The Mountains of Scalavori
He found himself once more upon the Plateaus of Scalavori where he lay helpless, watching as Stavros and Abiel battled. The Ring of Fire raged, and the smoke filled Gideone's nostrils. He struggled to rise and help Stavros, but all strength had left him. Stavros threw Abiel to the ground, and as a cry of terror rose from the dark prince's mouth, a shout of elation escaped Gideone's lips. But, as quickly as the shout came, it died away as, in horror, Gideone saw Stavros put his sword to Abiel's throat and then halt.
"Kill him!" The prince's cry echoed across the plateaus, yet Stavros did not hear it. He still stood unmoving above Abiel.
"Kill him!" Gideone shouted again, but, even as he did so, Abiel rolled out from beneath Stavros' sword and with a furious cry lunged at him.
Gideone howled, and he could see the expression of complete astonishment upon Stavros' face as he looked down upon the sword protruding from his stomach.
Abiel turned toward Gideone. The dark prince's mouth opened wide, and his evil laughter echoed across the plateaus, but as Gideone looked upon him, the dark prince suddenly disappeared, and in his place stood Orion, head thrown back, laughing.
"Dog!" Gideone screamed as he stretched out his hand in a futile effort to grasp the warrior and drag him to the earth. "Murdering cur!"
* * *
"Coward!" the prince murmured.
Phautina reached out to keep the unconscious and dreaming prince from falling from his horse. She looked down upon him and shook her head sadly, then turned her eyes back to what lay before her. She had already reached the Mountains and was now making her way along one of the few, small paths which wound through them. Her eyes moved back and forth as she looked intently around. Tall pine trees grew along the edge of the trail, and above them the snow-tipped mountains rose into the sky. The sound of melted snow rushing down the rocky slopes filled her ears, but there were hardly any other sounds save the horses' hooves striking the earth. The bard continued on, still searching the trees, for more than an hour. When at last she thought she heard a quiet sound in the trees to the right of the trail, she continued forward, peering even harder into the foliage.
With loud cries, three elves, brandishing swords, leapt from the cover of the trees onto the path in front of her. Three more ran out behind. Both horses stopped in fear, and Phautina reached out to keep Gideone from slipping to the ground. Even as she did so, the six elves charged. She did not struggle as she and Gideone were pulled from their horses and thrown to the ground.
She tried to rise to her knees, but before she could one of the elves placed his foot upon her back and forced her to remain lying on her stomach. She gave a slight gasp of pain as somebody grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back. She found herself looking at the tip of a sword, and her gaze traveled up it to an elf with long, wild hair and a sneer upon his lips, holding the blade to her throat.
"You’ve dared trespass upon the land of the sky elves," he growled. "What’ve you to say for yourself?"
"I’ve come to speak to King Tmalion," she answered.
"We throw intruders in the dungeon; we’re not in the habit of giving them an audience with our king."
Phautina groaned as the pressure on her back began to increase. "I need to speak to the king. That man is Prince Gideone of Nor."
The boot on her back was suddenly removed, and Phautina was pulled to her feet.
The elves looked down at the prince, where he lay upon the ground.
"I’ve never seen Prince Gideone," the chief elf finally stated, "so I know not whether you speak truth or lies." He hesitated then turned to her. "I’ll take you to the king, but if I find you’ve lied to me, you’ll wish I’d killed you now."
"Take them," he ordered gruffly.
Phautina's hands were quickly tied behind her back. The elves, carrying Gideone, led her off the path and into the pine trees beyond. It was not many minutes before they rounded some large rocks and found themselves in an open area in which six large eagles rested. Phautina was placed upon one of the eagles, and an elf took his seat behind her. Gideone was placed upon another, and the five remaining elves also mounted.
The birds spread their wings and flew up into the sky. They soared through the mountains above the tall pine trees. Rivers of cold, fresh water rushed down from the snow-covered peaks and flowed into the valleys, gathering together to become the River of the Melted Snow. Higher and higher they flew, until only the highest mountains still rose above them.
Phautina drew in a deep breath and looked down. Below her, nestled in a large cleft between two peaks, lay the capitol city of Scalavori. It was a beautiful city, carved from gray stones so pale that it shone almost white in the light of the sun. The eagles wheeled, then dove down toward the city. They flew so low that Phautina could see the faces of the elves below turned up toward them. The wind blew hard against her face as they sped through the air.
