Chapter 9
An Adventure

The next day got off to a good start, dawning fine and clear. Although frost sparkled on the green leaves in the first light of the morning, within an hour it vanished, and the day promised to be warm and gentle.

It had been Tanis’s suggestion to go looking for the sla-mori; the half-elf craved an adventure. Flint, after looking at his forge and considering what duties he could put off, finally accepted. Other groups of armed elves were out searching for the tylor, especially since the Speaker of the Sun had offered a considerable award to the hunter who downed the rare beast.

Tanis raided the larder of the palace kitchens, appearing at Flint’s door shortly after dawn, bearing a sack containing a loaf of brown bread, a yellow cheese, a flask of wine for himself, and a clay jug of ale for the dwarf.

Armed with battle-axe and short sword, Flint led Tanis, grumbling and carrying his longbow, across the five-hundred-foot bridge spanning the ravine that guarded the city to the west. The dwarf had heard that an ancient race of air elementals, creatures composed of air itself, guarded the regions above the rivers, prohibiting anything from crossing over it into Qualinost by any way except the bridge. Knowing that a peeved elemental was waiting for him to poke an arm or a leg over the bridge’s side so that it could blow him into the ravine five hundred feet below didn’t improve Flint’s opinion of the situation at all.

Tanis pointed to the north. “I’ve never been to the Kentommenai-kath,” Tanis said. “Let’s go.”

“I thought we were hunting for the tylor,” Flint said.

“We’re just as likely to find the lizard at the Kentommenai-kath as anywhere else. From what I hear, the lizard is more likely to find us than the other way around.”

“That’s reassuring,” Flint groused, trudging along behind Tanis and staying well away from the edge of the ravine. “And what in Krynn is a Kentommenai-kath?”

“When an elf undergoes a Kentommen, a close relative, one who has not yet undergone the ceremony himself, goes to an open area overlooking the River of Hope to keep vigil alone all night.”

“Don’t make me work so hard, boy,” Flint huffed. “What’s a Kentommen?”

“It’s a ceremony that elves undergo when they reach their ninety-ninth birthday—when they become adults. Porthios will have his Kentommen in a few months. Gilthanas, I imagine, will perform the Kentommenai-kath.”

The trail wound through the dense forest of aspen and pine, occasionally following the edge so closely that Flint felt his palms grow sweaty, and sometimes swerving upward back into the forest, to his relief. Finally, after more than an hour, they arrived at the Kentommenai-kath. The path opened into a sun-bathed outcropping of purple granite, dotted with white, green, and black lichens and looking east over the ravine. Flint could see the Tower of the Sun shining in the distance; the homes of the elves looked like pink stumps of branchless trees. The Grove, the forest in the center of Qualinost, was visible just north of the open area that must have been the Hall of the Sky.

The cries of birds carried faintly through the air. In the center of the Kentommenai-kath was a huge outcropping of purple granite, nearly flat but dotted with hand-size depressions that cradled clear water. The outcropping inclined gently toward the ravine’s edge.

“This is where the relative of the Kentommen elf kneels to pray to Habbakuk, to ask the god’s blessing on the young man or woman, to keep them in harmony with nature throughout their centuries,” Tanis said reverentially.

Flint wandered around the Kentommenai-kath, scuffing the rock with his traveling boots and admiring the purples, greens, and whites of the glade, surrounded by aspen, oak, and spruce. A sense of peace permeated the area. He looked over at Tanis and continued to stroll.

“Flint, no!” Tanis yelled, his face horrified.

Flint looked ahead … out … and down. The outcropping, which had a gentle grade on three sides, ended sharply at the edge on this side. The dwarf was a scant foot away from a drop of at least six hundred feet, maybe more.

He felt his blood freeze. Then a strong hand clamped down on his collar and jerked him back. Tanis and the dwarf lost their balance together on the uneven rocks and landed with a “hoof!” on the safe, solid granite. The half-elf was pale, and Flint patted the rock appreciatively with one clammy hand while his brain whirled.

