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Chapter 1

In the spaces of calm almost lost in what followed, the question of why tended to surface. Why them? There was an easy answer that had to do with Ysanne beside her lake, but that didn’t really address the deepest question. Kimberly, white-haired, would say when asked that she could sense a glimmered pattern when she looked back, but one need not be a Seer to use hindsight on the warp and weft of the Tapestry, and Kim, in any event, was a special case.

With only the professional faculties still in session, the quadrangles and shaded paths of the University of Toronto campus would normally have been deserted by the beginning of May, particularly on a Friday evening. That the largest of the open spaces was not, served to vindicate the judgement of the organizers of the Second International Celtic Conference. In adapting their timing to suit certain prominent speakers, the conference administrators had run the risk that a good portion of their potential audience would have left for the summer by the time they got under way.

At the brightly lit entrance to Convocation Hall, the besieged security guards might have wished this to be the case. An astonishing crowd of students and academics, bustling like a rock audience with pre-concert excitement, had gathered to hear the man for whom, principally, the late starting date had been arranged. Lorenzo Marcus was speaking and chairing a panel that night in the first public appearance ever for the reclusive genius, and it was going to be standing room only in the august precincts of the domed auditorium.

The guards searched out forbidden tape recorders and waved ticket-holders through with expressions benevolent or inimical, as their natures dictated. Bathed in the bright spill of light and pressed by the milling crowd, they did not see the dark figure that crouched in the shadows of the porch, just beyond the farthest circle of the lights.

For a moment the hidden creature observed the crowd, then it turned, swiftly and quite silently, and slipped around the side of the building. There, where the darkness was almost complete, it looked once over its shoulder and then, with unnatural agility, began to climb hand over hand up the outer wall of Convocation Hall. In a very little while the creature, which had neither ticket nor tape recorder, had come to rest beside a window set high in the dome above the hall. Looking down past the glittering chandeliers, it could see the audience and the stage, brightly lit and far below. Even at this height, and through the heavy glass, the electric murmur of sound in the hall could be heard. The creature, clinging to the arched window, allowed a smile of lean pleasure to flit across its features. Had any of the people in the highest gallery turned just then to admire the windows of the dome, they might have seen it, a dark shape against the night. But no one had any reason to look up, and no one did. On the outside of the dome the creature moved closer against the window pane and composed itself to wait. There was a good chance it would kill later that night. The prospect greatly facilitated patience and brought a certain anticipatory satisfaction, for it had been bred for such a purpose, and most creatures are pleased to do what their nature dictates.

Dave Martyniuk stood like a tall tree in the midst of the crowd that was swirling like leaves through the lobby. He was looking for his brother, and he was increasingly uncomfortable. It didn’t make him feel any better when he saw the stylish figure of Kevin Laine coming through the door with Paul Schafer and two women. Dave was in the process of turning away— he didn’t feel like being patronized just then—when he realized that Laine had seen him.

“Martyniuk! What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Laine. My brother’s on the panel.”

“Vince Martyniuk. Of course,” Kevin said. “He’s a bright man.”

“One in every family,” Dave cracked, somewhat sourly. He saw Paul Schafer give a crooked grin.

Kevin Laine laughed. “At least. But I’m being rude. You know Paul. This is Jennifer Lowell, and Kim Ford, my favorite doctor.”

“Hi,” Dave said, forced to shift his program to shake hands.

“This is Dave Martyniuk, people. He’s the center on our basketball team. Dave’s in third-year law here.”

“In that order?” Kim Ford teased, brushing a lock of brown hair back from her eyes. Dave was trying to think of a response when there was a movement in the crowd around them.

Dave! Sorry I’m late.” It was, finally, Vincent. “I have to get backstage fast. I may not be able to talk to you till tomorrow. Pleased to meet you”—to Kim, though he hadn’t been introduced. Vince bustled off, briefcase high front of him like the prow of a ship cleaving through the crowd.

