Second verse, same as the first, could get better but just might get worse. Another story for Grace. I’m getting pretty sick of writing action underground, TBH. One short passage borrowed from the sublime Karen Miller for Erin to spot. One cameo by an old friend for Rachel to spot.
I warned you, didn’t I, that we were not through with Baral Favain the Shendi Prince? Well, here he comes again, striding across the pages wherein his name is writ large. Can you see him yet? Over the plains he comes, in long, fast paces like Aragorn the hero, with his dark mantle flying out behind him in the wind, and red-gold hair to his shoulders, all tousled. Baral Favain’s fiery gray eyes warn any who see him, wizard; the fine warm cloth of his mantle proclaims prince; while the coat of mail glinting under his gold-blazoned blue surcoat, and the war sword with the jeweled hilt, slung across his back, cry warrior.
This is how he appeared when he came to the Petir farm, some three days after the terrible sandstorm when he met Olik Petir, the son of this humble house. Running out from feeding the milk-beast in the barn when he heard Baral Favain’s deep-voiced hail, Olik Petir, hands still dirty and hair still stuck with straw, dashed forward and flung his arms about the Shendi prince’s waist in greeting. Almost at once he jumped back, for he had cut himself on the naked dagger that hung on the sheath of the war sword. Gently, the prince took the boy’s hand to examine the cut, and, muttering some foreign words over it, caused the wound to heal as soon as it had been made.
“Thou art altogether too hasty, friend Olik Petir,” he chided. “An I meant thee harm, what then?”
“You can mean no harm to me,” smiled the boy saucily. “I have eaten of your salt with you, is it not so?”
“Ay. No harm shall come to thee or thine from Baral Favain while he chooses in the matter. But beside that, it is not well to embrace armed men at thy gates. Better to ask them their business.”
“I know your business here,” Olik Petir returned. “You have read in your book and come to give me news of my father.”
At these words Baral Favain grew sad. Laying his hands on his young friend’s shoulders, he whispered, “I have read, and I have seen. Thy father’s danger is great, and he is near to death. So I have come to give thee and thy mother these news before I depart to find him, and to bid thee pray to thy god I may be in time.”
Olik Petir looked into Baral Favain’s eyes, and perceived that they ran with tears, and that the man was wholly truthful. As he stood a little straighter, the boy set his hand to the pommel of the knife at his belt, and raised his chin with the pride of a boy who does not know the danger he courts.
Firmly, he said, “I will come. Let me bid my mother farewell.”
“Thou hast not a warrior’s equipment or training,” noted Baral Favain, “and thy mother would be sore distressed an I lost her son instead of finding her husband. No. I go alone. Pray, and watch for my return.”
And Baral Favain strode forth from the gates of the farm, without a single glance back to where Olik Petir stood in the barnyard, trying to stem his tears of frustration. Until the prince was gone over the horizon, the boy kept his vigil.
For many days across the plains Baral Favain forged on. Lying between him and the mountains north was a twisted web of forest, swamp, and rolling green hill-country, interspersed with miles of mapless level prairie to form a weary knotted barrier it would take great perseverance to traverse. And in the mountains themselves lived things even storytellers only spoke of after the children were sent to bed.
At long last Baral Favain came to the hard line where the coarse grass of the foothills gave way to the dark stone of the mountains, and turned his tireless pacing eastward to follow the line to the gate of the caves below. Grim and determined, his dangerous look cowed the caverns’ fluttering guardians into crannies about the gates, and none dared bar the Shendi prince’s way.
Throughout the labyrinth, torches burned with the black flame of goblin-lights, and the scarlet smoke of their burning plumed ever upwards to cast a dim, bloody light over the craggy passages. Wheresoever Baral Favain sought, he found no trace of the hobgoblins’ prisoners, no sign he was near to the finding of Sandrik Petir. Deeper into the house of the trolls stormed Baral Favain, and the Wilii, the broken hearts of girls killed on their wedding’s eve, sighed despondently about him, sighs as of the sepris-tree breeze in the graveyard under a new moon. Baral… Baral Favain… in vain Baral Favain in vain you search in vain Baral Favain you search in vain… in vain… they breathed in his ears, laying insubstantial hands to his cloak, his mailcoat, his sword.
“Enough. Thou hast no claim to me. Get thee gone!” He flung off their soft, insidious fingers, tossing the misty veils of their never-worn wedding finery to blend with the smoke in the peak of the arched tunnel, and snatched one of the smoking torches from the wall.
Disdaining the directions offered by a creeping scuttling white denizen of the maze, a creature with huge glowing eyes and a hissing, whispering, self-pitying voice, Baral Favain went ever deeper, always choosing the steepest descent visible to him in the deathly light of his torch, until at long last he emerged into the huge cavern where the goblins dwelt.
