hours, and then when he’d finally fallen asleep, he’d risen too late to break his fast before hurrying off to see Miral.
The mage, however, correctly interpreted the abdominal gurgle and the wistful glance, and uttered a command in another language, a command that, with no help from elven hands, sent the plate sliding across the table toward the half-elf. Tanis grunted his thanks, spread a slice of quith-pa with pear jelly, and stuffed it in his mouth.
Miral continued. “Joheric grew increasingly bitter over the knowledge that all her skills, all her talents, would gain her nothing. She yearned to go into battle and bring glory to her house. Soon the Dragon War gave her that opportunity. The war drew her father into fighting, and he, over his son’s vehement protests, sent Panthell off to join the other elven soldiers. Joheric, however, remained at home, practicing her swordsmanship, her skill with the bow, until she was sure she could defend herself with honor. Long months went by, however, with no word of Panthell since he’d left with his regiment.”
“Joheric’s father feared so. He feared his son and heir had been captured. Joheric went to her father and vowed to find her brother—a vow nobody at home took terribly seriously because, after all, she was a girl and she was only twenty-five or so, younger than you are now. In the cover of night, she left the castle and set off through the forests of Silvanesti, hunting for her brother’s regiment.”
“Did she find him?” Tanis asked around a mouthful of quith-pa. He picked a crumb off his sand-colored breeches.
Miral nodded. “She did, but not in the way she’d expected. She came upon Panthell just as the regiment of elves was engaged in battle with a troop of humans. She fought her way to his side, where she discovered, to her horror …” the mage’s voice trailed off. “What do you think she learned, Tanis?” Miral prompted.
Tanis looked up and swallowed. “What?” he repeated.
Miral resumed. “Panthell was fighting on the side of the humans.”
The half-elf felt a thrill go through his body. He sat up so swiftly that the room spun from gray to black before his eyes. He shook his head to clear it. What was Miral trying to tell him?
Relentless, the mage continued, no longer meeting the half-elf’s eyes. “Joheric was so enraged that, without thinking, she shouted her brother’s name and, when he turned toward her, ran him through with her sword. It turned out that the elves had been seeking the human troop that Panthell had joined and was leading. The elves decimated the humans and brought Joheric home a hero.”
“A hero? For killing her brother?” Tanis gulped. He’d heard the Silvanesti elves were colder, more calculatingly rational than the Qualinesti, but …
“For killing a traitor,” Miral corrected. “She inherited her father’s estate and went on to great success as an elven general.” He stopped and cast a glance at his student.
Tanis was horrified. “That’s it?” he demanded, his tone rising despite himself. “She killed her brother and was rewarded for it?”
“For the rest of her life, she was troubled by sadness,” Miral conceded. “For years afterward, she was pursued by dreams of her brother, nightmares in which she ran him through again and again and again, until she awoke screaming.”
Tanis considered, looking around the shadowed room but seeing instead an armored elven woman impaling her own brother in battle. “Bad dreams seem a poor price to pay for slaying another elf,” he said finally.
“It depends on the dreams,” the mage said.
The two sat in silence for a short time, until Miral leaned forward. “Do you understand the moral of what I’ve told you?”
The half-elf took the last bit of quith-pa and thought some more. “That one person can change the course of history?” he offered.
The mage’s face displayed approval. “Good. What else?”
Tanis thought hard, but no reasonable alternative came to him. The mage leaned close, his eyes suddenly shards of crystal. “Decide which side you’re on, Tanis.”
Startled, the half-elf felt his face go white. “What did you say?” he asked weakly.
“Decide which side you’re on.” Then the mage turned away.
At that point in the morning’s lesson, Laurana arrived, and Miral called a break, prompted also, no doubt, by the shock that still showed on his young pupil’s face. The lad had to learn the hard truth sooner or later, the mage thought; Tanis couldn’t exist half-elf and half-human without choosing which race to align himself with. Still, it had pained Miral to hurt his young pupil, and he wished he could have found a gentler way of making the same point. If Tanis didn’t develop a shell between himself and the court, he’d go through life bruised and battered.
