The Black Mage sprinkled a powder of the leaf of Witch's Dew into the simmering caldron.  He stepped back as a large bubble burst on the potion's surface.  It released a venomous green vapor, which he sent away with a wave of his hand before adding a handful of gold ore; he had been laboring at the concoction for one cycle of the moon.  Tonight, the moon was full, and its stimulus would bring the brew to full potency, activating the malignant mixture to perform its foul intent.  His plan was to once and for all put an end to all opposition, to at long last bring to fruition his struggles for supremacy.  With this, he would overcome the Faeries that continually had involved themselves in the thwarting of his endeavors; he would cut them off from the very source of their power.  The Faeries dealt with, the Elves would follow.

      Adding the last ingredients, the mage motioned with his hands, and the large wooden ladle began stirring the potion.  He sighed.  It did not satisfy him as he had expected, as he had hoped; nothing did.  His centuries of existence were lost in bitterness and hatred.  What was it?  Six, seven hundred cycles?  No, it was longer than that.  It was six hundred cycles since he had dwelt among the inhabitants of northern Frontmire.  There had been a time when he had dwelt among others, but he did not remember that anymore.  Why did they hate him so?  Why could he not find rest for himself?  It did not matter, for soon they would all pay and pay dearly at that.  A little longer, and then, he would have the satisfaction of being the only one in the land able to wield magic.  Then, he would savor the fruit of his labors.

      Daektoch the Black Mage, vaguely remembered a time when he had been happy, when he had not lived in isolation, when he had not found it necessary to hide like some leprous outcast, but that was a faint and distant reminiscence, like that of the aged stains on his robes.  There had been another life.  He did remember the Kataruk, the malevolent necromancer who had stirred Daektoch's longing for power, the beginning of the change that had led to his quest for might in the forces of magic.  It had been a long path and now his ends were at hand.

      The mage turned his eyes to the shadow that stood by the cavern's wall; the shade understood.  With a resonating but hollow harmonizing, it began to chant, power throbbing in the chamber as its twelve fellows along the walls joined in, the final element of the curse.  Within the labyrinth of Mount Bahal, within the Black Mage's lair, the incantation grew in strength.  The volcanic mountain seemed to sway to the voices of the subverted wizards who were no longer Human, and the solidified magma throbbed to the Black magic's momentum.  Down in the depths of the mountain's crater, the molten lava that normally bubbled began to spit and boil; outside under the moonlight, the mountain grew ominously dark, shrouded from all sight as lightning pierced the obsidian murk that hung over the pinnacle, yet without illuminating its slopes.

      From the mountain emerged a venomous, long, fluorescing green tendril.  It seemingly meandered aimlessly southward, as a great serpent seeking prey.  Only, it knew where to find its quarry; it went south, deep within the Mystic Mountains where the Faeries dwelt.  There it would begin its work, an endeavor that would be slow and insidious but nevertheless effectual…and lethal.

      Daektoch laughed a mirthless bout, seeking within himself to find joy for his toils; the dark creatures continued the incantation.  A few more heartbeats and the trap would be set.  The Faeries' demise would begin.

      The mage left the chamber, leaving his servants to finish the work, for he had other enterprises at hand.  The Cave Trolls needed to be brought into subjection again.  Being dim-witted made them easily turned into a swarming horde, and their tremendous strength and size made them formidable opponents.  The mage emerged from a tunnel that appeared as a skeletal eye socket on the mountain's eastern face, and he stood on the narrow ledge that ended in a steep plummet.  He looked out to the northern Blue Mountains inhabited by the Trolls, gazing through the night, sending out his awareness as a creeper, searching for his minion's minds. 

He cloaked them with his will.  His thoughts would be their thoughts.  His desires would be their desires.  His purpose would become their purpose: the Elves' destruction!

      The Trolls would be well equipped, for Heros, the capitol, was also his, and he had seen to it that they had built many garrisons with armories stocked full.  The Trolls would plunder them and be armed for the deed.  A hint of satisfaction wisped through him at the thought.  Puny Humans!  They had been so easy to sway and bend to his will.  They never questioned as to why the Trolls did not attack them, as others were.  Yet, Heros had stockpiled lances, maces and broadswords as if war was at their very gate. 

