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The Colour Stone – The complete version

(A word of advice, if you opt to download the entire book, it is a handful of adjectives short of 1 million words plus media).


Copyright: Graham Hitch 1988 and 2012

Image by Getty Images, courtesy of Northern Central.

‘The Colour Stone’ is a fantasy adventure novel featuring a teenage boy in Northern Ireland during the 1960’s. Patrick has been orphaned by a car bomb in Belfast which killed both his parents and his younger sister. He has been sent to an Orphanage in Antrim which specialises in trauma cases.

Graham Hitch was born in Yorkshire, UK at the end of world war 2. He lost his mother at the age of 14 and buried his father on his 16th birthday. After several years of anger and violence, he joined the British Army and served three tours in Northern Ireland, often finding solace at the Giants Causeway. Following his service, Graham became a consultant working on every continent, meeting and marrying his wife in Africa.

Chapter 1

After several weeks he is still quiet and reserved, keeping away from the others and refusing to participate in any of the functions arranged by the staff. It has rained relentlessly for almost a week which hasn’t helped the mood of staff and inmates alike. Tension and irritability was rife and the manager was praying for an end to the foul weather to get outside and allow the children to cool down and run off the building tension.

The forecast for the next two days is much improved, so she decides to make up a picnic lunch and book a coach for a day trip to the Giants Causeway just along the coast.

When the coach arrives, a thin screen of mist covers the car park, but quickly clears as they approach the sea. By the time the coach pulled into the Visitor Centre Car Park it was clear and dry. The kids swarmed out of the coach and disappeared in every direction, in spite of the instructions to remain together. Patrick quietly wanders off towards the sea where the basalt hexagons disappear under the water. He hears one of the staff calling his name and waving him back to the group. He acknowledges the call and turns back, as he does so, one of the hexagons catches his eye. One among the tens of thousands of grey columns is pulsing red. He hears his name being called again, but it is already too late. The adventure has begun……

The day dawned dull and depressing. It seemed as if it had been raining forever. There were only four days left for the orphanage kids, and it didn’t look as if the weather would lift. Portrush had lots to offer, but with nothing save rain and mist for the past ten days, the children were beginning to irritate the usually composed and capable staff. Mrs. Niall wracked her brains for something new and exciting for them to do. She scanned their faces as they finished breakfast, “I suppose it will have to be the amusement arcades again”, she sighed, more to herself than Brendan Milcho who nodded anyway. Then her eyes came to rest on Patrick Cormack, the newest addition to the little group she called her family.

Patrick traced the lines of rain on the window, staring into the distance. I suppose he’ll want to go to the art gallery again, she mused and wondered what it was about him that seemed so different. His parents and young sister had been killed by a car bomb in Belfast, but that was seven months ago and the other kids, some of whom had also been through that cruel experience, had rallied round to make him welcome. The psychiatrist explained that the boy’s fascination with vivid colour was probably some deep expression of anguish and it would soon pass, but, every day since they arrived, he had insisted on going to the art exhibitions. He spent hours just staring at van Gogh’s. It wasn’t natural she concluded and turned her attention to how they would split the group.

“Let Patrick go on his own, he’s nearly sixteen”, Milcho murmured as if reading her thoughts, “anyway, I’ve had my fill of bloody paintings”, he spread the marmalade generously on his toast and winked.”Do you think he’ll be alright?”, “What can happen to him in a gallery?”. “Will he come back?”. “Sure, Mrs. Flarhty’s baking rabbit and leek pie for lunch”. They laughed lightly and glanced at the quiet boy.

The rain had ceased by the time lunch was over, but a cool grey mist persisted. Two of the boys were teasing a girl with an obnoxious rubber creature they had won at the fair, four were playing snakes and ladders, two were reading and Patrick fondled the red petals of a potted geranium. The plant was dying and it disturbed him enough to go to the kitchen for some water. Not that it would make any difference, he thought, everything’s dying. When he came back, Milcho was organising the children and telling them that, as it had brightened up, they were going in the minibus to the Giant’s Causeway. Patrick looked out of the window at the threatening clouds and sighed.

The weather lifted slightly as they turned onto the road for Benbane Head. Patrick pushed dark thoughts from his mind. The boys bet a bar of chocolate on who would see the sea first. Patrick smiled, wondering who would put up the stake as most of them had spent their allowance on the machines in the arcades. To obviate a fray, Milcho did, with a grin. It wouldn’t be easy, as the grey wet land merged with the grey wet sky, a banal blur from horizon to horizon. The old bus bucked and the youngsters giggled. At least they will be out in the fresh air, Mrs Niall reflected. Seamus saw it first. The others argued that it was only small puffy clouds, so he began to wail until Milcho confirmed his sighting. White horses rode the waves like a squadron of the finest cavalry charging the beach. It made a pleasant change from the blending of earth and sky in a panorama of unbroken grey.

The little group huddled together, more for warmth than to hear the monotonous recital snatched by the wind from the thin lips of the guide. Patrick glanced at the undulating hexagonal columns as they rose and fell down to the sea. He half-listened to the monologue. Then, one particular slab caught his eye. It was close to the surging surf and seemed to pulse with each breaking wave, like a heart pumping blood. The more he stared at it, the brighter shade of red it became. He found himself tugging at Mrs. Niall’s sleeve, unable to take his eyes from the bleeding stone.

“What is it Patrick?”

“Why is that one red when all the others are grey?”.

She followed his stare and saw nothing but the endless sea and symmetric stones, “Which one?”.

Patrick looked up at her, “That one, down there, close to the water”. She screwed up her eyes and shook her head.

“There, there”, he insisted, pointing, “it’s throbbing”.

Some of the other kids strained to look and the guide stopped talking. “Can’t you see it?”.

They looked at him and the guide began his recital again. Patrick stepped away from the party feeling embarrassed, but the extraordinary stone exerted its influence, drawing him out of his discomfort and demanding his attention.

“So you’ve come at last”, a deep steady voice spoke beside him.

Patrick turned to look into the round, weather beaten face of an old man no taller than himself, “What?”. The squat, heavy set man laughed and nodded at the stone, “You can see it, can’t you?”. The youth looked again at the pulsing stone spattered in spume and spray and nodded at its attraction. Then he caught on.

“Can you see it?”, he asked foolishly.

“Of course I can, I am the Guardian”, he sang in coarse laughter.

Patrick was about to call to the others when the strange man stopped him with a thick hairy arm, “Don’t waste your time, they cannot see the portal any more than they can see me”.

“What!”, Patrick shuddered and stared into the wizen face grinning at him. He turned to his friends and gulped as they stood motionless like the monoliths they observed. Frozen in time. Immortalised in stone.

“What have you done to them? Who are you? What’s going on?”.

The stocky stranger laughed gutturally and took the young man by the arm, leading him down towards the stone. Patrick realised that even the sea was suspended in time. Not a drop of water fell from an arc poised over the hexagon, yet the rock still pulsed with a vibrancy that both thrilled and frightened him. As they drew nearer, he began to shake and was glad for the strong arm that held him fast.

“Stop it, stop it”, he pleaded and searched the face for compassion.

The old man stopped walking, gazed into the eyes of the child and his look of knowing eased the fear. “Do not be afraid Patrick Cormack, for none can harm you while you are in the presence of the Guardian”.

The positive assurance, spoken without assumption or guile, allayed his fear, but his mind could not focus on anything but the hanging wave.

“The waves roar whilst I weep and sometimes, we’re in harmony”.

Patrick didn’t think that the old man had said it, yet the words hung in the air and his fear faded. They sat down on an upsurge a few feet away from the stone.

“My name is Ulfert and I am appointed to keep the portal until you pass through. Then my work is done”, he smiled sincerely.

“Pass through the portal. To your destiny”, Ulfert gestured at the red stone.

Patrick stared at him for a moment, then looked at the suspended sea and searched the faces of his friends captured in contorted confusion. “You’re crazy”.

“No, just tired”.

“Who are you? What’s all this destiny stuff?”.

“I told you, my name is Ulfert and I am the Guardian. Before the need arose, I was Stone Master to the Great Council. I created the portal when the Runes told us that you would come from a time not yet filled”.

Patrick stared in disbelief. Ulfert went on.

“At first, when the Colour Stone was taken, we did not deem it significant, but then, when all the world began to fade into grey apathy, we missed the richness of colour and knew that we would have to retrieve it. That was easier said than done, for we had not the perception, the artist’s eye. We carve only in stone or wood, in shades and grains, but not in colour. The fullness that you know”, he scanned the bright pattern of the young man’s garb. “Beautiful”, he murmured and drifted off in a dream.

“Are you saying that you can’t find it, this colour stone?”.

Ulfert nodded sadly, “We assumed Visgoth had taken it, it’s the sort of thing that would appeal to his perverted mind, but even though our armies are gathered to crush him, he swears by all that is holy that he has not got it”, the wrinkled old face filled with sadness.

Patrick reached up to touch the hanging water and the droplet warmed in his hand but would not move from its appointed space. Ulfert continued. “We sent to the Runes, they dwell in Visgoth’s realm and normally have no interest for us, but they would not reveal where the stone lay. They told us of your coming. So, I created the portal and waited for you”, he grinned broadly revealing broken yellow teeth.

Patrick saw the depth of anguish in the old man’s eyes, but no hint of deceit. “You don’t really expect me to believe all this crap do you?”. The ancient eyes did not flicker, but the corner of his mouth curled up. Patrick looked at his motionless friends on the viewing stand and concluded that it was all a dream. Slowly he rose to his feet, turned and walked calmly back up the rise. As he reached the platform the wave broke behind him and the guide said, “Staffa, off the west coast of Scotland, that’s where it comes out of the sea again”.

Supper was a sultry affair, only three days left and no hope of sunshine according to the evening weather forecast. Most of the children went to bed early, but Patrick sat staring at the empty fire grate. Mrs Niall came over and placed the back of her hand on his brow.

“Are you alright Patrick?”.

He looked up at her and attempted a smile, “Fine”. She smiled back and went to sit with the other adults. “Is he unwell?”, Milcho asked.

“I don’t think so, but that business at the Causeway has got me worried”. “He’s got a vivid imagination that one, comes from staring too long at those old paintings, bound to send you a bit doolally if you ask me”.

“I didn’t”.

Milcho returned to his newspaper. Mrs Niall thought about the time the boy had been brought to her. His parents had dropped him at the Ulster Museum and gone into town. They never came back. Perhaps his preoccupation with art and antiquities was some sort of forlorn hope that one day, when he came out, they would be there waiting for him. She sighed and smiled as one of the older boys said good night. It wasn’t right, a teenage lad should be out having fun, not spending hours on end staring at old masters. It wasn’t as if he was a budding artist himself, she’d seen some of his efforts, great sweeps of random colour, it offended her eyes. She pushed the vision away and took out her knitting, shooting the boy a glance.

Patrick crept into the darkened room and felt for the foot of his roommate’s bed, trying hard not to wake him.

“Seen any pretty coloured rocks tonight Pat?”, the sheet sniggered.

He ignored the taunt and slid into bed. As his eyes were accustomed to the dark, his mind focused on the stone and a shiver ran through him. It couldn’t have been a dream.

He lay awake long into the night trying to reason out the events of the afternoon, but the more he thought about it, the less he could remember. He heard the last inhabitants of the guest house retire and wondered how long it would take to walk to the Causeway.

There were so many questions to ask, so much he couldn’t comprehend. He finally fell into a deep fitful sleep in the early hours.

Although much brighter, the morning air was filled with the threat of rain. Low clouds scurried across the bleak sky. Patrick didn’t go to the gallery, even though he told Mrs. Niall that he would. Instead, he walked through the promenade gardens watching the bright coloured tulips swaying in the breeze. He wanted to be alone, but more than that, he wanted his questions answered and soon found himself at the bus stop.

It was lunchtime when the half empty bus arrived at the Causeway. A part of him said that Mrs. Niall would be worried and that he should turn back, but a compulsion to know more spurred him on. He stayed close to the small group, trying hard not to look at where the stone ought to be. Afraid that it might be there, and strangely anxious that it would not. The guide began to recite mechanically and Patrick forced himself to look over the railing.

The hexagon pulsed with a warm glow. Astonishingly more beautiful than he remembered, exuding a tranquillity he hadn’t felt for such a long time. He found himself drifting into a somnolent state and his knees buckled under him. The next thing he remembered was opening his eyes and staring into the full round face of Mrs, Niall.

“It’s a good job the guide recognised you from yesterday”, she said, smiling and brushing a lock of hair from his brow.

He smiled back weakly and tried to remember what had transpired.

“The doctor says that you are coming down with the flu, but you should be fine in a day or two. He’s given you something to sleep so don’t worry, I’ll look in from time to time”.

He tried to protest, but she placed her finger on his mouth and turned away, “We will talk tomorrow”.

Patrick stared at the closed door, more confused than ever. He didn’t feel sick, although he had to admit that sleep would be welcome right now, if only his mind would leave him alone. He closed his eyes and saw hexagons of varying sizes and degrees of colour. All were red and changed density in the same rhythm. The wind rattled the window frame and hissed ‘destiny’ as it stirred the curtains.

“Stop it”, he screamed and Mrs. Niall came running.

The physician called early and pronounced the young man much improved, but behind his bedside smile was a sinister doubt about his sanity. Patrick saw them whispering and caught their furtive glances. He saw the doctor pass over a piece of paper and mention another doctor’s name in Belfast. Mrs. Niall smiled nervously. Patrick felt sick.

When they left, he made his decision.

A single star shone through the high broken cloud and the sky brightened in the east, backlighting Rathlin Island. He climbed awkwardly over the fence, having changed his mind several times during the long walk and, now that he was here, he wished that he wasn’t.

Silhouetted against the silky sea was a short solid shape, leaning against the wooden rail. As Patrick drew nearer, he could see the broad grin and imagined the yellow teeth.

“Well Patrick Cormack, are you ready?”.

The young man swallowed hard and nodded. Ulfert slapped his back with a thick heavy hand.

“You’re a brave lad”.

“No I’m not, I’m as crazy as you, the doctor thinks so and I’m sure Mrs Niall agrees”.

“Is that why you came?”.

Patrick looked into the deep dark eyes set in a face that told a hundred stories, but no lies. “No”.

Ulfert grinned, “Then why?”.

The boy did not answer straight away, he watched the light grey of morning push back the relative darkness of night, driving silver wedges into the velvet sea. Ulfert followed his gaze and felt for a child growing up too fast.

“I thought about a world without colour and couldn’t bear it. I don’t really know what I’m doing here, but if I hadn’t come, well I don’t know, I think I would have gone insane”.

Ulfert laughed and slapped his back again, sending Patrick sprawling in the sand.

“I don’t know if you are going to succeed, or even if you will survive, but I tell you Patrick Cormack, I have never seen such courage in one so young. In that, you have already brought hope to an old and worthless life”, Ulfert bowed and gestured towards the beach.

“I have one question Ulfert the guardian”, “Only one, you surprise me!”.

“I had a thousand last night, or was it the night before? Since I met you time has a new meaning”.

Ulfert laughed again, but refrained from slapping him.

“Why me?”,

“Why not? Though I confess, I expected someone older”.

“Don’t you think I can do it?”.

Ulfert smiled and pondered the young man facing him, “I do not know whether you can do it or not, does it matter? Isn’t the trying more important than the achievement? Does an artist create for himself, or for others? In all the years I have sat here waiting for you, I have pondered these questions and many more”.

Patrick grabbed his thick hairy arm, “What do you mean, ‘all the years you have waited for me’, how long have you been here?”.

“Too long”, the old man chuckled. “Won’t I be too late?”.

Ulfert laughed loud and long, “Time has a new meaning, remember”.

The cold sea spray slashed at his face as he stood glowering at the glowing stone. Ulfert stood beside him, resting a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“I wish I could say that you could change your mind, but destiny awaits. Step on the stone and you will be transported unharmed to the other side. Marta is waiting for you”.

Patrick looked at him, “Aren’t you coming?”. Ulfert shook his head sadly, “It is not possible”.

Panic welled up inside him and he shivered, not entirely from the cold wind off the sea. He was about to step on a stone into a dream and he hadn’t expected to have to do it on his own, “Please Ulfert, come with me”.

The muscular man lifted the boy onto the stone and smiled.

The sky began to spin. Darkness flooded in, pierced by shafts of brilliant crimson light. The earth shook beneath his feet and he felt nauseous. It lasted no longer than the space of a breath, yet in his juvenile mind, an eternity passed by.

He lay panting on the cold rocks trying to get his eyes to focus and his brain to keep still. Coldwater splashed over him, restoring some sort of reality and sounds became distinct, crashing waves pounding on immortal stone, the cry of gulls and the whistle of the north wind. He sat up and looked around.

Everything appeared the same. Nothing seemed to have changed. Even the sea was in the same state of turmoil. The grey Atlantic rollers swept up the Giant’s Causeway with their ethereal rhythm. Then he noticed that the hexagon beneath his feet was exactly the same as all the others. Grey and lifeless.

Had it all been a dream after all?

Chapter 2.

He climbed unsteadily to his feet and, as the sea surged up the Causeway, he began to cry. He cried for his mother, he cried for his father, he cried for his sister, but most of all, he cried for himself. Sea spray fused with his tears and a diving gull mocked him as it circled the shoreline like a nautical vulture. Thick grey clouds piled up on the horizon and the first drops of rain fell. For a while he wandered among the stones, stepping on each one gingerly, not really expecting anything to happen. By the time he reached the high water mark, he was convinced that he really was insane. He began to cry again.

This is stupid, he said to himself, by now the entire staff will be looking for me. Maybe I am sick, delirious even. The thought made him chuckle and he raised his head to laugh at the darkening sky. A large bird swept by, soaring on the uplift of air as it buffeted the land mass. Patrick didn’t give it a thought until it wheeled and swiftly crossed his line of sight again. He stared at it, watching it circle over a deep tidal pool.

“That’s a Great Auk. They’re supposed to be extinct”, he said out loud and watched it dive for a fish, “I must tell Milcho”. He scrambled up the stones feeling excited with his discovery. When he reached the top, he stopped and gazed about. The viewing platform had gone.

Not only that, the souvenir shop had gone too. Keep calm, I’m just on a different part of the Causeway, that’s all. The rain intensified and he tasted salt as he licked his lips.

There wasn’t a soul in sight anywhere. It was still early, so he didn’t expect a party of tourists, but there should be someone around. He began to run along the shoreline, expecting that at any moment he would come across something familiar. He crested a ridge and stared at the cliff top where Dunseverick Castle ought to be. It wasn’t there. He began to tremble.

Dunseverick Castle – courtesy of NI Trust

“Ulfert”, he screamed through clenched teeth and the wind howled in response. Only the seabirds heard him sink to the ground sobbing. It must be the same place, the causeway, the organ pipes, the Portcoon Cave was just as it should be. Same place, different time, he muttered to the wind.

Even the growing storm seemed to ridicule him. Whispering his name, laughing at him. For a moment, he considered just rolling off the cliff to the rocks below. “Patrick”, the wind howled, distorting the word as it tore at his face and clothing.

“Patrick”, it was louder and stronger now. He buried his face in his hands.

“Patrick”, a strong hand shook his shoulder, “I have been expecting you”. It sounded like Ulfert, but softer, more gentle. He looked into the rain soaked face of a young woman. Her frown melted into a smile, “Come. We must find shelter”. Her muscular arm lifted him effortlessly and she drew him away from the cliff. The rain fell in soaking sheets, slashing at their backs as they raced across the moorland, slipping and sliding in the mud. He didn’t take much notice of his companion, or the surroundings, it was enough to concentrate on keeping a footing. He deduced that she was slightly shorter than him, but stockier and stronger by far. It was only when she leapt a fast flowing stream and signalled him to follow, that he noticed she had a long bow slung across her back and a short sword strapped to her waist. He jumped and she caught him, smiling broadly. A few minutes later they entered a low stone croft, roofed in turf.

The interior was dark and filled with smoke. It swirled out of the poorly fitting door and through cracks in the dry stone walls. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that it was a single room about twelve feet by eight with a fire burning in one corner. The roof was open above it and the fire spat and crackled as the raindrops fell onto the embers. The girl pushed him towards a low bed covered with moss and ferns.

“Take off your clothes”, she unslung the bow and laid her sword on a rough wooden table before removing her hide jerkin and short skirt.

Patrick stared at her near naked torso and wondered what she had in mind. She moved to the fire and poked it with a stick before hefting a large iron cauldron onto the blaze, “Rabbit stew, it will warm us”, she said without looking at him.

From the back, if you ignored her well proportioned waist, she was muscular enough to pass as a weight lifter. Her short black hair added to the masculine image and the way she casually lifted the large iron pot, convinced him that she was some sort of freak. She turned and looked at him.

“Take those wet clothes off before you get sick”, she snapped, removing the rest of hers. Patrick turned away feeling a fire burn in his cheeks and slowly unzipped his anorak.

An hour later they sat side by side watching the smouldering fire, tucking into a second bowl of stew and sipping mulled wine from wooden goblets. “How is my brother?”, she asked suddenly, shattering the serenity.

He didn’t look at her, but asked, “Who?”.

“Ulfert. My brother, surely he is the only common factor between us?”,

“Yes, of course, sorry. It’s just that I never imagined that you two could be brother and sister, or are you speaking figuratively?” “Can you not see the resemblance? Most people think we are twins”, she giggled. Patrick glanced at her and quickly looked away again, “But he’s old enough to be your grandfather”.

“Ulfert!”, “Are you mocking me, he is younger by nearly two years”.

Now Patrick stared at her without thought of embarrassment. After a while he asked, “How old are you?”.

“I have seen twenty six winters with this one”, she answered proudly. Patrick thought for a moment, “When did he leave you?”. She looked puzzled at his question, “Three days ago, why?”.

“I would have said that he was close to eighty years old, older than my grandparents when they died”.

“I don’t understand”, she murmured and fell into silence, watching the flames lick around the blackened pot Patrick didn’t understand either, but the mutual confusion put aside his embarrassment and he watched her as a tear ran down her cheek. He remembered what Ulfert had said about not being able to go with him and thought he understood how she felt. The rain eased off and the smell of wet moss mingled with stew and peat smoke. It soon drove them outdoors. She didn’t look at him, although he could see she had her emotions under control.

“I am Marta. I will escort you to the High Council. We must go”, she swept back into the hovel. Patrick looked around the steaming landscape draped in a grey fog and listened to the stream in spate before he followed her in. She was dressed and strapped on her sword as he entered.

“Dress quickly, we have far to go and the journey will be hard for you”, she busied herself gathering domestic bits and pieces into a large leather sack.

“I’m sorry about your brother”.

She glanced at him and stuffed the sack malevolently, “It seems a poor exchange to me. You are no more than a child”, she finished packing and thought about her brother. She remembered their childhood, how she had always been the stronger. How Ulfert had wanted to be like her, a first-class

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

warrior, skilled with the sword and the bow and how it had grated when he became a worker of stone. Only when the High Council had heard of his craft and summoned him to Eridu did Ulfert consider himself equal with his sister and then, when he had learned the mysteries of Eridu, he was considered by all to be superior to the Warrior Princess. Now he was gone. Forever.

Patrick shrugged and finished dressing.

She set off at a blistering pace, following a path beside the fast flowing stream as it climbed the rolling hill behind the croft. He thought about calling after her, but decided that she needed her own time to get over her loss. The sun probed the thick cloud sending shafts of soft golden light to pierce the rolling down land etching the autumn shades with a thin golden film. The pastel colours entranced him and he stopped several times to examine plants he had never seen before except in books. Marta scurried back for him.

“Come, we must reach the forest before nightfall”.

She was gone again before he could ask why? He left the Military Orchid with it’s pink and white uniform and ran after her. Soon the open downs gave way to thin treed slopes which climbed into hills dark with massive oaks. The sun was setting at their backs, but rather than ease up, Marta increased her pace. Although she was carrying the heavy pack, she soon outdistanced him and was lost in the gathering gloom and thickening woodland.

“Hurry”, she called, but he couldn’t see her.

What’s the rush, he wondered and stopped for a breather, turning to survey the lowlands they had left behind. Through the thicket he could see dark shapes moving quickly across the trail they had taken. He was fascinated by their jaunting movements as they seemed to be smelling them out, darting this way and that, but drawing ever nearer.

“Patrick”, Marta shrieked, breaking the enchantment.

Suddenly he was filled with apprehension for the fast moving shapes and he

turned and ran. He wasn’t sure why, perhaps it was the simple fact that it was getting dark, perhaps it was the denser darkness of the creatures as they came ever closer, but whatever it was, he ran like the wind and fell into Marta’s arms, panting. She pushed him towards a great tree whose trunk was as thick as a house.

“Climb”, she spat and unslung her bow, notching an arrow into the fine cord. He watched her drop to one knee and bend the longbow, concentrating on the shadowy passage beneath the great hanging boughs. The string twanged and the shaft shot straight and true into the blackness. At the same moment,

thin long fingered hands grabbed his lapel and hoisted him into the tree. For a second he hung there struggling a few feet above the ground, then Marta pushed from below and in no time, he was amongst the branches. As he blinked in bewilderment, Marta came up beside him panting. “That was close”, she said. “Very”, a whistling sound uttered above him. Patrick looked up and stared into the fine, sharp features of a tall gangly man. He was dressed completely in green. His pointed ears stuck out from under a tall pointed hat and his long slim legs dangled from the branch above. The strange man’s scrawny features wrinkled and his thin lips parted in laughter. Patrick was speechless. The stranger’s laughter followed him up into the branches, climbing at an astonishing rate. Marta motioned for Patrick to follow and steadily they ascended into the leafy treetop where high pitched giggles greeted them. In the crown of the tree were wide wooden platforms stretched out across the branches. Peering over the edge, Patrick saw dozens of flashing eyes, obviously amused by his slow progress. Marta gave him a hand when necessary and soon, he was spread-eagled on a platform gasping for air. He dared not look down and tried not to think about how high he was. It was now quite dark, but the treetop was illuminated by hundreds of glow worms wagging their phosphorescent tails. Patrick stared at the scrawny people who gathered around to examine him. Even the children were taller than him, with limbs like branches and fingers like twigs. But it was their eyes that captured his attention. They flamed and burned with a bright green light, imitating the tails of the glow worms.

“Welcome. I am Victor, Principal of the Loughmore Wood-elves”, his saviour said, bowing from the waist. He was at least seven feet tall.

Patrick smiled nervously and stuttered a greeting.

Marta laughed and Patrick saw warmth in her eyes again. It cheered him and he got to his feet, holding out his hand to the elf.

Victor led them, followed by a large crowd, to a corner of the platform sheltered by a huge overhanging bough. Dried leaves were piled up to form deep mattresses. Marta dropped her sack and wiped her brow.

Patrick gauged the bed’s proximity to the edge and frowned. “Don’t worry, you won’t fall off”, she laughed, reading his expression.

Victor laughed too. It had a sound like tinkling bells and seemed to stir the leaves into a musical response. The glow worms danced and merriment filled the air. It was pierced by the howl of a wolf far below. Patrick shivered and felt a sudden chill grip him.

“Rest a while. I will send for you when our meal is ready”, Victor smiled and took the gathered group of onlookers away.

“They were wolves following us?”. Marta nodded and began unpacking the bag.

“Why didn’t you say?”Patrick sat down on the bed of leaves and looked up at her.

“Was it necessary? Do you not have wolves in your world?”, she threw a thick pelt at him.

“I suppose there are a few somewhere, but they never bother people”.

“It must be a strange world”.

Patrick burst out laughing and rocked back, disappearing into the lush leaves. She grabbed a flailing arm and pulled him up.

“What’s so funny?”, she asked, smiling.

“You, elves, enormous trees with cities in their tops and wolves at the bottom waiting to eat us and God knows what else and you say mine is a strange world!”, his laughter faded with fear and he sobbed.

Marta pitied him, drawing him close, “Is it all so strange to you?”. He wiped his nose on his sleeve and nodded.

“Tell me about your world. Do you have brothers and sisters?”.

He didn’t know where to begin, but talking seemed to ease the tension. He told her about the murder of his parents and his placement in the orphanage but soon found himself talking about his father.

“My dad was a lecturer in philosophy and anthropology at the University of Wales when I was born, so I suppose I’m not even Irish”.

Marta was building a list of questions when a youth invited them to follow him to the dinnePatrick was surprised at the opulence of what could best be described as a vaulted dining hall two levels above their room. It must have been the very canopy of the tree itself, for it seemed totally enclosed and reminded him of camping holidays with his dad in their igloo tent. This was a hundred times bigger. Glowworms had been gathered in baskets hung over a low central table, like chandeliers. Table cloths were made from broad leaves stitched together with silkworm thread. Circles of wood made excellent plates and wood goblets were placed by every setting. A quick count showed the table would seat thirty, but there were no chairs. Patrick was greeted and directed to the head of the table by Victor, who stood to his right, with Marta to his left. The other diners took what he assumed to be their usual positions and the group bowed their heads in silent prayer. An owl hooted somewhere in the woods and in unison, the elves squatted at the table cross legged. Patrick couldn’t help but laugh for their knees came up to their chins and their long thin elbows jutted across their neighbour’s chests. Marta scowled and he tried to restrain himself. He had to kneel, in order to reach the table top and it made his knees hurt. With each mouthful, he sat back on his haunches, disappearing from view, much to the amusement of the elves opposite. They ate consommé of leaf soup, and an excellent cold nut stew washed down with lime juice, enjoying light, happy conversation until the moon was high.

Patrick was bemused by the antics of the elves when bowls of fruit were placed in the centre of the table, they grabbed for the fruit the moment it was put down. The result was an internecine twisting of fragile looking limbs, all apparently interlocked in the bowls, with more delving in, but few seeming to come out. Victor snapped embarrassedly at his comrades and the branch-like arms slowly withdrew leaving the bowl still full of fruit.

Victor smiled and invited their honoured guest to choose first. Patrick took a large ripe apple and restrained a developing grin. Once the fruit reached his mouth, the melee began again and he could no longer contain his mirth.

Marta leaned forward to whisper, “They may be clumsy at the table, but no one can climb trees or manipulate the forest and its creatures the way these elves do”,

“I know, I’ve had first hand experience”, Patrick laughed.

Victor and a few of the closer elves joined in the laughter and Patrick relaxed amongst the strange creatures. Deep down, he wondered what he had gotten himself into and what other surprises lay in store.

Far below, a wolf howled and a shudder ran through him. None of the others even seemed to have noticed, they continued scrabbling for the last of the fruit, laughing at their own clumsiness. Patrick yawned and Marta smiled. Victor nodded, drawing the evening to a close.

The sun slanted seductively through the leaves, warming the air and stirring the sleepers into action. Marta packed whilst Patrick watched the children playing tag in the branches. The birds sang and the scent of late blossoms filled the air with a new joy. All thought and sound of wolves was gone.

“We must leave as soon as breakfast is finished”, “Is it far?”,

“With luck, two more days”, “What about the wolves?”

“The elves will keep them occupied”.

Patrick smiled, “What’s for breakfast, I’m starved?”.

Marta laughed and slapped his back almost as hard as Ulfert had once done, “Let’s go find out”.

Mixed nuts and crab apples were the fare, with lime juice and cold clear water to wash it down.

“Don’t they ever eat anything hot?”, Patrick asked.

A deathly hush fell on the gathering and Patrick was the focus of fifty fiery eyes. Marta leaned close and whispered.

“You must not even think of fire, it is their greatest enemy”.

Patrick, ashamed of his thoughtlessness, mumbled an apology and light conversation struck up again.

Half an hour later, they were saying their farewells and descending the thick trunk, weighted down with bundles of food.

Victor gazed deep into the boy’s eyes, “From your manner and appearance, I suspect you are still young. I do not know where you have come from, or where you will go, but I think I know something of your race. Humans are a paradox who know nothing of true values”, he gazed around for a moment at the massive oaks, “yet in you I see and feel something of greatness, a knowledge of things that matter, so I want to give you a gift”, he took a small box from his coat. Patrick gazed into his pale green eyes.

“You will not understand it now, but when you are much older, you will appreciate its true value. Care for it and it will reward you well”. Patrick opened the box and stared at small white seeds. As he looked, Victor leapt into the branches and was gone.

They waved at the canopy and set off down the leafy glades climbing ever higher where the trees began to thin and the oaks gave way to pines.

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When the pale sun reached its zenith they stopped to rest on an outcrop of rock close to the summit. Marta handed him black bread and a handful of nuts from her pack. He looked back down the hill and chewed mechanically, savouring the autumn sights and smells. In the distance, the sea glowed silver like a bright ribbon separating the land and the sky. He sighed and Marta glanced at him.

“Are you all right?”, “Fine”.

He stopped chewing and stared into the thin veil of trees below, sure that he had detected some movement. Marta followed his line of sight.

“What is it?”,

“I’m not sure, but I think we’re being followed”.

Marta quickly packed the bag and prepared her bow, “Can you tell who or what?”.

He shook his head, staring at stillness. He was sure he had seen something and the memory of wolves made him shudder. There was nothing there now. A Rock Nuthatch flew from a crevice startling him. Marta laughed, then fell silent at the look of concentration on his face. She readied her bow. Patrick put his face to the rock, close to where the bird had emerged. He could hear chirping from within and drew back. “There are young in there, I can hear them”.

Marta sighed and lowered the bow, “Is that it? Fledglings frightened you?”, she laughed.

“What’s the date?”, he asked, feeling the dry grass and looking at the dead leaves blown into the crevices by the north wind.

“Date? What is date?”,

“Day, month, year”, Patrick snapped.

Marta glared at him, “A moon and a half before the summer solstice and it’s this year, what other year could it be?”.

Patrick looked at her bewildered, “Mid May! You mean it’s spring?”, Marta nodded, “Then why does it appear to be autumn?”.

She returned the arrow to its quiver, “It has remained autumn since the Colour Stone was stolen last year. Life goes on, but the colour in our world fades and is not replaced by the changing seasons”,

“That’s terrible”, he murmured and scanned the vista once more. They finished their makeshift meal in silence.

The land dropped away sharply below them, disappearing into another forest stretching to the shores of a distant lake. Patrick tried to imagine where they were in relation to the world he knew. Although he was not familiar with this part of Antrim, he was sure there were no forests recorded on the maps he had seen. Far to the west, he could see a range of hills raising their purple crests to a pale blue sky. Marta stopped and glanced back at him. As she did, she caught sight of something moving behind them. She snatched at his arm and dragged him behind a rock, protecting him with her thickset torso.

He breathed deeply, concentrating his hearing and peering over her shoulder.

“Who is it?”,

“Varig, what are you doing here and why are you following us?”.

The stocky man came up beside her, “Monsor sent us. We tried to catch you before you left the elves, but you had already gone”,

“Does Monsor not think I can take care of him?” Marta placed her hands on her hips defiantly and Patrick came out of hiding.

“So this is The Patrick!”, Varig moved to examine him and his companions followed, “small isn’t he?”.

Marta smiled and Patrick pulled a face. “You didn’t answer my question”.

Varig turned to face her, “Monsor has no doubts about your abilities under ordinary circumstances, but these are troubled times”,

“I am aware of that”, Marta snapped. “Who’s Monsor?”, Patrick asked sheepishly. They ignored him and glowered at each other like school children.

“Visgoth knows that he is here and has sent his flying creature to find him. That is why Monsor thought that we should join you”.

“Visgoth I have heard of, but who’s Monsor and what’s this flying creature?”, Patrick asked more emphatically.

Marta sat down on a stone and scanned the empty skies nervously. She ignored Patrick and directed her question at Varig, “What does Monsor suggest?

Varig threw up his hands, “Nothing, except get to Eridu as quickly as possible. That is our mission, to assist you where we can. Shall we go?”. Marta looked at him for a long while. Patrick sensed that she didn’t altogether trust the newcomers and went to her side.

“Whatever you decide is fine by me”, he whispered, touching her shoulder gently.

“We must move soon”, Varig announced impatiently.

Marta gave him a cold stare and nodded, smiling up at Patrick and squeezing his hand reassuringly.

They moved quickly down the hillside and into the forest with Varig in front and the other two bringing up the rear. Patrick scanned the trees, half expecting to see elves peering down at him inquisitively, but all he saw were twisted branches and shrivelled leaves. He hurried to catch up with Marta.

“You don’t trust him do you?”, “Not entirely”,

“Why?”, she didn’t answer but kept glancing up at the sky. “What’s this flying creature?”,

“I’ll explain tonight, when we cross the lake. Stay close to me”. Patrick saw the beads of sweat on her brow, “You’re afraid aren’t you?”, “Save your breath, we have far to go before we reach safety. Not everyone is a friend”.

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The sun set behind the mountains as they broke from the trees onto a wide meadow skirting the shore. Patrick was sweating profusely from the effort of jogging for the past half hour or more. He sat down on the dew damp grass and ran his fingers through his wet hair. Marta stood over him, glowering at the vanguard. Varig gazed up and down the field cursing to himself.

“Well, where is he?”, she demanded.

Varig shrugged, “It is still early, he should be here”, “He isn’t. So what now?”. Patrick looked up at them, squared up to each other and appearing rather foolish, “Who are we talking about?”. “The Ferryman”, Marta snapped without taking her eyes from Varig.

“Perhaps he’s on the other side”, Patrick lay back and watched the gathering clouds.

“He should be here”, Varig insisted.

A wolf howled in the forest and Patrick jumped up to Marta’s side. The four warriors unslung their bows and formed a defensive semicircle around their charge.

“If you hadn’t delayed us on the track, we would have been on time”, Marta glowered and peered into the gathering gloom.

Patrick squinted at the white water beyond the shadow of the trees. Nothing moved and the wolf howled louder. He began searching the lake side for a defensive position. Further down was a small peninsular, jutting out into the water like a dark finger. Rocks, reeds and a few scattered trees. It seemed their best bet. He suggested it.

“It will hinder our bows”,

“But narrow their point of attack”, “True”.

“Then let’s go”.

The party moved cautiously, keeping their backs to the water and Patrick well screened. As they neared the spit of land, Marta began to laugh and broke into a run. The others followed and joined in her mirth.

“What’s funny?”, Patrick asked, sitting down on a rock.

“We will be safer here than we first thought. That was observant of you”,

“Was it? Why?”, he looked puzzled.

“The reeds. Don’t you know?”, Varig said unbelievingly. “No, what about them?”,

“They are singing reeds”, he laughed again.

Patrick looked inquiringly at Marta as the first of the great grey wolves leapt out of the forest some distance away.

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“Good God, they’re huge”, Patrick said, shaken.

The three men notched arrows and Marta moved to the water’s edge. Bending by the tall reeds swaying in the evening breeze, she began to hum a strange tune. The plants echoed and amplified her bass notes. Sound reverberated across the expanse of water and buffeted the tall trees. Patrick put his hands over his ears as the noise intensified. The leading wolf stopped in its tracks and several others circled around it, not sure what to do. Marta ceased singing, but the reeds continued the incantation keeping the massive beasts at bay.

“Will that hold them?”, Patrick asked over the humming.

“For a while, but more importantly, the Ferryman will hear and hopefully, he will come before it gets too dark”.

“And if he doesn’t?”.

Marta tried a smile. Patrick swallowed and scanned the open water, wishing for a boat. His eyes narrowed as he focused on the far shore.

The reeds kept up their chant and the wolves paced just beyond bowshot while the warriors picked the best defensive position available. The sky darkened and pinpricks of light pierced the void.

“Come on”, Marta pleaded as she too searched the water.

A she wolf howled as the moon rose and the pitch of the reeds changed, echoing the new sound. Marta began humming again.

“He isn’t coming, is he?”.

Marta shook her head, continuing her deep oppressive song. The wolves moved closer and Varig drew back his bow.

“Can’t we light a fire?”, Patrick enquired.

No one answered, but a breeze rustled the trees and the reeds quivered as their song died. The wolves raced forward in the lull.

Bow strings twanged and the arrows whistled. The pack faltered as three of their number fell. Varig and his men hastened to notch another arrow before the distance closed. Marta’s voice failed and she turned with her sword ready, pushing Patrick towards the water. He massaged the knot in his gut and began to sing.

“In the depths of man’s awakening, In the forest of his mind.

A tiny flame is flickering, That burns for all mankind.

In the politician’s jungle, Where all things gasp for air, Creepers try to strangle you, And bring men to despair.

For they spew forth dirty water, That washes men in hell,

And tries to douse the flame of life, And drown mankind as well.

Yet still the flame is flickering, It must not be put out,

Fuel the fire of living, The drowning voices shout.

Not many men did hear it, Most thought it was a cant,

For whilst we hear what we hear, We listen to what we want.

So with a new day dawning, As life begins again,

If the flame of life has not gone out, Let’s love men all the same”.

Shaky at first, his alto voice grew in confidence and the reeds responded. Soon his song was finished, but the reeds sang on, repeating every line with a thousand perfect pitch voices, over and over. He looked up at the faces of his four companions gathered around him. Surprised, he glanced at the meadow and saw only three still bodies. The wolves had gone.

“Where did you learn that song?”, Marta asked smiling.

“I wrote it when I first went to the orphanage. It was the first thing that came to mind”.

The singing reeds sang more softly and the wolves howled from a distance, expressing their anger at the nerve tingling tune.

“You must sing again. They will not come near while you sing”. “I can’t sing all night”,

“Nor will our arrows last”.

Patrick looked out across the dark water and began to sing. The haunting melody and powerful sentiment grew until the entire forest seemed to harmonise and take up the cause. The wolves cried from deeper in the forest, a forlorn wail as they retreated before the song’s assault.

Suddenly, he stopped singing and stared into the darkness, “He’s coming, the ferryman, he’s coming”.

They followed his line of sight and saw the lights on the water. Flickering blue flames flitting over the surface, swaying with the melody, dancing the tune and spreading out over the lake. They watched amazed as the lights separated into individual flames no bigger than the palm of a hand, forming a circle around the peninsular. A protective ring of smokeless fire.

“Fire Wraiths”, Marta murmured in awe, “I’ve never seen them before”.

The four warriors watched as the circle turned in tune with the reeds. “Will they harm us?”, Patrick asked.

Marta smiled, “No. They will stand guard whilst we sleep”.

Patrick sighed and watched the light show, “Where did they come from?”, “Mistral must have sent them. Come, rest”, she lay back against the rock and opened her arms to him, offering comfort and warmth.

The circle of Fire Wraiths were still there in the morning, even though the song was long gone. The companions rose to greet the dawn and the flames faded as the sun pierced the shadows, driving back the night and the fear of wolves. Marta seemed to have more respect for him since his song had apparently saved them and that pleased him, more than the breakfast did.

“Why don’t the wolves attack during the day?”, he asked as they ate and waited for the ferry.

“They never have”, she answered chewing on a stick of dried meat, “but recently, since the Stone was stolen, there have been reports of wolves close to communities. In fact, many strange things have begun to happen”.

“Such as?”.

Marta didn’t get the opportunity to answer as Varig announced the arrival of the ferry.

Patrick watched bemused as the wide ungainly craft approached the shore. The ferryman, standing on the raised stern, glowered at them. He was a giant of a man with thick red curly hair covering everything bar his eyes. Even his nose and mouth had disappeared behind the bushy growth.

“You were late, so don’t yell at me”, he hollered across the water.

Marta smiled and Varig cursed, but they were all ready as the barge bumped on the shore. They leapt aboard and a moment later, the boat backed off from the beach. Patrick watched the big man as he scrutinised the carcasses on the grass, he was easily twice the size of his companions, but in no way resembled their stocky muscular shape, nor did he carry their air of confidence. He was simply big and fat which puzzled Patrick. He expected that manipulating the big boat back and forth across the lake would have kept him slim. Then he realised that they were moving at no mean speed across the water without any apparent form of propulsion. He gazed around and walked from prow to stern, studying the craft. “What makes it go?”, he asked.

“Will power”, she grinned.

Patrick snorted and decided not to ask any more questions. He enjoyed the cool breeze blowing across the Lough and thought about the beautiful Fire Wraiths as they danced the night away.

Two more of Marta’s friends were waiting on the bank, holding the reins of seven stocky beasts. The short shaggy creatures pawed the earth impatiently. When the travellers had exchanged their greetings and the two newcomers had finished their inspection of Patrick, the group mounted and rode into the woods, heading west towards the mountains.

Patrick felt left out as the six conversed in a guttural tongue which was familiar, but indiscernible. They seemed to sway in unison, oblivious to the fact that they were on horseback, whilst he had to cling to the beast’s ragged mane just to stay upright. Before they reached the low foothills, Marta and the five men were some distance ahead. He struggled on regardless, trying to take in the sights and sounds while concentrating on remaining vertical and keeping a wary eye on his guides.

It was in a moment of seat adjustment that something fell from the trees, landing on the horse’s rump, startling both mount and rider. The little beast took off with a pace and gait which surprised and amazed its rider. If it hadn’t been for whatever clung to his back, Patrick would certainly have fallen. The sudden sound of galloping hooves attracted Marta’s attention and she turned to see Patrick, his mount and a small child careening towards her. She deftly avoided a collision and set off in pursuit of the runaways whilst her companions dissolved in laughter. It was some time before she caught them and brought the beast under control. Patrick was speechless, the horse snorted and the child giggled uncontrollably. They dismounted and tried to regain their composure, but the little girl was hysterical with laughter. She lay on the grass cackling and kicking. Marta watched her and smirked, Patrick stared and tried to wipe the fear from his brow. “That was a stupid thing to do”, he said at last.

Marta nodded in agreement, but couldn’t hide the amusement written on her face.

“It’s not funny Marta. I could have been killed”.

The little girl disintegrated in giggles again and began rolling about on the floor. Patrick turned away disgusted as the others rode up.

“Who is she?”, Varig asked.

Marta shrugged and the impish girl stopped laughing. She stared at them all in turn with a wry smile on her cheeky face.

“My name is Ira and I wish to go with you on your journey”,

“You have a strange way of introducing yourself”, the men laughed.

Ira giggled and performed a little dance. Patrick struggled to remount, trying to ignore the ignominy.

“Where are you from?”,

“East. My parents died when the water turned sour. I am looking for a new home and thought of this stranger as a suitable guardian, so I took to him”, she sniggered at Patrick and held out her small hand to be lifted up.

Patrick ignored her and Marta frowned, “Come child, ride with me and tell me more”.

Ira laughed and leapt lightly up behind the woman. The party continued their journey, this time keeping the unsteady Patrick in front. Marta asked many questions of the child, and whilst she answered them all as best she could, Marta still was not sure. Patrick sensed her concern, but she had felt the same way about Varig’s appearance and consequently, he disregarded her uncertainty.

As the day wore on, he became suspicious of the mischievous little one who plucked the feathers from Marta’s arrows and shot the stranger furtive glances. She poked out her tongue and grimaced each time she saw him studying her and after a while, took to hiding behind Marta. She was unlike any of the other people Patrick had seen on his journey. She certainly wasn’t an elf, nor was she like Marta’s people, whom he was beginning to think of as dwarfs. Even the smattering of people he had seen in the villages they began to pass didn’t resemble her peculiar, but strangely familiar features.

He guessed her age at about six or seven, yet she had the build of an older child and the intimation of a hunch on her broad back. Her blonde hair was incongruous with her grey complexion and dark eyes and he could swear that her ears, beneath her long locks, were pointed. Her nose flared far too much and her bottom jaw stuck out too far. That was it, she reminded him of a chimpanzee. He chuckled at the thought little monkey he decided he’d call her.

They didn’t stop at noon, although they were offered food and rest at several places along the route. Patrick assumed that they were getting close to their destination as the villages and farming communities became more frequent. They began to climb steeply, soon the fields and hedgerows were left behind. They followed a stony path around the contours of the mountain until they came upon a carved rock gatehouse straddling the road. The sun had already set and Patrick was pleased to dismount. Marta hailed the Keeper of the Rock.

Patrick rubbed his buttocks and watched the tower parapet as a stocky man of Marta’s clan leaned over.

“Who calls after sunset?”he boomed.

“It is I, Marta. I have brought The Patrick”.

“Then take him away and return after sunrise”. Marta stared in disbelief. She turned to her companions, confused, looking for inspiration.

“You cannot be serious Carrig. The High Council is waiting for him. Let us in immediately”,

“The stone is sealed, the orders set, come back on the morrow”.

With that, the Keeper turned and left the walls. Marta stared at the empty space, unsure of what to do. Patrick hobbled to her side.

“Can’t we go back to the village and sleep?”.

Marta turned on him, fury burning in her eyes. He flinched and backed away.

“This is unbelievable, the man is a fool. If the Council knew”, she didn’t finish, another voice, softer and more gentle, spoke from the tower.

“Be still Marta the Warrior, the Council knows what it knows. Come back in the morning, you cannot enter tonight”.

A sound like a spitting cat drew their attention and suddenly the child was gone. She disappeared into the shadows, adding to Marta’s dilemma. Marta snatched the reins of her mount and led the beast back down the track. The others followed, talking quietly. Patrick shrugged, grabbed the small horse by the ear and tagged along, thankful that he didn’t have to

ride again. Something in him was glad that Ira had disappeared, but the whole business was beginning to puzzle him more and more. The entire journey was undertaken in an attitude of haste, and yet, now that they were here, they were told to come back tomorrow like overzealous tourists. Marta was obviously upset. He hurried to catch up with her.

“What’s going on?” he shouted.

She turned with a face like fury and he stopped in his tracks. Even when she faced the wolves, she hadn’t looked the warrior she did now. He stroked the beast’s nose as she came towards him burning with anger.

“I do not know Patrick. What I do know is that my brother gave up his life so that you could be here. You believe this is all a dream and it means nothing to you, but the greatest insult of all”, her passion came to the boil and Patrick winced. At that moment, a brilliant blue flash startled the horses and threw the group back on their heels. Inches from his face, a tiny blue flame burned, flaring at any who came near. Marta backed away and the fire subsided.

Patrick stared at the Fire Wraith, mesmerised. As long as they kept away, its flame flickered no bigger than a match. It seemed to want to isolate him, or was it just protecting him?

It said, he didn’t hear it, only experienced the words in his mind; “I am Carina, I am appointed to watch over you, you will not always see me for I may harm your beautiful eyes, but I will be there close to you”, I am appointed to watch over you, you will not see me, for I may damage your valuable eyes, but I will always be close to you”.

Patrick watched in absolute amazement as the tiny blue flame spiralled upward at incredible speed to disappear amongst the stars.

Wallace Memorial – Stirling, Scotland


The night was surprisingly cold. An ill wind blew from the north, screaming through the shutters and tearing at the fabric of the thatched roof, sending showers of straw and dust on the weary travellers. Patrick curled up in a tight ball. His teeth chattered and he blew on his fingers to try to warm them. Even the thick pelt seemed impoverished by that biting wind.

Marta lay on her back in the opposite corner with her hands clasped behind her head. She stared at the stars as they were exposed and covered again by the gusting wind. Her fury had subsided, but anger smouldered in the pit of her belly. She could hear the sentries she had set stamping their feet in an effort to keep warm and she cursed the Council for their rebuff. Patrick sneezed and tried to hide beneath the inadequate blanket. Marta sighed at the blue star, lambent, directly above them and threw back her cover. She trailed it behind as she walked over to the shivering boy, smiling reassuringly at the guardian flame. She lay down beside him, drawing him close and spreading her coverlet over them both. He opened one eye and smiled before snuggling deep into her bosom. The star paled and the wind howled more fiercely.

“I’m sorry about my temper Patrick. It was not meant for you”, “I know”, he whispered, “I’ll save mine for tomorrow”.

She sniggered and held him tight, sharing mutual body heat.

They woke only once, when Varig issued a challenge. Whatever it was scampered off without response and they slept soundly until dawn.

The wind had died, but a chill remained making it difficult for Patrick to release her to her duties. She pushed him off with a grin and brushed the accumulated dust from her thick hair before going outside. Patrick was still trying to sleep when the smell of hot broth assailed him, drawing first a face, then the complete head from beneath the animal skins.

“Hot food! What’s the occasion?’

She laughed at him and drew the bowl under his nose, “Eat quickly, I want to be at the Gate as soon as the sun is set on its course”.

He took the bowl, thrust out the other hand from beneath the warm pit and snatched the wooden spoon from her. The first spoonful burned his mouth, but the warmth spread quickly chasing the last of the fatigue from his weary limbs. Marta went to question Varig about the intruder. He could tell her nothing, but a warrior’s instinct for danger and the flare of a star in the heavens.

The massive stone rolled back with much groaning and scrapping, raising little puffs of white dust from the rocky roadway. Carrig, the Keeper, stood feet apart, hands on hips just inside the portal with a thin smile on his old lips. Marta led the group forward and boldly strode the few yards to face the man squarely, glowering at him.

“Don’t blame me Marta. I follow orders like you”.

“Step aside you oaf and let The Patrick pass through”. Carrig grinned, bowed low and stepped back to the side of the track as the party led their mounts through the great gate. Patrick noticed the old man grin and wink. He responded with half a smile, concentrating on his footing and trying to determine where the massive blocking boulder had gone.

He was about to ask Marta when she ordered them to mount, taking on the air of dignity befitting the Warrior Princess. The road became smoother as it curled around the mountain side and a small wall sprang up guarding the precipice. Trees and shrubs of all kinds flourished along the road side and birds sang their song of summer. The air grew warm and scented with rose and mimosa blossom, incongruous to the grey, barren land beyond the gateway. Patrick turned anxiously to look back down the path, but the mountain side obscured the gatehouse. When he turned back, the sight took his breath away. He snatched at the little horse’s mane as he almost fell. The path ran straight and true along a ridge into a cauldron formed by three separate peaks of the one mountain. Two towers and a high bridge spanned the road as it entered the crater. Through the gap, Patrick could see crystal towers glinting in the brilliant sunlight. The secret city was resplendent with multi coloured banners flying from every vantage point and the road was skirted by thousands of people called out to greet them. Marta’s head raised high as they drew near the crowds and a chant of welcome stirred the air. Children began to throw garlands of flowers and leafy boughs in their path as the riders approached and Patrick wondered if their entry had been delayed until all the complex arrangements had been made. He would have been just as happy to have arrived quietly the night before and he was sure that Marta would feel the same. Nonetheless, she was responding to the situation far better than he. She nodded politely to the crowd and acknowledged the salutes of the soldiers lining the route. Patrick waved nervously, unsure of taking his hand from the beast’s mane. They passed under the bridge and stopped as a mounted guard of Marta’s people waited to greet them. Varig and his warriors peeled off and the new guard dispersed around Marta and her charge.

“Welcome to Eridu, the Place of Creation. Please accompany us to the Council Chamber where you will be formally received”, the Captain uttered officially for all the crowd to hear.

A cheer rang out and Marta nodded curtly. The procession set off and the crowd closed in behind them. More flowers were thrown from the windows as the group passed beneath and Patrick wondered how these fresh blossoms had survived the stagnant seasons since the stealing of the stone. He didn’t ponder long as the beauty of the city captivated all his thoughts. The graceful buildings seemed to be carved from single pieces of granite, for there was not a joint in sight. The windows were shuttered in highly polished woods, ranging from pine in the smaller dwellings, to mahogany and ebony on the richly engraved palaces. As they climbed higher, moving nearer the centre of the city, the buildings became more magnificent in design and construction. Great flying buttresses soared into the sky, serving no real purpose but pleasure to the eye. Spires of gleaming stone pointed to the heavens like fingers of acclamation bearing banners of burghers and princes. It was like a fairy tale town turned out to greet, not Patrick, but the very essence of life and beauty. He stumbled, but the alert soldiers put out a hand to steady him, smiling at his clumsiness. Suddenly, the proud, elegant buildings parted, revealing a wide, golden paved plaza with fountains and gem strewn pavements.

At the centre of the park towered a castle, the like of which he had never dreamed.

The walls were purest white, polished to reflect the gold of the sun. It’s pinnacles are crowned like trees and for portals, arched rainbows. He counted seven tall towers, each bearing a different banner, but in the centre, surrounded and guarded by the others, was a huge dome made from glass hexagons interlinked so that every aspect was open to view from every side. The dome reflected the exquisite towers which in turn were cloaked by the three lofty peaks, all rising in one embrace to the centre where their tips seemed to touch.

Amit Chariit Mosque, Istanbul

Patrick starred in awed silence, unable to take his eyes from the edifice. It was beyond his wildest imagination. Totally out of context with the rest of the strange world he had seen on this fantastic journey. It was only when his feet touched the ground that he realised that one of the soldiers had lifted him from his horse. The troopers led the mounts away and Patrick followed the Captain and Marta meekly down the concourse.

He wanted to stop many times to examine the unusual flora and fauna of the gardens, but his guardians hurried him along. The crowd of well-wishers remained behind when the trio entered the citadel. In spite of the height of the towering walls, the sun seemed to penetrate everywhere, leaving no shadow. The air was still and filled with magical scents titillating the senses and inspiring the taste buds. Patrick tried to turn in every direction at once and only the occasional steadying hand of Marta prevented him from stumbling up a shimmering staircase ascending to the dome. A glass hexagon swung inwards to admit them and a blast of cool sweet air swept past as they entered.

The light was more subdued, but no less omnipresent within. Patrick gazed at the vaulted roof and stared amazed as the seven towers and three peaks appeared to hang over them, meeting in harmony at the centre. His eyes dropped, following the line of a beautiful tree from the crown of the dome to the floor. Spread uniformly around the tree were immense carvings of wood and stone. Intermixed with the statues were natural outcrops of mineral bearing rock, scattered trees and shrubs. It all seemed to fit in place as if ordered in disorder. From the base of the central tree sprang a stream of silver water which coursed its way through the monoliths and out into the city, sparkling in the sunlight. Pathways of gemstones wound around the fantastic park, guiding the visitor through the exhibits of ethereal art; all leading the eye on to the centre. Patrick had an impulse to walk the nearest path to the heart of this capricious place and lie down beneath the tree, but Marta nudged him as a group of seven drew near. A fanfare of trumpets filled the air, demanding attention and wrestling Patrick’s mind back to the present.

“It is the full council”, Marta whispered. Patrick was too overwhelmed by sensation to care.

“Patrick Cormack, welcome to Eridu. We are honoured by your presence”, the group bowed slow and low in unity of movement, like the flowing of a stream or the budding of a bloom.

He blushed, uncertain of what to say or do. How could his presence possibly bring honour to a place such as this? “Thank you”, he murmured nervously.

“I am Horus”, the man said, bowing again, his face and manner glowing like the sun. “And this is Monsor”. A taller, stronger man of dark complexion stepped forward and smiled. “Nimbus”. A white haired rotund fellow moved forward and bowed low. “The lovely Eartha”. An elegant, refined woman smiled and lowered her noble head. “Mistral”. A tall graceful young woman stepped from the back of the group and bowed. “And finally, my daughter, The Lady Solitaire”. The most beautiful woman Patrick had ever seen moved aside from the group and smiled sweetly. The remaining male, taller, in spite of his apparent stoop, with long white beard and silver hair coughed. “Oh yes, this is Fingool”. The old man smiled, placed his long black staff firmly on the floor and bowed. “He is not a member of the council as such, merely an advisor”, Horus went on.

Patrick bobbed in deference to them all, but couldn’t take his eyes from Solitaire.

“You will be weary from your journey, we have appointed rooms for you where you may refresh yourself. Ask for anything you wish. We will meet again soon to discuss our plan”, Horus, the apparent leader bowed once more and swept from the dome in a blaze of colour and light. The others followed, leaving Patrick alone with Marta and the Captain.