“I …” Flint paused.

“You …” Tanis paused.

They stared at each other for a protracted moment, until Flint drew a shuddery breath. “The edge comes up a bit sudden there,” he said.

A crooked smile stirred faintly on the half-elf’s face. “A bit,” he agreed.

Flint, recovering his grumpiness, sat up and recovered his money-pouch, which had fallen from his tunic in the tumble. “Not that I was ever in any real danger of falling, though,” he reassured himself.

“Oh, no,” Tanis said, a little too quickly. “Certainly not.”

“Perhaps this would be a good time to stop to recov—ah, to stop for lunch,” the dwarf added.

Tanis nodded and retrieved their lunch sack. By unspoken agreement, they moved back from the edge another ten feet or so.

“I’m not worried for myself, mind you,” Flint said. “I just don’t know how I’d tell the Speaker you’d gone and dropped yourself off a cliff.” Tanis said nothing.

They broke bread in the bright sun of midmorning, with Flint pressing on Tanis the largest slices of cheese, the tastiest chunks of bread, and the finest pieces of fruit. Then they sat for a short time enjoying the view from a decent space back from the cliff, and decided to head back to Qualinost; Flint had work to do at the forge.

The problems began as the adventurers started the way back. The path must have forked as they came to the Kentommenai-kath, and neither had noticed. When they returned, they took the wrong path. Then the weather entered the picture. First a single dark cloud drifted past the sun.

“As my mother used to say, ‘One cloud gets lonely,’ ” Flint pointed out to the half-elf. Within a short time, a gray phalanx of clouds had crossed the sky overhead. The cloudy sky seemed to lower at an alarming rate, so that Tanis half thought it would drop right onto their heads, but the only thing that did was the rain—big, cold drops. Before long, half-elf and dwarf were soaked and chilled, and Flint had taken to grumbling the words “No more adventures … no more adventures …” over and over again.

All this might not have been so bad had it not been for the shortcut. Tanis expressed reluctance, but Flint only glared challengingly at him as the dwarf pointed down a barely visible footpath that cut off from the main trail.

“I thought I was the one who had traveled the face of Krynn,” Flint griped. “I suppose I was just mistaken.”

Tanis spent the next ten minutes assuring the dwarf that, indeed, Flint was the one who had had the experience on the road, that Flint was the one who knew forests like the back of his hand, and, yes, that he was the one who had been paying enough attention to practical matters on the way up to have seen the shortcut. Furthermore, he had fought off a rampaging tylor the previous day, practically unarmed. And so they plunged through the undergrowth onto the faint footpath leading into the rain-soaked woods.

They plunged deeper into the woods, watching worriedly for the tylor and growing soggier with each moment.

Two hours later, as the rain continued unabated, they ran into a tylor-hunting party and accompanied the group of unsuccessful hunters home. But Flint was coughing by the time they reached the outskirts of Qualinost, and feverish by the time Tanis pulled off his friend’s waterlogged tunic, breeches, and boots. Tanis wrapped him in a blanket, pushed him into a chair, and fired the forge for extra heat.

Now, in late afternoon, as Tanis stirred a pot of venison stew over the fire, the force of Flint’s sneeze sent the chair tilting backward so precariously that Tanis leaped to grab it before it tumbled over.

“Oof!” Tanis grunted, his knees nearly buckling as he pushed against the big wooden chair. “I know you aren’t terribly tall, Flint, but you are a bit on the dense side.” With a good deal of effort, he righted the chair, but the dwarf seemed less than grateful.

“Ah, what does it matter if I fall, seeing as I’m dying anyway?” the dwarf said glumly. He blew his nose into his linen handkerchief, a gift from the Speaker of the Sun, with a sound like a badly tuned trumpet. “At least that way I’ll be all laid out and ready for my coffin.” Flint huddled deeper into his woolen blanket and stuck his big-toed feet back in a steaming pail of water. Close as he was to the glowing coals of the forge, the heat couldn’t drive the chill from his dwarven bones, and his teeth chattered as he shivered.

