As Isganur of the Ironfist clan, (formerly of the grand city of Grondimmon), accomplished physician and advisor to his royal cousin Eluria strolled back to his friends, he looked calm and almost care free to any who observed him but on the inside he was seething.
Izzy was troubled, and was wondering how best to put it to Malok that he was wrong about this little expedition he had planned. Even though he had objected to it from the start, Izzy had still been overruled. What he had learned from the innkeeper today had just confirmed that they were wasting their time here. They had been hunting her in Lorn for over a year now and Izzy knew most of their company had been itching to get away. For the break he was grateful (a bed and a little ale went a long way) but he intended on returning to Lorn, for he was sure it would just be a matter of time until they tracked her down.
But Malok had been frustrated by the hunt and by losing Triel and Baruk; and Eluria deferred to him too often to suit Izzy. But Malok had Eluria’s ear, and had talked him into abandoning their search in Lorn.
As he made his way back to the company in the common room, he was still trying to think of how best to put it to Malok that he had been wrong. Not that Izzy didn’t relish doing so, it was just that Malok wouldn’t take it well. He was always so grumpy.
“Well lads,” said Izzy as he sat down at one of the two long tables the dwarves had pushed together in a corner of the common room, “It looks as if I was right after all.”
“About what,” replied Bayloc, a big dwarf with bright red hair and a bushy beard that still had a froth of beer around his mouth.
“What do you think it’s about?” piped in Algrin, who was sitting next to Bayloc. They were cousins and fiercely competitive. He ribbed Baloc in the side and then answered his own question. “About the Goth, of course.”
“I told you we wouldn’t be going there,” said Moralee. He was an unusually quiet dwarf, and so Izzy raised his eyebrows at his comment and smiled. He wasn’t the only one who found Malok a little hard to endure.
“So what are you planning on telling old Ironhead,” Moralee asked in a low tone.
“Nothing but the truth, nothing but the truth,” replied Izzy, smiling once again.
As Izzy took a sip of the beer Bayloc had just poured him, Moralee caught his eye and nodded towards the bar.
Turning around, Izzy immediately saw what Moralee had signaled him about. Standing at the bar and talking to Dobannion was a very young man, in a travel stained gray cloak with wavy brown hair that just brushed his shoulders. The right side of his cloak was thrown back and his hand was resting on the pommel of a long sword, the hilt of which looked to be made of gold. Izzy also noticed a large round red stone which sparkled from the pommel of the sword when the man moved his hand to take the beer that Dobannion had just poured for him. Even from this distance Izzy was impressed with the workmanship of the hilt, and though he didn’t know if he would be foolish enough to walk around with a gold-hilted sword; he thought that the man must know how to use it.
The young man had a few words with the innkeeper and turned towards the dwarves. With a determined stride, he made his way over to their corner of the common room.
As the man approached, Izzy noted that he had pale blue eyes, and when he looked at him they added years to that young-looking face. What he also noted about those eyes was that they looked troubled. Without a preamble the man put down his glass and simply said, “I’m looking for a dwarf.”
Izzy couldn’t resist. Giving a tug at his chin he replied, “Well, I guess you’re in luck my man, here sit nine to choose from.”
The man smiled, and that changed Izzy’s opinion about him a little.
“I need you to listen carefully,” said the man earnestly. “I’m pressed for time, and even though I would like to speak to all of you at length, I have little of it to bandy words, so I will come to the point.”
“Which is?” growled Bayloc, slamming his glass on the table and spraying ale every which way while glaring at the man standing in front of them.
The man actually smiled again, and Izzy’s opinion of him went up another notch.
“Grindael,” replied the man quietly.
There was a moment of silence at the table and then everyone except Izzy and Moralee began to talk at once. The young man just stood there with his arms crossed in front of him watching the byplay with a slight smile on his face.
Finally Bayloc slammed his mug down on the table again, which shattered and sent ale and shards of glass flying. “Silence,” he roared so loudly that heads turned at his outburst. But when they saw the look on the feisty dwarf’s face all hurriedly looked away. Even Dobannion looked as if here were ready to come over and see what all the commotion was about.