Patrick gazed after them, totally bewildered by it all, Marta snarled, “I see the Lady of the Lake has captured your attention. Come, we will go to our rooms and you can bathe and prepare yourself”, he followed her lamely. The Captain of the Guard left them at an ornately carved entrance and bowed deferentially. Marta saluted him and pushed open the heavy door, propelling the bewildered youth inside. Fingool was there waiting.

Marta marched straight up to him and glared up at his face, a good eighteen inches above her own. Patrick went to the nearest window and stared out across the magnificent city.

Fingool’s green eyes twinkled and his mustache twitched with amusement at the diminutive girl scowling at him. He rested a long thin hand on her shoulder and smiled.

“Don’t dare patronise me you old wizard. Why did you deny us entry last night?”, Marta placed her hands on her hips to emphasise her anger, “and don’t tell me it was to give you time to prepare that farce”.

Fingool rocked back and laughed heartily, bringing Patrick’s attention back to the room, “Didn’t you enjoy the little charade? What about you Colour speaker, did you appreciate it?”, he glanced at Patrick’s face and needed no answer.

“He is smitten by the Lady Solitaire, it’s no use talking to him”, “I am not”, Patrick protested weakly. Fingool and Marta laughed. Patrick returned his attention to the window and the sights below. The old man took Marta’s arm and drew her to one side, “You could not enter for you kept bad company”,


“Yes, the Mimicky. It is Visgoth’s flying creature”.

Marta let out a low whistle and glanced over at the young man. He was entranced by the children at play in the park.

“Did it mean him harm?”

“Most certainly. Visgoth may not have the Colour Stone, but he more than any has no reason to want it returned. Be sure that he will do all possible to prevent our innocent young friend from accomplishing his task. But do not fear my little fire ball, you were well protected last night and I have convinced the Council to make every consideration available to you for your journey”, the old man smiled.

Marta nodded and searched the ancient face, “Are they still united in the desire to restore the stone?”.

The weary old face frowned and his hunched shoulders shrugged a little, “As much as they ever were, but Tempest has left the city. The young hot head believes that if he is not here, it will not affect him”, he smiled wryly.

“And will it?”,

“Of course. It will affect us all, whether he succeeds or not”.

They turned together and looked at the boy by the window, studying him for a while.

“Is he fully aware of what he is about to do?”, Fingool asked. Marta shook her head, “He behaves as if it were a dream”.

The old magician cocked an eyebrow and walked over to stand by the boy, motioning for Marta to leave them alone. She went through to the bathing chamber where she began to run a hot, deep bath. Patrick watched the children at play, laughing and dancing in the garden. Their fine woven tunics, flared at the knee, swept behind them like faithful followers as they danced a circle reminiscent of Ring-a-ring-a-roses. Patrick suddenly came upright and was about to cry out. Fingool rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “watch”, he whispered.

A full grown male lion padded out of the bushes and stalked the children. They were lost in the magic of play. Suddenly it pounced, knocking three of them down and then ran back into the shrubs. The children screamed with delight, running after the beast. A moment later, they reappeared, frolicking together on the lush green grass. Two of the boys clung to it’s thick red mane whilst the lion tried to shake them off and a little girl hung determinedly to the massive beast’s tail. Patrick laughed, as much with relief as anything else.

“So”, Fingool said, grasping Patrick’s shoulders and turning him face to face, “you are the Colour Speaker. Not what I expected, but then, why should you suit my imagination?”, he chuckled.

Patrick grinned, “Can’t say that you’re what I expected either. Shouldn’t you be wearing a pointed hat or something?”.

Fingool laughed. At least the lad had a sense of humour. “So you think we are all part of a dream do you?”,

“Of course. What other explanation can there be?”, “You sound convinced”.

“It stands to reason”, he said, turning back to the open window, “look at it”, he waved his arm across the city. Fingool followed his gaze. “If this were real, there would be some archaeological evidence of it. And her, he pointed to the door where Marta’s muted tones were coming from, “she’s a dwarf, from a race of warrior dwarfs, and the elves, that Ira creature, the Fire Wraiths, all of it. Not a shred of evidence for your

existence. I’ll play along until it’s time to wake up and then I’ll try to remember the parts I’ve enjoyed”.

“An astute point of view Patrick Cormack, but what if you are wrong? What if your dream is capable of killing you?”,

“It isn’t”,

“No?”, Fingool chortled.

“Of course not. The worst that can happen is that I’ll fall out of bed and wake up with a few bruises”,

“Really?”, The old man put his hands under the boy’s arms and lifted him easily onto the window ledge. Patrick snatched at Fingool’s grey cloak, glancing back at the sixty foot drop.

“Have you ever dreamed that you were falling, and just before you hit the ground you woke up?”,

“Yes”, Patrick answered, swaying precariously.

“Then to escape this quest, all you need to do is step backwards and fall out of bed”, Fingool let him go.

Patrick gripped the rough material tightly and stared into the gleaming green eyes of his tormentor.

“Doubts my young friend?”,

“Not at all. It’s just that I’m enjoying this bit in particular”.

The old man roared with laughter and Marta came back into the room rubbing her hair with a thick towel.

“Fingool”, she screamed hurrying over, “are you mad?”, she clung to his back and tried to reach out to Patrick.

“No Marta. Our troubadour here thinks that he can end this at will. That will be dangerous for you the moment the going gets tough. He must make a decision now, before you begin or we shall all die pointlessly”.

Patrick looked at the expression of panic on Marta’s face, then at the cool confidence emanating from the old man’s The night was surprisingly cold. An ill wind blew from the north, screaming through the shutters and tearing at the fabric of the thatched roof, sending showers of straw and dust on the weary travellers. Patrick curled up in a tight ball. His teeth chattered and he blew on his fingers to try to warm them. Even the thick pelt seemed impoverished by that biting wind.

Marta lay on her back in the opposite corner with her hands clasped behind her head. She stared at the stars as they were exposed and covered again by the gusting wind. Her fury had subsided, but anger smouldered in the pit of her belly. She could hear the sentries she had set stamping their feet in an effort to keep warm and she cursed the Council for their rebuff. Patrick sneezed and tried to hide beneath the inadequate blanket. Marta sighed at the blue star, lambent, directly above them and threw back her cover. She trailed it behind as she walked over to the shivering boy, smiling reassuringly at the guardian flame. She lay down beside him, drawing him close and spreading her coverlet over them both. He opened one eye and smiled before snuggling deep into her bosom. The star paled and the wind howled more fiercely.

“I’m sorry about my temper Patrick. It was not meant for you”, “I know”, he whispered, “I’ll save mine for tomorrow”.

She sniggered and held him tight, sharing mutual body heat.

They woke only once, when Varig issued a challenge. Whatever it was scampered off without response and they slept soundly until dawn.

The wind had died, but a chill remained making it difficult for Patrick to release her to her duties. She pushed him off with a grin and brushed the accumulated dust from her thick hair before going outside. Patrick was still trying to sleep when the smell of hot broth assailed him, drawing first a face, then the complete head from beneath the animal skins.

“Hot food! What’s the occasion?’

She laughed at him and drew the bowl under his nose, “Eat quickly, I want to be at the Gate as soon as the sun is set on its course”.

He took the bowl, thrust out the other hand from beneath the warm pit and snatched the wooden spoon from her. The first spoonful burned his mouth, but the warmth spread quickly chasing the last of the fatigue from his weary limbs. Marta went to question Varig about the intruder. He could tell her nothing, but a warrior’s instinct for danger and the flare of a star in the heavens.

The massive stone rolled back with much groaning and scrapping, raising little puffs of white dust from the rocky roadway. Carrig, the Keeper, stood feet apart, hands on hips just inside the portal with a thin smile on his old lips. Marta led the group forward and boldly strode the few yards to face the man squarely, glowering at him.

“Don’t blame me Marta. I follow orders like you”.

“Step aside you oaf and let The Patrick pass through”. Carrig grinned, bowed low and stepped back to the side of the track as the party led their mounts through the great gate. Patrick noticed the old man grin and wink. He responded with half a smile, concentrating on his footing and trying to determine where the massive blocking boulder had gone.

He was about to ask Marta when she ordered them to mount, taking on the air of dignity befitting the Warrior Princess. The road became smoother as it curled around the mountain side and a small wall sprang up guarding the precipice. Trees and shrubs of all kinds flourished along the road side and birds sang their song of summer. The air grew warm and scented with rose and mimosa blossom, incongruous to the grey, barren land beyond the gateway. Patrick turned anxiously to look back down the path, but the mountain side obscured the gatehouse. When he turned back, the sight took his breath away. He snatched at the little horse’s mane as he almost fell. The path ran straight and true along a ridge into a cauldron formed by three separate peaks of the one mountain. Two towers and a high bridge spanned the road as it entered the crater. Through the gap, Patrick could see crystal towers glinting in the brilliant sunlight. The secret city was resplendent with multi-coloured banners flying from every vantage point and the road was skirted by thousands of people called out to greet them. Marta’s head raised high as they drew near the crowds and a chant of welcome stirred the air. Children began to throw garlands of flowers and leafy boughs in their path as the riders approached and Patrick wondered if their entry had been delayed until all the complex arrangements had been made. He would have been just as happy to have arrived quietly the night before and he was sure that Marta would feel the same. Nonetheless, she was responding to the situation far better than he. She nodded politely to the crowd and acknowledged the salutes of the soldiers lining the route. Patrick waved nervously, unsure of taking his hand from the beast’s mane. They passed under the bridge and stopped as a mounted guard of Marta’s people waited to greet them. Varig and his warriors peeled off and the new guard dispersed around Marta and her charge.

“Welcome to Eridu, the Place of Creation. Please accompany us to the Council Chamber where you will be formally received”, the Captain uttered officially for all the crowd to hear.

A cheer rang out and Marta nodded curtly. The procession set off and the crowd closed in behind them. More flowers were thrown from the windows as the group passed beneath and Patrick wondered how these fresh blossoms had survived the stagnant seasons since the stealing of the stone. He didn’t ponder long as the beauty of the city captivated all his thoughts. The graceful buildings seemed to be carved from single pieces of granite, for there was not a joint in sight. The windows were shuttered in highly polished woods, ranging from pine in the smaller dwellings, to mahogany and ebony on the richly engraved palaces. As they climbed higher, moving nearer the centre of the city, the buildings became more magnificent in design and construction. Great flying buttresses soared into the sky, serving no real purpose but pleasure to the eye. Spires of gleaming stone pointed to the heavens like fingers of acclamation bearing banners of burghers and princes. It was like a fairy tale town turned out to greet, not Patrick, but the very essence of life and beauty. He stumbled, but the alert soldiers put out a hand to steady him, smiling at his clumsiness. Suddenly, the proud, elegant buildings parted, revealing a wide, golden paved plaza with fountains and gem strewn pavements.

At the centre of the park towered a castle, the like of which he had never dreamed.

The walls were purest white, polished to reflect the gold of the sun. It’s pinnacles are crowned like trees and for portals, arched rainbows. He counted seven tall towers, each bearing a different banner, but in the centre, surrounded and guarded by the others, was a huge dome made from glass hexagons interlinked so that every aspect was open to view from every side. The dome reflected the exquisite towers which in turn were cloaked by the three lofty peaks, all rising in one embrace to the centre where their tips seemed to touch.

Patrick starred in awed silence, unable to take his eyes from the edifice. It was beyond his wildest imagination. Totally out of context with the rest of the strange world he had seen on this fantastic journey. It was only when his feet touched the ground that he realised that one of the soldiers had lifted him from his horse. The troopers led the mounts away and Patrick followed the Captain and Marta meekly down the concourse.

He wanted to stop many times to examine the unusual flora and fauna of the gardens, but his guardians hurried him along. The crowd of well wishers remained behind when the trio entered the citadel. In spite of the height of the towering walls, the sun seemed to penetrate everywhere, leaving no shadow. The air was still and filled with magical scents titillating the senses and inspiring the taste buds. Patrick tried to turn in every direction at once and only the occasional steadying hand of Marta prevented him from stumbling up a shimmering staircase ascending to the dome. A glass hexagon swung inwards to admit them and a blast of cool sweet air swept past as they entered.

The light was more subdued, but no less omnipresent within. Patrick gazed at the vaulted roof and stared amazed as the seven towers and three peaks appeared to hang over them, meeting in harmony at the centre. His eyes dropped, following the line of a beautiful tree from the crown of the dome to the floor. Spread uniformly around the tree were immense carvings of wood and stone. Intermixed with the statues were natural outcrops of mineral bearing rock, scattered trees and shrubs. It all seemed to fit in place as if ordered in disorder. From the base of the central tree sprang a stream of silver water which coursed its way through the monoliths and out into the city, sparkling in the sunlight. Pathways of gemstones wound around the fantastic park, guiding the visitor through the exhibits of ethereal art; all leading the eye on to the centre. Patrick had an impulse to walk the nearest path to the heart of this capricious place and lie down beneath the tree, but Marta nudged him as a group of seven drew near. A fanfare of trumpets filled the air, demanding attention and wrestling Patrick’s mind back to the present.

“It is the full council”, Marta whispered. Patrick was too overwhelmed by sensation to care.

“Patrick Cormack, welcome to Eridu. We are honoured by your presence”, the group bowed slow and low in unity of movement, like the flowing of a stream or the budding of a bloom.

He blushed, uncertain of what to say or do. How could his presence

possibly bring honour to a place such as this? “Thank you”, he murmured nervously.

“I am Horus”, the man said, bowing again, his face and manner glowing like the sun. “And this is Monsor”. A taller, stronger man of dark complexion stepped forward and smiled. “Nimbus”. A white haired rotund fellow moved forward and bowed low. “The lovely Eartha”. An elegant, refined woman smiled and lowered her noble head. “Mistral”. A tall graceful young woman stepped from the back of the group and bowed. “And finally, my daughter, The Lady Solitaire”. The most beautiful woman Patrick had ever seen moved aside from the group and smiled sweetly. The remaining male, taller, in spite of his apparent stoop, with long white beard and silver hair coughed. “Oh yes, this is Fingool”. The old man smiled, placed his long black staff firmly on the floor and bowed. “He is not a member of the council as such, merely an advisor”, Horus went on.

Patrick bobbed in deference to them all, but couldn’t take his eyes from Solitaire.

“You will be weary from your journey, we have appointed rooms for you where you may refresh yourself. Ask for anything you wish. We will meet again soon to discuss our plan”, Horus, the apparent leader bowed once more and swept from the dome in a blaze of colour and light. The others followed, leaving Patrick alone with Marta and the Captain.

Patrick gazed after them, totally bewildered by it all, Marta snarled, “I see the Lady of the Lake has captured your attention. Come, we will go to our rooms and you can bathe and prepare yourself”, he followed her lamely. The Captain of the Guard left them at an ornately carved entrance and bowed deferentially. Marta saluted him and pushed open the heavy door, propelling the bewildered youth inside. Fingool was there waiting.

Marta marched straight up to him and glared up at his face, a good eighteen inches above her own. Patrick went to the nearest window and stared out across the magnificent city.

Fingool’s green eyes twinkled and his moustache twitched with amusement at the diminutive girl scowling at him. He rested a long thin hand on her shoulder and smiled.

“Don’t dare patronise me you old wizard. Why did you deny us entry last night?”, Marta placed her hands on her hips to emphasise her anger, “and don’t tell me it was to give you time to prepare that farce”.

Fingool rocked back and laughed heartily, bringing Patrick’s attention back to the room, “Didn’t you enjoy the little charade? What about you Colour speaker, did you appreciate it?”, he glanced at Patrick’s face and needed no answer.

“He is smitten by the Lady Solitaire, it’s no use talking to him”, “I am not”, Patrick protested weakly. Fingool and Marta laughed. Patrick returned his attention to the window and the sights below. The old man took Marta’s arm and drew her to one side, “You could not enter for you kept bad company”,


“Yes, the Mimicky. It is Visgoth’s flying creature”.

Marta let out a low whistle and glanced over at the young man. He was entranced by the children at play in the park.

“Did it mean him harm?”

“Most certainly. Visgoth may not have the Colour Stone, but he more than any has no reason to want it returned. Be sure that he will do all possible to prevent our innocent young friend from accomplishing his task. But do not fear my little fire ball, you were well protected last night and I have convinced the Council to make every consideration available to you for your journey”, the old man smiled.

Marta nodded and searched the ancient face, “Are they still united in the desire to restore the stone?”.

The weary old face frowned and his hunched shoulders shrugged a little, “As much as they ever were, but Tempest has left the city. The young hot head believes that if he is not here, it will not affect him”, he smiled wryly.

“And will it?”,

“Of course. It will affect us all, whether he succeeds or not”.

They turned together and looked at the boy by the window, studying him for a while.

“Is he fully aware of what he is about to do?”, Fingool asked. Marta shook her head, “He behaves as if it were a dream”.

The old magician cocked an eyebrow and walked over to stand by the boy, motioning for Marta to leave them alone. She went through to the bathing chamber where she began to run a hot, deep bath.

Patrick watched the children at play, laughing and dancing in the garden. Their fine woven tunics, flared at the knee, swept behind them like faithful followers as they danced a circle reminiscent of Ring-a-ring-a-roses. Patrick suddenly came upright and was about to cry out. Fingool rested a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “watch”, he whispered.

A full grown male lion padded out of the bushes and stalked the children. They were lost in the magic of play. Suddenly it pounced, knocking three of them down and then ran back into the shrubs. The children screamed with delight, running after the beast. A moment later, they reappeared, frolicking together on the lush green grass. Two of the boys clung to it’s thick red mane whilst the lion tried to shake them off and a little girl hung determinedly to the massive beast’s tail. Patrick laughed, as much with relief as anything else.

“So”, Fingool said, grasping Patrick’s shoulders and turning him face to face, “you are the Colour Speaker. Not what I expected, but then, why should you suit my imagination?”, he chuckled.

Patrick grinned, “Can’t say that you’re what I expected either. Shouldn’t you be wearing a pointed hat or something?”.

Fingool laughed. At least the lad had a sense of humour. “So you think we are all part of a dream do you?”,

“Of course. What other explanation can there be?”, “You sound convinced”.

“It stands to reason”, he said, turning back to the open window, “look at it”, he waved his arm across the city. Fingool followed his gaze. “If this were real, there would be some archaeological evidence of it. And her, he pointed to the door where Marta’s muted tones were coming from, “she’s a dwarf, from a race of warrior dwarfs, and the elves, that Ira creature, the Fire Wraiths, all of it. Not a shred of evidence for your

existence. I’ll play along until it’s time to wake up and then I’ll try to remember the parts I’ve enjoyed”.

“An astute point of view Patrick Cormack, but what if you are wrong? What if your dream is capable of killing you?”,

“It isn’t”,

“No?”, Fingool chortled.

“Of course not. The worst that can happen is that I’ll fall out of bed and wake up with a few bruises”,

“Really?”, The old man put his hands under the boy’s arms and lifted him easily onto the window ledge. Patrick snatched at Fingool’s grey cloak, glancing back at the sixty foot drop.

“Have you ever dreamed that you were falling, and just before you hit the ground you woke up?”,

“Yes”, Patrick answered, swaying precariously.

“Then to escape this quest, all you need to do is step backwards and fall out of bed”, Fingool let him go.

Patrick gripped the rough material tightly and stared into the gleaming green eyes of his tormentor.

“Doubts my young friend?”,

“Not at all. It’s just that I’m enjoying this bit in particular”.

The old man roared with laughter and Marta came back into the emerald eyes, “All right you crazy weirdo’s, Goodbye”, he let go and began to fall.

Marta screamed. The children looked up and Fingool summoned Hagar. Patrick twisted and turned as he plummeted earthwards. He expected the scene to change. He imagined his bedroom carpet and Seamus’ bed a few feet away, but all he saw was the green grass pressing to meet him. He opened his mouth to scream, but the rushing air drew all the breath from his lungs and he gagged. A split second before he hit the ground, he felt a stabbing pain in his shoulder and the grass began to recede.

He awoke some time later lying on a cool marble slab with soft gentle hands massaging his sore back. He moaned as much with pleasure at the touch as with the pain. He sensed people move closer and opened one eye. Horus stood glowering down at him. He closed his eye and turned to face the other way. The ministering hands withdrew and he looked upon the lovely face of Solitaire. She smiled gently and reached out to begin the manipulation again.

“Fingool will pay for this foolery”, Horus snarled.

Patrick reluctantly pushed himself up and turned round, snatching at a towel to cover his nakedness. The entire council was there together with Fingool and Marta. She looked as much concerned over the attentions of Solitaire than the near demise of her ward.

“Don’t blame Fingool, he was right to do what he did. I am the one guilty of foolery, I thought you were all a dream”, he looked at Solitaires smile and melted inside with embarrassment.

Fingool sniggered,”Well said my brave young friend, but I owe you an apology, not for what I did, but for Hagar’s clumsiness in recovering you”.

“Hagar? Who’s Hagar?”, “Mostly he’s a hawk”.

Patrick grinned, nodding knowingly, “Mostly he’s a hawk. You’re too much old man, do you know that?”.

“It’s what I tell everyone”, the magician laughed and the two embraced like old friends. Patrick was maturing fast.

Solitaire’s voice swept over him like the gentle tumbling of a water fall, “You must bathe Patrick, to soak away the tension. The wounds will heal with the help of the balm I have administered”.

He nodded and smiled at her laughing eyes. The members of the council left whilst Marta poured a thick fluid into the steaming bath set in the floor. Patrick rubbed his face wearily and, clutching the towel to his groin, slid from the slab and stepped into the bath. Marta watched him.

“You can go now Guardian”, the watery voice said from behind.

Marta scowled and Patrick ducked under the water. It stung his eyes and his back. Solitaire floated across the floor to stand beside the wide tub, smiling down at him. He came up spluttering, trying not to show the pain and distress. She appeared as Athena standing over him in her silver gown and flowing hair. He smiled nervously, keeping only his head above water. She gave a little laugh and drew up a stool beside the steaming bath. “Tell me about yourself”, she asked with a grin, resting her elbow on her knee and staring at him.

“I’m used to bathing alone if you don’t mind”.

Marta watched from the door for a while and went off to find Fingool.

She found him in his rooms staring at the great glass dome. He greeted her without turning. She stood beside him, feeling his concern as their thoughts entwined.

“So you have left them alone?”. She nodded.

“They are no more than children, let them play for there is little time left for any of us”, Fingool continued his examination of the dome.

“You think he will fail then?”.

He turned to face her bearing a smile, “Not necessarily, but for us, I suspect that it will make no difference. Only the manner of our demise will be affected by the outcome of his quest. Will you go with him?”,

“To the end”, she murmured and he put an arm about her.

It was early afternoon when they all met in the heart of the dome. The Council was decked in all their finery for the state occasion. Patrick had been given a short shift, belted at the waist with a jewelled leather strap and matching silver knee length riding boots. He felt a fool, but Solitaire said she liked it. The only thing he had refused to wear was the short stabbing sword carried by all the warriors. Horus stepped forward and prepared to speak.

“Patrick Cormack, we are gathered here to”, he wasn’t allowed to finish. Fingool interposed.

“Forgive me Lord Horus, but we do not have time for your long winded prologues. Patrick, if he chooses to accept the quest, must leave on the morrow. I feel it only fair to tell him all we know so that he may choose with a free and open heart”.

Horus deferred and the rest of the Council nodded their agreement. Solitaire smiled and Marta moved closer.

“Whatever you decide is fine by me”, she whispered, “I will go anyway”

Fingool began, “Last autumn someone entered the dome and removed the Colour Stone from it’s resting place atop this column”, he pointed to a black pentagon rising out of the ground close to the central tree. Patrick looked at its cold clinical lines and saw the empty open hand at the top. “Our decadence”, he glowered at the gathering, “clouded our eyes to the invasion of the sanctuary by an evil force, and worse, our apathy

prevented us from noticing it’s disappearance until the farmers of the fields told us of their crop failure a few days ago”.

Patrick interjected, “You didn’t notice it was missing?”.

Fingool shook his head dejectedly and the others bowed their heads in shame. A tear ran down Solitaires cheek and Eartha sobbed.

“To be fair”, Horus said, “no one ever saw the stone”.

“We failed our duty. It was but a small task”, Fingool snapped.

“What do you mean, ‘no one ever saw the stone’?”, Patrick enquired, becoming confused.

Mistral took up the discourse, “Although it is called the Colour Stone, and all colour is created by it. The stone itself is colourless, completely clear”.

“I don’t understand”,

“It is all colours and no colour at all”,

“Then how will I find it?”. No one spoke, they stood staring at the ground, and Patrick felt feint. He sat down on the grass.

“I don’t comprehend any of this. Let’s just go back for a moment. You talk of the stone having disappeared a few months ago and only finding out a

About a few days ago. Ulfert told me he had waited a long time for me to come and although he was younger than Marta, to me he appeared about eighty years, old. Now, even that can’t be right because that would mean that he was waiting fifty years for me, so the stone was stolen fifty years ago. Even then, there were things around that I would recognise, so where and when are we?”. There was a moment of silence before Fingool spoke, “The space between your time and now is twenty thousand years”.

Patrick’s head began to spin, he was glad he was sitting down. !;

“Is that why Ulfert couldn’t come back with me?”, “No. I was granted the gift to examine the future, to find someone who could speak colour, but we couldn’t just take you from the future, it would distort time and space, so someone had to take your place. Ulfert offered”,

“You keep speaking about my ability to speak colour. I know French and a bit of Latin, but I’ve never heard of speaking colour”.

A groan of consternation ran through the group.

“I think you’ve picked the wrong one”, Patrick said sadly.

“No”, Fingool asserted and walked away to stand by an amber prism rising by the tree.

Marta comforted the boy whilst the others milled around unsure of what to do. Patrick got up and went to join Fingool, “I’m sorry”, he murmured

“Our troubles really began here”, he stroked the crystal, “since Visgoth coveted the rose and fell from grace”. The old man drifted off and Patrick stared at the pale yellow fossil resin. His mind’s eye saw a deep red rose, perfectly formed with a slender sweeping stalk bearing the graceful head. Droplets of dew formed on the leaves and the petals stretched for the sun. Without thinking, he began to speak.

‘Your complexion is alluring, And there’s beauty in your pose,

In the early morning dewing,

Of your delicate petal clothes.

But there’s pain for those who grasp you, With hasty hands of greed,

For to have a thing of beauty,

Is man’s deepest inner need.

To take you in your innocence Would lose the better part,

For the lust of man’s depravity, Nullifies the heart.

But for those who gently hold you, You open out to show,

The warm and lovely tenderness Of God’s sweet and mystic rose.’

A gasp of astonishment rocked the crowd and Marta gripped his arm so tightly she almost cut off the circulation.

“How did you do that?”, she demanded. “I don’t know. I mean I didn’t”.

Locked in the middle of the amber crystal, a blood red rose, exactly as he imagined it, rotated slowly in the standing stone, light shimmering from the captive droplets of dew.

Fingool roared with laughter, “And you say you can’t speak colour”.

The Council gathered round, gazing at the beautiful flower as it turned to face each of them, spreading its petals and endowing the watchers with hope.

Horus looked at the young man with a new awe and Solitaire slipped her hand into his, “You are the chosen one”.

Someone murmured, “The Runes foretold it. They said that the one with a pure heart, the one who speaks colour, will come and redeem you”.

They fell silent and gazed at the bewildered young man.

News quickly spread through the city that the Holy rose had returned. Everyone clamoured to see the boy who’s sincerity had summoned the Fire Wraiths and restored their symbol of love.

The Great Hall was full. It seemed as if every resident of Eridu had been invited to say farewell to The Patrick, the one who had restored the Holy Rose. He who was about to set off on a quest to find the Colour Stone.

He searched the long tables for some sign of Marta, but she didn’t appear to be there. He leaned towards Fingool, to enquire as to her whereabouts, but the old man was occupied in conversation with Monsor. Instead, he took in the splendour of the magnificent hall. The painted ceiling towered a hundred feet above his head, supported by lavish twisting columns and serpentine flying buttresses. High arched windows in the two long walls allowed the light to cross over the diners heads, flooding the room with an orange luminosity, reminiscent of the street lights of Belfast City. Fingool had explained why Eridu appeared more advanced than the other world outside its gates, and whilst Patrick understood the principle of gods being a cut above the rest, he certainly didn’t approve. Now that he thought about it, the sheer opulence of the hall and it’s favoured guests was getting on his nerves. He hoped the proceedings would get underway so that he could go to bed. From what he had learned from Fingool and a few of the other more forthcoming councillors, the journey would be hard on body and mind and he wanted to get at least one good nights sleep. Fingool finished his discourse and Patrick got his question in.

“She will not come to this place. Her heart is true, like yours. She feels that the Council not only failed its responsibility to the Creator by loosing the Colour Stone, but has also failed the mortals by not giving them the guidance that was expected”, he smiled in a way that led Patrick to suspect that the old man was on her side.

“Yet she serves them as the Warrior Princess”.

Fingool shook his head, “Not so my young friend. When it was discovered that the Stone had been stolen, she resigned as Chief of the Army. Most thought that it was an admission of her failure, but I know better. Varig holds that post now”.

Patrick was taken aback, “Varig!, but he defers to her, even taking her instruction on the journey here”,

“Everyone, bar some of the Council”, he glanced at Horus, Nimbus, Mistral and Eartha, “knows that Marta commands through respect, not appointment, Varig and the others would follow her anywhere”, he grinned and patted the young boy’s knee, “apart from that, she is the daughter of the Queen of Warriors”.

“I don’t feel right here, perhaps I should follow my conscience and leave too”. “Not yet. Wait until after the presentation of Horus, then we shall leave together and”, Fingool took on a serious air, “do not think too badly of the councillors I have indicated, equally, don’t count on too much support from them once you have left this city”.

“But Mistral sent the Fire Wraiths to help us at the lake. I can’t believe she wont help again”,

“She communes with Fire Wraiths, but does not command them. They came of their own free will that night”.

Patrick stared at the old man, unsure of what he was saying. Before he could pursue the issue, a fanfare rang out and a long column of waiters entered, carrying silver salvers bearing suckling pigs, roast swan, a variety of other fowl, sides of beef, great fish and carcasses of all sorts. They were followed by yet another weaving string of women carrying trays of vegetables and fruits and young girls bearing pitchers of water and wine. Following them all were musicians, dancers, jugglers and clowns, troubadours of all trades. The sight made Patrick smile, but deep down, he was thinking about the scattering of communities outside in their primitive dwellings, scratching for survival in a cruel world.

“In answer to your question, you are the only human ever to have entered Eridu. They used to come to the bridge, four times a year to give thanks and petition the Council, but no more”, Fingool smiled.

So that’s why Horus was honoured, Patrick thought trying to suppress his contempt for what he expected would follow.

He picked at his food, speaking only when spoken to. The meal seemed to last forever and he prayed that the after dinner speeches would be kept brief. In spite of Solitaire’s frequent smiles, he wanted to get back to Marta and get the journey underway. At last Horus rose and raised his arms. The resulting fanfare brought the attention of the hall to the top table.

“Citizens of Eridu. Tonight we feast in honour of The Patrick who, although a mere mortal”, Patrick cringed and Fingool shifted uneasily in his seat, “has found a way to return the beloved Holy Rose. I don’t know how he man…”, a cough from Fingool put him back on track.

“And tomorrow will set off alone in search of…”, another cough stopped him again. “What is the matter Fingool”, Horus snapped.

“He will not go alone, that mistake we will not make”,

“May I remind you that you are not appointed to this council, you are here to advise”, the god glared.

“Then take what is probably the last advice I will ever give you”, Fingool’s face darkened and a peel of thunder shook the hall. Horus sat down as the old magician rose to tower above the gathering.

Patrick was lost in the folds of his robe as the sorcerer grew in stature and power, he pushed back his chair and stared up in wonder at the giant with outstretched arms.

“You have failed your commission, you have failed your calling, you have failed the simplicity of morality endowed upon the mortals, something you believed you were above”, his voice boomed so loud that the paint began to flake from the ceilings and walls, “and the price for your failure is high”.

Horus and the others quivered, cowering beneath the onslaught of the giant. Only Monsor smiled.

“Unless you acquit yourselves in the search for The Stone, unless you can justify your standing as gods of the earth, you shall take on the mantle of mortality and perish in the same way, vanquished in Oblivion, rulers of Lammas Land”.

Horus moaned and slumped back in his chair as the prophet shrank to normal proportions.

Not a murmur was heard in the mighty hall until a woman’s wailing began a cacophony of sound when everyone cried or talked at once. Fingool reached across the table, took an apple and bit deep into it.


Patrick didn’t see any of them again that night. Not even Marta, though he felt her presence somewhere close. He was left alone with his thoughts which ranged far and wide and he wondered what effect Fingool’s words would have on the Council. He must have fallen asleep as Marta gently shook his shoulder and drew a bowl of broth under his nose. He peeped at her, welcoming her smiling face with a question,

“Where have you been?”.

She laughed, “Getting things ready. Still want to go?”. He nodded thoughtfully and pushed back the covers.

“If it was just for them, I don’t think I’d do it”. She put a finger to his lips, stopping him from saying more and smiled sweetly.

On the bed opposite lay a large leather sack, thick leather riding breeches, a soft top and leather jerkin and a pair of riding boots. Patrick groaned, “Do we have to ride?”, Marta nodded with a grin. He finished his breakfast, quickly bathed and dressed and was standing at the window watching the gathering crowds when a herald asked him to come to the concourse.

Marta embraced him, “I will be waiting beyond the Gatehouse”. Before he could question why, she had gone.

Horus and the Council stood atop a flight of stairs. The whole city seemed to have gathered round about. Patrick noticed the surfeit of heavily armed soldiers lining the concourse and mingling with the crowd. He didn’t concern himself, he was more interested in where Fingool might be. A fanfare announced another speech by Horus.

“We are gathered to say farewell to a brave young man who departs today in search of The Colour Stone”, the crowd cheered.

“As a mark of our esteem, and in order to assist The Patrick in his quest, the Council has agreed to send one hundred of our finest warriors”, he waited for the applause. None came.

“We also wish to honour The Patrick with our most precious gifts”, he nodded to someone and another fanfare rang out. A courier came forward and Horus beckoned Patrick to climb the steps.

Patrick stepped up, still looking round for Fingool. Horus removed an object from the courier and presented it to Patrick with a bow. It was a short sword and scabbard, carved in gold and bearing a large yellow gemstone on the pommel. It looked far too ornate to be useful, and in any case, he didn’t want a weapon. The black look on Horus’ face said take it so he did, bowing smartly.

Horus raised his hands to the sky, “Behold, the Sun Sword”.

Patrick put his head and one arm through the belt, allowing the sword to hang across his back. It didn’t feel as heavy as he expected. Next, Monsor stepped forward smiling.

“My gift would have been my company on your quest, but I am forbidden, so, I send the next best thing. Bealach”, he bellowed and a huge Irish Wolfhound bound out of the crowd to sit at heel.

“Forbidden? Why?”, Patrick whispered.

Horus hissed and Monsor stroked the dog one last time. As he stepped back, Bealach took up his position at his new master’s side, licking his hand gently. When seated, the dog’s head was level with Patrick’s shoulder and there was a knowing gleam in the canine’s eye.

Nimbus was the next up. He signalled to someone at the back of the crowd and a moment later the people parted to allow an enormous beast through. It took Patrick’s breath away. The unicorn stood all of twenty hands high and it’s long silver horn shimmered in the morning sun. Its pure white coat glistened and his long mane quivered in the breeze.

“I can’t ride that. I was terrified enough on one of those ponies”.

Nimbus smiled, “Fear not, for this is Equs and he will not let you fall. He is as swift as the wind and can gallop all day without rest. Take care of him and he will serve you well”.

The horse reared and whinnied as if in acknowledgement. “How will your hundred soldiers keep up?”

Nimbus’ smile faded and he stepped back.

Eartha came next, she didn’t look at him, but held out a small wooden chest bound in brass. Patrick opened it and she moved back to her place. The box contained fine black soil. When he looked up again, Mistral stood before him holding a glass phial full of smoke.

“If you need to hide, it will help you”, she said and stepped back. Solitaire came next, smiled and held out a circular shield no bigger than a dinner plate. It was covered in rough Hessian. Patrick lifted the cloth and saw a silver mirror beneath.

“You must always keep it covered until the need for protection arises. It will absorb the fastest of arrows or the fiercest of blows”.

Patrick smiled at her and she blushed.

Horus put on his public speaking voice again and raised his hands for silence, “Go then, with our gifts and our blessing”, a fanfare rang out announcing his departure and the Council moved back.

“Wait a minute. Where’s Fingool?”, Patrick fumbled with his gifts. Monsor took them from him and packed them into a sack. “Do not press the issue”, he whispered, squeezing the boy’s arm.

“Fingool has left the city”, Horus snapped and turned away.

“So that’s it is it”, Patrick snorted, “take the presents and go. What’s the matter, didn’t you hear what Fingool said last night?”.

Horus turned back and came halfway down the stairs, glowering, “Fingool has gone, I don’t know where, he left the city at night”, there was a gasp from the crowd and a murmur rippled across the concourse.

“The Council met long into the night and concluded that our place is here where we can best protect the interests of the Creation”,

“So none of you are coming?”,

“Yes. I am”, Solitaire pronounced and another gasp affected the crowd.

“You will not. I forbid it”, Horus screamed. Solitaire winced, but defiance shone in her face and she set her jaw against her father.

Eartha began to cry and the crowd became restless. The soldiers closed ranks around the stairs.

“And will you forbid us to die too!”, Solitaire wailed. “We shall not die, we are gods, immortal”,

“What then if the Creator forbids that?”, she said quietly. Monsor stepped forward, “I will go in your place”.

“No uncle”, she stroked his face, “you are needed here more than I”. Patrick intervened, “You cannot come, it will be dangerous”.

“Are only mortals fit for danger then?”, she walked gracefully to his side and the dog licked her face.

Eartha ran down the stairs weeping, but the girl put out her hand preventing her from coming near, “Do not stop me mother for my mind is made up. I will die a goddess or not at all. Father, Leader of the High Council, if I thought that you would change your mind, liberate your stubbornness, I would stay with you forever. You will not, I cannot”.

A great cheer rang out and the masses applauded her.

“You may keep your hundred soldiers Horus, I think you will need them more than I”, Patrick lifted Solitaire onto Equs’ broad back and accepted a boost from Monsor. The unicorn reared, Bealach barked and they galloped through the crowd and under the bridge before another word could be said.

The journey to the Gatehouse was exhilarating. The muscles rippled on the unicorn’s flank and the horn pointed like an arrow, straight and true. Bealach loped along behind with apparent ease and Patrick smelled the perfumed hair of the lovely Lady of the Lake as it engulfed him in the wind. He held on to her slim waist and had no fear of the beast or the prospects ahead, life seemed sweet and full of promise. Carrig stood by the roadside and waved as they swept through the portal and then, following his instructions, sealed the gate, even though the sun was not yet high.

Patrick glanced back and a wave of apprehension flooded over him. In an instant, he knew why Horus and the Council did not wish to leave that place. The track became rough, the air cool and the countryside withered and depressing. He felt Solitaire stiffen in front of him and saw her gaze from side to side as the quality of life receded, but she did not look back.

The decline levelled out and the trees multiplied, becoming denser further away from the road. Their pace did not slacken. Patrick wondered where Marta would be and suddenly, Equs veered from the road and took off into the trees. Patrick tightened his grip with his knees, but the manoeuvre and subsequent leap over a dry stream, was done with remarkable ease. A moment later, the pace slackened and he saw Marta running out of a thicket. Equs trotted towards her and Bealach bounded past, tail wagging.

Her smile faltered when she saw Solitaire, but brightened as Patrick called her name with youthful excitement. She held out her arms to catch him and he slipped happily into them. Solitaire remained mounted looking down at them, “I hope you know how you’re going to get back up here”, she said seriously.

“What’s she doing here?”, the warrior asked.

“She defied her father and the Council”, he grinned.

“And the caterwauling of my mother”.

Marta chuckled and gained a new respect for the beautiful young woman. She put out her arms to help her down. Solitaire smiled nervously, but accepted the offer. Together the three wandered into the trees where Marta had two beasts tethered and a small fire burning. She put on an iron pot and motioned for them to sit.

“Shouldn’t we be going?”, Patrick enquired, glancing at the climbing sun. “Not yet, we are waiting for Fingool”, she stirred the pot.

“Is it true he has gone to Visgoth?”, Solitaire asked.

Marta laughed, “Is that what your father told you?”, the Lady nodded, “He has gone to Espair true enough, but not to Visgoth. He seeks information, nothing else”.

“When will he return?”.

“Right now”, a familiar voice said from behind.

They got up to greet the old man who looked considerably older.

“Ah, is lunch ready, I am ravenous?”, he bade them sit and chose a fallen stump for his own repose.

All three of the youngsters felt the tension and knew that Fingool was not the bearer of good news. The lines sank deeper into his ancient face, his hair was more grey and an impression of gloom carried on his few words. “What’s wrong Fingool?”, Patrick asked.

He attempted a smile, but it came over cynical, “The world is wrong Patrick. I had seen it in visions, but this journey I have made has shown these old eyes the true sorrow we have brought upon ourselves”.

Solitaire touched his cheek gently.

“You and these two young fools are the only glimmer of hope on a bleak, grey horizon. I wonder that the Creator doesn’t close His mind to this world and open it on another. I suspect the harm we have done can never be restored”, his eyes fell to the flickering fire and they watched him in silent sorrow.

Patrick stared at him, “Come on Fingool, nothing can be that bad. We are resourceful and with your guidance, we shall return the stone”.

The weary old man shook his head, “What’s the point? Nobody wants it anyway, Visgoth doesn’t, he’s sent an army of Yezidees to intercept you. The High Council apparently doesn’t want it”,

“But we do”, Patrick interrupted forcefully and Solitaire embraced him. Fingool looked at them and grinned, “Yes you do don’t you?”.

A moment later, they were all laughing and sharing the satisfying meal while Bealach looked on with more than a passing interest.

Patrick scraped up the last of the stew and asked, “How can Visgoth send an army to meet us, we don’t even know where we’re going?”.

“There is only one place you can go to begin your quest. The Runes. They will be there a full day before you”,

“Then we shall have to fight them”, Marta scowled.

Patrick sighed, “I abhor violence of any kind. Isn’t there another way?”. Marta glared at him, “Surely you expected to have to fight for the Stone, haven’t you been given sufficient indication of that?”,

“Yes, but if I can find a way to retrieve it without having to do someone physical harm, then I will”. Solitaire squeezed his arm.

Marta scowled even more.

“Perhaps I can delay them for a day or so, but you must travel quickly and not be turned from your course by anything. Visgoth will use guile as well as force to prevent your mission. I will leave now to harry them and I will send Hagar with news”, at that, a Goshawk alighted on a branch above them. Patrick squinted at it.

“That is Hagar?”.

“Yes, he will carry me as he did last night”.

Patrick shook his head and smiled to himself as the small group prepared to leave. Marta doused the fire and packed the picnic, scowling at Solitaire who looked on disinterestedly. Patrick fed the scraps to Bealach and filled his sack with provisions from Marta’s pack, lightening her load. A few minutes later, they were back on the road. Marta led with Solitaire behind on the spare horse. Patrick rode Equs, having climbed a tree to mount, and Bealach brought up the rear. Fingool and Hagar had long gone. Patrick was disappointed that he’d missed them, he wanted to see what Hagar was when he wasn’t a hawk!

They rode steadily eastwards, towards the wide Lough, passing empty fields and few people. Those they did see looked up to watch them pass, their weary faces filled with scorn for the lords from the great city. Solitaire wept silently for the failure of her race and Marta urged the small horses along. They did not stop until they reached the ferry, just before dusk. The mountain of a Ferryman was already to his dinner, trade was bad and he didn’t expect further custom that day. No persuading would move him until dawn so the travellers found an empty barn for the night.

Patrick unpacked whilst Marta prepared their evening meal. The bitter north wind had begun to blow and Solitaire sat alone listening to the mournful cry through the rafters.

“She should not have come”, Marta whispered as Patrick came to her.

“She will be all right, give her time to accustom to the strangeness. It will not be easy for any of us, but for her”,

“With her high and mighty ways”, Marta interrupted.

Solitaire heard and came to join them, “What can I do? You will have to explain clearly, for I have never done anything for myself before”.

Marta looked at her sympathetically and Patrick put his arms round her. She began to cry, “Marta is right, I should not have come, I will only hinder you and what use can a goddess possibly be?”.

“You can show the world that you care”.

She thought about the dirty, smelly people she had seen and wondered if she really did.

They ate in silence and without much appetite. As soon as the beasts were settled, they made up their beds. Close enough for comfort, but not too close for propriety. The wind howled and the temperature plummeted. When they woke in the morning, the three were huddled in a single ball with Bealach curled at their feet.

Marta purchased fish and they ate quickly, eager to be moving again. The

Ferryman agreed to take them to the most southerly landing point where they left relative civilization behind. By noon, they had climbed the

ridge and were moving down through the dense forest towards open moorland. “Will we stay the night with the elves again?”, Patrick asked.

“No, we do not have time to be sociable, but I know a place where we will be made welcome and have safety from the wolves. We will not stop for a midday meal”.

“How long to the Runes?”.

“We can be there in three days, but it will mean camping at least one night in the Singing Sands. I hope to have heard from Fingool by then” Marta’s face showed signs of concern at their rate of progress.

“Couldn’t I go on ahead? I’m sure Equs could do the journey in half that time”, his confidence was growing on the big beast, in spite of the size of its girth, Patrick felt quite secure.

“No. We will stay together”, Marta said and urged her mount on.

By mid afternoon, they had cleared the woodlands and were progressing at a better pace across open country, but now, the wind really bit and Solitaire was feeling it badly. She was not dressed for this kind of expedition. Patrick brought the matter to Marta’s attention.

“We shall see what we can do at the village”, she pointed to a thin plume of smoke rising in the distance.

The thought of warmth and a little comfort encouraged them and they entered the circle of wooden staves well before dusk. Several women and children, dresses in tattered pelts, came out to greet them, admiring the Lady’s finery and the magnificence of the unicorn. Marta made straight for the Chieftains hut, a low wooden structure with a turf roof and clouds of smoke billowing through a hole in its centre.

The peat cutters were in heated debate when the strange travellers entered the smoke filled building. The presence of the Lady brought the argument to a rapid close and all eyes turned to them.

“Well Marta the Warrior”, the Chief said rising, “what brings you out here with such fine company?”.

She accepted the unspoken invitation to join them round the fire. Patrick and Solitaire held back. She was trembling and Patrick motioned her towards the fire, but she shook her head. The coarseness of the men, with their matted beards and hair was as much the cause of her physical condition as the deteriorating weather. An old crone came up reeking of smoke with months of unwashed cooking smells on her rags, and pushed the lady to the centre of the room. Solitaire stood, head bowed, knowing that all the men were staring at her. Patrick went to her side, trying to reassure her, but she would not look up.

“We are journeying to the Runes and seek sanctuary for the night”, Marta said, “This is Patrick, the Colour Speaker and this is Solitaire, the Lady of the Lake from Eridu”.

The men mumbled and talked about her fine beauty and shapely form. Some of them laughed and made obscene gestures. A bark from the Chief quietened them, but Patrick could see the lust burning in their eyes.

“Be welcome”, the Chief said, “though we cannot offer you the luxury to which you are accustomed, what we have we will share with you. We have many guests, all driven here by frost, famine, wolves or all three. You will have to share a byre, it is all we have”, he smiled showing yellow rotten teeth.

Solitaire wished for the comfort of her home and the luxury of a hot bath, but the crone led her away and, driving out the chickens, showed the beautiful girl into a small, smelly barn. Patrick and Marta joined her a few minutes later, to be welcomed by more tears.

When they had eaten, Marta went off to talk to the Chief while Patrick groomed Equs and the two mounts. Solitaire was packing the sacks, ready for an early start when a dark shadow slipped into the room. A big dirty hand clamped over her mouth and the other, ripped at the fine silk of her dress. She bit the fingers of the hand and in the moment of quiet, screamed.

Patrick heard and knew at once. He dropped the brass comb and ran. The sordid youth panicked and was fleeing the hut as Patrick swept around the corner, bowling him over. The next instant, Bealach was upon him, forelegs astride his heaving chest and saliva dripping from his lolling tongue into the terrified youth’s face. Solitaire watched from the door, her milky skin exposed for all to see. The villagers gathered to stare. The Chief trembled with rage as Patrick called the dog off and the grubby boy rose reluctantly to his feet.

“You shall be flogged for this insult”, the leader roared.

“No”, the Lady said quietly, “the desires of men cannot be stemmed by a whip. I can think of a better way to deal with this. What is your name boy?”.

“Thule my Lady”, he bowed nervously, not daring to look at her.

“I know”, Solitaire began, “that the Council has failed you in recent times, none more than since the disappearance of the Colour Stone”.

The gathering murmured their agreement. She went on.

“It is little wonder that we have lost your respect. Our hope”, she motioned to her friends, “is that we can remedy that failing by recovering the Stone and restoring the relationship between men and gods”.

The village people warmed to her and nodded encouragement. Patrick smiled at Marta who whispered, “The Lady comes of age”.

“To do so, we must travel far and face many hardships. We could use a strong hand to help lift and carry, and”, she stepped close to the youth who was looking at her now, “fight, if necessary”.

Thule swallowed hard, “I will go my Lady and serve you unto death”.

The villagers cheered and the Chieftain nodded his consent. A huge bonfire was lit and the children danced around laughing and singing merry songs of glory. The feats of the gods and their everlasting goodness rang out and the old folk remembered those days with tears in their eyes. Thule’s mother came to the Lady of the Lake with a gift of her finest clothes and pelts, so that she would be more suitably attired for the journey. Solitaire thanked her in spite of the rough texture she felt between her fingers.

Thule came on bended knee to tell his mistress that he had prepared her a hot bath. She grinned with anticipation, but when she saw the muddy water which filled the stone tub, she stepped back in disgust. Thule did his best to skim the scum from the surface, but could do nothing about the brown peat fibre intrinsic in the water. She laughed lightly and invoked the power she hadn’t used since she was a child. The youth peered into the tub and saw nothing in there. He poked his finger in and marvelled at the ripples as they spread to the sides and bounced back again, converging on the point where they began. He stepped back in awe and stood guard with while she bathed and dressed in his mother’s robe.

Thule’s father sat by the fire, polishing and sharpening the sword he had carried when the mortals fought with the Council in the war following Visgoth’s demise. The lad, like all male children of his age, had made his own bow and arrows for his puberty ceremony and these, together with the sword and a pack from his mother, were prepared and placed beside the others ready for the morning start. Patrick and Marta sat cross legged with the Chief discussing recent events, when Hagar appeared and alighted on Patrick’s outstretched arm. The bright eye of the hawk stared and he adjusted his weight carefully, trying not to harm the youth. As Patrick watched the penetrating eye blink, he thought he heard Fingool’s deep and steady voice.

“The Council have recalled Orion’s army and the Yezidee are preparing to march on Eridu. I have forestalled the progress of the company moving towards the Runes with the help of Monsor, but you must hurry. If Visgoth lays siege on Eridu, you will not be able to restore the Stone when you’ve found it. Make haste Patrick”.

The hawk stretched it’s mighty wings and lifted gracefully into the night sky. Patrick turned to Marta and she frowned.

“That is grave news indeed. We will depart at first light”. Patrick nodded and felt a wave of apprehension wash over him.

A thick mist clung to the moors. Dark and depressing, damp and debilitating. Globules of cold clinging water decorated the four as they left the sanctuary of the compound shortly after dawn. Thule rode the spare horse whilst Solitaire doubled up with Patrick. She felt the warmth of him as they rose and fell over the cloaked landscape. They rode in silence following Bealach, the tracker, who communed with Equs as to direction. Marta, bringing up the rear, could not see the white bulk of the unicorn and trusted to the steed of Thule to follow the great beast.

Even when the sun rose, it only brightened the mist, turning everything a ghostly silver. Thin trees appeared through the murk, their twisted shapes shimmering with saturated sunlight and dew. By mid-morning, the fog had burned away and the landscape changed from rolling moor to thinly treed scrub land. They halted at the bank of a wide meandering river.

“We are too far east”, Marta said, joining Patrick at the head. Bealach barked. “There is no ford here”, Marta snapped.

The hound barked and wagged it’s tail, bounding forward and plunging into the water. Patrick watched the dog make steady progress through the slow flowing water and gauged where, on the opposite bank, he would come out. Then he saw a tall familiar figure on the far side. His long black staff planted exactly on the spot where Bealach would land.

“It’s Fingool. It must be all right to cross”.

Equs picked his way down the bank and stepped cautiously through the sucking mud and into the water. Thule, who was no more confident on horseback than Patrick had been, closed his eyes and hoped for the best. A few minutes later they were all safely across.

“You have made good progress”, the old man said as they dismounted, “By this time tomorrow, you should be at the Runes”.

“If we survive the Singing Sands”, Marta said looking up at him. Fingool grinned, “You have all you need, and a new companion I see”. Patrick made the introduction and enquired as to what the Singing Sands were and why they held such dread for Marta the Warrior.

“The Singing Sands are not to be feared, it is only an expanse of sand ridged and rippled by the wind. What is to be feared is thirst and the creatures that live there. The water is sour and the beasts thirsty for warm blood”. “Charming”.

“We must fill our water bottles here and find what fuel we can carry, for soon we will leave the natural land behind and enter the changing world of sand”, Marta unpacked spare water skins and Thule went to fill them. Patrick walked with Fingool, “What’s going on?”, he asked.

“Much goes on both day and night. Is there something particular to which you refer?” .

Patrick scowled, “You know what I mean. Why has the Council withdrawn it’s army and why has Visgoth suddenly decided to march against Eridu? Is the Colour Stone so important to him?”.

The old man looked hard at his young companion, “The Colour Stone is of no value whatsoever to Visgoth. It is only important to mortals and to the future of the earth. What is important to him is that you do not succeed”. Patrick shook his head and turned to stare at the grey water, “I don’t understand, surely it’s the same thing?”.

Fingool laughed, but it was an empty sound, “Not at all. Let me try explain”, he sat down on the bank and drew the youth to his side.

“When the creator completed his work of creation with man, He, the lesser gods and humans dwelt together in harmony. Then man fell from grace by disobeying the one command, bringing death upon his race. The gods, fearing that the mortals were growing too strong with their new knowledge, persuaded the Creator to build Eridu and place all the treasures in their keeping, so that when mankind had reached an acceptable level of development, they would be available to them”.

Patrick nodded and Fingool went on.

“That brings us up to last autumn when the Colour Stone was stolen. The gods failed their commission to keep the treasures safe and are in danger of falling from grace too”.

“Yes, I see all that, but isn’t the answer for all the gods, including Visgoth, to do everything in their power to help me restore the Stone?”. Fingool laughed and this time it was filled with genuine mirth, “So naive for one so brave. Have you forgotten that you are a mortal?”.

Patrick stared at him, reasoning it out, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what he was saying, “You mean that if I succeed, then I have proved that man is worthy to stand alone, without the gods?”.

Fingool nodded slowly, watching it sink in.

“So if I restore the Colour Stone, God, the Creator, will remove the lesser gods and leave the earth to us mortals?”.

Fingool nodded again and watched as Patrick got up and walked away along the river bank, deep in thought.

Marta joined the old man, “What’s wrong with him?”.

“He carries the weight of the world on his young shoulders”.

She looked up at the position of the sun and went to call him. Fingool stopped her, “Let him be. You can spare an hour or so and he needs to be alone for a while”.

Marta shared out a cold meal of dried strips of meat and succulent fruit. They chewed mechanically, watching the boy throwing stones into the river. Suddenly, he turned and marched purposefully back to them, standing square in front of Fingool. “I can’t do it”.

“Why not?”

“Because you are making me responsible for everything that will happen to the world. The pain and suffering, cruelty and violence. I know what we have done to it thousands of years hence and it’s not worth it. Better to let it all end now”, he burst into tears and sank to his knees.

For a moment they stared at him, then Solitaire got up, followed by Marta and they held him until his sobs subsided.

Solitaire was the first to speak, “Is there no joy then, in your world? Is it such a terrible place that you would see it destroyed?”.

She stared into his moist eyes, cradling his face in her soft warm hands and saw the struggle going on inside. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t answer because he didn’t know. He thought about the meaningless death of his family and thousands of others. He thought about the orphanage and Mrs. Niall doing her best to give meaning to life for hopeless children. He thought about the destruction of the forests and the wholesale slaughter of wildlife. Visions of wanton destruction and despair flooded through him and Fingool saw it all.

“Look about you Patrick. Is this better than what you have in your mind? It is getting worse each day and will continue to do so until the Colour Stone is replaced. Imagine what it will be like in twenty thousand years if you do not do it”.

Patrick nodded and wiped his nose on his sleeve, “I do Fingool, really I do. It’s the reason I agreed to come in the first place, but now that you have made me aware of the consequence”, he looked at Solitaire, “I’m not sure I can do it. The responsibility’s too much”.

“The responsibility for what has, or will happen, is not of your making, nor does it lie at your feet. Your responsibility is to your fate and the future, nothing more”, Fingool smiled gently.

Patrick shook his head confused and they pitied him.

“Do not think of it more until you have reached the Runes. Perhaps they will help you see more clearly. If, after you have spoken with them, you still feel that you cannot do it, I will do everything I can to return you to your own time and place”.

Patrick stared at him, “Can you do that?”. Fingool shrugged and smiled.

They followed the south bank of the river until it widened and spread out into rolling dunes, then they struck east. Fingool waited by the river watching them. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, heralding a storm, matching the mood of the travelers. Marta watched Patrick, his shoulders hunched against his own gathering storm of doubt and fear. Even the gentle Solitaire seemed unable to ease his burden. Thule watched them all and wondered about the lofty ideals he had heard discussed, but could not comprehend.

Even Equs and Bealach seemed affected by the depression. The unicorn skittered as a small herd of buck raced out from behind a ridge of tall wire like grass and the hound barked nervously at them. Marta too became uneasy beneath the brooding atmosphere. The sky darkened and the wind raised swirling dust devils from behind the dunes.

Patrick ignored everything around him, clinging to the unicorn’s back by force of will, unable to feel anything but the cold in the pit of his stomach.

“Something’s wrong”, Marta said, not to anyone in particular. “Yes. Even the beasts feel it”,

Solitaire acknowledged.

Thule looked at them and wondered what they meant. He picked up his courage, “There is a storm coming”.

Marta nodded, “I know, but it is more than that”.

A sudden gust of wind shrieked through the grasses and tore at their fragile clothing, making them quiver. Bealach’s tail hung between his legs and Equs snorted and pawed at the soft earth. Marta glanced around not sure what to expect. The wind grew in ferocity, driving sand and rain at them, forcing them to cover their eyes.

“We must seek shelter”, Solitaire screamed over the howling wind.

“No. We must go on, we cannot afford to waste time”, Marta kicked her mount and gritted her teeth.

The driving wind buffeted them with flying grit, forcing them to close their eyes and hang their heads. The horses stumbled on the bushy growths and soft sand. Only Equs remained upright. Thule’s mount fell and Marta called a halt, the small beasts unable to proceed through the worsening storm. The wind screamed in triumph and suddenly stopped. The eerie silence was deafening. Patrick was the first to look up. Standing before him was a tall muscular young man dressed in a silver and black tunic, emblazoned with gold flashes.

