THE WIZARD AND THE SYLPH

BOOK ONE

THE WIZARD AND THE SYLPH

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1 Creation

Chapter 2 Lily

Chapter 3 Departure

Chapter 4 The Fortress On The White River

Chapter 5 The Fortress On The River Grey

Chapter 6 Pursuit

Chapter 7 The Summoning Stone

Chapter 8 Lund

Chapter 9 Some Disturbing News

Chapter 10 In The Great Tower Of Lund

Chapter 11 Akaru's Tale

Chapter 12 The Wizard

Chapter 13 What Happened At The Feast Of Baldric

Chapter 14 Rhia Sets Out For Hollind

Chapter 15 Preparations For War

Chapter 16 The Road North

Chapter 17 The Six Armies Depart

Chapter 18 The Marshes Of Morag

Chapter 19 Akaru Plays A Dangerous Game

Chapter 20 The City Of Alin

Chapter 21 Baldric Rides Forth To Challenge

Morlock's Army

Chapter 22 Captain Niles Makes A Discovery

Chapter 23 Into The Black Wood

Chapter 24 The Beginning Of The End

Chapter 25 The Waiting Game

Chapter 26 The Long Retreat

Chapter 27 Morlock's Castle

Chapter 28 The Battle For Valerian

Chapter 29 Tara

THE WIZARD AND THE SYLPH

Chapter One

Creation - Part one

On the western border of the highlands called Eloki in an ancient tongue of the ancestors of the

Northern Elves, nearly three furlongs northeast of the evergreen eaves of the Black Wood, dwelt

Belloc the wizard and his apprentice, Anest of Brand.

They lived in a large house which had been built from the stone of nearby ruins. If the windows of this house had been a little larger, and if it were not situated so near the wood and all it concealed, one might have found the place friendly-looking, open and inviting. As it was, its

thick grey walls and twin turrets gave it a look of defensibility, as though it were here despite the

quiescent malice of the forest.

To the occasional traveller, or to passing soldiers and scouts, the sight of Belloc's house was a welcome relief to the angst that followed one around this wild and dangerous northern country. For them, it was a welcome respite, a place of sanctuary.

These northern reaches were almost entirely devoid of the peoples of the Four Kingdoms, save for Belloc and his household. Of the latter, there were Caspar and his two sons Mullen and Pip. They tended the stables, garden, and farmland. And there was old Burli, the carpenter cum

fletcher and blacksmith cum armourer. Much of his time was spent making arrowheads, shafts and spears, and he supplied the soldiers of Normandon and Brand who often purchased a whole entire cartload to replace those they had used.

High atop a hill overlooking Belloc's property was a stone building that by long habit of soldiers was referred to as The Guardhouse. There were always a small number of soldiers, usually from Brand, stationed in the Guardhouse. They were preoccupied mainly with watching the Old Road, an ancient highway of Elves and Men now often used by goblins and evil rockgnomes entering the Four Kingdoms from the North. These same denizens often trespassed on Belloc's property with a mind to stealing a foul or goat, so the location of The Guardhouse was beneficial to soldier and Belloc's household alike. Caspar's dogs were most often sufficient to dissuade unwanted guests, but the gnomes and goblins were becoming more aggressive of late, and there were more sinister creatures lurking about at night, in the Wood as well as on the Old Road.

"Begging your pardon, master Belloc," old Burli once said, "But to my mind, this ain't where I would have builded this house. That creek is downright queer, no doubt as it comes from right out of the Wood. And laying this near the Old Road is just asking for trouble! And them ruins

atop the hill there are as bad as the Black Wood."

That 'creek' was properly called Stony Brook. It was fed by a glacier in the Blackcrest Mountains far to the west of Belloc's lands. Its long journey wended through the hills, meandering through several connected valleys before passing from the Black Wood, through the wizard's lands, and northeast, finally ending in the Marshes of Morag some twenty leagues further.

Just to the west of Belloc's property, Stony Brook passed within a stone's throw of the Old Road, and a little further as it entered the wood, cut across it as a wide, shallow ford.

