The next few days Malchius spent recovering in Aidin and Jorlath’s home, a lookout post, he later found out. Soon, he felt well enough to travel to the Rodamine’s largest settlement, Melodigone. Situated in the center of the Aeldorland, it served as the unofficial capital of the Rodamines. They were by nature a very secretive lot. They preferred brown and green colored clothing that blended in well with the forest. They preferred to live apart from one another. Only a very few Rodamine houses were actually built beside other houses. Their dwellings, usually no less than half a mile apart from their nearest neighbor, were built over cave openings. The front part of the dwelling consisted of an entrance way with a place to hang coats and store shoes. The living quarters were in the cave itself. Inside, were many rooms of various assorted shapes and sizes, depending upon the natural arrangement of the cave. When building a Rodamine house, the would-be owner would first explore the cave extensively, (one didn’t want to seal up some unsuspecting creature lurking inside, as was more common in those days). When a suitable cave was found and thoroughly explored, the village would congregate to that one spot. The first thing done was to seal off any unwanted openings. Then the entire cave would be reinforced with timber hewn from Timbril trees which were as strong as iron and resisted rot. The Rodamines would then cover the interior walls with a certain sticky, resinous-smelling mortar that hardened into a shiny waterproof coating. Finally, the inside of the house was paneled with dark walnut or oak.
In time, Malchius came to meet and know more of the Rodamines. He became especially good friends with Aidin and Jorlath and spent many long hours traveling with them learning about the different plants and their medicinal properties and how to make himself practically invisible in the forest. At nights, he listened to the stories of old Rodamines around the Fire of Zelid. Zelid’s Flame, as it was called, burned constantly. Zelid had started the fire more than one hundred years ago, and it had not gone out since. The younger Rodamines were in charge of tending the fire. If ever one of them was foolish enough to let the flames die, he would be banished from the land, or so said the Elders. Myridon was not often seen as nearly as Malchius would have liked. He grew strangely curious about the wizard and one day questioned Aidin closely on the subject.
“Myridon is a wizard. He is a mastermind. He has made long and in-depth studies of men and their ways. If he seems odd, well, that’s because he is. He doesn’t like repeating himself when giving directions. Oftentimes, he mumbles to himself. Oh no, it’s not spells he’s uttering or anything. He just does it. Most wizards mutter a lot to themselves. It’s funny now that you mention him,” continued Aidin. “I recall now the day that he said to me in that weird singsong voice he sometimes uses.”
“He is not long hence,” he imitated the wizard.
“Who?” I asked.
“The Jemdat-Nasr,” he replied, “and then rolled off two dozen verses from the Scroll of Mamre as if it were nothing.”
“Really now. I wish he’d explain it more to me,” said Malchius. “But naturally I haven’t seen him but once since coming to Melodigone. Where is he?”
Aidin merely shrugged his shoulders. “In his own good time, to be sure, in his own good time.”
As if in answer to his thoughts, there came a knock at the door. It was the wizard himself. Without so much as a word of greeting, he walked in and handed Aidin a large sack.
“Be a good man and take this to Olmo, would you. I must talk with Malchius.”
“Glad to see you as well,” Aidin smiled and got up to leave. He was fond of Myridon, but his lack of etiquette at times made him wonder. When Malchius and the wizard were alone, he began.
“Actually, I’ve been expecting you for quite some time. I knew you’d show up sooner or later. As it so happens, it was sooner.”
“Expecting me? Why, you’ve never met me in my entire life,” said Malchius. He felt a slight bit unsettled at the word expected. As if he were to be the ritual sacrifice or some needed ingredient in an old witch’s brew.
“Quite correct Malchius. We’ve never met in the flesh. But I recognized you at once by the signs.”
“The little things; your manner of speech, the way you walk, the angle of your eyes, and other traits of your countenance which any wizard can see.”
Malchius felt his face. It seemed perfectly natural to him. The wizard eyed him closely.
“Do you remember a day during your sixth year when an old man, carrying a tall crooked staff, spoke some words over you?”