“So you are the colour speaker”.

Marta scrambled quickly to her feet and went to stand by Patrick, hand on the hilt of her sword, “Lord Tempest, it was you”.

The young man roared with laughter, “Didn’t you like it?”.

Solitaire shook the dust from her golden hair and joined them. Thule stood beside her protectively. Tempest scowled at the peat cutter and swept Marta aside so that he could address Patrick.

“Your quest is futile mortal, give it up and return to your own world or perish in the Singing Sands”, he sneered as Patrick rose unsteadily to his feet.

“No”, he motioned to Thule to help him mount.

“I see that twenty thousand years has not made man more intelligent”, the Lord of Storms laughed and with a gesture of his arm, brought back the howling wind, pushing Patrick away from the unicorn.

“Stop it”, Solitaire yelled above the roar of wind.

Tempest turned to her, “You are a bigger fool little sister. What can you hope to achieve by accompanying this mortal?”.

She smirked, “Peace brother. That is my hope”.

“Too late”, Tempest bellowed, “there can be no peace whilst this mortal lives”, he pointed at Patrick and a gust of wind sent him sprawling. Marta drew her sword and stepped forward, but the blast swept her off her feet. “Stop brother. You are blind to the truth”.

Tempest spun on her, but his power had no affect on the goddess and it gave Marta time to reach Patrick, putting her arms protectively round him. “I am not blind. I see our demise as clearly as I see you in your worldly rags. What has brought you to this sickly state sister, more of Fingool’s foolery? How can you sink so low as to cavort with mere mortals, no better than these pathetic beasts”, his flashing eyes ranged from Thule to the ponies.

“Have you forgotten that our mother was mortal, making us part human?”, Solitaire smiled.

Tempest raged, “Once she was mortal, but now she is a goddess and member of the High Council, immortalised by our father and the rest of the gods. You cannot speak of her in the same breath as these”, again the power of the storm tore at Patrick and the peat cutter.

Patrick’s eyes stung with the flying sand and Thule spat the dirt from his mouth. Marta clung to her charge and brandished her sword menacingly. Tempest roared with laughter and increased his power. Thunder crashed and bolts of lightning flashed across the dark sky.

“I can destroy you now Colour Speaker”, he sneered.

“Then do so Tempest, but it will not change your fate”, Patrick screamed above the roaring wind.

“What do you know of fate mortal? It is the gods who rule the fates. It is we who determine what shall be and what shall not”,

“You are wrong Tempest. Your rule is over because you couldn’t handle it”, he struggled to his feet, battling against the fury of the storm, now directed solely at him.

Marta crawled away from the blast and Thule came to her aid. Together they approached the tempest, swords at the ready. Solitaire concentrated her power against her brother while he drew all his strength against the mortal.

Patrick’s eyes watered and flying debris tore at his face, but step by step he closed the gap. All laughter was gone from the god of storms and his face crumpled, but his resolve remained.

“Your glory is past Tempest and you never even saw it go”,

“So you think you have risen to the level of the gods do you?”

“No Tempest, we have not risen to your level, it is you who have sunk below ours”, Patrick grinned and the wind died to a whisper.

Tempest was gone.

sand dunes under gloomy sky
Photo by Kadir Avşar on Pexels.com

Patrick sank to his knees exhausted. Solitaire wept bitterly and Thule went to comfort her. Marta joined her charge, stopping him from rubbing the sand into his bleeding face.

“There is more to you than meets the eye, Patrick”.

He smiled at her and she saw the redness of his swollen face, battered by flying sand and hail. She went to her horse for the water skins, but found them empty, ripped and shredded by the storm. Her exclamation brought the others.

“What now, without water we will not survive. We must go back”, Thule looked dejected.

“We cannot. We must go on otherwise the Yezidees will reach the Runes first”, Marta threw down the skins and searched the eastern horizon.

“How far is it?”, Patrick asked.

“Another six hours or more and soon it will be dark”, “Can’t we ride through the night?”,

Marta shook her head, “It is not safe. The sands sink without warning and the blood suckers abound at night”.

“Then make camp here. I will ride back to the river for more water”, he got to his feet and Equs came to nuzzle him.

Marta salvaged two water flasks and Patrick set off at a blistering pace. He was back before the evening meal was ready exhilarated by the ride and happy that he had contributed something tangible.

They ate in silence, watching the storm rage to the south of them, each lost in their own thoughts. Bealach sat atop a grassy mound watching the southeast approach and Equs stood guard over the ponies. In spite of his weariness, Thule offered to take the first watch and the others settled themselves for sleep.

Patrick lay on his side, head propped on his hand, looking at the storm far away. Marta watched him as Solitaire snuggled up against his back for warmth. He smiled at the warrior.

“Do you think that’s him, Tempest I mean?”, “I don’t know”,

“Could you have killed him?”, “I don’t know that either”, “Would you if you could?”.

She didn’t answer, except with her eyes and a feint nod of her head. Solitaire reached over his shoulder and placed a finger on his lips, then she drew him down and they were quickly asleep.

They awoke to the smell of frying fish. Thule was horrified that he too had slept through the night. Far to the south east the storm still raged. Patrick rubbed his eyes and gently shook Solitaire from her dream filled slumber. The air was cool and carried the hint of pending rain. Marta cut bread and dished up the meal as the others came to join her by the fire. Thule apologised with head hung low, but Marta’s smile reassured him and he tucked in heartily. Bealach came to sit and await scraps while Patrick checked the horses. It was then that he noticed four more full water skins.

“Where did these come from?”.

“Fingool brought them last night”.

“Where is he?”.

“He has gone north, but I suspect he will join us at the Runes”.

“Why didn’t you wake me?”.

“It wasn’t necessary and you were sleeping soundly”, Marta smiled.

Patrick took the plate she offered, feeling left out. Thule’s embarrassment still showed and Solitaire seemed far away, as if in deep thought. Only Marta appeared ready for the new day and busied herself cleaning and packing up.

The wind grew in strength as they left the dunes behind and descended onto a sand screed scored by the wind and rain. The ridged earth hissed and whistled as the wind scoured it, driving loose sand and grit like snakes across the surface. Once or twice Patrick thought he saw huge land crabs scurrying away as they approached, but the noise and obscurity of vision confused his mind. The storm seemed to be drawing closer and the combination of sounds assailed his sanity. Marta forced her mount nearer and screamed at him. The wind tore the words from her mouth and scattered them far and wide. He shrugged with incomprehension. She motioned for him to cover his ears and face.

Great pools of dark water appeared and Bealach, leading the party, made numerous diversions to avoid the largest of them. Even with his collar pulled up and tied with thick hemp, the sinister sounds of the singing sands penetrated his awareness, lamenting the absence of grass and trees. Far ahead, Patrick could see a great wall of sand, seeming to rise up to the sky like a mountain range, dark and forbidding. The pools became larger, closer together, making Bealach’s task harder. As they drew nearer the barrier, they had to double back several times. The storm closed in on them and the wailing of wind screamed across the ridges mockingly. Tempest’s words echoed in Patrick’s mind, ‘perish in the singing sands’. The prospect seemed more likely than ever as the barricade towered menacingly above them. Marta’s mount bounced against Equs’ side. Patrick bent down to talk to the warrior.

“We’ll never get up that”, he screamed, licking his parched lips. “We must, before the storm strikes”, her words were ripped away. Solitaire sat limply in front of him, unable to move or speak. Thule lay across his mount’s neck, clinging on for life and the situation looked desperate as Bealach stopped with a wide expanse of black water baring his progress.

From his vantage point, atop the unicorn, Patrick could see a thin isthmus to the north and he reached down to gain Marta’s attention. Thule looked up and, seeing the towering obstacle across the water, nearly fell from the pony’s back. Solitaire seemed imperturbable by it all, as if in her own world untouched by their predicament. Marta nodded and Patrick’s thought turned Equs north. The smaller mounts hugged the unicorn for protection from the violence of the closing fury as rain began to fall.

A pale hand drew Patrick’s face down to her almost white lips and the trembling voice of the Lady of the Lake said, “Patrick, you must get me out of this stinking pit, it is killing me, the black water is draining me dry”, she went limp in his arms and he willed Equs on at a gallop.

In three great bounds, Equs had cleared the isthmus and was ascending the sand bank. It all seemed effortless and easy. Soon, the Lady was reviving in the relatively clear air two hundred feet above the depression looking across the cleaner, white sand towards another towering obstacle some miles to the east. It was an island of black rock rising out of the sand like an obelisk, bare and desolate, yet strangely welcome. Patrick turned to call to Marta and his joy froze in his throat. Down below, only half way across the thin spit of sand bridging the dark pool, Thule’s mount was being dragged into the water by three large crabs, at least six feet across. Thule was sat on the sand, staring at them, shocked into stillness. Marta had dismounted and was racing to the beast’s aid with sword slashing and swirling above her head. In moments Patrick and Equs joined the battle.

‘The four foot silver horn pierced the body just below the shell and with a flick of its noble head, the massive beast launched the crab into the air. The momentum carried them on into another which was dealt with in the same way, but now they were slowing and more claws appeared out of the water, snapping at the air and threatening to cut them all off. Marta fought her way to her terrified horse while Thule, now more composed, slashed at the closest claw. Equs was halted by the weight of numbers, but, undaunted the beast’s huge hooves smashed shell after shell whilst the silver horn fended off snapping claws. Marta and Thule did all they could to protect the one remaining horse and the distance between them looked immense. For every one that Equs despatched, three more crawled out of the mud. Patrick looked across at Marta who seemed to be shouting at him, but the words were torn from her throat by the bitter wind. He saw the blood trickle from her arm and urged the unicorn on. A great claw snapped inches from his face and, instinctively, he reached for the sword swinging at his back.’The four foot silver horn pierced the body just below the shell and with a flick of its noble head, the massive beast launched the crab into the air. The momentum carried them on into another which was dealt with in the same way, but now they were slowing and more claws appeared out of the water, snapping at the air and threatening to cut them all off. Marta fought her way to her terrified horse while Thule, now more composed, slashed at the closest claw. Equs was halted by the weight of numbers, but, undaunted the beast’s huge hooves smashed shell after shell whilst the silver horn fended off snapping claws. Marta and Thule did all they could to protect the one remaining horse and the distance between them looked immense. For every one that Equs despatched, three more crawled out of the mud. Patrick looked across at Marta who seemed to be shouting at him, but the words were torn from her throat by the bitter wind. He saw the blood trickle from her arm and urged the unicorn on. A great claw snapped inches from his face and, instinctively, he reached for the sword swinging at his back.

As the Sun Sword slid from its sheath, a sound like the swishing wings of swans cut through the roar of the wind and a moment of stillness broke the tension. Patrick stared at the blade bewildered. No wonder it had felt so light, it was glass, hollow glass, but then, as the dark clouds parted and a shaft of brilliant sunlight caught the jewel in the pommel, the blade filled with blue flame, erupting like a bolt of lightning.

Patrick was captivated by the beauty of the dancing light as it sizzled, electrifying the air. The thrill of pure power, flowing through him, over him and out into that evil place chastened him, bringing pleasure through pain and he knew he need not fear emptiness ever again. It was only when the smell of scorched flesh assailed his senses that he looked away from the sword to the scene below. Thule lay motionless, face down on the sand. Marta crouched beside him, shielding her eyes and trying to protect the mortal. Her horse had bolted and was running down the long strip of sand towards another dark pool, shedding its load as it went. The crabs lay in contorted poses, burned and blackened by the sword’s power and the dark water boiled and bubbled. Patrick stared open mouthed and realised that the sword had transformed to its clear glass state. He returned it to its sheath and slid down from the unicorn.

Equs set off in pursuit of the runaway and Patrick rushed to Marta’s side. “You could have killed him”, she snapped turning the peat cutter over.

” I didn’t know”, Patrick looking sorrowfully into the blackened face of the young man.

“Will he be all right?”.

She nodded and looked round for her horse. Equs and Bealach were shepherding the nervous beast back towards them.

“We must get him to the top of the escarpment and give him water”.

Patrick nodded and willed Equs to hurry.

They hoisted the unconscious young man onto Equs’ broad back and Marta helped Patrick mount. She took her own skitterish pony back for the sacks it had shed and a few minutes later, they were on the plateau ministering to the burns of Thule and the horse.

“Why did the sword only affect them?”.

“Its power is not effective against the gods and the creatures of Eridu, only against life and elements of earth”, Solitaire answered, bathing her servant’s brow.

“Then why didn’t it burn me too?”.

Solitaire didn’t answer and Marta just shrugged when he looked at her. “I expect its power cannot affect the wielder, but what I don’t understand is why Horus made you a gift of it without explaining how to use it”.

“Don’t you know how to use it?”.

“To me, it was only a treasure to be admired along with the others in the Dome of Creation”.

“My father could not explain its use, because he wouldn’t know. The sword has never been needed before. Even in the war of the angels, it was useless against heavenly powers and so it became an object of admiration and nothing more. No one knows what it can do”, Solitaire leaned back as the peat cutter moaned and sat up.

“Are you all right?”, Patrick asked.

“What happened?”, the youth rubbed his head and looked into Solitaire’s glowing face, “am I dead? Surely I must be”.

They laughed and knew that he would be fine.
The storm had withdrawn to the south, as if intimidated by the power of the sword, and the sun beat down on them. Marta’s horse struggled under the weight of its rider and Thule, even though Equs now carried a11 the packs, plus Patrick and the Lady. The black island looked far away and the going was slow across the soft dry sand. The sun was sinking behind them and Marta feared that they would not reach the Isle of Runes before darkness fell.

The predicament obviously gave her deep concern and she kept looking at the sun and back again at the distance still to cover. Then she glanced south at the continuing storm and back to the riders of the unicorn. Patrick watched her, noting the lines deepening on her brow. “Will we make it?”, he asked, pulling alongside.

“I do not know. I think that storm in the south is Monsor, trying to delay the Yezidees, but they are close to the island already and we only have about three hours of daylight left. My horse cannot go faster, they may reach the Runes before us”.

“What if I went on ahead?”.

“I am not happy about separation, but my conclusion is that it may be the only answer. Bealach will take you to the Runes and will know where we are. Ask your questions quickly and come back to us”.

Patrick nodded and passed over one of the remaining water skins and a sack of food. With a thought, he sent Equs bounding across the sands.

The dark rock, devoid of vegetation and life, rose out of the sea of sand like an island sentinel. The air temperature dropped as they climbed steadily from the sandy shore. Patrick estimated the island to be several miles long with a high peak at the northern end, and a smaller one towards the south. Bealach made straight inland, midway between the two lofty peaks.

Patrick looked back, but could not see any sign of his friends in the shimmering desert. Equs picked his way skilfully across the bleak landscape, leaping gullies and dried up streams. Nothing grew and nothing moved save Bealach, climbing higher and deeper into the dark, lifeless interior. The sound of the storm played on his mind and he wondered how far they had to go. Bealach reached a ridge and stopped to wait for them, wagging his whip like tail eagerly.

Equs approached the edge cautiously and his riders stared down into a wide deep amphitheater of natural rock. Most of the bowl was in shadow, but Patrick could make out a massive circular stone structure at the centre, composed of concentric rings of black stone.

“It’s a maze”, Solitaire murmured admiringly.

At its centre, in a wide circular clearing, three large rocks balanced precariously one on top of the other. As the shadows lengthened, Patrick could have sworn he saw the boulders move, turning upon their axis. He squinted, trying to be sure, but concluded that it must be a trick of the failing light. He examined the rest of the bowl it was almost perfectly circular, it’s flat bottom covering about two acres and the sides were nearly vertical for a hundred feet or more. Access was through a single vee cut through the rim to their right and descending down what appeared to be a man made path to the only visible entrance to the maze.

He turned his attention to the distant horizon where the setting sun picked out purple mountain tops rising above the haze far across another stretch of sand. To the south, beyond the nearest peak, the storm raged closer and he knew he wouldn’t have much time. He swung down from the unicorn and smiled at Solitaire.

“Remain here with Equs and Bealach. If the Yezidees come, get back to Marta as quickly as you can”.

The Lady of the Lake shook her head, “No Patrick, I am coming with you. They can keep watch and warn us if necessary, but I will not leave you now”, she turned and threw herself into his arms.

He was about to argue when Bealach barked and set off for the cutting. Equs nuzzled him and they hurried on.

They paused at the pathway while Patrick gave instructions to the beasts. Solitaire made the suggestion that they wait until morning, the pit was dark with shadows and the air cold. He took one more look at the approaching storm clouds and shook his head.

“No Solitaire, it’s now or never”. She shuddered, attempting a smile. Together they descended the worn track into the dark depths of the unknown.


Marta watched the storm’s fury abate and knew that they were too late. All she could hope for was that the goddess and her charge had escaped from the Runes before the Yezidee encircled them. What she didn’t understand was how they had closed up so quickly, normally, they were lethargic creatures who took everything but battle at a leisurely pace. Thule had got the fire going and all they could do now was wait and hope.

The air thickened and a beating of great wings brought them to their feet. Hagar descended almost vertically to land close to their camp and Fingool slid down from the beast’s back. At once, Hagar rose again with powerful sweeps of his huge wings and turned east. “Quickly Marta. We must make all haste to the Runes”.

“What has happened?”, Marta snatched up her sword. Fingool set off on foot up the slope and Marta caught him.

“Sadam and the Mimicky with a small party of men are at the Runes, the Yezidee will not arrive until tomorrow. Hagar will deal with Sadam and the flying creature, but you will have to take care of the mortals”, Fingool panted.

“What about Patrick and Solitaire, where are they?”.

“They are at the second level of the maze, but they are lost in the darkness and can go no further”, the old man stumbled, Marta caught him. “So he has not reached the Runes”. Fingool shook his head and hastened on.

Patrick heard Bealach’s warning, but had no idea which way to go. He slumped down with his back against the cold black stone and the Lady dropped down beside him. The clouds were clearing and a half moon cast a ghostly gloom on the polished walls.

“We’re lost aren’t we?”, Solitaire murmured, drawing her knees up.

Patrick nodded and threw handfuls of sand at the opposite wall, “We will just have to wait until morning. Perhaps with more light we’ll be able to find our way”. “In or out?”. Patrick shrugged, “In I suppose. We have the advantage of already being here and they are going to have to come in and get us”. “Why should they? We can’t stay here forever, they’ll just wait for us to come out”.

“I suppose so”. “Then what?”.

“I don’t know”, Patrick got up, stormed down to the blank end and beat his fists against the wall.

A high pitched shriek pierced the silence, followed by shouts and commotion. Heavy wings thrashed the air and Solitaire ran to him. He tried to find hand holes to climb the wall, but it was too smooth.

“What’s happening?”, “I don’t know, it must be Marta”.

A dark shape flew across the moon, casting a strange shadow and the cries faded leaving them in dark dismal silence once more. Patrick stared up at the thin line of stars and an idea struck him.

“Carina”, he cried and a streak of light shot from the heavens.

The Fire Wraith hovered at the end of the corridor, pulsing with a warm blue flame. The Lady moved towards it wide eyed with awe. The tiny flame flickered and moved out into the corridor. They followed as the wraith bobbed and turned ahead of them.

On the rim, Marta, Thule, Equs and Bealach descended upon the guards with a fury that caused them to run without offering any resistance, leaving horses and gear behind. The Warrior Princess laughed as they stumbled and fell back towards the Singing Sands. Fingool staggered breathlessly to join the warriors, “Well done Marta. Bealach, go watch for any sign of their return”. The big dog bounded off leaving them to look down into the moonlit bowl. “Can you go in and bring them out?”, Marta asked.

Fingool shook his old head, “I have already done too much. I fear that my interference may do more harm than good”.

Marta nodded and Thule wondered what was going on, “So what do we do now?”, he asked bewildered.

“Wait”, Fingool replied and sat down on a rock.

The eastern sky was turning grey as they emerged from the labyrinth into the wide open centre of the maze. Carina flared and shot back into the sky leaving them tired and weary from the experience. Patrick leaned against the rock wall and looked around. Nothing moved and there was no sign of life anywhere. Solitaire lay against his chest.

“Where are they?”.

“Who?”, the Lady looked up into his face. “The Runes. Who else”.

She stared at him for a moment and then turned to point at the pillar of stones in the centre of the ring, “There”.

Patrick followed the line of her finger and, in the growing light, saw the three balanced rocks slowly turn until their wide sides faced them.

“The rocks! You mean the rocks are the Runes?”.

rock boulders balanced elevated from the ground surface
Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

She laughed at him and led him by the arm towards the massive boulders. Up on the rim, Marta’s keen eyesight saw then move across the clearing.

“There they are”, her jubilation was cut short by Bealach’s warning bark. Fingool glanced down into the amphitheatre to assure himself and then turned to watch the black hoard slowly climbing towards them. The sun burst into the sky casting a dark shadow on the realm of the Runes.

Equs bore Fingool away whilst Marta and Thule ran by his side, driving the horses. Retreat was the only option, for now.

The sun was well into it’s journey when the company of Yezidee reached the rim. Their leader, a huge monster nearly eight feet tall, seemed confused. His forked tongue flickered in and out, tasting the air. Marta watched from a rocky cleft a few hundred yards away and felt Thule’s fingernails dig into her forearm. It was the first time he had seen the reptilian creatures outside his imagination. With a human body, snakes head and thick long tail dragging behind, they were undoubtedly more fearsome than fireside stories could ever conjure up. “He was expecting Sadam and the vanguard”, Marta whispered.

“What will they do now?”.

“I don’t know”. She tried to see down into the bowl.

More of the creatures massed up behind, almost pushing the leaders over the edge. Marta estimated that there were more than fifty of them, but without direct instruction as to what to do, the stupid creatures might not prove too formidable. Fingool was busy talking to Hagar.

The hawk rose on the wind, turned and without a wing stroke, swept over the rim and down into the bowl. It’s call attracted Patrick’s attention and he put out an arm to receive the bird. As their eyes made contact, communication began and the young man looked up at the creatures encircling the wide rim. A moment later, Hagar was gone and Patrick returned his attention to the bleak wind worn boulders.

“What does Fingool advise?”, Solitaire enquired. “Nothing, we are on our own. He cannot help us”. “Cannot, or will not”, she said angrily.

Patrick didn’t answer her, choosing instead to walk around the balancing stones once more.

“How do you talk to these rocks?”, Patrick kicked the hard stone. “With respect”, a deep rumbling voice bellowed.

Patrick jumped back and stared at the lifeless stone.

Solitaire seemed amused, at least it took her mind off the growing number of creatures staring down at them from the rim. The sun was flooding the floor of the bowl and the temperature soared. Patrick made another circuit of the large stores.

“If I call you sir or madam will that make it easier?”.

There was a deep rumble and the rocks quivered, but no answer came. “Do you think they’re safe?”.

“They have stood here since time began, I don’t expect they are likely to fall now”, she answered coming to his side.

“Then why wont they talk to me”, he kicked the lower stone again.

“We are considering”, a guttural voice spoke and the contours of the bottom rock changed to reveal a face of eyes, nose and mouth. The two upper rocks demonstrated similar features and the large eye lids opened. Three pairs of dark blue eyes examined him with a cold, blank stare.

“So you are the Patrick are you?”, the centre one said, it’s wide mouth moving slowly, making a grating sound.

“Yes, and I need some answers”.

The top rock, the smallest, but still weighing some two tons or more, sniggered making a noise like grinding gravel, “Why should we answer your questions?”, it asked churlishly, cocking a stone eyebrow.

Patrick’s temper eased, “Because I need your help, to restore the Colour Stone. Can you tell me where it is?”.

“We can, but why should we?”. The stone faces contorted. Patrick’s anger flared again, “Because you’re supposed to”. The boulders rumbled and rocked, “That seems a poor reason and scant exchange for what it will cost us”, the middle stone said.

“What possible cost can there be for a little information, but if I can pay the cost I will do so gladly”.

The faces in the rocks disappeared, but rumbling sounds were heard deep in the bedrock. Patrick looked at Solitaire who shrugged and removed her outer garments, fanning herself against the rising heat. Several hours passed by and still the faces did not reappear. The sun burned down on them and Patrick regretted leaving the packs with Equs. His lips were dry and parched like the earth beneath him. Up on the ridge, the leader of the Yezidee had come to a decision and the reptilians began to descend slowly down the path into the bowl. The long line of snake men added to Patrick’s problems and he kicked the stone in frustration.Up on the ridge, Thule asked, “What are they doing?”.

Marta rose to watch the long line of Yezidee descending the causeway, “I suppose without Visgoth’s General here to give them specific orders, they are following their primary instruction to take, or kill, Patrick”.

“Can’t we do something?”.

Marta shook her head, “Not much, but the maze should delay them while I think. At least with all of them down there, we control the high ground”. “Sadam wont stay away long”, Fingool interposed.

Marta frowned and led her small group down to the top of the ramp. The last of the snake men were entering the maze and the heat haze enveloped their friends standing before the Runes.

Patrick screamed at the stones and his hoarse voice carried up to the ridge, “The Yezidee have entered the maze, don’t you care?”.

A face appeared at the lowest rock and one sleepy eye opened, “Why should we, they are no threat to us, but you, you are altogether a different problem”, the face disappeared again.

Patrick licked his lips and fumed. Marta called down to him, but the fine acoustic abilities of the auditorium were such that sound was amplified upwards only, and he couldn’t hear.

The strange faces of the Runes appeared again and it looked like they were smiling, “We have deliberated and decided to assist you”.

“Good. Now where is the Colour Stone?”.

“Tch, such haste”, the smallest rock said, “we expect that can be explained by your youth, but your ill manners cannot be excused. We are the earth gods, placed here since the beginning of time and should be afforded the relevant respect”.

“Ancient earth gods you may be, but as far as I’m concerned, you are just old rocks playing a stupid game that could cost us our lives”.

The rocks rumbled deep down and the earth shook, even Marta felt it.

“He’s making them very angry”, Fingool observed.

“We shall disregard your impertinence until you have heard the condition for our assistance”, the boulders said in unison.

“Condition!”, Patrick fumed, “you are earth gods, the restoration of the Stone is your duty even if it has no personal interest for you”.

“That is so, but the price we shall have to pay dictates the condition we must place before you”.

“What price can it possibly cost you?”, Patrick snapped. “Our continued existence”, they rumbled together. Patrick glared at them, “That is all any of you so called gods can think about, yourselves. Meanwhile, the earth dies and the crowning glory of creation is threatened. Does that mean nothing to you?”.

For a moment there was no answer, then the faces disappeared and the rumbling of mill stones grinding corn far below the earth raised Patrick’s temper to boiling point. Marta called down to him again, trying to relieve his frustration, but her words were wasted.

“All right”, he yelled, “what is the condition?”.

The full round features returned to the bare rock and the Runes grinned childishly, “We will help you, but when you leave this place, you must take us with you”.

Patrick’s jaw dropped and he sank to the ground. Marta gasped and Fingool chuckled. Solitaire, who had been seeking shade from the burning sun beneath the Runes, jumped up.

“That is impossible, a hundred men could not lift one of you”. “Nevertheless, that is our condition”, the faces faded into the stone.

Solitaire slumped down by Patrick’s side and he held her. The heat was becoming unbearable. They could not leave, the Yezidee were swarming all over the maze, tongues flicking at the dry air, and they could not take the Runes with them. The only solution Patrick could see was to try force the obstinate rocks to co-operate.

“Come back you heartless stone demigods”, he lashed out a kick. The upper stone face appeared.

“Do you accept the condition?”.

“How can I, it’s impossible”.

The face scowled and disappeared.

Marta paced up and down, her own temper rising with frustration and anger at the Runes attitude, “How can they make such an impossible demand of a mortal. Can’t you do something?”, she turned to the magician.

Fingool shook his head, but she had seen that grin before. “What can he do?”, she demanded, shaking his arms.

“Nothing I’m afraid”, the old man turned her away to watch the progress of the Yezidee, who, in spite of their lack of intelligence, by weight of numbers, were making steady progress through the stone corridors.

“They haven’t much time”, Thule observed and made for the ramp.

“Come back you young fool, there is nothing we can do. Solitaire is well aware of the situation. In her heart, she knows what to do”.

“How?”, Marta asked, “did Hagar tell her?”.

“No, but she has instinct and that will be enough”.

Patrick beat his fists on the rock, ignoring the searing heat radiating from them. Solitaire lay on the ground panting, hardly daring to draw breath for fear of scorching her lungs. A single eye opened in the grey stone.

“There is not much time. You must consent to our condition”.

Somehow, the rock seemed less emphatic and Patrick detected a hint of apprehension in the grating voice.

“But you have been here for millennia, why now should you be so afraid? Is it me you fear?”.

He watched the cold eyes flicker to Solitaire and back to him. It didn’t explain anything, “It’s the Lady you’re afraid of isn’t it?”.

“She will be our downfall unless you take us with you. You must agree or we shall be lost forever”, the balancing stones shook and the eyes pleaded for his understanding.

Patrick looked at the beautiful woman, hoping she could shed some light on what the Runes were implying. She lay prostrate on the ground, her beauty distorted by the rippling heat haze. It all became suddenly clear to her. She tried to speak, but her parched lips could not form the words. He went to her and knelt by her side.

“Listen to me Patrick, there is not much time”, she licked her lips and drew his face down. Her mouth caressed his cheek.

“The Runes are spirits who inhabit the rocks, but their size is only for show. You can take them with you, in your pocket if you wish, but take them you must. Agree to their demand and do it now”.

As she spoke, the first of the tall Yezidee emerged from the maze brandishing a huge battle axe and hissing like the wind.

“Very well Runes, I agree, but let me tell you this, if you harm the Lady, I shall destroy you”, he screamed and the faces grinned.

“Hold me Patrick”, she whispered, struggling to her feet.

He embraced her, watching the snake like creatures emerge from the dark tunnel of rock, wondering how he was going to shrink the Runes, let alone deal with the advancing foe.

Solitaire’s eyes sparkled, as they had done when he first saw her and her full, moist lips formed a smile. His hands and chest felt wet and cool air flowed over him. He stepped back bewildered and she whispered, “Goodbye beloved”, as she poured from his arms.

Marta and Thule watched astonished and Fingool’s grin broadened. Water bubbled in the cracks beneath his feet. The Yezidee froze in their tracks and the Runes rumbled with satisfaction as cold clear water sprang from the parched earth. As it touched the bottom stone, the combination of latent heat and icy water caused a crack to appear, then another. The boulder groaned as it split apart, throwing the others into the gushing fountain. By the time the level had reached Patrick’s waist, the massive stone citadel was reduced to rubble.

His tears mingled with the flood, but, true to his word, he reached down and recovered three small pieces of stone, dropping them into his pocket. The Yezidee had fled back into the maze and his friends watched with awe as the once bone dry amphitheatre filled to form a wide lake.

Patrick swam lazily towards the rim, avoiding the bloated and crushed bodies of snake like creatures floating around him. Fingool stretched out his staff as the clear water began to flow through the gap and down the rocky terrain to the sand below. A moment later, Patrick sat with his head in his hands staring at the water racing by.

No one spoke. There was nothing to be said. She was gone and the tears of the young men were all the comment necessary. Fingool watched the southern horizon and seemed unperturbed by what had happened. Marta watched her charge, trying to understand why the loss of the Lady was so necessary. She went to the distraught peat cutter.

“What will you do now Thule?”.

“What do you mean?”.

“Now that the Lady is no more, your vow to serve her on our quest is fulfilled. Will you return home?”.

He didn’t answer, but continued staring into the water.

“Do not weep for Solitaire for she has attained true godliness”, the old magician murmured.

“She gave everything to gain nothing and thus has achieved what all the others feared they would lose. Eternity”.

Marta and the young man gazed bewildered at the old man. Patrick began to speak.

“And what in the end is that which we’re sent but a dream that sets with the sun.

Only those who have grieved know that life is a thief and stolen the things yet to come.

And the pain that we bore, yesterday and before, must be bourn to the end of all time.

But now and again, if hope still remains, we glimpse truth that is yours and mine.

For no one can share that depth of despair, ‘though love tries to bridge it each time.

And what in the end but the love of a friend can make a heart hope to climb”.

Cool, clear water bubbled over the rim and they heard Solitaire’s voice say, “I will always be with you. Do not falter now”.

Patrick jumped up and thought he caught a glimpse of her face as the eddies formed along the edge of the lake before pouring out onto the singing sands.

mountains around a lake
Photo by Artem Zhukov on Pexels.com

“Sadam is coming with a larger army. We must move quickly or this will all be in vain”.

“No”, Patrick said and went for his pouch hanging from Equs’ side. “Not for nothing, that I swear”, he opened the cask Eartha had given him and sprinkled a little of the black soil on the water. Then he took a pinch of seeds from the elf box and cast them on the water too.

“You are a remarkable young man Patrick Cormack and when this story is told, this place shall be forever known as the Isle of Man, for you will be remembered long after the Isle of Runes has drifted from myth to fantasy. But now we must go or it really will have been in vain”, Fingool pointed a long thin finger south where the dust of the singing sand was rising in a thick choking column.

“Wait”, Patrick reached into his deep pocket and drew out three small stones seated one above the other. He held them upright in the palm of his hand and watched the tiny faces appear.

“I have kept my part of the bargain, ‘though the cost was indeed high, now you will keep yours. Who has the Colour Stone?”.

The three mouths smiled and the eyes glowed, “No one”.

Patrick was taken aback and for a moment considered hurling the stack back into the lake, but Fingool restrained him.

“Where is the Colour Store?”, the old man asked.

The miniature Runes ignored him, having eyes only for the one who held them. Patrick repeated the question through clenched teeth.

“The Colour Stone is encased in ice in the Kingdom of the Snow Queen. It was taken by her son, Perma, he wanted to bring colour into the Queen’s white and lifeless world, but as you know, the stone has no colour of it’s own and so, they threw it away believing it to be worthless”.

Even Fingool looked surprised at this revelation. “Then how shall I find it?”, Patrick snapped.

The top stone smiled, “You will, but first you must find the Snow Queen and her whelp”.

“So my quest will succeed?”. “Yes and no”.

Patrick’s anger flared and he raised the triad high above his head, drawing back his arm as if to hurl them into the deep water, “Do not play games with me for I have no love for you”.

“Why should we play games. We speak only what we see and know”.

“Will I succeed in finding the Colour Stone and returning to Eridu?”.


“And yet you say that I will fail”.

The stones grated together, “You are mortal, thus it is your nature to both succeed and fail, for you know what they are, but do not understand them. The Lady knew”.

Patrick’s arm shook and the smile left their polished faces, “Do not speak of her, you charged the price of her life for yours and are unworthy of her grace”.

“You are wrong Patrick her sacrifice was what was needed to survive to be in the position we are now, to help you in your quest”.

He looked into their deep blue eyes and at Fingool who nodded knowingly, “They can only speak the truth Patrick, it is all they know. Now can we please go”.

Patrick repeated the question through clenched teeth.

“The Colour Stone is encased in ice in the Kingdom of the Snow Queen. It was taken by her son, Perma, he wanted to bring colour into the Queen’s white and lifeless world, but as you know, the stone has no colour of it’s own and so, they threw it away believing it to be worthless”.

Even Fingool looked surprised at this revelation. “Then how shall I find it?”, Patrick snapped.

The top stone smiled, “You will, but first you must find the Snow Queen and her whelp”.

“So my quest will succeed?”. “Yes and no”.

Patrick’s anger flared and he raised the triad high above his head, drawing back his arm as if to hurl them into the deep water, “Do not play games with me for I have no love for you”.

“Why should we play games. We speak only what we see and know”.

“Will I succeed in finding the Colour Stone and returning to Eridu?”.


“And yet you say that I will fail”.

The stones grated together, “You are mortal, thus it is your nature to both succeed and fail, for you know what they are, but do not understand them. The Lady knew”.

Patrick’s arm shook and the smile left their polished faces, “Do not speak of her, you charged the price of her life for yours and are unworthy of her grace”.

“You are wrong Patrick Cormack. You would have died without her sacrifice and we needed to survive to be in the position we are now, to help you in your quest”.

He looked into their deep blue eyes and at Fingool who nodded knowingly, “They can only speak the truth Patrick, it is all they know. Now can we please go, I for one have had enough for today”.

Marta loaded the packs on one of the captured horses whilst Thule filled water skins from the lake. Patrick said his private farewells and Fingool gave Hagar instructions before turning to the group.

“Now you have a choice and it will not be easy whichever you choose. The icy kingdom of the Snow Queen lies due north and that is one way, but the terrain is rough and it will involve a long sea journey. Your second choice is east, across the Singing Sands and into the West Marshes before you reach true land, a short journey across the Shallow Sea and then north into the cold world of the Trolls. Make your choice quickly for Hagar will not hold them long”.

Patrick looked at Marta for advice, she in turn looked at Thule.

“Yes I’m coming with you, my Lady would want me to, and my vote is for the direct route”.

Marta smiled, “Not because Solitaire would want it I hope”. He shook his head and smiled, turning away with embarrassment.

“The shortest may not be the quickest”, she said, turning to Patrick.

“No, I tend to agree. The longer we can use the horses, the better. I think we should take the longer route. What are the risks?”.

Marta looked exasperated and Fingool laughed.

“We must cross the Singing Sands again, about the same distance we have already covered. Then we face the West Marshes, they are probably even more dangerous than the sands. After that, two days ride to the Shallow Sea where storms spring up at the least excuse and three or four days at sea. From there we strike north over the flat lands where rain turns earth to sea in a matter of hours. After two or three days, we come to the Skaggerak, a wide swift river, and then into the northern lands where Trolls rule and exact a heavy price from travellers”, Marta was looking despondent at her own recital.

“I don’t think I want to hear any more”, Patrick smiled. “Neither do I, but I suspect that is the way we’re bound”, Thule grinned.

“Good. Now that it’s settled, be off as quickly as you can”. “What about you?”, Patrick asked the old man.

“I shall wait for Sadam, but do not worry, I will catch you up. It is a long time since I visited the Ice Palace and I am looking forward to her convivial, but frigid friendship”.

As they left that dark and desolate isle, the travellers could already see the result of Solitaire’s sacrifice carrying the gifts of the gods down the barren slopes. Sphagnum clung to the wet rocks, saplings of willow were growing by the running water’s edge and where the water had formed wide pools, Green Winged Orchids had already begun to flower. The barren black Isle of Runes was coming to life and the sight of it gladdened their hearts as they left Solitaire behind and descended onto the Singing Sands east of the Isle of Man.

It was almost dark when they reached the sand and, in spite of their fears, set foot on that lifeless place. Bealach picked his way through the dark ponds followed by Thule, towing the pack horse, Marta, constantly looking over her shoulder, and at the despondent Patrick burdened by his grief.

Fingool, still standing at the lakeside, sniffed the air. Something was wrong. Had he underestimated Sadam? What was it that troubled him? He glanced at Hagar perched on his arm and saw the alarm in the golden orbs of his eyes. In the purple haze of dusk, the old wizard saw the twin threat. There was no time to send a warning, he had to act.

With a word, he despatched Hagar and focused a challenge to Sadam, hoping that Equs would sense the threat and take Patrick to safety.

The unicorn’s head came up and his nostrils flared. Patrick snatched the flying mane as the great beast swung left and broke into a gallop. Marta yelled, but the speed of the unicorn had bourn Patrick away before her words could reach him. She set off in pursuit wondering what could possibly have spooked the beast. Then, she sensed the danger too and ordered Bealach away. The dog hesitated, baring it’s teeth, but, knowing that flight was in the best interests of them all, turned away and bounded off into the gathering gloom.

“Let the pack horse go”, Marta screamed over her shoulder and urged her mount on.

Even the beasts had sensed the danger and foamed at the mouth as they strove to outrun the fear that pursued them.

“Visgoth has released the dogs of desolation” Patrick clung on to the unicorn’s neck, fearing they would career into one of the deep dark pools. He tried to peer ahead, but at the speed they were traveling, everything was a blur. He still had no idea why Equs had taken off like that or where they were heading. At least the beast seemed to know. From his knowledge of the unicorn’s ability to read his mind, he knew that Equs was doing what was in their best interest, but why was beyond him. He simply hung on and closed his eyes.

“What is it?”, Thule yelled as he came alongside the warrior.

Suddenly, Equs veered from his straight path and began jinking left and right, still maintaining his spectacular gait. It was the first time since mounting the beast in Eridu that Patrick felt afraid. The swish of wings filled the air and a dark shadow passed over them. Whatever it was cackled menacingly and beat hard on its wings as it turned. A shooting star flashed through the heavens bursting into brilliant blue light flooding the dark sands with it’s fire. The flying creature swept in again and struck the wall of blue flame. Patrick thought he saw a familiar face outlined in the glare, but couldn’t be sure. Equs turned away and the light faded as another heavy beating of wings throbbed in the air. Strange screams and hissing sounds filled the darkness, fading as the unicorn thundered on. The blue flame raced ahead and there, in the darkness, illuminated a pillar of rock rising out of the flat empty sand. Equs made straight for it and Patrick felt a sense of relief.

The rock rose twenty feet above the sand, but on one side was connected to it by a drift, carved by the wind into a flying bridge. Equs picked his way over the bridge carefully allowing Patrick to dismount. As soon as the packs were removed, the unicorn returned to the dune and began destroying the flying buttress with powerful kicks. The moment the bridge was down, the great horse broke into a gallop, retracing his trail. Patrick sat down and watched Carina flickering just beyond the edge of the rock.

Several miles back, Marta saw the blue flame pierce the darkness and hoped that the wraith had been enough to defend Patrick from whatever had over flown them. The sound of the pursuing pack was drawing closer. Her most optimistic estimate told her that they would not make it.

“Pray God he is safe”, she whispered and dug her heels into her horse’s flank.

Fingool smiled at the handsome young man as he stepped lightly from the red dragon’s back. “So, Visgoth has loaned you his pretty bird has he?”

Sadam’s eyes flashed angrily, “I did not expect to find you still here, or have you realised your folly and decided to throw yourself upon my mercy?” “And what would you know of mercy?”, Fingool chuckled.

The dragon snorted, blowing a sulfurous stench over them as they squared up to each other. It’s glowing eyes eager to be free of their game.

“Come with me now and I will show you what I know of mercy. Persuade The Patrick to give up his quest and I will let you both live”, Sadam snarled. “Are you telling me that you can control the Dogs of Desolation?”, the old man feigned surprise.

“We have advanced much since you forced us from Eridu. Our time has not been wasted in idle pursuit of self-gratification like you and your ancient friends of the council”.

The dragon tugged at his halter, wishing to be there at the kill, but a look from Sadam quietened him.

“I know, your work on the Yezidee has neared perfection, but I suggest that with the new batch, you teach them to swim”, Fingool laughed and demonstrated the bloated bodies washed up on the new lakeshore.

“I cannot waste time here with you old man. You can still save him if you wish, he means nothing to me dead or alive”.

Fingool roared with laughter, “Really, and yet you are prepared to loose the Dogs of Desolation and bring this old weary beast out of exile in order to catch him?”, he poked the reclining dragon with his staff.

The horny beast snapped at the stick, flaming angrily, rising on its haunches and pulling the halter out of the young man’s hands.

“Do not provoke me old man”, Sadam snarled, thrusting a quivering finger at Fingool’s thin chest and reaching for the reins to bring the agitated beast under control.

Fingool’s laughter filled the night and he felt a twinge of satisfaction when a tiny blue light flared in the darkness.

The main body of the pack passed well to the west, but Marta could hear a break away group closing in on them. Thule’s face whitened as he heard the screams of the pack horse somewhere close and Marta debated whether it would be better to dismount and fight on foot. The decision was made for her as the first of the huge dogs leaped out of the darkness and sank its teeth into the rump of her mount. The horse went down and four more of the vicious canines descended upon the stricken beast. Marta was thrown clear, rolled and came to her feet. Thule pulled up and turned to aide her, but at the same moment, two more dogs crashed into his mount, ripping at the horses flanks. As Thule fell, one of the dogs bit deep into his arm. Marta was on it, driving her short sword into the dog’s ribs. She dragged the trembling youth to his feet and they stood back to back facing certain death.

Marta’s horse screamed as the dogs tore at its flesh. The helpless beast kicked out, thrashing thin air until one of the huge hounds sank its teeth into the throat and it lay still. In the lull, whilst the dogs savaged the horses, Equs slipped in and Marta threw Thule onto the unicorn’s back. A moment later, they were overtaking the main pack, heading for the light shining in the darkness.

Patrick jumped up and down, willing them on. He had heard the baying of the approaching pack and, whilst he had no idea who or what they were, he knew they did not wish him well. Carina’s bright light showed him that Equs was well ahead, but as the unicorn had destroyed the bridge, he had no idea how they would get up to him. He considered climbing down, but the Fire Wraith warned him to stay where he was and raced away to confuse the snarling pack of dogs. Equs halted beneath the pinnacle allowing Marta and Thule to stand on his back to gain as much height as possible. Once they had a grip, Patrick willed Equs away and the unicorn sped off into the night pursued by a small group of terrifying dogs. Patrick knew that the magnificent beast could easily outrun them, but he knew nothing of the dogs’ tenacity.

Marta climbed quickly, but Thule struggled as the bounding dogs leapt at him. Patrick yelled a warning, but his cry was drown by the barking, snarling beasts and, as the peat cutter shifted position, one of the dogs sank its terrible fangs into his foot and hung on. Marta reached the summit and immediately began loosing arrows into the milling dogs. She had not seen the youth’s predicament, nor did she see Patrick slide over the edge.

The hound’s eyes pulsed red, reflecting the blood which poured from between its jowls and Thule’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the crevice for dear life. Patrick came alongside him and lashed at the dog with his boot. It would not loosen its grip and began to thrash, opening the wound and sapping the youth’s strength. Patrick reached for Thule’s sword and slashed at the crazed dog’s head, cutting off one ear. The hound yelped, let go and fell into the seething mass of its compatriots below. They smelled the fresh blood and set upon it.

Patrick helped his injured friend to the rock platform where Marta was firing off her last arrow. As the pierced dog fell, the others tore at it until only fur and a memory remained. Thule lay on his back panting while his friends tried to stem the flow of blood. All around their rock island, the dogs prowled, baying at their prey and licking blood from their salivating jaws.

“What now?”, Patrick asked.

Marta shrugged.

The red dragon thrashed its gossamer wings and roared, belching smoke and fumes, “I should kill you now, but I am needed elsewhere”, Sadam said, drawing the beast’s neck down and mounting awkwardly.

Fingool chuckled, “With what? Impostor, your only weapon is fear and the edge is blunt. Go play with your puppies, I too have better things to do”, he threw his cloak around him and disappeared into the night.

The great dragon rose ponderously into the dark sky and the old magician reappeared, hoping that he had bought sufficient time. A few moments later, Hagar dropped out of the cloudless sky and reported the situation to his master.

“Good, then there is still time. Come my friend, we have much to do”.

Patrick took the water skin and thought about Solitaire as he pressed it to Thule’s mouth. It was cold and invigorating, restoring strength and hope and the youth sat up.

“Thanks Patrick, you saved my life”, he smiled.

“For a while anyway”. Patrick thought about drinking, but replaced the stopper and stared at the circling throng.

“They’re not wolves are they?”, he said, looking at Marta.

She shook her head, “No. They are Visgoth’s hunting pack, known as the Dogs of Desolation because of their disregard for all life. It is said that once they have the taste of blood, they will even turn on their handlers, tearing them limb from limb”.

“Equs will be able to outrun them won’t he?”.

She nodded, “For a day or two. We are safe enough here, but I can’t see them getting bored and just going home”.

“I have a few arrows”, Thule offered, rising unsteadily to his feet.

“If you can kill six with each arrow we might win”, she snapped bitterly. “Stop it Marta, we’ll find a way”, Patrick drew his friends close offering a weak smile.

Marta thrust his arm away, “Don’t patronize Patrick, you alone have the answer to this dilemma. Destroy them with the Sun Sword”.

He stared at her, “Kill them?”.

“I can’t”, Patrick looked down at the prowling dogs.

“Why not?”, she dragged him round and saw the frightened face of a child. He didn’t answer at first. His lip quivered. Thule came to his side, offering sympathy and presenting an excuse, “If I use the sword, it might harm Thule. No, there must be another way”.

Marta stormed off to the far edge of the rock and watched the hounds circle below her, returning only when the peat cutter moaned from the growing pain. She changed the blood soaked dressings and wondered how long they could last.

The quarter moon rose casting a ghostly light on the scene. Thule moaned and began to sweat. Marta wrapped him as best she could, but it was plain his wounds were serious. The small pack, which had attacked Marta, joined the main body adding volume to the awful baying. Two of the pack leaders trotted to the top of the dune, almost level with the pinnacle, but a good twenty feet away, and stared with fiery red eyes at their prey. Patrick shuddered as they drooled at him.

“Have you any of the herbs in your pack?”, Marta asked.

Patrick shook his head without looking at her, “I think they’re going to try jump it, jump the gap”, he mumbled.

“You’re going to have to do something Patrick”, she said, joining him at the edge.

“I can’t, what about the effect on Thule?”.

“He’s dying anyway, unless we can get medicines, and we can’t if we stay here”.

“But what if I kill him?”.

“He would say it was worth the risk”.

“Would he? No one would give away their life just like that”.

“Solitaire did”.

Patrick shot her a black look and went to sit by the peat cutter. It all seemed so worthless. One friend dead, the other dying and for what, a stupid stone that nobody seemed to want anyway.

The first dog made the leap, reaching the rock with its massive front paws, but unable to gain a hold. It slid down the face and trotted back to the top of the dune. The second beast took a longer run up, but again was just short of getting sufficient footing. For an hour they tried, others came to join them. The effort seemed to reawaken the frenzy and soon, they were making the attempt two and three at a time.

Marta waited, feet apart and sword at the ready, watching them and marvelling at their tenacity. The first to land with all four feet was quickly despatched and became fodder for those below, sharpening their lust for blood.

“They’re getting the hang of it Patrick. Decide soon”, she snapped as another made the leap, falling to her blade.

Patrick began to cry. Thule had drifted into a comma and Marta was having to back away from the edge as the hell hounds seemed to be gaining new strength and ability from some unseen source. Two landed at once, demanding every ounce of strength and skill from the warrior princess. “Patrick”, she yelled as two more landed.

One she killed immediately, but the second dodged her blade and made straight for the young man, leaping at his throat. He rolled back and managed to get his legs under the dog, throwing it over the far edge, but the incident emphasised their lack of time.

“You must use the sword”, Marta screamed.

“I can’t”, he stammered coming up beside her.

“We will all die soon. Risk the harm to Thule”.

“It’s not that Marta, I can’t use it because I’m afraid of it”.

She stole a glance at him as the next wave prepared to leap, “Afraid of the sword, or what it can do?”, she dealt with the assault and waited for him to explain.

“I’ve seen it too often, give a gun to a small man and he thinks he’s a giant. When someone has a means of dealing out death and destruction, they think that they have the right to decide who shall live and who shall die. They believe that the weapon makes them justified and the truth is forgotten”, he cringed as two more dogs made the leap. One fell, the other died on Marta’s sword.

“Patrick, they are dogs, they are trying to kill you. Doesn’t that justify you killing them?”.

“No Marta, it doesn’t”, he gripped her arm, “today it’s the dogs, tomorrow it might be people and nothing justifies the wholesale slaughter of human beings by a superior power”.

“Are you saying that the whole world should just lie down and die because someone stole the Colour Stone and you don’t feel justified in doing something about it!”, Marta snapped as she threw back the next assault, “Then Ulfert and Solitaire have died in vain and you might as well jump off this rock and make it easy for them”.

“I don’t know Marta, I’m confused, I just don’t know”.

“Are you afraid that if you use the power, you won’t be able to control it, that it will control you?”.

“Yes, I suppose so”, he flinched as she destroyed another beast, “All power corrupts”.

“You have a lot to learn Patrick. Power only corrupts the corruptible”. “Then all are corruptible Marta, for the High Council didn’t fare too well did they? They had the power to prevent all this, they still do, but where are they? Looking after themselves, that’s where”, he turned back to Thule and took his sword, taking a stance beside her. “I will not use it for using its sake”, gritting his teeth, he pushed her aside and bore the brunt of the next attack.

The eastern sky paled, turning grey and pink as the dawn approached, but the two had no time to admire its beauty as more of the huge dogs queued up to take the leap of death. Despite the rate of attrition, they were tiring faster than they were destroying the hounds, the daylight prospects were no better than those of the long night. To make matters worse, the Dogs of Desolation had ceased attacking their own dead and wounded and a mound of twisted bodies was growing beside the pinnacle. Soon they would have a second front from which to assault the rock tower.

Marta saw the dragon first. The growing light drove back the shadows and she understood the determination of the pack. When Patrick saw the great red beast, his knees buckled and he felt that it was all over. Even the power of the Sun Sword could not possibly overcame the wondrous mythical creature, with its white clad rider barking orders to the dogs from his lofty perch.

The horny-scaled monster lumbered towards them, raising puffs of dust as its huge clawed feet stomped the sand. Its master smiled sweetly as the dogs moved aside to let him through.

“You must be weary”, he called, “wouldn’t you like to stop all this nonsense and go home. I’m sure your family must be worried about you by now”.

Patrick stared at him.

“Come now Patrick, is it really worth it? Does anyone care?”.

His soft persuasive voice washed over the rock like gentle waves on a summer beach. Even the dogs quietened down.

“Don’t listen to him Patrick, he is the great deceiver”.

“Silence Marta the Warrior, what do you know of peace and love”, Sadam grinned, “Come now child, be sensible, come down from your cold rock and let us talk”.

“Who is he?”, Patrick whispered. “Sadam, Visgoth’s General”.

“You’re too late Sadam, you should have come before Solitaire gave her life for what she believed and now Thule is dying too. Now there is a price to pay”.

“But it is not you who should be paying it. This is not your problem, you should be at home where you belong. Why should you bear the burden of the gods, let them solve their own problems and as for your friends”, he removed a glass jar from beneath his cloak. “if that is your only reason for staying, I will give you Solitaire back and make sure the mortal lives”.

“He’s lying”, Marta hissed.

Patrick put up a hand to quieten her and stared into the jar. Within the water, Solitaire raised a hand to wave to him. She looked beautiful in her white gown, just as he remembered her. Thule moaned and a flock of geese swept overhead in vee formation.

“Can you really bring her back?”.

“Take my word for it. The moment you agree to end this futile quest, I will release her from the jar and send you both home if you wish”.

Another flock of birds flew over and the dogs became agitated. The dragon too raised its massive snout to gaze at the sky filling with all manner of ducks, geese, crows and birds of prey.

“Get lost Sadam and take your lies with you”.

The young man’s face darkened and the dragon belched fire and smoke, “You will be sorry Patrick, I am giving you the chance to live, take it whilst I still have a notion”.

“You have no power over my life nor my death Sadam, so do your worst and be dammed”.

The dragon rose on its haunches, towering above them all, but it was not threatening them, rather warding off a flight of diving birds. Sadam cursed and maliciously poured out the jar of water into the dry sand. With a word, he set the dogs into a fury of yelping far worse than anything they had heard all night. Marta braced herself as the first of the leaping dogs came at them again. Sadam mounted the beast ready to enter the fray. Patrick reached over his shoulder and touched the cold gem on the pommel of the Sun Sword.

Over the dune poured rabbits and hares in their hundreds, weaving and dodging between the dogs, causing confusion and disarray. The huge dragon took to the air, but was immediately engulfed in a cloud of birds. Squirrels, hedgehogs, stoats, weasels, foxes and badgers ballooned into the melee. Soon the attack on the rock was forgotten and the dogs disappeared in every direction, pursuing their natural prey. The dragon could not concentrate on its masters commands as the clumsy beast was pounded by flights of birds tearing at its flimsy wings. Sadam was forced to abandon the attack.

Patrick and Marta watched the unbelievable scene unfold at their feet.

Thule’s cry of pain dragged their attention from the fracas and they went to kneel beside him. Patrick could not get the vision of Solitaire, trapped in the glass vase, out of his mind. She seemed to be trying to say something, but all he could think of was her beauty gone forever. He took the water skin and pressed it to Thule’s mouth, allowing a few drops to fall onto the boy’s parched lips. As he took it away, some of the water spilled onto the injured arm bringing an immediate reduction to the swelling. He poured more of the precious fluid onto the wound, then treated his leg in the same way. Within minutes, Thule was on his feet and ready to fight, but the enemy had gone.

They were taking stock of what they had left when Fingool appeared riding Equs. He called cheerily up to them, and announced the coming of a herd of horses.

“It seems the whole animal kingdom has heard of the new Isle of Man and wishes to see its magnificence. Do you intend spending the rest of your days up there, or are you ready to continue your quest?”.

Patrick grinned and threw down the packs, being careful to avoid the heap of dead dogs. As he climbed down, he reviewed the desolation and swore that if he could, he would prevent more death.

“Do not feel too badly Patrick, they knew what they were doing and did all they could”, Fingool offered consolation.

“Yes, but why should they die for me?”.

“Not for you, but for the future, for their offspring”.

“Is there no other way?”, he knelt and stroked the soft blood stained fur of a young rabbit.

“No Patrick. You and you alone can restore the Colour Stone, all they can do, is help make it possible”, the old man’s smile was full of compassion. “And they’ll reap their reward in heaven, is that it? Don’t feed me that bull old man, I had a belly full of that from the Minister when my parents were killed, it’s just an excuse for what we don’t know”.

“Is it? Then why did you come? Why go on as you did last night? As Marta said, you could have ended it quickly, there would have been pain, but it would have been soon over. Why did you choose to come?”.

Patrick stared into the tired old face, examining each line, following the contours of life across the wise visage that seemed to know more than it said, “I don’t know anymore. At first, it seemed like an adventure, an escape from a bad dream, but now”, he looked around at the strange battlefield and waited for Marta and Thule to join him, “I’m not sure which dream is worse”.

They walked together to the top of the dune where Equs nuzzled him and Bealach herded four horses towards them.

“What happened to the dragon?, and how do you know what happen here last night?”, Patrick turned to Fingool again.

The old man laughed heartily, “Enough to know that you understand more than you know. You will use the Sun Sword when you are ready and not before, when you know yourself as well as you think you understand others. As for the old red man, he has gone home to lick the wounds in his pride, but come, we must go quickly for Sadam’s army is still on your trail”. “Are you coming with us?”.

“For a little way. I have sent Hagar ahead to find a route across the Black Pool, he will come for me when he has found it”. They rode back the way they had flown, collecting their packs from the carcasses along the way, and resumed their journey east.


The setting sun warmed their backs as they climbed from the bowl of coarse sand onto a plateau of silt, bearing scattered outcrops of marsh sampire and sea meadow grasses. Hagar was perched on a dead tree branch and called to them as they approached.

“He has found a crossing”, Fingool smiled.

They completed the rise and looked out over a wide, black canal stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. Beyond the strip of dark dismal water lay an area of wet marsh broken by occasional islands of firm earth dotted with spindly scrub. Further still, picked out by the setting sun, a range of mountains filled the horizon.

Bealach picked up the trail Hagar had led them to. A narrow place where small animal tracks emerged from the black pool. The opposite bank was too far away to see if the crossing was straight, but the hawk took flight and hovered above strategic points on the hidden path.