“As it is, I’m practically frigid with cold anyway. Might as well be officially dead,” Flint complained.

“I could mull you some elvenblossom wine.”

Flint glared. “Why not take your sword and end my pain quickly? I’ll not go to Reorx embalmed in elven perfume!”

“Flint,” Tanis said gravely, “I know you’ll be terribly disappointed. But you’ve only got a cold. You’re not dying.”

“Well, how would you know?” Flint growled. “Have you ever died?” Flint let out another monumental sneeze, his bulbous nose glowing red, a complement to the glow of the setting sun. Tanis could only shake his head. There was an odd sort of logic to the dwarf’s statement.

“No more adventures,” Flint roared. “No more tylors. Give me ogres any day. No more sla-mori. No more walks in the rain on the edge of the elven version of the Abyss.” He paused to gather strength for another volley. “This is all because I took that bath. Dwarves were not meant to be immersed in water two days in a row!” That last sentence, Tanis noted, sounded more like “Dwarvz were dod bed du be ibbersed id wadder du days idda row.”

It’s hard to believe the two had been sitting comfortably here at the forge only a day earlier, the half-elf thought.

Flint sniffled and blew his nose again. He set a warm washcloth on the top of his head, and, draped as he was in his dark blanket, he looked almost like some cheap mystic at a petty fair. “That’s the last time I’ll make the mistake of listening to you,” he grumbled for the umpteenth time.

Tanis did his best to hide his smile as he poured hot tea for the dwarf and set the mug in his stubby hands. “The rain has stopped. I should go practice with Tyresian.”

“This late? Fine, leave me to die alone,” Flint said. “But don’t come back and expect me to say, ‘Hullo, Tanis, how are you? Come inside and ruin an old dwarf’s day, won’t you?’ After all, I’ll be dead. You’ve got an hour or two left of daylight. See you later,” he said, waving his hand at Tanis. “Or then, probably not,” he added glumly.

Tanis shook his head. When Flint was like this, it was simply best to leave him to enjoy his misery. Tanis made sure the kettle was in the dwarf’s reach and that the water in the bucket was hot enough. He spooned a healthy portion of stew into a wooden trencher for Flint, then gathered his longbow and arrows and prepared to abandon the dwarf.

But as the half-elf gained the doorway of the dwarf’s shop, he came face to face with two visitors—the Speaker of the Sun and Lord Tyresian.

Tyresian ignored the dwarf and snapped, “Are you always late for your lessons?” to the half-elf, then resumed a heated discussion with the Speaker. It seemed to be a one-sided discussion; Solostaran appeared unflappable today, nodding gravely in response to the elf lord’s vigorous comments but making no statements that could be interpreted as affirming them.

If possible, Tyresian had become more sure of himself in the twenty years that Flint had known him. Even with his short hair, so unusual among the elves, the elf lord was handsome, with sharp, even features and keen eyes the color of the autumn sky. Tyresian gestured with grace as he spoke with the Speaker, and even standing in the doorway of the dwarf’s rude lodgings, clad in only a plain, dove-gray tunic, there was a commanding presence about him.

“People are saying that the appearance of a creature as rare and as dangerous as a tylor is evidence that your policies regarding outsiders”—and here the lord’s gaze flicked to Flint, then, preposterously, to the half-elf—“are misplaced.”

Solostaran halted and faced the elf lord, the Speaker’s face finally showing a shadow of emotion. The emotion, however, was amusement. “That’s an interesting leap, Lord Tyresian,” he said. “Tell me how you made it.”

“Understand, please, that I’m not stating my own views, Speaker, rather the views of others as I’ve heard them,” the blue-eyed elf lord said smoothly.

“Indeed,” Solostaran said drily.

“I simply know that you, as Speaker of the Sun, are interested in the views of your subjects,” Tyresian added.