“Your brother?” Kim Ford asked, somewhat unnecessarily.

“Yeah.” Dave was feeling sour again. Kevin Laine, he saw, had been accosted by some other friends and was evidently being witty.

If he headed back to the law school, Dave thought, he could still do a good three hours on Evidence before the library closed.

“Are you alone here?” Kim Ford asked.

“Yeah, but I—”

“Why don’t you sit with us, then?”

Dave, a little surprised at himself, followed Kim into the hall.

“Her,” the Dwarf said. And pointed directly across the auditorium to where Kimberly Ford was entering with a tall, broad-shouldered man. “She’s the one.”

The grey-bearded man beside him nodded slowly. They were standing, half hidden, in the wings of the stage, watching the audience pour in. “I think so,” he said worriedly. “I need five, though, Matt.”

“But only one for the circle. She came with three, and there is a fourth with them now. You have your five.”

“I have five,” the other man said. “Mine, I don’t know. If this were just for Metran’s jubilee stupidity it wouldn’t matter, but—”

“Loren, I know.” The Dwarf’s voice was surprisingly gentle. “But she is the one we were told of. My friend, if I could help you with your dreams…”

“You think me foolish?”

“I know better than that.”

The tall man turned away. His sharp gaze went across the room to where the five people his companion had indicated were sitting. One by one he focused on them, then his eyes locked on Paul Schafer’s face.

Sitting between Jennifer and Dave, Paul was glancing around the hall, only half listening to the chairman’s fulsome introduction of the evening’s keynote speaker, when he was hit by the probe.

The light and sound in the room faded completely. He felt a great darkness. There was a forest, a corridor of whispering trees, shrouded in mist. Starlight in the space above the trees. Somehow he knew that the moon was about to rise, and when it rose…

He was in it. The hall was gone. There was no wind in the darkness, but still the trees were whispering, and it was more than just a sound. The immersion was complete, and within some hidden recess Paul confronted the terrible, haunted eyes of a dog or a wolf. Then the vision fragmented, images whipping past, chaotic, myriad, too fast to hold, except for one: a tall man standing in darkness, and upon his head the great, curved antlers of a stag.

Then it broke: sharp, wildly disorienting. His eyes, scarcely able to focus, swept across the room until they found a tall, grey-bearded man on the side of the stage. A man who spoke briefly to someone next to him, and then walked smiling to the lectern amid thunderous applause.

“Set it up, Matt,” the grey-bearded man had said. “We will take them if we can.”

“He was good, Kim. You were right,” Jennifer Lowell said. They were standing by their seats, waiting for the exiting crowd to thin. Kim Ford was flushed with excitement.

“Wasn’t he?” she asked them all, rhetorically. “What a terrific speaker!”

“Your brother was quite good, I thought,” Paul Schafer said to Dave quietly.

Surprised, Dave grunted noncommittally, then remembered something. “You feeling okay?”

Paul looked blank a moment, then grimaced. “You, too? I’m fine. I just needed a day’s rest. I’m more or less over the mono.” Dave, looking at him, wasn’t so sure. None of his business, though, if Schafer wanted to kill himself playing basketball. He’d played a football game with broken ribs once. You survived.

Kim was talking again. “I’d love to meet him, you know.” She looked wistfully at the knot of autograph-seekers surrounding Marcus.

“So would I, actually,” said Paul softly. Kevin shot him a questioning look.

“Dave,” Kim went on, “your brother couldn’t get us into that reception, could he?”

Dave was beginning the obvious reply when a deep voice rode in over him.

“Excuse me, please, for intruding.” A figure little more than four feet tall, with a patch over one eye, had come up beside them. “My name,” he said, in an accent Dave couldn’t place, “is Matt S"oren. I am Dr. Marcus’s secretary. I could not help but overhear the young lady’s remark. May I tell you a secret?” He paused. “Dr. Marcus has no desire at all to attend the planned reception. With all respect,” he said, turning to Dave, “to your very learned brother.”