      The Trolls were now in motion, but it would still be awhile before they amassed in numbers.  The most difficult part of controlling the Trolls was to suppress the constant fighting among themselves and their tremendous appetites.  Left to themselves, they would endlessly feed, fight amongst themselves and be useless.  The effort of controlling them would cost Daektoch a continual exertion, but he could manage.

      Within Bahal, the chanting ceased; the spell was finished.  Daektoch turned and entered the mountain, returning to where his servants waited.  Arriving within the cavern, he randomly chose four of them and cast a spell on them, mutilating the demon-like wraiths into bat-like creatures the size of horses.  Four of the other shades mounted these and left, two flying south to the land of the Elves and two to Dolan, the mountain in the western Mystics where the Dwarves dwelt.  The Dwarves!  Oh, yes!  They too would feel his wrath.  Too often, they had meddled and assisted in thwarting his plans, but that would end soon.  They thought themselves secure in their mountain habitat.  Daektoch almost laughed.  Dolan, the Dwarf word for rock or fortress.  He would show them how worthless that fortress could become.

      There were but two other obstacles.  The Human city of Breezon and Morlah the Druid.  He had plans for them too.  But for tonight, he had expended enough energy.  The mage needed to regenerate his powers.  A short season with his spirit in the netherworld was needed, and then, he would set his plans into full motion.

 

 

 

Dejas vu?

 

      Jerhad lay half asleep under an ancient Silver Willow common to the southwest of Frontmire.  He watched as an old man donning a gray mantle made his way up the road past the house, where he lived with his parents.  He laughed to himself, feeling as if he were viewing a scene from his past when Morlah the Druid had come up that very road, seven cycles of the sun before, looking much like this dream apparition did now.  The subsequent events had turned Jerhad's life upside down. 

      He remembered watching Morlah, passing himself off as an old man, approaching him and saying:

      "Hot!  Is it not?"

      Jerhad bolted to a seated position, "Morlah!  I thought I was dreaming."

      "Thou mayest well wish thou wast, mine Elven friend."  The Druids, to this time, still spoke in the ancient version of the Common Tongue.           

      "Not another delivery!"  Jerhad pretended to chide, putting his hands up as if to push Morlah away or ward himself from evil.

      "No...not a package, but an errand, mayhapst."

      "You'd have to pay me a lot more than six golds to send me off on another Druid errand, Morlah.  I don't think you could afford it," laughed Jerhad.

      "Wouldst a gold mine be enough for thee?" the Druid inquired with a conspiratorial grin breaking across his face.

      Jerhad laughed even more, "You're on.  You give me a gold mine, and I'll run your errand." 

      "Done then," smiled Morlah, with mischief beaming in his eyes. 

      Then, Jerhad came forward and embraced the Druid. "Well-met, Morlah.  Well-met!  Where have you been?  We haven't seen you in some seven cycles of the sun."

      "Sleeping...the Druid Sleep, but now is the time to awake.  Trouble doest begin again in the land.  But enough of that for now.  How is Andreanna?"

      "Great!  She's put her weight back on, fiery as ever.  Looks great as ever too though she still gets dark circles under her eyes when she's tired.  You missed it.  We were wed about one cycle after she came to Mildra.  We have a daughter now, Kendra...four cycles old.  Andreanna's...you know...woman things…took a while to catch up before she was able to bear," the Elf finished a little awkwardly.

      Andreanna, though Human in appearance had a good part Elven blood in her ancestry and, as was Jerhad, was descendent of the royal lineage of the Elves, though there had not been a recognized King or Queen for hundreds upon hundreds of cycles.  She had long auburn hair, almond-shaped, chestnut-colored eyes and was extremely beautiful, even if she did not have Elfish-pointed ears.  She was now in her twenty-seventh cycle, and she had become a vibrant addition to the Elven community of Mildra. 

      "It doest mine heart good to hear this, Jerhad.  I wish thee both well...and many children, though they willst challenge thine heart in ways that Gnomes, Trolls and wizards have not."

      "What in the god's names is that supposed to mean?"