“Please get to the point.” Solostaran’s voice showed annoyance for the first time since the pair had appeared in Flint’s doorway. As yet, however, neither newcomer had greeted the dwarf. Flint glanced at Tanis. The face of the dwarf’s friend had reverted to the mulish expression that the half-elf always showed when anyone other than Flint, Miral, or Laurana were around. Tanis’s expression would have done Fleetfoot proud, the dwarf thought.

Flint opened his mouth to interject, but Tyresian resumed, brushing one hand through his short blond hair. Flint noticed that the elf’s arms, exposed by the short-sleeved spring shirt he wore under his tunic, were marked with scars—the results, no doubt, of years of swordplay with his companion Ulthen.

“They say that tylors tend to prefer hidden lairs near well-used trails, so that the creatures can prey on travelers. They say that even though you have continued to bar most travelers from Qualinost”—and the elf lord speared Flint with a glance—“trade has increased the numbers of elves heading out of the city, and out of the kingdom, with goods.”

“Lord Tyresian …” Solostaran’s patience had been strained, but the elf lord was too wound up now to give way to court decorum.

“They say, Speaker, that it was wrong, was ‘unelven,’ to install those … those gnomish bathtubs in the palace.”

Flint snorted—a fairly easy task with a cold; Tanis laughed. Tyresian flushed and looked daggers at the two.

Solostaran appeared to be caught between laughing and launching into a tirade. His gaze caught that of Flint, whose steel-gray eyes were twinkling. “Care for a cup of mulled elvenblossom wine, Speaker, Tyresian?” the dwarf said, and snuffled. “My friend here has offered to prepare some for a sick dwarf.”

Solostaran, turning his back to Lord Tyresian, winked broadly at the dwarf and Tanis. “I’ll pass up your kind offer, Master Fireforge, but thank you. And I believe Lord Tyresian was looking for Tanthalas.”

Tyresian’s anger was barely controlled. “Speaker, I must press for a commitment on that other matter.”

Solostaran whirled. “You ‘must press’?” he demanded.

“Your actions now could affect your children later, Speaker,” Tyresian said coldly.

Solostaran drew himself up to his full height. His eyes flashed green fire. Suddenly he appeared half a hand taller than the young elf—and a good deal too strong a presence to be contained in Flint’s bungalow. “You dare to press me on such a matter in a public setting?”

Tyresian paled. The elf lord hastened to apologize and withdrew hastily with the half-elf in tow. Even as the two disappeared out the door, Flint could hear Tyresian begin to transfer his ire to Tanis. “You had better hope you practiced that technique I showed you yesterday, half-elf.” The threat hung in the air as the pair’s footsteps faded.

The Speaker made a gesture as if to follow them; then his hand fell to his side and he turned back to Flint.

“I don’t envy Tanis his archery lesson today,” the dwarf said mildly, daubing his nose with his handkerchief. He gestured toward the forge. “The fare isn’t of royal quality—Tanis is only a passable cook—but it’s wholesome. If you care to join a dying dwarf, that is.” He coughed weakly.

Flint put on such a pathetic look, bundled and clutching his nearly empty mug, that Solostaran burst into laughter.

“Dying, Flint? I don’t think so. You’re the healthiest one among us—physically and otherwise.”

Confined alone with Flint, the Speaker let some of his formality fall away; he refilled Flint’s tea, ignored the dwarf’s wheezing request for “one last tankard of ale before I die,” and decided, after all, to enjoy a mug of mulled elvenblossom wine. Waving aside Flint’s movement as if to prepare the wine, Solostaran heated the beverage and dropped in a pinch of mulling spices he found in a tiny crock in Flint’s hutch. Sipping the drink, the Speaker sat comfortably on the carved chest that held Flint’s meager wardrobe. That’s the leader of all the Qualinesti elves who just served me tea, Flint thought, wondering at his fortune.

“I have a metalsmithing project for you, Master Fireforge, if you’re willing and healthy enough.”