Now, in Malchius’s village there lived quite a number of old men who fit this description. “Not particularly. Plenty of men could have.”
“This particular man wears his beard in a manner unlike most others. In a great pleat, for he cuts it not, and it is red in color.”
Malchius thought and thought. At last he remembered the strange red-bearded stranger. He had bumbled into him accidently while playing one day. He felt bad and helped carry some parcels for him. “I think so,” he replied.
“Do you remember the words he spoke over you before you and he parted ways?”
He thought again. “Actually I do.” (He remembered it vividly now. At the time he thought it to be the strangest thing to say to a six year old, but later put it out of his mind entirely).
The wizard crossed his hands and looked even more closely at Malchius. “Now think very hard. What exactly did he say?”
“Well, what he said... was this. In the days of your coming of age, a great evil will befall the land. The opportunity will arise for you to save them. When that time comes, the fate of many lives will be in your hands. You have been chosen to find a method of saving them. Only you will have the ability.” He put his hands in his pockets. “That’s all he said. No more, no less.”
“That is another sign,” continued the wizard. “Fate has decreed that you should find the method in Melodigone.”
“Who was he, and how did you know about that accident?”
“That was no accident. It was an incident. I know him well. Asareal is his name. He’s an oracle. The Oracle, if you please. Some lesser minds think him a rough shod penniless soothsayer. But his words come to pass. As opposed, say, to the prophets of Nae-drus.” He pronounced this last word with a great deal of contempt.
“Do you not fear the Goddess?”
“The Goddess? The Goddess of what?” Myridon uncrossed his hands and placed them at his sides. “I’ll talk more about the Venerable Naedrus later. For now you must learn under me until your education is complete. You will be my pupil. I am strict and exacting in my work. I’ll expect the same for you. Laziness will not be tolerated here. We all work and very hard too. You”ll like Melodigone. There will be ample opportunity to enjoy yourself once you find your feet as we say here.”
“I’ve got a question I’ve been meaning to ask for quite some time.”
“Tell me. Who are the Jemdat Nasr?”
“A good question. I’m glad you asked. It shows you’re curious and keen on knowledge. The Jemdat Nasr are men set apart from others to rule. Jemdat Nasr are not necessarily based on lines of heredity, although rulers sometimes pass on their particular traits to their offspring. They have an uncanny ability to, while not exactly predict the future, foretell many events to come in great detail. They have a very high intelligence and uncommon powers of logical reasoning. (Mentat) Most are quite vocal and tend to get emotional when upset. This in particular sets them apart and causes great friction at times with their typically quiet and soft-spoken tutors. Few, if any, writings have been left by Jemdat Nasr. It is still not certain the reason for this. Certainly they had the ability to write, which was very rare in past days.”
The weeks grew to months; winter and spring passed. One day early in the morning the next spring a young Rodamine, a few years younger than Malchius, came running by in great haste.
“What is it Daron?” asked Malchius. “What”s all the rush on such a fine morn?”
“I need to see Myridon. Is he here?” he panted.
“He’s off gathering Goldsword leaves. He says they’re necessary for one of his poultices.”
“Will he return soon?”
“Noon perhaps. Certainly no later than mid-afternoon. Sit down a bit, can’t you? I”ll get something to drink.”
Daron agreed and sat down on the ground. Malchius returned a minute later with a great cup of mead for the weary Rodamine. For himself, he drank only water.
“Now friend, pray tell me what’s on your mind. You’ve been gone a week if not two.”
“I bring bad news Malchius. There is a new darkness in the land. All over Selidorn there are reports of a strange new pestilence. The disease, this new plague, is unlike any other. A wife sits down for a brief rest. Soon, sleep descends upon her. A sleep she never wakes from. Death does not come at once though. Some sleep for months before succumbing to the grave.”
“It is an evil tale that you speak of if it be true.”