Izzy stood up and looked at the man, smiling easily. “I’ll say this my man, you do have a flair for the dramatic.” He bowed politely, and added, “I am Isganur of the Ironfist Clan.” The young man looked at him closely and Izzy could have sworn he saw recognition in the man’s eyes. I must be mistaken, thought the dwarf.
Izzy then nodded and with a sweep of his arm quickly named his companions around the table. “This loud excuse for a dwarf is Bayloc, and next to him is Algrin both of the Battleaxe Clan. Then we have Alvardo and Jerrica of the Stonehands, and this is Moralee and Wyrgon also of the Battleaxes. These last two are brothers from the Hammer Clan: Winglo and Finglo.”
Izzy then took a look around, and when his gaze fell on Dobannion, gave him a smile of reassurance, for he was still eyeing them all with some concern.
“Before we call any more attention to ourselves, why don’t you have a seat, and we can chat,” said the dwarf as he brushed glass shards off an empty chair and motioned for the man to sit down.
The young man took the proffered seat and quickly downed a couple of large swallows of ale. Setting down his mug carefully he said, “My name is Galaen Brandis, and I think you all know who I want to talk to.”
Izzy quickly nodded at Moralee, who rose and left the common room.
“What makes you think he will even see you, Galaen?” he asked.
“He’ll see me,” shot back Galaen, a little annoyed at the dwarf’s easy going manner. “If he ever wants to find that dragon,” he added frowning slightly.
“Perhaps,” replied the dwarf. As he studied the man before him, Izzy noticed he had obviously been riding hard through the recent rains to get here. Some need was pressing this Galaen Brandis, else why would he speak of being out of time? The man looked troubled though, and something itched at the back of Izzy’s brain, something about him. Could it be that flicker of recognition he thought he had seen in his eyes? Try as he might, he just couldn’t pin it down. It would come to him though, it always did.
In the meantime, he hoped Moralee would be able to convince Eluria to see Galaen. There was definitely something about him that warranted further investigation. He seemed to carry about him some undercurrent of power, and perhaps it had something to do with the sword the man so nonchalantly carried with him. The workmanship was exquisite, and it looked to be of dwarven make. But Izzy only knew of one golden sword ever carried by a dwarf, and that sword was not made by any dwarf. The last time he had seen that particular sword was more than five years ago, and … it just couldn’t be, this man was surely too young to be the one who made that sword. But maybe he was kin to the one who made it, and if that were true, then maybe this man really did know something about that accursed dragon. At any rate it was worth looking into, for all their efforts at finding Grindael had turned up nothing, and …
Izzy’s thoughts were interrupted by the return of Moralee, who approached with a quick step and whispered something into Izzy’s ear.
The young dwarf smiled and looked at the man sitting next to him. “He will see you upstairs. If you will follow me?”
They quickly made their way up to the second floor of the inn, with Galaen following Izzy and Moralee trailing behind them. Izzy rapped twice on a door with ‘Suite Two’ carved into it. Then Izzy turned around and put up his hand, almost touching Galaen’s chest.
“The sword please,” was all he said. “And if you don’t mind, Moralee will have to search you for any weapons.”
Galaen unbuckled the sword and held it out to Izzy. The dwarf made to take it, but Galaen stepped back, and Moralee’s hand went to the short sword belted around his waist. Izzy locked gazes with his fellow dwarf, and Moralee relaxed.
“I will give you the sword if you answer a question and make a promise,” said Galaen.
Intrigued, the dwarf nodded his head.
“Are you of honorable intentions?” asked the man, “because if you are not the sword will know it, and I would not want anything nasty to happen to you.”
Startled, the dwarf could only nod his head. Then regaining his composure asked, “and the promise?”
“That only you handle this sword.”