A croaking cry escaped the lead eagle. They wheeled once more, then dove down and landed in the courtyard of what appeared to be a garrison. The elves dismounted, and Phautina was pulled down from the eagle.
"Take her and have her guarded until we learn what to do with her," ordered the chief elf.
He looked at Gideone and hesitated.
"Have a healer tend to him," he finally said.
He raised his eyes to Phautina. "Soon we shall see what will become of you."
* * *
Phautina was led by two guards into the throne room of King Tmalion. The guards bowed low, then, with a nod from their king, turned and left. The room was dim and silent, for King Tmalion had sent everyone away. He sat alone upon his simple throne of stone. He was not old by elven standards, but he seemed worn and bent with many troubles. His hair was blonde almost to the point of being white, and it was pulled back behind his head in a long ponytail. A plain, golden crown rested upon his brow, and his head seemed bowed beneath its weight.
He looked down upon Phautina. His face bore no expression, but his blue eyes were filled with weariness.
"So you are the one who has brought Gideone to me," he said softly.
"I am, sir," Phautina answered.
"And 'tis you who wish me to heal him of his wound."
"What I wish," said Phautina, "is for you to do as Joretham would have you do."
The corner of Tmalion‘s mouth turned up in an empty smile. "What makes you think I care for the will of Joretham? Do the Powers care for it? Did I not give my daughter in marriage to one of the Powers? Why then should I care for his will? By all right, I ought to kill Gideone without a thought."
"You speak as one who serves the Powers," Phautina said, "but I know you do not."
"And why think you that?"
"Because it's true," Phautina answered as she took a step toward him. Her brown eyes were flashing. "I know that, though you pretend to serve them, you work ever toward their destruction. I know how you’ve sent your spies and your messengers across the whole of Lairannare, gaining allies and silently undermining the authority of the Powers. I know how, after the years of patient labor, you’ve finally gathered an army and even now are planning your attack against them."
As she had been speaking, Tmalion had slowly risen to his feet, and now looked down on her with astonishment.
"How do you know that?" he finally asked.
"The servants of Joretham are privy to many things," Phautina replied.
The look of amazement left Tmalion's face only to be replaced with scorn, and he snorted of derision. "So you’re a servant of Joretham."
"Are you not also?" she asked.
Tmalion sat down and did not answer her.
"King Tmalion," said Phautina after a moment, "I’ve come here to ask you to take and protect Gideone and, if it’s in your power, to heal him. Will you do so?"
"No," Tmalion answered simply and softly. "He’s of no use to me and has done nothing to deserve my aid."
"And where is it written one should give succor only to those who deserve it or can give payment in return?"
"I’ve spoken," the king growled softly, "and I’ll not be contradicted."
"And who are you to say that?" demanded Phautina. "You may be a king, but you’re far from a god."
"Be quiet!" He snapped as he rose to his feet. "What’s Gideone ever done for me that I should help him? Has he stood strong against the Powers? Has he stood beside me as evil crushed in and tried to destroy me? No! He let that cur of an elf take my daughter, and he said not a word in protest."
"So you repay insult for insult, evil for evil?” Phautina countered. “He may have done wrong, but that doesn’t mean you should also."
Tmalion tried to answer, but his words came out as an unintelligible cry. With a snarl, he sat down once more upon his throne. His eyes were closed, his hands clenched, and his whole body tensed as he struggled against the fury that filled him. The only sound that filled the room was his labored breathing.
"Tmalion," said Phautina quietly, "you’ve been wronged, but that gives you no right to wrong others."
Tmalion said nothing.
"You know what’s good," Phautina continued, "and though you threaten it, I know you’d never kill Gideone, but it‘s not so small a step from watching him die when you could help to killing him yourself. Are you willing to have his blood on your hands?"
King Tmalion was silent for a long moment, his head was bowed.
"Very well," he finally whispered. He could bring himself to say nothing more.
"Thank you," said Phautina. She hesitated for a moment then said, "Will you please release me now? I’ve other duties I must attend to, and I can stay no longer in Scalavori."
The king called for the guards. The two elves who had first brought Phautina into the throne room entered and bowed before their king.
Tmalion motioned toward Phautina. "See to it that she’s given whatever provisions she requires to make whatever journey she wishes to make."
"Yes, Your Majesty," the two guards answered.
"Thank you for your generosity," Phautina said, "but I require nothing." She curtsied. "Joretham be with you." With that she turned. Escorted by the two guards, she strode from the throne room.