“I saw it with my own eyes, Mal. The children’s screams and the mother’s cries are ceaseless. Wailing can be heard in every village and hamlet. Every family in Selidorn has at least one family member that has succumbed. Mayhem and panic are everywhere.”
“Is there no cure?”
“None has been found. That is what I want to speak with Myridon about. I hope he returns soon.”
Malchius felt troubled in his mind. He looked at the horizon. It was going to be a warm day, one of the first warm days of the year.
“Have you heard about my village?” asked Malchius.
Daron looked to the ground. “I didn’t want to tell you this Malchius, but you’re father is dead. He was one of the first victims.”
Malchius stomach knotted. He put his hand over his face and closed his eyes.
“I see,” he said in a low voice after a moment. “It’s probably the same evil that caused the death of my mother. Is no one immune from this plague?”
“Nay, not even your King Mizraim is immune. The princess too has succumbed to the black sleep. Arweena, the only child of Mizraim and Pritha, has fallen ill. None of the king’s healers and wise men could make her better. Slowly, her condition worsened to the point at which death seems inevitable. King Mizraim, in his state of mind, has executed all his wise men and healers. He has issued an edict proclaiming that any man who can heal his daughter will have her hand in marriage. Furthermore, as he has no son, this man would also be the heir to the throne. However, any man unsuccessful would be killed. A few dozen men have already tried to cure the princess but all have failed. Naturally their deaths had discouraged any other would be suitors. Despite the pleas of his wife, he obstinately refuses to change his mind. His anger has grown and he has become even more of an evil tyrant. Taxes were raised and longer working hours were ordered for the villagers. Most say it is the wrath of the goddess punishing them for their iniquitous ways. They’ve tried supplicating the goddess at her temples and shrines. Yet, it is to no avail. The scourge continues.”
“I do hope Myridon returns soon,” said Malchius quietly.
Daron and Malchius sat looking at the ground. Presently, as if Myridon read their thoughts, he came walking out of the forest with a small bag slung over his shoulder. Quickly, Daron retold the wizard all he spoke of earlier. Myridon listened intently while stroking his great beard.
“No, this is no natural malady. I’ve studied all the known diseases that afflict man and this is something I’ve never encountered. This is no common plague. This is a contrivance of some new evil in the world.” But from where he thought it came from he did not say. He turned to go but stopped suddenly and turned. “Malchius, I want you to come to my study later. There is something very important I want to discuss with you.”
“Certainly,” Malchius replied. The wizard then turned and abruptly left, walking with quick long strides towards his home. Malchius followed him with his eyes as the wizard walked away. Myridon almost never invited people to his private study. It was practically an unwritten custom that no one ever went there. He never understood why.
At sunset, a knock was heard rapping on Myridon’s cottage. “Come in, come in,” the wizard’s voice said in haste. Malchius entered.
The study came as a bit of a shock. Unlike the Rodamines dwellings with sparse furniture, stores of dry goods, paintings, .................................................this place was large and crowded. In one corner stood a wooden object that rather resembled a cabinet except that it had no doors. Inside, he saw the most elaborate system of gears, pulleys, wires, and levers he had ever seen. Myridon called it an astronomical timekeeper. It predicted eclipses, comets, cycles of Luna, and a host of other phenomena. Atop his (very dusty) mantlepiece lay a long thin white cloth. On it ran a row of bottles in assorted shapes and sizes, filled with insects, snakes, and other creatures. One wall was completely covered with calculations and crude sketches of stars and planets. Various instruments were strewn about and a skull that looked twice as hideous as normal, as it was twice the size as it should be, sat on an iron pedestal in a corner. It was a very crowded room, not quite altogether messy, yet it had a somewhat structured sort of disorder. One could almost, in fact, call it an orderly mess.
“Hmm,” the wizard muttered. “Now there is something.”
“Yes?” Malchius leaned closer to the wizard.
“Can you believe that it was a law for people to not eat meat?”
“I had no idea.” The wizard was hunched up over a great book and surrounded by a great many candles. He hadn’t a clue as to what Myridon was talking about. He was mumbling to himself again.