      "Time willst reveal this mystery to thee if thou doest not know," he chuckled.

      "Druids!  ...You staying or you gotta run, like you usually do?"

      "If there is room at the inn in town, I wast think...."

      "Oh, cut that out!" interrupted Jerhad.  "You'll stay with us.  Andreanna would kick me if I let you stay elsewhere.  She still speaks of you often...quite fond of you actually, for some unknown reason," Jerhad teased.  "We're living with my mother and father.  Father's home from the sea for a spell.  You'll get to meet him.

"Better get ready.  My mother still tells the story of the ten Trolls she killed with her longbow...only now it's grown to thirty or forty and at one thousand paces.  Like cheese, good wine or any story worth telling...gets better with age."

      "Is thine family at home now?"

      "No, they're all down in the market.  The tarpon run was early this cycle.  Andreanna helps Mother down there, and they take Kendra with them.  They're up to their elbows in fish.  Father's helping out, too."

      "And thee, why doest thou not help?"

      "I just got here about one-half span before you arrived.  Just finished planting the summer wheat, then took the midcourse ferry back.  I ate some and thought I'd get me a nap in the shade before I go down to help.  Was up one span before the sunrising to get to the fields for the past quarter-moon's cycle."

      "How is thine grandfather?"

      "Oh, ...He died...just last cycle, in the late summer.  We had expected it to be a long time before.  He had fallen off the roof of his cabin while fixing a leak...just before we were wed.  He wouldn't hear of being moved into town, so I went up and stayed with him.  But then, he mended and perked right up and did rather well until he died. 

"It was really strange, Morlah, but it seemed in those times, when I took care of him, that I was sharing something with him that helped him get better...but that's just crazy...isn’t it?"

      "Is it?  Doest thou not bear the acrch, Elfstone of Life and Health?  I wouldst like to see where he lived.  Is the cabin still there?"

      "Left it just like it had been.… You know...he just died in his sleep one night.  The course before, he was in good spirits, and he even gave me his books.  One of them is a copy of the Druid Histories.  The one dating to two hundred cycles of the sun ago, and there are older copies of the Elf and Dwarf Histories, too.  I keep them up at the cabin."

      "They art very valuable sources of knowledge.  Thou shouldst keep them where they wouldst be safer.  Hast thou read them?"

      "I do.  I read them quit often in fact.  I was familiar with some of what I read, from Grandfather's stories that he used to tell me when I was a boy.  But now, it's all so much more real since I've seen Dwarves, Gnomes and Trolls...and Daektoch...."

      "Ah, yes...Daektoch...but come.  Let us walk as we speak," he said as they turned and headed south along the way.  "Jerhad, I fear that Daektoch is about again."

      "Fire and demons!  I thought we'd seen the last of that miserable wretch.  I'd hoped I'd never see that soulless wizard again!"

      "I fear that thou willst, Jerhad.  Thou doest know of his lust to possess all magic and to destroy that which he canst not possess.  Thine Elven blade is magic.  Thou hast innate magic.  That, he canst not possess, so he willst seek to subvert thee or destroy thee.  The Elves have dormant magic.  This he doest perceive as a threat to himself; they must be destroyed also.  He doest fear all who wield magic as potential enemies, so he seeks to annihilate them.  Thou willst not escape his attention; neither willst I.  We two art the most powerful forces of magic, for the cause of good, that I am aware of...next to the Faeries of course, but they do not intervene much into the affairs of mortals.  Daektoch willst not tolerate our presence."

      "Always there with an encouraging word, Morlah, aren't you?  But...about me and my magic.…  I'm confused.  We never did have time to talk about it before.  Sometimes I feel the magic is in the knife.…  Then, it's like the knife is in me, or I'm in it or...I don't know.  How was I able to use the magic, if it's in the knife, when the Gnomes had possession of it?  And then, when I fought with Daektoch, I never even touched it.  It was like the magic came out...from inside me.  Good thing Kassandra showed up when she did."  He smiled at the memory of the female Giant who had saved his life in his fight against Daektoch, and he became lost in thought for a span of heartbeats. 