“Should we not wait until morning to cross?”, Thule asked, “it is almost dark”.

“I would prefer the Black Pool between us if Sadam is in pursuit”. “Then let’s go”, Patrick urged Equs on and the others followed.

The stagnant pool was not deep, but the liquid was thick and smelled strangely sweet as the horses stirred the bottom silt. Hagar held his position and Bealach followed the line. It took a full ten minutes to complete the crossing, but once on the other side, the travellers heaved a sigh of relief and dropped from their mounts onto a hard gravel island. Thule was soon asleep. Marta covered him and began to prepare a hot meal on the fire Fingool had conjured up.

Patrick stood looking west, but could see little through the heat haze drifting up from the empty sands. Solitaire seemed far away and the night spent on the pinnacle just another part of a bad dream. He turned to warm himself by the fire, only half listening to his companions conversation. “Press on at dawn and I will see you again at the Sheerwood Elves, there we may rest for a day or so. But beware of the mountain Drogs, they are not friendly at the best of times. I will send Hagar if need be, otherwise, God speed”.

Patrick looked at the thin old man, “Leaving us again Fingool? Why is it that as soon as you disappear, we seem to get into trouble?”.

The magician laughed, “You shouldn’t be so popular. Fear not, you will be safe enough here until morning”.

“Wonderful. What then, an aerial attack by dragons, supported by wolf cavalry and Yezidee foot soldiers to mop up what’s left?”.

“Unlikely, wolves don’t like the marshes”, he chuckled.

The fire flamed brightly. Patrick lay on his back studying the stars, half sleeping, half awake, trying hard not to think of the great red dragon as sparks from the dry wood spiraled into the sky.

Marta called softly and the smell of stew assailed him. At first, it brought back memories of savaged animals scattered across the sand. He swallowed hard, but the hunger pains forced him to close his mind and join Marta by the fire.

“What about Thule?”.

“Let him sleep, I will keep some for him”.

It was only when she gave him his second bowl that he realised Fingool had already gone.

“Why does he keep disappearing?”.

“Fingool? He has much to do”, she answered, chewing on a bone.

“Such as?”

“Preparing the way for us, now he knows where we are going, and apart from that, he needs to keep an eye on what Visgoth is up to and where Sadam is. He will send Hagar if we are in danger. Relax, finish your food and sleep, I will keep watch”.

He thought about protesting, allowing a woman to stay up first, after all, she must be just as tired as him, but then, she was a trained warrior. “Who are the Drogs Fingool was talking about?”

Marta took his empty bowl, offering him a tankard of mulled wine. He took it and sipped the smooth liquid, watching her tidy up. A housewife warrior, without fear or worry over dish pan hands, he thought and smiled, settling down as she began to explain.

“The Drogs were Visgoth’s first creation. After the war at Eridu, when Visgoth and his kind were expelled from Erin, he took a third of the populace with him, but it wasn’t enough for his grand design. A few of the mortals followed him, mostly out of fear, but he needed people to work, to build his palace at Espair and so he manufactured the Drogs. Strange creatures they turned out to be, thick set and shaped like a pear with short dumpy legs and fat arms. Completely hairless and no chin, nose or ears. He set them to mine and quarry the stone and precious ores he needed. They had little intelligence or inclination for anything else, so when the job was done, he turned them out. Not knowing what else to do, they moved into the mountains to dig. They stayed, keeping themselves to themselves, they do not like intruders, that is why we must take care when we cross the Dragon’s Back”, she gestured east.

“What do they do with it?”. “What?”.

“Whatever it is they dig up”.

“Nothing, they just dig it up because that’s what they were created to do”, she laughed lightly.

“Is the dragon one of his creations too?”.

“Old Clwyd? No, not at all. He is the last of his kind. Visgoth found him wallowing in his lair on the snow donned mountain where he wished to build Espair. They came to an arrangement whereby Visgoth would take care of the old man in his last years in return for services when required”.

“So it’s just the Drogs, and presumably the Yezidee, who are creations of Visgoth?”, Patrick yawned and propped himself up on one elbow.

“Who knows what they spawned in the depths of Espair, trying to create their own private world. The Yezidee were made specifically to fight,

so we assume that he had designs on Eridu and probably the rest of the world”.

“Then this is the ideal excuse for him?”.

“Probably, now get some sleep”, she smiled and tossed a blanket.

He awoke to the distant sound of thunder and stretched. The sun ridged the mountains, casting shadows of horses across their camp fire, still glowing warm and comforting. He stretched again and looked at the two little mounds of his friends beneath their thick pelts. The thunder echoed on and on and Bealach began to sniff the air. Equs whinnied and Hagar swooped in with a loud shriek.

Marta hurled off her rug and leaped up, brandishing her sword. “It’s all right, it’s only thunder”, Patrick chuckled. “Thunder my eye”, she snapped, kicking Thule in the ribs. Patrick listened more intently, realising that, whilst the rumble changed pitch, it didn’t stop. “What is it?”.

“Horsemen, coming from the west. Hurry, we must move before they see us”, Marta began packing while the still sleepy Thule prepared their mounts. “Too late, I think”, Patrick said, pointing to the sky.

The great red dragon wheeled gracefully above them, guiding the army that was drawing ever nearer.

As they settled their seat, a party of heavily armed horsemen came over the bar and halted on the far side of the black pool. There were thirty or more and their leader gave a whoop of glee as he urged them into the thick black mire.

“Ride”, Marta yelled and swung her horse away.

“Wait”, Patrick slid dawn from the unicorn. He watched the riders slow advance across the channel, “I think the time has come to strike back”. Marta began to protest. Thule unslung his bow. Patrick walked slowly to the fire and waited until the riders were midway across the stream. He picked up a brand, blew on it and hurled it as far as he could into the dark mire.

red and orange solar flare
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The thin finger of smoke, rising from where the burning branch had landed, suddenly erupted and a sheet of flame swept across the pitch lake, threatening the riders and hurling a thick black cloud into the sky.

Marta stared at the young man, “I thought you didn’t want any more killing of man nor beast?”.

“I don’t”, he said, “but I’m beginning to realise that this quest is more important than me. I think that’s what the Runes meant when they said I would succeed and fail, anyway, they’ve got enough time to get back across if they hurry”.

Equs dropped to his knees, allowing the young man to mount and they rode away from the terrible screams and darkening sky.

They rode a straight line for almost an hour, through mud and water, sand and shale, then turned slightly south for another hour before stopping on a wide island. There was no sign of the dragon, but the eastern sky was covered by a dark blanket from horizon to horizon.

“We will rest and eat”, Marta said, breaking out a pack.

“How does Bealach know where to go, this marsh looks the same in every dimension?”, Patrick asked, chewing on a thick root, “has he been here before?”.

“He follows the earth lines”, she answered matter of fact.

“Earth lines? Oh, you mean Lay Lines”.

“Do I?”.

“It’s a theory, based on some kind of magnetic lines connecting various points on the earth’s surface, along which energy flows”.

“It’s no theory”, Thule laughed, “How else do you find your way anywhere?”.

Patrick stared at him, then looked at Marta. She was puzzled at his expression, “Yes”, she said, “how do you find your way to somewhere you’ve never been in your world?”.

“Are you two seriously telling me that you follow lines of power in the earth when you go somewhere?”.

“Of course, how else can you get to where you’ve never been?”.

Patrick scratched his head and thought about it. What came first, the pathway or the map? Then he began to think about the animals, Equs and Bealach, they seemed to know what he was thinking and acted on his thoughts.

“Can you also communicate with animals?”, he asked.

Thule shook his head and Marta looked at them both, “But of course, can’t you”.

“No, but then we don’t have much to do with creatures in the peat bogs, just the goats and chickens, and who wants to talk to them anyway”, he grinned.

Patrick shook his head. He looked at Marta, “But you can?”.

“Yes, and so can you, either that, or you are a better horseman than you initially led me to believe”.

“Well, I grant you Equs seems to know what I’m think but he doesn’t speak to me”.

“He most certainly does, perhaps you don’t listen”, Marta grinned. “You’re making a fool of me”, he grinned back.

“No, it’s true, clever people do communicate with beasts”, Thule insisted and they laughed.

By nightfall the black smoke was just a smudge across the sky and the mountains loomed nearer, but they were still constrained in the flat marsh. Marta appeared reluctant to spend the night, but they were all weary and there seemed little choice. They halted on a broad swath of land bearing several stunted trees.

“We must light fires all around the perimeter”, Marta said, sending Thule to gather sticks whilst she began preparing blindfolds for the horses. Equs and Bealach elected to leave the camp for the night and disappeared into the marsh.

“What’s going on?”, Patrick asked.

“The deep marsh is a place to be avoided after dark. Unfortunately, we have no choice. Don’t worry, your friends will find their own place of safety, but one of us must be awake throughout the night”.

“Then let me take the first watch, you must be tired”.

She nodded and smiled her gratitude. Thule carne back for a flint and soon had a number of small fires burning all around their island.

As darkness encroached, a mist grew up from the marsh, distorting shapes and sounds, even the croak of frogs seemed to echo on forever, rebounding from shadows and figments of imagination.

“Are you sure?”, Marta emphasised.

“Yes, for goodness sake, get some rest. I’ll wake Thule in a couple of hours”.

“Patrick, you are also tired, but you must not sleep. Promise?”.

“I promise Marta, now get some rest before the night has gone”, he grinned, threw a pelt round his shoulders and set off to tour the perimeter fires. All but one needed feeding from the little pile stacked close by. When he came back to the camp, both his companions were deep in slumber.

He poured himself a hot drink and rested his chin on his knees, staring into the fire, watching the embers flare and spit, then die to dull red. The mist swirled like dancing maids trailing their shawls and an owl hooted lazily. Patrick thought about Ulfert and the pulsing stone. He smiled to himself and wondered if he’d known then what he knew now, would he have come. He doubted it. But then he thought about the orphanage and wasn’t sure.

He finished the drink and decided to make another tour of the fires as the warmth in his stomach and the glow of the embers were making him drowsy. Why didn’t she want me to sleep, he wondered and regretted not asking the question. It seemed so

silly, what on earth could be out there anyway, nothing would wander a dank, deep marsh at night. Surely they would be quite safe.

The one fire missed on his first round needed stoking. He crouched beside it and threw on a few twigs, counting the seconds before they ignited. With each successive piece, it seemed to take longer and the mist swirled more lazily. Every sound echoed down a distant tube. His eyes felt heavy and the warmth of the fire cajoled him.

He heard a voice, deep and mellow, drifting on the mist from some way out and to his left. He stood up, peering into the fog. It was calling his name. He squinted, trying to pick a shape out of the shadows. The guttural noise seemed familiar and the shadow came closer, floating across the marsh.

“Ulfert? Ulfert, is that you?”, he moved closer to the waters edge.

The shadow materialised. Stocky, squat, heavy set eyebrows and jutting jaw, wrinkled skin and yellow teeth grinning.

“Ulfert, it is you. But I thought…”, he tailed off, another shadow appeared behind the guardian. Not dark like Ulfert, but clad in white. It floated on the mist with grace and gentility born of high bearing. Long hair flowed behind, catching the light of the fires.

“Solitaire? Can it really be you?”.

“Yes, yes, yes”, Ulfert said eagerly, “come, come, we will go to her”. Patrick looked at the old man and smiled, “Yes, but let me call Marta, she has grieved for you and now you are here she will be so happy”, he turned and called her name.

Solitaire began to call him, softly at first, but when he hesitated, waiting for Marta to see her brother, she became anxious and irritable. “I’m coming Solitaire, be calm”, he began to laugh with joy.

Ulfert grinned, “Go to her, she needs you. I will wait for Marta”. “Patrick, come quickly, the water, it’s so cold”.

“I’m coming”, he slapped Ulfert’s shoulder and stepped into the murky water, following the dancing figure drifting on the mist.

Marta shivered and pulled the cover up tight. The cold seeping mist seemed to have penetrated everywhere. Suddenly, she sat up and stared at the fire, just a pile of grey ashes. She turned, saw Thule still sleeping and screamed.

Thule leaped from his bed, not knowing where to look, or what to do. Marta was already running and screaming for Patrick. The mist swirled in more thickly as the eastern sky brightened.

Solitaire led him on, skipping and dancing tantalizingly out of reach. His face and clothes were spattered in mud, whilst she remained virgin white. It was as it should be for a

goddess. He fell once more, tripped on a submerged root, but struggled to his feet. The water tasted sour in his mouth and it made him shiver. She laughed, dancing a foot or so above the dark water. For a while the mist hid her and he panicked, but she appeared again only to vanish beneath the swaying branches of a weeping willow. Another, more familiar voice, called him from further away and in another direction. He stopped to listen, turning, searching for it’s source. Again, closer, then Solitaire’s voice, harsh and demanding. He pulled his foot from the cloying mud and went after the Lady of the Lake, bewitched by her laughter.

“Wait Solitaire, you’re going too fast. I’m tired, but I must not sleep. Wait for me”, he fell again.

Marta was frantic, “I knew, damn it, I knew. I should never have let him stand watch”, Thule came to comfort her, but she pushed him aside.

“It will be light soon, then we will find him”.

“Dead maybe”.

He stared at her, “But how? Why?”.

“The Dream Demons have taken him, they will not rest until he is dead”, she sobbed, “and it’s all my fault”.

Patrick lay face down in the water, trying to push himself up, but his arms sank in the mud. He wanted to sleep. Oh, how he wanted to sleep. “Rest now Patrick”, her waterfall voice whispered, “sleep”.

“No, Marta said, mustn’t fall asleep”, he twisted his shoulders and came up facing the sky, gulping for air.

Her lovely face distorted, leered, snarled, “Sleep”. Something pushed on his chest and he sank beneath the turbid water. His legs twitched and his eyes stung, but he would not sleep.

He came up gasping and a blue sun shone through the fronds of the willow, bright, brilliant, vibrant with life.

“Sleep”, the hideous face screeched. He shook his head and sank into the darkness once more.

Through the floating fibres he could see the sun, golden and lovely, etching the green of the willow and glorifying the blue of the sky. He wanted it, craved it far more than sleep. He had to have it and burst through the surface screaming for colour. Slimy hands shoved him down, bulging eyes willed him to sleep, but the colours absorbed his mind. The voice grew soft again, gentle, persuasive and he was so tired. His muscles relaxed and for a while he floated, “Sleep, sleep”. It was another voice, even more precious than Solitaires, coaxing, pleading. It began to sing, a lullaby, and the water rocked him gently, “Go to sleep now Patrick, your father will be home soon”. His chest became heavy and the water felt warm. “Froggy went a walking and he did ride….”.

“Mother!”, he sat bolt upright and the sun blinded him.

Water crashed in all directions as Equs charged across the marsh, whinnying and snorting. Bealach howled and leapt from islet to islet, baying for his master. The sound carried and the voice became urgent. “Sleep Patrick, sleep”.

He couldn’t sleep, shouldn’t sleep, Marta wouldn’t let him, but then his mother, he’d never disobeyed her.

“Sleep Patrick, be a good boy”.

He closed his eyes and whispered “Goodnight mum”.

The weight pressed upon his chest once more, but it didn’t matter, his mother was there with Solitaire, everything was going to be alright.

Down, deeper, pushing, shoving, “Not so rough mamma, I’ll be a good boy”.

Bealach made a last great effort and dragged his lifeless body onto the beach. The huge dog stood astride him, panting, waiting, licking the mud from his face. Marta dropped by his side, lifted his head and cradled him in her arms, tears rolling down her cheeks, “Patrick”, she murmured and kissed his brow.

He opened one eye, “I didn’t go to sleep Marta, honest”. The morning sun crested the Dragon’s Back.

Patrick awoke feeling cold, wet and exceedingly hungry. Clouds, heavy with rain, drifted slowly overhead. His head ached and echoed to a strange sound. His body seemed to be bouncing up and down. He tried to sit up, but something restrained him, holding him flat. Panic welled up inside, but then Marta’s smiling face came into view, she was riding her horse! He wondered why she should be riding and blinked.

“So, Colour Speaker, you have decided to rejoin us have you?”. Thule rode up beside her and grinned down at him.

His body took a heavy jolt and he tried to get up again. Marta saw his disconsolate expression.

“Lie still, we will make camp soon”.

He thought for a moment, “What time is it?”.

She glanced over her shoulder, “About an hour from sunset”. “You mean I’ve slept all day?”, again he tried to rise. “Two days in point of fact, but you look better for it”. Thule rode ahead to examine the spot Bealach had found for their camp and came back confirming his approval. Patrick looked around and found that he was on a litter being drawn by Equs.

The filthy marsh had given way to rolling heather clad hills and the weather was deteriorating rapidly.

He was happy to get up from his travelling bed, but every bone in his body ached and he felt so very cold. Thule soon had a fire going and the smell of Marta’s cooking did wonders to revive him.

“Why did you let me sleep so long?”, he asked between mouthfuls. “Don’t you remember anything about the night in the marsh?”.

Of course I do. I stood first watch, then you relieved me and I went to sleep. What else is there to remember?”.

“Nothing, eat your dinner”.

“Yes mum. Where are we?”, he grinned.

“Tomorrow we shall cross the Dragon’s Back and by the next day, we will enter the domain of the Sheerwood elves, there you can rest until you are fully recovered”.

“Recovered from what?”, he put the food down and stared at her.

“You got sick in the marshes, but you seem to be recovered now, at least it hasn’t affected your ability to eat and talk”, Marta grinned. Thule laughed from the other side of the fire.

“Something must have bitten me”, he looked at the cuts and scratches all over his body and wondered what it could have been.

He slept well again that night and, although he felt well enough to ride, bowed to Marta’s authority and took to his mobile bed for the last leg over the mountains. The rain fell steadily, soaking everything and obscuring what he imagined would be lovely views. They climbed all morning until they reached a deep cut with sheer rock up either side. Their progress was halted by what appeared to be a fresh slide of shale blocking the narrow path. Thule set about clearing it whilst Marta prepared a cold lunch.

Patrick felt much better, but his joints still ached and a short walk made him breathless. He was happy to resume his position on the litter once Equs had dragged it beyond the fall.

Marta’s face was etched with worry lines as she scanned the upper levels. They hadn’t gone far when another fall blocked their way. This time it was much worse, instead of crumbly shale, the barricade was gneiss and it looked like it had been freshly cut. A loud rumble from behind confirmed Marta’s fears. More rock rolled down the face to seal their exit.

“Drogs. Find some sort of cover near the rocks, but be ready to run”, she cursed the fact that she had not been able to replenish her stock of arrows.

Thule gave her some of his, but they were not made for a warrior’s bow, too short to be effective except at close range. The Drogs would be quite happy to sit it out and send the occasional landslide down on them.

“We have to find a way out”, she muttered. “What we need is a JCB”.

“A what!”, she stared at him.

“Never mind, you wouldn’t understand anyway”, he grinned. “This is no time to be flippant Patrick”, she scolded.

“No, sorry Marta, but we do seem to be having a great deal of difficulty just trying to get this quest started. What do you think it will be like once we get to the Ice Palace?”.

“Shut up Patrick, I’m trying to think”.

Patrick walked back to the litter, threw the Sun Sword across his back and for good measure, removed the shield from his leather sack. He strolled over to Marta and sat down. Thule was beginning to climb the barrier to get an idea of haw far it went when a fresh fall of rocks was sent bouncing down the cliff wall. He jumped and ran to the beasts to watch the pile of boulders grow higher.

“What do you think they want?”, he asked.

“How should I know”, she snapped, cautiously moving back to the rocks. “Shouldn’t we ask?”.

She glared at him for a moment, then broke into a smile, “Yes, why not. Come on”.

They stood away from the walls and looked up into the misty heights, but could see nothing except grey rock and the occasional clump of thorny grass clinging to a crevice. Marta cleared her throat.

“I am Marta of Thal and this is Patrick, the Colour Speaker. Together with our friend Thule, we are traveling in search of the Colour Stone which was stolen from the Place of Creation. We beg leave to pass through your domain unhindered for we mean you no harm”, she waited.

There was no response, “This is silly, they are too stupid to understand”. “You malign us”, a deep grumbling voice said from behind them, “we know full well who you are and why you wish to pass, for the Master has warned us that you would come to steal our stone”.

They looked around, but could not see where the voice came from, even though it sounded close.

“It is not your stone we seek but the Colour Stone which gives life and vibrancy to the world. We know that you do not have it, nor do you have anything that we want except free passage to go on our way”, Marta insisted.

“You lie”, the voice said harshly and more rocks rumbled down the slope onto the growing pile.

“We are of Eridu, it is not within us to lie”, Marta screamed and brandished her sword.

“But not beyond you to threaten?”.

Her expression faltered and she lowered the sword, “I am sorry, but our quest is urgent and we need to be on our way”.

“The skinny one is not of Eridu”, the voice said more gently.

Marta was about to speak, but Patrick restrained her, “No, I have come from a time in the future and my task is to restore the Colour Stone so that there may be a future for all”.

There was a deep rumbling. They expected another avalanche, but instead, several squat pear-shaped creatures materialized out of the rocks right beside them. They were huge ungainly things that waddled, rather than walked.

They stared Patrick in the face. Their breath smelled of damp moss and their eyes were deep, dark and piercing.

“Tell us about the future”, they almost crushed him in their enthusiasm. “What do you want to know?”, Patrick asked nervously.

The rain stopped and shafts of golden sunlight broke through the heavy clouds, reflecting from the water running down the rock face, brightening the little valley.

“Tell us about our children, are they big and strong, do they work hard”. “And do they smile”, another chipped in.

Patrick bit his lip and looked at Marta, he wasn’t sure how the creatures would react to his answer. She smiled encouragingly at him.

“There are no Drogs in the future”, he answered, staring at the leader, hoping they would not crush him.

Their plain featureless faces distorted with pain, “You lie”, they screamed and the earth shook beneath their stamping feet.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot lie to you. There are no Drogs, nor are there Dwarfs, or dragons, nor is there any trace of Eridu or Espair. You are all totally strange to me”.

They mumbled and looked at each other, Marta and Thule prepared to fight. “He is lying, he is not from the future. The Master would have told us, he does not lie”, they muttered.

More of the creatures began to climb over the barricade to join their leaders. Marta knew they would have to make a move soon or they would be overwhelmed.

“You must know that I have never been in your kingdom before?”, he stared at their leader, who nodded his thick neck-less head, “but I will prove that I am from the future. Beyond this pass and at the end of the plateau, you are building a lake and an underground cavern where the water falls over the rim into the lake”.

The Drog gazed at him with an expression that indicated surprise.

“And somewhere behind this hill, you have burrowed deep underground to carry the watershed through the mountain, for your drinking needs I suppose”.

The creatures began to fall back, moving away from him and looking at each other, grumbling in deep, low voices. More of them came and stared at the strange young man.

“How can you know what we only plan, for we have only just begun the Great City of which you speak?”.

“I’m sorry, but you will not finish it”. They groaned and seemed to sink in stature. “Were you building it for your children?”. Some of them nodded, “It is true then, we shall have no offspring?”.

Patrick nodded, “Your Master has lied to you. You cannot have children because you are sexless, you were made only for his purpose, to dig his halls of shame”.

The leader looked at his compatriots, “For a hundred years we have been free, but our numbers grow less. There are no new Drogs, no children, no future, we build our city for nothing”. The Drog turned away, dragging his massive arms along the floor and the others followed.

They came to the barricade, but instead of climbing over, they began to dismantle it stone by stone. Marta came to stand by Patrick, watching the husky beings work steadily and methodically, breaking down the barrier. “How did you know?”, she whispered.

“I guessed, having been down some of the potholes with my father, I just put two and two together and hoped we were in the right place”. “Thankfully, we are”, she squeezed his arm.

“I feel sorry for them”.

“So do I, but what can we do?”.

“Nothing, except try to understand”, Patrick climbed back on the litter as the last of the rocks were cleared away.

They passed slowly through the avenue of Drogs lining the narrow pass and felt their anguish. As they came to the end of the line, the leader stood out before them.

“The news you have brought us lies heavy on our hearts and yet we are grateful. For to live in hope is a good thing, and perhaps it would be better that we had never known our fate. But then we would have lived a lie and that would have ensured that our second hope could not be fulfilled either. Will you help us Colour Speaker?”.

“If I can”, Patrick touched the big beast’s leathery hide. “Teach us about happiness'”.

Patrick looked shocked, but then he laughed and the strange creatures watched him. Their sparse faces stared in wonder, but without comprehension. Patrick kept laughing and soon, Thule joined in. His deep voice echoed along with Patrick’s, Marta caught the bug too. As the three of then laughed, the Drogs watched unmoved. They looked at each other and the sun burned down on them. Only when the animals began to sense the excitement and react to it, did the Drogs expression change. Their thin mouths began to twitch and turn up and their eyes widened. One or two began to tremble, but it was the closest they came to smiling.

“We must go, our mission is urgent. What is your name?”, Marta asked. The leader bowed, “I am called Malham the First”.

“We thank you Malham”.

“Wait”, the huge beast held up a thick arm.

Another, slightly smaller Drog stepped forward and spoke haltingly, “We understand your quest, because of our own pain. It seems that we shall have no future, but do not wish that other creatures who live in this world should suffer our fate. Therefore, we wish to go with you. No one knows stone like a Drog does”.

Patrick smiled at the thoughtful creature, “Thank you, but we must travel quickly and somehow I doubt that you were built for speed. However, to show the world that love is the essence of living, perhaps one of you could accompany us?”.

“I will go”, the speaker said, Malham nodded his approval.

“What’s your name?”.

“I am called Tarn”, he almost smiled.

At first Tarn walked, or waddled, behind them, but progress was so slow, Marta reluctantly agreed that Patrick could ride Equs and Tarn could use the litter. They moved at a better pace and by nightfall, were camped beside a wide river in the rolling dales.

green mountain with river in the middle
Photo by Matteo Badini on Pexels.com


Marta had been right. The moment the fire was lit, Patrick lay beside it curled in a ball. He was coughing savagely and began to sweat. Marta wrapped him in a blanket and put a kettle of water on to boil. She noticed blood in his spittle and mentally summoned Fingool. Tarn was also concerned, he had seen lung rot in his friends deep underground and knew the consequences. He shambled away, coming back a few hours later with arms full of flat stones with which he built a windshield for his new friend. Thule saw to the beasts and then helped Marta prepare a warming stew. They watched the Colour Speaker shivering in his bed.

Fingool arrived as the moon rose. He took one look and asked Marta to gather Patrick’s things.

“I will take him to the elves, you follow on as soon as you can. We will wait there for you”, he smiled and put his hand on her shoulder to ease her burden.

“It’s all my fault Fingool. I should never have let him keep watch”.

“You are not to blame little one. The Dream Demons could have taken you or Thule. They chose his active mind over yours, that’s all”.

She grinned at him, “You have a knack of putting people in their place don’t you. He will recover?”, she asked more seriously.

“I’m sure he will”.

“You don’t sound as convincing as usual”.

“I have come from the elves and it is not good news. The birthing has not taken place”.

“What!”, her hands grasped his arm, “That means the Crystal Pool is dying”. “I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I have not had time to investigate, your call came before I could do anything. Still, I am sure that we will be able to do something for him. Don’t worry”, he summoned Hagar and gently lifted the comatose Patrick onto the beast’s back.

Patrick awoke with a strong smell of sweet limes oppressing his nostrils. Above his head was a fine patchwork of intertwined briars forming a dome, but allowing the green tinged sun to illuminate the interior. He tried to sit up, but water sloshing around in his head prevented him and he lay still listening to the sounds of the forest and studying the natural network encasing him. A young elf, who had been watching over him, ran off to fetch Fingool from the council chamber high in the massive oak. The old man left the debate and hurried to his young friend.

Patrick smiled up at the wrinkled face and saw a look of satisfaction run along the age lines, narrowing the eyes and causing an upturn at the corner of the wise mouth.

“Can we dispose of this?”, Fingool asked the elf, pointing at Patrick’s chest.

The elf nodded and peeled a mat of lime leaves, bound by sap, from the young man’s chest and a smaller one from his brow. Patrick felt a sudden chill, but was grateful for the removal of the sweet sickly smell.

“Where am I?”, he asked the grinning magician.

“We are in the care of the Sheerwood elves. You were too sick”.

worms eyeview of green trees
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

“We are in the care of the Sheerwood elves. You were too sick to be carried up to the city, so they placed you in this briar for safety and comfort”

“Sick?, of what?”, he struggled to prop himself on one elbow.

“It would seem that you swallowed half the West Marsh during your guard duty”, Fingool grinned.

“Where’s Marta and the others?”, Patrick licked his lips and the girl passed him a beaker of juice, cold and refreshing.

“They have just entered the forest to the north west, they should be here before nightfall, but there seems to be some debate as to whether they will be allowed to stay”.

“At first, the elves were not going to let them enter the forest at all, but I have managed to persuade them that your new friend means them no harm. They will let them come, but not stay. Even for the night”, Fingool’s nostrils flared with a hint of anger.

“Tarn? Why don’t they like him?”.

The young elf came closer, a serious expression on her fine featured face, “Because he his an unnatural creature made in the pits of Visgoth. He defiles everything that is of natural beauty and since the powers of wickedness have spoiled the Crystal Pool, just allowing the beast near here causes us great grief”.

“Crystal Pool?”, Patrick enquired.

“Feel up to a walk? I will show you and explain as we go”.

Patrick, helped by Fingool and the young elf, staggered unsteadily to his feet. He stood between them for a moment, gathering his senses and waiting for the room to stop spinning. A pair of squirrels peered uncertainly at him from the wide arched entrance to the briar room and then scampered away as the boy staggered forward.

“It’s getting better all the time. I’ll be all right in a minute”.

Fingool and the elf smiled. They led him out of the beehive of brambles and into the filtered sunlight as it streamed through the leafy canopy of a ring of giant oaks. He stood unaided for a moment, savouring the sights and sounds of the woodlands, banishing all thought of the dark, dank marsh. The smell of leaf mould, new sap and fresh ferns filled his senses and he took a deep breath of clean spring air.

“Why does it appear to be spring here when everything else is dying?”.

“The elves keep it so, but now, with the decline of the Crystal Pool and the failure of the birthing, it would seem that the loss of the Colour Stone has begun to destroy the fairy glades also”, the old man’s face filled with sadness as he looked about and the young girl’s eyes swelled with water.

“Tell me about the Crystal Pool”.

Fingool took his arm and led him forward, “The Crystal Pool is necessary for the birthing of elves, it also gives life and vibrancy to the forest realm. Had it not turned sour, we could have bathed you in it’s regenerative waters, rather than lose two days with the poultice treatment”.

Patrick stopped and looked at him, “Another two days lost?”.

Fingool nodded and the young elf said, “Our world is crumbling about us since this new war against Visgoth began, that is why we will not tolerate the creature you bring”.

Patrick stared at her, “Tarn is a living being like you or me. Of himself, there is no wickedness, nor intent to do harm. In fact”, his voice faltered with the effort and he had to sit down.

Tamara, the elf girl, smiled nervously, “I am sorry Colour Speaker, I know he is your friend, but you have to understand how we feel. There is a birthing only once every hundred years and if this one fails, then maybe the next will fail also and it will mean the end of our civilization. It is for this reason that our passion is raised with regard to the intrusion of a creature of Visgoth in our realm”.

“Tarn and his people have learned that their race is doomed, but instead of laying blame and striking out in bitterness, he has elected to join the quest for the Stone, so that others may not suffer their fate”, Patrick snapped. The girl looked away.

“You must tell that to the council”, she said falteringly.

“Tarn can speak for himself”.

“Rest for a while, I will bring the council leaders to you, for they plan to make war against Visgoth and his creatures. Perhaps you can prevent it”, Tamara skipped away and Fingool smiled.

“Maturity suits you Colour Speaker. Tell me, are there elves in your world?”.

Patrick looked into the ancient eyes and shook his head sadly, “No Fingool. No elves, no dwarfs, no unicorns and the magicians are merely tricksters”.

“Well, at least nothing has changed on that score!”, Fingool smiled.

The muddy pool bubbled and smelled sulfurous, defiling the air and mocking it’s name. Around it’s rim lay hundreds of large acorns, covered in dust and dried leaves. The clearing, right back to the huge oaks, was filled with elves of all shapes and sizes dressed in browns and greens. Patrick stared into the murky water. It brought back the memory of the marsh and fleeting glimpses of Solitaire dancing across the water. All heads were bowed in silence, reverently acknowledging the power of the place, which still held sway in spite of the turbid stink of poison.

Patrick stepped over the ring of acorns and bent by the water’s edge, seeing a dim reflection as the bubbles rose and burst, releasing their pungent stench into the clear forest air. He could feel heat rising from the surface and put out his hand.

“Careful Patrick, don’t touch the water”, Fingool warned. “Where does it come from?”.

“Nowhere, it has always been here”.

“It must come from somewhere. Does it rise and fall with the seasons?” “No, it’s level has not changed in thousands of years”.

“So when did it change?”.

“At the summer solstice last year”, a tall elf with gnarled features stepped forward.

“Before the Colour Stone disappeared?”.

“I suppose it must have been”, Fingool considered. “Then surely, this is a natural phenomenon?”.

“In these times it is hard to think of such a disaster as being anything other than interference by dark powers”, the old elf said.

“Well, if this pool lived up to its name, there is no doubt it has been contaminated by something”, a large bubble burst right in front

of him, and as it hissed, he heard Solitaire say, “I will always be with you”. He smiled.

“Tamara, would you find my pack. Inside is a leather flask of water. Please bring it”.

The young girl ran off and Fingool smiled, “Do you think the Lady can help us?”.

“If she can’t, nobody can”, he grinned, feeling better by the minute. Tamara came back with the water skin and passed it carefully over the rows of acorns. Patrick removed the stopper and allowed a single drop to fall on the surface of the pool. The ripples spread, driving back the filth and drawing crystal clear water behind them. The gathering gasped in amazement, but the dark waters soon filled the hole again.

Patrick felt the weight of his container and gauged the volume of the pool, “This is all I have. What if it doesn’t last?”, he looked at the magician.

“Then it will all be gone and the elves will be no worse off”. Tamara passed over a deep wooden bowl, “Fill this if you can”. Patrick smiled, put his nose to the mouth of the flask and breathed deeply. Solitaire’s scent filled his nostrils and he sighed, pouring the contents out into the pool. Once more, the darkness was driven back and the water glistened with crystal clarity. He filled the bowl before the brown bubbling water forced its way upward again, returning the pool to its turbid state.

Tamara took the bowl from him and gazed passionately into the clear liquid. It remained pure and the elves gathered round to look. Geshlin, the old elf, and apparent leader, picked up one of the large acorns, raising it to the sky and looking at the gathering. They began to sing a gentle song which drifted as a breeze, stirring the trees and calling all the people together. As they watched, he lowered the acorn into the bowl. It seemed to soak up the liquid, washing off the dust of ages, and took on a radiance which was almost dazzling. The crowd fell back, forming a circle around the single acorn. Patrick looked at Fingool with a puzzled expression, but the old man was intent on the bright object. Everyone was concentrating, singing in wordless, but perfect harmony. The forest rang with sound and buzzed with expectation. Patrick watched them and wondered why they had wasted the apparently precious water on washing a single acorn. Birds flew in, gathering on the lower branches and adding their shrill voices to the swelling choir. Squirrels, stoats, foxes and even small deer began to mingle with the throng, adding to the building excitement. Geshlin held the acorn in the palm of his hands, cupped like a bowl, for everyone to see. The cusp fell away and Tamara quickly removed it, then the seed began to rock and the singing intensified, reaching a crescendo. The outer case cracked and the singing ceased. All eyes focused on the rocking seed. The crack widened and tiny thin fingers pushed through. Patrick gasped and stared in amazement as the miniature hands forced the crack wide and a thin, sharp featured face peered at him. The long tiny nose sniffed the air and the beady eyes sparkled at the surrounding faces glowing with pride. Soon, the baby elf was using hands and feet to push back the constraining cone. He stepped out to stand naked and proud in Geshlin’s hands. The tiny thing was perfect in every way, eliciting swoons of approval from all the female elves. Tamara wrapped him in a leaf cloak and passed him to the mother who sighed and wiped a tear from her cheek before pushing through the adoring crowd, taking her child home.

Fingool put his arm around Patrick’s shoulder, watching the gathering dissipate, “One will not suffice”, he murmured

“Marta and Thule have more of the water”.

“A hundred will only stay the inevitable”, he said sadly.

Patrick nodded and put his arm round the sobbing Tamara. Together they walked back to the bramble bower in silence.

A commotion outside announced that Marta had arrived. Elves peered down from the branches as Tarn manoeuvred his bulk from the litter. Thin fairy voices chattered away, deriding and sneering at the strange mountain creature. In spite of Patrick’s eloquent speech on behalf of the Drogs, it was apparent that the elves still did not trust the single birth, when others were still left at the dark water’s edge, didn’t help the mood of the onlookers.

Marta embraced her charge and was thrilled to see that the Colour Speaker was returning to full health. She told him of their apprehensive journey through the forest and Tarn’s hidden fear of the lowlands with its strange people. Patrick in turn told her of the birthing at the pool. Their reunion was soon shrouded in depression.

“Who will care for the green wood if the elves are no more?”, she whispered.

Patrick shook his head and watched Tamara as she studied the Drog. Tarn was tucking into a meal of slime covered moss and trying hard not to look at the young elf. Patrick wondered what he could do. Thule came in from settling the horses and smiled at the tall, slim girl. She appeared to blush, but with a complexion like silver birch bark, it was hard to tell.

“I don’t know Marta. It seems to me that over the next twenty thousand years, Drogs, Elves, Dwarfs and half the population of this world will disappear and I’m beginning to hate the thought of it”.

Tamara came to sit with them, “Do you really think that our time is over?”, she asked sadly.

Patrick looked into her green eyes and didn’t know what to say. Fingool came to his aid. “The world is changing. Mortals are growing in number and wisdom. Perhaps the gods action has only brought forward the inevitable, after all, the Creator intended this world for them”.

“But why can’t we all share it?”, Patrick enquired.

“It can never be”, Tarn mumbled, “Not unless people of all races accept each other for what they are, understanding and acknowledging their differences”.

“It’s impossible”, Tamara intervened, “the mortals are already destroying the forest for firewood, they do not understand it. Soon there will be war between men and elves”, she buried her face in her hands.

“At least they’re not fighting each other yet. In my time, men kill each other just because they can’t agree how to worship God”.

Fingool stared at him, “Are you saying that mortals will fight amongst themselves over a matter of opinion, something that is so personal and unique to each individual? How then do they cope with other races?”.

“With prejudice and ignorance. They have almost destroyed the natural world in their quest for greed, and now they turn on each other”.

There was a long period of silence in which the listeners shot furtive glances at their companions. Fingool broke the mesmerism.

“I think that it would be wise if you spoke no more of what the future holds for any of us. Take a lesson from the Runes and speak only in generalities for your news of what is to come is too hard to bear”.

The others nodded their agreement and Patrick felt badly about speaking so openly. Tarn’s squat shape watched them all and felt a growing unease about his presence. He, more than any didn’t belong in the past, present or future.

When their meal was ended, as the sun began to set, Marta and Patrick went to look at the Crystal Pool. They knew that their journey must begin again come sunrise, but what they had learned saddened them. The ring of acorns was almost lost in the twilight, but the dark surface of the pool still reflected the night sky and the overhanging branches.

“If we used all of Solitaire’s water, we could only save a few”, Patrick mused.

“We could bring more water from the Isle”, Marta said, turning her face away from the stench.

“Even if we set up a pipeline it wouldn’t help in the long term. What about moving the elves to the source of the water?”.

“To the Isle you mean?”, Patrick nodded, “They would not leave their forest, it would defeat the object”.

“I suppose so”, a sudden disturbance behind caught their attention.

Through the glade they could see Tarn surrounded by dozens of babbling elves clamoring all around him. They hurried over to see what was happening. The elves moved aside to allow them through and all began chattering at once. Soon Geshlin joined the agitated group. Tarn’s sad face pleaded with them.

“I only wanted to see what the problem was”, he murmured uncertainly. Geshlin stepped in, “They do not want the creature near the pool”. “I didn’t mean harm”, Tarn sagged.

The old elf looked saddened and reached out a thin wavering hand to the leathery beast, “What harm can he do that hasn’t already been done”, he asked the others.

They muttered beneath their breath, but began to drift away. Tamara and Thule joined them whilst Fingool watched on. Geshlin led the ponderous Drog towards the clutch of acorns. Tarn waddled reverently, making sure that he didn’t disturb anything. The bulky creature stared at the bubbles rising and tested the air with his nose less face.

“It feels like sulphur”, he said turning to Patrick.

“That’s what I thought, but where is it coming from?”. Tarn searched the darkness and shuffled away. They watched him go sadly and returned to the centre of the forest city.

The Drog shambled along unfamiliar paths muttering to himself. Tamara followed at a discrete distance, wondering what had upset the beast to make him leave his friends. The darkness was almost complete and the moon had not yet risen, still the ungainly creature walked on.

Patrick went straight to his bed, exhausted. Marta stayed with him until he fell into a deep dreamless sleep. Thule and Fingool remained outside, talking with Geshlin and a few elves. Marta joined them, debating long into the night about what the elves should do. Slowly, Fingool’s persuasive nature prevailed and, as the moon rose to cast a silver web over the ancient trees, the group retired to their allotted beds agreeing to sleep on it.

Tamara scrambled over a group of boulders bordering the stream, narrowing her eyes, trying to locate Tarn in the shadows. His shape and colour didn’t help. She relied on her base instinct to pick out life in the undergrowth. A smell of fresh dug earth puzzled her, but nothing moved save a lone hedgehog sniffing out earthworms. She ran down into the glade and stared across the wide stream. Tarn had simply disappeared. Another hedgehog shuffled into the glade, then a badger. She watched them rooting under a large rock, then she noticed the hole and growing pile of earth. Her senses told her that the strange creature was down there, digging holes in her forest, but why? What was the beast up to?

She sat on a rock, knees under her chin, waiting and thinking. Should she trek back to the city and tell them, or should she wait until the Drog came out and question him? The moon had passed it’s zenith and was declining towards morning when a deep rumble shook the earth and brought her out of her deliberation. A sound like rushing wind, yet far away, caused the forest creatures to scamper from the rich feeding ground. Tamara stood up just as the blast of rancid air gushed out from the hole and threw her backwards over the rock. When the dust and stench of bad eggs had settled, she went to peer at the hole. The smell was unbearable, far worse than when the bubbles burst on the Crystal Pool. She turned and began to run.

Patrick grew restless in his sleep, uttering incoherent words and Marta feared that his fever was returning. She held him until the spasm passed and he settled again. She was just entering her own dream when Tamara burst into the bower screaming gibberish. Thule and Fingool came running and Patrick rubbed his eyes.

“Calm girl, what has happened?”, Fingool held her.

“The creature went to the Beech Grove, by the wide stream and dug a hole. It was gone such a long time, then the earth shook and a foul wind blew out of the earth. I fear for him, you must come quickly”, she panted.

By the time they reached the grove, it seemed like half the city had come out to join them. The foul smell still hung in the air and the gapping hole smoked menacingly. They gathered round staring into it.

“Tarn”, Patrick called, but there was no answer.

The forest was silent. Still. Nothing moved nor made a sound. The leaves above the hole turned brown and fell from the branches. Patrick called again, but only the muttering of watching elves stirred the silence.

“I’m going down”, Patrick removed his hide jacket. “You can’t. It is dangerous”, Marta held him back. “He is a friend. I am going”.

“Then I will go with you”.

The murmuring of the elves grew louder as the two crawled into the hole and disappeared from view. At first the smell was overpowering, but as they crawled deeper into the wide tunnel, the air became more bearable. The damp darkness was oppressive. They crawled at forty-five degrees for a long time, then the tunnel turned to the left and the decline decreased to a slight slope. Patrick began coughing and Marta bid him rest. He would not and pushed on. The tunnel turned again, dropped steeply, and then climbed for a while. Beyond another turn, Patrick swore he could see light. He pushed thin roots from his face and stared into a brightly lit cavern where the sound of cascading water calmed his tattered nerves. Patrick dragged himself from the opening and stared awaiting Marta. She emerged and gasped.

Immortalised in crystal, glowing with golden light stood Tarn as water poured over him. A large heap of boulders lay beside him and from beneath them, a trickle of sour water, tinged yellow, disappeared down a hole in the cavern floor.

Patrick examined the fresh cut roof of the cave as he walked over the slippery rock to the Drog. Beneath the veil of water, Tarn wore a smile.

It was daylight when they emerged from the shaft. Their friends scanned their faces hopefully, but their expression said the news was not good. Before they could begin to answer the barrage of questions, an elf ran into the grove yelling that the Crystal Pool had been restored and the acorns were beginning to stir. Fingool raised an eyebrow and whispered, “Tarn?”.

Patrick nodded.

“He found the contamination and diverted it so that the spring feeding the pool could run clear and pure”, he said sadly.

“And he touched the water”, the old man nodded.

“He had to Fingool, there was no other way. But do you know what?”, Fingool shook his head, “He was smiling!”.

Tamara began to cry as the elves poured from the grove, hurrying back to the Crystal Pool.

The wind shook the canopy adding a descant to the singing elves and the birds filled the air with their shrill song of summer. One by one the dusty acorns broke open and from each

The wind shook the canopy adding a descant to the singing elves and the birds filled the air with their shrill song of summer. One by one the dusty acorns broke open and from each a little elf sprang, but this time, the singing didn’t end. A new song was on the lips of the elves, they sang of Tarn and the courage of the creature from beneath the ground. Word had quickly spread of the deed of the Drog and the forest echoed with joy as the Crystal Pool shone like a mirror, reflecting their happiness. Patrick watched for a time, then slipped away to be alone with the memory of Tarn’s smile. They would not leave the woodland today.

It was late afternoon when Tamara came to find him. He was sitting on a dead stump, staring at the play of colour through the leafy glade. She sat beside him, resting her long thin hand on his and smiling to herself.

“I wish I could have seen him”. “Who? Tarn?”.

“Yes, Marta told me of how you met and that he was smiling when the water gushed over him. Why did he do it for us who treated him so badly?”. Patrick shook his head and looked into her moist green eyes, “He gave everything to gain everything”, he murmured, but Tamara didn’t hear him. “We have cost you a valuable member of your company, a dear friend, can we make it up to you?”.

Patrick stared at her and withdrew his hand from under hers, “You cannot, don’t even think it. What Tarn did, he did for you and that is an end to it. You cannot discharge a service by giving a service in return, you belittle his sacrifice by trying to pay for it”, he stood up and began to walk away.

“Wait, forgive me, that was not my intent”, she hurried to him, throwing her long arms about him and looking down into his eyes, “I only meant, in my clumsy way, that I would like to take his place and go with you on your quest” .

“Tamara, you cannot take Tarn’ s place, don’t you understand that? If you wish to come with us, do so, but for your own sake, not for his”.

She looked long into his eyes and embraced him, feeling his hurt and sharing their mutual pain, “Oh dear, I am making a mess of this aren’t I? I will come with you Patrick, because I want to, because maybe I can help others the way Tarn helped us and because I have already packed the healing herbs and medicines that are my trade. Please let me come?”, she smiled.

He returned her embrace and they walked back to the bower together.

That night, the company climbed the great oak and sat at the long table for supper. It was a strange atmosphere, full of the joy of the birthing, but etched with sadness at the loss of a friend. Geshlin, before the meal was laid, paid tribute to the Drog and spoke of the everlasting debt they would owe to him. As his speech ended, four young elves carried in a huge crystal acorn which had been adorned to resemble the creature who had restored the life bearing water of the Crystal Pool. A smaller version was presented to Patrick as the large one was given place of honour at the table. In both models, the caricature wore a broad smile. It pleased Patrick that the elves seemed to understand the significance of it. He ate and slept well in the knowledge that Tarn was happy at last.


A Horse Chestnut leaf drifted like a parchment parachute to join legions of others on the forest floor. Tamara drew alongside the unicorn, her face etched with concern.

“There is great sadness here”.

“Is it because of the Colour Stone?”, Patrick asked.

The horses hooves scattered the brittle leaves and the sound was like ice cracking on a pond. The trees were thinner now. The elf had told them that they were reaching the edge of the forest and would soon be out onto the plains leading down to the coast.

“No, it’s more than that. Let me ask”, she reined in her mount and the party stopped to watch her embrace the nearest tree.

Her fine featured face flushed and her sadness spread to the questers. After a while, she returned perplexed and a little afraid. She tried to smile as she leapt lightly on the back of her horse, but her pain was plain to see.

“The mortals have been felling trees by the hundred, from here south to the salt marsh. The trees do not know why, nor do they understand the changes that have come over the world, but the pain is too much to bear and they have succumbed to the false autumn. Even the ministrations of the forest wardens cannot help them”, she eased her horse forward and the others followed in the wake of her gloom.

Savaged stumps stretched from horizon to horizon. Nothing was left standing. Even Patrick thought he could feel the bruised and bleeding wood crying out to him. For a moment, they sat staring at the desolate scene in empathy with the ancient forest. They rode for an hour before clearing the estate and its oppressive atmosphere and cantered across open meadows towards a village compound. As they entered the stockade, Patrick sensed there was something wrong, something more sinister than the grim expression on the faces of the men who stared at them. Thule came up alongside to point out the anomaly.

“There are no women or children”.

The group stayed close together as they approached the Chieftains hut, nodding to the brooding men who emerged from the turf buildings. The heavy atmosphere was almost as bad as that of the decimated forest. Marta exchanged greetings with the men. They dismounted, following the village leaders inside. Only Thule remained outside, tending the beasts.

They sat in a circle and a youth brought refreshments. Marta did not take her eyes from the grizzled old Chief.

“Where are your women folk?”.

The old man’s eyes turned away and the small fire spat and crackled. Tamara couldn’t contain her anguish any longer. She stood and snapped, “Why have you assaulted the forest?”.

The Chief’s eyes, half hidden by his bushy beard and hair, narrowed and focused on the elf maiden, “What do you want with us? Have you noble folk come to curse us too? There is little left, take it and be gone”, he stood up and the other men closed in.

Marta reached for her sword, but Patrick restrained her, “We come in peace, we are on our way to the coast and have no time to delay. We ask nothing from you but answers. Tell us what has happened here and if we can help you, we will”.

The old man’s weather beaten face softened and he studied the youth, “You are mortal, like us, but you must be of high birth for you ride a unicorn and carry a great sword, yet I doubt that even you can ease our burden”.

“We can’t if you wont let us”, Patrick smiled reassuringly.

The Chief glanced at his advisors who nodded one by one and settled as the old man began a tale.

Several days ago a band of Yezidee, the Chieftain shivered as he spoke the name, came to the village and ordered the men to begin cutting down the great trees. Other men came for them and hauled them away towards the sea. At first, they had refused, but then the creatures took away the women and children, forcing them to comply. They sent for help to neighbouring villages, but the same thing had happened there. No one knew what the creatures wanted the timber for and no one knew where it was taken once it had left the village. Every day, from dawn to dusk, they chopped down trees and the Yezidee watched them, but today, the snake men had not come, so they had not worked, hoping that the creatures had enough wood and would release their families. The evil beasts had also taken the livestock and food store, all they had left was what the travellers could see.

Tamara’s anger had gone, replaced by grief, but the Warrior Princess burned with vengeance. Patrick had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach and alternated with the emotions of his two female companions. “Bastards”, was the only word that came to mind. Marta stormed outside, trying to settle herself, concentrating on summoning Fingool. Thule had overheard and felt nothing but anger and fear as he stroked the mane of Equs.

Patrick joined them feeling the warmth of the Sun Sword on his back and knowing that his anger was gaining the upper hand.

“Cant we try find them?”, the peat cutter asked.

Marta gave him a filthy look, not really intended for him, and shook her head, “There is no point”, she whispered.

Equs became jittery, snorting at the Colour Speaker, trying to catch his attention. Patrick stared into the big brown eye and sensed the urgency the beast was trying to convey. With Thule’s help, he mounted and the great beast raced out of the compound, Marta’s cry echoing in his ears. The exhilaration as the unicorn galloped away from the village helped sooth his tension, but did nothing to appease the bitterness he felt for the Yezidee. The ground seemed to fly by and in no time at all, they were atop a cliff looking down on a scared beach littered with wood cuttings and bloody bodies.

Deep grooves in the sand led down to the sea and he knew that the Yezidee were ahead of him, probably waiting on the far shore. What to do now, that was the question, but first, he would have to go back to the village and tell them they were alone. He willed Equs back, but the animal was reluctant, so Patrick gave him his head and the unicorn found a path down to the terrible shore.

He did not want to look at the carnage, did not want to see a single face set forever in fear and pain, but Equs picked his way carefully between the twisted torsos and came to a rocky peninsular jutting out into the grey sea.

For a moment, the beast stood there with water up to his hocks, snorting and stamping. Then, from behind the black scar, two small dirty faces appeared, a boy and girl aged about nine. They stared at the unicorn’s horn and then at the youth with tears streaming down his face, but they would not look beyond the stranger.

The girl did not speak, she sat in front of him, clinging to Equs’s mane all the way back to the village. All he could get out of the boy was his name. He knew it was useless to try converse with them, they were lost in bitter memories, but he also knew that unless they could get the hurt out of their systems, they would never overcome the tragedy. He spoke gently about the killing of his own family, talking as much for himself as for them. He spoke of the torment of dreams and the emptiness of living with only bad memories to fire the passion of hate and, as he passed them down to their fathers, he whispered, “Don’t let it destroy you too, for once you have set foot on the road of revenge, there is no way back”.

The little girl looked up at him with tear filled eyes and tried to smile, but the boy was consumed by grief and echoed the anger of his father and the men of the village. Before the questers left, the simple men were already arming themselves for war and the beginning of the end had begun.

A deep gloom settled on the riders which wasn’t helped by the concerned face of Fingool when they met by a shallow cove. His lined face seemed even more gouged by anguish as they greeted each other.

“I don’t suppose you could stop them?”, he asked intuitively.

Patrick shook his head and stared at the strange craft moored close to the shore. It had a high covered stem and stern, a low open mid section and a short dumpy mast carrying a single spar. A tall man stood at the steering oar, waving casually at the new arrivals. Patrick couldn’t see any other members of the crew.

The strangely graceful craft rocked on a gentle swell and the sea birds circled in hope of a meal. Tamara scrutinised the boat with an expression of reverence and called in a strange tongue to the oarsman. He responded in a similar shrill voice and waved them forward, lowering a ramp in the gunwale for the beasts to board. Marta leaned close to Patrick’s ear.

“It is an elf wood ship, Fingool must have arranged it”.

“Pity he couldn’t have arranged something for those poor people”.

Fingool heard and came closer, “Only those who have grieved, remember Patrick? Now you have seen how it began. Do you think that it gives me pleasure to know that what started with my failure will still be going on twenty thousand years from now? I cannot stop it any more than you can. It is not possible to help everyone, so I do what I can and help those that I can. If you know a better way, tell me, then we will save the world and everyone will be happy”.

Patrick felt the hurt exuding from the old man and regretted his sarcasm. He mumbled an apology and followed the others aboard the ship, taking the long fingered hand of the master as he stepped upon the rolling deck.

Thule led the animals into the aft shelter and the travellers retired to the forepeak while the tall ship’s master prepared to sail. Marta and Fingool exchanged notes and Patrick lay down to sleep. Tamara assisted the skipper and Thule thought of food.

The gentle rocking of the boat and the slapping of the water seemed to restore a sense of normality and the fresh clean air off the sea flushed out the cobwebs of despair. They came together for an evening meal where Patrick was introduced to Inish, the ship master. The tall man had elfish features, but was undoubtedly mortal and well known to Tamara. He seemed concerned when Fingool explained about the Yezidee rafts and suggested that they change course directly north.

“Not even an elfen craft has sailed the Snarling Sea”, Tamara muttered. “Then perhaps it’s time one did”, Inish grinned.

Patrick decided he liked the half elf. Before he could speak, Fingool put in. “That may be the best course to take, but it is necessary for us to call at Elsinor. Could you take us as close as you can, then wait, we may take you up on your offer”.

Inish nodded and went aft to make the course change. Patrick followed him and was surprised to see that the sail was not set. The boat languished in the swell, but the moment Inish put his hand to the helm, the craft picked up speed, taking up the new course and slicing into the rollers.

“You have much courage for one so young, it must be a heavy burden?”, the tall muscular helmsman rested a hand on Patrick’s shoulder.

“I certainly didn’t choose it”.

“Would you if you could have?”. The man’s question and smile was disconcerting, or was it just that he didn’t know what the answer would be. He looked down at the dark water surging beneath the craft as it cut gracefully through the waves and wondered where he wanted to be, here or the orphanage.

“I suppose I made that decision when I stepped on the stone”.

The skipper cocked an eyebrow and the others came out onto the deck.

Fingool took Patrick aside, his expression stern, but his manner gentle and fatherly.

“I am sorry that this quest has not turned out the way I had hoped. Even I did not foresee the eventualities we all must face, that is why we must go to Elsinor first”.

“Elsinor?”, Patrick queried.

“The domain of Thanet, King of the Wide lands to the east. All mortals pay homage to him and his wisdom is respected by all who know him. If anyone can stop the impending war, he can. It is bad enough that the heavenly powers are at each other’s throats, but now that the mortals prepare for open war against the gods, who knows what harm this will do to your mission?”.

“I don’t understand. Why should it have anything to do with the Colour Stone?”.

“It is not the Colour Stone that is the issue now, it is you, your role in restoring the Creator’s faith in the mortals He created as the pinnacle of His creation. The very reason why all this exists”, he waved his arm over the wide sea to the distant dark shores.

Patrick felt terribly alone. The grey sea surged beneath him and the elfwood ship raced on defying all the laws of propulsion. The adventure was becoming more of a nightmare as the enormity of what was happening became clear. It was one thing to try find a

“That may be the best course to take, but it is necessary for us to call at Elsinor. Could you take us as close as you can, then wait, we may take you up on your offer”
Inish nodded and went aft to make the course change. Patrick followed him and was surprised to see that the sail was not set. The boat languished in the swell, but the moment Inish put his hand to the helm, the craft picked up speed, taking up the new course and slicing into the rollers.

“You have much courage for one so young, it must be a heavy burden?”, the tall muscular helmsman rested a hand on Patrick’s shoulder.

“I certainly didn’t choose it”.

“Would you if you could have?”. The man’s question and smile was disconcerting, or was it just that he didn’t know what the answer would be. He looked down at the dark water surging beneath the craft as it cut gracefully through the waves and wondered where he wanted to be, here or the orphanage.

“I suppose I made that decision when I stepped on the stone”.

The skipper cocked an eyebrow and the others came out onto the deck.

Fingool took Patrick aside, his expression stern, but his manner gentle and fatherly.

“I don’t understand. Why should it have anything to do with the Colour Stone?”.

Patrick felt terribly alone. The grey sea surged beneath him and the elfwood ship raced on defying all the laws of propulsion. The adventure was becoming more of a nightmare as the enormity of what was happening became clear. It was one thing to try find a simple stone that would restore colour to a fading world, or even a series of adventures that only affected him, but now, now it seemed as if the outcome was dependant on him alone. It was too much to contemplate. He leaned on the rail feeling the motion of the ship, watching the water bubble up from beneath the hull and listening to the hiss of the surf as it sprang away from the prow. The situation was ludicrous and for the first time, he wished above all else that he was back in the orphanage.