“Because now...” he tapped on the book. “Apparently nowadays mortals don’t live long enough for the ill effects to become noticeable. That and the fact that once one eats meat, one is addicted to it. You can take your greens and feed them to the chickens. I’ll have a side of beef any day. There, you see.”
Malchius figured this was not what he wanted to discuss so he began, “about what you wanted to talk about earlier.”
“Ah, yes. I’ve been thinking about this new disease. There is one substance that may counteract this plague. However, it is located in a very remote corner of the world in a very dangerous place, if it even exists at all.”
He listened eagerly. “Pray, go on. Tell me more.”
Myridon paused and then began. “Mizraim, father of the Egyptian race, had many prophets, wise men, and seers. He collected them from the surrounding lands and brought them to one place, Pellinore. With their help, a vast center of learning was built. The Solon was the larger building containing all the most sacred scrolls. It was in the center of the Solon where one man was chosen to enter a day. Smaller side rooms held young men studying under the wise to learn their arts. It so happened that I was chosen to enter the Solon on the first of Tera, the tenth month of the Egyptian calendar and the longest day of the year. By chance as it would so seem, I opened a scroll expecting to read about a certain incantation that interested me when I found another smaller scroll sealed inside. I spread the smaller onto the table and saw written in a strange tongue words which seemed of ancient antiquity. I quickly transcribed the words and hid them on my person to translate later. For years I tried to understand the meaning of the lines. I made progress yet it was achingly slow. Seven years later I succeeded but what was written was so strange that it seemed a fantasy.”
“What did it say?”
“Come with me and I’ll show you.”
Malchius followed Myridon into another dusty room crammed full of old books, scrolls, and parchments. He glanced at some of the titles; Edicts of King Nabol, Dance of the Heavenly Spheres, The Speech of Beasts, Parables of the Mermithids. He made a mental note to ask who the Mermithids were. At his elbow lay an open book and he saw that it was written in some foreign tongue. He peered closer and saw that the letters were long and wavy with no spaces between them. Myridon opened a particular large book and set it upon the table. Carefully, he opened it to reveal a hidden compartment. Inside lay a scroll that looked to be of immense antiquity. “No,” said Myridon in response to Malchius’ anticipated question. “This is not the scroll, merely a copy of it.”
“It looks older than anything else in this room. Who made the copy?”
Myridon gazed at him under his great bushy eyebrows and said slowly, “I did.”
Malchius had never asked the wizard his age. He assumed him to be approximately seventy years, but he distinctly remembered that Elton, the oldest Rodamine who claimed to be one-hundred and seventeen, had once told him that Myridon was old. Much older than himself. He thought this rather strange and reconciled himself to the thought that old Elton was half senile. Yet little things every now and then hinted that the wizard was much older than he had suspected. Much older than anyone else in Tellus.
Myridon cleared his throat and began. “This scroll tells of the tales of an ancient race of men that lived in the far eastern parts of the world. Apparently, these men were larger, more clever, and more powerful than their descendants walking Tellus today. They were akin to the gods. Now this tree, the Sephirotic Tree, if memory serves me right, was used as food for this ancient race of men. For mortal food could not sustain them. A Tree of Life it was said to be. An elixir made from some part of this tree gave one an increased longevity, a life lasting hundreds of years beyond the norm. If this was true, and I have no reason to doubt it was, other properties might be associated with it; increased mental powers, extreme physical strength, in general a keener use of the senses. This tree would give one the sight of an eagle, the hearing of a rabbit, the smell of a wolf, and the cunning of a dragon. Perhaps even other strange powers could be attained. Now, the might of these men was great; yet, their pride was even greater. Lesser men appeared on Tellus in those days, men more akin to the mortals of today. They grew jealous of the great men and desired to be like them. They waged many battles to gain access to the Sephirotic Tree for it was hidden in a secret place and the powers of the great men were bound up in it. Finally, there was a terrible war and the men of elder days were driven from the land and most of their records and chronicles were lost or destroyed in the Great Disaster. I’ll read the manuscript here.”