“I’m healthy enough. And when have I not been willing?” Flint rejoined, knowing full well that he could get away with reduced court decorum when he was alone with his friend. Still, Solostaran’s recent display of authority reminded him not to strain the friendship too far. “Sir.”

Solostaran looked quickly at Flint, then let his scrutiny wander over the dwarf’s tidy cot, well-kept forge, and damp clothes—including the emerald-green tunic the Speaker had ordered made for the dwarf twenty years earlier—spread over two chairs. The boots, leather already growing crinkly as it dried, had been placed several feet from the forge, under Flint’s table. The room smelled of wet wool.

The Speaker’s voice, when he finally began to speak, was weary. He took a sip of wine. “You may wonder why I stand such insolence from someone in my court,” he said.

“Actually, I figured it was none of my—”

“As you know, Tyresian comes from one of the highest families in Qualinost—the Third Family. Tyresian’s father did me a great service years ago—so great, indeed, that had he not stood by me then, I might not be Speaker now.”

Flint wondered what kind of good deed had been involved, but he decided that if Solostaran wanted him to know, he would tell him. Instead, the dwarf slurped his tea, poked his feet nearer the fire, and waited.

“Tyresian is one of the best archers at court,” Solostaran mused, as if his thoughts were far away. Outside, the sun settled lower in the afternoon sky, casting a buttery glow over Qualinost that was matched by the orange light emanating from Flint’s forge. It’s more like autumn than spring, the dwarf thought, then forced his attention back to the Speaker as the lord of the elves continued. “He has been hard on Tanis, I am aware—Yes, I know more of what passes at court than I let on, my friend—but I cannot forget that Tyresian’s teachings have made Tanis nearly as good with the longbow as Tyresian himself is.

“I only wish Lord Tyresian were not so … so …” Solostaran groped for the word.

“… so traditionally elven?” Flint supplied.

“… so unbending.”

Flint gulped down the rest of his tea, not venturing to sneak a look at the Speaker until he’d drained the last drop. Still, he looked up to find Solostaran watching him intently, face pitched downward so that his pointed ears were visible through his golden hair.

“If we elves seem unbending to you, Master Fireforge,” Solostaran said gently but evenly, “try to remember that our ‘unbending’ elven commitment to tradition and constancy has protected us when other, more changeable, races have foundered in turmoil. That is why I proceed with such caution in allowing increased trade with outside nations—although any relaxation of tradition is anathema to some of the courtiers—and why I take reservations such as Tyresian’s and Xenoth’s very seriously.”

The dwarf nodded, and the Speaker added briskly, “But I am here for a reason—in addition to investigating rumors that my dear friend was about to breathe his last. I am glad to see that the rumors appear unfounded.”

Don’t count on it, the dwarf started to say, but held his tongue. He merely contemplated the Speaker, who asked, “You have heard of the ceremony called the Kentommen?”

Flint nodded, and the golden-robed lord went on, “We have spent much of this past winter planning for Porthios’s Kentommen, which will be held in the Tower of the Sun less than two months hence.”

The two looked at each other across the bungalow’s bare stone floor, then Solostaran cast a glance toward the forge.

“I would like you to fashion a special medal honoring the occasion. I would present such a cherished medal to Porthios during the Kentommen.”

The Speaker of the Sun drew in a deep breath. “I would like this ceremony to draw the elven nobles back together, Master Fireforge. I fear that recent … changes … have fostered some division, and I want this ceremony to draw their attention to my commitment to certain—” He smiled—“unchanging elven traditions.

“I don’t need to say, my friend, that the success of this ceremony could go a long way toward cementing Porthios’s claim to the Speakership. And your medal, which I would give him, would be part of that.”

“Do you have a design in mind?” Flint asked.

Solostaran rose and placed his empty mug on the table. “I have ideas, of course, but I would prefer to see what you devise. Of all those around me, Master Fireforge, you may well know me the best. And this knowledge could stand you in good stead now.”