Fingool watched him from a distance, trying to isolate the youth’s thoughts from the confusion surrounding them. To the east he could sense the brooding malice of the Yezidee, in the west, the growing concern of Eridu tugged at him and far to the north a gathering storm intimated the presence of Tempest. Hagar, perched on the spiralling spar, felt it too and screeched a warning. As the old magician looked up to acknowledge his friend’s alarm, Lilith, the sorceress of Elsinor, filled his thoughts as she reached out to touch the Colour Speaker. Patrick shuddered and pulled up his collar to the rising wind. Sea spray slashed at his face and Fingool touched his shoulder.

“Patrick, you are in great danger and I cannot help you. Soon I must go, but I cannot leave you like this”.

The youth’s watery grey eyes stared at the old man, “Typical. As soon as we’re in trouble you disappear. What is it this time? Dragons, snake men, or just a sea monster?”.

“All of them and many more, but they are not why I fear for you. The greatest danger you face now comes from within”, he poked a bony finger at the young man’s chest. “You are filled with doubt and confusion”.

“That’s an understatement”.

“Remember what I have told you. You are not responsible for anything but your own actions. Do not be misled by foolishness, concern yourself only with the restoration of

the Colour Stone and nothing more. Beware Lilith’s lies. I hope to be back before you must face that hurdle, but if I am not”, deep lines filled his face, “you are the Colour Speaker”.

Hagar screeched and swooped down from the mast head as Marta and Thule came out of the forepeak. Inish leaned hard on the steering oar, fighting the rising wind trying to turn the prow, “We are under attack”, he screamed above the driving hail as it slammed into them from the north.

Short, steep, seas, aroused by the wind, smashed at the craft, forcing it to bear away eastward. Only Tamara seemed able to keep her footing, sticking to the deck like glue in spite of the sea surging over the gunwales. In no time at all, she had rigged safety lines and then joined her half brother at the helm. Together, they held the bow against the thrust of sea and wind, but their northerly course degraded more and more to the east and the waiting Yezidee rafts. As the dawn sky drove back the darkness, the storm blew itself out and the elfwood ship bobbed on the confused grey waters.

Inish held his station though his shoulders sagged with fatigue. He surveyed the horizon. His keen eyesight soon discerned the Yezidee craft from the peaks of water whipped up by the false wind. He counted one hundred and forty spread across the points of the compass. A thin grey line behind the eastward rafts indicated their proximity to the shore and he made his calculations. By force of will, he drove the elfwood ship toward to widest gap, throwing his passengers to the deck as the boat accelerated across the surf.

Patrick tightened the straps on his pack and felt the cold jewel in the pommel of the Sun Sword. As the distance closed and the sweat poured from Inish’s brow, it looked as if they would breach the gap. The snake men thrashed the water frantically with their crude paddles, trying to cut off the escape, but the ship surged with renewed power as Tamara added her will to that of the master.

“We’re going to make it”, Thule grinned, but Patrick knew better.

Clwyd Behemoth broke through the clouds in a controlled power dive and swept across the deck, snapping halyards and standing rig, bringing the mast down on top of the helmsman and his aide. In a moment, the elfwood ship was wallowing on the swell while the questers struggled to free Inish and Tamara from the rigging. The Yezidee rafts closed the gap and the jubilant creatures let out a screech of triumph.

There was no question in Patrick’s mind, Inish had broken his hip and could not stand, let alone maneuver the vessel. Tamara, bruised and shaken, did her best to keep some distance between the ship and its pursuers, but she was no ship’s master. The boat lurched and yawed in an ever-decreasing spiral.

After great effort, they eventually freed the mast and debris, throwing it over the side and the vessel responded better to the elf’s commands, dictated by Inish in spite of his obvious pain. The circle closed until the questers knew that, even if they had the master’s skill, they could not penetrate the gaps without a battle.

“What now?”, Thule asked, notching an arrow.

“Fight, what else”, Marta moved to the bow and took aim at the nearest raft.

“Wait!”, Patrick unslung his pack and began to rummage.

A smile crept across his face as he withdrew a small phial and held it up for all to see. “Tamara, stop the boat and take a fix on a gap you think you can get through. When you have decided let me know and concentrate on nothing else but that gap. We will make it yet”, he grinned.

Tamara nodded, fixed a point in her mind and gripped the tiller tight. At her word, Patrick removed the cork from the glass and held it high. Thick mist billowed out spreading around the ship and engulfing the wide flat rafts of the Yezidee. As they hissed their anger, the boat sped through the gap and out into the open sea.

Lilith stared at the crystal bowl as it filled with smoke and marveled at the fortitude of the young stranger. She had already touched his fear and apprehension. Knowing his uncertainty, she concluded that getting what she wanted would not be difficult. Her wide mouth twisted into a grimace as the face of Fingool filled the glass. His smile unsettled her.

“What are you up to Lilith the Grasper? No good no doubt”.

“You malign me unjustly Fingool, I was looking to see if I could aid your friends, but I see they have no need of my frail magic”, she answered coyly, “they will enter the safety of Ellsinore’s harbour before nightfall. Are you coming?”.

“Later, first I must return to Eridu. Take care of my friends Lilith and remember that I shall be watching you”, the old man’s face faded as the smoke filled the crystal ball once more.

The beautiful sorceress threw back her raven hair and screamed with laughter, “Foolish old man, you have more to worry about than little old me”. Her mirth echoed down the dark dank cavern that was her secret place. When it returned to her it was coarser, deeper, more sinister and she stopped in her tracks peering into the darkness. Beads of sweat appeared on her brow and she trembled.

“Who’s there?”, she toyed with her hair, unsure and a little afraid.

From the shadows, a handsome man appeared. To his left and slightly behind, she perceived a shadow lurking, studying

her. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”.

The man stepped forward, but the shadow remained behind. He was quite the most handsome man she had ever seen with golden hair and firm muscles rippling under his short white shift.

“My name is Sadam and I bring you greetings from the Lord Visgoth”, he smiled.

Lilith shuddered and dropped to her knees. Sadam watched her trembling hands as they covered her face. He grinned and touched her brow. Strange sensations flooded her, her skin burned and her blood boiled and she felt desires that no mortal should even dream of. She floated from the floor hovering before his face. His deep blue eyes bored into her mind and she swooned.

“Your call to the master has not gone unheeded Lilith and your dream of power is about to be fulfilled”, he lowered her to the floor and chuckled, “this is Ira”. The black winged demon moved out of the shadows and Lilith thought she would faint, but Sadam held her, letting more of his potency flow into her.

“Ira will construct a magic circle”, he demonstrated an arc across the floor of the cavern, “all you have to do is get the Colour Speaker to stand within the circle, we will do the rest. Then, the Sun Sword shall be yours with all its attendant power. Let me explain”, he drew her towards a cushioned couch and smiled at the softness of her mortal skin.

The elfwood ship raced on driven by the following storm. Tamara’s strange skin resembled the weather torn bark of a birch tree and Marta hoped that she could hold their course and speed. Inish, wracked with pain, would not leave her side, singing songs of glory to inspire the elf maid. All aboard knew that they must reach the safety of Elsinor before the storm struck. No one doubted the courage of the young elf girl, but her colour and texture showed the immense strain. High above them, Clwyd circled, but he did no more.

The magical ship creaked and groaned as it beat into the waves, sometimes almost halting as the sea lifted the prow, then crashing down again onto the hard yet yielding surf. Each time a shudder ran through the vessel demanding greater effort of will to maintain headway. More than once Tamara sank to her knees and time and time again, Inish the master uplifted her.

The shapeless shadow of shore drew closer bringing shorter, steeper seas and Clwyd swooped lower. Inish peered through the gap between the deck and the gunwale, studying the shore line and estimating their speed.

“We will be there before nightfall”.

“Unless we are interrupted”, Thule snarled, watching the circling dragon. “What can the old beast do, the Yezidee are too far behind to catch up with us now, and I see no rider”,

Marta grinned.

“But they will come, if not today then tomorrow or the next day, and what then? All we are doing is bringing war to Elsinor, putting them at risk too”, Patrick turned away from his friends and stared at the surging sea, wishing he was back on the Giants Causeway with the chance to do it again. Differently.

“Do not sulk Patrick”, Marta snapped, “we all know what we are doing and when Thanet knows too, he will gladly fight for the cause”.

Patrick turned to face her, anger burning in his eyes, “Yes, fight and die. What’s the point? Whether the Colour Stone is restored or not, you’re going to die anyway, so why bother?”.

Marta clenched her fists and put them on her hips, “So you want to give up”.

The emotion left him and he nodded sadly. She saw the child in him once more and put her strong arms about him, circling him in tenderness. The ship shuddered and his chest heaved.

‘The waves roar whilst I weep, and sometimes, we’re in harmony’.

Patrick stared into her compassionate eyes and her smile warmed him.


Patrick’s anguish sent a shudder through the old man as he rode the griffin high above the clouds. What he had seen as he traversed the world had cut him deeply. The embittered woodcutters had skirmished with the elves as they crossed the forest heading towards Espair and although many of the mortals had perished, they had retaliated by firing the woodland. The rising smoke vexed his senses. In the mountains, the Drogs had sealed the passes and the singing sands were littered with dead animals. Only the verdant Isle of Man brought hope and solace to his tired mind. Even this ray of hope was shattered by the lines of warriors streaming towards the place of Creation. Eridu was already under siege by the Yezidee hoards. Fingool knew that the forces of darkness could never succeed against the appointed place, as long as Patrick remained alive and willing to go on with the quest, but once the will of the child was overcome, Visgoth would reign supreme. He had to persuade the High Council to move out against their enemy, show the mortals that the gods still cared and were prepared to act on their behalf. In his heart of hearts, he knew his plea would be futile.

As Hagar descended through the clouds, he felt the power of the barrier the Council had put about itself. It would keep out the enemy forces for eternity, but that was no answer. His call to Carrig, the gatekeeper, went unheeded and the shield remained intact. His mind reached out to Horus, demanding entry, but the barrier stayed sealed. Only the weak disillusioned voice of Monsor heeded his call, but he did not have the power to lower the shield alone and was quickly silenced by his peers. Fingool wheeled away, turning north, swallowing the bile that rose from his stomach.

Golem paced back and forth awaiting his master. His commanders watched him, occasionally dodging the thick tail as it swung towards them stirring the dust at their feet. The Yezidee army, poised on the frontier of the Kingdom of Elsinor, were eager for battle, hungry for blood. If Sadam didn’t return soon, Golem wasn’t sure that he could restrain them. Word had already come that the floating force had lost their prey and Golem had no intention of feeling the wrath of Visgoth. He would destroy Elsinor and everything in it, but he had to await the sign from the master. He knew that he couldn’t keep the presence of such a large army secret for much longer and did not wish to lose the element of surprise. The elfwood ship would soon be at the harbour and his intention known. His brilliant, but limited mind, told him that he must act, must attack before nightfall, but he dare not without word from Sadam. What could be keeping his master?

The young Lord Tempest, small and insignificant in his human form against the towering snake men, thrust his way through the commanders and into the path of the stalking Golem.

“The ship is entering Ellsinore’s harbour”, he snapped, “you must attack at once”.

Golem glared at the impudent youth and exhaled a deep hiss. That strange emotion flooded him again, but he could not, in his preformed mind, accede to it. He was a warrior, made for killing, or that is what the intention had been, but somehow, in Sadam’s need to create a strategist, the power to reason took priority over the will to destroy. He reveled in the battle plan, took pride in preparing logistics, painstakingly plotted the assault, but when it came to the execution, the slaughter, his heart was not in it.

“Well?”, Tempest demanded.

Golem thrust the god aside and continued to pace, ignoring the mumbling of his commanders who would not dare behave in such a way. Tempest turned and stormed out of the circle cursing the stupid creatures.

Suddenly, Sadam was there and the Yezidee stepped back bowing their thick necks in deference to their master. All that is but Golem. The General stared into the face of his maker and snapped, “Where have you been, the ship has entered the harbour and all chance of surprise has been lost?”. Sadam sneered at the arrogant creature, “What is that to me, you will destroy them all, surprise or not”.

“Of course, but now it will cost many lives which could have been spared had we struck sooner”.

Sadam roared with cruel laughter, “If you need a thousand more I will make them for you, so do your job and be careful how you speak to me for I can destroy as easily as I create”, he snapped his fingers and the Yezidee General writhed on the floor in agony until Sadam’s perverse pleasure was satiated.

Sadam sneered as Golem struggled to his feet, “You will attack at dawn. You will level the city and leave nothing alive that was alive. Do you understand?”.

“Nothing? What about this woman, Lilith?”, Golem rubbed his face.

“I said, nothing that is alive will be alive when you leave, and I care not what the cost. Is it quite clear now?”, Sadam grinned and Golem bowed, “I have summoned the wolf king, he will follow you in to make sure nothing survives”.

Hagar soared above the frozen wastes wondering what his master was about. There was no answer here, Fingool must know that. The old magician nestled closer into the gryphon’s thick fur and wrestled with his conscience. Why shouldn’t he just bring Patrick here, why risk the others? Because it must be so. There is no other way. It is not the Colour Stone alone, but the future of mankind that is dependant on the questers.

Hagar rose above an ice ridge and Fingool ordered him back to Elsinor.

The days of magic were over, man was ready to take his rightful place as lord of all he surveyed. It might not be a perfect world, but it was as it should be and Patrick Cormack, the Colour Speaker, was going to prove it, or so he hoped.

Tamara forced her eyes to remain open as she guided the elfwood ship between the breakwaters and into the haven of Elsinor’s harbour. The moment the swell fell away, she collapsed into Marta’s arms. An armada of small vessels came out to bring the magical ship into port. The quayside was thronged with onlookers. Marta lay the elf on the deck beside Inish, who had also succumbed to the pain, and went to the bow to look at the royal party waiting for them. Patrick joined her whilst Thule secured more ropes thrown from the small boats.

Patrick stared in wonder at the city. It was no dwelling of the gods with marble palaces, or ivory towers, but it had a raw beauty he could not have imagined for the period. From the stone quay, terraces rose one upon another with neat whitewashed houses, culminating in a stone built fortress sitting atop a hill overlooking the bay. To the south, a fortified wall and ditch protected the approaches. Patrick thought he could see hundreds of troops lying in wait. His attention was drawn to the gathering crowd.

The majority of the cheering, waving hoard were simple peasants clothed in rags and pelts, but at a point where the ship was being towed, a large group of well dressed dignitaries were gathered. Armed soldiers were everywhere, most staring with consternation at the circling dragon high above them.

“King Thanet has come himself”, Marta grinned, waving to the group as the ship closed the shore.

“Hail Marta, Warrior Princess of the Neanderthal. Well come to Elsinor and all your fellow travelers too”, the youthful King called.

“Neanderthal?”, Patrick asked looking at his guardian.

She made no reply, but hurried down to the well and as soon as was possible, leapt the gap before the ship bumped against the quay. In moments, the vessel was secured and officials poured aboard to tend Tamara and Inish. Thule busied himself bringing out the beasts and their chattels. The instant Equs came out of the cabin, a roar of approval went up from the crowd. The unicorn pranced up the gangplank proudly, revelling in his moment of glory. Bealach followed on and Patrick could have sworn he heard the dog chiding the great beast. Marta called him to meet the King and his retinue.

The hustle, bustle and noise of the gathering made it impossible for him to take in all the introductions, but one more than any other struck home. Thanet introduced him to a beautiful woman dressed in deep purple. Her eyes matched the colour of her dress and her smile was captivating. Lilith took him by the arm and led him away up the winding path between the dwellings up to the castle.

It was only after they had been shown quarters to bathe and prepare for a feast in their honour that Patrick got to see Marta again. He knocked meekly on her door.

She slouched in a chair with her feet on the windowsill, sipping wine and looking out across the southern plains. Her thickset features displayed concern for what she saw, or imagined out there, but she smiled as he came in and offered a cup of wine.

“You seem troubled Marta”, Patrick said as he sipped the wine.

“With good reason Colour Speaker. Thanet tells me that there is an army of Yezidee ten thousand strong out there. He expects an attack tonight or first thing in the morning”, she stared at the growing darkness and finished her wine.

“Wonderful. If the sea bourn force close the harbour, we’re trapped”.

“Not necessarily. Word of the army’s landing came several days ago and Thanet had the wisdom to send for help to my mother. She should arrive with an army tomorrow or the next day and the northern lands are still clear. He suggests that we leave by the north gate first thing in the morning, he has soldiers protecting the ferry across the Skaggerak”.

“So we slip out the back door and leave him and your mother to face ten thousand snake men?”.

“Elsinor is well protected and with all the country folk in the city, he can muster two thousand for the defence, we few won’t make much difference, anyway, when my mother arrives and attacks them from the rear, they will panic and scatter”, her words were sincere, but her smile betrayed her doubt.

Patrick nodded absent-mindedly, his train of thought elsewhere, “Don’t worry Patrick, we will be in the northern lands tomorrow night”.

“You know, in my time, we believed that modern man was descendant from the Neanderthal, but you are a completely separate race”.

Marta looked at him, wondering if he had completely lost his senses, “What are you talking about?”.

He stared at her, studying her features and putting it all together, “You, your people, you’re different from us”.

“So?”, she went for more wine.

“Nothing, it just explains a lot that’s all. How big an army can your mother raise?”.

“A few thousand, given time”, she stared into the beaker. “How many?”.

“Five or six hundred”.

“Oh God, they haven’t got a chance. We haven’t, Thanet won’t hold them for more than a day or so and then they’ll be after us”, Patrick sat down in her chair and stared into the gloom.

“Fingool has told Lilith what to do, she is preparing some special magic tonight. It will be all right, don’t worry”, she rested her hand on his shoulder.

Patrick turned to her, searching her dark eyes for some sort of hope. He saw none. “Why isn’t Fingool here? He told me not to trust Lilith”.

She became suddenly alert, “When? When did Fingool say that?”.

“On the ship, just before he left. He said that he would be here before I had to face it, but if not, then I should remember that I am the Colour Speaker”.

It was Marta’s turn to stare out of the window in deep thought, “Did he say why you shouldn’t trust her?”.

“No, only that I shouldn’t”.

“Has she said anything to you, I noticed that she spent a lot of time with you”.

“No, just general chat about our journey and the troubles we’ve had along the way. She does seem rather interested in the Sun Sword”, he reflected. “The Sun Sword”, she repeated pensively and sipped her wine.

“Yes, she said she would tell me all about it, how to use it properly” Marta stared into his eyes, “When?”.

“Tonight, after the feast”.

She was silent for a while, “That is when she told Thanet she would produce her magic that would ensure victory. Surely she can’t be thinking of using the Sun Sword against them”.

“She can think what she likes, there is no way I’m going to use the Sun Sword here, I’d probably kill everyone in the city and save the Yezidee a job”.

“How does she know how the Sun Sword works when even the residents of Eridu don’t know?”.

“She’s a magician like Fingool isn’t she?”.

“She is mortal, a sorceress, nothing more. She cannot be compared with Fingool, he taught her basic magic and healing, but he would never grant a mortal the Forbidden Knowledge. What is she up to?”.

“I’ve no idea, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look as if it will help us any, does it?”. Marta shook her head.As Patrick left to prepare himself for the evening, he turned to Marta, “Can’t we suggest to Thanet that he evacuate the city, come north with us, tonight?”.

She smiled, but did not answer, knowing the young King would never leave.

Deep beneath the fortress, Lilith admired the magic circle and listened intently to Ira’s instructions. Soon all power over mankind would be hers and she drooled with anticipation. Ira sniggered and transformed into a young waiting wench of no great beauty so that she could blend into the background and await the moment of conquest. Sadam smiled from the dark passageway before seeking out Clwyd and heading for Espair to tell his master of the impending victory.

The Great Hall was full to capacity. Patrick was pleased to see that it was not all noble folk, a stark contrast to his last official dinner. In spite of their predicament, the people of Elsinor filled the castle with laughter and joy.

Children danced around the tables and the atmosphere was one of carefree holidays, rather than impending doom.

Lilith sat on Thanet’s right with Patrick beside her, Marta sat next to the King. Thule and Tamara, separated by the King’s advisors, also occupied the top table and a place was left for Fingool, just in case. Lilith seemed excited, eager for the meal to be finished. She called one of the servers and sent the girl off to fetch something, Patrick didn’t catch what it was. He glanced at Marta, but she was occupied in deep conversation with their host. It was whilst a troupe of acrobats were performing that the wench came back carrying the Sun Sword on a silver salver. Patrick was shocked and looked across at Marta. She too was surprised and didn’t know what to say. Lilith took the sword and stared devotedly at the ornate scabbard, caressing it with her long thin fingers as one would a lover. Patrick felt beads of sweat rise on his temples as the woman slowly slid the blade from it’s cover. A fire burned behind his eyes and he reached out, restraining her from extracting the sword fully. She shuddered and pushed the blade back, smiling apologetically. Patrick took the sword and strapped the belt around his waist. Lilith took his hand and dragged him away.

Marta rose from her seat, but Thanet restrained her with a hand and a smile, “We must remain for the moment. Lilith needs time alone with the Colour Speaker. We will join them later, have some more wine”.

Marta didn’t know what to do. All evening she had hinted at her doubts regarding the sorceress, but Thanet seemed bewitched by her and even confided that he was thinking of marrying the woman. Mentally, she called Fingool and hoped that he was close. Even the sight of Thule slipping away from the table and disappearing down the same passageway didn’t ease her concern. She tried to think of an excuse to follow them. Thanet held onto her hand tightly, showing no sign of concern. Thule descended the spiral stairway hugging the wall. He could hear Lilith’s laughter and Patrick’s protestations from somewhere below. A hand halted him and the hair rose on the back of his neck.

“Where are you off to stranger?”, a tall young man stepped forward.

Thule examined his lithe body, wondering if he could take him quickly before Lilith disappeared down an adjacent passageway. The youth was dressed as a player, a jester, yet his eyes displayed a more serious aspect and his smile held no aggression.

Thule turned, attuning his ears, straining to locate the disappearing sounds and pushed the intruder’s hand away.

“Ha, so it is the sorceress you seek?”, he grinned.

“Yes, no, not her but the Colour Speaker she drags behind”.

“Come then, I know where they have gone. We must hurry”, the stranger skipped down the stairs like a child going to play.

“Who are you?”.

“My name is Eric, I am a travelling player with a keen interest in magic. I have been watching the sorceress for some time. She has ambition above her station. I believe you are right to keep an eye on her. Is that the Sun Sword of old legends your friend carries?”.

“Yes”, Thule breathed as they paused at a turn in the passage.

“This way, down into the bowels of the city”, Eric set off again, “So that is what she is after, is it really as powerful as they say?”.

“I don’t know, what do they say?”.

“That it can rend a mountain in two, that with a single thrust it can slay a hundred men, that it can burn a mortal to a crisp”.

“Enough”, Thule snapped, remembering the pain of the burns he acquired on the Singing Sands.

Eric grinned and hurried along the dark damp passageway.

Patrick stopped resisting. A strange compulsion had come over him. He felt an urgency, a desire to get to wherever it was they were going, to see an end to the running and to rest in quiet solitude.

Lilith stopped at what seemed like the end of the passage. Black rock faced them and water dripped from the ceiling. Patrick panted, resting his hands on his knees. The Sun Sword felt terribly heavy hanging at his waist and he had a strong desire to unbuckle the belt and let it drop where it was.

The sorceress mumbled strange incantations and the wall before them swung inwards to reveal a huge cavern lit by burning brands wedged into crevices in the walls. The walls, ceiling and floor were rough hewn except for a large circle at the centre of the room which was ornately laid out with a five pointed star and symbols Patrick seemed to recognise. Lilith laughed and drew him in. The opening in the wall closed behind them and a serving maid lit candles mounted around the circle. Two wooden seats were place side by side just outside the circle. Lilith drew him to them. His mind was reeling and he felt nauseous. The woman sat him down and smiled as she lifted the sword and lay it across his lap.

Patrick licked his lips, “Water”, he mumbled and the serving girl came forward with a pitcher and goblet.

Something about the girl was familiar, but he couldn’t say what. He clutched the cup and raised it to his lips, but before he drank, the smell of its contents struck him and he wretched, spilling the thick red fluid on the ground. It ran slowly forming a dark pool.

The girl moved back into the shadows, Lilith stared, unsure of what to do. She glanced at the girl and saw her remonstrations. Patrick looked up at her, sweat pouring from his brow. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and watched her fill another goblet from the pitcher. He wanted a drink desperately, cold clear, clean water and snatched at the cup. Again, the smell hit him and he pushed it away.

“It’s all right Patrick, look”, Lilith took the cup and drank.

He watched her, water dripped from her chin, but the moment he reached out and touched the droplets, they turned thick and red.

“What is happening?”, she turned, snapping at the shadows.

“Make him drink it”, Ira hissed.

“Patrick, please drink, you will feel better”, she crouched before him, resting one hand on his knee, the other on the scabbard. It felt hot to her touch and she quickly withdrew her hand. His eyes seemed to be burning with a blue fire. She stood up and stepped back, suddenly afraid.

Ira swept forward and tugged at her sleeve, “It is in your grasp, do not falter now. Take the sword, stand at the centre of the circle, make him come to you. He must step into the circle, I will do the rest”.

She nodded, swallowing hard. Patrick was sweating profusely, the fire in his eyes burned more brightly. Her hand was shaking as she reached out for the sword.

Patrick was sure he would faint. It was too hot and stuffy in the cavern, all he could think of was cold clear water. Lilith seemed to be floating somewhere in the vicinity, but her agitation offended him and he blanked her out. The sword, laid across his lap, was hot and heavy. It seemed to be dragging him down into a burning hell. He wanted rid of it, but his fervent efforts to undo the belt with hands that felt like tree stumps went in vain. Lilith saw what he was trying to do and, taking her courage in both hands, snatched at the weapon. It’s remarkable lightness surprised her and she fell backwards into the centre of the circle, laying flat on her back with the sword held directly above her.

“I have it, it’s mine”, she screamed hysterically. Outside the cavern, in the dead end passage, Eric repeated every combination of the incantation he could think of, but the door would not budge. Thule could feel the intense heat that seemed to be emanating from the walls, adding to his deep concern. He turned and ran, leaving Eric to try another combination of mystic words. When he reached the dining hall, a deep hush had fallen on the gathering. All eyes were turned to the high windows. Outside, the night sky had turned brilliant blue. Not the blue of a warm, cloudless summer day, but the blue of pure azure. As the people of Elsinor watched, the northern skies erupted with all the colours of the rainbow. Dancing lights painted the vault of heaven and the throng cooed with delight. Thule snatched at Marta’s arm, dragging her away from the spectacle. Only Tamara saw them leave and quickly followed.

Patrick stood up, staring at the gibbering woman. His toes touched the edge of the circle and the air hummed with vibrancy. The stone in the pommel of the sword glowed, pulsing with light, casting strange shadows over the prone woman. Her grin seemed to fill her entire face, eradicating her natural beauty. She called out to him.

“Come Patrick, come to me”, she didn’t take her eyes from the sword.

Blue light raced up and down the blade exciting her and fuelling her passion for power. Patrick felt the solid chair against the back of his knees and he sat down again, watching her as she grew in stature. The serving girl came up behind him. He resisted the temptation to look at her. The circle seemed to spin, slowly at first, but then faster and faster until he became dizzy. Feeling himself fall forward, he grabbed at the arms of the chair and hung on.

“Patrick”, she wailed as the fire in the blade burned brighter.

Ira started pushing the chair, inch by inch into the fiery circle chanting a spell between gasps of air. As Patrick’s feet entered the magic ring, orange fire burst from the ground at the points of the star and the air was filled with the roar of the flames. The flying creature transformed from it’s human form and hovered above the circle, dancing with laughter. Lilith was beginning to panic. The sword was becoming incredibly heavy and she was having difficulty keeping it from falling and crushing her. She called to Patrick again and turned her head to look at him. Patrick sat in the chair smiling. He was enveloped in blue fire.

They found Eric slumped against the cold wall, still muttering incantations. His fingertips were raw and bleeding from scratching at the door. Thule helped him to his feet while Marta kicked and beat at the solid wall. She sent Tamara for help. Even the besotted Thanet couldn’t ignore the frenzy that filled the air. Nothing positive, nothing that you could see or touch, but a paroxysm that chilled the marrow.

The King arrived with his personal guard looking angry and resolute, but once in the extraordinary presence of the passion surging through the very bedrock, his attitude changed and he ordered the door broken down. His soldiers began hacking at the rough stone with swords and spears. Eric recovered quickly when Tamara rubbed salve into his hands and once more began reciting the words he had heard Lilith use so many times before. As the men jabbed, the words fell in the correct order and the massive door swung inward. The blast of charged air knocked them all to the ground and they cowered there as alien voices and unknown sounds enveloped them. Marta was first to her feet and rushed into the burning cavern. The others followed more slowly.

Ira, hovering above the fiery circle, hissed and spat at them, cursing their presence, but confident that they were too late. Thanet placed his hands on Marta’s broad shoulders, watching the scene in amazement.

Sheets of orange flame leapt up from the five points of the star and the circumference of the circle glowed red. Laid on her back at the centre, Lilith struggled to keep the sword upright. They could see her mouth forming words, but the roar of the fires drown her speech. Marta knew that the woman was close to panic, she could see it in her eyes and the whiteness of her knuckles. She wanted to do something, but the fire was too intense. Then she realised that Patrick was in the middle of it. Her scream went unheard.

Suddenly, Patrick stood up and walked towards the sorceress. He appeared to be surrounded by blue light. The orange flames arched inward towards him and Marta cried out. As he drew closer to the prone woman, light from the pommel of the sword stretched out towards him, adding substance to the thin blue envelope, holding back the fires. Ira screeched encouragement to the flames. One more step and Patrick was at the centre of the circle.

The heat was intense. Sweat poured from the onlookers, frozen to the spot with fear. Spirits and demons danced around the perimeter of the circle forbidding interference and the air filled with wailing and banshee screams. Lilith writhed on the floor, kicking and thrashing, trying to get out from under the sword, its pommel no more than inches from her breast. Ira dived towards Patrick, seemingly pushing him into taking that last step. Marta held her hands to her face, unable to look and the orange fire burned brighter and hotter. Patrick placed one foot in the centre ring and reached out to Lilith. She dare not take his hand for fear that the sword would fall on her. She began to cry, pleading with him to take the sword back. He smiled at her and looked up at Ira.

The winged imp summoned every known spirit and the flames grew higher, scorching Lilith’s dress and singeing her hair. Obscene monsters filled the cavern with baleful cries and winged demons swooped. Marta sank to her knees and Thanet held her. Patrick touched the cross piece of the Sun Sword and the earth shook beneath their feet. As his hand closed around the grip, Lilith let go and, ignoring the flames, rolled from the circle to lay panting in front of Marta. The Warrior Princess stared into the burned face of the sorceress examining her agony. Then she took pity and began tearing at the woman’s burning clothes.

Patrick gathered the power of the sword and thrust it upward towards the retreating demons. Blue fire erupted from the blade, driving back and extinguishing the open flames of the circle, striking the roof of the cavern with unshakeable energy. Fragments of rock showered down as the force drove the demons upward. The floor of the Great Hall cracked and splintered as the flame smashed through, the high roof disintegrated and the fire emerged into the azure night. The pillar of power exploded high above the city with such force that many of the houses roofs were blown off. Fires started in many parts of the city and the soldiers fled from the walls in panic. Across the southern plains, Golem’s army took flight, but the blue ball of fire overtook them leaving them dead or dying. Only their General was left untouched by the raw power. Although unharmed, Golem was changed and he began to walk towards the city of Elsinor.

Darkness settled over Elsinor once more. In the Great Hall every brand and candle had been extinguished by the rushing flame and parents tore at the rubble for their children. Soldiers began returning to the wall and others set about tackling the fires across the city. Deep beneath the citadel the King nursed the disfigured form that once was his love, her beauty gone forever beneath burn blisters. Marta prised the Sun Sword from Patrick’s grasp and Thule caught him as he dropped to the floor. Eric helped carry the unconscious Colour Speaker up the long winding passageways to a quiet room and the Royal Guard sealed the charred and blackened cavern forever.

Fingool stood on the northern breakwater and sighed. He wiped the sweat from his brow and succumbed to the hunger pains in his stomach. It was still a long walk to the castle, but there was no hurry, it would be some time before the kitchen staff felt like preparing breakfast.


The blackened ruins of the castles Great Hall.

Elsinor did not sleep that night. King Thanet and his advisors toured the city taking stock of the devastation. The roof of the Great Hall had collapsed completely burying a number of people. Seven were brought out alive, but more than thirty were dead or missing. A further six were killed when their roofs caved in while they slept, sixteen soldiers died on the walls and many of the animals brought into the city for safety had gone berserk and had to be destroyed. King Thanet returned to his chamber and wept.
Marta and Thule, having settled Patrick in his room, went on a tour with their new friend, first visiting the stables to make sure their animals were all right. Having satisfied themselves that there was nothing they could do to assist the men searching the rubble, they walked down to the harbour to check on Inish. It was there that they met up with Fingool ambling along the quay.
“Fingool! Too late again. Where have you been?”, Marta asked running to the old man.
He smiled at her and placed his wrinkled hand on her head, “Dear Marta, it’s good to see you too. What is the extent of the damage?”.
She told him as they walked back towards the citadel. He stroked his wiry white whiskers and smiled, “Not too bad considering”.
“Not too bad! If you had got here sooner you might have prevented it”,
she snapped angrily.
“I was here Princess and couldn’t have stopped it even if I wanted to”, the old man sighed.
“But there are dead, many dead, including children and you’re telling me that you allowed it to happen? You didn’t even try to stop it?”.
Fingool shook his head, “I am sorry that people had to die, especially the young ones, but it was a small price to pay for what it achieved”, he held up his hand to prevent her protest and continued. “Without the walls, the sole survivor of the Yezidee army is approaching the gate even now”, he smiled at her shocked expression and went on. “Sadam’s plan to destroy the Colour Speaker and the cities of Elsinor and Thal has not only been thwarted, but I doubt that he will ever try his power against that of Patrick’s again”.
Marta stopped in her tracks and stared at him, “Are you serious?”. “Very, but come, I am hungry and the kitchens should be open by now”.

The Captain of the Guard stared in disbelief as the snake man lumbered towards the gate. The soldier’s keen eyesight searched the early morning mist for others, but there were none. A solitary soldier of Visgoth, unarmed and unafraid, approaching the well defended city. He called down and held out a hand to restrain his archers.
“Who are you and what do you want?”.
The creature halted and looked up at the gate tower, “My name is Golem, General of the Fourth Army Group. I come to pay homage to the Colour Speaker, let me pass”.
The Captain was speechless.
Golem became restless staring at the open mouth of the soldier, “Come Captain, open the gate. As you can see, I am unarmed, what threat can I possible pose you?”.
The Captain closed his mouth, “It is a trick, we know you have an army out there”.
“My army is gone Captain, your city is safe. Send out patrols, you will find only dead and dying, now please open the gate and let me pay my respects to the Colour Speaker”.
“Captain”, one of the bowmen nodded to the far distance where a cloud of dust was rising.

The officer grinned, “So that is it, you want us to let you in, gain our confidence and then your men will swoop on us whilst you kill the Colour Speaker”.
Golem followed the soldier’s line of vision and saw the advancing horsemen, “Your eyesight is poor if you cannot tell the difference between Yezidee and horsemen of the Neanderthal”, his forked tongue slithered out as he tasted the air, “It is Queen Mhara if I am not mistaken, with close on five hundred horse”.
The Captain turned at the sound of an authoritative voice behind him, “Let the General in and prepare a guard of honour for the Queen”.
The soldier saw the Warrior Princess beside him, “Fingool, will you take personal responsibility for the Yezidee?”.
“I will”.

The wide gate swung open and the general stalked in. He towered above the little group that greeted him, but bowed gracefully. Thule and Eric shivered and Marta kept her hand on her sword.
“There is no need of that Princess, a good General knows when he is defeated and accepts the fact gracefully. I am your prisoner. You may bind me if you wish, all I ask is that I may meet and speak with the Colour Speaker”.
Marta glanced at the magician, “Golem is not your ordinary Yezidee my dear, he was made for a specific purpose and that purpose is the thing that Sadam could never control. In order to be a good general, he had to have the ability to reason, he had to have a free will. He is his own man, if you know what I mean”, he grinned.
Golem bowed and held out a hand for her. Nervously, she took it and smiled up at the great beast, “It is hard for me to trust you Golem, but I sense sincerity from you, forgive me if it takes some time to get used to you”.
“Highness”, he bowed again, “you outrank me in the military order, yet if you did not, I would still put myself under your command if you will have me”.
She glanced at Fingool for approval and sighed with relief at his smile, “It will be an honour to have you with us Golem, but that decision is for the Colour Speaker”.
A fanfare rang out from the tower and the first of the horsemen cantered into the city. The small group stood aside to allow them through and joined in the cheers as the people of the city put aside their grief and turned out to greet their allies.
Marta’s mother leapt from her horse and into her precious daughters arms, then she saw Golem and drew her sword.
“No mother, put it aside, Golem has surrendered to us”.
“Take no prisoners daughter, kill it as it would you if the roles were
reversed”, the old woman spat.
The Yezidee dropped to one knee, his long tail flicking out and almost knocking Thule over, “Hail Mhara Queen of the Neanderthal. I offer my throat to you. Do as you wish for it would be an honour to yield up my life to the blade of such a great one as you”, Golem thrust his neck out and stretched his hands behind his back.
Mhara stared at the creature amazed, “Is this really one of Visgoth’s creations?”.
“Yes mother, but he is no common soldier. This is Golem, General and Strategist of the Yezidee army”.
“Not much of a General if he allowed the poor folk of Elsinor to defeat such a host as we have ridden through. There must be close on ten thousand dead soldiers out there, more if you include the wolves”.
“There were ten thousand, six hundred and forty three Yezidee. Four hundred and fifty mortals, eighteen Drogs and seven hundred and eight wolves including the wolf King himself”, Golem said without altering his position.
Thule whistled through his teeth and the others stared in disbelief. “Are they all dead?”, Marta asked.
Her mother nodded and reached up to put her sword under the General’s throat, “This is the only one left alive. Why should that be?”.
Golem’s tongue flicked out to taste the keenness of her blade and his red eyes blinked, “I do not know Majesty, that is why I came here to offer myself to the victors. Any power that can overcome an army I have just described, without loss to itself is a mighty force indeed”. Mhara looked at her daughter with a new respect, “You defeated them without loss! I cannot believe it”, she removed her sword and Golem swallowed hard.
“It was not the army mother, but one man, no more than a child really and we did suffer losses, almost fifty”.
“Fifty, against eleven thousand! This boy I must meet”.

“Yes, enough talk of war. Let’s go eat and then we shall all go see Patrick together. Is he well?”, Fingool asked.
“Sleeping when we left him, exhausted, but well”.
Thanet, in spite of Fingool’s reassurances, ordered a four man guard over the Yezidee which made negotiating the narrow passageways to the bed chamber somewhat difficult. As they turned a corner, they stopped in their tracks. Outside Patrick’s room, a chamber maid crouched on the floor protecting her head from a tiny blue flame flickering a few inches above her. Fingool stepped forward and the flame moved between him and the door. Its movement gave the terrified girl the opportunity to crawl away into the arms of Eric where she clung sobbing on his chest.
“Come Carina, you know me, let me pass. I need to speak to Patrick”.
The flame flickered and moved back allowing the magician to enter the room, but the moment the others stepped forward, the Fire Wraith flared angrily, barring their entry. No amount of pleading from Marta would persuade the Wraith to let them in. She could hear voices from the room, but not what was said. At least he’s all right, she thought.
Patrick lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. Fingool felt his brow
and smiled. The youth ignored him.
“Does it hurt?”, Fingool asked, sitting on the side of the bed and peering into Patrick’s face.
“No. There’s no pain, I ache a bit, but that’s all”.
The old man passed his hand over Patrick’s face. The boy didn’t react, “Can you see anything?”.
“Shadows of things that might be, or might not”.
“But there’s no pain?”.
Fingool sat for a while without speaking, staring at the young face, feeling for the child. He reached out and touched his hand. Patrick jumped and turned his head, “Who else is there?”.
“No one, Carina wont let anyone else near you”.
“Why not, what happened?”, he sat up and turned towards the old man’s voice.
Fingool stared into his face. The pupils were dilated and the narrow ring of the iris was brilliant blue. Deep red veins stood out in the white of the eye and involuntary tears streamed down his cheeks.
“You fought the dark powers and won, but it has cost you your sight. It was a high price to pay my friend”.
Memory flooded back and Patrick slumped down on the bed again, “Lilith, you warned me she was evil. What happened to her?”.
“She is badly burned, but she will live. Do not blame her Patrick, she was but a piece in a puzzle set to catch you. She was used, as all men are, she is not in herself evil. Now she is to be pitied. Can you get up?”.
“I think so, why?”.
“Come over to the window and tell me what you see”, Fingool took his elbow and guided the boy to the window seat. Patrick felt the breeze and turned to face it. “Do you see anything?”.
He didn’t answer for a while. Fingool watched the small muscles twitching around the eyes and thought he saw the pupils contract, but it was more hope than anything else.
“I see blue fields stretching to a deep blue sea. I see dark trees bearing blue leaves and blue clouds scurrying across an azure sky. I see shades of blue blending with tones of grey, but definition is poor and the light hurts my eyes”.
“I’m sorry Patrick”.
“Will it come back?”.
“I don’t think so”, Patrick stared straight through Fingool without seeing him, “But who knows what lies in store for any of us. If there is a way to restore your vision, I will do everything in my power to find it”.

Marta began yelling in the corridor and Fingool led the young man back to his bed, “Rest Patrick, I will arrange to send up some food. Please do not lose hope or faith. You have overcome the worst that Sadam could do, now you need fear nothing”.
“Except perpetual darkness”.
“No my young friend, the fact that you can see something leads me to believe that you will recover your sight”.
Patrick gripped the wizards arm, “But when Fingool, when?”.
The old man patted his arm, “Please have a word with that Wraith, she wont allow anyone near, not even the chamber maid. I will be back soon”.

Marta yelled,” speak to Carina and see if you can get her to let us in”, Fingool went to talk to her.
She was mortified at the news, “So Sadam has won”, she beat the table with her fists, “it must have been his plan all along. If Patrick is blind, there is no way he can find the Colour Stone”, she stood up and looked down at the old man, “you should have prevented it”.
Fingool’s sad eyes searched her face and saw remorse. He held out his hand and she took it, bursting into tears, “I am sorry Fingool, you do not deserve that, but what are we to do now?”.
“I do not know little one, but we can’t give up. If need be, we shall be his eyes”.
“Will he go on?”, she asked, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “Perhaps I can help in this matter”, Golem stepped forward.
“I am Yezidee, a snake man. My senses are more attuned. My eyesight may not be as good as yours, but I have sensory glands which give me greater vision”.
Marta studied him and looked at Fingool.
“He may be right Marta, after all, the Colour Stone cannot be seen by ordinary eyes. The Runes said that Patrick would recover it, not see it”. The Warrior Princess brushed away a tear and smiled at their new ally, “Let’s go talk to him”.
“I doubt that Carina will be in any mood to allow Golem near her charge. She seems to think that we are incapable of looking after him and now that she can’t hurt his eyes any more, she has taken over the role of guardian”, Fingool grinned.
Thule and Tamara, not knowing what they could do under the circumstances, decided to take the animals out for exercise. Eric joined them. The moment the stable door was open, Bealach raced off towards the tower. Equs whinnied after him and the dog turned to acknowledge the beast. A few minutes later, he was at Patrick’s side.
Thule led the unicorn until they were without the city walls, then he let the beast go, watching in admiration as Equs raced across the plains. Eric sat astride the pack horse open mouthed at the speed and grace of the mythical creature. Even a troop of Thal horsemen, out exercising their own mounts, stopped to watch.
Word of the spectacle spread and by the time they returned, a large crowd had gathered. Thule, inflamed by the adulation of the crowd, decided to lead Equs through the throng, accepting the flowers and the praise presented. His grin widened as the crowd grew and he blushed at the young girls who followed the retinue trying to get near him. He felt an over exuberant tug at his sleeve and turned to scold the well wisher only to find himself faced with the bitter expression of a middle aged woman. The party stopped while Thule studied her twisted expression. Her cold eyes bored into him.
“So you are the Colour Speaker”, the woman snarled, “you are the one who sacrificed my children to the gods in exchange for your victory”, she spat in his face.
Thule shook his head and wiped the spittle from his cheek, looking round at other angry faces leering from the crowd, “No, I’m not the one, I am just one of his followers”.
Eric and the tall Tamara pushed their way to Thule’s side, the elf put her arm between them, “The Colour Speaker made no sacrifice to gain victory except to give his own sight so that you and the others of this city should live. It was not his wish that any of you should suffer, that burden he took upon himself. It is a tragedy that some died as a consequence, but it was not his, nor any others fault”.
The woman glared at Tamara, Thule backed up against the unicorn. “Anyway”, Eric butted in, “you are still young, you will have other children”. Tamara stared at him amazed and the woman wailed with grief, “Be still Eric, you cannot replace a child by simply having another. What is lost is lost for ever and cannot be replaced”.
The woman’s eyes softened as she looked at the elf. Tamara reached out a hand and the woman released her flood of tears, falling into the tall girl’s arms. Tamara led her away towards the citadel and the others hurried back to the stables.
Bealach scratched at the door and whimpered. Patrick’s sadness lifted and he shouted for Carina to let the dog in. The Fire Wraith opened the door and watched as the massive hound jumped onto the bed. Patrick threw his arms around the shaggy creature and grinned as Bealach licked his face. Then, Patrick’s eyes caught sight of the Fire Wraith hovering by the door. He stared at her, disbelieving of his disturbed vision. Within the veil of blue fire, a miniature, but perfectly formed woman smiled at him.
“Do I offend you Colour Speaker?”, her soft voice infiltrated his mind. He shook his head, thinking how beautiful the tiny girl was.
The Fire Wraith turned away coyly, “You are embarrassing me”.
Patrick shuddered and looked away, “Forgive me Carina, it’s just that I hadn’t realised you were a woman”.
“You thought I was a man!”, she grinned, floating towards him.
“No, of course not. I meant that I only saw you as a flame, I hadn’t realised that within the fire was a beautiful girl in human form”, he smiled and watched as she came closer. Although his sight was restricted to hues of blue, her features were quite distinct. She had long flowing silver hair, high cheek bones and a thin, petite mouth which smiled in the most delightful way. But, most remarkable of all were her gossamer wings, rippling in shades of silver as they beat frantically, maintaining her position, like a humming bird savouring the scent of morning flowers. “Do you approve of what your eyes tell you?”
“You are like an angel, or how I would imagine one should look”.
She quivered with pleasure, placing a fine finger on her chin, “You are charming Patrick, do not fear for your sight, it is well”. Before he could respond, the figure in the fire flared and hurried out of the door, back to her post in the corridor.
Patrick heard Marta’s voice, she sounded angry, “Let her in Carina, it’s all right”, he thought and she responded, “She may come in, but she has Golem, the Yezidee General with her”.
Patrick was stunned, the city couldn’t have fallen to the enemy without a fight, and he had heard nothing of such an action. What was going on?
Marta rushed to throw her arms around him, almost choking him in her eagerness. Bealach moved aside and stood at the foot of the bed growling at the snake man. The giant creature stared down at the small form of the Colour Speaker, his tongue flickering in and out. Carina hovered directly above his head, pulsing with fire.
“He is a juvenile!, a child. Is this really the Colour Speaker or do you still not trust me?”, Golem said, stepping closer.
Bealach snarled, barring his teeth and Carina moved between the gapping mouth of the snake man and her charge. Marta tried to reassure them. “Patrick, this is”,
“I know, the Yezidee General. What do you want Golem?”
The Yezidee hissed and crouched, supporting his bulk on his thick tail, “I had to come to you for an explanation”.
“Of what?”.
“The reason why you allowed me alone to live”.
Marta studied the snake man’s face and felt sure she saw a tear form in his small red eye. Patrick too examined the creature’s outline, seeing more with his perception than with his eyes.
Carina’s fire vibrated as she sensed others approaching the bedchamber. Patrick felt her concern and reassured her, giving her leave to see who it was. She reported back that it was Tamara with a female from the city. He told her to let them in and then wait by the door.
Tamara and the bereft woman walked in on the fearful silence. Both shuddered as they looked upon their enemy crouched beside the bed. The woman, Magda by name, dried her tear and whispered to the elf.
“Is that the Colour Speaker?”, Tamara smiled and nodded, “But he is no more than a child himself. My eldest, whom I have lost, was no older than this boy. Is it true, that he is blind?”. Tamara nodded sadly, “What kind of parents would let their child go on such an adventure?'”.
Patrick heard her whispering. He turned his face in the direction of the noise, “I am sorry for your loss mother. If I could bring back all the dead of the ages, I would do it gladly”.
But not my comrades”, Golem hissed.
“Yes General, even your hordes would I restore to you if I could”.
“But they intended killing us all!”, Magda protested, moving to the bedside, “You cannot mean it”, she knelt and took his hand.
Patrick felt the cold of grief as she clutched him and he reached out to put a hand on her head, soothing her anguish. “When my family was killed, murdered by people they never knew, I felt only bitterness. I wanted to kill them, to make them suffer, but that would not have brought back those whom I had lost, it would have just made their relatives desire the same death for me and men would go on killing each other unto eternity. It has to stop somewhere. Fingool said that I am only responsible for my own actions, well, now I have killed and my life is a failure, but what must I do? I do not know, for I know nothing of the purpose of life or what it means. All I can do is live it as it comes, doing my best to foster good in the face of evil and ultimately to endure the consequences of my actions before the judgement seat of God”.
His blank stare passed over them and they shuddered at his expression.

“Who sits on the seat in the power of judgement, Who sits on the seat and says what is or is not, Who defines the law and the things that are written, Who values the meaning of each title and jot?
Who judges with mercy and love and compassion, Who’s judgements are holy and righteous and true, Who judges the world through the eyes of a father? I tell you my friends, not me and not you”.

Each expressionless face was turned to him, dwelling on his words, lost in their own thoughts of righteousness. The Fire Wraith twinkled and her flame went out.
Fingool sat alone in the Great Hall and smiled.


Thin columns of grey smoke rose dolefully in the heavy air and the stench of burning flesh irritated the nostrils of the mourners. Thanet regretted ordering the burning of the Yezidee carcases and wished that he had waited until the mass funeral of his own people had ended. He wasn’t to know that the wind would change, but he should have considered the possibility, or so the bereaved murmured. It was the first time anyone could remember the whisper of dissent against the great king. Although still young, he had brought the mortals of the eastern lands together as one clan, meeting their needs with justice and wisdom, showing favour to none but the deserving. Patrick listened to the muttering and recognised a trait that would ultimately destroy the world. He had already determined that there was one common language, if discord began now, what chance would there be when separate nations emerged and developed their own rules of communication, let alone the different species gathered for the wake. His thoughts drifted to the elves and what would become of them.
Lilith, swathed in cheesecloth from head to toe, peered through an eye slit at the funeral gathering from her chamber window. The elf’s salve had taken away the pain, but nothing would ever alleviate the hurt. She had not seen Thanet since that night, he had been too busy. Everyone was too busy. She was outcast and that was more unbearable than the terrible creature she saw in the looking glass each morning. That hideous reflection made her vomit, but being ignored made her sick to her stomach. The smell of the smouldering bodies from across the plains reminded her of the stink in her bed and she retched.
“Pitiful”, a voice said from behind her.
She turned and searched the shadows of her darkened room, seeing no one, “Who’s there?”.
“You have only yourself to blame”. “Who is it?”, she shivered.
“If you had followed instructions, none of this would have happened, but you couldn’t wait could you? You had to have the Sword there and then. Your impatience cost me the victory I deserved. No matter, the battle was lost, but the war has just begun. Have you decided who’s side you’re on?”. “Sadam?”, she questioned nervously.
“Who else gives a thought for you?”. The handsome man materialised on her bed. His smile was as captivating as ever.
The veil dropped from her face as she shuffled towards him and he shuddered, “Oh dear, that will not do. The mother of my children cannot walk around looking like that. Would you like your beauty back?”, he swung his feet to the floor and drew her towards the mirror.
She stood beside him, a raven haired beauty once more. The stiffness left her, the smell of death departed and she laughed loud and long.
“I trust you have learned your lesson Lilith, perhaps now you will do as you are told. If so, your beauty will live for ever, if not, I can restore the truth with a thought”, as she watched, her face wrinkled and twisted and her alabaster complexion faded to grey.
“No”, she screamed as her blackened hands came up to her face, but when she looked again, she was more beautiful than ever. She swooned into his arms and drifted away on her heart’s own love song.
Marta studied Patrick’s back. Either he had grown, or the Sun Sword had shrunk. It was strange the way he wore it, not strapped around his waist as most did, but slung over his head with one arm through the belt so that it hung down his back leaving the pommel close to his ear. Perhaps the experience of using the weapon had matured him, he seemed to carry it with pride and authority, no longer afraid of it. She made a mental note to ask him. Certainly he didn’t go anywhere without it since Lilith’s near fatal attempt to steal it. That aspect at least, pleased the Warrior Princess. The thought of such a weapon in the wrong hands made her shudder.
“Are you all right?”, Tamara whispered in her ear.
“Yes, I was just thinking how Patrick seems to have grown”.
“He does, doesn’t he”, the elf studied the boy’s back.
“I’ve seen something like it before, when a Thal warrior goes into battle for the first time, but with the Colour Speaker, it is something more, deeper, more spiritual”.
“He has come to terms with himself”, Fingool murmured.
“You mean his blindness?”, Tamara asked.
“No, I doubt that he will ever come to terms with that. Colour means so much to him and now he can’t see it. No, what I mean is that he has come to terms with his commitment to the quest. He has put aside regrets and personal feelings. He knows that he has something to do which, whilst he may not like it, is more important than his own values”.
“I’m not sure I understand”, Marta studied the old man’s face.
“Since he passed through the portal, he has been filled with self doubt. He thought that he wasn’t worthy. He believed that he needed to be something extraordinary, that he wasn’t good enough to take on such a task”.
“And now he knows that he is?”.
Fingool laughed and several of the mourners turned to scold him through their moist eyes, “Far from it. He knows that he is no more worthy than any other, but now he knows that worthiness is not a requirement for the job. He has been appointed to the task by one greater than himself, therefore, who is he to argue the wisdom of his selection?”.
Marta looked blank and Tamara turned her attention back to the proceedings. Fingool sighed.
“How did he know how to use the Sun Sword? Did you tell him?”.
Fingool shook his head and looked into the rich brown eyes of the Princess, “He did not know how to use it, nor was it necessary. The power of the sword was concentrated through the magic circle. All Patrick did was refuse to give in to the dark power. His will and purpose was enough to direct the weapon. Once Lilith had begged him to take it back, she allowed him to use it without malice or forethought and that purity of spirit was enough to do the rest. He still doesn’t know how to use it, but he now understands that it’s not his problem”.
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about. Can he use the weapon or not?”, her eyes flared.
Fingool smiled, “Who knows”.
That night the festivities began. The grandeur of the Great Hall had been partially restored, but it was fortunate for all that the night was still and warm. The last of the guests were gathering when Lilith made her dramatic entrance.
A deep hush fell as every eye was turned towards the exquisite woman who revelled in the attention. She swept into the hall, twirled, danced and paraded through the noblesse. Patrick asked what was going on, but no one answered. Within their group, Magda’s little daughter clung to her mother’s skirt and cried as the sorceress skipped by.
“Who is it?”, Patrick insisted.
“It is Lilith, looking more beautiful than ever”, Thule answered. “Lilith!”. Patrick exclaimed and then felt the tug of the small child at his side, “What’s wrong little one?”.
“The lady, she is so ugly, it frightens me”, the child sobbed and he picked her up.
“You mean Lady Lilith?”, he saw the shadow of her tiny head nodding and felt her cling more tightly to him as the King’s consort stood swaying before him, teasing, mocking and laughing at his blank stare.
“Lilith, it is good to see you up and about. How is the pain? I have great admiration for your courage to face this crowd with your deformity”, he smiled and Magda took her tearful child away.
The sorceress seethed. Spittle formed in the corner of her mouth and her skin burned with anger. Fingool came to stand beside the Colour Speaker, but when the old magician saw the smile on his face, he withdrew.
Lilith hissed, “Take care child of the future, for the Sword will not always save you, it has no authority over the heavenly powers, it is merely a weapon to control the minds of men”.
“As you hope to do with this charade”, Patrick laughed, “We are alike we two”.
She stared at him and the others moved back, leaving them to face each other in open conflict. The tension began to build.
“How So?”.
Patrick smiled at her,
“In the depths of man’s imaginings, There’s an echo of a time,
That’s trapped in bare illusion of his first most deadly crime.
And the guilt of his remembering Ensures there’ll be no rest, ’til the basis of salvation
On our hearts has been impressed.
For we walk through life in shadows And fear both dark and light,
As the depth of mental forest Obscures our inner sight.

And we know in deep subconscious That this area we tread,
Is just a narrow walkway ‘tween the living and the dead.
There’s a wall of subterfugition that’s built on time and space, It’s constructed from confusion Hemming in the human race.
But now the barrier’s falling, The lying one has lost,
The prisoners are escaping
In the breakout through the cross”.