Jennifer saw Kevin Laine begin to turn himself on. Performance time, she thought, and smiled to herself. Laughing, Kevin took charge. “You want us to spirit him away?”

The Dwarf blinked, then a basso chuckle reverberated in his chest. “You are quick, my friend. Yes, indeed, I think he would enjoy that very much.” Kevin looked at Paul Schafer. “A plot,” Jennifer whispered. “Hatch us a plot, gentlemen!”

“Easy enough,” Kevin said, after some quick reflection. “As of this moment, Kim’s his niece. He wants to see her. Family before functions.” He waited for Paul’s approval.

“Good,” Matt S"oren said. “And very simple. Will you come with me then to fetch your… ah… uncle?”

“Of course I will!” Kim laughed. “Haven’t seen him in ages.” She walked off with the Dwarf towards the tangle of people around Lorenzo Marcus at the front of the hall.

“Well,” Dave said, “I think I’ll be moving along.”

“Oh, Martyniuk,” Kevin exploded, “don’t be such a legal drip! This guy’s world-famous. He’s a legend. You can study for Evidence tomorrow. Look, come to my office in the afternoon and I’ll dig up my old exam notes for you.”

Dave froze. Kevin Laine, he knew all too well, had won the award in Evidence two years before, along with an armful of other prizes.

Jennifer, watching him hesitate, felt an impulse of sympathy. There was a lot eating this guy, she thought, and Kevin’s manner didn’t help. It was so hard for some people to get past the flashiness to see what was underneath. And against her will, for Jennifer had her own defences, she found herself remembering what love-making used to do to him.

“Hey, people! I want you to meet someone.” Kim’s voice knifed into her thoughts. She had her arm looped possessively through that of the tall lecturer, who beamed benignly down upon her. “This is my Uncle Lorenzo. Uncle, my room-mate Jennifer, Kevin and Paul, and this is Dave.”

Marcus’s dark eyes flashed. “I am,” he said, “more pleased to meet you than you could know. You have rescued me from an exceptionally dreary evening. Will you join us for a drink at our hotel? We’re at the Park Plaza, Matt and I.”

“With pleasure, sir,” Kevin said. He waited for a beat. “And we’ll try hard not to be dreary.” Marcus lifted an eyebrow.

A cluster of academics watched with intense frustration in their eyes as the seven of them swept out of the hall together and into the cool, cloudless night.

And another pair of eyes watched as well, from the deep shadows under the porch pillars of Convocation Hall. Eyes that reflected the light, and did not blink.

It was a short walk, and a pleasant one. Across the wide central green of the campus, then along the dark winding path known as Philosopher’s Walk that twisted, with gentle slopes on either side, behind the law school, the Faculty of Music, and the massive edifice of the Royal Ontario Museum, where the dinosaur bones preserved their long silence. It was a route that Paul Schafer had been carefully avoiding for the better part of the past year.

He slowed a little, to detach himself from the others. Up ahead, in the shadows, Kevin, Kim, and Lorenzo Marcus were weaving a baroque fantasy of improbable entanglements between the clans Ford and Marcus, with a few of Kevin’s remoter Russian ancestors thrown into the mix by marriage. Jennifer, on Marcus’s left arm, was urging them on with her laughter, while Dave Martyniuk loped silently along on the grass beside the walkway, looking a little out of place. Matt S"oren, quietly companionable, had slowed his pace to fall into stride with Paul. Schafer, however, withdrawing, could feel the conversation and laughter sliding into background. The sensation was a familiar one of late, and after a while it was as if he were walking alone.

Which may have been why, partway along the path, he became aware of something to which the others were oblivious. It pulled him sharply out of reverie, and he walked a short distance in a different sort of silence before turning to the Dwarf beside him.

“Is there any reason,” he asked, very softly, “why the two of you would be followed?”

Matt S"oren broke stride only momentarily. He took a deep breath. “Where?” he asked, in a voice equally low.