He fell silent, as though thinking of something far off the subject, and Flint quietly said, “I would be honored to fashion such a medal for the ceremony.”

Solostaran looked up and smiled; rare warmth sprang into his eyes. “Thank you, Flint.” The dwarf suddenly saw how tired the Speaker appeared, as though he had spent long nights in restless—or no—sleep. The Speaker seemed to note the sympathy in Flint’s perusal. “The way to the Speakership is full of hurdles, Flint. Look at my own family.”

Flint, deciding that he wasn’t going to die after all, shrugged back the blanket, reached over to his wooden chest, and pulled out a fresh shirt, white linen embroidered with aspen leaves along the collar, compliments of the Speaker’s tailor. He pulled the garment over his head. “You mean the death of Tanis’s fath—of your brother?”

“The deaths of Kethrenan and Elansa, certainly,” Solostaran agreed, “but also the death of Arelas, my youngest brother. My parents had three children, but only one survives. Qualinost may well find the Speakership going, not to Porthios, but to Gilthanas or even Laurana, if the occasion warrants.”

“Arelas?” Flint said, prompting the Speaker.

“Arelas was born only a few years after Kethrenan, and he died shortly after my middle brother did.”

“What a painful time for you,” the dwarf said softly.

Solostaran looked up. “For all of us, yes. Kethrenan died, and Elansa was like a living ghost, waiting for her child to be born. There was a pall over the court that we could not shake.” He watched as the dwarf struggled into green breeches and socks of dark brown wool. “Then we got word through a visitor to Caergoth that Arelas had left that city and was coming back here.”

He smiled. “You should have seen the difference in the court, my friend. My younger brother had left Qualinost as a young child, decades before, and had not returned. Then in the middle of all this … this pain, he was returning.

“I felt as though I had lost one brother and gained another, and although the pain was still great over Kethrenan’s death, there was some solace in realizing that I would finally get to know this young brother. I hardly knew Arelas, you see. He left court at a very young age.”

Flint pondered. Why would a noble family of Qualinost send its youngest child away? Although he said nothing, the question must have shown in his eyes.

“Arelas was quite ill as a child. Several times he almost died, and elven healers seemed powerless to help him. Finally, my father, the Speaker, ordered him sent to a group of clerics near Caergoth, across the Straits of Schallsea, where there was an elven cleric whom my father knew, who had had great success with illness that seemed beyond hope.

“Arelas thrived there, and the cleric sent him back here after a year. But he quickly sickened again. It almost seemed as though something in Qualinost itself was draining him, drawing off his strength. My father, fearing to lose his youngest son, sent him back to Caergoth for good. There were no visits. You know how it is here. The highest families leave Qualinost only rarely, sometimes never. But we received regular reports that Arelas was doing well.”

Flint drew closer to the Speaker. The only light in Flint’s shop, the fire in the forge, threw strange shadows on Solostaran’s face. “Something happened when Arelas returned?”

Solostaran frowned. “He never arrived. Weeks went by, until I thought my mother would weaken and die from the suspense.” He shrugged. “Then we received word in the form of Miral, who bore a letter from my brother and a sad tale of his death at the hands of brigands. The letter expressed Arelas’s love, his indebtedness to Miral, and a request that I offer Miral a position at court.” He smiled sadly. “It was obvious that Miral was a very low-level mage. He could do little magic, easing stomach-aches and headaches, casting minor illusion spells. But little else.”

Flint remembered how the mage had been able to ease his choking fit after his first bout with elvenblossom wine. “Such skills are nothing to sneeze at,” he said.

Solostaran moved into the doorway and laid a gentle hand on the climbing rose blooming around the portal. “Miral is an intelligent, kind elf, and if he is of little use as a mage, he was a gifted tutor for Tanis, Gilthanas, and Laurana. I’ve never regretted my decision to let him live here.”

The Speaker glanced at the late afternoon bustle of elves winding up their day’s business. “I am late,” he said simply, and left the discussion at that.

Kindred Spirits