* * *
The chamber in which Gideone had been placed was quiet and almost completely dark. He lay upon a soft, warm bed, but peace was far from him. His body was covered with sweat, and the bed sheets were tangled and twisted around him from his constant thrashing. His face was contorted in pain, and he murmured curses against Orion.
The healers had tried to cure him, but all their efforts had proved useless. Now it was left to Tmalion to tend to him. The prince's tunic had been taken off, and Tmalion looked down upon the web of black lines that spread out across his chest, up his neck and beyond. The web grew faint and indistinct but was still visible within an inch of his left eye. Around Gideone's neck hung a small golden amulet in the shape of a feather with a diamond embedded in it. The king reached out and touched it and for a long moment held it and ran his thumb across it. He felt certain he had seen that amulet–or one like it–before, but though he struggled to recall where, the answer remained elusive.
He shook himself from his reverie and placed his hand upon Gideone's brow. His eyebrows shot up in surprise at how hot the prince's skin was. He turned his gaze from the prince and down to his own right hand. Upon his finger rested a single ring, very plain–a soft, blue stone embedded in a silver band. There were no markings of any kind, nor was there anything that set it apart as valuable, but it was the symbol of power far greater than most could ever hope to possess. It was the ring not only of an arch-mage but of the most powerful of all the arch-mages.
Tmalion took a deep breath and held his hand out over Gideone.
"Joretham, give me strength," the elven king murmured. He knew it would take all of his might to defeat the magic within the prince.
He closed his eyes, and, as he concentrated, the stone in his ring began to glow, casting a soft blue light across his hand and Gideone's face. He could feel the power of the evil magic as it spread out through the prince's body. It was even more powerful than the king had first thought, and, taking another deep breath, he concentrated even harder.
Gideone groaned and clutched at his chest.
Beads of sweat appeared on the king’s brow and slowly trickled down his face. He murmured words in a strange tongue. His ring glowed brightly, and magic coursed through him, but still the evil power within Gideone held strong.
His voice continued to rise, and, as he chanted, he was joined by Gideone whose cries of pain grew ever louder as the moments went by. Tmalion found himself shrieking out the chant, and his hand no longer hovered above Gideone's chest but was pressed directly against it.
The unconscious prince writhed in pain as the evil magic and the magic of Tmalion fought within him. He clawed at his chest and tried to pry Tmalion's hand from it. The king could feel himself being overcome, but he squeezed his eyes more tightly and redoubled his efforts. The sound of Gideone's screams filled his ears.
Suddenly, a pain far greater than anything he had ever felt before shot through the king’s body. His eyes flew open in surprise, and he was thrown back across the room. As he struck the wall and fell to the floor, a sharp cry escaped his lips.
There was silence.
For a moment, he lay still and struggled to breathe. He heard cries in the corridor outside. The door to the chamber was thrown open, and several people rushed in and ran over to where he lay. He winced and groaned slightly at their touch as they crowded around him.
"Your Majesty!" they cried. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, I’m all right," he said with a sigh as he struggled to sit up. "Help me rise."
Two of the servants took him by the arms to help him stand, and with their aid he began to walk out of the room. As he went, he cast one last look down upon Prince Gideone. It had to have been a Power who had cast that spell, thought Tmalion, for it was a stronger spell than he could hope to overcome.
* * *
Night had fallen, and the moon and the stars shone down upon the town of Haflashon and the surrounding forest. Vayan sat alone upon a fallen log and stared sadly into the fire he had made. He had not returned to the site of Phautina's murder. He felt guilty because he knew he ought to bury her, but he could not bring himself to look again upon her dead body. Though he could not force himself to return, he could still see her in his mind; he had relived her death a thousand times. His anger at Gideone, which surged through him at every thought of Phautina's murder, was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He could not count the many times–and the many different ways–he had thought of killing the prince.
He groaned and covered his face with his hands. The anguish that filled him was almost unbearable, and he fought the tears that welled up in his eyes, but he was the only one there; whom had he to hide his sorrow from? His body began to tremble as he stopped fighting his anguish and let the tears flow.
Behind him he heard someone call his name softly. His heart began to pound as slowly he stood and turned around.
He found himself looking at a woman. She stood in the shadows, and he could not see her face, but, as she stepped out into the moonlight, his heart skipped a beat. It was Phautina. He stared in shock at her.
She grinned and said, "Why, Vayan, you look as though you've seen a ghost."