“Behind us, to the left. Slope of the hill. Is there a reason?”

“There may be. Would you keep walking, please? And say nothing for now—it may be nothing.” When Paul hesitated, the Dwarf gripped his arm. “Please?” he repeated. Schafer, after a moment, nodded and quickened his pace to catch up to the group now several yards ahead. The mood by then was hilarious and very loud. Only Paul, listening for it, heard the sharp, abruptly truncated cry from the darkness behind them. He blinked, but no expression crossed his face.

Matt S"oren rejoined them just as they reached the end of the shadowed walkway and came out to the noise and bright lights of Bloor Street. Ahead lay the huge stone pile of the old Park Plaza hotel. Before they crossed the road he placed a hand again on Schafer’s arm. “Thank you,” said the Dwarf.

“Well,” said Lorenzo Marcus, as they settled into chairs in his sixteenth-floor suite, “why don’t you all tell me about yourselves? Yourselves,” he repeated, raising an admonitory finger at grinning Kevin.

“Why don’t you start?” Marcus went on, turning to Kim. “What are you studying?”

Kim acquiesced with some grace. “Well, I’m just finishing my interning year at—”

“Hold it, Kim.”

It was Paul. Ignoring a fierce look from the Dwarf, he levelled his eyes on their host. “Sorry, Dr. Marcus. I’ve got some questions of my own and I need answers now, or we’re all going home.”

“Paul, what the—”

“No, Kev. Listen a minute.” They were all staring at Schafer’s pale, intense features. “Something very strange is happening here. I want to know,” he said to Marcus, “why you were so anxious to cut us out of that crowd. Why you sent your friend to set it up. I want to know what you did to me in the auditorium. And I really want to know why we were followed on the way over here.”

Followed?” The shock registering on Lorenzo Marcus’s face was manifestly unfeigned.

“That’s right,” Paul said, “and I want to know what it was, too.”

“Matt?” Marcus asked, in a whisper.

The Dwarf fixed Paul Schafer with a long stare.

Paul met the glance. “Our priorities,” he said, “can’t be the same in this.” After a moment, Matt S"oren nodded and turned to Marcus.

“Friends from home,” he said. “It seems there are those who want to know exactly what you are doing when you… travel.”

“Friends?” Lorenzo Marcus asked.

“I speak loosely. Very loosely.”

There was a silence. Marcus leaned back in his armchair, stroking the grey beard. He closed his eyes.

“This isn’t how I would have chosen to begin,” he said at length, “but it may be for the best after all.” He turned to Paul. “I owe you an apology. Earlier this evening I subjected you to something we call a searching. It doesn’t always work. Some have defences against it and with others, such as yourself, it seems, strange things can happen. What took place between us unsettled me as well.”

Paul’s eyes, more blue than grey in the lamplight, were astonishingly unsurprised. “I’ll need to talk about what we saw,” he said to Lorenzo Marcus, “but the thing is, why did you do it in the first place?”

And so they were there. Kevin, leaning forward, every sense sharpened, saw Lorenzo Marcus draw a deep breath, and he had a flash image in that instant of his own life poised on the edge of an abyss.

“Because,” Lorenzo Marcus said, “you were quite right, Paul Schafer—I didn’t just want to escape a boring reception tonight. I need you. The five of you.”

“We’re not five.” Dave’s heavy voice crashed in. “I’ve got nothing to do with these people.”

“You are too quick to renounce friendship, Dave Martyniuk,” Marcus snapped back. “But,” he went on, more gently, after a frozen instant, “it doesn’t matter here—and to make you see why, I must try to explain. Which is harder than it would have been once.” He hesitated, hand at his beard again.

“You aren’t Lorenzo Marcus, are you?” Paul said, very quietly.

In the stillness, the tall man turned to him again. “Why do you say that?”

Paul shrugged. “Am I right?”