      "This is the nature of the magic that thou doest posses.  Thou doest remember when I spoke to thee of it several cycles past;  I didst tell thee that magic is the Elves’ destiny and that the knife wast not all." 

      "Yeah...so?"

      "Magic is inherent and innate to the Elves.  Over the cycles, after the Elves moved to southern Frontmire, from lack of use, it didst become dormant.  The knife is Dwarf steel with the element argentus mixed in at the forging, as thou doest know.  Argentus is an Earthen power, the very source of Faerie magic and therefore of Elven magic.  The Faeries art the embodiment of the magic, which is said to possess an intelligence of its own.  Some of the magic is expressed in a Humanoid form that we doest know as the Faeries, while other portions of the magic (or intelligence) prefer different forms." 

      They made their way down the lane, two figures walking under the oppressive midcourse sun.

      "One such form is that of the Elfstone.  Some go further and will express themselves as both, or in ethereal entities.  For example, the acrch, the stone of Life and Health, is expressed in the Elfstone which thou doest bear in the handle of thine Elven blade.  Though she doest remain in completeness in the stone, at times she hast chosen to appear in Faerie or another Humanoid form, such as an old woman, a dream creature....  This power is also within thee, Jerhad, innate as a descendant of these distant relatives, if thou wouldst.  It is a part of thee, equal to thine own life force, and canst not be separated from thee." 

      Suddenly, the Druid stopped and looked behind, gazing over his shoulder toward the unseen Mount Bahal, listening, his eyes searching the skies and frowning as if in deep concentration.  Morlah shook his head, concern clearly visible on his face, sighed and turned south again.  Dislodging Jerhad from his northerly gaze, the Druid propelled the Elf forward with his hand on Jerhad's elbow.

      "The magic hast its source within the argentus, the same power that is within thee and the Elfstones.  It hast been dormant in the Elves, so a catalyst wast needed to awaken and guide in its use; this wast the purpose of the knife, Ember.  At first, when thou didst use its power, it wast that of the knife only, but then, the magic didst awaken within thee at the stirrings caused by the blade's power.  Then, the ability in thee wast able to become its own independent force with a life of its own and intelligence of its own, yet not separate from thee or the argentus."  He glanced over his shoulder towards the unseen Mount Bahal again.         

      "When Daektoch didst take Andreanna at Moreau's Ford, and thou didst fight with the dark shade, his servant, the ability didst awake completely within thee.  Thou wast able to wield the magic without using the power of thine Elven blade.  Later, thou didst handle the magic without the knife's presence, in its full force.  It didst come to its fullness, perhaps prematurely.  Stanton didst finally speak to me of what had happened.  Thou wast almost lost.  The memory of it shouldst not be stirred within thee....  No, do not ask," he said raising his hand, warding off the question as it began forming itself on Jerhad’s lips. 

"Suffice it to know that thou didst destroy the creature with force from within thee alone.  After thou wast healed of thine wound, the magic of the stones and that within thee didst work as if answering face-to-face in a looking glass.  That which thou doest perceive within the knife is perceived within thee by the stones in the knife's handle. 

      "In this way the stones didst quicken thine innate ability and teach thee its use.  The knife willst always be a source of power to thee to strengthen and focus that which is already within thee; but in contrast to myself, who once am separated from the argentus, am powerless, except for that which I have of the Arts, thou art a source of power that hast not been known since the end of the Kingdom of the Elves in the north, both in the manifestation of magic and in the strength thereof.  Doest thou understand this?"

      "I hear you, old man, but I don't know if I understand."

      The blade they spoke of was one given to Jerhad by his grandfather upon his rite into manhood seventeen cycles of the sun in the past at the age of fifteen cycles.  It was, by any standard, an odd appearing knife.  The double edge blade was about three spans long and two fingers wide, and was made of (his grandfather had claimed) steel forged with Elven magic, sharp enough to shave with had Elves had such need.  The handle was of a golden colored metal (but not gold) of a wrought braid-like work, into which, someone had interlaced oiled leather strands.  Peculiar to the handle was the row of dull-colored, small acorn-sized stones set within, not gems or precious jewels but perfectly round stones numbering seven.  These were set completely within the handle so that they showed on both sides; they were ordered (from blade to pommel) white, yellow, blue, green, purple, black and white: Elfstones of Earthen magic. 