“Agreed,” said the dwarf with some reluctance. The only folk he knew who asked such questions were sorcerers, and he was beginning to have a bad feeling about this. But the look in the man’s eyes belied any malice, and Izzy reached forth his hands and took the sword.
As he grasped the sword in his hands he was expecting something, but it felt only like any other sword. He relaxed, and smiled at the man, thinking it was all a good joke.
Then Galaen began to remove other weapons from about his person, and Izzy was once more intrigued. When he rapped three times on the door to the suite again, Moralee held four daggers, a miniature crossbow, and five small quarrels in his hands. Even after that he still felt the man was honorable, but it did not comfort the disquiet he felt about him for he still sensed some kind of power within the man. But if he were any judge of character at all, he had little doubt that Galaen would act fairly in the meeting to come.
The door finally opened and Malok peeked his head out. Izzy gave him the sign, and he opened the door to admit the trio.
Izzy pushed his way inside the room, followed by Galaen and Moralee. The room was spacious, with a large canopied bed and all the accoutrements that empire gold could buy. At a large table in the corner of the room sat Eluria, with Bastur on left and Amok on his right. To the right of the table was a door that Izzy knew opened to the room adjoining this one, which housed more of their company. As he stepped into the room, Eluria motioned for him to have a seat at the table, and Izzy gestured to an empty chair to the right of Amok for Galaen to sit in. Izzy leaned the man’s sword against the wall by the door and sat down next to Galaen, while Malok who had been standing by the door, took the chair to the right of Izzy. Izzy signaled to Moralee who piled Galaen’s weapons on a small table near the sword then stood by the door with a hand on his short sword.
As Izzy watched in curious silence, Galaen and Eluria eyed each other across the table. Eluria’s dark eyes were full of suspicion while Galaen’s eyes looked as if they held old memories, and most surprising to Izzy: loathing. Looking at Galaen, Izzy could have sworn that he had met Eluria before. It was that spark of recognition in his eyes, that same recognition he saw when Galaen first looked at him.
“I am told that you have information about a certain worm that may be useful to me,” said Eluria in his deep throaty voice.
“I have more than that,” answered Galaen. “Much more than that. I can find Grindael for you, and give you the means to get back what once was taken from you.”
“Let us for the sake of argument accept the fact that you can find this worm. What I wish to know is what motivates you to do so.”
As Izzy watched Galaen, he knew everyone in the room was waiting for the answer to that question. Why was Galaen here? And as he observed him, what Izzy saw was sadness and despera-tion, and he was not expecting either of those emotions. It sobered him and he found himself waiting with bated breath for the answer to Eluria’s question.
“Just like you Eluria, Grindael has taken something from me that I wish returned,” answered Galaen.
“And what might that be?” asked Malok roughly.
“Grindael has taken my wife,” answered Galaen through clenched teeth. “And I shall have her back,” he added softly.
It then came to Izzy where he had seen Galaen before, and he derided himself for not remembering. The docks at Tralfar! That was where he had seen him. They were taking the ferry across the Merika as the dwarves waited for the ship to Eriny. With him was the young blonde haired woman who must be his wife. But why would Grindael take his wife, and how could this man find the dragon? What would compel him to come here and seek out Eluria? He was about to ask this question but Eluria spoke first.
“Compelling as your story is about this worm taking your wife; it still leaves many questions unanswered as to why you would seek me out to help you.”
“You know why!” shouted Galaen in anger, “although you mock me with innuendos and feigned ignorance.”
Malok then stood up and slammed his fist down hard upon the table. “Enough of this!” he shouted back at Galaen. “I have heard too much insolence from the lips of this man. This meeting is over! If you will permit me Lord, I shall remove him from your sight and …”
Eluria raised his hand, cutting off Malok with his gesture. “I am not finished Malok, although I thank you for your concern. And I do not mock you Galaen; I wish only to have a reasonable explanation as to why you are here.”
“Fair enough,” replied Galaen as he regained his self control. “I am here because I have an affinity for stones. Yes Eluria, for stones. You see, I know what Grindael once upon a time took from you and I know how to find it. I am here because I wish to strike a bargain.”
