Extract of 'The Prophecy'

The link between the powerful minds of the Spellweavers had been formed.
The ether tingled with their presence. These mighty creatures of almost pure energy occupied, at this moment, an area of space and time that no human had seen or ever would.
Once contact had been made, The First initiated communication.
THE FIRST: The girl and the man have moved.
THE SECOND: A power surge caused an opening.
THE THIRD: It is as I said. They are breaking down.
THE SECOND: The energy leaks into the land.
THE FIRST: It is as foretold.
THE THIRD: But it is too early.
THE FOURTH: It is as I have said before. The loss of the book has caused this.
THE SECOND: The book cannot be read by any but the Weavers.
THE FOURTH: So you say, but they are opening.
THE THIRD: Until then we continue to watch and keep records.
The link was severed but the air still tingled with the power that had been generated. The Spellweavers had returned once more to do what they did best: record and manipulate until the gods returned once more to their children.

Chapter One
Yorda could see the bird tapping out his name on the door with its beak. After each third tap it would stop, turn its head stare at the young man, and then say in a voice that he certainly never expected from a woodpecker, ‘Why don’t you answer?’
What mystified Yorda about this was not so much the question but the voice. I know woodpeckers think, but I’ve never heard one talk! he thought to himself. Three more taps – tap… tap… tap – and again the tilt of the head, followed by the same question, ‘Why don’t you answer?’ The only difference was that this time the bird was speaking even louder. Once more the woodpecker pulled back his head to deliver another set of taps, but before the beak touched the wood the whole scene disappeared, only to be replaced by sunlight flooding through a small window at the side of Yorda’s bed.
The bird might have gone, but the tapping was still there, as was the voice. Yorda realised that he had been dreaming and the noise that had woken him was his old friend Martin, hammering at the door. He had no idea how long Martin had been there. In his dream the woodpecker had tapped out his name on the door and called him five times, but he had no way of knowing whether that meant that Martin had called him five times, twenty-five times or only the once.
‘Why don’t you answer, Yorda?’ came the cry again, followed by a much louder rapping on the door. Finally Yorda was fully awake and called back, ‘I’m coming, Martin.’ At least that was what he had intended to say, but all that he managed was a slight gurgle and a little gasp of air.
Waking up had always been a problem for Yorda. As a young child he had loved staying up late, talking to his father about the stars in the sky, asking his mother about the trees and plants that surrounded their little hut or about the animals that always seemed to be nearby. The problem with being allowed to stay up late was that he just couldn’t get up in the morning.
As he grew up, Yorda found that his waking and sleeping hours stayed constant so even now, at the age of nineteen, he still had problems getting out of bed. Today was no exception.
‘I’m coming, Martin,’ he repeated as he stumbled to the door. This time his voice sounded stronger. The door opened, revealing a middle-aged man clothed in a long woollen cape, which shielded him against the morning frost. It was strange to see a man so obviously worried about being cold, covering himself with this warm cape and yet leaving his head completely devoid of any hair or covering. This seemed to be the fashion at the moment, although it was one that Yorda, who was very proud of his long flowing locks, refused to follow.
‘What’s the problem, Martin?’ Yorda asked. His voice was still not completely awake yet and sounded croaky even to his own ears.
‘Another two cases,’ stated Martin even before the door was fully opened.
‘Oh no!’ Yorda breathed. ‘Both children?’
‘Yes, two sisters,’ Martin answered.
Yorda turned away. ‘Come in and you can tell me who they are while I get my pouch.’
Yorda walked back inside. He opened a few more shutters to let in some more light. Martin followed close behind him. This wasn’t the first time Martin had been inside, but he was still amazed at how a home could be so clean and yet so incredibly untidy. Martin could see the door to Yorda’s bedroom open on the other side of the room. This room contained a small stove close to the door with a table and four small chairs next to it. A couple of lower-level tables were in the opposite corner, small pouches covering their surface. Martin noticed that each pouch was fastened with a different-coloured ribbon.
And a different smell, he thought, as he passed the first small table. His nose screwed up involuntarily, but almost instantly a much more pleasant smell filled his nostrils as he turned his head towards another pouch. There were several mortars and pestles in evidence, some perfectly clean, others with powders, nuts or other indistinguishable, partially crushed objects inside. Many books, all of which seemed to be open, were strewn about the room. The most amazing thing he noticed, though, was that there was not a speck of dust to be seen.
Martin lifted his head and saw Yorda looking at him. ‘As I said, they are sisters, aged about six and nine. Symptoms started last night but, as with the other cases, they took a turn for the worse in the early hours of this morning.’
Yorda started towards the door. ‘And I suppose they had both been to the city yesterday?’
Martin followed him out. The sun was now showing through the trees and the morning frost was already starting to disappear. It promised to be a lovely day. ‘Yes, they went into the market early and arrived home late in the afternoon. I really cannot understand it. We’ve had five cases in less than a week. You say it’s nothing to be concerned about but I don’t think it’s natural!’
Martin stopped talking as he hoisted himself up onto his horse. Yorda remained standing next to Martin’s horse. He usually preferred to walk or run everywhere. He looked up at Martin while stroking the stallion’s ears. ‘Yes and yes! There is nothing to be concerned about because with treatment the girls will be fine by tonight. You are right, though: it certainly isn’t natural. This is a new illness that we have never seen before.’ Yorda hesitated, looked up at Martin, and carried on. ‘At least not here.’
Martin took the reins of his horse and they set off towards the village, Yorda jogging alongside Martin but still managing to talk without breathing hard.
Yorda was thinking. Everyone was calling this illness ‘voicekill’. Only pre-pubescent children would contract it. The symptoms were very simple: a temperature followed by a sore throat and then loss of voice. Nothing serious. Normally if the child was kept warm then the fever would pass after three or four days and the voice would return in about two or three weeks – very annoying and not very pleasant, but hardly life threatening. With the correct treatment the child could recover completely in a matter of hours.
The first case had been discovered in the village a couple of weeks ago but Yorda had heard of cases in the city over the past two months. Yorda had been in the town having a quiet ale with Ron and Jel, two local farmers. Jel had told him how his daughter had just recovered from a fever but could no longer talk other than in a slight whisper. He had not been overly concerned about the fever. He had kept her warm and given her plenty of hot soups and broths and she had soon started to recover, but he was at a loss to explain the disappearance of her voice. He’d asked Yorda to have a look at her. Later that afternoon, Yorda went to Jel’s home and examined his daughter, Julonne. There was no inflammation in her throat; she had no pain or discomfort when eating or swallowing. She had lost a little weight but nothing to be overly concerned about. The only signs of any problem still existing were some small white spots at the back of her throat. Yorda could dimly remember reading in one of his medical books about a similar complaint but he had never seen an actual case. An infusion of burrowroot was suggested and within two days Julonne was in full voice.
Since then, Yorda had treated eight children, all successfully. All of the children in the village who had contracted voicekill had been in the city either the same or the previous day, and none of the infected children had passed their symptoms on. As a healer he felt it his duty not only to cure but also to find the source of the illness, so he had determined to go to the city today – if he could wake up in time. Martin’s insistent knocking on the door had saved him the trouble of waking himself up.
Martin and Yorda chatted intermittently on the way to Darren’s home. Most of the talk was Martin playfully ribbing Yorda about the baker’s daughter’s interest in the young healer. Yorda blushed. He had noticed Ivaine a lot more recently. She no longer seemed to be the childish little crybaby he remembered. She had, almost overnight – at least in Yorda’s eyes – blossomed, and become much less of a little girl and more of an exciting young woman. In fact now that he was reminded of her, most unsuitably by Martin, he would try to get a little present for her while in the city.
They had arrived at Darren’s little cottage and were welcomed inside. Yorda went straight to the bedroom where the girls were in bed. Both had a high temperature but had not yet lost their voices or developed the little white spots in their throats.
‘Good, you called me early enough to nip the problem in the bud.’ Yorda turned and smiled at Darren. ‘If you could leave me now, just for two minutes.’
He turned back towards the girls and unclipped his pouch. Reaching inside, he pulled out a little vial of blue liquid. He turned towards the girls and unstopped the vial. Very carefully he put two drops on the forehead of each girl. As he did so he whispered a couple of words. For an instant the liquid in the vial and on the girls’ heads glowed slightly and then returned to the pale blue it had been before. At the same moment, the girls’ breathing became softer as they gently relaxed and fell into a peaceful sleep.
Yorda touched their foreheads with the back of his hand. ‘Good, the fever’s gone.’ He rose and went back into the living room. ‘They will be as right as rain and very hungry when they wake tonight.’
Darren asked him how much he owed, at which Yorda smiled. ‘A few of those ripe apples I saw hanging on your tree would do nicely and, as usual, a promise that you treat all your animals well. Three apples will keep my stomach full while I walk into the city. I think it’s about time I found out what is causing all our children to become sick.’
Darren thanked Yorda and plucked six apples off the first tree they came to.
‘If you need three to go into the city, you will need another three for the return journey.’
Yorda thanked Darren and bade his leave. The young healer took a bite from one of the apples, relishing the sweet juicy taste, and started to jog towards Parkent. He was so involved in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice his jog becoming a slow run, then a fast run, and finally a sprint which would have left even the swiftest horse in his wake.