“Now in the days of Manu the Great there lived the Elgul. In the realm of Survan they dwelt. Of permanent dwellings, they had none, for the desire for sleep seldom overtook them. The fruit of the Sephiroth is their only nourishment, an herb that imparts the very essence of life. Now, the Elgul prided themselves of having great knowledge and spent much time studying the stars. And so it came upon a time that certain men, more crafty and wise, unrelated to the Elgul, desired to learn the secret of their power. They multiplied in secret and after many years had numbers to fight the Elgul. At first, the Elgul laughed and mocked them. Later, after many deaths on both sides, Gebarmezi, leader of the Elgul, decided to forever destroy the lesser men. Before he struck the final blow, rumor of the destruction of Tellus could be felt and heard. Inconceivably, vast dark clouds of ash arose and the sun hid its face for months. Great rains came and Tellus grew cold. Most of the inhabitants of both races died during this time of great tribulation...”
The wizard paused, looked at Malchius, and continued. “There was more written but it has faded through time.”
“When did these events occur?”
“This was the first age of Tellus, the Golden Age. Be thankful that era has passed. It was a time of grievous evil and utmost strife. Never was there a time like it nor will there ever be again.”
“Things seem to be fairly bad now. I don’t see how it can get much worse.”
“You have much to learn yet, little one. Nearly four-hundred years have passed since that age has ended and Tellus is a very different place. Even the very landscape of the world has changed since then. The sundering of all peoples into the far corners of Tellus has been for the better of the race.”
“It has been said that most of the rest of the world live like beasts.”
“Don’t fret about it. In time, much of the knowledge that was lost then will be rediscovered, be it a hundred years or a thousand. It’s a tragic fallen world, but in it lies a hidden beauty. One can see traces of it in the lines of a tree, a flower, and in the meandering woodland stream, especially in man. Some have it in lesser measure than others. In the Jemdat Nasr this beauty, or Rama as it is properly called, lies in greatest measure.”
Malchius felt another one of Myridon’s lectures coming on and braced himself accordingly. The wizard was the wisest man he knew. He also felt the wizard shared this same opinion.
“It’s sad. The story of most men is “What Could Have Been?” When I studied under the great masters, there was a friend of mine. Uriel was his name but that is unimportant. He excelled in quite literally everything he set himself to do. Whether it was in writing, lore, singing, or athletics. He was better than any of us. He had quite a bit of rama in him.”
“Whatever became of him?”
“He left the Places of Learning and wandered the world. For all anyone knows, he is still wandering Tellus. He became a beggar, which was probably the only thing he wasn’t good at.”
The student listened intently. Some of it, however, he thought far-fetched. He asked the wizard more questions.
“How far away is the Sephirotic Tree?”
“How far, you ask? It’s never been measured. Many days journey through seven valleys, but since none who ever start-return-who knows? A month, perhaps two. Distances are measured differently in the East.”
“Hasn’t anyone else heard of it?”
“I’m sure they have. But alas, they’ve put it out of their minds as old wives tales and fantasies. People nowadays don’t think about things like that. They’re more concerned about what they’ll eat and what they’ll wear to the latest festival. Come. I will show you a map of the East.”
Late that night found Malchius and Myridon poring over a very ancient-looking parchment. The names of the places on the map were foreign to Malchius’s mind.
“Where is this strange land?” asked Malchius.
“Cannot you guess? This is a map of Selidorn. The village where you grew up, he pointed to a spot in the middle of a huge expanse of green, is located approximately here. In the middle of the Selidorn forest or what you’ve always called simply the Forest of Ambia.”
“Why is it called Selidorn?”
“Years and years ago, back before your grandfather’s grandfather’s time, there was a rebellious young prince from a small forgotten kingdom of the North. He tried to overthrow his father’s throne but failed, and was banished from the kingdom. He, along with his two wives and children, moved to the then unexplored forest. In time, he made a home for himself, grew prosperous, and became a sort of self-styled lord of the forest. This forest is named after him.”