Still, it was a shame, the mage thought.
“There might be few days like this left before winter,” the Speaker’s daughter had argued. “You’ll blink your eyes, and winter will be here, Tanis.”
She had laughed, but Tanis had shivered a little. He already could feel the winds of winter in his bones, and he knew, somehow, that the changing of the seasons meant more to him than it did to other elves. Maybe it was that he could feel himself changing with the season, growing older. Maybe it was that individual seasons meant more to races that expected fewer of them than the elves did; a half-elf lived a shorter life than the centuries that a full elf could expect, although a half-elf in turn could expect a longer life than humans could.
The mage and his pupil turned to a new subject—the workings of wings. Miral had found a dead sparrow and a brown bat in a walk through the woods this morning; he and Tanis examined the two creatures lying on a tray on the tutor’s desk, illuminated by a lamp that lent the room a scent of spiced oil. Still, as the two stood head by head examining the dead bat and the bird, there was a strain between master and pupil. Tanis tried hard to turn his attention back toward Miral’s lesson.
“Do you see the differences between the bat and the sparrow, then, Tanis?” Miral asked. His breath smelled of bay leaves.
“I think so,” Tanis said. He traced the fragile lines of the bat’s wing with a finger. “In the bat, the wing is made of skin stretched between the finger bones, which have grown very long, except for the thumb.” He turned his attention to the sparrow lying still on the desk. “And in the bird, the fingers are lost, and the wing is fashioned of feathers springing from the arm.”
“Good,” Miral said gravely. “I suspect that’s enough for today. I wouldn’t want you to get ideas about flying, yourself.”
“Life and death are both part of the cycle of nature,” Miral said, catching his expression. “And if we can learn from death, then so much the better.” He moved the tray aside, and poured a cup of wine for each of them to sip as they talked. “Now, I think there’s time left for another story. What shall it be?”
“You,” Tanis replied. “I want to hear your life story.”
The shadows in the room deepened again as the mage’s clear eyes took in the half-elf’s serious expression. The stone floors seemed to radiate a chill, and the half-elf shivered. Miral appeared to come to some decision, took another sip of wine, and asked, “What tale of myself is there for me to tell?”
“What about all of your journeys?” the half-elf pressed.
Miral turned away from the table. “The aimless wanderings of a foolish young elf, that was all,” the mage said with a shrug. “My life was of little importance until I finally had the sense to come to Qualinost.”
Tanis took another swallow of wine, then another, gaining a weak form of courage. “How did you get here? You say you are Silvanesti. Why come to Qualinost, then?”
“It’s early afternoon. Aren’t you late for your archery lesson?”
“You said we have time for another story,” Tanis said stubbornly.
Miral sighed. “I see you will not leave this until I satisfy you with some explanation of a middle-aged mage’s life. Come, then. Let me walk with you to your session with Tyresian. We can talk along the way.”
They drained their goblets, and Tanis followed Miral into the hallway, the mage careful to set the lock in the door. At Miral’s request, the corridor outside his chambers was always dimly lit. A guard was never present, also at his request.
“What do you know of me, Tanis?” Miral asked as they stepped slowly along the corridor.
Tanis matched his gait to that of the mage. Both made little noise as they walked, the half-elf because he wore leather moccasins, the mage because he shod his feet with padded slippers. “I know that you were a friend of the Speaker’s brother, Arelas. And that you came here when I was a child.” Tanis flushed, hoping that the mage would not say the half-elf was a child still.
The mage, however, appeared engrossed in examining the gray veins in the marble floor as the pair progressed along the hallway. They’d gone far enough from the mage’s quarters that the wall sconces again held torches for light; they stepped from one circle of light into darkness and then into the next illuminated circle. Finally, Miral spoke, his voice seeming to come from deep within his hood.