Patrick withdrew the sword and held it before her, blade down. The blue fire burned from the pommel, down the handle, out along the crosspiece and pulsed in the glass blade.
People began screaming and rushing for the exits, fearing that the Colour Speaker would bring down the roof again, but Lilith and Fingool remained, transfixed by the darting blue fire. The sorceress felt the stiffness return to her joints and Fingool’s shoulders sagged with the weight of ages.
The upper section of the sword, above his hand, forming the cross, burned brilliant blue. Lilith fell to her knees as her strength left her. She felt the taught ness of her skin and smelled the foul stench of burned flesh and singed hair.
Fingool’s mouth formed the word -no- but nothing came out. The high vaulted ceiling shook and plaster fell on them. The crack of timbers split the air and a moment later, Sadam, riding Clwyd, smashed through the feeble barrier and descended on the three. Fire from the sword formed a protective ring around the old man and the youth, deflecting the dragon’s breath. Lilith screamed, expecting to be turned to cinder, but the opposing fires did not touch her and a moment later, she was astride the dragon beside her lover. With cruel laughter, he brought down the rest of the roof.
The blue fire pursued the dragon to no avail. The old magician gently prised the Sun Sword from Patrick’s grasp and returned it to it’s sheath. He studied the destruction all about. At least this time, no one had been lost.
“Why Patrick, why take the risk?”.
“I don’t know, it seemed right”.
Fingool found an undamaged chair and sat the young man down. Slowly, people began returning to the hall and picked their way through the debris.
“You would have destroyed her wouldn’t you?”.
Patrick nodded. “But why Patrick? Her performance was not intended to harm any of us, it was merely an illusion”.
“Not because of her, but what she carries in her womb”.
Fingool was shocked, “She is with child?”.
“Not children as such, but the spawn of Sadam. They will pollute the world with their evil. She must be destroyed”, he sobbed. ;
Fingool held his hand, “I thought that you understood your purpose, but it seems I was wrong”.
Patrick squeezed the frail old bones, “I know Fingool, it was stupid of me, but you see, I remembered that in my time, there is an element who still worship that woman, and I thought that if I could destroy her now”, his voice faltered and he fell silent.
Fingool felt for the child, but could not understand Patrick’s passion, “You cannot change the future, no matter how hard you desire the change, and no matter what the reason. Be still and know that there is one who knows all”.
Patrick sobbed, “I know, but I’ve changed inside. I think it must be the power of the Sword and the loss of my sight”.
“Explain”, Fingool hushed the gathering crowd away.
“I’ll try. The power of the Sword seems to have possessed me, made me want more of it, to make things better you understand, not for evil, but for good. Together the Sword and I could rid the world of all that is evil and make the present, and the future, a better place. I don’t know why, but just restoring the Colour Stone seems such a little thing compared with what I could achieve. Don’t you agree Fingool?”.
“No, but what has this to do with your blindness?”.
“Well, now that I can’t see, I seem to spend all my time thinking. I know that the mind is always active, but without sight to distract my thoughts, I can concentrate my mind, focus it more clearly on real issues. Does that make sense?”.
“That does, but what you said before certainly doesn’t. When the creator completed his work of creation, including mankind, He said that it was good. You seem to believe that He was wrong and that the world is evil, at least in part!”.
“No, well yes I suppose it sounds that way. Now you’re confusing me. Sadam and Visgoth are in the world and they are evil aren’t they?”.
“They are in the world, but they are not of the world. They can only corrupt what is here if they are allowed to do so”.
“But they are making evil things to dominate the world”.
“You mean like Tarn and Golem? You are not worthy to judge them Patrick, even with the power of the Sword”, Fingool smiled and patted Patrick’s shoulder, “Come and rest, for I think we must be on our way tomorrow”.
The questers sensed their impending departure and each considered the prospect in their own company. Queen Mhara found her daughter in pensive mood and did her best to lift her spirits. Thule chose to spend the evening with his new friend Eric. Tamara accepted the invitation to dinner with Magda and her family and Fingool dined with King Thanet in his private chambers. Patrick, however, was not left alone. Carina returned to grant what comfort she could.
When dawn came, it brought silver rain. The questers gathered for breakfast and found that their number had grown. Magda, with the blessing of her husband, joined them. Eric, representing the city of Elsinor, also begged leave to travel with the party and Mhara attached a squadron of her best horse to escort and protect her daughter, in spite of the Marta’s discord. As usual, Fingool went his own way, promising to catch up with them before they entered the land of ice and the realm of the Snow Queen. Patrick didn’t get a chance to say farewell.
It was only when they were assembled in the courtyard that Marta noticed the absence of Golem. When she enquired, no one had seen him since before the night’s adventure. Thanet sent his people to find the Yezidee, but the General had disappeared. The news disturbed Marta, for she had confided in the amiable creature and now wondered whether she had done the right thing. After leaving the citadel, they rode down to the harbour and said farewell to Inish who promised that he would keep himself and his craft available to them. Neither looked fit for much, let alone able to sail north into the Snarling Sea.
Equs was eager to be on his way and obviously pleased that he could carry the Colour Speaker once more. Bealach shared the excitement and danced around the group’s horses while they waited, much to the annoyance of the Thal cavalry whose mounts were not accustomed to the attention of a beast resembling a wolf cavorting amongst them. They skittered and danced until Tamara and Marta rejoined then and the whole group was ready and willing to take the road north.
It seemed as if the whole city had gathered at the north gate to cheer the questers on their way. The spectacle was especially gratifying to Thule who’s simple upbringing revelled in the glory of this wondrous place. Peasant and noble alike turned out to bid a fond farewell, throwing flowers and spices at each of the strangers as they passed under the fortified gate. Without the city wall, Thanet’s own mounted guard flanked the riders and escorted them as far as the ferry across the roaring straight of Skaggerak.
Thule, Eric and Magda could not help themselves. With each step of the way, they turned and stared at the receding city feeling an emptiness grow in the pit of their stomachs. They were leaving something great behind. Not just the city, but an inward sense of security that was being dragged out of them and the fear of never seeing it again filled the gap.


The riders came to a halt overlooking the ferry, the sight of which, struck fear into the steadiest heart. The sound of the roaring water, as it was sucked from the inland sea by the ebbing tide, sounded like the drums of doom. To Thule, the mere idea of crossing that narrow strip of water, looked impossible. The spume and spray, as it surged through the restriction, rose in a cloud to mingle with the steady rainfall in a vista of oblivion. Patrick saw none of it. The grey rain drew a veil across his partial vision, leaving the terrifying sound to work on his imagination. “Where are we?”, he asked the wind.
Marta reached out and touched his arm, “Looking down on the Skaggerak”. “It sounds like a waterfall”.
“In a way I suppose it is. The Skaggerak is a narrow channel between two faces of rock, the distance of a bowshot apart. When the tide goes out, as it is now, water tumbles out of the Sea of Balt into the Snarling Sea and conversely when the tide turns. Only for a short period is the water still enough to cross safely. We will have to wait a while”, Marta patted his arm and urged her mount on.
The tumultuous gorge was more than a physical barrier. It represented the crossing of a divide separating the relatively comfortable world of Elsinor and the barren, frozen wastes where the fearful Trolls reigned supreme. As Marta watched the consternation of the companions, she saw the struggle going on within. It was here, more than any other place, that their commitment to the quest would be made. The roar of the rapids was less preponderate once they had reached the flat rock, but the rain intensified with the descending spray, soaking everything and adding to the depression settling upon the riders.
Magda especially showed signs of regret. The Warrior Princess went to comfort her whilst they waited for the flow of water to reach its equilibrium, “There is still time to turn back”.
The woman smiled nervously, but shook her head, “I’ll be all right”.
Marta looked at the host gathered by the roaring water’s edge, studying each in turn. In spite of his expressionless face, Patrick was the only one she felt sure of. Tamara stared wide eyed at the tall pines across the water. She sniffed the air, separating the scent of sap from the salt of the sea spray. Soon, once the frozen wastes had been reached, she would feel isolated, alone and helpless. Marta wondered if she wouldn’t be better returning to the dark forest.
Thule too, seemed far away, looking back in the direction of Elsinor and obviously missing his new friends and the attention he had received. Was it really fair to ask him to go on? Eric, the least known of their new companions, he alone looked excited about the adventure. Marta wondered why. Why was he here at all? Then she looked at the Thal horsemen. They didn’t show it, but she could feel their apprehension. They shouldn’t be here and she wished her mother had not sent them.
Why? she asked herself, why am I doing this? Patrick and the restoration of the Colour Stone were all that was important, the rest are not my concern, not my responsibility. They come or they go and that is all there is to it. But still their discomfort gnawed at her confidence.
The roar of the Skaggerak died to a whisper as the seas stabilized. A shout from the ferryman brought his helpers running. In a few moments the large square raft was slipping into the strangely still water, turned brown by the suspended sand swirling in confusion. They had less than an hour to get everyone across. Marta voiced her concern regarding the questers to Patrick, but he made no reply. As the first of the Thal cavalry boarded the boat, she called everyone to attention and gave them the opportunity to turn back. No one took up the offer, although Magda and Thule gave no specific response and Tamara closed her eyes when she agreed to go on. Marta shrugged her shoulders and stood quietly at the Colour Speaker’s side as they waited their turn to cross.
The singular silence, as the raft slid ponderously across the short stretch of sea, unsettled the passengers. Not one stepped ashore unmoved. Apart from the odd hunter and trapper, they would not see another mortal until they returned with the Colour Stone.
They mounted and exchanged salutes with Thanet’s guard across the divide, already groaning with anticipation at the reverse thrust of unstoppable water. Magda wiped a tear from her eye and Thule drew a scarf over the lump in his throat. The long column turned north and Eric pulled a lyre from his pack. Wearing the only smile of the party, he drew his slim fingers across the strings and began to sing. Within an hour, his peerless performance had lifted their spirits and many joined in the songs. Even the animals seemed to appreciate the ambivalence and quickened their pace, amplifying the growing confidence.
Patrick felt the surge of enthusiasm and listened to the development of banter associated with people at ease. He wondered at the beneficial power of music and afforded himself a smile. By the time evening came, even Marta’s concern for the individuals within the group had dissipated and she thought she understood why Eric had come, and was glad.
They made camp close to a small settlement at the foot of the mountains. Close enough for the trappers to ply their trade, but far enough away to be safe from marauding trolls. The men of the village were away, but the women and children came out to greet the visitors, eyeing the Thal warriors with some suspicion. Their attention was soon concentrated on the unicorn and once it had been explained why the strangers were there, the residents offered fresh meat and roots for the evening meal.
Patrick ignored everyone, choosing to find a quiet spot and settle down with Bealach at his side. Marta made sure he was comfortable and went off to organise things in her matronly way. Patrick focused in on the various conversations going on around him. The rain had stopped, but the resulting mist did not help his vision any and he was soon asleep. When he awoke, Eric was playing his lyre again, but this time, the rhythm and pulsing beat invoked visions of frenzied passion. Patrick sat up and stared hard at the flames of the fire, trying to discern shape and movement. It was all a blue blur. Bealach sensed his disquiet and nuzzled him comfortingly. The dog’s wet nose surprised him, grabbing his attention, and the music stopped.
He sat bolt upright and cried out. Marta was there instantly and he felt the security of her strong arms around him.
“Patrick, what’s wrong?”, she held him tight.
“Eric, tell him to stop he must not play like that, it’s wrong, so very wrong”.
Marta stared into his concerned face and smoothed away the worry lines, “Eric has been asleep for hours. You must have been dreaming”, she drew his head down onto her breast and he sighed.
“It was so real. I heard it and saw the fire blazing, they were dancing around the flames deranged”, he gripped her arm.
“Who were?”.
“I don’t know, I couldn’t see clearly, but it was all so wrong”.
She began to rock him in her arms, gently swaying and stroking his hair. In a few moments, he was asleep again. When she had settled him, she looked up and saw Magda watching her.
“He had a bad dream”.
“I know. You love him very much, don’t you?”.
Marta blushed and smiled, “I am the guardian, the one chosen to watch over him”.
“And is that all it is? Why is he the Colour Speaker?”, Magda came to sit by the warrior and they stared at the sleeping boy.
“I don’t know, but he speaks words that conjure pictures, vibrant visions of something beyond comprehension, words of things that are real and yet, seem only hopes and dreams”, she smoothed the hair on his brow, “He is young, and yet so very old. With a few words he brought back the Mystic Rose desecrated by Visgoth. We believed it was lost forever, but as he spoke, it came back more beautiful than before”, her smile spoke volumes to the bereaved mother.
“Do you think he would bring back the dead, if he could?”.
Marta looked at her, unsure of her train of thought or the point behind the question, “I believe he would restore your children if he could”.
“But he can’t?”.
Marta looked away.
“Yet he can restore a flower taken by the Lord of Darkness. Aren’t my children more important than a flower?”.
“Of course they are Magda”, the warrior Princess touched the woman’s cold hands, “But I don’t think Patrick set out to restore the rose, he just spoke words that came to mind and his words charmed the crystal”.
“Ask him to speak of my sons that I might see them again”, Magda shook the Princess violently.
The Neanderthal took the frantic woman in her arms, employing her greater strength to quieten her. Then she looked up and saw Thule watching them. He crouched and Marta shivered at the expression on his face.
“If the Colour Speaker can do all these things, restore the Rose with words, why does he need us? He has powers we have not dreamed of. Surely he can bring back the Colour Stone by simply wishing it? If not, why doesn’t he use the power of the Sword? What does he need us for. I’m going home”, Thule stood up and walked away.
Marta called after him, he did not respond. She went to follow, but the moment she let go of Magda, the distressed woman began to shake Patrick.
Bealach shoved the woman away unceremoniously. Marta went after Thule, but the Captain of the Guard stopped her.
“Highness, I cannot believe it, but seven of my men have deserted”.
Marta stared at him, unable to believe it herself. She watched Thule disappear into the shadows and heard Bealach’s growl. Unable to understand what was happening, she went back to her charge.
Patrick was in a panic. He could not see who was shaking him. The aggression he felt did not fit the character of any of his friends, he could hear Bealach snarling, but could not comprehend why the beast did not attack, unless it was a friend.
“Who is it? What do you want?”, he tried to push the intruder away. “Bring back my children”, Magda screamed in a high, frantic pitch.
It did not sound like her, but he knew it could only be the grieving mother. What could have brought this on in the middle of the night? And then his mind slotted the pieces together. Lilith. The screech of anguish assailing his ears was that of the sorceress, not the distraught mother. Marta arrived and pulled the woman off, turning her and slapping her face with more force than was really necessary. Patrick heard the sharp intake of breath and knew from the tense atmosphere that the Warrior was about to strike again.
“Stop Marta. What is happening to you all? You are full of violence, Magda is consumed by grief and I sense a brooding vehemence all around. Be still and listen”.
Marta stared at him, grinding her teeth. Magda sobbed once and then thought she could hear something too. Far off, high in the snow covered mountains, they heard laughter. Cold, callous, mocking laughter that made them shiver.
For a brief moment, all was quiet, then suddenly, pandemonium broke out. The Thal horses snapped their tethers and ran through the camp like wild mustangs. Bealach howled at the moon and Equs reared, snorting at the night wind. Warriors ran in all directions, trying to bring the beasts under control. Without warning, the smouldering camp fires burst into flame, sending orange fire high above the milieu. Women and children from the settlement ran out doors screaming with terror as the fires in their huts flared and caught the moss roofing. Patrick stood up. The glare of the fires hurt his eyes, but improved his sight and he watched the consternation all around.
His immediate reaction was to unsheathe the Sun Sword, but the expression of pure terror on Magda’s face and the proximity of the village women and children, made him return it to it’s cover. Magda threw herself into his arms and Marta joined her. They stood watching the turmoil, wondering how long it would last and what other horrors their enemy had in store.
Each, in their own way, experience the cold clammy finger of fear steal across their heart and when dawn came at last, bringing a quiet calm, all they wanted was sleep. The tumult disallowed it.
Marta led them through the desolation. Four children were dead, crushed and pounded by horses. Three others were badly hurt along with several adults. Many of the Thal horses had bolted, pursued by their riders. The force was cut by half. Thule was nowhere to be seen, nor was Eric. Tamara ministered to the sick and dying with what medicines she could find from the scattered packs. The village and it’s people were shattered.
Most of the camp had been consumed by fire. In spite of the morning sun, everything looked dark and forbidding.
“Perhaps you should have used the Sword”, Marta mumbled.
“At least he is not responsible for these deaths”, Magda snapped.
“Aren’t I?”, Patrick questioned and turned away.
Marta found him some time later sitting with his back to a scorched tree, running his fingers through Bealach’s wiry hair. He looked up when he heard her coming and smiled at her distinctive outline. She returned his smile with affection, but he could not see it, and she sat beside him.
“I have instructed the warriors to rebuild the trapper’s homes. It is all we can do”, she said sadly.
“Not all Marta, we can go as soon as possible, leaving them in peace”.
“But we can’t leave without knowing what has become of the others. Shouldn’t we wait for a day or so, to see if they return?”.
“No. They know where we are going and what we are going for. Didn’t you tell me, before we crossed the Skaggerak, your doubts over them?”.
“Well yes, but I didn’t expect Thule to leave like that”.
“How did you expect him to go?”.
She didn’t answer until she had thought it through, “I don’t know, perhaps you are right, it is you they want to destroy, the rest of us are just in the way, we may be better going on alone”.
“Do not underestimate the contribution you and the others have made. Thule, Eric and Magda are probably more important to this quest than I am”, Patrick smiled and reached out for her hand.
“You are beginning to sound like Fingool”.
“That’s probably because I’m beginning to understand things better”.
“Good, then can you explain it to me”, she squeezed his hand.
“I am only important as far as restoring the Colour Store is concerned, the others are the ones who will vindicate God’s faith in his creation”.
“Not you?”.
“Not since I used the Sun Sword. Once I had let the power loose, my importance diminished”.
“I don’t see why, the Sun Sword is a weapon of the creation, it is useless against the heavenly powers, so why does using it change anything?”. Patrick grinned, “The story that it is useless against the gods is a lie”. Marta’s mouth dropped open, “It can’t be”.
“But it is Marta, you’ll see, I’ve felt it’s power, I know what it can do to the dark powers. I can’t control it as I would like, but I’m sure that it can be done. One thing I am sure of, the Sword is not part of God’s intent for man”.
Marta stared at him and wondered if he had lost his mind.
“On that last point you are wrong Patrick”, Fingool stepped out from behind the tree, “The Sun Sword has a valued place in the scheme of things”.
Marta stood up to greet the old man and saw Thule and Eric standing behind him. Both young men smiled nervously.
“I don’t see how you can say that Fingool, this sword has more power than a neutron bomb and they wont be invented for a long time yet.
“If the Sun Sword had a place in history, I’m sure I would know it”, Patrick struggled to his feet.
“That is very presumptuous of you young man, you do not know everything yet, but you are getting there. What were you about to ask Marta when I so rudely interrupted?”.
Patrick reached out a hand, feeling the air for his guardian. She went to him. “Marta, I have been doing a lot of thinking since I lost my sight and I’ve come to a decision”.
Magda came to join them, happy to see Eric and Thule back again. They gathered closely around the charred tree.
“You, and the others who are left, must return to Elsinor and raise an army”, there was a gasp of astonishment, “Then you must go back to Eridu, gathering the elves and any other support you can. When you arrive at the Place of Creation, you must raise the siege and demand that the High Council defer to a world council made up of all the races of the world. Together, you must defeat Visgoth once and for all”.
There was a stunned silence, then the mortals began to mumble the impossibility of the idea. Fingool chuckled quietly and Marta stared into Patrick’s blank gaze.
“And what will you be doing whilst we are usurping the gods?”, she asked calmly.
“I will recover the Colour Stone”. “Alone!”.
“I will have Equs and Bealach”.
“You are blind, you’ll never make it alone”.
“Marta”, he gripped her shoulders, “it is the only sensible thing to do. You saw what Sadam and Lilith did last night, they will slowly destroy us all if we let them. It is me they want, so they will leave you alone to carry out my plan”.
“But what will it achieve?”.
“It will show the gods that we do not need them. Their time is over so they may as well come out of hiding and do something worthwhile with the time they have left”.
“And if we cannot raise the siege?”.
“At least your attempt may shame the gods into action. Anyway, an attack on their rear will be the last thing Visgoth will expect. Think about it Marta, it is the only way that this war can be ended, and, I will need to get back into Eridu with the Colour Stone, I can’t just walk through Visgoth’s ranks can I?”.
Marta turned away, looking down on the devastated community below, arms folded tightly across her chest. In a way, she understood what he was trying to say, but how could she let him go on alone? It was a crazy idea. “I will agree to your madness if”, she paused and looked at the old man, “everyone amongst us agrees and Fingool goes with you”.
The magician looked surprised and somewhat bemused, but said nothing. Thule, the musician and Magda looked at each other. Marta tapped her fingers on her arms, waiting.
“So then, it’s agreed, we all go on together”, she snapped.
“Not necessarily”, Thule muttered softly, “what Patrick says makes some kind of sense. Sooner or later we are going to have to fight our way into Eridu and that means taking on Visgoth directly anyway. If we follow Patrick’s plan, at least we will have the element of surprise and it just might shock the gods into helping us. I must admit, I like the idea of shaming the gods into doing something”.
“There you are then”, Patrick snapped, happy to hear the sound of the youth’s voice again.
“Just a minute Patrick, I haven’t finished yet. As far as letting you go on alone is concerned, I’m with Marta. There is no way you can do it alone and anyway, I’m not sure we should let you. Why don’t we send back the Thal soldiers and tell them what to do?”.
“No Thule, that wont work, it has to be you, Tamara and Marta”. “Why? Why all of us?”.
“Because you three represent the principle races of the world and because you have all been part of this quest from the beginning. You saw the way the people of Elsinor revered you all, they will listen to you more than they will the representative of an army”.
Thule nodded silently and Marta knew she was losing something more precious than the debate. Tamara, who had been listening from afar came closer.
“The Colour Speaker is right, together the elves, Neanderthal and mortals represent the world. It is not right to lay the burden of the gods failure at the feet of a stranger to our world. We cannot find the Colour Stone, but we can stand up for truth and justice and hopefully make the gods see their folly. Although, I can also see the argument for not letting Patrick go on alone. Will you go with him Fingool?”.
The old man smiled, but said nothing.
“We can go with Patrick. I would be no use in a battle and I doubt the music maker relishes the idea”, Magda beamed.
Eric swallowed hard and examined the others faces to see their reaction. He smiled nervously as they nodded one by one.
“What she says is true, but I fear we may be more hindrance than help to the Colour Speaker, look what happened last night”, the young man fidgeted with his tunic.
“I would prefer to go alone, I have no desire to put anyone else at risk. Equs and Bealach will be my eyes”.
“It is not only your eyes Patrick, the journey will be long and hard, you will starve to death if you cannot find food”.
“Or freeze to death through lack of human warmth”, Magda interposed.
“No Patrick”, Marta went on, “we are agreed. You, Eric and Magda will go in search of the Colour Stone, the rest of us will return and follow your plan. We shall meet again at Eridu”.
The Warrior Princess put on the mantle of authority, hiding the tear in her eye, and went off in search of the Thal Captain. The others slipped away to make their preparations, leaving the Colour Speaker and the old man alone.
“Such courage from one so young”, Fingool said, sitting down and drawing Patrick beside him.
“Why can’t you come with me Fingool?”
The old man patted the youth’s arm, “I wish that I could, but that would create problems that make the current situation look positively pleasant. Anyway, my friend, you do not need me, you are more than capable now that your eyes are open”.
Patrick looked at him with a blank stare, unperceiving of the cheeky grin on the old man’s face.
“Don’t mock me Fingool”.
“Never. But you must admit, you see things more clearly now, yet there are mysteries which only time will reveal. I am forbidden from aiding you directly, however, one thing I can say, and mark my words well. The Sun Sword has all the power you can dream of, but beware your dreams Patrick, remember the West Marsh”.
Patrick waited for more, but the breeze on his cheek told him that Fingool had gone. He sat alone with his thoughts until Bealach came to nuzzle him and together they walked down to the gathering below.


No music lifted the rider’s spirits, but the distant rumble of the Skaggerak made an apt accompaniment to the thunder of hastening hooves. Marta wiped her face on her rough sleeve. She thought of all the things she should have said, all the arguments that came so easily to mind as though they had deliberately hidden themselves when they were required. Now they flooded out, mocking and teasing, making each step more painful than the last. By the time the company reached the ferry, she was convinced that Patrick would surely die.
Thule’s mind echoed the turbulence of the Skaggerak as it poured into the inland sea. He alternated between elation and despair, but couldn’t comprehend why. He felt as though he had been manipulated, by whom or to what purpose was a mystery. He wished that he was clever enough to work it out. Tamara smiled at him in a way she had not done since they left Sheer Wood. It made him feel a little better and he went to talk to her while they waited for the seas to settle.
“Do you think we are doing the right thing?”.
She stroked his rough, unshaven face with her long thin fingers, “Do not worry Thule, despite his lack of years, Patrick knows what he is doing. I am sure that everything will be all right”.
“I wish I had your confidence. Marta has doubts”, he nodded towards the Neanderthal.
“No she doesn’t, she would not be here if she did”.
“But she looks so unsure, lost like the rest of us”.
“That is because she is the guardian and is torn between being at his side and doing the right thing. She has grown very fond of the Colour Speaker, making it doubly hard to part”.
Thule nodded, watching the woman warrior fight an inner battle against herself, “She is very special isn’t she?”.
“Yes Thule, but then so are you. How did you come to be part of the company?”, Tamara drew him down to sit on the grass.
The peat cutter began to tell the story of Solitaire and, as he did, a gush of confidence filled him. Tamara watched with a gleam in her eye as the young man talked of the lovely Lady of the Lake. She knew that he would overcome his fear and turned her own thoughts to how she would convince the shy, retiring elves to leave the forest and march across the Singing Sands to Eridu.
Marta almost wished that the seas would not equalise, forcing them to go back and find Patrick, but the large square raft slid into the water and made it’s ponderous progress across the straits. Once on the other side, the divide of the company would be complete and there would be no more time for regret. She murmured his name to the wind off the sea and set foot on Elsinor. The ride to the wondrous city was exhilarating, but Marta refused to smile.
Patrick swallowed hard, trying to force the lump in his throat down. It would not budge and he urged Equs on. Magda and Eric, leading the pack horse, followed. Bealach raced ahead, scouring the pine clad hills for the most suitable route and communicating the track to the unicorn. Equs, understanding the tension, put a spring in his step, but it did not seem to lift the burden of his rider.
Magda watched the swaying back of the Colour Speaker and worried for him. He was just a child. He could so easily have been her own. She would do everything she could to make him happy, she would give him all the love she had intended for her children and he would cherish her for it. She blushed and turned away.
Eric’s head ached from staring into the distance, watching for Trolls. He had once seen one of the great beasts, dead of course, and had no desire to meet one that was alive. Hairy, ugly things, rippling with muscle and festooned with carnivorous teeth, epitomising the image of bestiality. Taller than a man and almost twice as heavy, they ruled the frozen wastes. He had heard talk of men living amongst then, brave men who somehow stayed clear of the beasts and hunted the rich furs of the northern lands. He didn’t know anyone who had met these men, but he had seen the thick expensive pelts that some of the nobles wore and knew that they were not from the ordinary trappers who skirted the snow covered mountains. He had made up a song about the Thorviks, as these mythical men were known, and was proud of his composition. He began to hum it to himself as they climbed ever higher.
Patrick’s heightened hearing caught the tune and he turned in the direction of the sound, “Sing out loud Eric, perhaps it will help us all”. Eric cleared his throat and began to sing.
Shaky at first, his voice grew in strength as the song told of cold courage, facing the trials of the winter and the terrors of the trolls. It told of great rewards for the men of Thorvik, brave enough to trespass the barren land in search of furs, strong enough to defy the mighty beasts and gentle enough to build a new land. A future for their women and children, who, through their own courage, would one day rule where only the trolls dare to go.
The song ended as the sun set behind the mountains and the depleted questers found a suitable place for the night. Eric’s song had stirred their hearts, awakened dreams of courage and they happily settled themselves for what the night, and their enemy had in store.

The young King Thanet listened to the plan, resting his chin pensively on his fist. At the mention of Lilith’s night attack, his eyes flared with anger and he stood up, commanding silence from the story tellers. They expected his wrath to be directed against them, for he had sorely loved her, but his vehemence spat the name of Visgoth and called upon the powers of heaven to help him defeat the evil Lord of Darkness.
“Go children of the Quest, solicit all the warriors you can, we shall prepare a mighty army and march on Eridu as soon as time permits. We shall meet on the shores of the dark lake and together we shall destroy Visgoth or perish in the attempt”.
A mighty roar echoed around the council chamber and the people of Elsinor knew that the great King had put aside his grief and was ready to lead them again. Marta, Thule and Tamara smiled and made their plans to leave for the harbour first thing in the morning.
Fingool heard it all from his shadowy concealment and grinned. He summoned Hagar and they set off for the fair City of Thal. He could not intervene with the actions of the mortals, but a word in the Queen’s ear would not go amiss and he knew that, although Marta had sent a rider on with a message for her mother, he could be there and back before they even set sail in the morning.
News of the Neanderthal army joining that of Elsinor would lift everyone’s spirits, and Marta needed that now, for her mind kept drifting to the Colour Speaker. Fingool had one more thing to do, he had to find Golem.
Patrick lay awake for a long time, waiting for something to happen. He considered whether to use the Sun Sword in the event that something did. He weighed the risk to Eric and Magda, and he still wasn’t sure. An owl hooted and the horses stirred, but nothing untoward seemed to be going on. A silver disc on his retina told him that the moon was high and the night nearly spent, still nothing happened and he began to fear that his plan had not worked. Lilith and Sadam had followed Marta. He cursed and tried to focus his vision as the moon slid behind a cloud.
Bealach lifted his head and sniffed the air. The moon came out again, it’s silver light catching the long horn of the unicorn as Equs stepped quietly into the clearing. Patrick saw the glint in the beast’s eye and felt the animal smile. He propped himself on one elbow and watched as his two friends communed. The wolf hound got up and padded across to Magda, nuzzling her gently awake, then he woke Eric in a similar way. The humans saw Patrick’s smile and his finger on his lips. Silently, they crawled nearer until they all huddled breathlessly together. Equs and Bealach moved over to the horses, calming them as they began to fidget. Together they waited.
A long shrill scream pierced the cold night air. Had they been sleeping, it would have struck terror, but as they waited again, it almost seemed farcical. The blood curdling screamed echoed from the hills again and Eric chuckled. The forest took on an unearthly glow, not attributable to the reflected light of the moon. Eric fell silent, wondering what would come next.
“She cannot directly harm you. Stay still and think of something nice” Patrick’s calm voice washed over them.
Dark shadows flitted from bough to bough above them, catching the false light and stirring the imagination. Magda shivered, but made no sound. The horses snickered. Equs quelled their fear, snorting his authority over them and Bealach licked his lips.
The phantom scream brought a response from distant wolves and Bealach growled softly. The light weakened and the shadows fled, but the wolves bayed on long into the night. When Eric saw the horses settle, he moved back to his warm spot amongst the roots of a tree and went to sleep. Magda stayed up, holding tightly onto Patrick’s hand. Bealach slipped out of the camp and Equs disappeared into the shadows too.
“Do you think that’s it for tonight?”, Magda asked, forcing a smile. “Perhaps. Don’t worry, try get some sleep, my friends will warn us if there is a threat”, Patrick patted her hand, but instead of returning to her sleeping place, she snuggled up with him.
Once more he lay awake, listening to his thoughts.
He tried to count the days since he had left his own time and place, but each time he came up with a different answer. However long it was, it was no more than a month. Somewhere along the road of the quest, he had spent his sixteenth birthday. The thought reminded him that he was still a child and he felt a sudden embarrassment about some of the things he had said and done. He glanced at Magda and then at Eric. What did they think of him? Why were they following him? Surely, it had to be a dream. Bealach raised his monstrous head and pricked his ears, staring into the twilight. Patrick concentrated his opaque vision, trying to separate shadow from shadow, but to no avail. The dog rested his head once more and Patrick’s heart beat slower. Magda mumbled something in her sleep and snuggled more comfortably. He wished he were in the Ice Palace, or, better still, listening to Seamus snoring in the bed next to him. No, if he could be anywhere, it would be outside the Ulster Museum saying goodbye to his parents, only he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t let them go and if they insisted, he would go with them.
Bealach leapt to his feet in a single movement, shaking the firmament with his bark. Equs reared with a high pitched whinny and Magda screamed herself awake. Eric peered wide eyed over his sleeping rug and all fell silent once more. Patrick could see nothing, but the tension assailed his senses. Bealach crept forward at a crouch, his wiry hair standing in a long thin line down his back to his tail and Equs snorted, pawing the needle strewn ground. Magda dug her nails into Patrick’s arm and shuddered as four huge dark shapes loomed out of the trees. Eric disappeared beneath his rug.
“Marta”, Patrick hissed, then remembered she wasn’t there. Magda began to shake, clinging tighter to him. For a moment, he wished he hadn’t talked the warrior princess into leaving. He tried to get up, but Magda’s grip was too strong. “What’s going on Magda?”, he tried to shake her into sensibility, but she was frozen with terror.
“Eric”, he snapped, “what’s happening?”. There was no response. Surely it wasn’t going to end like this. With all the strength he could muster, he pushed the rigid body off him and called Bealach to his side. The hound obeyed and his thick pelt beneath Patrick’s fingers gave a little comfort, in spite of the throaty growl maintained by the huge dog. Equs kept station between the intruders and the horses, snorting great clouds of steam from his wide nostrils and aiming his golden horn at the dark shapes as they inched closer. Patrick reached over his shoulder and touched the jewelled pommel of the Sun Sword. It felt cold to his touch and he withdrew his hand. He could hear them moving now, scrunching the twigs and needles beneath their heavy feet. He tried to gauge the distance, discern the numbers from the sounds. He sniffed the air, hoping their scent would give an indication as to who, or what, they were. Then, from behind, more feet. Heavier, moving faster, closing quickly, breaking branches in their haste. Patrick didn’t know which way to face first. What did it matter anyway, what could he do, blind and alone against a number of foes. As the heavy feet behind him shook the ground with their nearness, Carina burst into flame above the Colour Speaker’s head, bathing the woodland in her brilliant light. Bealach leapt forward snarling and Golem pounced into the clearing, setting his feet and mighty tail in battle stance facing four startled trolls. The wolf hound hit the first troll square in the chest, sending him sprawling. Golem’s lance buried itself deep in the breast of another and the charging unicorn struck fear into the remainder. Patrick saw it all and smiled at the reptilian’s broad back as the Yezidee rose to his full height and hissed at the fleeing foe.
Carina’s light subsided, leaving enough for Patrick to see the huge lizard man turn towards him. “Where have you been Golem?”.
“Watching over you”, the beast moved forward and bowed, “I do not think it was wise of you to separate from the guardian. What if I had not been here, they would not have saved you”, he waved a hand towards the mortals and flicked his tongue at then.
“Perhaps, but my other friends would have”, Patrick smiled at Equs and stroked the dog’s mane.
Carina flared more radiantly at the sound of more feet approaching rapidly. Golem retrieved his spear and took up a fighting stance alongside Equs and the dog. Eric, who had summoned enough courage to peer out from beneath his cover, disappeared again. Patrick saw bright lights in the woodland, drawing closer and wondered if the trolls had mastered fire, but human voices put them all at their ease. Except Golem.
The Yezidee withdrew quietly to a distance beyond Carina’s flame. The voices grew louder and Eric surfaced again. “Who is it?”.
“How should I know”, Patrick snapped.
Eric stood up, “It doesn’t look like Marta. Perhaps it is the Thorviks”, the musician looked pleased. Magda shuddered and moaned. Neither took any notice as they watched the approach of a dozen or so men.
The visitors slowed as they studied the strangers. Most seemed to be concentrating on Equs’ horn. Then one of them spotted the dead troll. He pointed at the prone body and they froze in their tracks, staring at the hairy creature. When Carina brightened her fire, they stepped back, startled, as if they had only noticed the blue flame for the first time. Then, slowly at first, they began to retrace their steps. When they were beyond the circle of light, they turned and ran.
“Follow them Colour Speaker”, Golem yelled from the shadows, “the trolls will be back, they can lead you to safety”.
Eric didn’t need telling twice. He threw down his rug, leapt upon his horse and galloped after the men. Patrick shook his head and knelt beside Magda. She was still in a dead feint. Bealach whined and Patrick gave him leave to follow the visitors while he tried to bring the distraught woman round. Golem came out of the shadows and began gathering their belongings, packing them carefully into the horse packs. The Fire Wraith kept her flame burning until all was cleared away and Patrick had tied Magda onto the back of a horse.
“What about you Golem, wont you come with us?”, Patrick asked as the snake man hoisted him onto Equs’ back.
“Do not worry about me Lord, I will not be far away. Go now, catch them quickly, but do not expect too much cooperation from them, nor commit yourself to anything until you have met their leader. Go now”, he patted the unicorn’s rump and waved them farewell.
Equs followed the scent of the dog with remarkable ease. They climbed steadily until the pines thinned and rocky scree made keeping a foothold difficult. The unicorn had no problems, but the intelligent beast was obviously concerned for the horses carrying Magda and their supplies. Bealach howled from somewhere up ahead and the unicorn increased his pace. Patrick too sensed the concern in the hound’s cry. Several hundred yards further along the scree, they found Bealach standing over Eric, licking blood from the youth’s face. The musician’s mount was nowhere to be seen.
Patrick called Magda’s name, but there was no response. He sighed and slid down from his high perch, almost landing on the youth. Bealach wagged his tail and ran off to make sure of the trail. Patrick sighed once more and bent beside the boy. That was the last thing he remembered.

Marta listened dispassionately. She had heard it all before, in every village from Elsinor to the edge of the Sheerwood. Then it was Tamara’s turn to recite the liturgy all the way to the Dragon’s Back. Thule was lead performer again now, but all she could think was that she should never have let Patrick talk her into leaving him. By the time they reached the Black Pool, she estimated that they would be eight thousand strong. Together with King Thanet’s army and the Thal cavalry, more than twelve thousand souls would muster against Visgoth’s siege force. Feeding and housing them was the problem now. By the time they reached Erin, she would have to consider how to arm them all. Then train them, then assign them, oh how she wished she were with Patrick.
Tamara came to sit beside her, “You are far away Marta. What ails you?”. The warrior princess smiled, “I was thinking about Patrick and what he would be doing. They must be close to the Land of Ice by now”.
“I suppose so. You miss him very much don’t you?”, the elf placed a long thin hand on her friend’s knee.
“More than I thought I would, I admit, but it is not that. I have my doubts as to whether Eric and Magda are capable of taking care of him. I wish Fingool were here, just to reassure me”.
“Try not think about it Marta. Have you considered how we will cross the mountains?”, the elf nodded to the dark range ahead.
“I don’t anticipate any problems, I’m sure Malham will remember me and when he hears the story of Tarn from your lips, then I fully expect the Drogs to join us”, her smile smoothed the worry lines and Tamara squeezed her knee.
A resounding cheer signified Thule’s adept delivery of the call to arms speech and moments later he joined them. “Well, that’s another thirty or so, we’ll soon outnumber Visgoth’s force”, he grinned.
“Don’t get smug Thule, if we outnumbered them ten to one, I still wouldn’t guarantee our chances of success”, Marta’s face was dark.
“The Yezidee were created for war, this is just what Visgoth wants. If we foul it up now, there wont be a second chance and then it won’t matter whether Patrick retrieves the Colour Store or not”.
“You sound like you think Patrick was wrong”. “I do, and he was. This is not going to work”. “But surely, if the gods come out of Eridu”.
“If, Thule, and that’s a very big if”, she snapped, interrupting him.
“They have to Marta, they must”, Tamara looked anxious.
“Do they? The elves weren’t too sure it was any of their business were they and they still haven’t joined us. Thule is good at stirring the mortals, but have you noticed how many are slipping away after dark, once they’ve had time to think about it”, her eyes burned bright with passion. “This is all wrong, war is not the way, Patrick was right about that from the very beginning, killing solves nothing. But what changed his mind?”, she got up and wandered off deep in thought.
Thule and Tamara watched her go. The warrior princess had changed, they had all changed, but was it for the better, or worse. A deep depression settled on them.
Fingool was tiring of the game. He still hadn’t figured out what Lilith was up to. She had certainly learned a lot from her liaison with Sadam, but surely she didn’t expect to contain him forever with her petty magic. Why was Sadam trying to keep him busy? Everything was under control. Patrick was safe in the hands of Magda and the musician, and even if they were not the most reliable, Golem was there to keep an eye on things. The recruiting drive was going well, even if it came to nothing in the end. Distraction and double distraction. Lilith brought an avalanche down on him, but his staff grew in stature forming an umbrella, deflecting all that she could throw. It was then that Golem called and everything fell into place.
Marta heard it too, deep in the depths of her soul. She fell to her knees and screamed, “BETRAYED”.

The colour and texture of the sand fascinated him. From a distance, it looked like a cloth of satin, pure and unbroken, but as he rubbed its coarseness between his fingers and watched the sun glisten and gleam from every facet of each grain, it told him something about individuality. Each particle was different, either in shape or colour, no two were the same. Yet if he stood up, he could not differentiate between them. They all appeared to be identical. He marvelled at this wondrous discovery and hurried up the beach to tell his father. Michael Cormack smiled, he was proud of his young son.
“What an astute boy you are Patrick Do you know what William Blake said about it?”. The child shook his head. “He said,
‘To see a world in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour’.”

Patrick looked puzzled, “What does it mean father?”.
“Perhaps you are too young to understand, I can sum it up in another quote from Mr. Blake, he said that ‘A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees’”.
Patrick pondered for a moment and then ran back to his sand castle.
Golem lay the unconscious dog on a soft bed of pine needles. The animal’s breathing was shallow and laboured. He knew the tip of the arrow must lay close to the hound’s heart, but was afraid of removing it. He snapped the shaft an inch or two outside the wound and wondered how long it would be before Fingool arrived. Bealach whimpered and the Yezidee knew it would be too long. Golem rummaged in his pack and found a handful of Dock leaves. He crushed them in his huge hands, allowing the juice to drip onto the wound. He held the dog’s muzzle, took out his knife and cut a circle around the shaft. Bealach’s hind leg kicked out once and the tip of his tail twitched. Golem looked up at heaven and in a single move, ripped out the arrow, thrusting the ball of crushed leaves into the hole to stem the blood. It was all he could do. The dog lay still, barely breathing and a trickle of blood ran from his jowl. Golem’s long tail swished angrily, stirring the dust into a small cloud. His tongue flicked out, tasting the air, confirming his fear of snow. He could delay no longer, he had to find the trail before it was covered. He took one last look at Bealach, covered him with his sleeping mat and set off over the hill.

Marta was inconsolable. She could not answer their questions, she did not know, but she felt it. Deep down, beyond reason, outside explanation. Patrick had been betrayed. Was he dead? She did not know. Was he injured? She did not know. She believed, no, she hoped that he was well, but she did not know. All she knew was a sense of loss, a feeling of failure, the pain of grief and the burden of guilt. She should never have left his side.
“What shall we do?”, Thule asked. She did not know.
The gathered crowd began to murmur. The seed of doubt grew fast, like weeds in their garden of hope and apprehension spread through the army. With each telling the dread of disaster disseminated through the followers. Rank by rank, village by village, they dropped away until, by dawn, the army was no more than a token force of confused zealots. Still, Marta the Warrior Princess of the Neanderthal, did not know what to do.
The questers sat together, cross legged, staring at the blank earth.

Fingool snarled at his own stupidity. He had been too engrossed in his ability to thwart each and every move of Lilith’s to realise that the trap wasn’t meant for him. She knew she couldn’t defeat him, she didn’t need to, all she had to do was keep him occupied, keep him busy. “Fool”, he hissed through clenched teeth.
Lilith’s laughter echoed around the mountains, “Why not walk old man, you ‘ still have legs haven’t you?”. Her mocking cackle emphasised his own sentiment. Where are you Hagar?
The Gryphon could not shake old Clwyd. It was as if the ancient dragon had been given new life. The great red beast soared and dived, belched fire and slashed the air with gilded talons each time Hagar tried to fly out of the constraining valley. He could hear his master’s call, but he could not respond, not until he could find a way past the behemoth.
Patrick’s mother called him for lunch. When he looked up to acknowledge her, his little sister swiped at his sand castle, demolishing a tower. He’d fix it later. He picked her up and carried her to the picnic spread.
“Patrick, how would you like to go live in Ireland?”.
“Your father has been offered the Vice Principle’s post at Belfast University”.
“I don’t think so”, he bit into a sandwich. “Why not dear?”.
“It sounds far away”.
“No, it’s just across the sea, over there”, she pointed and he followed the line of her arm.
“I can’t see it. It’s too far away”.
“From your friends? You’ll soon make more”, she smiled.
“From my castle”, he pointed.
Michael Cormack laughed, “You’ll build others son”.
“But not like this one. I don’t want to live in Ireland”.

Golem looked down on the fjord crowded with ships. Strange ships, narrow and low with effigies of dragons and birds raised at either end. Some were dragged up on the beach where men and children, armed with pitch brushes, caulked their hulls. The smoke of the boiling pots rose straight and true in the still morning air. From the fortified village, hidden behind a wooden wall, breakfast fires sent their plumes of whiter smoke heavenwards. The snow was coming, the clouds grey and heavy with their load. From a promontory, half way down the fjord, a horn announced the arrival of another long boat. Golem watched it’s approach. The wide sail, bearing the sign of a hammer, was furled and twenty oars slipped silently into the dark water. At the beat of a drum, they began to pull in unison and the ship shot forward in awkward jerks until the rhythm stabilized and the boat gracefully slid onto the beach. A giant of a man was the first to disembark, acknowledging the loud cheers of greeting as he hurried across the sand and into the central high chamber. Golem had seen enough. He estimated the community to be several thousand strong, and by the stands of weapons arrayed around the village, they were no strangers to the power of arms. He would need an army to assault such a place.
His flitting tongue told him of another presence, moving down from the watershed. Trolls, many trolls, converging on the village. Perhaps the ensuing battle between the mortals and the Wasteland creatures would give him an opportunity to get in. Horns, gongs and yelling stirred the towns folk and in moments, the walls were lined with archers. The trolls stopped beyond bowshot and waited.
From their midst came a huge beast carrying the troll Golem had slain. He staggered towards the main gate, lay his comrade down reverently and began beating his chest. The others joined in and started to wail. The sound echoed around the fjord, forcing the defenders to block their ears. The creatures kept it up for what seemed like hours until the thick wooden gate swung outward and the tall sailor strode out to face the hairy troll. As one, the beasts fell silent. Even with his acute hearing, Golem could not hear what was exchanged, but the troll seemed satisfied and lumbered back to his clan. The mortal returned from whence he came. It didn’t look like the trolls were going to facilitate Golem’s entry.

Patrick began to scream. All that hard work for nothing. He couldn’t just sit back and watch it happen, but there was nothing he could do. He needed help.
“Daddy, daddy”, he screamed, “the sea is going to wash my castle away” His father smiled and put his arms around him, “There is nothing we can do to stem the tide son. You will have to give it up to the inevitable”.
“I wont, I wont”, the boy began to dig frantically, trying to divert the tide.
“You can’t beat it Patrick, come on, we’ll build another one tomorrow”, his father took his arm. Patrick shook him off.
“No, tomorrow’s too late”.
“Patrick”, his father’s voice became urgent, emphatic, “Patrick”. “No daddy, I have to save it today”.
“Patrick, it’s me Magda, wake up”.
He sat up suddenly, but his head kept going and he toppled over the opposite way. The room was swimming and the air was filled with banshee screams and the beating of drums. Magda helped him to sit, his head stopped rotating but the noise went on.
“Where are we? What happened?”, he rubbed his aching head.
“I don’t know”, Magda sobbed, “I woke up a few minutes ago in the bed over there. The door’s locked and then that noise started. What’s going on?”.
Patrick couldn’t think about anything except the pain in his head and the, deafening roar from somewhere outside. Suddenly it stopped and the silence was astounding. His head pounded as if the racket were still there even though his ears told him it wasn’t.
“Oh God, I should never have come”, Magda began to wail.
Patrick put his arm round her, offering the best consolation he could. It didn’t help, either her crying or his throbbing head. The door flew open and Magda gasped. Filling the entire doorway was a blonde warrior wearing’ furs and a brass helm mounted with horns. Magda fell to her knees at the sight of him.
“What is it Magda? Who is it?”, Patrick reached out for her, only to be answered by a moan.
“Come with me”, the man bellowed and the prisoners were dragged away.
Marta made her decision. “We must go back. We must abandon this folly and go back for Patrick”, she announced standing. Thule and Tamara stared at her.
“But we are four days away at best”.
“Then we shall ride both day and night, but we must go to him”.
“This is crazy”, Thule threw up his arms, “But I think you’re right”. Marta smiled, “Then let’s get going”.

The snow swirled in great eddies, like an icy sea pounding the shores of a crystal bay. This was Hagar’s chance, probably the only one he would get. In the blink of an eye, he transformed into a goshawk and flew low and fast over the precipice and out of the constraining valley. Clwyd was after him, but too late, the mighty dragon did not have the maneuverability to catch the fleeting bird and Hagar was free and on his way to his master.
Fingool’s far seeing eye saw the situation. He knew that Lilith would summon the dragon, Hagar would exchange one trap for another. He focused on Patrick, assessed the situation and turned his attention towards Marta. A smile appeared on the ancient face, “Good girl”, he murmured and spoke to the hawk.
“Go to Marta, bring her, Thule and the elf to Golem, he will know what to do”.
“But Master, this is dangerous”, the hawk’s eyes flared. “Needs must my friend. Go quickly there is little time”. “What will happen to you?”.
“No more than I deserve, now go before Lilith realises what we are doing. I shall keep her and the old one busy. Farewell my friend”.
Hagar hovered uncertainly. The snow swirled all around him, buffeting his tired wings, tearing him this way and that, adding to the turmoil in his mind. “Go Hagar”, Fingool’s command ballooned in his mind and without further delay, he swung away south. “Goodbye my Lord”, he screeched into the driving wind, “I shall come back for you if I may”.
“If time and the Creator permit, we shall meet again. God speed”, the wind howled as it carried him away.
Fingool felt the cutting cold bite deep into his soul and he dropped to his knees. He looked up into the blackening sky and wondered how long he could hold back the sorceress.


Patrick was sent sprawling on the packed earth floor of the great hall, Magda was thrown on top of him. Before them was a dais, upon which stood a massive chair draped in thick pelts. Sat in the chair was a giant of a man, robed in sumptuous furs and wearing an iron helm adorned with golden wings. In his hand, looking small and insignificant, was a heavy blacksmith’s hammer. He grinned down at his guests through his thick blonde beard and his ice blue eyes sparkled. Behind him, gathered in a semicircle, were a dozen or more warriors similarly dressed. Down the sides of the hall were long tables at which many more men and woman sat. At the nearest table, which stood apart from the others, the contents of Patrick’s pack were displayed. Magda could not see the Sun Sword amongst the possessions. She assumed the leader would have it.
“Please sir”, she whimpered.
“Silence before the Lord Thor”, the man who had dragged them from their cell cuffed her.
“Leave her alone”, Patrick snapped.
“The boy has spunk, I’ll give him that”, Thor thundered and the gathering laughed.
Patrick struggled to his feet, trying to focus his blurred vision. All he could see were outlines, but the presence of Thor was unmistakeable.
“Lord Thor, I am Patrick Cormack, the Colour Speaker and this is Magda of Elsinor. We were travelling on a quest for the Colour Stone with another, Eric the musician when”.
Thor held up his hand and screamed for silence. The big guard struck Patrick from behind and sent him sprawling. Magda crawled to him, weeping. As she looked up, Eric stepped out from the crowd behind the throne. He was wearing the Sun Sword. She gasped his name.
“So you see”, Thor laughed, “The Colour Speaker is here and your lies are wasted”.
Patrick raised his head and through the blue gloom, he saw the sword clearly, “Eric, you have betrayed us all”.
“Silence whelp”, he was struck again.
From outside, muffled by the thick peat roof of the hall, came a deep and mournful chanting, “The trolls grow weary of waiting. They seek retribution for their loss at your hand”, Thor thrust the hammer in Patrick’s direction.
“No”, Magda cried, “Patrick did not kill the creature, he couldn’t, he’s blind”.
A gasp erupted from the watchers and Thor’s face darkened, “Is this true?”, he turned to Eric.
The musician was taken aback, “Well yes, but it was his fault the troll died”.
Patrick struggled to his knees, “The troll was killed by one of my followers in order to protect me and ensure the quest would continue. For that, I am responsible, the creature’s blood is on my hands”.
Thor’s face darkened further and he stroked his beard, considering the youth before him, “You accept the responsibility?”.
“I do”, Patrick said clearly and calmly.
Several of the advisors came forward, whispering together with their leader. Eric swayed nervously, wondering what they were doing. The chant from the trolls increased in pitch and a sentry came in to advise on the position. Eric rested his hand on the pommel of the Sun Sword and slipped quietly back through the crowd whilst their attention was elsewhere.
“Give them the woman, tell them they shall have another when we have resolved this dilemma”, Thor bellowed.
Two men snatched Magda from the ground. She began to scream. Patrick tried to intervene, he was knocked unceremoniously back to the dirt. Eric slipped through the west entrance and out into the blizzard.
“Stand up boy”, Thor yelled. Patrick was dragged to his feet. “You said that another killed the troll, how many more are there in your party?”. Patrick spat the dirt from his mouth, “Bring Magda back and I shall explain everything”.
Thor and his council laughed, “You are in no position to bargain. We live in peace with the trolls and I shall not jeopardize what we have built here for the sake of confused and lying strangers. They require two lives for the one they lost, the woman will be first and the council will decide who, between you and the Sword wielder is to be the other”.
“Magda is innocent, so for that matter is Eric in respect of the beast’s death”.
“I must give them two lives,” Thor prowled around the youth, “you decide who it is to be”, the big man grinned, returning to his seat of power. Patrick took a shaky step forward, his head still swimming, “If Eric will swear that he will complete the quest for the Colour Store and return it to Eridu, then I shall be your other sacrifice”.
The gathering mumbled and talked amongst themselves. Thor stood up from his throne and stepped down to stand before the youth. He reached out, putting a heavy hand on Patrick’s shoulder, “Such wisdom and grace for one so young. This musician has betrayed you and yet, you are prepared to give up your life for this stone!”, the giant knelt before Patrick, looking straight into his face. “Nay lad, this Eric is not worthy of you. Fetch him here”, he bellowed.
Magda’s screaming stopped at the same instant the chanting ceased. Patrick sank to his knees and wept.
Golem watched as the struggling woman was dragged from the compound. There was nothing he could do. He knew the law, an eye for an eye and he hoped that the trolls would depart, satisfied that their comrade had been avenged. But they did not leave. Snow was beginning to pile up against their thick hairy legs, but they did not move. He guessed that they wanted another and couldn’t afford to wait to see who it would be. As he rose, his acute senses told him he was being watched. They must not take him until he had satisfied himself that the Colour Speaker was all right. Quietly, he drew his sword from beneath his cloak and turned to face Equs. The unicorn’s horn pointed straight at Golem’s heart and the beast snorted. Golem tried to communicate, show the animal that he meant no harm, but Equs would not let him move.
“I must go down”, the Yezidee insisted, but Equs shook his head, stamped his feet and held his horn firmly in place.
“It would seem that the horse has more sense than you, but looking at your strange assemblage, that comes as no surprise”, a shrill watery voice exclaimed.
Golem was taken aback, he could neither see, nor sense any other presence near, “Who are you?”.
“Oldbrian’s the name”, the disembodied voice said, “me and my friends have been watching you. You tried to save the life of the dog back there, and you’re hurting because of the woman, but there’s something more at stake here. Now who and what are you?”.
Golem carefully sheathed his sword, bowed as best he could with a four foot horn at his chest and answered, “My name is Golem, I was given life by Visgoth”. There was a sharp intake of breath from an unseen source at the mention of the Lord of Darkness’ name, “and though I was sworn to serve him as Commanding General of his armies, I gave my allegiance to the Colour Speaker who is held in the fort down there. I fear for his life, his quest must not fail, that is why I must go down and give myself up in exchange for him”.
“Well, whatever else you are, you are a gentleman, that’s for sure, but we cannot let you go down there, not yet anyway”.
“I must, the Colour Speaker is at risk”, Golem pleaded.
“Not if what Equs and Bealach have told us is true and we yet have to hear a lie from the soul of an animal. That’s why you puzzled us so, we weren’t sure just what you were, but now that you’ve told us of the Lord of Darkness’ hand in your making, it’s all clear”, a little man, no higher than Golem’s knee materialised on the back of the unicorn. His long red beard trailed over Equs’ flank and his high boots squeaked as he slid down and stared up at the General. From behind rocks close by, several other similar men appeared, then two women riding on Bealach. The dog wagged his tail and Golem hissed with surprise. The little folk stepped back, suddenly afraid, but Golem knelt and opened his hands to them. Bealach ran in and licked the Yezidee’s scaly skin and the little people came back laughing and dancing.
“Now”, Oldbrian said with a grin, “we need a plan if no more are to die at the hands of the evil trolls”.
“Are they evil then?”, Golem asked.
“They kill for lust’s sake and are neither man nor beast. In our book, that’s evil”.
“Then am I not evil too?”, Golem asked sadly.
“No, you’re unnatural, but your heart’s in the right place”, the little man laughed.
One of the little men sniffed the air, “He’s coming Oldbrian, I said he would”, he grinned.
“Right, then we’d better get ready”.
Golem flicked out his tongue, but sensed nothing out of the ordinary.
The little people got into a huddle and gibbered so fast, Golem couldn’t catch a single word. Life on the right side was certainly confusing.