They were a fearful, beastly people, afraid of the other tenants of their surly mountains, and kept to known paths and lighted caverns. Baral Favain drew his sword. In the dull light of the cave, the great green stone set in the pommel flashed live and dangerous, and a current of silver gleaming flickered on the shining blade of the prince’s sharp war-sword. Advancing on the dais at the head of the hall, Baral Favain thrust his sword’s point in the distorted face of the ruler of the goblins.
“Thou knowest me, son of creeping darkness,” he said softly. “Thou hast met me before and suffered of the meeting. An thou wouldst save thy miserable hide that is not worth the time I would spend to gut it, thou wilt bring me Sandrik Petir the southerner. Now.”
“Ay – ay, o lord , friend of T’Narxai! Ay!” gibbered the gnome in a paroxysm of terror. “You – slave – bring him.”
One of the wretched overlanders who had once crawled or crept or stumbled into the caves, and been enslaved there, hastened away into the darkness behind the king’s throne. At the flabby throat of the goblin lord, Baral Favain’s sword never wavered, and the green gem flamed pure and clean in the noisome smoke of the torches. Both the prince’s hands were tight upon his sword-hilt, and his steely eyes bored into the goblin, daring him to rebel.
Sandrik Petir was brought, and tossed by two stout, soft-footed, hideous goblin-trolls to the granite floor at Baral Favain’s feet. Sparing a hand for a moment, the prince helped the man to rise, and turned to speak to the assembled crowd of hobs, ignoring their leader where he shuddered with fear in his stone chair.
“Let me not hear of thy dragging more good folk to thy foul dens, for my sword is thirsty for black goblin blood. An any of thee durst venture forth from the mountains or trouble any again, I will return that my blade may drink its fill. Be grateful I am an even-tempered man, and that this escapade does not cost thee all thy miserable dark lives,” Baral Favain warned the mountain-dwellers, the steel in his voice only matched as to danger by the steel in his hand.
“Ay – lord Baral Favain, we are grateful!” the king hob howled in panic. “Leave, take who you will and leave us in peace!” But as he spoke his clammy, clinging hands urged his people to creep forth and attack the Shendi prince as he stood tall and proud in the smoke of the guttering lights.
With a smooth flicker of his strong hands, Baral Favain drew the smaller sword he carried from its sheath under his cloak, and tossed it to Sandrik Petir.
“Thy son Olik Petir says thou are a warrior. Fight that thou and I may tell him he was not mistaken.” And they fought back to back as brothers in arms, and those underdwellers whose skulls remained uncleft fled screaming into the night of the tunnels, ever after to fear the steel of the south. The two swords flashed and flickered like two tongues of white fire, and as the silver shone, Sandrik Petir straightened to his full height, and his eyes grew bright and blue as he shook off his long imprisonment.
The two men fought their way past the gibbering goblins, and with every stroke Sandrik Petir became more clearly a soldier of might, his face alight with the joy of battle, oblivious to Baral Favain, except in sublime confidence that the other warrior guarded his back. The prince was worth watching, though, wielding his sword like an elemental force of nature, as though the blade were a living extension of himself, indivisible from his own flesh and blood. All trace of exhaustion was wiped clean from him; his energy seemed limitless as he leaped and twisted and spun, no motion of the silver sword wasted as it swept through the shadows.
As they carried on the fight up the winding passages, the goblins dropped away, until at last the swords were carried idle but unsheathed. The Wilii did not bother them, and the darkness itself grew thin and insubstantial. At the mountain-gates Baral Favain turned to Sandrik Petir and smiled.
“Well fought, friend. Thou are a warrior I should not like to meet as my enemy.”
Gazing again at the open plain and the broad clear line from west to east along the edge of the sky, Sandrik Petir took a deep breath of the crisp cool air. When he had cleaned his lungs from the fug of the caverns and was all himself again, he made as to return the Baral Favain’s sword. But the prince shook his fiery head and handed his companion the sheath and sword-belt.
“Keep it. Thou hast lost thine in the caverns – and I need no other than my war-sword Nataz.”
Together they sojourned again to the warm south, and Baral Favain spoke to the trees and to the hard ground under the swamps as they walked, and these parted and raised up accordingly, to ease the way of the homecoming heroes.
When they were yet a great way off from the dwelling of Sandrik Petir, his son Olik Petir saw them, and ran to them, and laughing said to the prince, “O armed man at my gates, what is your business here? See, I do as my friend Baral Favain bids me!”
“My business is to bring thee thy father home,” quoth Baral Favain, and his grey eyes laughed also. “Though I am glad thy lesson is well learned.”
Olik Petir embraced his father, and they would have had Baral Favain accompany them to the house that all might be glad together, but the Shendi prince demurred.
“Nay. This is thy joy in which I have no part. Beside, I have neglected my house and livestock and must needs home. But an thou needest me again, send me word by the north wind, and I will come to thee.”
And Baral Favain went away across the plain to his house in the hills, and Olik Petir and his mother were glad of Sandrik Petir’s return to them.