There were many varied legends about Stony Brook. The elves of northern Normamdon sang of the lost souls of Morag, who said that as they were slain, their blood and their souls spilled into the Brook, mingling with its waters. The Dwarves of Darkhun, far to the south, told a tale of evil faeries who sang to and lured unwary travellers to a watery death. The people of Astargoth, far to the west, spoke of the Singing Waters, and how there was imminent danger if one found oneself in that place by unhappy chance. And directly south, in the Kingdom of Brand, there were many tales of Faerie Brook. The most oft repeated of these was one where a traveller would find his surroundings becoming suddenly unfamiliar, and he would become enchanted . . . lost in a spell . . . bewildered . . . the familiar becoming unfamiliar . . .

It was true that at night, pale lights like the varied colours of the rainbow shone and flickered like pale strands of gauze in its depths. But as far as any of the old legends and other claims were concerned . . .

Claims about the Old Road were perhaps more founded. This latter was once a well-paved

highway of ancient Morag, and though it had seen centuries of use, and had then suffered centuries more of neglect, its Elven stonework had managed to endure the passing ages like a well worn line of familiarity that bisected the Four Kingdoms.

It originated somewhere far to the northeast, ran on for many leagues until it passed through

Belloc's lands, on through the Black Wood, then across a bridge on the White River. It then ran

straight across the Narrow Plain for many leagues, coming at last to the River Grey and another

bridge. On the other side it passed over a second range of mountains, crossed the Wide Plains

through northern Brand, and went on until it met the gate of the elven city of Angorain, chief city of the Kingdom of Normandon, far away to the southwest. Yet compared to the Old Road, even the ancient city of Angorain was a late-comer. Though no gate egressed at the southwest of the city, though a mere, faint line, the Old Road continued on as before into what was now uncharted

wilderness.

-

Besides the infrequent passing of travellers from the south and far west, and the more common passage of scouts and soldiers who patrolled these northern reaches, at night gnomes and goblins used this road as well, as did other creatures under the dark gloaming of the sullen northern skies over Morag, and it was for this reason among many that Belloc had chosen to live in this place.

The ruins nearby were of many an age ago. Where once had stood the fair elven city of Nith on the southwest border of the ancient elven Province of Morag, itself a vestige of an earlier, more

ancient independent elven Kingdom, there remained only crumbling stone, and dark, whispered

rumours.

Anest had arrived at Belloc's dwelling when he was but thirteen years of age. While he was not an introverted boy, any childish tendencies had been driven out of him by the sobering experience of loss.

His mother had died years earlier in a manner that his father would not speak of. And his two older brothers had been lost while patrolling the northern boundaries of Brand. As a result, his

father had become a grim, silent figure, whose thoughts and feelings had drifted so far away from

his only remaining son that he had become a total stranger.

Anest remembered little of his mother, save that she was a slight, large eyed, auburn haired

beauty who laughed often. She would often sing . . . he dimly remembered feeling safe, happy.

He couldn't remember exactly when she had gone. As a child, no one would speak to him of her absence. All he could recollect clearly was darkness, and whether that darkness was within or without, it seemed the sum total of his existence for a time.

He had been too close to his own pain to realize that this is when the light in his father's eyes had died. And his father was gone long and often with the two older boys. Anest had learned a kind of black patience waiting always for their return, which was invariably silent and comfortless. When the eldest boy failed to return one night, little was said about his absence.

Before Anest's thirteenth birthday, Anest's father was gone for an especially long time. When he returned, Anest did not need to ask about the absence of his remaining brother. His father carried the deaths of both his sons in his eyes. Perhaps they were carved into his very soul.

By this time, Anest was becoming an excellent swordsman, learning as did all boys, the skills that would ensure his survival. He had aspirations of becoming a soldier of Brand, of following in the footsteps of his father, his father's father, and on into the dim past of his family's history.

But this was not to be. One cold winter's day, as the first snow began to fall, his father came to him and said, "My son, you do not understand, but there is a shadow growing upon the Four Kingdoms, and against it the sword is not a weapon that can ever prevail. I will not so easily

lose my last and only son, and all that remains to me of my love.

"There is a Wise One who dwells in the far north that I know of. Though I have always told you that there is naught but peril and death in the empty northern countries, nevertheless it is also

home to a great wizard who is proof against this evil. You shall dwell with him and learn his

ways, for I must leave you, and leaving, I must know that I have given you the best possible chance for the future."