Hagar was grateful for the following wind. He felt a need to conserve his strength, for not only did the wind carry him south, but it also bore the bitter taste of malice he had left behind. Were he able, he would have cried. There would have been no point, but he would have liked to have wept for his friend. He understood why it had to be done, but that didn’t make it any more palatable. He dipped his right wing and sliced through the air in a descending spiral. The controlled power dive made him feel considerably better.
Far below, Marta felt the icy blast of forbidding carried on the wind. She shivered and wondered what other horror lay in store. As she looked up, Hagar transformed and spread his gryphon wings for a soft landing. She knew at once.
“Hagar, where is Fingool?”.
“You must come with me, all three of you. Carry only that which you need, leave everything else behind”, his tone was curt.
Marta mounted first, followed by a reluctant Thule and then Tamara. “Are you taking us to Fingool?”.
Hagar stretched his mighty wings and rose ponderously into the heavy air, burdened by three passengers and a heart full of grief, “No”.
“Hagar”, Marta tugged at his thick mane anxiously, but his face and soul were set on an unalterable course.
Thule yelled above the roar of the wind, “What’s wrong Marta, why are you troubled?. This creature of Fingool’s will save us days on horseback”.
She half turned, water streaming from her eyes, “Fingool, he has intervened in the course of history”.
Marta sobbed, “In doing so, he has renounced his immortality”.
Eric was not to be found. Although not fully acquainted with the art of magic, he was adept enough to maintain his invisibility throughout the search of the village. But it was costing him dearly. The pain in his head and the anguish in his soul were becoming unbearable. Even if he could slip out of the compound, he would not get past the trolls, and, if by chance he did, he would not survive out in the wilds alone. Still, he did have the Sun Sword and with that he could force them all to do his bidding. That was what he would do. He edged his way back to the great hall.
Patrick sat beside Thor eating bread and cheese. In the hours since Magda’s death, he had blurted out the full story. The giant sat open mouthed, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening around him.
“Trappers told us of the unicorn, but we didn’t believe them. Where is the beast now?”.
“I don’t know”.
“When we have found the usurper and placated the trolls, we shall send out search parties. Do not worry, we shall soon have you on your way again”, he showed neither remorse, nor concern over the sacrifice he had made and was intent on making again.
“Why do you accede to their demands?”.
Thor looked at the youth in amazement, “Because they are stronger than us, but”, he grinned, “the time is not far off when we shall take them on and with the help of the gods, we shall be rid of them”.
“Why fight them at all, isn’t this desolate place big enough for both?”.
“Of course, but when we came, four families strong, they demanded a price which we have had to pay for the right to dwell here. Every year since, we have paid that heavy toll. At this summer solstice, we shall pay our last dues, then we shall exact our own retribution and they shall pay dearly”, he crashed his huge fist onto the table.
“Is it worth it? What price do you pay for the privilege of being here?”. “Four children who have reached puberty in that year. At first, it almost destroyed us, but as the community grew, it”.
Patrick stood up and glared at the giant, “You give them your children! I can’t believe it, do you know what they do to them? They could perform all kinds of horrors before they kill them. It’s disgusting”.
Thor placed a big hand on Patrick’s arm, drawing him back into his seat, “No, they do nothing, we make sure of that. Their throats are slit before we hand them over”.
Patrick wretched and brought up his recent meal.
The fjord horn blew three short blasts of warning. Thor leapt to his feet as the lookout rushed in.
“A dragon”, he blurted breathlessly, “a dragon flying down the fjord, coming this way with a woman rider”.
Eric threw off his cloak of invisibility and stood in the centre of the hall with his hand on the Sun Sword. Patrick felt sick again.
The great red dragon dropped gently to the ground outside the hall. Lilith slid down with a flourish, “Where is the Colour Speaker?”, she hissed, placing her hands on her hips.
“Inside my lady”, someone answered as Thor came out to see the wonder. Beyond the fortifications, the trolls became restless again, setting up another chant.
“Surrender the boy to me at once”, the sorceress demanded, “and stop that noise”.
Thor smiled and bowed to her beauty, “Forgive me lady, but I cannot comply with either of your wishes. The boy is my guest and the trolls thirst for blood. I hope to feed them soon”.
In Thor’s absence, Eric had assumed his throne, grinning down at Patrick and fingering the jewel on the pommel of the sword.
“Feed the boy to them”, she snapped.
“Nay lady, I have given him my protection. We have another here, a musician by the name of Eric, we shall feed him to the trolls. Come in and take refreshment with us”, he bowed and swept his thick arm towards the entrance.
“I have neither the time nor the inclination. Give the boy to me and I shall rid you of the trolls”.
Thor raised an eyebrow, “Come inside out of the snow and let us discuss your proposal”, he bowed again and signalled for his advisors to draw close and whispered, “I think we may do well out of our visitors this day”.
Lilith swept into the dark, smoky hall and the dragon surveyed the clouds, anticipating something more than snow. His throat rumbled and steam hissed from his wide nostrils. His long claws slashed at the soft earth and the watchers backed away from the great beast.
Eric swung his thin leg over the chair arm and grinned, “So Lilith, here at last. Behold, the grovelling Colour Speaker just as I promised you”.
She smiled in response.
Thor stepped up onto the dais with thunder in his eyes.
“Stay back blacksmith, do not threaten me for I wield the Sun Sword with such power as you may believe”, he placed his hand in the hilt and withdrew the weapon an inch or two. The extended blade pulsed yellow.
“No Eric”, Patrick yelled, “you cannot control it”.
Lilith’s face whitened visibly as memory of its power flooded through her, “Give it to me Eric”, she stammered.
“No”, he stood up, “it is mine, you promised that if I delivered him to you, the sword would be mine”.
“And so it will”, she answered coyly, “but not now”.
The warning horn blew three short blasts again and a sentry hurried in. “Lord Thor, another dragon with three riders”.
“Yes, but smaller”.
“Hagar”, Lilith screamed, “destroy him Clwyd”.
The great behemoth rose majestically into the air, turning out over the water to intercept the intruder.
“Now Eric, give me the sword”, she held out a long thin hand. “No, take Patrick and go before Fingool thwarts you”.
“Fingool is dead”, she screeched, “no one shall stop me now. Give me the sword you fool”, orange fire leapt from her finger tips and the smell of scorched hair filled their nostrils.
Thor stepped back as Patrick leapt onto the raised platform, trying to prevent Eric from unsheathing the sword. They wrestled whilst Lilith laughed, but the musician was stronger and he threw the boy back to the soil. Patrick rolled and crashed into a table as Eric slid the silent sword from its scabbard. Solitaire’s gift fell from the table and rolled towards Patrick. Lilith threw more orange fire at the musician, but its force was absorbed by the bright yellow flame of the sword. Eric threw back his head and laughed at her, “Even you shall kneel to me, I have the power”.
Lilith cringed.

Outside, all eyes were turned skyward where the red dragon was closing on it’s foe with steady beats of his wide gossamer wings. Then, from the east, twelve Whooper swans with tiny riders swept down on the dragon, deflecting him from his path and allowing the gryphon to over fly the behemoth and drop his riders on the beach. Before the dragon could regain height, the gryphon was airborne again, keeping station above his larger adversary. The observers watched in awe. Again, from the east, a pure white unicorn leapt the high wooden walls, landing in the compound. On his back, a lizard man of outstanding proportions. Almost immediately after, a huge dog vaulted the wall and they all converged on the great hall.
Eric’s inane grin was turning to a grimace as the weight of the sword became too much for him. The interior of the hall was bathed in brilliant light. Lilith saw her chance and aimed her orange fire at the musician’s head, but Patrick anticipated it and leapt between them with the mirror shield raised. The blast, as her power was reflected back at her, threw Lilith to the ground and in that instant, her protection faltered and her beauty faded. The disfigured witch writhed in the dirt. Eric sank to his knees, but he would not let go of the glorious sword.

The swans converged on the dragon and Oldbrian leapt upon Clwyd’s back. As soon as the little man spoke into the great beast’s ear, the old dragon began to fall. Down, down the behemoth fell, spiralling down towards the fjord. The watchers hid their eyes as the magnificent beast crashed upon the beach, sending stones and sand flying into the air. Hagar came down landing gently beside him.

“Eric, you must give me the sword”, Patrick held out his hand. The musician shook his head violently, “No, it’s mine”.
“You can keep it, I promise you, but you must return it to it’s sheath before it’s too late”.
The trolls, having seen Golem enter the compound on the unicorn, decided they had been betrayed and attacked the walls in force. Marta, Thule and Tamara hurried into the hall as Lilith crawled out, hiding her burned face.
“Get back Patrick or I will destroy you”, Eric levelled the weapon and it’s tip swung in a great arc towards the Colour Speaker’s face. The blade throbbed with power and blasts of yellow fire swept the room.
“Eric, you don’t know what you are doing. Please put the sword away”.
The musician summoned all his strength and lunged at Patrick, instinctively, he grabbed the blade and the room exploded in yellow flame.


Patrick and Thor sat at a broken table in what was left of the great hall. Peat and timber smouldered around them and the Thorviks carried their dead into the devastated room. Thule rummaged among the ashes for Patrick’s things whilst Marta and Tamara moved among the injured offering what help they could. A woman found a flagon of ale and two goblets. She placed them on the table before her lord.
“Here Patrick, drink this, it will make you feel better”.
The Colour Speaker shook his head and fingered the Sun Sword, now safely sheathed, “Why wouldn’t he listen?”.
“He was consumed by the lust for power”, Thor glanced at the little pile of grey ash beside his shattered throne, “there was nothing you could have done”, the big man’s weather beaten face grimaced as more charred bodies were brought in.
“It’s all so unnecessary”. Patrick murmured and ran his fingers through his matted hair.
“Rather inevitable I would have said, as long as you have that”, he stabbed a finger at the ornately beautiful weapon, “there will always be someone who wants to take it from you”.
Patrick slid it across the table, “You have it Thor, I never wanted it in the first place”.
The giant moved back, “Nay lad, I don’t want the thing, I could no more control it than he could”, he nodded at the pile of dust being eaten away by the swirling wind, “only one like you can control that”.
“How so?”, Patrick looked up at him.
“Because you do not desire it, it has no power over you. Consequently, you are it’s master and not the other way round. I have learned much this day. Because we desired this land, full of wealth and beauty, we were prepared to sacrifice our children for it. It, and the trolls, owned us through our desire. As you so aptly said, was it worth it? In retrospect, knowing what I know now, no it was not”, a tear rolled down the great man’s cheek.
Thor looked at the bodies piling up and filled the goblets, “Drink my friend, when we have salvaged what we can, we shall all leave this place, for I will not give another life for the sake of greed”.
Thule placed three small stones on the table. Patrick smiled and set them one atop the other. As they touched, three weary faces appeared. “You cause us much grief Colour Speaker”, they said in unison. Thor’s jaw dropped. “When you resume your quest, leave us here if you please, we have found our new home. And you mighty Thor”, the stones turned to face the astonished man, “You need not leave this place, you have paid the price and learned your lesson well. The trolls are decimated and will never trouble you again. Even now, they trudge north and east seeking a new land where the power of man will not touch them. You have many hardships to face, but your descendants will prosper and you shall be acclaimed for ever”.
Thor threw away the goblet and drank from the flagon until it was dry. Patrick laughed, “May I introduce the Runes. They talk in riddles most of the time, but they cannot lie”.
“Who are they, what are they?”, Thor stammered.
“They are the ancient earth gods, mark them well and they will guide you through the times ahead, but do not expect them to be too specific. You will need all your wisdom to hear what they say”, Patrick smiled and passed the rocking tower to his new friend.
When all was done, the community gathered to say farewell to their fallen comrades. Two hundred and thirty six men, women and children died. Their bodies were placed in the great hall, draped in their finery and the structure put to the torch. Immediately after, work was started on a new hall. Thor and his council gathered with their guests to review what had happened.
Two reliable witnesses swore that Lilith had been carried away by a black winged creature just before the explosion, but no one saw the dragon, the gryphon or the little people depart. Equs and Bealach were being watched over by the village children and Golem had disappeared into the forest. The bodies of close on a thousand trolls were burned outside the walls and the fortifications were being reconstructed. Thor agreed to send out search parties to try find the remains of Fingool at first light.
By morning, the snow had almost gone. Men, women and children were active all across the site, each doing their part to return the community to some semblance of order. Marta went with one search party and Thule went with the other. Tamara stayed behind to minister to Patrick.
He sat on a rock looking out across the fjord. She bathed his eyes with pine sap blended with water and herbs, “How do they feel?”, she asked. “Much better, and now that my world has turned green, the harshness of what I see is not so painful, but the memories linger on”.
She smiled and stroked his face, “You bear much for one so young”. He took her hand and smiled, “How old are you Tamara?”.
Her woodish skin wrinkled with embarrassment, “I too am considered a child, I am eighty four summers since the first anniversary of my birthing”.
Patrick stared at her, “You’re a hundred and eighty four and you’re still a child? At what age are you considered grown up?”.
“Oh”, she swung her long slim legs coyly, “not for another couple of anniversaries”. Patrick shook his head and grinned.
The promontory horn gave a single long blast, followed by two short, announcing the arrival of a stranger’s ship. Tamara looked up and her keen eyesight recognised the form of Inish’s elf wood craft. She jumped with joy to see him waving from the steering oar.
Thor came down to join them, “What new magic is this? A ship with neither sail nor oar driving in at a speed that would embarrass my long boats!”. “It’s an elfwood ship Thor, Inish is at the helm, ask Tamara how it works, I’ve never been able to reason it”.
Thor looked at the elf maiden, all smiles, and then at the strange craft, “How can something so ugly and fat travel at such speed? It’s unnatural”. “It’s not ugly”, Tamara sniped.
“I would have thought that you were getting used to the unnatural by now Thor”, Patrick grinned.
The giant placed his hands on his hips and roared with laughter, “I think that I shall never be surprised again as long as I live”.
Inish brought the craft as close to the beach as it’s draught would allow. He released the oar and the boat stopped instantly. He jumped down into the water and waded ashore.
“Should you not secure your ship?”, Thor asked.
“Nay giant, she will go nowhere without me”, Inish grinned and threw his arms around the elf.
Patrick also embraced him, “Are you fully recovered Inish?”.
“I am lord, as is my ship”, he waved his arm at the craft, “and ready to resume our journey north”.
“North you say, where in the north?”, Thor asked.
“To the palace of the Ice Queen, if we can find it”, Patrick smiled. Thor whistled through his teeth, “Must you go there, to Nirva?”.
“The Runes have told us that the Colour Stone lies there. If I am to recover it, I must go”.
“Then I shall take you, but my ship will not keep up with yours”, Thor grinned.
“Don’t worry on that score, if Tamara is willing, we shall breath life into the dead wood you call a ship and we shall sail together”, Inish grinned back.
“You know where it is?”, Patrick asked.
“Indeed so, we were once driven to the shores of the ice kingdom by a storm and were lucky to escape with our lives. Queen Nirva has a quest of her own”.
“Oh?”, Patrick was intrigued.
“She has a daughter of rare beauty, for whom she would have a husband, but as yet, she has not found a mortal worthy of her. I lost ten of my best men trying to please her, the rest of us barely escaped with our lives”, he lifted his tunic to reveal great claw marks across his chest, “ice bears, the Queen’s guardians”.
The search parties returned at dusk. Marta warmed herself by the fire sipping mead. Even Patrick could see the dejection on her face. There was no trace of the wizard.
Patrick sat beside her, “Thor knows the way to the Ice Palace, he’s going to take us”.
She nodded.
“Inish and Tamara are going to do something to his boat to make it go faster”.
She nodded again.
“Marta, I’m sorry about Fingool, but we must go an, we must find the Colour Stone”.
She turned to face him, her visage crossed with fury and sorrow, “Why? Why must we, what difference is it going to make? We’re all going to die anyway”.
Patrick wanted to reach out, wanted to touch her, wanted to make it all better, but he knew he couldn’t. Grief cannot be assuaged. “My father told me that we didn’t inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.
She stared at him, tears began to flow and she threw her arms around him. They rocked together under the moonlight, warmed by the fire and mutual knowledge of the importance of tomorrow.

At the evening meal, Inish told them the news. King Thanet had marched with ten thousand men and Queen Mhera led four thousand horse across the sea to Eridu. Thor generously agreed to send four ships with warriors to join them. They ate heartily, mindful of the morrow.
“Did you see any sign of Golem?”, Patrick asked Thule. He shook his head. Bealach, laid under the table by Patrick’s feet, raised his and stared at his master.
“Do you know where he is?”.
The dog barked and wagged his tail, “Then bring him Bealach, before morning. We sail with the tide”, the wolf hound bounded away.
“Why does he hide?”, Thule asked. “He is afraid”, Patrick smiled. Thule looked surprised, “Golem, afraid! Of what?”.
“Afraid of not belonging, afraid of being an unnatural thing in a perfect world, afraid of being ridiculed and derided for his difference”.
“He’s afraid of you too”, a strange voice said.
The diners looked around, but could see nothing, or no one who could have spoken.
“Why should he be afraid of me?”, Patrick asked the little man sitting cross legged in the centre of the table. No one else appeared to be able to see him.
“Because you will be an end to him and all the others like him”.
“I mean him no harm”.
“That’s true, but nonetheless, you will wish them all away and away they must go. Could I try some of that rare meat ye have there”, the strange little man stabbed a long thin knife into the succulent boar and materialised, drawing a gasp from the others. He stuffed the meat into his mouth, “delicious”, he exclaimed, wiping his lips on his sleeve.
Thor chuckled and watched the little man steal more of Patrick’s food, “And who might you be”.
“Oldbrian’s the name, playing game’s me fame”, he stood up and took a bow, “I’ve come to tell ye not to worry about the old wizard”.
“Fingool!”, Marta exclaimed.
“Aye, he’s the man”, the little fellow laughed and did a jig, “man he is all right”.
“Then he’s still alive?”, Marta stood up.
“Barely, but he’ll be all right when we’ve thawed him out”.
“Where is he? I must go to him”.
Oldbrian tapped his nose, “Now that I can’t tell ye, tis a secret, but he’s well cared for and he’s amongst friends”.
“Hagar?”, Patrick asked.
“Aye, and that old rascal Clwyd”.
“Shall I see them again, before this is all over”.
“Ah Patrick my boy. If ye asked the Runes, they’d say no, but they know yer blind”, he laughed.
“Then I will”, Patrick grinned.
“Aye, ye will, all but briefly mind. Why, is it important?”, he asked, seeing the disappointment on the boy’s face.
“Fingool said he could return me to my own time”.
“Isn’t he just the teaser that one”, Oldbrian roared with laughter.
“So he can’t?”, Patrick looked dejected.
“No, he can’t, but I can”, the little man sniggered and took out a willow wand. He tapped Patrick on the head three times, laughed and as he faded said, “Any time is your time Patrick, be thankful for all ye get”. Then he was gone.
Everyone stared at Patrick as he pushed his wooden bowl away. Marta reached across and took his hand, attempting a smile.
“What do you think he meant?”, Thule asked innocently. “Shut up”, Marta snapped.
“It’s all right Marta, somehow I knew I’d never go back. Oldbrian meant that now is my time Thule, it’s the only time I have. I should have known from the beginning”, he pushed back his chair and felt his way out into the cool night air.
The crystal clear water mirrored the mountains perfectly. So still was the morning as the questers gathered on the beach. Thor had arranged provisions for both boats which were being loaded as Inish and Tamara acted out a mystic rite over the long boat. Golem strode along the beach with Bealach by his side. Patrick went to meet him, noting his side long glances at the looks he got from the residents.
“They are just curious Golem”, he said gently as the snake man drew near.
Golem dropped to one knee and bowed.
“Today we sail for the ice land. Do you propose to follow?”.
Golem looked down at him, “If that is your wish”.
“I’m not sure what I wish any more, but I don’t want you to follow me out of obligation”.
Golem got up and walked to the water’s edge, looking out across the fjord, “I am not sure why I follow you lord, at first is was gratitude, for sparing my life, but now it is something more, something I do not fully comprehend”, he spun round, making Marta nervous as she watched from afar, “but I will lay down my life for you if you ask it”.
Patrick stepped towards him and touched his arm, “I do not ask it Golem, if I had my way not a living thing would die violently, but restoration of the Colour Stone takes priority over all else”.
“Because without this stone, all will die?”.
“Yes”, Patrick smiled.
“Tell me where and how to find it and I will go myself”.
“Bravely said my friend, but that is a task only I can fulfil. There is something very important you could do for me if you are willing”.
“Ask my lord and it shall be done”, Golem dropped to his knees again.
“Go with the ships to Erin, take Bealach and Equs with you, so that all may know you are there as my representative. Ride the unicorn with pride and dignity”.
“I will try lord, but we were not made for riding”. Patrick smiled, “I know, but Equs will aide you”.
Golem’s long forked tongue flickered in and out nervously, “I don’t understand, what will it achieve?”.
“I hope that it will show the gods, and the Yezidee, that there is hope, that war and killing is not the answer”.
“If you asked me to strike Visgoth down I think we would have a better chance of success, but I will do what you ask gladly, and with pride”, Golem reached out and took Patrick’s hand, “God speed my lord”.

Patrick returned to the boats and told Thor of his decision. The giant nodded and grinned, passing his orders down the line. Then Patrick went to say farewell to the unicorn and Bealach, they were not happy at the parting, but consented to his will. Neither being enamoured with the thought of a long sea voyage and who knew how long amongst the ice and snow. They promised to be waiting for the Colour Speaker’s return.
Marta, to the contrary, was completely against the notion. Thule scratched his head and shrugged his shoulders and Tamara was simply indifferent. Patrick couldn’t please them all and was glad when he was taken out to Inish’s ship.
Patrick, Marta and Thule watched as the last of Thor’s men boarded his ship and the waif like Tamara walked shyly to the steering platform. With a nervous smile across the short stretch of water to her friends, she grasped the tiller and the long boat surged forward. The towns folk on the beach sent up a resounding cheer and the promontory horn blasted the still air with vibrancy. Inish grinned and set off in pursuit of the long ship.
The length of the fjord was covered at a relatively leisurely speed, even so, it took the crew’s breath away. Once the confining cliffs were cleared, Inish gave a shout and the boats were off, leaving a wide wake and several stomachs contents behind.
The Snarling Sea did not live up to it’s name. It was as calm as a mill pond. Even Thor commented on the mildness of the weather as the boats cut through the water side by side eating the miles. Gulls, puffins and albatross followed them far out from the safety of shore. Soon the ships were alone with a guiding albatross to watch over then. The euphoria slipped away and a pensive mood settled on the travellers as they stared ahead, watching for ice.
Inish slackened the pace as night fell, but still they moved forward, ever nearer the frozen shores of the Ice Queen’s realm. Marta brought Patrick food and sat beside him.
“Have you any plan in mind?”.
Patrick shook his head, “Just go in and ask her for it I suppose”.
“And if she wont give it up?”.
“I don’t know Marta, got any good ideas?”.
She shook her head and went back to the galley. Patrick finished his meal and went on deck. A cold breeze was coming out of the north and ice was beginning to form on the spar and rigging. He went back inside for the fur robe Thor had given him. Although the long boat was close hauled a bow shot away, Patrick only knew of it’s presence by the green fire from the torches at bow and stern. He waved in case anyone was watching and turned his gaze to the wind. If only Fingool were here, he thought.
“I am my friend”, the wind sighed. “Fingool!”.
“Where are you?”.
“Watching a deep green sea pass me by, listening to the sounds of water making way for something stronger, tasting salt when I lick my lips, remembering dreams of what might have been, holding hopes close to my heart, I am here and there but never far away”.
“You’re on this ship!”.
“Sadly no Patrick, I wish I were. After my battle with Lilith, my feeble body would not hold me up any longer. My friends have brought me home to die, but do not weep for me, for I shall hold out until we meet again and who knows, our paths may cross in the future”.
Patrick thought he could see the old man’s face in the surging water. “I come to you in the spirit of the albatross”, he looked up at the dark silhouette gliding above, “to tell you that all is well and wish you God’s speed on your quest”.
“I don’t know how you can make such a statement Fingool, everything’s far from being well. Magda and Eric are dead, along with over two hundred of Thor’s people and God knows how many trolls. Now we are heading for Nirva’s kingdom and I haven’t a clue as to how I’m going to find the Colour Stone, let alone get it back”, he swallowed, “I’ve sent Golem back to Eridu with Equs and Bealach in the hope he can stop the war and I can’t imagine what’s happened to Carina”.
The albatross dipped a wing and dropped to glide a few feet above the water. Patrick thought he could make out a gleam in the bird’s eye. “Everything you have done and said is in accordance with the great plan. The Creator knows and understands your pain. Thus far, he has protected and guided you, but now, you must stand alone for he can no longer interfere in what must be”.
Patrick watched the huge bird skim the water, “Is that why you and Carina are no longer part of the quest?”.
“You see, already you understand more than you think. All is well Patrick, you need fear nothing”.
Suddenly, the bird soared up and out of sight, leaving the sigh of the wind and the swoon of the sea as it broke away from the bow. Patrick stared heavenward, wondering why he had been led onto this esoteric path.

The nights were short and he did not sleep. His mind was filled with confusion, jumping this way and that trying to fathom Fingool’s implications. Marta lay awake also, watching him, studying the changing expressions on his face, sharing his confusion. Why had Fingool sacrificed himself to reunite them? What was the point? Patrick had coped with the situation. He appeared fully in control. In spite of his apparent perplexity, the youth seemed capable of doing it all himself. He didn’t need his guardian any more. Her throat felt dry and she slipped from beneath her sleeping rug to go to the water bucket.
“Ice”, Inish yelled from the steering platform and they rushed on deck to see.
From horizon to horizon, the sea glowed brilliant white as the pack ice appeared. The sight of it made them shiver. To Patrick, it looked like an emerald jewel laid upon the dark water, reflecting the pale green sun. A cheer went up from Thor’s boat and together, they slowed as the solid line divided into discernable islands, sculptured by wind and sea. In line astern, the two craft picked their way through the floating, frozen field until they could go no further.
Inish stayed with his ship, promising to keep station as long as the ice did not encapsulate him. Tamara stayed with the long boat and most of it’s crew, Thor taking only a handful of men to carry the provisions. Far to the north, a thin black line separated the dazzling ice from the brilliance of the sky. From the duration of darkness, Patrick guessed that it was either early June, or late July, assuming that they were beyond the arctic circle. From his earlier reckoning, it had to be the latter which meant the ships would be further away on their return. He did not relish the thought.
Thor led the way, crunching through frozen snow, the others followed in his foot marks. It was easy for his stout men, but Marta and Patrick found it hard to match his stride. By midday, they were not out of sight of the boats and the black outline of terrafirma was still but an image in the distance. The Warrior Princess was exhausted and went to talk to Thor whilst Patrick collapsed on his back in the snow.
“Thor, you must take shorter steps, Patrick cannot keep up”.
The giant looked at her flushed face and laughed, “I will little princess, forgive me, it never crossed my mind”.
“How long before we reach the palace?”, Marta asked dropping down to rest. “At a slower pace, another three days, providing the weather holds”.
“Three days!”, she looked back at Patrick, great clouds of steam rose from his lips with each laboured breath, “he will not make it. It is hard enough to follow in your footsteps when they are visible, but the Colour Speaker is blind and weary”.
Speaker struggles to find his footing”. “Do not worry Marta the Warrior, I shall carry him”, Thor laughed. Their brief repast was over all too soon and Patrick groaned as the travellers prepared to continue their journey. Thor came to him with a grin, “Come Colour Speaker, climb on my back and we shall soon be there”, Patrick smiled, put a foot in the giant’s hand and launched himself onto his back.
Thor sank to his knees with a groan, “A scrawny youth such as you cannot possibly weigh so much”. Patrick got down.
“It’s the Sun Sword”.
Thor stared at him, “And you have carried such a weighty thing half way around the world? You are stronger than I gave you credit for”.
“No I’m not, to me it is almost weightless”, he unslung the weapon and held it at arm’s length, nodding to his friend to take it from him. Thor tentatively reached out and clamped his huge hand around the sword. As he took the weight, and Patrick let go, the giant’s arm began to tremble. In moments, he had to use his other arm to support the thing. “Take it back”, he yelled, and Patrick relieved him of his burden. “Incredible”, the giant murmured.
“Twice now, that aspect of the sword has saved me, while the purloiner has failed in their bid to take the thing from me. I am at a loss to explain it, but I fear that I must make my own way, for you cannot carry me and the weapon”.
“I will carry it”, Marta stepped forward. “You!”, Thor laughed.
Marta took the sword from the Colour Speaker and twirled it in her fingers, “Yes, I, Warrior Princess of the Neanderthal”, she grinned. Thor, looked at her with a new respect and Patrick climbed on his back.

By evening, they camped far into the ice field. The ships could no longer be seen and the thin black line on the horizon had matured into a range of hills dotted with valleys and thin scrub. An icy wind howled from the north, finding it’s indubitable way through the threads of their clothing to gnaw at their bones. Thor’s men built a fire atop large flat stones they had carried in their packs. The heat was soon whisked away, but the sight of the flames warmed them.
That night, as Marta, Patrick and Thule huddled together for warmth, the sound of wolves compounded the chill. The fire, and Thor’s alert warriors kept the beasts at a safe distance so that the questers could snatch welcome sleep.
In the bright light of morning, the distant hills looked closer, more welcoming and the party set off with a spring in their step and hope in their hearts. As they approached the hills, the forbidding landscape gave way to a surprising flush of colour. The sheltered valleys, lush with green grass and moss, contrasted with purple and white heather, red poppies and tufts of cotton grass seemed like another world, far from the frozen fields of snow they had trekked. A herd of caribou glanced up from their feeding and watched the strangers tramp by. Arctic hare, looking oddly out of place in their white fur against the bare brown landscape, pricked their ears momentarily and then returned to eating. And, as they climbed higher, a small herd of musk ox closed up together while they watched the intruders amble by. The change of scenery made everyone feel better, except Patrick, to whom it all appeared the same verdant mural, doing nothing to ease the cold in his soul.
“By evening, we should be in sight of the palace”, Thor declared triumphantly, expecting a joyous response. None came.
As they reached the head of the valley, the frozen waste returned and Thor picked his way carefully along an ice ridge, where the baleful wind threw grit and dust to add to their discomfort.
Patrick sat up suddenly, his senses attuned, the velocity had changed. He shouted into Thor’s ear, telling the giant to put him down, his tone urgent and commanding. Thor did as he was bid, looking anxiously into the young man’s face.
“What is it?”.
“The wind, it’s changed direction”.
“It has a tendency to do that”.
Marta squeezed past the warriors to join them, “What’s wrong?”.
“Patrick says the wind has changed direction”, Thor grinned.
“I know, and it’s blowing harder. There’s something”, she did not finish. A mighty gust caught them unawares and they were bundled down the snow covered scree into a deep drift at the bottom. All that is, except Patrick. He stood unmoved as if in the eye of a hurricane, alone on the pitch of the ridge, staring into the teeth of the gale.
“Tempest”, Marta screamed as she plunged head first into the hard packed snow, but no one heard her.
Those who were able, saw a handsome young man, akimbo on the ridge beside Patrick, but, even though they saw, they could not move to aid him.
“So Colour Speaker”, Tempest spat with vehemence, “we meet again”.
“It would seem so”, Patrick smiled.
“For the last time”, the young god snarled.
“You have come to your senses then?”, Patrick’s grin infuriated the god. “Your insolence is deplorable and you shall pay dearly Colour Speaker”, Tempest raised a hand and the wind howled with anticipation.
Patrick’s smile did not falter, “Your first mistake Tempest”. The god cocked an eyebrow.
“You acknowledge me as the Colour Speaker, in doing so, you defer to me, you are subject to my will, to do with as I please. Beware Tempest, for I have neither the time, nor the inclination to play your games. Say what you must, do what you will, but I will be delayed no longer”.
The wind shrieked in anger, shaking the substance of the ridge beneath their feet, driving stones and grit far across the tundra. Tempest shook with rage, his lips twitched and his eyes flared with silver flashes. Patrick’s smile did not waver, nor did his eyes shift from staring into Tempest’s perturbed orbs.
“Act now Tempest, or are your threats as empty as your head”.
Far down below, on the snow covered plain, Tempest whipped up a whirlwind, spiralling upwards, carrying snow and debris high into the thin air. There it was caught by the sun, reflecting and deflecting, weakening and scattering, dispersing it’s power to the four corners of the earth, relieving it of it’s energy. Beneath the snow, at the foot of the ridge, the Sun Sword pulsed with power and Marta screamed with pain.
The Lord Tempest sagged to his knees, throwing his arms about his chest and trembling with cold. His influence gone, he succumbed to the natural climate and his lips turned blue. As he looked up at the boy, ice formed on his hair, he opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came save a trickle of blood. Patrick took off his coat and draped it round the god’s shoulders.
Tempest shuddered, tried to shake the robe off and hissed, “You have destroyed me just as you killed my sister”.
“No Tempest”, Patrick knelt before him, resting a hand on his shivering shoulder, “Solitaire gave her life gladly, you have given yours for nothing. Your soul will roam the wastelands, threatening, but nothing more, turn away from your bitterness before it is too late”.
Tempest spat in his tormentor’s face, grinning as his spittle turned to slivers of ice, cutting the delicate flesh of the Colour Speaker, “I will kill you yet”, he gasped as Patrick drew the cloak around him, trying to protect him from the bitter north wind.
“Do not touch me, do not mock me with your sympathy, I am a god”, the youth sighed and breathed his last.
Patrick remained for some time, looking at the corpse, the graven image of it’s own making, wondering if there was anything more he could have done, until the cries from bellow demanded his attention. Several of Thor’s men had struggled out of the drift and were frantically trying to extract the others. Their haste puzzled Patrick, the threat was gone, but then he saw shapes of deeper darkness closing in on the travellers. He had seen those shapes before. Wolves.
Most of the men’s weapons were lost beneath the snow and they were torn between rescuing their comrades and offering threats to the closing carnivores. Patrick looked about, unsure of what to do. Marta had the Sun Sword. At the far end of the ridge, a herd of Musk Ox followed their leader down onto the plain, making straight for the wolves. As they got closer, they broke into a run, and, taking the wolf pack by surprise, scattered them. Once space was available, the oxen formed a ring around the struggling men, buying them time to dig out their friends and secure their weapons. When the pack returned, Thor was ready and his bowmen despatched six of the ferocious creatures. The second attack met the same fate and the wolves departed still hungry. Only when the fray was over did the oxen go on their way. Patrick slid down the slope to join his friends. As they greeted one another, Patrick realised that Marta was missing.

Thule began a frenzied search, others joined in, but Thor climbed the ridge, wearing a strange expression on his usually jovial face. Patrick watched him go and then turned his attention to finding Marta. It was easier than he had expected. Through the veil of green, the Sun Sword stood out like an orange sentinel, bright and vibrant. He showed them where to dig and in moments, they were dragging her unconscious body out.
Her long fur cloak had been burned through by the glowing sword and the scabbard had left its blackened imprint on her tanned skin. Patrick scratched his head bewildered, the power of the sword had never affected her before, not even in the constraints of Lilith’s cavern. She regained consciousness slowly and her eyes widened as she saw Patrick looking down at her, then her face crumpled with pain.
“Lord Tempest”, she mumbled.
Patrick knelt beside her, stroking her cheek, “It’s all right Marta, don’t worry, everything’s fine”.
“No”, she shook her head, “it’s not”, but the pain became unbearable.
Thor staggered down the scree carrying the body of the young man. His face was set in anger as he lay the frozen corpse down.
“Who are you? What are you?”, he snarled at Patrick, “He was a god, but you just brushed him aside, you killed him simply by thinking it”.
“No, no I didn’t”, he stammered, “I tried to help him, you can see”, he pointed at his robe, “I tried to keep him warm, I didn’t want him to die”. “But he did”, Thor growled.
“He used the sword against him, look, it almost killed the Thal as well”, one of Thor’s men brandished the charred cloak.
“Without even drawing it from its scabbard”, another murmured. They began to fall back, suddenly afraid of him.
Thule was confused, he looked from the men to Patrick, and then at Marta, “How did you kill him?”, he asked, nursing the young woman in his arms protectively.
“I didn’t Thule. What’s the matter with you all?”.
“And the goats, how did you get them to bend to your will?”.
Patrick turned to see who had spoken, but they were becoming dim and distant shadows. Only Thule, with Marta in his lap, remained solid. The warrior princess began to mumble incoherently, writhing in pain, but still trying to tell Patrick something.
“She’s in shock”, Patrick said, bending down to her, “we must keep her warm”. Thule just stared at him.
“Why have the Thorviks gone?”, the peat cutter asked quietly.
“All of them?”. “Even Thor”.
“I’ve no idea, get my robe from Tempest, we must keep her warm. Have you any of those healing herbs Tamara gave you?”.
“I’m not going near him”, Thule reacted.
“Don’t be stupid Thule, he’s dead”.
“I know, but he shouldn’t be, he’s a god and they’re immortal”.
Patrick stared at his friend, thinking about his words, but there was no time for contemplation. He went for the fur himself, feeling Tempest’s pulse just to be sure. There was none and he hurried back to Marta. The three huddled together, sharing body warmth and thinking about the preceding events.
Patrick stared up at the verdant sky, trying to remember Fingool’s words. ‘Thus far he has protected and guided you, but now you must stand alone’. Had he really killed a god? Certainly his hands dripped with blood, Magda, Eric, Solitaire and dozens of others, but none directly by his own hand. He glanced at the stiff body. The wind howled, driving snow from the top of the ridge. Marta trembled.
He awoke some time later with Marta slapping his face, “Wake up Patrick, we must keep moving or we’ll freeze to death”.
Thule sat up, brushing the snow from his face, “What’s going on?”.
“Tempest is driving a blizzard against us, we shall be buried alive if we don’t get moving. Where is Thor and his men?”, she screamed into the howling wind.
Patrick shook his head, staring at the indigo sky, swirling with verdant whirls, creating manic shapes and threats of doom, “This can’t be Tempest’s work, it is a natural blizzard, although I must confess, my timing must be off, or it is unseasonable”.
“What do you mean?”, Marta asked, helping him to his feet.
Thule staggered to join them, “He means it can’t be Tempest because he killed him”.
Marta stared from one to the other. The wind shrieked with renewed ferocity, driving snow into her gapping mouth. “That’s why Thor and his men ran away”, the peat cutter yelled in her ear. Marta dropped into the fresh, soft snow, “I can’t believe it”, she murmured, but her words were ripped from her.
Thule tried to drag her back to her feet, but without her co-operation, the task was beyond him. In moments, the drifting snow had covered her legs.
“Get up”, the youth screamed at her. She sat motionless, stricken by shock, her eyes showing only sadness. Thule threw up his arms and turned to Patrick, his face contorted with anger, his mouth shaping words, but the sound was ripped from his lips by the growing gale.
Patrick tried to listen, tried to understand, but his mind and body were taking too much of a battering, “Stop it”, he screamed at the turbulent sky, and the wind died to a whisper.
Thule staggered backwards, unable to keep his feet with the wind no longer at his back. Wide eyed he glared at Patrick through the soft snow flakes fluttering down to earth.
“It must be true”, Marta shuddered, “you have destroyed a god and taken over his dominion”.
“No”, he protested, but they stared at him with awe and wonder.
Patrick turned his back on them, his eyes aflame with tears that tore at his skin as they froze on his cheeks, “I didn’t”, he mumbled to the pale empty sky, “I didn’t”.
Fingool propped himself up on one elbow, watching the surging sea as it threw it’s might against the ancient hexagons, denying it free passage. His old eyes saw Patrick’s predicament and he wished he could be there. Hagar’s shrill call echoed around the cave and Oldbrian ambled over.
“Tis no good ye fretting over the lad”.
The pristine magician raised a smile, “I know, but mortality has a way of making you wish you could live other’s lives as well as you think you live your own”.
Oldbrian laughed, “I wouldn’t know about that, but they do like to interfere don’t they”, he wandered off, back into the depths of the cave where Clwyd snored soundly. “Wake up ye old beast”, he kicked the dragon’s tail, “if you had yer way, ye’d sleep till kingdom come”, the great beast snorted and turned his mighty head to face the other way.
Fingool watched the waves rise and fall, seething and swelling, living and dying, only to be born again and sent crashing against another forbidding shore. Patrick’s anguish matched his own and he wondered why he should have so little faith. In the beginning, back in Eridu, he had no doubts, no fears. Did mortality really rob him of all his confidence? If so, how had this innocent young stranger managed to bear all that had been laid upon him? Patrick Cormack, Colour Speaker to the gods, you are truly a remarkable young man, he murmured with a smile.
“You see”, Oldbrian laughed as he dragged the dragon down to the sea for a bath, “a little bit o’ faith is far better than knowing, much more satisfying”.
Clwyd snorted indignantly as the little man sent him into the cold water, “And don’t forget to wash under them old tired wings of yorn, ye’ll be needing them soon enough”.
“Can I go too?”, Fingool asked hopefully, but Oldbrian’s fading smile and knitted eyebrows were answer enough.
“Now what would ye be wanting to do that for? Haven’t we made this place just too too comfortable for ye? Nay my old friend, this is what ye have consigned yerself to”.
“A rock tomb far from habitation. Left to die alone. Is this all that I deserve?”.
The little man’s face darkened, “I never thought I’d see the day when the mighty Fingool would seek reward for services rendered”.
Fingool’s countenance fell and he hid his shame behind a frail old hand, “Forgive me old friend, this mortality does strange things to you. When will you leave?”.
“As soon as maybe, neither before nor after. Fear not loneliness Fingool, Hagar will remain until the end, and perhaps beyond”. Oldbrian’s smile returned and the dragon lumbered out of the icy water, shaking it’s great bulk to shed the last of the terrible stuff, leaving his scales clean and bright, shimmering red in the late sun.

Patrick ignored Thule’s ranting as the peat cutter dug into the fresh snow, trying to uncover the body. Neither he nor Marta seemed the slightest bit interested in him uncovering the evidence. It was petty and futile, but at least he was doing something. Marta had not moved, nor taken her eyes from the Colour Speaker since he had calmed the storm and Patrick was too confused to think of anything to do except try keep out the cold and not think about the consequences of what had happened.
It was as Thule began a fresh hole that Patrick’s heightened hearing picked up a strange sound, like something sliding over the ice. It reminded him of sledging in the fields at the back of his home. Thule stopped digging and looked around. Out across the ice field, an iceberg slid at incredible speed, closing the distance between them quickly.
“What is it?”, Patrick asked. Thule ignored him, but Marta’s gaze turned away to see who, or what was coming.
“It is a wall of ice”, she said, matter of fact. “No, it’s a sail”, Thule squinted.
“It can’t be a sail, the sea’s frozen over”.
“It is a sail, but it’s not on a boat, it’s like a wheel-less wagon and there is someone steering it”, Thule’s voice became excited.
Marta stood up, wincing at the pain the effort caused, “A young man, dressed in silver with eyes that sparkle like the sun”.
“Who is it? Is Thor with him?”, Patrick staggered to his feet.
“He is alone and heading this way. I see neither warriors nor weapons, so I think we can assume he is friendly”, Thule commented and began waving wildly.
Patrick found his way to Marta’s side, taking her hand which she quickly withdrew, “How are you Marta?”.
“Fine”, her words replied, but her voice said different. She stepped away from him and awaited the arrival of the stranger.
The sled ran a little way beyond them, turned into the wind and came to a halt. A tall, well muscled figure stepped down smiling. He bowed, “Welcome to Svenholm, I am Perma, please come with me to the palace of the Ice Queen” .
His smile and manner were captivating as he stepped aside to allow Thule and Marta to board his craft. Patrick could not see him clearly, but watched his companions climb aboard the sled. This was the son of Nirva, the one who had stolen the Colour Stone. How could he be trusted?
“And you, Lord Patrick, wont you sit by me? We have been expecting you”, Perma smiled and came to take Patrick’s arm, “let me guide you, the starkness of our habitation must be painful to such precious eyes. Alas, the Colour Stone has brought us nought but misery. I had hoped that it would bring change to our desolate kingdom, instead it has brought only misery and heartache. If only I had not been so foolish as to throw it away in my anger, but”, he said more light heartedly, “now that you have come to restore it to it’s rightful place, I am sure all will be well again”.
He sounded sincere, “Did you not realise what would happen when you took it from Eridu?”, Patrick asked, letting the athletic young man lower him into a seat.
“Of course not. Horus, my uncle, had no care for the thing, and I
assumed that as long as it remained in the world, it would continue to serve the world. Had I known, had my uncle explained it properly, I would never have removed it”, his smile, barely visible through the green mist of sight, seemed convincing.
“Then you regret taking it?”. “Of course”.
“And do not mind if I take it back?”.
“Not in the slightest, providing you can find it. We have searched everywhere without success”.
The sail twisted and the sled was off at a startling speed, hoping over ridges and skidding across the fresh fallen snow, heading for a wall of stone growing in the distance. Thule watched the solid rock approach with apprehension.
“Do you know where Thor and his men have gone?”, Patrick yelled. “Back to their ship I would imagine”, the young man smiled.
Patrick could not see him clearly enough to know if he were telling the truth or not. When he looked to the front again, the dark, sheer wall of rock alarmed him.
Perma laughed, “Fear not Colour Speaker, the entrance to the palace is wider than it looks and I am a good driver”.
The speeding sled hurtled into a dark tunnel, bored out of the solid rock. Thule gasped and Marta cried with pain, but in a moment, they slid quietly and gently into a cauldron of ice, surrounded by high rock cliffs. The extinct volcano cone was big enough to contain the magnificent crystal city, shimmering in the late evening sun. It took their breath away.


Even with his impaired vision, Patrick could not help but be impressed with the grandeur of the city. Grotesque twisted spires of ice soared into the sky, dazzling the onlookers with refracted light. Relief carvings of arctic animals decorated every wall and rapier pointed pinnacles thrust up from every corner. The extraordinary city had only one drawback. It’s colour. Ice blue at it’s centre, dirty grey at it’s outskirts where the stone walls of the cauldron were captured by the crystal.
It was Thule who brought the main anomaly to attention, there was neither sight nor sound of inhabitants, until they approached the palace gates. Stood sentinel, either side of the portico, were two huge white bears, their black eyes and noses seeming out of place in the panoply. As the sled approached, the bears reared in salute and bid the visitors enter the sanctuary.
Within the walls of the palace, the spectacle was even more breathtaking. Gardens, sculpted from blocks of ice. Tall crystal trees and flowers carved in perfect detail. Effigies of the gods, icons and murals, even a crystal clear stream meandered through the frozen park. But, most magnificent of all, was the palace itself. Eccentric to the extreme, it appeared to be constructed from individual diamonds. Each cut with facets designed to capture every possible angle of the sun, giving the impression that the palace walls were rotating as the travellers approached. Stood atop the entrance stairs, waiting to greet them, was Queen Nirva wearing a crown of icicles and a gown of silver satin trailing down the steps. The high collar of her white fur robe framed her angular face, accentuating the pallor of her skin.
Patrick felt that he understood why Perma wanted the Colour Stone and attempted a smile as he got down from the sledge.
Perma led Patrick forward, Marta and Thule remained discretely behind, “Your Majesty”, Perma bowed low and Patrick copied him, “may I present Lord Patrick, the Colour Speaker”.
The Queen’s icy stare turned to a smile as she held out her hand. Patrick felt a nudge in his back and stumbled forward to take it. What he could see of her face looked cold, but welcoming, with a hint of familiarity. Her smile faded as she glanced beyond him at the others. Perma introduced them brusquely, mentioning that the Thal was injured.
“Take her to the infirmary”, the Queen hissed, “the other can go too”, she added, turning her attention back to Patrick.
“Be welcome in my humble home”, she said with a warming smile, drawing him up the last step and in through the wide door, “I have been waiting for you, anxiously I might add, until you disposed of that arrogant nephew of mine”.
Her slim hand felt warm and comforting. Her smile and demeanour gratifying and he tried to remember the last time he had felt welcome. The warmth of the air surprised him as they passed through the crystal walls and into a stone antechamber where she shed her robe, casually dropping it onto the marble floor. Instantly, small yellowish people scurried from somewhere, gathered up the fur and disappeared again. Beyond the chamber, she led him into a vaulted room, it’s ceiling, carved from solid rock, curving up to a crystal dome. In the centre were three thrones raised upon a dais, quadrangled by twisted marble pillars draped in finest silk. The Queen glided gracefully towards them, motioning him to follow. She spun, swishing her long gown about her feet, and sat down on the largest, central seat, smiling at him. “Come Patrick, sit here beside me”, she patted the throne to her left, “Now that you are one of us, it is only right that you take your place amongst the gods. Come and tell me of your adventures”, she smiled, soothing away his doubts and anguish.
“But Tempest was your nephew”, he muttered, hesitant to take the seat. “Yes, I never liked him”, she frowned, “I don’t think anybody liked him much”, she giggled uncharacteristically.
“Come, sit beside me, you have earned it, you deserve it. Come take your rightful place beside me”, she held out her hand.
Patrick took it and, without taking his eyes from her face, allowed himself to be drawn down into the throne’s plush fur seat. It felt warm, lush, vibrant with life and power and he smiled as he took stock of the empty hall. Queen Nirva clapped her hands and the tiny yellow skinned people suddenly appeared from every corner, carrying trays of meat, fruit and wine. Patrick grinned. He felt famished, so hungry he could eat an entire horse.
“Make yourself comfortable, take off those irksome things, the Esks will take them to your chamber and prepare a hot bath for you, but please, eat first”, she stroked his hand and smiled.
Patrick unslung the Sun Sword and his pack, dropped them on the floor and delved into the nearest tray of food. Nirva laughed lightly, watching him with dancing eyes.
As he ate, more Esks came carrying musical instruments, accompanied by dancers. They played haunting tunes, reminiscent of whale calls and the dancers swayed in unison. Patrick relaxed, absorbing the satisfying food and conviviality. Relinquishing all worries, fears and aches of body and mind. It was so good to feel warm and wanted, full and happy. He even laughed out loud when four of the Esks, grunting and groaning, could not lift the Sun Sword from the floor. Queen Nirva hissed them away and joined with Patrick’s mirth.
The hours slipped by and the Queen watched Patrick’s eyes become heavy, “Come now Lord Patrick”, she smiled taking his hand, “I will guide you to your rooms where you may bathe and sleep the night away. You need fear nothing within these walls. Enjoy what you have earned”. She reached down, picked up the Sun Sword and, carrying it in the crook of her arm, led him through a labyrinth to a corner of the palace.
Patrick awoke bathed in brilliant sunlight. The room was filled with light and warmth and he smiled, stretching in the most comfortable bed he could ever remember. Hot water bubbled constantly in the stone bathing tub, supplied from some underground hot spring. The gentle sound cajoled him. He threw back the feather down cover and skipped across the marble floor and into the tub.
He neither saw, nor heard them, but whilst he was in the bath, they came in, made his bed and laid out a new wardrobe of silver silks. Queen Nirva watched from behind a translucent screen.
“Yes”, the Ice Queen murmured, “he will do very nicely”.
When he had dressed, Nirva sent her son to fetch him to the Great Hall of Shadows, even larger and more opulent than the Throne Room. There, beneath the crystal roof, gathered the folk of Svenholm. As Perma led him in, she was disappointed to see that he was wearing the Sun Sword. In perfect unison, the gathering let out a resounding cheer and heralds blew a fanfare on narwhale horns. All that was missing from the welcoming ceremony was a splash of colour.
At strategic points around the glistening walls were stationed ice bears. Aloof and indignant. At first, Patrick thought they were stuffed, but the occasional flare of nostrils told him otherwise. Above the throng, the crystal ceiling caught the sun’s rays, directing them centrally, throwing the walls and corners into silvery shadows. The marble floor was squared, checked in pale blue and white, absorbing the light from above. Patrick thought how much more beautiful it would be with real colour.
As he was led through the gathering, he noticed how everyone was dressed in shades of white, from the dull off white of the minions to the exquisite pearl of the burghers. Only occasional streaks of ice blue broke the blandness. To Patrick’s pale green gaze, everything blended into one shapeless monotony.

The crowds dissipated, the beams of light converged, and suddenly he was in the centre of the hall facing the Queen. Dazzling white, blinding him with her smile.
“Patrick, Lord of Colour, be welcome at our court”, she yelled and another cheer resounded. “I am Queen Nirva, Empress of the Ice Kingdom. Beside you my son, Prince Perma and at my side”, she lowered her outstretched arms revealing a beautiful young woman, “the Princess Valhalla”. A deafening fanfare rocked the room.
Patrick could not take his eyes off the young girl. He knew he was staring, knew that he was embarrassing her, but could not help it. He needed time for his ailing sight to take her all in. Her face was softer than her mothers, more gentle, more rounded. Her eyes larger, bluer, more forgiving and her sweet lips bore the most beautiful of smiles. She curtsied, bringing a hint of rose to her cheeks and he stepped forward to take her hand and kissed it. The Queen smiled and nodded her approval. Perma grinned.
Her beauty, surpassing even Solitaire’s, captivated him, enticing his eyes and binding his heart. He touched her milky cheek, drawing a gasp from the gathering. No one had ever touched the Princess before. At his back, the Sun Sword pulsed, gathering the focused light from the crystal roof. Not with the power of malice, nor with the desire to control did it burn, but with an energy of effervescence and joy.
“Lord Patrick”, she spoke in words of wonder, “can you really bring the blessing of colour into our world?”, her small hand trembled inside his. He kissed it once more and stepped back a pace, reaching over his shoulder for the weapon.
The people stiffened and a deafening hush befell them. Queen Nirva raised her hand and put an arm protectively around her daughter. Perma moved forward, but Patrick deftly slid the sword from it’s sheath, thrusting the glowing blade upward.
Bolts of blue and yellow light seared the air, crackling with energy,
blinding the watchers and hitting the high ceiling with a mighty crash. They thought the roof would come down, fearing for their lives, but in an instant, the sword was silent and sheathed again. As the people rose again, their eyes and mouths wide with wonder, a ripple of pleasure passed through them all. Princess Valhalla shrieked with delight and spun with joy taking in the new beauty of the Hall of Shadows.
Patrick had realigned the ice crystals into prisms which caught the sun, separated the colours and flooded the room with a rainbow. Even Queen Nirva clapped her hands with glee. In moments the hall resounded with happy cheering and the shouting of his name. This time it was spontaneous, not rehearsed as before, and it made him feel good, even though to him, the hall remained pastel green.
Within the hour, Svenholm was in the spirit of a party such as it had never known since the birth of it’s Princess. Patrick sat with his hand in hers wandering why he deserved to be so happy. Not once did it cross his mind to ask where Marta and Thule were.
The glorious day melted into night and the merrymaking went on. The finest foods, the richest wines, all contrived to add to his happiness. But nothing brought him greater pleasure than the adoration of the young princess and the adulation of the throng as the two spun amongst them, whirling in the dance. The residents clapped and cheered as the pair skipped by and Queen Nirva could not contain her smile. Far below, in dank, dark caverns, Thor and his men, reunited with Marta and Thule, schemed their escape. And, in a lonely cave on the Isle of Staffa, Fingool chewed his nails in an act of discordance.
Patrick slept for a few short hours, so eager was he for the new day. He bathed, dressed quickly and went off to find Valhalla. The palace was immense and some sections were barred to him by ice bears, but he eventually found her sitting in the middle of the Great Hall of Shadows fondling the coloured light as it poured down from the roof. Even to his impaired vision, her beauty transcended all that he had ever dreamed. “Valhalla”, he called softly.
She turned to look at him and her smile eclipsed the sun, “You rise early lord”, she got to her feet, twirled in the light and danced over to him. “Have you slept at all?”, he asked, taking her hand.
“How can anyone sleep in the presence of such wonders”, she stared up at the focal point where the colours were strongest.
“I found it hard”, he grinned, squeezing her small hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry”, she blushed, “I didn’t mean to be rude. This must be perfectly natural to you. They tell me that the world beyond Svenholm is full of colour. Is it true?”.
“Have you never been beyond this island?”.
“I have never left the palace grounds. Why does that surprise you?”. “Because out there”, he waved his arm, “are all the wonders of the world. Everyone should see them, that’s what they were created for”.
She became excited. Her eyes shone, her ears were hungry and her hands tightly gripped his, “Tell me about it. All of it”.
Patrick laughed, “It would take a life time”.
“So short a time! We are gods, we have until eternity ends, and”, she squirmed shyly, looking deep into his eyes, “if you wish, we shall spend it together”.
Patrick thought he would faint. It was more than he could have expected, more than he dared hope. This beautiful creature, a goddess no less, the epitome of perfection, wanted to spend eternity with him. What would Seamus say? What would Milcho say? What would Mrs. Niall say? The thought made him shudder. She took his face in her hands, drawing close to him so that he could taste her breath.
“Have I offended you lord? Forgive my presumption, I am not worthy of one as exalted as you”, she released him and turned to run, but he grabbed her, spinning her back into his arms. With crude candour, he pressed his lips against hers and she fainted.
As gently as he was able, he picked her up and carried her back to his room, not knowing where her own quarters were. He lay her on the bed and went to the bathing pool, dipping a cloth into the water, wringing it out and carrying it gently towards his idol.
Behind her opaque screen, Queen Nirva cackled with laughter and waved her son away.
When Patrick laid the cloth on her unblemished brow, she awoke startled, clutching him to her bosom at the moment Perma burst in.
“You have defiled my sister, here in my own house, in my bed”, he shrieked pointing, and Patrick felt the icy finger probe his heart.
“I didn’t. I mean, I only kissed her”, he floundered, wilted beneath the freezing stare of Perma, “I’m sorry”.
She released him and he slid to the floor.
He felt dirty, ashamed, unworthy and his penitence was plain for all to see. He was a child again.

Fingool’s fragile fingers cracked as he prised them open. The burden of mortality lay heavy on his heart and the ache of ages sucked at his soul. Oldbrian watched him with growing sadness, catching the concerned look in Hagar’s flashing eye.
“Regrets old friend?”, the little man asked.
“No, doubts and fears maybe, but I have no regrets”, he thought for a moment, “Well, perhaps one”.
“I may not have made my warning clear enough”.
“To have made it clearer would destroy the whole purpose”.
“Then I did not emphasis it sufficiently”, he snapped, “Don’t nit pick with me Oldbrian, you know what I mean, the boy has fallen under her spell, he reeds my help”.
“But you cannot give it”.
Fingool swung his frail body off the litter. Using his staff, he levered himself to his feet, “And if I chose to go, who will deny me?”.
“Death shall prevail, you will not, and what good will it do the boy?”.
The old magician wavered, dependant on his stick for support. His eyes pleaded, his lips quivered and his knees buckled beneath him. With all the strength he could muster, he pulled himself back to his feet, “I must make the last sacrifice”, he gasped, “I must remind him, or all are doomed to die”, his knuckles turned white with the effort of hanging on.
“You are talking like a fool”, Oldbrian snapped, “You knew the risk, you knew the price that had to be paid. Sit down and spend the last days in comfort, there is no more you can do”.
Fingool felt the truth of it. He would not survive such a journey, and even if he did, what could he say that hadn’t already been said. Patrick was on his own, but the doubts and fears of mortality still gnawed at his mind.
Hagar watched the tear roll down his master’s cheek. With a shrill cry, he declared, “I will go”.
Fingool’s head snapped up, “No, I cannot ask it”. “I will go”.
“You will not return, you know that?”, Oldbrian said. “I will go”.
“Your master will perish alone”.
The bird stared into Fingool’s glassy eyes, searching his being for an answer, “I will go. This parting gift I give you, to do your will one last time”.
Fingool’s mouth twitched into a smile and he reached out to stroke the bird’s head, “My heart go with thee Hagar. God speed”.
“Wait”, Oldbrian ordered, “You know what you must not say?”. “I know”, Hagar opened his wings and soared into the cool air. Fingool lay back on his couch, “How long Oldbrian?”.
“When the sun sets this night, Hagar will be no more”. “Can you not save him?”.
They sat alone in silence.

Patrick knelt before the Queen, his head bowed in penitence.
“You have debased my court with your wanton lust. Had you been mortal”, she screamed, “I would have you killed. However, as a god, all I can do is expel you from this place”, she stood pointing to the door, “You will leave now and never return”.
“No mother”, Valhalla cried, “I love him, if you send him away, I will go too”.
Patrick raised his head to look at her. Queen Nirva stepped down towards him, “And what of you Colour Speaker, what do you say?”.
“I love her more than life itself. I never thought I could love again after my parents were killed, but I have loved Valhalla since the moment I first saw her”.
“I see”, the Queen walked around the thrones looking at the two youngsters, “Do you love her enough to take her as a wife?”.
“I do”.
“Forsaking all else for her happiness and well-being?”.
The princess swooned.
“Then so be it. The wedding will take place tomorrow”, the Queen turned away with a flourish, hurrying back to her rooms.
They looked at each other for several moments, nervous and unsure, then, with a mutual smile, rushed into each other’s arms.
“Come”, she took his hand and called for their robes.
“To my special place”, she grinned.
Esks came running, carrying warm furs, gloves and hats, each wearing an impish smile. It was the first time Patrick had seen any sign of emotion from the small yellow people. He commented on it.
“They share our joy. For generations, they have waited on us, serving us until a husband could be found and Svenholm might live again”.
“I don’t understand”, Patrick said, pulling on his gloves”.
“Centuries ago, this land was filled with colour, flowers, trees and laughter. My mother came with my brother, saw the beauty of it and decided to stay. One night, the King of the Esks came to her and she conceived. I was the fruit of the union of man and goddess, but the King returned to his own wife, forsaking me and my mother.
“In wild retribution, my mother breathed ice upon the land, killing everything that lived, crushing it in a frozen tomb. The few Esks who survived were sworn to serve us until a fitting husband could be found for me, someone worthy enough to turn back her curse on the land and it’s people”.
“And they think that’s me?”.
“Of course, who else? A man become god”, she hurried off down a long corridor.
“But I’m not a god”, he called after her. She didn’t hear, or didn’t want to listen.
Nirva stared into a glass ball, fury behind her eyes, “What are you saying Sadam?”.
“Only, dear Queen, that you must stop him before he gets to the Colour Speaker, that’s all”.
“You stop him”, she screamed, “send that Behemoth of yours”.
“I can’t do that, the Leprechauns have Clwyd hidden away somewhere. I sent Ira to intercept him, but the hawk is too fast. He will be there before nightfall. You must kill him”.
“Curse you Sadam”, she spat, “Hagar is a gryphon, a creature of the netherworld, how do you propose I kill him?”.
“Ah, Nirva, that is the beauty of it”, he laughed cruelly, “as long as Hagar remains a hawk, he is vulnerable. You must dispose of him before he transforms, but do not act in haste, for if you miss and he becomes a gryphon again, all will be lost, including your daughter’s immortality”.
She snarled and sent for Perma.
Marta sobbed on Thule’s shoulder. All their efforts come to naught. They had dug all day and night. Three tunnels they had tried, but all ended against solid rock. Thor and his men lay about exhausted. Thule’s fingers bled where he had torn out his nails in the effort to escape. To no avail. They were doomed, as was the quest. If she could only get to Patrick, warn him, perhaps he alone could escape. But no, surely he must be held a prisoner also, otherwise, he would have come to find them. They must keep trying. Once more, the warrior princess rallied the men.