“We were longtime friends,” the mage said hoarsely. “You know that Arelas grew up away from court?”
Tanis nodded, then realized that Miral could not see to the side as he walked, hooded, facing forward. “Yes, of course,” he said.
“Arelas was the youngest of the three brothers. Solostaran was eldest, of course. Kethrenan was many years younger, and Arelas was only a few years younger than Kethrenan. Arelas was sent away from court as a very young child—some say because he was frail and could not thrive here,” Miral said. “He was sent to a group of clerics near Caergoth, several weeks’ travel north of here, through mountains and across the Straits of Schallsea. Shortly before that, I had come to the same area as an apprentice with a group of mages.
“You would think two elves living in a human city would become friends easily, purely out of loneliness,” Miral continued. “But such wasn’t the case. We lived near the same city for long years, passing each other in the marketplace, nodding but never speaking. He never went home to Qualinost. I never went home to Silvanost.” He paused, and Tanis practically heard his friend groping for the correct words. As they passed one doorway, Lord Xenoth, the Speaker’s elderly adviser, emerged with a swirl of his silver-gray robe, but passed without acknowledging the pair.
As they passed by a window, a vertical slash in the quartz, Tanis sidestepped a freestanding planter overflowing with ferns. “Yet you and Arelas eventually met,” he prompted.
Miral turned right and headed down wide stone steps to the courtyard. “We met through my magic. One day in the Caergoth marketplace, Arelas took ill. He was ever a frail elf. I was nearby and rushed to his aid. I know many spells for easing minor ills, although I am not an accomplished healer, as you well know.” Tanis rushed to disagree, but Miral waved aside his polite assurances with one of his characteristic gestures, and the half-elf fell silent again. Miral, in fact, was only a minor mage, but his friendly personality and willingness to share his time had made him relatively popular.
“At any rate,” Miral said, “I was able to ease Arelas’s pain, and in the days afterward I visited him often. At last, we became friends.”
They had arrived at the double doors that opened from the Speaker’s palace into the courtyard. The doors were fashioned of polished steel—making them particularly valuable in an era when the constant threat of war made steel, used for weapons, worth more than gold or silver. Each door stood as high as two elves and as wide as one, although the precision of the elven craftsmen meant that any elf, regardless of strength, could set the doors swinging open. Tanis opened one, enough to see Tyresian lounging arrogantly against a pillar forty feet outside the door. Miral stepped back into the shadows, and the half-elf let the door swing shut again.
“How did you end up in Qualinost?” Tanis asked. “And what happened to Arelas?”
Miral pulled his hood back from his face. “Perhaps this should wait for another time. It is not the kind of tale to be tossed out as two friends part.” But at Tanis’s look, he continued. “Arelas decided to visit Qualinost, and he asked me to accompany him. I had always wanted to see the western elven lands, so I agreed. We could have sent to Qualinost, to court, for an escort, I suppose, but Arelas wanted to enter Qualinesti anonymously—why, I never did discover. In so many ways, he was a secretive sort.
“It was in the unsettled times in the early centuries after the Cataclysm. Bands of brigands were not uncommon on the highways. But Arelas assured me that we’d be safe in the small group that we traveled with.”
Miral dipped his head and seemed to be struggling to breathe. Tanis was fascinated by the narrative, yet he wished he had not asked the mage to relive what was obviously a painful experience.
Finally, the mage sighed. “Arelas was wrong. We sailed safely from Caergoth to Abanasinia, and we traveled inland without incident for a week. Then, a day’s ride out of Solace, near Gateway, our small group of fellow travelers was attacked by human brigands. We killed one of the highwaymen, but they slew the guards who traveled with us.”
“Arelas?” Tanis asked. Through the door, he heard impatient footsteps; he could only guess it was Tyresian, come to get him for archery lessons.
“There was an … an explosion,” Miral said softly, stepping back another pace as the door began to open. “Arelas was badly hurt. I did what I could. He told me to come here, that his brother would find a place for me in court. You see, even Arelas, fond friend that he was, knew that I wasn’t a good enough mage to find a position on my own.”