 

******

      Within the bowels of Mount Bahal, Daektoch festered in his hatred of the Elves and Morlah the Druid.  Actually, he hated all life that he did not control, and he felt threatened by those who had magic, viewing them as rivals, even the Dwarves who had a little magic (very little).  At least Daektoch had the compensation of knowing that GladdenStone, the Dwarf King, had died in battle though it was only a bitter satisfaction now.  How had they gotten forty Giants involved?  Where had they come from?  That, he did not know.  He knew of the one who guarded the land that was gifted of the Elves to the Giants.  He had taken care of that one.  But forty!  How would one even find so many Giants in Frontmire? 

      A large portion of the Trolls Daektoch had brought against Breezon had been slaughtered in the fighting seven cycles past, just courses of the sun before they would have achieved the breeching of the walls; it would have been easy plunder from there.  Frontmire's second largest army would have been destroyed.  He had wanted to destroy the Breezon army to eliminate any possible interference from them.  As it stood, the surviving Trolls had been routed back into the Blue Mountains with two thirds of their ranks dead, left lying on the Breezon plains or drowned in the Maring Sea.  Those wretched Giants and Dwarves had shown up and flanked the Trolls, killing thousands and assisting in what led to the final rout of the Troll horde. 

      Then, there had been the unrest that had risen in the east, which had led to the final dread, panic and stampeding of Trolls into the river and sea and the following rout of the remaining Trolls back into the mountains.  What had escaped his notice was the two dinghies containing the ghosts of the dead Druids that he had had slain some six hundred cycles before.  By means of Morlah's magic they had crossed from the mist where they existed, waiting, longing for vengeance against Daektoch.  Their very presence cast fear and terror into the hearts of mortals.  They had caused no small unrest on the Trolls' eastern flank and had proved to be the undoing of Daektoch’s minions.  The resulting stampede might have decimated half of the Dwarves' infantry, but through quick action and use of shields, they took refuge behind wedged formations and the Troll hordes escaped back into the mountains that were their home.  To add insult to injury, Daektoch had been injured, first by Morlah in battle, and then by the Elf, Jerhad, whom he had seriously underestimated.  The Elf's magic was powerful!  More powerful than his own.  Only, the Elf was inexperienced in its use and without malice, which had almost proven to be Jerhad's undoing.  Daektoch's injuries from fighting the Elf had been too great for him to confront either Druid or Elf again, and so he had slithered back into the labyrinth of lava-wrought mazes within Bahal. 

 

******

      Morlah and Jerhad walked on into the heat of the afternoon, up to Jerhad's grandfather's cabin.  It was a small log structure tucked away in the foothills of a solitary mountain (the first of the Coastal Range), to the south of Mildra.  The sea could be seen in the distance to the southwest, large cumulus clouds being blown briskly far out over the water and spanning out to the horizon.  The area before the cabin bore a level field with great Canterhort Firs growing sparsely about the front of the cabin and turning into a dense stand of towering spires around the back and up onto the great stone of which the mountain was comprised.

      Spring wild flowers grew in abundance in the field, their sweet fragrance hung heavily on the air in the afternoon's heat as they displayed bright rainbow shades of colors.  A cooling breeze from the Korkaran Sea faintly stirred the grasses, swaying, giving a feel of life and motion to the otherwise still setting. 

      The cabin itself stood in stark contrast; it was old, having been built by Jerhad's father's grandfather nearly one hundred cycles past.  The dampness of the winter sea air produced a thick moss cover that clung throughout the cycle to the hand-hewn-cedar shakes on the roof, still solid and weatherproof.  The cedar logs, streaked with cracks of age and drying, were an ancient home to the spiders and insects, which lived in their darkened recesses.  On the front, a narrow porch of thick fir planks was enclosed with pole rails that guarded a lone rocking chair.  Two flat stones, a smaller set on a larger, made the stair leading up into the cabin.  From the roof on one side, rose the stone-masonry chimney Jerhad had helped his grandfather replace some cycles past.  This setting, serene and peaceful, was one that Jerhad often used as a refuge for thinking or reading the Histories. 