“That searching truly was a mistake. Yes,” said their host, “you are right.” Dave was looking from Paul to the speaker with hostile incredulity. “Although I am Marcus, in a way—as much as anyone is. There is no one else. But Marcus is not who I am.”

“And who are you?” It was Kim who asked. And was answered in a voice suddenly deep as a spell.

“My name is Loren. Men call me Silvercloak. I am a mage. My friend is Matt S"oren, who was once King of the Dwarves. We come from Paras Derval, where Ailell reigns, in a world that is not your own.”

In the stone silence that followed this, Kevin Laine, who had chased an elusive image down all the nights of his life, felt an astonishing turbulence rising in his heart. There was a power woven into the old man’s voice, and that, as much as the words, reached through to him.

“Almighty God,” he whispered. “Paul, how did you know?”

“Wait a second! You believe this?” It was Dave Martyniuk, all bristling belligerence. “I’ve never heard anything so crack-brained in my life!” He put his drink down and was halfway to the door in two long strides.

“Dave, please!”

It stopped him. Dave turned slowly in the middle of the room to face Jennifer Lowell. “Don’t go,” she pleaded. “He said he needed us.”

Her eyes, he noticed for the first time, were green. He shook his head. “Why do you care?”

“Didn’t you hear it?” she replied. “Didn’t you feel anything?”

He wasn’t about to tell these people what he had or hadn’t heard in the old man’s voice, but before he could make that clear, Kevin Laine spoke.

“Dave, we can afford to hear him out. If there’s danger or it’s really wild, we can run away after.”

He heard the goad in the words, and the implication. He didn’t rise to it, though. Never turning from Jennifer, he walked over and sat beside her on the couch. Didn’t even look at Kevin Laine.

There was a silence, and she was the one who broke it. “Now, Dr. Marcus, or whatever you prefer to be called, we’ll listen. But please explain. Because I’m frightened now.”

It is not known whether Loren Silvercloak had a vision then of what the future held for Jennifer, but he bestowed upon her a look as tender as he could give, from a nature storm-tossed, but still more giving, perhaps, than anything else. And then he began the tale.

“There are many worlds,” he said, “caught in the loops and whorls of time. Seldom do they intersect, and so for the most part they are unknown to each other. Only in Fionavar, the prime creation, which all the others imperfectly reflect, is the lore gathered and preserved that tells of how to bridge the worlds—and even there the years have not dealt kindly with ancient wisdom. We have made the crossing before, Matt and I, but always with difficulty, for much is lost, even in Fionavar.”

“How? Haw do you cross?” It was Kevin.

“It is easiest to call it magic, though there is more involved than spells.”

“Your magic?” Kevin continued.

“I am a mage, yes,” Loren said. “The crossing was mine. And so, too, if you come, will be the return.”

“This is ridiculous!” Martyniuk exploded again. This time he would not look at Jennifer. “Magic. Crossings. Show me something! Talk is cheap, and I don’t believe a word of this.”

Loren stared coldly at Dave. Kim, seeing it, caught her breath. But then the severe face creased in a sudden smile. The eyes, improbably, danced. “You’re right,” he said. “It is much the simplest way. Look, then.”

There was silence in the room for almost ten seconds. Kevin saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the Dwarf, too, had gone very still. What’ll it be, he thought.

They saw a castle.

Where Dave Martyniuk had stood moments before, there appeared battlements and towers, a garden, a central courtyard, an open square before the walls, and on the very highest rampart a banner somehow blowing in a non-existent breeze: and on the banner Kevin saw a crescent moon above a spreading tree.

“Paras Derval,” Loren said softly, gazing at his own artifice with an expression almost wistful, “in Brennin, High Kingdom of Fionavar. Mark the flags in the great square before the palace. They are there for the coming celebration, because the eighth day past the full of the moon this month will end the fifth decade of Ailell’s reign.”

“And us?” Kimberly’s voice was parchment-thin. “Where do we fit in?”

