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They woke early, ate a light breakfast and set off to see Blain. In the light of the bright sunny day they saw that Melda's cottage was one of a number of similar cottages making up a large town called Seasideton. The town was coastal, Melda's cottage being very near the beach. The wood they had emerged from had been to the south of the town and they were heading inland, northwest, towards Blain's dwelling some distance away.
They passed through the Seasideton high street making a mental note of where the Tavern, The Hairy Hog, was. They saw various shops including a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a clothes shop, a general provisioning store and a weapon shop. The shop owners waved cheery good mornings as they opened up for the days trade. Horses were tethered to a rail outside the post office and as they passed a rider was departing to deliver mail to distant parts of the land.
Looking to the distance Feils warned them that a storm was approaching. Des and Di looked up and then at each other a little puzzled. The sky was clear blue with not a cloud in sight. Feils just gave a knowing smile and they continued on. Five minutes later a cold southerly wind had risen and in spite of the warm cloaks provided by Melda, they were soon chilled to the bone. It wasn't long before the first flakes of snow fluttered down soon developing into a shower.
"Don't worry," shouted Feils over the wind, "we're almost there!" The buildings began to thin out and were set further and further apart, they had reached the outskirts of the town. A short while later they stood in front of a virtual replica of the cottage they had just left. The cottage stood alone with no near neighbours. Feils stepped up to the door and knocked.
"Come in." said a quiet yet strong voice. Pushing the door open, Feils led the way in. They found Blain sitting crossed-legged staring into his fire. The fire was blue and did not seem to generate much heat; but it was not cold in the room.
"I've been expecting you for a long time and quite frankly I was beginning to think you wouldn't turn up." He said without turning, "Please, sit down."
"But how could you...." began Des but Feils' silenced him by raising his hand. He motioned them to sit, then did likewise.
Blain, remaining seated, turned to face them. They found themselves looking in to clear, golden eyes, brimming with wisdom and set in a brown, leathery, wrinkled old face. Looking at his gaunt spare frame, Des wondered that such a frail person could possess such a strong voice and exude such an aura of immense power.
"Appearances can be deceptive can't they?" asked Blain suddenly with a smile. It was a moment before Des realised that he was the one being addressed.
"Well...yes...maybe...er..."he tried to reply. Blain dismissed his efforts with a kindly chuckle.
"No matter." he continued. "Welcome Desmond Mujeni and Diane Sullivan. I am Blain Olturan, High Magus and chief of the Great Magi, one of the few left in this world. Once we were many, but now, thanks to Jennin, her evil crew and allies, our numbers have diminished." As he said this a shadow of slight sorrow passed over his face. They were surprised to see no anger.
"You are surprised because I am not angry?" The question was rhetorical.
"In the eternal struggle between good and evil," he continued, "there is no place for strong emotion. Love, hate, anger, joy, none of these can be allowed to interfere with our efforts to prevail over the other side. We are permitted the luxury of superficial emotions that pass quickly, but the privilege of deeper emotion will never be known to us. Many do not realise how lucky they are. Make the most of your ability to feel deeply." There was brief pause.
"Enough about Me." said Blain abruptly, "Let us get down to the business at hand, that of the Golden Sword." He turned back to the fire, and sat for a while, silent, stroking his long white beard. At length he turned back and addressed them.
"Long ago, in the earliest years of this world, Eardon was ruled by Halerd. He was the first ruler of Eardon and his lineage endures to this day. Being of elven heritage he foresaw three great perils that would befall his country. He therefore undertook a hazardous journey to the west. A journey to the ancient shrine of the High Ones for counsel and guidance."
"Who are the High Ones?" asked Diane.
"No-one can say for sure my dear." came the reply, "All that is known about them is that they exist, are neither good nor evil and give advice to all who survive the journey to approach them. It would appear that they are on nobody's side. It is also said that they are the creators of this world.
"After many weeks hard travel, Halerd reached the shrine. Of the people of this world, only the rulers of Eardon may enter the shrine. So his travelling companions waited for him outside. A long while later he emerged, collapsing at its entrance. It took him a day to recover. He returned home and called a meeting of the High Magus, Nurain Salturan and Martol Swordmaster, the greatest sword smith of that time. He charged them with a great task. The High Ones had told him that his only hope of preserving the future of his land was to forge a golden sword and infuse it with power. The knowledge of this power is now lost in the mists of time, yet it took the magi many months to discover using information from the High Ones passed on by Halerd. Many of them died. However their lives were not lost in vain. It was thus that the sword attained its power." he paused. They sat enthralled wondering what the sword looked like. "The sword itself was a brilliant piece of craftsmanship even by the standards of its maker. Forged from a gold compound, it was light enough for fencing, yet strong enough to withstand the force of a broad sword. The knowledge of this compound is also lost. Martol's dwarf assistants had exquisitely designed the hilt. Their skills in metal design were second to none. Where the hilt met the shaft were set four sapphires, in the shape of a diamond. It was, and still is, one of the truly great works and wonders of this world. Martol's wife, Lenera, who was exceptionally skilled in fabrics, fashioned the scabbard from leather - very beautiful it was. Finally it was given to Nurain who infused it with its power. Martol presented the finished sword to the king who placed his blessing upon it.