Izzy closed his eyes and took measured breaths. If what Galaen said was true, then they had the means to put an end to this endless quest. But how could Galaen find what even Eluria had not the power to discover? How could he even know? That flash of recognition went deeper than Tralfar, and … the sword! Yes! The sword! He must have been there, he must have seen…
“You were there!” shouted Izzy. “At Grondimmon! You had to be there! It is the only explanation. That sword, it is so much like the one made for Alon, but how could … it be you? You are so young … I don’t understand.”
Galaen smiled and Eluria frowned. “But you were there, how could you not understand?” asked Galaen.
“But you have an affinity for stones, you said?” repeated the young dwarf. “What … how do you know …”
“I felt the power in that stone when Eluria held it up over his butchered brother’s body” answered Galaen, his voice tight.
“You felt, you felt!” muttered Eluria, looking at Galaen closely now.
“I was dressed in dwarven mail and disguised and so you may not have noticed me; but you” said Galaen pointing at Izzy, “carried him off after she ripped off his arm.”
There was a startled murmur that went through the table of dwarves at Galaen’s remarks.
“So what if you were there,” asked Eluria in an even tone that conveyed nothing of the emotion running high at the table. “And so what if you saw this thing and what happened after?”
“The dreamstone is magical.” It does something, has some power you covet. And I would venture a guess it is some kind of peep stone.”
At Galaen’s remarks and his mention of the dreamstone, Eluria’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. Then a sly look came over his face. “Many of my people know of the … stone. You could have learned about it from my brother. No telling what he imparted to that rabble at Kaladon. Too bad he did not just stay there. Then Grondimmon would have come into the glory it truly deserved.”
“Under you?” asked Galaen sarcastically.
“And those who believed in me,” snapped Eluria, ignoring Galaen’s sarcasm.
“And what exactly do they believe now?” asked Galaen.
“Enough to follow me,” growled Eluria. “Enough to know who I really am and just what I can do,” he added in a menacing voice.
“Even without the dreamstone, even without what you covet?” asked Galaen softly.
“They will follow where I lead,” snarled Eluria with self assurance, “and the dreamstone is not the extent of my powers although I will have it back.”
Izzy was stunned. He turned to look at Moralee who had that same baffled look on his face as the rest of the dwarves around the table. It was inconceivable that any man could know or have more power over the dreamstone than Eluria did, who had found the stone. If Izzy had heard him right, this man actually said that he could sense the stone. If he could then why couldn’t Eluria, who had found it? How could this man find what they had been looking for, for so long?
But Izzy knew (as did the rest of those seated at that table) that Eluria’s boast of power was no idle threat and as he watched, Eluria removed the glove from his right hand along with the armband that covered his right forearm.
“Are you then a wizard’s pupil, Galaen Brandis?” asked Eluria, suddenly nonchalant. “For if you are, and you made that accursed crystal sword for my brother, than you know what this is.”
Eluria then held up his right arm in front of the man, and as Galaen’s eyes widened at what was revealed to him; Izzy was just as stuck by the wonder of it now as he was the first time he saw it.
“It is gir, girghash” stuttered Galaen somewhat thickly, as if mesmerized by what he saw. “Your arm is made of fire crystal but that is …”
“Impossible?” interjected Malok in a mocking voice. He was smiling now, having an idea (as the rest of the dwarves in the room did) of what Eluria was about to do.
And as Izzy watched the disbelief play across Galaen’s face, he too was struck again by what plainly seemed impossible: a living arm made of fire crystal attached somehow to the living flesh and bone of Eluria’s severed arm.
But the crystal arm that Eluria held before Galaen was like no fire crystal ever seen before. For fire crystal (or girghash as the dwarves called it), was neither rock nor metal but had the properties of both. It was mined in veins running deep in the earth, and could be beaten like metal but had the nature of the finest diamonds when worked by those who had the skill and craftsmanship to do so. But girshash normally reflected the light, and when cut and beaten properly shined in brilliant colors of blue and red and white as diamonds did. Still, girghash was harder than diamonds.