A wry smile softened the lines of Loren’s face. “Not heroically, I’m afraid, though there is pleasure in this for you, I hope. A great deal is being done to celebrate the anniversary. There has been a long spring drought in Brennin, and it has been deemed politic to give the people something to cheer about. And I daresay there is reason for it. At any rate, Metran, First Mage to Ailell, has decided that the gift to him and to the people from the Council of the Mages will be to bring five people from another world—one for each decade of the reign—to join us for the festival fortnight.”

Kevin Laine laughed aloud. “Red Indians to the Court of King James?”

With a gesture almost casual, Loren dissolved the apparition in the middle of the room. “I’m afraid there’s some truth to that. Metran’s ideas… he is First of my Council, but I daresay I need not always agree with him.”

“You’re here,” Paul said.

“I wanted to try another crossing in any case,” Loren replied quickly. “It has been a long time since last I was in your world as Lorenzo Marcus.”

“Have I got this straight?” Kim asked. “You want us to cross with you somehow to your world, and then you’ll bring us back?”

“Basically, yes. You will be with us for two weeks, perhaps, but when we return I will have you back in this room within a few hours of when we departed.”

“Well,” said Kevin, with a sly grin, “that should get you, Martyniuk, for sure. Just think, Dave, two extra weeks to study for Evidence!”

Dave flushed bright red, as the room broke up in a release of tension.

“I’m in, Loren Silvercloak,” said Kevin Laine, as they quieted. And so became the first. He managed a grin. “I’ve always wanted to wear war-paint to court. When’s take-off?”

Loren looked at him steadily. “Tomorrow. Early evening, if we are to time it properly. I will not ask you to decide now. Think for the rest of tonight, and tomorrow. If you will come with me, be here by late afternoon.”

“What about you? What if we don’t come?” Kim’s forehead was creased with the vertical line that always showed when she was under stress.

Loren seemed disconcerted by the question. “If that happens, I fail. It has happened before. Don’t worry about me… niece.” It was remarkable what a smile did to his face. “Shall we leave it at that?” he went on, as Kim’s eyes still registered an unresolved concern. “If you decide to come, be here tomorrow. I will be waiting.”

“One thing.” It was Paul again. “I’m sorry to keep asking the unpleasant questions, but we still don’t know what that thing was on Philosophers’ Walk.”

Dave had forgotten. Jennifer hadn’t. They both looked at Loren. At length he answered, speaking directly to Paul. “There is magic in Fionavar. I have shown you something of it, even here. There are also creatures, of good and evil, who co-exist with humankind. Your own world, too, was once like this, though it has been drifting from the pattern for a long time now. The legends of which I spoke in the auditorium tonight are echoes, scarcely understood, of mornings when man did not walk alone, and other beings, both friend and foe, moved in the forests and the hills.” He paused. “What followed us was one of the svart alfar, I think. Am I right, Matt?”

The Dwarf nodded, without speaking.

“The svarts,” Loren went on, “are a malicious race, and have done great evil in their time. There are few of them left. This one, braver than most, it would seem, somehow followed Matt and me through on our crossing. They are ugly creatures, and sometimes dangerous, though usually only in numbers. This one, I suspect, is dead.” He looked to Matt again.

Once more the Dwarf nodded from where he stood by the door.

“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” Jennifer said.

The mage’s eyes, deep-set, were again curiously tender as he looked at her. “I’m sorry you have been frightened this evening. Will you accept my assurance that, unsettling as they may sound, the svarts need not be of concern to you?” He paused, his gaze holding hers. “I would not have you do anything that goes against your nature. I have extended to you an invitation, no more. You may find it easier to decide after leaving us.” He rose to his feet.

Another kind of power. A man accustomed to command, Kevin thought a few moments later, as the five of them found themselves outside the door of the room. They made their way down the hall to the elevator.

Matt S"oren closed the door behind them.

“How bad is it?” Loren asked sharply.

The Dwarf grimaced, “Not very. I was careless.”