When his father had made clear his intent, Anest's world seemed to come crashing down for a time. He was so listless and dispirited that he hardly noticed any of the details of the long

journey north from his home in Woodfalen.

When they finally arrived at the bridge fortress on the White River, which lay in the valley of the Blackcrest Mountain range, they were met there by Pip, Caspar's younger son. Introductions were exchanged. Then, without so much as a word or backward glance, his father left.

Anest rode his horse numbly in Pip's wake, distracted only by the caperings of the two large dogs that had accompanied Pip from Belloc's dwelling. Anest found them a little unnerving, as they so closely resembled wolves.

Pip was quite talkative at first, but grew silent when he realised he was not helping to ameliorate Anest's pain.

At the journey's end they were greeted by Caspar and his older son, Mullen, who took charge of young Anest, showing him the house and the room that would be his. Anest saw little of Belloc that first day. In fact, nothing he saw or did that day left any lasting impression.

It was the following day that Anest met Belloc in earnest. Anest was sitting in a huge armchair in the upstairs living-room, watching the logs burning away in the fireplace, his mood black. His gaze was distracted by an ornate bauble that hung from a leather cord a few inches away from his face. Looking up, he discovered that the cord was held by a weathered hand. The hand belonged to Belloc.

Without preamble, the wizard said, "Would you like to see a little magic?"

Instinctively, the boy peered at the bauble, expecting something to happen. Instead, the wizard placed the leather cord around the young man's neck. "A present," said Belloc with an ambiguous smile. "Come."

He led Anest to a small room in the easternmost turret which had a commanding view from

southwest to northeast. The room was filled with odd paraphernalia; phials of rare potions, small

wooden baskets containing various bits of unknown things, crystals, rare stones, bottles containing mysterious powders and substances, books and scrolls were everywhere, and mounted on an ornate stand of bronze, a huge ball of purest crystal. This last dominated the center of the room like a shrine, and young Anest, his eyes growing very big, felt something emanating from it that was eldritch and frightening.

It was power.

"One day, when you are skilled enough, you will find this crystal very useful," said the Wizard to appease the young man's curiosity. "But for now, the use of such power would be perilous to one as unskilled and unknowing as yourself. Observe."

Speaking some low words in a language that Anest did not understand, with both hands, as though he conducted a symphony of magic, Belloc made an arcane gesture over the crystal. From

within it came images of far off places, some of which Anest recognised as being within the Four

Kingdoms. There was a mighty fortress with a great tower, which could only be Lund that guarded the sole entrance from the Four Kingdoms to the east.

Images of Woodfalen, Anest's home city, passed by as though seen from high above by some great bird. Other places less familiar came and went, places where elves and dwarves dwelt. The mean dwellings of gnomes and goblins came into view, as well as armed camps dotted with small fires.

Anest was filled with a sense of wonder and exhilaration; what a thing of vision and power this was! It made one feel as though the entire world were at one's feet!

But then, the scene abruptly changed. A pale grey sunset stretched before him over a landscape that was as bleak and desolate as death itself. He felt a pang of fear, and felt as though he were being watched. The land itself seemed to be the very source of this feeling, and there was

something else, something chilling . . . something evil. The darkening sky cast the dead stone

landscape into nightmare shadows like an unquiet cemetery. The sky was filled with tiny black

shapes that wheeled in great circles, some as wide as a dozen miles across. Many were bats as

large as cormorants; others were crows and ravens, and all were as black as night.

"What am I afraid of?" came an unbidden thought. He felt as one must when they are alone in the deep forest on a night when there was no moon, blind in the dark and being pursued, hunted. A panic like the fear of impending insanity gripped his heart.

Then, he saw them; indistinct nightmare shadows that were neither bats nor crows nor cormorants, and in that instant, even as he knew them, he knew that they in their turn knew him! As though drawn, their wheeling stopped. As one they came hurtling in his direction! In another

moment . . . !

Recoiling in horror, he backed away, toppling his chair. With a gesture, Belloc silenced the crystal. "Be forewarned!" he said. "Do not let curiosity get the better of you when I am not here

to guide you."