What made them all stare in awe was that Eluria’s arm was black and seemed to draw in the light and reflect it in a way that bewildered the eyes; but there was no doubt of the skill or beauty of the craftsmanship of that crystal arm, or that it was a living part of the dwarf.
Then quick as a snake, Eluria grasped Galaen’s right wrist with his crystal hand as he looked coldly into the man’s eyes.
After that it seemed to Izzy as if a great contest of wills took place, and that slowly Galaen began to succumb to some power held by the black dwarf. Galaen then closed his eyes and grimaced as his left hand splayed open and then slowly closed into a tight fist.
For what seemed a long time to those seated around the table this contest of wills took place. Sweat beaded around Galaen’s brows and dripped down upon the table, as Eluria sat nonplussed eyeing the man across the table from him with something in his eyes Izzy had never seen before: doubt.
And then Galaen’s eyes flew open and in a loud voice that was almost a scream he cried, “I know you! And I know all your works! But neither you nor those who serve you will ever have me… or mine!” Then he spoke in a strangled whisper words that Izzy would never forget, or what happened after. “Taeli arathos e Thoth umbara l’azoth philosophe.”
Suddenly, the red stone set in the pommel of Galaen’s crystal sword blazed to life and drowned the room in brilliant red then white light as many of the dwarves cried out and shielded their eyes; while at the same time, with what looked to Izzy to be a great effort of will Galaen wrenched his hand from Eluria’s grasp.
Taken aback by the brilliant light from the stone, many of the dwarves in the room eyed the crystal sword in apprehension, and as they recovered from their shock put hands to their weapons as they one by one regarded Galaen with hostile looks. But Izzy remained calm, sensing no danger coming from the man. The only reaction from Eluria was the tightening of his lips, and as the moments passed the tension slowly eased out of the room which had turned so quiet that Izzy could hear the floorboards creak under Moralee as he returned to his post by the door. Whatever struggle had gone on between the dwarf and the young Alkim, it was now Galaen who looked coldly across the table at Eluria.
“I know what you tried to do black prince; but I am no wizard’s pupil, I am an Alkim in his fullness who has walked the Twenty-first Way and looked out from the heights of the Citadel of Thoth. I would have you know Eluria, son of Alon the Wise, that I am not so weak as you believe and that you - and the one who made that arm for you - have no power over me.”
Malok slammed his fists on the table and looked ready to explode, but quieted down as Eluria raised his hand. Then Eluria slowly pulled on his armband and replaced his glove, eyeing Galaen with a mixture of curiosity and impatience. If Eluria was upset by Galaen’s comments he showed it not at all. But Izzy knew him and knew how much self control he could exercise when he wanted to. The two locked gazes and then Galaen did something that changed Isganur the dwarf forever.
He smiled. And Izzy saw in that smile something sad and broken, something far beyond the desperation of the moment they had all just shared. It was a smile of love and compassion that (if you noticed) had the power to change your heart.
Izzy was taken away by that smile, and he knew that this man had more strength within himself than anyone here at this table could even guess. Something stirred in the dwarf then, something grand, and he knew some hard choices were coming. He also knew that his cousin was hopelessly outmatched by this man, and he had a feeling that Eluria knew this also.
As Izzy looked around the room and saw the look on his fellow dwarves faces, it made him look again at the man seated across from his cousin Eluria. Promises had been made, and now what had happened had thrown doubt on all those promises and everything Izzy believed in. What struck him though, was that this was all feelings, and he had never relied much on feelings. Galaen had touched him and pulled at his heart-strings, and he was beginning to understand what Alon had seen in the boy who was now a young man.
He also knew that Galaen wasn’t finished yet, and he was not sure if he wanted to hear the rest of what Galaen had to say. Time had closed in and now it would be a race against time. They were all being called now, but by what he did not know. Only time, and Galaen, could answer that.