Quentin rose and stood looking across the polished surface of the Skylord’s Mirror. The deep of the night was upon the fair valley, and the moon now crouched low behind the western peaks of the Fiskills, firing their snowy caps with a white brilliance that reflected in the fathomless lake. Also reflected with startling clarity were the myriad of stars burning like pieces of silver fire in the black vault of heaven’s dome. The bright green of the valley was now gray in the subtle moonlight, and the leaping falls flowed down like liquid light, sending their ghostly mist to curl and eddy on the night air.
Across the distance Quentin could hear the falls splashing among the rocks at their base in a sound like laughter carried on the wind. It was the only sound that could be heard, for the valley was silent. Toli, Durwin, and Inchkeith were asleep, wrapped in their cloaks; they looked like lumps of earth or stone, so still and silent did they lie.
How long he stood looking, Quentin did not know. Time seemed to hold no particular meaning in the valley. But Quentin was suddenly mindful of another sound, or rather the impression of a sound, which had been present for some time. Perhaps it had awakened him.
The sound was a thin, high-pitched tinkling like needles dropping onto a stone floor. Or, he imagined, the sound of ice forming on a winter pool—if one could only hear it. The sound seemed to be coming from far above him. He turned his face to the sky and saw the Wolf Star, now shining directly overhead, filling the sky with blazing light, a light so bright it cast shadows upon the earth. The light made him cold, and Quentin pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders; but he could not take his eyes off the star.
It seemed to be moving, stretching, growing thinner and pulling other stars into its dance, for it swirled and shimmered in the blackness of the sky like a living thing. The stars melted together into a single shaft of light, cold and hard as ice. A thin, tapering shaft that stretched from the east to the west, from one end of the night to the other.
The tinkling was, Quentin realized now, the music of the stars, and the flashing shaft of light was the blade of a mighty sword.
In a twinkling Quentin realized he was seeing it: the Zhaligkeer.
The sword, its hilt of glittering golden stars with lordly jewels embedded—ruby, amethyst, topaz, and emerald—began to rise slowly, tilting upward as a sword lifted in triumph. Then the tip dipped and slipped and began falling through the black void of heaven, spinning as it fell, and flashing fire into the darkness.
The Shining One arrowed to earth in an arc of white fire. The brilliance of that plunge dazzled Quentin, but he looked on without flinching. The sword came to rest just above the peaks at the farther end of the valley where the Falls of Shennydd Vellyn poured out of the steep mountainside. It hovered there for an instant and then slid slowly down, as a sword sliding cleanly into its scabbard. There it remained for a moment, its glow diminishing rapidly and fading away in the sweeping mist.
When Quentin came to, he was staring at the falls, and the night lay deep around him. The mountains were sleeping, and he heard only the laughter of the rumbling water. But burned into his brain was the image of the sword. And without a whisper of doubt, he knew where he would find it.
“Durwin! Wake up!” Quentin whispered hoarsely. “Please wake up, or it will be too late!” He jiggled the sleeping hermit’s shoulder and then stood to look once more into the wreathing mist.
“What is it?” said Toli, rising up silently. “What has happened?”
“I have seen it—Zhaligkeer. I know where we will find it. Look! The falls! Do you see?”
Durwin mumbled and raised his head. “Oh, it is you, Quentin,” he said groggily. “It is bad luck to disturb the sleep of a hermit. I thought you knew that.”
“I have seen the sword. Zhaligkeer! I know where it will be found.”
“I do not see anything,” reported Toli, still looking toward the falls.
Quentin whirled and pointed with his left hand. “It is there. I—” A look of deep disappointment bloomed upon his face. “No, it has gone now. But it was there, I tell you! I saw it!”
Quentin was striding away hurriedly. “Wake Inchkeith, Toli.” The hermit sighed. “We will follow him. We seem to have no other choice.”
“Inchkeith is awake,” said the armorer. “What is the meaning of this fracas?”
“Quentin had a vision,” explained Toli as they leaped after him. “He says he has seen the Shining One and knows where it will be found.”