Waiting until the boy had recovered himself and been sufficiently reassured, Belloc then showed Anest other more pleasant aspects of his craft, making small objects vanish, change, and reappear. Perhaps the greatest magic the wizard showed the boy that day was a little kindness and

understanding. In response, Anest became a willing pupil, if a little undisciplined. But Belloc was pleased by his efforts, and indeed, became much like a father to the boy, as Anest's father had not been, lost in his despair.

As the years passed, Anest came to look at this place as home, and it was more so, perhaps, than the one he had left. In many ways his overall situation was well suited to his nature. His skill with bow and sword was needed often when the rock-gnomes and goblins became too bold. Meanwhile, his curiosity grew in proportion to his growing knowledge, and he came to learn

much about the history of the lands that were, at least for the time being, the Four Kingdoms.

-

He spent much time exploring the ruins of ancient Nith which began some two miles to the

northeast of Belloc's dwelling. The ruins were situated atop a hill cleft by a dry gully through

which a rill, the lifeblood of the city, once flowed. The rill was a parched ravine now, as though

some convulsion of the earth had bled the region dry of its lifeblood. Yet vestiges of the city's

former glory remained for those with eyes that could recognise the remnants of walls and the

foundations of the once-fair buildings, and it was plain that if one had stood upon the once-high

walls, they quite obviously had commanded a wide view from the foothills of the Blackcrest

Mountains to the heartland of the Plains of Morag. The original name of the Blackcrest Mountains was long forgotten, but they were presently so named because the tallest of them were devoid of trees on their crowns, exposing the barren black rock underneath.

Although there was no one living who could tell Anest about the fall of ancient Morag, there were many legends which he collected in their entirety, no matter how vague or outlandish.

Belloc had listened to him with great interest (and, if he had known it, great pride), as he

described how he sought for genuine clues to Morag's past by examining the perpetuation of

certain myths and ideas. Many of these he collected from travellers who ventured the wide lands,

as well as from soldiers from Normandon and Brand who had patrolled this region for generations. And many of the great cities had libraries with documents containing various clues.

Most of these were merely speculative, containing the scholarly but overly imaginative

speculations of people with little knowledge and far too much time on their hands.

This inevitably led to his deepest and most foreboding insight; that no one really knew anything for certain . . . there was not a single direct account from the depths of antiquity. Yet there were some obvious clues. There was the continued existence of people. There were ruins. There were a few artifacts.

Unlike Anest's father, Belloc always took the lad into his confidence, explaining anything to him that he failed to comprehend, testing always his understanding of the underlying reasons for the actions and behaviour of the various peoples, including gnomes, goblins, trolls of the far north,

and other creatures of more and less sinister natures.

One afternoon in the late summer of his twentieth year, as Anest was poring over the text of an old volume of early elven tongues, he felt a hand on his shoulder, politely interrupting his study.

It was Belloc, who had gone to the front door to speak with a passing soldier.

"Anest, my lad," said the wizard, "I'm going to accompany this fellow to a meeting with Garnak the Warrior. He's not often in these parts, so something's obviously afoot. Would you like to come along?"

"Ah-h!" Anest sighed, disappointed, "I would like to, but The Guardhouse stands empty at the moment, Mullen and Pip will be hunting for game in a while, and that would only leave old

Burli and Caspar." He shrugged ruefully.

"All right", Belloc smiled, "I'll tell you what I learn at the meeting when I return tomorrow

afternoon. Mind the store while I'm gone, then." With that, he left.

Anest continued studying for a while, when Pip came to tell him that Mullen and he were ready and waiting. It was several hours before they had any success. It was very still and quiet out, and Pip spoke for the three of them when he muttered exasperatedly, "There's a few of them goblins about, I'll warrant. They've spooked everything off." They shot a young buck that seemed to be wandering alone, which was in itself not a good sign. But they needed meat, and were cautious when cleaning and skinning it, watching for any sign of trouble. Though there was none, they were glad to be back as dusk set in.

Later, he finished his chores, said goodnight to Caspar, his sons, and old Burli, and taking a candle from the study, made his way to his room where he slept fitfully, dreaming for the first time in many years of his mother.