“I had no idea.”
“You’ve led a very sheltered life.”
The map was filled with strange names of strange places. Cethe, Dangala, Heldurland, Nun, Nurngeld. Malchius noted the distance from where his village stood to the Aeldorland, home of the Rodamines to get somewhat of a perspective of distance.
The wizard cleared his throat and began again. “According to the manuscript, the Sephirotic Tree is located in the realm of Survan. Survan is dry, desolate, and cold. It comprises the lands surrounding and Mt. Danyabad. I personally think it is elsewhere. The upper slopes of Mt. Danyabad are covered with snow year round. Surely no tree can grow there. The obvious place to look would be at the base of Mt. Danyabad. There, though the elevation is still very high, plants and shrubs can still grow. It is a very rugged and dangerous place. At any time rocks and boulders may come down from the upper slopes and landslides are quite common. The most dangerous part may not even be the mountain but getting to it. For you see, the path to Mt. Danyabad leads through the Layam Desert. And if the desert itself isn’t that troublesome, the creatures that live there are. Dragons breed in the Layam. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a dragon, but it’s a rather unnerving experience, and dragons guarding their young can be positively dreadful.”
“What do these dragons look like?”
“Have you ever seen a lizard?”
“Oh yes, many times. We used to chase them as boys.”
“Well, a dragon is rather like a large lizard in many ways. Picture a large lizard with the wings of a bat. The body is covered with brilliantly colored scales. Their venom is perhaps their most dangerous feature. For it contains a poison that burns as fire and blinds the eyes. They can spit on a victim from many feet away. If that happens, unless you’ve got a small army with you, you’ve little chance to survive.”
Malchius, who had never seen a dragon in real life much less in a book, conjured up images in his mind of strange-looking overgrown lizards chasing him about.
“Once the Layam is crossed there’s the Beren River to ford. It would be dangerous to cross it in the spring when the snow melts, yet, in summer it should be fairly easy. A few hours march and then one finds oneself at the base of Mt. Danyabad.”
The wizard and Malchius talked late into the night. When Malchius finally laid his head down for the night, it was with an expectant heart. The conversations with Myridon had kindled in his heart a ray of hope, small though it was, of saving Arweena from the Plague. Princess Arweena was said to be the most beautiful lady in the land. Songs were sung of her beauty and grace even among the Rodamines who acknowledged no king.
The next morning Malchius was busy looking at a series of maps in Myridon’s room. He traced an imaginary path from the Aeldorland to Mt. Danyabad. The distance seemed short enough. Only he wished there was more detail on the areas surrounding Mt. Danyabad. Myridon walked in and sat down.
“Have you made up your mind?”
“The new day brings not only new light but new fears in my heart, wizard. There are too many griefs if you know what I mean. The tales you spoke of last night sound good and true, but look at it closely. They...may...be...only...myths. I want to find this...this...Sephirotic tree, but it’s so dangerous. What if I get lost? Will I have enough food? How do I kill a dragon? Has anyone ever killed a dragon-do dragons really exist? He wondered. Perhaps this plague will go away by itself. He felt the wizards glance go stern and cold. He continued. “Oh, can’t you see? I want to go, but I’m frightened. I’m scared. I was a tremble of nerves escaping from the Gwawriddurs. Even now, when I hear a strange noise in the wood, I get in a panic.”
Myridon put his hand on Malchius’s shoulder. “You must choose the path that lies before you Malchius. As long as you waver between the two roads you waste precious time. Time is given to all men to make decisions, but to those who don’t, failure is their fate and the rewards that lie at their respective ends are given to others.”
“You’re right. I can’t meander here in hiding for the rest of my days. Tomorrow I shall depart from this fair land and begin the quest, alone if need be.”