"The sword now ready, Halerd turned his thoughts to the perils that would face his beloved country. He had been given some details from the High Ones. The first was a story you have already heard, Orman used the sword to slay The Great Serpent. Halerd was told the other two perils would involve otherworlders – you two." Had Des been of a lighter shade he would have gone as pale as Diane. Even though he had expected to be involved in some sort of adventure, he had not expected so much responsibility. He looked again at Diane; he could not recall a time when he had seen her so pale. She was shaking slightly and her hold on him had tightened. He realised then how much she really meant to him and what it would mean to lose her. Thinking about the dangers ahead, and the potential danger she had already been exposed to, he almost asked her to stay while he went on this mad, mad quest. Instead he smiled inwardly with the knowledge that he would get told less than politely where to put any ideas about going alone. He turned to Blain and asked him what they had to do.
"Come." he said and led them outside. It had stopped snowing and the sky was clear. It appeared that Eardonian weather was just like Melbournian or British weather, totally unpredictable. A smooth, even blanket of dazzling white spread in every direction, seemingly to infinity, interrupted only by the odd cottage or tree. The wood was to their left.
"Look west and tell me what you see." said Blain
"Woods, hills, mountains," Des replied "and not much else."
"Your destination is beyond those mountains. Do you see the two largest peaks?" Although distant, they could make out twin peaks, far larger than the rest. Des nodded. "Your journey will take you through the pass between those peaks, you will see a path leading into a forest. Follow that path and you will eventually reach the shrine. Then you, and you alone, must enter and do what is required. The journey will be long and hazardous but you all have the resources to succeed." They wished that they shared his confidence.
"A warning." he continued, "Of necessity your route will take you close by the palace of that foul pair. It is here more than anywhere else that you must exercise caution."
"When do we start?" asked Des, hoping his nervousness did not show in his voice.
"Now." came the reply, "There is very little time left and the sooner you get started the better. But before you go..." He led them to the back of the cottage and went across to an old chest. Taking a bunch of keys from his tunic, he selected one and inserted it into the chest's lock. He opened it and took out two sheathed swords with jewelled hilts and held them out to Des and Diane.
"Um...what are these for?" asked Des.
"Duhhh!!" muttered Diane under her breath.
"You will encounter many dangers on your quest," replied the old man, "These are for your protection."
"But we've no idea how to use them." said Diane.
"That's okay," interjected Feils, "I'll teach you."
"You mean you're coming with us?" asked Des
"Yes, my mother and I talked long into the night. She gave her blessing for me to help you out in any way I could."
Des and Diane felt relief rippling through them as they turned back to the old man who still had the swords proffered. They solemnly took them and buckled them on. Des drew his and looked at it in admiration.
"It's beautiful!" he breathed, "It's not ...magic or anything is it?" he added hopefully.
"No I'm afraid not," laughed Blain, "the only magic in it, is that found in the wielders heart. Now, hurry, you must depart." They thanked him and Diane gave him a hug and kiss that turned his cheeks crimson.
Back at Melda's house they made ready to leave. Melda had packed what Des felt were grossly inadequate supplies, and he told Feils so later on. Feils' reply was simply to tell Des not to worry and that he would take good care of them. They were to find out later just what a valuable asset Feils was. Melda and Feils had a final embrace and the three of them set off.
Their first few days of travelling passed uneventfully. Although the road was in good condition with sign posting and league markers by the roadside, they decided that it would be safer to travel off road. The road was a main one and they wanted to avoid explaining where they were going. This meant their route took them into woodland, over hills and through dales. These areas were sparsely populated and as it was winter there was not much to see. Nonetheless the couple gleaned a wealth of information from Feils. He had an uncanny ability to locate edible roots. These, along with the small animals he shot with his bow, became their diet. He taught them how to track and to become more observant taking note of what appeared to be insignificant things. When stalking prey he glided with stealth that they thought they would never attain. Feils assured them they would. He would unerringly predict the weather. This seemed to them to be an incredible feat. However when he showed them how he did it, they realised that it was simply a matter of logic. Most important of all he taught them how to use their swords. They suffered many cuts and bruises and dents to their prides, but they learnt very quickly and soon become accomplished swords people.
On the eighth day the twin's palace came into view, a distant but threatening presence on the horizon. Now they began to plan, to try a devise a strategy that would get them past without getting caught. The vastness of the palace lands precluded any chance of skirting them. The best route was straight through. They decided to travel by night and conceal themselves by day as best they could. They travelled like this for two nights. On the third day, disaster struck.
"There are many worlds other than one we inhabit. Some are like ours others are very different. Nonetheless there is one universal constant, the need for cosmic balance" - Blain Olturan, 1392SDA (Second Dark Age)