“A knife?” The mage was quickly helping his friend to remove the scaled-down jacket he wore.

“I wish. Teeth, actually.” Loren cursed in sudden anger when the jacket finally slipped off to reveal the dark, heavily clotted blood staining the shirt on the Dwarf’s left shoulder. He began gently tearing the cloth away from around the wound, swearing under his breath the whole time.

“It isn’t so bad, Loren. Be easy. And you must admit I was clever to take the jacket off before going after him.”

“Very clever, yes. Which is just as well, because my own stupidity of late is terrifying me! How in the name of Conall Cernach could I let a svart alfar come through with us?” He left the room with swift strides and returned a moment later with towels soaked in hot water.

The Dwarf endured the cleansing of his wound in silence. When the dried blood was washed away, the teeth marks could be seen, purple and very deep.

Loren examined it closely. “This is bad, my friend. Are you strong enough to help me heal it? We could have Metran or Teyrnon do it tomorrow, but I’d rather not wait.”

“Go ahead.” Matt closed his eyes.

The mage paused a moment, then carefully placed a hand above the wound. He spoke a word softly, then another. And beneath his long fingers the swelling on the Dwarf’s shoulder began slowly to recede. When he finished, though, the face of Matt S"oren was bathed in a sheen of perspiration. With his good arm Matt reached for a towel and wiped his forehead.

“All right?” Loren asked.

“Just fine.”

“Just fine!” the mage mimicked angrily. “It would help, you know, if you didn’t always play the silent hero! How am I supposed to know when you’re really hurting if you always give me the same answer?”

The Dwarf fixed Loren with his one dark eye, and there was a trace of amusement in his face. “You aren’t,” he said. “You aren’t supposed to know.”

Loren made a gesture of ultimate exasperation, and left the room again, returning with a shirt of his own, which he began cutting into strips.

“Loren, don’t blame yourself for letting the svart come through. You couldn’t have done anything.”

“Don’t be a fool! I should have been aware of its presence as soon as it tried to come within the circle.”

“I’m very seldom foolish, my friend.” The Dwarf’s tone was mild. “You couldn’t have known, because it was wearing this when I killed it.” S"oren reached into his right trouser pocket and pulled out an object that he held up in his palm. It was a bracelet, of delicate silver workmanship, and set within it was a gem, green like an emerald.

“A vellin stone!” Loren Silvercloak whispered in dismay. “So it would have been shielded from me. Matt, someone gave a vellin to a svart alfar.”

“So it would seem,” the Dwarf agreed.

The mage was silent; he attended to the bandaging of Matt’s shoulder with quick, skilled hands. When that was finished he walked, still wordless, to the window. He opened it, and a late-night breeze fluttered the white curtains. Loren gazed down at the few cars moving along the street far below.

“These five people,” he said at last, still looking down. “What am I taking them back to? Do I have any right?”

The Dwarf didn’t answer.

After a moment, Loren spoke again, almost to himself. “I left so much out.”

“You did.”

“Did I do wrong?”

“Perhaps. But you are seldom wrong in these things. Nor is Ysanne. If you feel they are needed—”

“But I don’t know what for! I don’t know how. It is only her dreams, my premonitions…”

“Then trust yourself. Trust your premonitions. The girl is a hook, and the other one, Paul—”

“He is another thing. I don’t know what.”

“But something. You’ve been troubled for a long time, my friend. And I don’t think needlessly.”

The mage turned from the window to look at the other man. “I’m afraid you may be right. Matt, who would have us followed here?”

“Someone who wants you to fail in this. Which should tell us something.”

Loren nodded abstractedly. “But who,” he went on, looking at the green-stoned bracelet that the Dwarf still held, “who would ever give such a treasure into the hands of a svart alfar?”

The Dwarf looked down at the stone for a very long time as well before answering.

“Someone who wants you dead,” Matt S"oren said.

OVERTURE | The Summer Tree | Chapter 2