“Oh, you won’t be going alone. I think I will go with you. Surely you didn’t expect me to stay here while such an interesting expedition is on. Besides, I’ve not traveled East for many a long year. I’m anxious to find out any news of Megisteron. The eastern Kablam mountains have stood as a barrier between Megisteron’s hundred league wall and Selidorn for time out of mind, yet my heart fears that he has crossed that natural barrier, if not himself, then in the guise of his agents.”
The Kablam mountains are dangerous at best, deadly at worst. A watch will be needed every night. Choose among the Rodamines someone trustworthy and true to go with us, preferably two. If you want my advice in this matter take Aidin and Jorlath. Both are skilled hunters and their knowledge of lore is great for such so young. Ask them today and be quick. Summer will be here soon and by then it will be too late.”
The next morning Malchius found Aidin preparing to leave for the forest. It was morel-gathering time and he was hoping to gather a large basket for dinner that day.
“Hello yourself Mal. What brings you out on such a lovely spring morn?”
“Aidin, my friend, I’ll be leaving soon, tomorrow at the earliest. I may be gone for a few months, maybe more. Furthermore, I’ll need some help along the way.” Malchius spent the next fifteen minutes explaining his expedition plans to his friend. Aidin, after listening intently, looked at Malchius with a sardonic grin.
“So, you’re asking me to join you on this perilous quest to the east in the Kablam mountains to look for a magical tree that may or may not exist which could cure any disease while risking life, limb, and perhaps my sanity.”
“Er...well if you want to put it that way.”
“All the while encountering who knows what kind of evil creatures lurking in the wilds. Not to mention lack of food and water, getting lost, or some other such misfortune.”
“I do admit it is rather a long shot.”
“And furthermore, you offer me no guarantee of payment or remuneration in case of my death unless in the almost inconceivable chance you succeed by saving Arweena from the plague and become heir to the throne of no less a tyrant than King Mizraim.”
“In a word, yes.”
“Well now, my fine friend from Ambia, this is without a doubt the maddest scheme I’ve ever heard of in my life.”
Malchius lowered his head and stared at the ground. “Look. I understand and all if...”
“I’d be more than happy to go with you.”
“Really! But you just said...”
“Relax Mal. Don”t take everything so literally,” he laughed. “Jorlath will come too, I’m sure. I”ll ask him myself. It would be better since I know his quirks and nuances better than most. He left early this morning on some errand of his to On, but should return before nightfall. I’ll let you know his decision tomorrow at dawn. Till then,” with a wave of his hand Aidin was off.
Next morning, just as the sun broke the horizon, Aidin and Jorlath came walking through the morning mist towards a waiting Malchius and Myridon. Both had sacks slung over their shoulders and held tall staffs in their hands.
“Well now,” began Myridon. “Three’s company but four’s a crowd. Yet we’ll certainly need all the eyes we can get when we reach the mountains. I’m glad you two decided to come along on this little trip of ours. What did Malchius say to convince you to join our little party?”
“Nothing greatly reassuring,” laughed Aidin. “I’m doing it for the sheer adventure. Jorlath, well, I’ll let him explain.”
“When Aidin told me of the powers of the Sephirotic Tree, I was immediately skeptical. These were strange rumors he spoke of, but being a great lover of herb-lore, my inquisitiveness overcame my doubt. If this is indeed an enchanted tree, I wish to find out for myself.”
“A wish that may be granted soon enough,” replied Myridon. “Indeed I don’t need to tell you that we”ll be taking no leisurely stroll through the mountainside. We go to seek life and bring it back, but we may find death instead. Four men won’t be enough. I have decided that more help is needed. I’ve already sent word to a city on the outermost parts of the Kablam. The city is Velusia, and that’s where we’ll obtain a guide. Velusians are a kindly people and their knowledge of the mountain paths are great. If they have a fault it is that they are a very superstitious race. They’ve many customs and rituals in their land that we would do well to observe. As we pass through their lands you will notice tall carved wooden statues of men. These are said to be the likenesses of the founders of the Velusian people. When we see the statues as you meet the Velusians you’ll notice that they look nothing alike. Yet, the Velusians still believe that the statues are what their earliest fathers looked like.