Quentin was leading them toward the falls along the grassy bank of the lake. The moon was down behind the mountains in the west, but their path was illumined by the unnaturally bright light of the Wolf Star. Quentin did not take his eyes from the falls ahead; it was as if he did not trust himself to remember what he had seen if he looked away for even an instant.
The others hopped along behind him; Toli darted back and forth from running beside Quentin to urging the others to a quicker pace. A breathless hour’s travel brought them near the base of the falls. Quentin was standing at the foot of the towering cascade when Durwin and Inchkeith came puffing up.
The roar of the waterfall did not sound like laughter now. It was a mighty rumble that inundated them and set their bones to quivering.
Quentin turned to them, his face glistening with the spray, mist curling around his shoulders and beading on his cloak like pearls that gleamed in the starlight. “There!” he said, pointing his good hand. “The entrance to the mines is up there.”
Durwin pulled on his chin. Inchkeith frowned. “Impossible! What do you propose to do? Swim up the falls like a salmon?”
Toli said nothing—only looked at the swirling, splashing water and at Quentin shrewdly. Durwin eyed Quentin closely. “I do not doubt what you saw. Let us see whether it answers the riddle. Let us see . . .” He put his finger in the air and opened his mouth to speak.
“‘When mountains sleep, sharp vigil keep; you shall see the way most clear.’”
“Yes, I have seen it! The sword fell from the sky and disappeared into the falls.”
“I thought you were not listening, but that is very good. Yes, and it fits, too. ‘When you hear laughter among the clouds.’”
“I heard it. The waterfall sounded like laughter.”
“Some laughter!” shouted Inchkeith. “I can hardly hear a word you are saying over the roar!”
Quentin ignored the remark. “‘Among the clouds’ . . . See how the mist forms the clouds. What else could it be?”
“Hmmm, yes,” agreed Durwin. “‘And see a curtain made of glass.’”
“The water is a curtain!” cried Quentin, his face shining and eager in the white light. “‘Take no care for hand or hair,’” he recited, thrusting out his hand. “It is wet!” He rubbed his hand through his hair. “And my hair is dripping, and so is my cloak. I am soaking wet.”
“So it is!”
“We are all soaking wet, and fools for it!” grumbled Inchkeith.
“‘Divide the thunder and seek the narrow way,’” continued Durwin. “Go through the waterfall? Do you suppose?”
“Of course! Yes! That is what I have been trying to tell you.”
“‘Give day for night, and withhold the light, and you have won the day,’” quoted Durwin. He looked around. “Well, it is night. But it could also mean that the entrance could only be seen in the darkness or that entering the mine in darkness would—”
“I see it!” called a faint voice somewhere above them.
“Toli!” said Quentin. “Where is he?”
The three looked around, but could see the plucky Jher nowhere. He had disappeared while they were puzzling over the clues of the riddle.
“Here!” he called again. They looked to the falls and suddenly Toli was there, stepping out of the tumbling water as from behind a shimmering curtain. He seemed to be standing on the sheer rock face of the cliff, or walking on the mist. “Come up here. Do not mind the water!” he said, and disappeared again.
Quentin was already running after him. Durwin and Inchkeith traded doubtful stares. “It seems all chances of a peaceful night have vanished,” sighed Durwin.
“And a dry one,” grumbled Inchkeith. “We may as well have our bath and be done with it.”
The two followed Quentin around the rocky edge of the pool at the base of the falls, where the water gathered churning and bubbling to spill into the stream that fed the pool in the center of the valley. The rocks were wet and slippery, making the way slow and laborious for the two older men. Quentin fairly skipped over the rocks and soon came to stand at the edge of the plunging torrent. Durwin saw him smile, look back over his shoulder at them, and then step into the churning water.
In a few moments they heard his voice calling down to them. “Do just as I did. I will wait for you.”
“After you, good hermit,” said Inchkeith. “I will follow in your wake. It’s only fitting. This is your expedition, after all.”
“So it is!” said Durwin. He took a deep breath and stepped into the glassy curtain of rushing water.