Arm in arm they strolled along an avenue of ice Cedars towards the stream. Valhalla pointed to a copse of Hornbeam, captured in perfect symmetry, even bearing their catkins. Along the path, stands of Hogweed and wild Angelica formed of ice down to each minute petal. Patrick was fascinated by the finite detail of each exhibit, sculpted by some master craftsman.
“Who made them?”, he asked, bending to examine a Creeping Cinquefoil, perfect in every detail, even a bee, carved as if collecting pollen.
She knelt beside him, “Why the creator of course”.
“Well yes, the originals, but who did the carving, who cut them from the ice?”.
Valhalla laughed, “I suppose my mother did”.
Patrick stared at her, unsure of his own comprehension, “You mean they’re real, underneath the ice?”.
“Of course. I just wish the ice hadn’t covered their true colour, then I could enjoy them forever. Wouldn’t a millennium of spring be a wonderful wedding present?”.
He was speechless. She laughed and dragged him to his feet, hurrying on toward the river. There, beneath the hanging strands of a weeping willow, she sat down out of breath, but happy.
“Oh Patrick”, she sighed, “when we are married, you will make all this real again and we shall come here every day to savour the scents and watch the colours change. Wont it be wonderful?”.
He was dazzled by the sparkle in her eyes, captivated by her charm, mesmerised by her beauty and wanted nothing more than to make her happy. “Wait here Valhalla, I’ll be back soon”, with a boyish grin he got up and hurried back to the palace. When he returned, carrying a small wooden box, the sun was sinking behind the rim of the crater.
“What is it? What are you going to do?”, she asked excitedly.
“Watch”, he opened the box, took out a handful of black earth and spread it on the river. Then, from his pocket he produced tiny seeds which he cast across the water. With a smile, he sat down and took her hand in his. Inch by inch, the ice receded from the soil and as it did, plants, grass and mosses sprang up. The Princess sat astounded as the frozen meadow shed its coat of ice and all manner of flora and fauna sprang to life.
“Oh Patrick, you are so wonderful. I have dreamed all my life of a day such as this”, she leaned over and kissed his lips tenderly.
The cry of a hawk stole the moment and Patrick looked up at the sky. “Hagar!”, he rose to his feet and the Princess joined him.
As the hawk hovered above them, a long thin bolt of ice sliced through the air, deadly and true, it struck the bird and Hagar tumbled earthward.
He ran as fast as his legs and failing sight allowed, reaching the crumpled bird before the bowman.
“Hagar, oh dear God, Hagar my friend”.
The hawk’s eye opened, focusing, penetrating, “Beware your dreams Patrick”. The bird’s tongue lolled and the eye closed a last time. Perma and Valhalla arrived together as Patrick lifted the limp bird in his arms and carried him gently back to the palace.
He could not sleep for fear of dreams.
Perma’s apology echoed in his ears. He did not know, could not have known, it was just a bird such as he had hunted centuries ago, before his mother had frozen out all life. But why had Hagar come? What message did he hope to bear? Had something happened to Fingool? Was the old man dead? He looked at the dried blood on his hands and went to bathe. Why had something so horrible had to happen on the night before his wedding. He lay back in the hot water, allowing its effervescence to bear him up. It was a tragedy, a sad waste. He had not slept so well since, he couldn’t remember when. Not a single dream had disturbed him and now, on the eve of the happiest day of his life, he wasn’t about to let such a disaster spoil it. He scrubbed off the blood and sang.

“In the bitter winters of my mind, The cold wind blows broken glass, That once was the mirror of my life. Shards of things gone by, Pierce the knowing of my eye, And memories score their victories, That bow the head and drown the eyes. But spring will come again, In the time that still remains, And love will bloom anew, Flowers in that life giving dew. Your smile of sun,
Will warm the fertility Of my broken mind, But mended heart”.

Fingool felt the stab in his chest and Oldbrian had to hold him as the rigours of anguish shook the old man. His cry echoed through the cave inflicting his pain even on the old dragon.
“Do not fail us Patrick”, the old man cried and the sea crashed remorselessly on the ancient rocks.
Marta felt it too. That sudden cold shiver that tells you someone has walked heedlessly across your grave. In that moment, despair was all too real and her scream curdled the blood of those around her. All hope was gone, drained from them by the look in her eyes. The prisoners sat in the dark, resigned to their fate.
The Ice Queen sat before her crystal ball, “It is done, Fingool’s fowl is dead and the Colour Speaker is no wiser”.
“Good, then all is set for the wedding”. “It is. All is arranged for midday”.
“Can you not make it sooner?”.
“He is bound by his word, the moment the marriage is solemnised, he is in our power”.
“You will not harm him, it would break my daughter’s heart”.
“Of course not”, Sadam smirked and Tempest sniggered in the background.
“And you will grant them both immortality?”.
“As the Lord Visgoth has promised you Nirva, you just make sure he keeps his word and you keep them both there”.
“All right”, she drew her hand across the globe, wiping away the image.
“Do you trust her?”, Tempest asked.
“Of course not. She serves her own purpose as do all you gods. It isn’t important. The Colour Speaker has given his word, that is all that matters”.
“Then our ruse has worked”, the young god laughed.
“Did you doubt it? Isolate a mortal, make them believe they are not wanted, then give then everything they desire and they are like putty in our hands”, Sadam chortled.
“But what if he does go back on his word, and, having married the wench, still finds the Colour Stone and returns it?”.
“Are you so naive Tempest? It is only because of his innocence and purity that he wields any power at all. The moment he falls from grace by breaking his word, he has no more power than the rest of the puny mortals. Doomed to die”, Sadam’s laughter rocked the walls.


The kitchen staff worked all night. Those with moments to spare, spent their time at the gardens, watching the progress of revival. Patrick walked among them, acknowledging their shouts and smiling at their joy. He doubted that anyone in Svenholm slept that night. There was too much to do and so much to look forward to. By mid morning, the air was alive with excitement, the flowers of the field were in full bloom and Patrick could not remember being more content. He went back to his room to make ready.
As he walked in, a small group of Esks came to attention, smiling nervously. One was shunted forward. Patrick smiled, putting the nervous man at ease.
“Lord”, he began shyly, “as a mark of our esteem, we would like you to accept this gift”, he bowed and held out a long, ornately carved narwhale horn. “Blow it and every Esk in earshot will come to your aide”.
“I thank you my friends, it is a wonderful gift and I will treasure it. Hopefully, my adventures are over and I will never need to use it, but in honour of the givers, I will carry it always”.
The little yellow people left happy, chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Patrick wanted more than anything to hurry to Valhalla and show her, at least it sounded a perfectly viable excuse for seeing her, but propriety prevailed and he went to get dressed.
The Esks had laid out the most exquisite tunic he had ever seen. White leather, striped with white fur and studded with diamonds. White leather boots and belt and a diamond encrusted headband. He put them on, studying himself in the mirror. He slipped the ivory horn into his belt and made for the door. Before he reached it, he changed his mind and went back to the bed. It was still early and he did not want to show his eagerness. He sprawled across the bed, toying with the pattern on the Sun Sword’s sheath wishing the time away. It reminded him of his childhood, laying awake Christmas eve, wishing the night away. He pictured his father coming into his room, telling him that if he didn’t go to sleep, Santa Claus would not come. He laughed to himself and wish his mother and father could be here for the wedding. His sister would have been a beautiful bridesmaid. Marta! He sat up. Where was Marta? She should be here, sharing his happiness. He clapped his hands and the servants came running.
“The friends I came with, Marta and Thule, where are they?”, the Esks did not answer.
“Queen Nirva sent them to the infirmary. They ought to be here for the ceremony, go and find them”. The servants scurried away. He checked the position of the sun through the crystal roof. Almost midday. They must come, they have to. He slung the Sun Sword over his back and picked up his reflective shield, covering it with a loose white fur. Then he went to find Perma.
The wedding was to take place in the Throne Room before the major dignitaries, then the happy couple would proceed through the chambers to the Great Hall of Shadows for the wedding breakfast were all the people of Svenholm would be gathered. He went there first and found the Prince giving instructions to the ice bears.
“Perma”, he spun the young god round, “where are Marta and Thule? They should be here for the ceremony”.
The Frost Prince placed his cold hands on Patrick’s shoulders, calming him, “Do not get so excited Patrick, they will be here, there is plenty of time. I expect they are getting ready”.
“Tell me where to find them, I want to make sure”.
“Of course, but please, let me finish my own tasks or my mother will have me flogged”, he grinned.
Patrick calmed himself, “I’m sorry Perma, nerves I suppose. Go ahead, I’ll wait over there”, he nodded at the laden tables ready for the sumptuous feast. Perma smiled and went back to giving instructions.
Patrick wandered the tables, sampling various delights he had not seen before. Everything tasted perfect. As it should be, he said to himself, licking his fingers. Before he knew it, the hall began to fill and when he looked around, Perma was not to be seen. Patrick became anxious and began searching. He hadn’t gone far when a herald came, demanding that he return to the Throne Room as the proceedings were about to get under way. Patrick was agitated, but could not waste more time. He hurried after the herald.
The Throne Room was packed and the crowd cheered as Patrick entered. It eased his anxiety, but he could feel the sweat forming on his brow. Queen Nirva entered to a tremendous roar and Patrick joined her on the dais where the two acknowledged the applause of the noblesse. Her soft smile and cool hand gripping his helped ease his anguish, but only when he saw Valhalla on Perma’s arm did he settle. They waited for the accolade to end before entering and sending the crowd into raptures once more.
She was radiant, putting all else into shadows with her beauty. Patrick swallowed the lump in his throat and watched her majestic progress across the floor. She smiled and he felt dizzy. As she climbed the stairs he took her hand in his and all fear and apprehension left him. He could not contain his joy, throwing his arms around her and spinning her round and round to the exaltation of the people. She laughed with not a care in the world. Patrick put her down in front of him and smiled as Nirva drew close.

“Valhalla, I’m so happy, I don’t know what to say”, he grinned and she squeezed his arm, “Never in my wildest dreams did I”, his voice faltered and his smile faded, “my wildest dreams”, he repeated and the Sun Sword pulsed at his back.
“Patrick, what’s the matter?”, concern grew on the girl’s face.
He stumbled backwards, “Beware my dreams”, the room fell silent as they watched him reel under the shock.
“Patrick”, Valhalla shrieked, reaching out to him.
He almost fell down the stairs, backing away. The gathering divided, clearing the way to the door and the antechamber.
“You will come back here at once, the ceremony must proceed”, Queen Nirva screamed, casting her chill breath over the crowd’s heads.
“No”, Patrick commanded, “Wait for me Valhalla, there is something I must do first, but I will come back for you”.
“When?”, she begged, sinking to her knees.
“When I have returned the Colour Stone to Eridu”, Patrick turned and ran for the door.
“Stop him”, Nirva screamed, “he must marry my daughter first”.
“Or die”, Perma snarled raising his crossbow.
“Patrick, look out!”, Valhalla screamed and leapt at her brother. The trigger released and the shaft of ice drove through her chest, emerging from the other side dripping with blood. She sank to the floor, her small hand stretching.
“Valhalla!”, he yelled and the Sun Sword responded to his anger, erupting with fire and thunder.
Panic ensued as the relatively small room, now filled with people from the Hall of Shadows wanting to know what was happening, and the ice bear army tore their way regardless through the packed crowd in answer to Nirva’s summons. The bears milled about, unsure of what to do in the chaos. Queen Nirva was on her knees beside her daughter, while Perma stared at the growing pool of blood.
The Sun Sword threatened to tear down the palace while Patrick was carried along by the hysterical crowd, unable to comprehend what was happening. His anger and frustration grew, so did the power of the sword and the ground trembled beneath him. A few moments later, he was flat on his back in the garden, his ears full of the sound of screams and his vision failing into dirty grey confusion. Suddenly, strong hands were grabbing at his arms and legs and he felt himself being carried at a run. He could think of nothing but Valhalla and he called her name.
“It’s me Patrick, Marta. We must hurry, the volcano is erupting”.
His struggle to contain the power of the sword and his anguish over Valhalla became too much and he passed out.

Fresh cold snow on his face revived him, the Sun Sword still pulsed at his back and his vision was deeply impaired, but he recognised friends around him. Marta smiled and Thule stopped rubbing snow over him. Thor looked over their shoulders like a concerned father.
“Is the lad well enough to get moving?”.
“I think so”, Marta responded.
“Where are we?”, he asked, sitting up.
“Beyond the tunnel, but if the mountain explodes, not nearly far enough away. We must get back to the ships at all speed”.
“No”, Patrick struggled to his feet, “I must go back”. “Patrick, you can’t, you’ll be killed”.
“Then I will die”, he snapped angrily, “I have no desire to go on living anyway, but I will find the damned Colour Stone if it’s the last thing I do”, he pushed her away and stumbled back towards the rising column of smoke.
“Valhalla is dead”.
He froze in his tracks, then turned slowly, “I know, she died saving me”, his face crumpled in bitter grief, “She died because I remembered too late”.
Marta came up beside him, “Remembered what?”.
“That my dreams are just dreams and my first duty is to restore the Colour Stone. But I tell you this Marta”, his grief turned to rage, “When that damn stone is back where it belongs, someone is going to pay”.
She held him as he shook, “Vengeance Patrick? Is that what you want?”.
He glared at her and pushed her away, lifting his eyes and arms to the blackening sky, “Why, dear God why?”.
Thor joined them, “It is madness to remain here, let alone go back in there. Come back to the ship, we’ll think of something”.
“No Thor, I have not come this far and gone through all this to fail now. You go back to the ships, sail for Eridu, but ask Inish if he will wait for me. If I am not back in two days, he may depart for wherever he wills”.
“You are crazy Colour Speaker, this entire island is about to explode”.
“Go Thor, we shall meet again”, Patrick turned, heading for the tunnel. Marta ran after him, falling into step beside him. He recognised her silhouette, “You don’t have to come Marta”.
“I know”.

The city of Svenholm had changed. It’s raw, ice blue beauty was cloaked in grey ash, it’s pinnacles fallen, it’s people gone. The gardens blackened and charred. The jeweled walls of the palace writhed under the turbulent grey cloud that twisted and soared above them. Most of the ceilings had come down, but the prism over the Great Hall of Shadows remained intact, though no light poured from it’s angles now.
The four columns surrounding the thrones had fallen, crushing the seats of power like matchwood and the round, red pool where Valhalla’s life had ebbed away, remained a blot on his memory that would not be scrubbed clean. There was not a soul in sight, living or dead. The earth shook spasmodically and the stench of Sulphur filled the air. “Where would they have taken her?”, Patrick pondered.
“There is a crypt, close to the dungeons where we were kept”. Patrick looked at her, “You were held prisoner?”.
“By whom?”.
“Prince Perma, at the orders of the Queen”, Marta pointed the way, but he stood dumfounded.
“Who knows what her evil intent was. If you hadn’t sent those strange yellow skinned people, we would still be trapped there now. Who were they?”.
“Oh”, she shrugged, “who are they?”.
“I’ll explain later. Show me this crypt”. After several wrong turns, she found the stairwell that led down to the cavern. She held him close as they clambered over debris and jumped yawning crevices billowing with smoke. Patrick could feel the sword humming with power close to his ear and anticipated trouble. When they turned a corner, they halted, stunned by a fierce wail of grief. From a room down the wide corridor a light shone and the tribulation of a mother in torment assailed then. The sword shuddered expectantly and Patrick held Marta back.
“Stay here Marta, I will go alone”.
“No, I am the guardian”, she went to move past him.
“Marta”, he demanded authoritatively, “You are no longer immune to the Sun Sword, stay here I might need to use it”.
“Not in vengeance I hope”.
Patrick offered her half a smile, “So do I”.
“Patrick, let’s leave her to her grief, we have to find the Colour Stone remember”.
“Nirva is the key to unlock its whereabouts and anyway, I need to look at Valhalla one last time”.
Before she could say any more, he was gone. She held her breath and listened expectantly.
“How dare you, how dare you come back here after what you have done”, she screamed.
Patrick looked beyond her at the girl, still beautiful even in death. He whispered her name and brushed away a tear.
“You are not fit to speak her name”, the woman spat at him.
He ignored her, walking past to stand at the other side of the sarcophagus, not taking his eyes off his love, “Forgive me”, he said, taking her small frozen hand.
“You accept the blame then?”, Nirva stood up glaring.
Patrick looked at her and smiled, tears streaming down his face, “I accept many things mother, most of which I do not even understand, but to be responsible for even a single life, no, I am not that mighty. If I could take her place I would do it gladly, for such beauty should never die”.
“On that score we can agree”, she shrieked, “I hold you responsible, you killed her and I will make you pay”, her voice reached a crescendo and the air went icy.
The room shuddered and the earth moaned. Patrick would not let go of Valhalla’s hand and could not reach for the Sun Sword.
“You will die in agony Colour Speaker and your soul will walk the frozen wastes for all eternity, calling her name, but she will not answer you”, the Queen hissed.
Patrick’s smile did not falter.
“I hear the stones groan with the ache of the ages, Their moan lingers on into the depth of the night, And the earth cries with the memory of violence As the flowers wilt in the face of the blight”.
“Do your worst Nirva, I care nought for your threats. She died that I might live and from now until forever I will speak her name with love, and though she will not answer me, I know in my heart that she hears me well”, he looked down at the girl and swore he saw a smile cross her lips. But in that moment, a mighty shiver shook the foundation of the mountain, a gulf opened and Queen Nirva and the body of her daughter disappeared into it, leaving the stone coffin lurching at a crazy angle, poised on the brink. Marta came running, just in time to catch Patrick by the arm as he nearly followed, dragging him out of the chasm. The Sun Sword crackled with orange light, searching with electric fingers, probing the sarcophagus, peeling away the stone. Marta covered her eyes, backing out of the room, unable to bear the power and the noise. Patrick watched in awe as the confining case was stripped away to reveal of block of ice. Within the ice, perfectly preserved, was the body of an Esk, wearing a walrus tooth crown. With a deafening roar, the ice block exploded, releasing the body into the depths below.
The stench of sulphur was sickening, billowing up from the yawning hole. Patrick dropped to his knees and leaned forward. Marta screamed and threw herself at him, catching his ankles, “No Patrick, you must live”, she yelled above the roar of air rushing from the depths.
He sat up, holding his hands out palms uppermost. There, nestled in the hollow, shaped like an egg, a translucent object visible only because the fire of the sword caressed it like a child.
Marta rocked back astonished and shrieked with joy, “You have found it”.
“Or it has found me”.
They watched in reverent admiration as the fire fondled the stone, giving it both shape and colour. Only when flames and molten lava belched from the cavern did they move. Patrick removed his headband, carefully wrapped the stone in it and slipped it into his tunic pocket. The power of the sword was subsiding, but it still hummed like a cooing mother, blissfully content with it’s sleeping baby.
By the time they were out in the open, the whole centre of the Ice Palace had caved in and streams of molten rock bubbled over the walls, pouring out into the garden. Marta judged its progress.
“We’ll never make it, it will overtake us long before we reach the tunnel. Run Patrick, run”.
Patrick stopped and began fumbling at his belt.
Marta turned, “Come on, there’s no time”, she watched dumbfounded as he placed a long horn to his lips and blew. The shrill note echoed from the crater walls, a mournful cry transcending the roar and blast of the eruption. He blew a second note, longer and higher, almost beyond the range of normal hearing. Before the echo ended, a sled and team of dogs skidded to a halt in front of them. Two Esks, bearing wide grins beckoned them aboard, “We were coming anyway”, one said as the other lashed the dogs into movement.
They reached the edge of the ice field and saw the ships long before Thor and his men came into view. The temperature was falling dramatically and an icy wind carried the stench of burning far out to sea. Snow began to fall and the wind whipped it into spindrifts, dancing like wild devils, mocking them. Thor and his men struggled through it, ‘though many fell and were lost in the gathering blizzard. Inish navigated his boat through the drifting floes, drawing nearer to the ice field, but the sea began to freeze around his craft, threatening to crush it. Patrick looked up at the dark sky.
“It seems that Perma and Tempest have joined forces”.
Marta looked at him, “So you knew that Tempest was not dead?”.
“No, but I knew I had not killed him”.
She gripped his arm, “Inish will be trapped”.
Patrick yelled at him to turn back and the master mariner obeyed, just in time to avoid two massive lumps of ice that crashed together a foot before his bow.
“Now we are trapped and at their mercy”, Marta sighed as the wind howled triumphantly.


Thor and his remaining crew joined them, frowning at the predicament. The temperature plummeted and the snow lashed at their faces. The elf wood ship was forced further and further away, even though the questers followed as the sea froze over. Thor’s ship was no where to be seen, but then, like a charging bull, it appeared out of the blizzard making for the ice at a fantastic speed. Patrick was sure it would be dashed to pieces. Thor roared with laughter as the slim craft hit the ice, leapt into the air and skidded across the frozen waste like a sled, leaning crazily, but still in one piece. Tamara grinned from the steering oar as the boat came to a halt. Thor and his men struggled to turn it back toward the sea, whilst others dropped the sail. Soon it was careering across the ice, driven by Tempest’s anger towards open water. Inish moved out into a clear stream and was waiting for them. The Thorvik vessel broke through the thin ice at it’s frozen boundary and was afloat again with all safely aboard. “You’ve done that before”, Patrick grinned and Thor flashed his white teeth.
Behind them, the sea was already turning to ice, but the two ships had no difficulty outrunning it. However, Tempest was not about to give up. The bitter cold wind changed direction, blowing from the south, building the sea against them and presenting no opportunity for Patrick and Marta to get across to their own ship. Thor brought down the sail and the long boat was now totally dependant on Tamara giving it motive power. She handled the task masterfully, but how long for Patrick wondered. They could outrun the ice for a day or two, but with Tempest trying to drive them back, they could not hope to reach land in time.
The waves climbed, cresting and throwing icy spray over the crew as the boats battled on. The experienced sailors rigged storm canvas over the forepeak, hoping for some protection, but the rapacious wind tore it to shreds in a matter of moments. Inish brought his wider vessel directly ahead of them, smoothing their way, but the strain of holding his position against the force of the wind was plain for all to see. Far astern, where the ice was receding, great billowing clouds began to form, threatening another storm. Thor watched with apprehension. They would be caught between the two. In spite of the elf ship’s protective bulk, the long boat was taking a battering and the young elf at the helm could barely keep her feet. Thor went to help her, but the moment he took the oar, the ship lost headway, broaching violently, throwing Patrick to the deck and sending him sprawling into the gunwale. Marta dragged him out from beneath the rowing benches.
“Are you all right?”.
He nursed his left arm and a trickle of blood flowed from a cut on his head, “I think so, but we can’t take much more of this. Tell Thor I need to speak to him”.
Marta made him comfortable and hurried away. Tamara brought the ship back under control, wiping the sweat from her brow. Inish watched with growing concern, easing his own craft back until the ships almost touched, “We have to find a safe anchorage”, he yelled. Patrick nodded.
Thor’s face was etched with deep lines, “Have you a plan?”.
“Not really, except we wont survive like this. Of the two craft, which is the most seaworthy?”.
Thor looked at him puzzled, “Under normal conditions, I would have said this one, but having seen what yon elf can do with his ship, probably his”.
“Then we must transfer everybody aboard Inish’s ship and abandon this”.
The giant stared in disbelief, “Abandon my ship! Never, not whilst there is breath in me and she’s still afloat”.
“Look at Tamara, she can’t keep this up and under your own power, you’ll be caught in the ice before morning. If we all go over to Inish, then the two elves can relieve one another when they’re spent. It’s our only hope, the gods will not give us rest”.
Thor looked at the heavy clouds building up behind them, wiped the sea spray from his face and nodded, “All right, but you owe me a ship when this is all over”.
Patrick grinned as the big man went away to figure how they could accomplish the feat. His first idea was to stretch a rope between the vessels, along which his crew would climb. It failed miserably due to the short, steep seas ducking the man and dragging him through the crests of the waves. Although no one was lost, it took the crew man several hours to recover.
The second attempt involved bringing the ships side by side, lashing bow to bow and stern to stern. Again it failed, Inish’s elf wood ship was so much bigger with it’s gunwales several feet above the long boat’s deck, that even if they could keep the vessels close enough for any length of time without the Thorvik ship being crushed, they could never climb the varying height between decks in safety.
Thor scratched his head, “There is only one thing to do and we shall have only one chance at it”, he glanced back at the threatening clouds. “We must halt the ships, let them lie dead in the water with my ship taking the brunt of the waves. As she rises and the elf ship is in the trough, we jump”.
“And hope that your ship doesn’t come down on top of us!”.
Thor grinned, “Got a better idea?”.
Patrick shook his head, “If anyone lands in the water, they won’t last more than a few minutes”.
“Assuming they’re not crushed between the hulls anyway. Shall we do it?”. “Might as well give it a try”, Patrick climbed to his feet and Marta stared at him dubiously.
Thor and Inish conversed. The elf looked worried, but nodded his approval and the two men studied the sea, timing the waves, building a rhythm. They conversed again, this time, Inish looked more positive. The men were summoned and after a short instructive speech, began cutting away the spar and standing rigging. At Thor’s signal, the ships turned broadside to the waves, rocking violently. At his second signal, with almost perfect timing, eight members of his crew swung away on the spar and dropped onto the elf ship deck. A rallying cheer went up. The maneuver was accomplished one more time before a fierce gust tore down the unsupported mast. Half of Thor’s crew, including Thule and Tamara had made it safely across. Thor’s ship was now out of control. Unable to maneuver the vessel, he ordered all remaining crew members to stand by to jump. They gathered at the rail, looking across the short expanse of turbulent water at the seemingly massive bulk of the elf wood ship, first towering above then, and then appearing considerably smaller as it disappeared beneath them.
“Now”, the giant bellowed. Patrick swallowed hard, took Marta’s hand in his and leapt out into space.
Time stood still, leaving them suspended with the wind and the spray battering their fragile beings. Then, like a moving mountain, the wide deck of the ship rushed up to meet them. As they hit the wooden planking, the Thorvik ship crashed into the side of the elf wood craft, smashing the taft rail and splitting the long boat into two. Inish skilfully bore away before too much damage could be done, but three of Thor’s crew were swept into the icy sea never to be seen again. Thor watched sadly as the dragon figure head was swept by among the sundry remains of his proud ship.
Patrick rubbed his bruises and smiled at Marta, “We made it”.
“Yes, but we’re not safe yet. Look”, she pointed at the thick low cloud. With an almighty crash, the bank of cloud began to break up, it’s leading edge snapping off falling into the sea to form bobbing icebergs, drenching the boat in salt water and ice crystals. Thor and Inish watched in horror as more of the cloud broke away and came crashing down close to the starboard rail. The Snarling Sea grew in ferocity, pounding at them, driving them back towards the crushing clouds.

“How can it be?”, Thor took off his helmet and scratched his head.
“I know not and I do not propose to wait around to find out. We cannot stay to search for your men. Forgive me Thor”, Inish set his jaw and concentrated on propelling the craft away from the falling sky as quickly as possible. His skill was superior to that of Tamara and with only the one ship to worry over, he soon outdistanced the tumbling bank of cloud. Tempest, however, did not ease his onslaught in any way. The ship shuddered like a battering ram, blasting its way through the swelling sea and jarring every bone in the body. As leaks appeared below, Tamara ministered her magic to the timbers and sealed them. But they could not go on indefinitely. The strain on ship and elves was becoming too great.
Night fell but the storm raged on. No one slept, no one could. The wooden ship groaned and the timbers creaked. Tamara took a spell at the helm, granting the ship’s master a slight reprieve, but when dawn broke, Inish
was back at his post. The thick cloud astern remained menacing, but moved no closer. Less ice was forming on the rigging and the seas were not as high, but the task of maintaining headway was no less severe. Every man aboard was suffering at the pounding, nursing bruises and strains and not a smile was seen anywhere.
Patrick crawled along the rail, his knuckles white with the effort of hanging on, “Any idea where we are Inish?”.
“None, does it make any difference?”.
“Probably not, but if we could find shelter, even gods have to rest sometime”.
“Do you know that, or are you guessing?”.
Patrick grinned and dragged himself back midships.
“What did he say?”, Marta yelled above the roar of the storm.
“He said everything’s fine and we’re not to worry”, Patrick lied. She snuggled up beside him, striving to keep out the bitter cold.
“When you first met my brother, and agreed to come on this quest, did you expect any of this?”.
He shook his head.
“What did you expect?”.
“I don’t know really, I think I saw it as some sort of way out of a situation I wasn’t very happy with. It never occurred to me that this might be worse”, he smiled, “the grass is always greener”.
“What grass?”.
Patrick laughed, the sound of it cheered her up, “it’s a saying, we always think that something else has got to be better than what we have”.
“And is it?”, she looked into his eyes.
“Occasionally, but not very often. It’s the measure of mankind, never satisfied with what we have, always looking for something better”.
“But that’s not a bad thing is it?”.
“Striving for something better isn’t, it’s when we want it, but aren’t prepared to work for it that we have a problem. Then we just expect things to be better and we are usually disappointed. That’s when the trouble really starts and a never ending spiral begins. We just go on always expecting the grass over the other side of a hill to be better than this, so we keep on going, moving from one situation to another without giving it, or ourselves, any chance of making it better. Consequently, we are never satisfied and never remain for long”.
“Sounds boring to me. What will you do when you have restored the Colour Stone?”.
“Are you so sure that I will?”.
“No doubt whatsoever”, she smiled and squeezed his waist.
He returned her smile and looked up at the lightening sky, “Tempest is getting tired”. She nodded and fell asleep in his arms.

By evening, the wind had died to a whisper, but the sea still pounded them. It gave Inish time to rest and Thor’s men the opportunity to carry out running repairs. Food and fresh water were distributed and an air of expectancy grew among the travellers. No one doubted that the gods were building their strength for another assault, but with good food inside their bellies and a break from the soaking spray, they felt they were ready.
The storm returned with darkness, but this time, from astern, blowing harder than ever and driving snow before it. As the first blast struck, Inish ordered them to lash themselves down. For an hour they were tossed this way and that on the confused sea. Pitching and rolling, broaching the waves. Gradually, the gusting wind turned the water and their path was made less violent. Inish waited, watching for a chance. The waves built up behind lifting the stern, running the keel and dropping the ship into a trough ready for the next following wave. He picked the right one, yelled for everyone to hold tight and released his ship like a greyhound from its trap.
The elf wood ship was surfing, surging along at incredible speeds, racing into the darkness. All motion, except the forward tilt, ceased and one by one, the crew released themselves, going forward to the prow to watch the ship’s spectacular progress. Patrick was elated. From occasional glimpses of the stars, they were being driven due south. The speed and course suited him.
Inish yelled at the men to get back to their positions, but the exhilaration was enthralling. A cry went up, “Lee ho”, and the steersman stared into the blackness.
“Where away?”.
“Starboard, ten points and closing fast”.
He saw it, waves breaking on cruel black rocks and he leaned into the oar. Tamara came to help. Slowly the bow bore away, inch by inch. The great steering oar trembled, fighting the ships natural motion with that demanded by it’s master. The elves recited incantations, praying for the wood to hold.
“Clear away”, the call went up and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The ship came back on course, thundering on the crest of the wave. Another cry, “Land ho”, and another. They were being driven head long into a group of islands.
“Tamara, we must bear away off the wave, turn back into the wind”.
“Can we do it?”.
“We can but try. Hold fast” he yelled into the wind, his words ripped and shredded as he spoke them.
Marta clung tightly to her charge, “Keep your water, give me the back of a bucking horse any day”, her smile quivered and her eyes closed tight.
With all their strength, with all their courage and no mean portion of skill, they leant into the task. The ship shuddered, held fast on the breaking crest, then dropped away to slide down the back of the wave, hitting the trough and being bourn up again instantaneously. But now she was broadside on, broached against the rolling sea, at the mercy of the following wall of water.
“Turn, turn I beg you”, Inish screamed at his ship as the mountain of green water looked down on them. The bow lifted first, slightly, but enough. The water was replaced by sky and scudding clouds. Down they slid again, angled across the back of the roaring surf, shuddering painfully as they hit the trough.
“Lee ho”, the call went up again and once more the elves buckled to the fight.
Slowly, agonisingly, they edged away from the murderous shore, searching, hoping for open water. Then, in an instant, they were clear. Out and running free again.
It was dawn when the lookouts sighted land once more. With increased visibility, Inish was able to steer well clear and they maintained their momentum, but the wall of thick cloud was gaining on them and they could hear the nerve shattering cracks as the ice broke up and fell into the sea. Snow began to fall, driven like a dark veil across their line of sight. As more and more islands swept into and out of view, the ship’s master feared the worst. They would have to slow down. He called to Tamara.
“When we are in the lee of that island”, he nodded, “we shall heave to and try find shelter. I dare not risk us being driven aground at this speed”. Tamara nodded, snatching a glance at the billowing cloud behind them. It obscured everything from sight.
The elfwood ship raced past the dark finger of rock, swinging in towards the shore with the drag. Inish watched and waited, judging his move to perfection. “Now”, he yelled and swung on the steering oar. Tamara strained and, as the bow turned, Tempest blew from the opposite side. The craft spun too quickly, shipping water over the broken gunwale, upsetting its delicate balance. Before they knew it, the boat broached under the weight of water and was turned turtle. Darkness, swirling, choking darkness. Pressure, unbearable pressure. Eyes bulging, indescribable pain. Weightlessness, clutching at shafts of light, reaching frantically for anything to hang on to. Then, just as quickly as it had happened, it was
over. Cold fresh air, light, hope and a wall of water rushing at them. The ship staggered, but remained upright, being driven sideways by the rushing wave.
Patrick gulped air down and felt Marta release her vice like grip on his arm. He looked around anxiously. Inish and Tamara were still at their station, Thor was still tied to the mast, a few other sailors wretched up saltwater, but the bow was devoid of life.
Another wave hit them, causing the mast to describe an eccentric circle over their heads.
“Cut the ropes Marta”, he shouted. She shook her head.

Fingools Cave, Isle of Staffa, Scotland’s western

“Cut the ropes. If we go over again, the mast will hit the bottom and maybe stick. We are too close to shore”.
She sliced at the hemp. Inish managed to bring the ship back under control, but they had been swept out of the bay he hoped might save them. He picked up another wave and surfed past the end of a peninsular out into open water once more. The wind was whipping the surf into a fury and the timbers were beginning to spring. She was taking on water fast, sitting deeper in the surf, no longer able to keep up the pace. Ahead, looming out of the snow screen, a black isle directly in their path. Inish tried to bear away, but the extra weight of water made the task almost impossible. “We’re going to hit, brace yourselves”, he removed all motive force and allowed his ship to be carried to its doom by the relentless sea. Close behind, the collapsing cloud dropped huge blocks of ice into the wild water. Patrick dragged Marta to the mast where Thor put his strong arms around them both. With the next wave, they were dashed upon the rocky shore, smashed like matchwood on hexagonal columns of stone.
Patrick awoke to the smell of hot broth and the sound of familiar voices. He sat up and peered through the smoke. By the light of the fire he made out the faces of Marta, Thor, Tamara and Fingool.
“I thought the smell of hot food would arouse you. Did you intend sleeping all day?”.
Beyond the four fuzzy faces he thought he could see a red dragon, licking it’s wide jaws. He rubbed his eyes.
“Disbelieving as usual I see. You have met Clwyd before I think, and Oldbrian”, the little man bobbed into view and smiled.
“Where are the others?”, Patrick swung his legs down off the bed.
“Inish lies injured over there, as do three of Thor’s men. We are the only ones who survived”, Marta said sadly.
She shook her head and they kept a moments silence.
“What about the falling ice?”.
“It has blocked the entrance to the cave and moved on. We have been debating what to do next”.
“Where are we and how did you get here Fingool?”.
“You youngsters always were too inquisitive. We are on a remote island of basalt hexagons in the middle of the sea. As to how I got here, Hagar brought me”, he smiled, more with his eyes than his lips.

“Hagar. Oh God. Fingool, I’m sorry but”.
“I know dear boy, don’t worry, it was all in a good cause. Come, eat, you must be famished”, the old man held out a bowl filled with steaming liquid.
He ate ravenously at first, then as he watched the dim faces of his friends, trying to make some sense out of the predicament, he put the bowl down. Fingool watched him with tired eyes.
“May we see it Patrick?”.
The young man smiled, drawing a small bundle from his pocket. He unwrapped the fur and held it out for all to see.
“But there’s nothing there!”, Thor blurted. Patrick grinned, “Watch”.
“Careful Patrick”, Fingool interposed, unable to contain a grin.
The Colour Speaker reached over for the Sun Sword, gripped it by the blade and focused his concentration on the jewel. It’s yellow heart sparked into life, drawing power from it’s wielder. Brighter it grew. Deeper, turning orange. Fire licked around the setting, reaching out to caress the Stone. At once, the cave was brought to life with dancing colour, manipulated by the smiling Colour Speaker. Even Clwyd raised his oblong head to watch the spectacle. His eyes twirling in empathy with the pulsating light. Not a soul spoke. Each was lost in some vision of moments past and yet to come. Fingool shook himself out of it, “This is dangerous”, he muttered, “Put it away Patrick. Now that you have completed the easy part of the task, we had better concentrate on getting you out of here and back to Eridu”. Patrick turned to look at the ice filled opening, contemplating the problem. As he did, the sword increased its power, collecting energy and directing it through the Stone, focusing the force on the blocked passageway. The air sang with vibrancy, hot with anticipation and with a massive blast of light, the force shattered the ice, allowing natural light through from the late afternoon sun. The power died away, leaving the damp cave mourning it’s passing and the occupants rubbing their eyes.


covered with ice cave

Thor, Marta and the elf maiden scrambled up the shaft while Oldbrian busied himself with the dragon. Fingool beckoned Patrick over to sit beside him.
“Are you well my young friend?”, he patted the lad’s knee.
“Tired. Physically and emotionally drained might be more apt. Other wise I’m all right I suppose. What about you?”.
“Probably not as badly off as you, but there again, my part in this is over. For you, the worst is yet to come”.
“Don’t tell me Fingool, I don’t think I want to know”, he sighed.
“What about your eyes?”, the old man bent to examine them.
“Funnily enough, they are much improved. Since the episode at Thorvik, my eyes have switched to seeing everything green. It’s much kinder than the stark blue I had before, softer, more gentle”, he thought for a moment and went on, “Whenever I am with the Colour Stone, like just now, then my sight is perfect. I see every colour and every detail”.
“Good, good”, Fingool nodded, “there is something I should warn you about”.
“Fingool!”, Oldbrian said warningly, moving into the fire light, “you are treading a dangerous path, and you know it”.
Fingool chuckled, “I suppose I am. He’s done very well on his own so far hasn’t he?”.
“And will continue to do so without your interference”.
“Can’t I just”.
“No you can’t”, Oldbrian snapped.
“What are you two going on about?”, Patrick asked.
“Fingool wants to do it all himself, but he knows he can’t, so he has to interfere. What he should tell you, Patrick m’lad, is that when the Stone burns red, your sight will be restored, but you will lose something far more important”.
Patrick waited. Oldbrian said no more, “Well! What?”.
“Ah, that’s the rub of it, he can’t tell you that, so he’s better saying nothing at all. Isn’t that right ye old fool”.
“Who are you calling a fool, you idiot”, Fingool retorted, “You’ve just told him half of it, now he’ll be confused”.
“You two can stop quarrelling, I’ve been confused from the moment I met Ulfert, so don’t worry on that score”.
The others slid down the ice shaft, “It stretches for ever. The sea’s covered, as are most of the islands. The ice must be fifty feet thick”, Marta said hurrying to the fire, “I don’t know how we are going to find our way back to Eridu”.
“That’s the easy part”, Oldbrian sniggered.
“Oh”, Marta looked at the strange little man, “It would be very nice if something came easy, but personally, I don’t believe it”.
“Nor do I”, Patrick added.
“Clwyd will take us”, the Leprechaun smiled.
“All of us!”.
“Well, no, me because I can control him, the Colour Speaker because he must go and one other”, he looked at each of them in turn.
“Can’t he come back for the rest?”.
“He’s old, Visgoth has abused him for too long, it is only because I
have healed him and taken care of him”. “Oh get on with it”, Fingool snapped. Oldbrian smirked, “He can make the journey once only, then he will come back here to die with his old friend”, the Leprechaun glanced at Fingool.
“Fingool!”, Patrick reacted, “What if he comes too?”.
“No Patrick, I can’t do that, this old body wont take such a journey again. In any case, as my old friend here has said, I’d only interfere and you don’t need that. If I were you, I’d take”.
“Fingool!”, the Leprechaun snapped jumping up and down in frustration. The old magician laughed, “Just teasing”.
“Does it matter? If what Oldbrian says is true and the dragon can fly me straight to Eridu, then he can put me down in the gardens and I’ll just pop the stone back on it’s pedestal and that’s an end to it”.
Oldbrian roared with laughter, “Isn’t he the simple one then!”.
Fingool couldn’t help a chuckle either.
“Well you said it was the easy part”, Patrick snapped at the little man, “I should have known. What’s the problem?”.
Fingool coughed, “The High Council, that’s the problem”.
“Tell us something new”, Marta bemoaned.
“They’re not all bad”.
“No, they just don’t care”.
“That’s unfair Patrick, they care very much, they are confused, unsure of what they should be doing”.
“Confused! Unsure of what they should be doing! Rubbish Fingool, they are the gods, entrusted with the safety of the world, they have no excuse for what they have done”, Patrick burned with anger and the Sun Sword sang a dirge.
“Haven’t they? Think about it Patrick. Yes they failed, but so did mankind, for twenty thousand years at least. If anyone is to blame for the current situation, it is me”.
Patrick looked at him aghast, “How can you say that, you have tried more than anyone to restore the Colour Stone”.
“Perhaps, but I cheated didn’t I?”.
Patrick looked at him bewildered. Marta came to hold his hand.
“I had no right to bring you from your time, to distort history. I tried to bolster mankind with someone special who didn’t belong here. I talked the High Council into letting me do it, they were never keen, and in retrospect, they were right weren’t they? Even if you do restore the Colour Stone and get back to your own existence, do you think the people you have journeyed with are capable of running the world without the help of the gods?”.
Patrick didn’t think for long, “Yes Fingool, I do. They are no worse here than in twenty thousand years time, and as to whether they can do it or not, that’s not what’s important, it’s the trying that counts and you can’t say Thule didn’t try, or Marta, or Thanet, or Thor”.
Fingool held up his hand, “All right Patrick, you have far too much wisdom for your own good, certainly for an old fool like me. But be careful, you wield the Sun Sword with too much ease”.
“Fingool!”, Oldbrian interposed, “Your mouth is too big for your own good. Say no more”, the expression on the little man’s face made the magician twitch.
“What’s your part in all this, and who are you anyway?”, Patrick demanded.
“Oldbrian’s the name, playing game’s me fame”, he grinned.
“That’s just a cover up. Where do you get your authority?”.
“Ah, now that is a difficult one to answer”, he rubbed his chin.
“Oldbrian is a Leprechaun. He and his people are charged with protecting the earth and all that lives beneath the level of man. He has become part of this mystery because I bungled it”.
“Fingool, I’ve warned ye, say no more”.
“Or what will you do? Pull my whiskers out one by one? The lad has a right to know”, Fingool smirked.
“Because of you, the lad has rights beyond his capability, you expect too much from him. Only the Creator can determine the time and place, now be still”, the little man’s eyes twinkled and Fingool grasped at his throat, unable to speak.
“Fingool!”, Patrick stood up, but the old man waved him away.
“He’s come to no harm, but we cannot let him say more. It’s for your own good”, the little man smiled.
“We?”, Patrick enquired, sitting again.
“Decide who is to accompany you Colour Speaker, we must leave within the hour”.
Patrick glared at the strange man, “Fingool was going to tell us why I can’t go straight to Eridu”.
“It’s a pity he didn’t stick to doing just that instead of wasting time feeling sorry for himself”, the Leprechaun glared at the feeble old man. “So are you going to tell us or not?”, Patrick’s tone was curt, giving Fingool reason to smile.
“I might”.
“You’d better”.
Oldbrian grinned, winking at the old man, “I can see why ye chose him. There are many reasons why you can’t just fly in, paramount of which is the fact that the High Council have sealed Eridu to prevent further despoliation of the treasures. You do know that Visgoth has laid siege to the place?”

Siege of Sevastopol 1475

Patrick nodded, “But surely, if they know I am coming back with the Colour Stone, they will lower the defences long enough to let me in”.
“Perhaps, but then there’s the second reason”, he grinned.
“What’s that?”.
“Well now”, he rubbed his chin and walked about. Fingool bobbed up and down in silent laughter.
Oldbrian snarled at him and turned to Patrick, “This is the hard part, how to explain without saying more than I should”.
“For goodness sake”.
“Exactly”, Oldbrian pointed and tapped his nose knowingly.
“This is impossible”, Patrick stormed.
“Difficult I grant you, but not impossible. You appreciate that the gods have more to lose than you do?”.
“Are ye of the faith?”, Oldbrian stared. Patrick stared back.
“If you are asking about my beliefs”. The little man nodded excitedly. “But now you are talking about something in the future”.
“Tomorrow is the future dear boy”, Oldbrian grinned.
Patrick walked away from them, towards the brightness of the entrance,
deep in thought.
“We must leave within the hour”, Oldbrian called after him. Patrick nodded, but didn’t answer. Marta and Thor looked at each other and shrugged. She went to join him, leaning against the cold ice wall.
“Do you know what he’s talking about?”.
“I’m not sure. Will you come with me Marta?”.
She smiled and squeezed his arm, “I would be honoured”.
Fingool pleaded with his eyes, begged the Leprechaun to allow him to say his farewells, but Oldbrian would have none of it. Patrick and Marta went to embrace the forlorn magician, sadness matching sadness.
“Will we meet again?”, Marta asked. Fingool lowered his head and shook it. Marta kissed his pallid cheek and hurried away. Patrick knelt before the old man.
“I wish I could say that I understood just a little bit of why you are here, but I can’t. Is there nothing I can do?”.
Fingool looked up into his eyes and tried to smile. He shook his head and kissed the boy’s brow.
“Come”, Oldbrian demanded, “There is no more to be said”, he climbed onto the dragon’s back and scrambled up it’s long thin neck.
Patrick scowled at him, but followed Marta onto the beast’s back where leather riding straps secured them in place.
“I’m sorry I can’t take you with us”, he called down to those left behind. “Do not worry, we shall make our own way and hope to be there for the battle”, Thor grinned.
Oldbrian spoke into the dragon’s ear and the behemoth lumbered down the cave to the tunnel of ice. It’s long talons bit into the slippery surface and inch by inch, it clawed its way out.
Long before they reached the top of the shaft, they felt the biting cold. Their breath issued as great streams of steam and their teeth chattered. Only Oldbrian seemed unaffected by the raw chill.
“Hold on”, he called back as the behemoth leapt into the air and the sudden impetus took their breath away. The massive wings thrashed the air and the dragon rose slowly into a clear blue sky.
Below them, there was nothing but the angular ruggedness of cold unyielding ice as far as the eyes could see.
“It looks like Perma excelled himself”, Patrick shouted. Marta nodded, afraid to look down.
“Not Perma”, Oldbrian turned and grinned, “Queen Nirva has determined that all mortals shall die”.
“I thought she was dead, she fell into the abyss”.
“She is a goddess Patrick, immortal”.
“Can’t we stop her?”.
The Leprechaun grinned, “I can’t”.
“Then who can?”, Patrick shifted uneasily.
“Only the gods, the High Council. Unless all is brought to an end and that is beyond my knowing”.
“You mean if I restore the Colour Stone and bring the age of the gods to an end?”
“Do I?”.
“I don’t know, that’s what I’m asking”, he retorted angrily.
“Whether you restore the Colour Stone or not is of little consequence.
“That was never the issue”.
“Of course it was, otherwise what was the point of Fingool bringing me here from the future?”.
“Ah, now there’s an interesting question. I must give that some serious consideration”, the Leprechaun turned his back and concentrated on his flying skills.
“I think I had a better chance understanding the Runes”, Patrick turned to Marta who had her eyes and mind firmly closed.
“If what you say is true Oldbrian, what is the point of us going to Eridu at all, why don’t I just throw the Stone away?”.
The little man turned round with an impish grin, “I didn’t say that the Colour Stone wasn’t important, all I said was that it was of little consequence with regard to the wider picture. Anyway, you have gone too far down this road to change course now and in the end, all roads lead to Eridu. What must be done must be done and now’s as good a time as any to do it”.
“Do what?”.
“Whatever it is you’re going to do”, he laughed.
“And you don’t know what I’m going to do?”.
The Leprechaun became suddenly serious, “Not even the Creator knows what man will do. Have you any ideas?”, he asked more light-heartedly.
“Then why ask me your stupid questions”.
Patrick fumed. He looked down at the blanket of ice, stretching from horizon to horizon and tried to reason it out.
He had been brought from the future because he could speak colour, whatever that meant. The gods had failed their duty to mankind and to the Creator by losing the Colour Stone and disturbing the balance of the seasons. Some of the gods had wanted it back, but more seemed as if they didn’t. What would happen if the Colour Stone was not returned? The world would surely perish, but the gods would continue, whether in the same form or not was debatable. If the Colour Stone was returned, by himself, a mere mortal, the world would see that it no longer needed the gods and just get on with it? Would they survive? Probably. Would the gods? Possibly not. So what did that reveal?
The dragon hit an air pocket and dropped straight down several hundred feet. Marta screamed in his ear and dug her nails into his arms. Steady wing beats restored their altitude and Marta’s nerves.
Let’s look at it from what I know about the future, he said to himself. I know that my world is still around twenty thousand years from now, otherwise I couldn’t have come from there, so it’s reasonable to suppose that I do restore the Colour Stone and the balance of nature. The Runes said I would. Now, in my own time, there is no trace of Eridu, no evidence of dragons, gryphons, elves and the like, other than in mythology. That would presuppose that I don’t return the Stone and everything gets laid waste. Oh God, I’m just getting more and more confused.
“Oldbrian, what should I do?”, he asked with a painful expression.
The little man looked over his shoulder and winked.
“You’re a fat lot of help”.
Ulfert said that time had a new meaning. Perhaps the future will only exist if I return the Colour Stone? He contemplated. Oldbrian said that any time was my time. What did he mean by that? He asked. The Leprechaun ignored him.
“Thanks a lot”. He returned to his deliberations. Maybe if I could talk to the High Council, ask for their advice. No, a bit late for that. If I’d done that in the first place, Visgoth might not be trying to destroy them and Nirva might not have covered the earth in ice. Wait a minute, the last ice age! Circa twenty thousand BC, this is it! He looked down at the contorted landscape. Here and there a mountain peeked through and far away to the south, he could see a definite distinction between the ice and what could be water. The dragon stopped beating his wings and they began a long gliding descent. This is part of history, all I have to do is restore the Colour Stone and everything will be all right. He smiled and felt warmer.

He could not tell where sea met land, all was concealed beneath the blanket of ice, but, as the dragon banked right, he caught a glimpse of a triple mountain peak reflecting the sun. “Eridu”, he shouted to Marta, tapping her shoulder. She squinted, saw it and smiled. For some distance around the mountain the ice was absent, revealing verdant fields and tall trees standing out against the white shroud covering the rest of the visible world.
Clwyd descended in a slow spiral, giving the riders time to study the scene below. Marta gasped at the devastation she saw and could not contain a heart rending wail.
“What is it Marta, what can you see?”, Patrick asked urgently. She was too distraught to answer.
Oldbrian turned to him.
“She sees death and destruction on a scale impossible to describe. The fields are littered with the dead and dying of both sides, though there are more mortals who will not see another sunrise than there are creatures of Visgoth’s making. She sees all eyes raised to heaven, expectant, hopeful of their salvation riding a red dragon. She sees the unicorn and the hound trying hopelessly to defend a leader of the Yezidee, overpowered and overwhelmed by his own.
“She sees fallen Thal horses, trodden underfoot by the hoards of Visgoth and she sees her headless mother disfigured in the dirt and surrounded by her brethren. She sees”.
“Stop it”, Patrick screamed, burying his head in his hands.
“What’s the matter Patrick? Is the truth no longer palatable to you”.
At his back the Sun Sword pulsed with power, growing stronger with every emotion that flared in his mind.
“We are too late Patrick”, the Warrior Princess sobbed, “They are defeated, the handful who remain have their backs to the invisible walls of Eridu and the vipers of Visgoth close in for the kill”.
“No”, he cried, “there shall be no more killing”.
As the dragon beat back it’s wings, reversing it’s descent and dropping gently to the turf, Patrick leapt down between the opposing forces and unsheathed the sword. It’s glass blade throbbed with golden light dazzling the combatants. The moment Marta alighted and joined him, Oldbrian ordered Clwyd away and the dragon soared upward, the beat of his mighty wings flattening the grass.
For a moment there was silence. The foul creatures of darkness stood still, halted by a boy and a woman. But then their lust for blood spurred them on.
“Go back or I shall destroy you all”, Patrick screamed brandishing the fiery sword. They did not stop, oblivious to his threat. He saw the god of darkness standing on a knoll, urging his army forward. Beside him Sadam, Tempest and Nirva with her son. Hovering over them was Ira, jet black but for a hideous red grin. And his anger burned, his desire to put an end to them grew.
“Call them off Visgoth, take your spawn home or I shall put an end to them”, Patrick shouted.
The Lord Visgoth roared with laughter, his bull like head rocking back and his long forked tail swishing at the flies gathering on the field of death, “Do what you must do Colour Speaker, or are you empty words too?”. Marta gripped his arm as the mass of creeping, crawling creatures slithered nearer, flicking their tongues and spitting foul cries. The Sun Sword shook in his hand, eager to be at their throats and his left hand reached into his pocket for the Colour Stone.
He held the Stone up high, bathing the mountain side in crimson colour, “Behold the Colour Stone. I have come to return it to it’s rightful place and you and your filthy army shall not stop me”, he screamed and gave his soul over to the Sword.
With an earth shattering blast, the combined power of the sword and the stone erupted, cleaving the air with brilliant red fire, scorching the earth and uprooting trees. “Never again shall your poisonous beasts defile this land”, he screamed above the roar of the flames, “die and be gone forever”.
He lowered the sword and the stone and a deathly hush fell on that place. With the lustrous fire extinguished, he saw what he had done. His sight was perfect, every colour and every detail of destruction was plain for him to see. He stood alone on the field, staring across the pile of bodies at the grinning gods, unharmed and unshaken. By his side lay Marta and at his back the remnants of the army he had hoped to save. All dead.
He sank to his knees stunned by what he saw. In destitution he remained, unable to speak, unable to move and his tears made patterns through the dust on his cheeks.
Visgoth’s laughter reawakened his spirit, displacing grief with wrath. He got to his feet, striding purposefully over the dead to stand before the god, “You think you have won, but you have not Visgoth. I can destroy you just as easily”, he brandished the sword, “You shall not prevent me from returning the Stone to Eridu and if you try, I shall put an end to you too”, his eyes burned with passion and the sword flared matching his mood. The god of darkness grinned and stepped back out of Patrick’s way. He walked past them, keeping a wary eye open for any sudden movement. Only the grinning Ira moved, hovering close by. Patrick kept the sword pointed at the creature and made for the Gatehouse. He called Carrig to open the portal, but the gatekeeper did not respond.
“Carrig”, he yelled, “it is I, the Colour Speaker, I have returned with the Colour Stone”.
A thick set man appeared, his face grim, “The stone is set and the gate is sealed. You may not enter”.
Patrick backed away to look up at the parapet and the Mimicky sniggered, copying the Gatekeeper’s words.
His indignation burned like bile in his stomach and he waved the sword with a flourish. Five figures appeared beside the Gatekeeper and Ira flapped away skittishly. Horus looked down with a half smile.
“What do you want Colour Speaker?”.
Patrick was exasperated, “I have returned with the Colour Stone and this idiot says I cannot come in”.
“He is a servant of the gods, you should not malign him”.
“Then let me in”.
“That we cannot do”, the god smiled.
“You have nothing to fear Horus, the army of the Lord of Darkness is dead, the siege at an end. Let me in”, he demanded.
“No Patrick”.
“But I have the Colour Stone”, he held it up for all to see. It glowed with crimson light, “many have given their lives that the Stone may be restored to it’s rightful place and I will not let their deaths be in vain. Open the gate, or must I force you”.
Horus raised an eyebrow, “Do you threaten the gods Patrick?”.
“I do, and do not doubt me Horus, for I can destroy you”.
The Lord of the High Council smiled, “I do not doubt you for one moment Patrick. Every mortal has the ability to destroy his god, but when he has done so, what is left to him but an empty void.
“When we have gone, with what shall you replace us? A sword, or a stone that burns with the blood of your friends?”.
The gods turned and walked away to the cackle of the Mimicky.

Patrick stared after them, then looked at the small red stone pulsing in his palm like the torn out heart of a friend. His head reeled and he collapsed in a heap on the bloody field.

A bright rectangle of light assailed his senses towering above him and slightly to his right. His eyes were closed tight but the light forced its way through his eye lids and into his mind. He tried to force it out by turning away but the pain restrained him.
He seemed to be floating on his back and thought for a moment that it was all part of some magicians trick. At any moment a hoop would pass over his head, transcend to his feet and come back again. I know this one, he thought, I know how its done.
Shadows moved across the light, sounds moved with them and the cacophony intensified. Fear stole his heart once more. “Marta” he murmured.
“Michael, Michael his eyes moved. I swear I saw his eyes move”.
Michael Cormack leaned over the bed and studied his son’s face. “You imagined it sweetheart”.
“No”, she insisted, “I saw his eyes move”.
Western Marshes, I remember the Western Marshes. Mom is that you, his mind reeled.
“Look, look, he’s trying to speak”, her voice grew in excitement.
Michael reached for the buzzer and summoned the nurse.
Patrick’s eyes opened on the window where blessed sun light streamed through burning its joy on his soul.
“Patrick”, his mother sobbed, “Patrick you are going to be all right”.
A tear rolled down his cheek as his sister threw her arms around him and with the silent stream of tears his mind focused.
“Amy, I thought you were dead, I thought you were all dead”, he turned to look into his fathers moist eyes.
“No son, we thought you were dead. We dropped you at the museum and a few minutes later the car bomb went off. You took the full blast”. His mother smiled stroking her child’s pallid face, “but its alright now, we are all together again and everything is going to be fine”.
Patrick winced with pain and the nurse prepared a shot to ease his torment. As his sister took his hand, a small red marble dropped to the floor.

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