      The two companions went to the rear of the cabin, shaded by the huge firs, and drank cold water, using the ladle that hung from the side of the cedar-slat barrel housing the spring.

      "Now, I willst show to thee the payment for thine next errand.  Am I correct in assuming your grandfather didst leave his land to thee?"

      "Payment?  ...What errand?"

      "The land, is it thine?"

      "Yes, yes.…  How did you know?  What errand?"

      "It wouldst follow logic that he wouldst leave it and his books to the one who didst attend to his stories and needs.  I knew thine grandfather many cycles back.  As I didst tell thee.  Every generation, I didst visit thine family and didst send the eldest male on the same quest I didst send thee upon; I have met thine father and grandfather, though, I arranged it that they didst not remember. 

"Your grandfather wast the first in many cycles to have believed in magic.  I thought it wouldst have been him in whom it wouldst first awaken.  But it wast not to be.  Thine father didst not believe," the Druid droned on in his discourse of logic.  "So I wouldst expect thine grandfather to hold thee dearer for thine attention to his stories, which thine own father didst have no time for, even from an early age.  Then, when thou didst return into the north of Mildra wielding magic.…  It wast a logical conclusion."

      "What's this payment and errand you're taking about?"

      "The one we didst agree to earlier.  Thou didst say that if I didst pay thee a gold mine, then thou wouldst undertake mine errand."

      "Oh, no, you don't.  No more errands for me, Druid.  I had half of Frontmire trying to tan my hide last time.  No more!  No thanks!"

      "Come.  We willst speak of that later.  Come see."  They climbed the hill behind the cabin until they reached a small plateau, the last after the rise that ended the foothills and gave birth to the mountain.  They crossed about one-eighth league to where the mountain rose again.  Coming to a boulder, which was easily double the size of the cabin they had just left behind, they stopped.

      "When I wast with the Faeries in the Mystic Mountains, they didst instruct me in many things: of argentus, of magic...of your magic, of their purpose in bringing the magic back to the Elves, that is, to balance the power between the forces of good and evil which hold might in the land.  For evil is destined to rise again and again.  It is appointed to the Elves, for now to thee, to keep and maintain the equilibrium.  The Faeries didst tell me of the coming need for a different power to achieve these ends, monetary power, the power needed to establish a kingdom.  It willst be needed to see the Faeries' purposes come to their fullness.  Let me show thee what they didst speak of to me." 

      He lifted his staff into the air.  It was a polished, Black Oak staff with a silver-white orb fixed to the top.  The fist-sized argentus orb lent its power to the wood and through it, to Morlah.  While in contact with the argentus through the staff, the Druid could wield the mighty power of the Faerie magic.

      The orb came to life, magic visible in the silver-white light that it radiated, and then, the power shot out and wrapped itself about the boulder.  Without breaking a sweat, Morlah lifted the boulder into the air, steady and sure at the end of the shaft of light, and placed it to one side. 

      "Here is what the Faeries didst tell me of." 

      Jerhad was not listening.  He was still staring at the boulder.  Morlah walked to the stone face of the mountainside where the boulder had lain, pulling his solid argentus knife and working the stone for a moment before turning to hand Jerhad a piece of what he had dug out. 

      "Gold!" exclaimed Jerhad.  He went over and studied the rock wall where he saw a vein of pure gold, not a mixed ore, the width of his hand and twice his height.  "O, ye gods, will you look at that!  How did you know this was here?"

      "Thou art not listening to me…again," Morlah continued in his deliberate fashion.  "The Faeries didst tell me.  Now step back." 

      With the same ease, he returned the boulder to its original position, hiding the enormous vein of wealth that was now Jerhad’s. 

      "Here, take this," he said removing a leather purse drawn closed with a rawhide strand.  "There art one hundred large golds within this pouch.  Thou willst use them to hire Elves to mine this gold.  There is the wealth of a kingdom, a rich kingdom, hidden in the mountain.  The Dwarves art coming.  Two hundred of them; they willst act as thine security and mining

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