And so the four left the relative safety of the Hinterland and began their journey with high hopes and good spirits. The rising sun smiled upon them and wished them luck for they certainly would need it.
Melodigone was curious in the fact that it was a village without roads. All of the paths were footpaths carefully disguised to resemble the deer that inhabited that particular part of Selidorn.
At precisely two in the afternoon, the four travelers reached the Great East Road. The Great East Road ran from Velusia to the Eastern Sea in roughly a direct line. Great stretches of it were in disarray and overgrown with grass, but for the most part it was well-tended by the various folk who lived beside it. In fact, King Mizraim spent prodigious amounts of time in its upkeep through the Forest of Ambia.
The place in the road where the four came out was greatly overgrown with grass that came nearly to their shoulders. Great stones, tumbled down from the hilly slopes, lie in the path. One could still see where horses had trampled through not many days prior. After another hours walking, the road became more orderly and smooth. They made camp that night just out of sight from the path under the boughs of a great oak.
The night became chilly yet they lit no fire lest it should draw attention to any of Mizraim’s Gwawriddurs which might be nearby. They kept watch that night but saw no one. None got much sleep that night; thus, the next day, well before dawn, they were found walking briskly on the Great East Road. For two solid hours they marched. Presently, they came to notice that the lands around them were tended and well-groomed. Velusia was still three days distant and the Aeldorland two days hence. Neither Myridon, nor the Rodamines, could remember anyone living between the two lands. Carefully, they ambled on looking for signs of habitation. As they left the well-tended area, the road fell into disrepair. Malchius, in a sense, felt less relieved. Later, he said that he felt as if someone or some creature, was watching him. The others felt the same though no one mentioned it at the time.
“I say,” began Aidin. “I get the feeling I’m being watched. Whose land are we in now? I don’t recall any people living here between Vellington and Velusia.”
“You are being watched,” replied Myridon. The wizard sighed heavily and began again. “We are all being watched by the one who keeps this land. We must not stop here. It’s not a dangerous place but it is wild.”
Aidin whistled. “Stop!” said Myridon hastily.
“But why?” asked Aidin.
“Listen to me. Not everyone on Tellus is a good or evil creature. Some beings are in fact neutral. This part of the road passes through one of these neutral beings land. We must pass quickly. Not that they are dangerous, but wild untamed watchers can be unsettling to some.”
Malchius stopped and turned to gaze into the forest. Only to be quickly reprimanded by Myridon. “Don”t you hear that wonderful music?” asked Malchius.
“What music?” asked Jorlath.
“Why the music...Now that’s funny,” he replied. “I just heard it. A wild, high melody of flutes or was it a harp? Anyhow, I’m not too sure.”
He listened again but heard nothing. Jorlath looked at Malchius and shrugged his shoulders. The two marched on. “I hear it again,” said Malchius. “Don’t you?”
“I might have heard the wind blowing louder than usual in the leaves,” Jorlath replied.
“It came from over there,” he pointed in the general direction of a stand of tall pine trees growing in a circle not one hundred feet away. Although now that it comes down to it, I’m not certain.”
“Let’s wait here for Myridon and Aidin to catch up. A moment later both came walking.
“Something about this place...” began Malchius but got no further. Amazement, or perhaps dread, he couldn’t really tell, was in their faces. It was as if they were under some spell or in a trance.
“We must move more quickly,” said the wizard in a strangely flat voice. “Haste. Must make haste.”
His tone unsettled Malchius. He glanced at Jorlath. As always, hardly any perceptible change in his countenance could be seen. The music began anew. This time everyone heard it. A distinct drumming sound came from seemingly all about them. Malchius tried looking to his side and found that he could not do so. Fear descended upon them. Madly, they began running along the road. The drumming grew louder, they quickened their pace. Myridon soon realized with terror that they were being led or driven to some doom. Then, almost as suddenly as it began, the sound stopped. They collapsed to the ground together in a heap.