At that moment, Tyresian crashed through the door, shouting, “Tanthalas Half-Elven! I have waited …” He saw the two and stopped, then evidently dismissed the mage as beneath his notice. “You are late!” he snapped at the half-elf.
Tanis ignored the angry elf lord for the moment. “And so you came here,” the half-elf said to Miral.
Miral nodded. “And I’ve been here ever since. I’ve been happy—happier than I would have been in Silvanesti, I suspect. I do miss Arelas. I still dream about him.”
As Tyresian fumed silently behind him, Tanis watched in sympathy as the mage padded back up the steps.
“Keep your head up,” Tyresian snapped. “Hold this arm straight. Plant your feet thus. Don’t look away from the target while you’re aimed at it. By the gods, do you want to kill someone?”
Off to one side, Lady Selena laughed. She was a regal-looking elf lady with violet eyes and dusky blond hair, but there was an unsettling hardness to her features. Still, the great wealth she would inherit upon her parents’ death added a great deal to her attractiveness in many elf lords’ eyes.
Tanis had spent two hours firing arrow after arrow into several bales of hay that Tyresian had ordered set up in a block against a blank wall of the huge courtyard. “That way, we’ll be relatively sure you won’t send an arrow into some passing courtier,” Tyresian had said, prompting more laughter from Litanas, Ulthen and Selena. Porthios sat on a bench, watching his half-elf cousin with an intensity that almost guaranteed Tanis would miss the target nine out of ten times.
“Can’t you ask your friends to leave?” Tanis had asked Tyresian, whose blue eyes narrowed.
“Do you think they’ll clear a battlefield for you someday, half-elf, just so you’ll feel at ease with no critical eyes upon you?” the elf lord retorted loudly. Litanas snorted, and Tanis felt his face go red. With the exception of Porthios, the group seemed to find Tanis’s performance remarkably entertaining.
Tanis’s arm ached, and his fingers were numb. Nerveless hands dropped an arrow on the ground, and he flushed as the crowd behind him found merriment in his efforts to pluck the arrow from the moss with fingers that refused to do what he wished. Actually, what his fingers wished to do was wrap themselves around Tyresian’s corded neck and tighten, and Tanis fought to hold his temper in check. Lady Selena had a particularly irritating laugh, too—a giggle that trilled up the scale and gurgled back down to the starting note. It was enough to make his hair curl, but Litanas and Ulthen seemed to find it enchanting.
“It does little good to be skilled in defending yourself against an enemy in the distance if you are vulnerable to an enemy standing before you,” Tyresian said self-importantly.
No kidding, Tanis thought, but grimaced as the elf lord thrust a heavy steel sword into his hand. The half-elf was forced to lift it in a hasty parry against a fiercely grinning Tyresian. Deftly, Tyresian edged one foot behind Tanis’s and shoved his adversary’s chest with the flat of his sword; Tanis fell over backward in a flurry of arms and legs, narrowly missing his own sword as he landed.
He lay there, panting, stinging from the shrill laughter and the force of his fall but refusing to look at the elven nobles chortling on the stone bench.
Suddenly, Selena’s screech rose above the clamor. “He’s split his breeches!” she shrieked, and dissolved in giggles. Tanis looked down; his sword had, indeed, slit the right side of his breeches, and his fall had split it wider, leaving an expanse of unbecomingly hairy thigh exposed to the gaze of Porthios’s friends. Finally, a new voice joined the others, and Tanis saw Porthios wipe tears from his eyes as he rose and, shaking his head, led his friends back into the palace through the steel doors. Tyresian leaned over and, with one easy movement, swept up Tanis’s sword, saluted the fallen half-elf with it, and stepped after his friends. He paused at the door, however, holding it open with one strong hand.
“See you tomorrow, half-elf,” he said, and grinned.
From inside, Selena’s laughter trilled back at Tanis.