As the procession from the town of Elum bore the three Pentarch sailors up the Grand Path toward the walls of the citadel, watchers on the walls greeted their party in song. The song was a minor optional part of the Dark Dance Cycle, often not played at all in the Grand Plaza or Temple Chambers, but was a favorite of the waits. It told of young Delrin in Old Abdazon watching the loading of her father’s caravans, and of the several times she disguised herself to try to stowaway.
The townspeople of Elum, of course, sang their parts in response, knowing all the songs and tales, serving so closely the Temple Mount as a function of their lives since immemorial generations — since Elum swam across the Bay of Erasure and founded the village; a tale to which we soon return…
On passing the Tonic Gate of the Citadel, the Pentarch sailors became aware of a thrum just below the level of consciousness. A held tension, a barest audible vibration, as of a bow drawing slowly, slowly across a string — a note sweet, and rich, but at once full with sorrow.
And as they rounded a corner within the first wall of the Citadel, and passed through the Minor Gate, that tone of sorrow broke forth as if buds in thawing spring, into a sweet sadness of memory. At the far end of the Grand Plaza, was an elevated platform, behind which great acoustic curves framed a young and beautiful female singer, dressed all in black, with flowers pinned throughout her voluminous gowns. The voice of Delrin.
Where we last left Delrin and her company, they had passed the Threx Gate, whereupon the animal familiars who had played such a vital role in her youth bade her farewell as she left the Cyrcic Cleft to find a fate far away — or so her father hoped — from what cruel destiny might have in store.
Delrin was always the kind to make her own destiny though. And despite her awareness, knew nothing of her father’s mad marriage deal with the magician Morbat on the Great Bridge in the year before her fortuitous birth. The task now set out for her by her father, as she knew it, was to visit Threx, and negotiate a trade deal and safe passage with certain mariners heading for the Buorth.
The Forest Road though, which connected Threx to its gate down into the Cyrcic Cleft was a long one. It skirted most of that time the Great Forest, the largest and oldest growth in all of Ancient Quatria. It was a wild, untamed land, not formally allied with Threx, Sheb, Abdazon, Centuria, nor any other that Delrin had ever heard of. There were only the autonomous Forest Villages, of which there were an uncertain number and unknown diversity.
For the woods were inhabited, some would say haunted as well, by not only humans, but by other entities born — or wrought — in the far reaches of time. Not all of them friendly. So despite her deep woodlore and love for sylvan creatures, her father had forbade her from singing as they passed along the edges of that forest, in order to prevent any undue attention. They were not to venture into the forest, under any circumstances. This sounded utterly boring to her, but she did promise to her father to humbly obey as they embraced in farewell.
“It’s for your own good.”
“I know,” she said, and waved both he and her mother goodbye.
The first three days on the Forest Road were uneventful. Delrin and her three companion-guards walked at a brisk, but leisurely pace. They did not tarry long for meals or breaks, and spoke precious little among themselves in the shadow of that great wood. They kept simple camp, and the weather was good.
On the third night, Delrin awoke to a sound from the wood. An owl, calling soft and low. She looked round at her three guards, who had all fallen asleep, and got up from her bedroll. They did not camp close to the wood edge, but off aways in the meadows where they could see more clearly approaches from all directions. So Delrin had to steal away quietly and make her way closer to the wood’s edge. The owl hooted again. She squinted to try to see it, held her hands up in front of her in the dark to try to sense it. She let out a low, barely audible hoo of her own. She was quite close to the edge of the trees now, and not afraid.
All at once, there was a rush of movement, and a flash of white, and the bird was almost upon her. She held up her arms out of instinct, as the giant face floated for a second in front of her, huge round orange eyes, and whooshed up high above and away. She was so caught up in looking after its moonlit flight through the starry sky, that she was caught unawares when a human voice greeted her.
“Sorry about that.”
She startled and turned to see a handsome young man, dressed in the greens and browns of a hunter, a bow strung across his shoulders.
“I think she likes you,” he said, pointing up to the bird, who circled back then, as he let out a low call. It came and alighted on his gloved arm.
“Her name is Lux, and mine is Elum.”