"But…but…" he stuttered as he began to step back.
A startled look crossed Phautina's face, and she opened her mouth to say something. Just as she did so, Vayan took one step back too many and tripped into his own fire. He yelped and jumped forward, spinning and clutching his foot as he glanced wildly around.
"Vayan!" Phautina cried as she ran to him. "Are you all right? Sit down." She sat him down before he had time to protest.
"Are you all right?" she asked again.
He simply stared at her in shock.
"I thought ye were dead!" he finally cried.
She smiled. "I was."
"But...but..." he began as he continued to stare at her. "How?"
She was silent for a moment then said, "Because death does not hold those such as I."
"What?" demanded Vayan as he looked sharply at her.
Phautina was silent for another moment then said simply, "I’m a Torelli."
"One of the Unfallen."
Vayan rose to his feet and for a long moment merely stared. At first he did not believe her, but as he looked into her eyes he knew she had to be telling the truth.
He knew not what to say, but finally he managed to ask, "Why were ye travelin' with us, and why dinna ye say who ye were?"
"I was traveling with you to help you along your journey, to protect you from Abiel, and to see that Gideone reached the Mountains of Scalavori. I told you once before that we of the Torelli, while in the Three Realms, rarely appear in our true forms. It sets us apart and oftentimes interferes with our ability to help the people we were sent to aid."
Vayan looked silently at her for a moment, trying to comprehend what she had just said. He thought back upon all the days that they had ridden together alongside his father and Prince Gideone. Every cruel and insulting word Gideone had spoken rushed to his mind, and vividly he could see the prince attacking both him and his father and striking Phautina down.
His voice was trembling as he said, "Why? Why dinna ye just heal him? Ye must have th' power. It would’ve saved us all a lot o’ trouble."
"Don’t you remember, shortly after we met, I told you my magic comes and goes. I’m a servant of Joretham and can do only what he desires me to do. Joretham never told me to heal him."
"But..." began Vayan.
"It is as it is," Phautina stated. "You need not concern yourself further with Gideone. He is safely in Scalavori with King Tmalion. I took him there myself."
The specifics of her words were not lost on Vayan, and a look of fear, not yet fully formed, came across his face.
"Where is m' father?" he asked.
"Vayan..." Phautina began.
Vayan needed only that word to know what she would say. He turned to her, his face twisted into a look of anguish. His legs grew weak, and he sank to the ground. His whole body trembled as he covered his face with his hands and wept.
Phautina knelt beside him and put her arms around him. She said not a word but simply held him comfortingly and let him cry.
After a long while his tears stopped falling, and he drew away from her.
He spoke. "How did my father die?'
"He died protecting Gideone from Abiel," Phautina answered.
Vayan turned his head from her and silently struggled to make sense of a hundred different undefined emotions.
"Gideone didna deserve tha'," he finally said.
"That is true," Phautina answered.
For a long moment, they both sat in silence. Finally, Phautina stirred. "I know that after all you have been through this is perhaps the last things you wish to hear, but there is a mission you must go on."
"I though' ye said Gideone was already in Scalavori."
"This mission has little to do with him," answered Phautina before explaining further, "I know that you people of Nor felt you were alone in your fight against the Powers, but that is not true. For several years, King Tmalion has been quietly gathering allies and raising an army strong enough to effectively fight the Powers. Nor's recent defeat has convinced them to attack the Powers sooner rather than later.
"I want you to return to Raia-Torell and tell Chzaros of Tmalion's intentions, for Chzaros will most certainly want to join the battle."
Vayan rose to his feet and took a deep breath. "Very well. Let's go."
Phautina stood up. Glancing away from Vayan, she said, "I won't be going with you."
A look of surprise and disappointment crossed Vayan's face. "You aren't?
She looked at him and smiled apologetically. "It's time for me to leave."
"Will I ever see ye again?" Vayan managed to ask.
"One day–if not here in the Realm of Earth than in Lothiel," she answered, "but, until that day, I bid you farewell."
They looked at each other, not knowing what to say. Phautina stepped forward abruptly and hugged him.
"I am truly sorry about your father," she murmured, "but I will see him shortly, and I will give him all your love."
She let go of him and stepped back.
Vayan's mouth opened as a warm, golden light suddenly surrounded her. For one moment she stood shining as gloriously as the sun, then disappeared from sight. Vayan was once more alone in the dark and silent forest.