Chapter Two
Parkent was not a large city. It had grown up along the banks of the River Solne. Traders would come to the city from far and near to sell and buy almost any type of goods imaginable. In the past fifty years, what had been a few small villages had gradually grown and merged to form this small city.
Yorda had not been to the city very often. Anything he needed could be found back in the forest and his own village, so he had no real need to come here. Sometimes, if there was a passing troupe of musicians or actors, he would make an effort to see them. He had always loved music and wished he had learnt to play an instrument when he was younger. His mother had sung to him as a child and he seemed to remember her voice being like the water flowing gently down the mountainside. She would sing lullabies that made him think of a breeze blowing through the flowers in the meadows. His father would hum along and, although he seldom did more than hum, words would always form in Yorda’s mind that seemed to emanate from his father – words that came from a language he didn’t understand but which seemed important to him. When the songs were finished, sometimes he would ask his parents where the words came from. They would just smile and say that the words were memories that were not yet awakened.
A small crowd was gathered on the southern road into the city. They were watching a man who was obviously in great difficulty with his horse. It appeared that the horse had reared up, throwing his rider, who had managed to keep control of the reins and was now frantically trying to keep himself from being hit by the hooves. The horse was bucking and kicking and obviously in great distress. Yorda moved nearer and gently leaned towards the horse’s mind.
‘Ah… the horse has been frightened by a snake,’ Yorda said quietly to himself. Yorda stayed with the animal. ‘No… several snakes… on the road… still there in front.’ Yorda could see no snakes but the horse obviously still could. Gently he reached out and showed the horse the road through his eyes. ‘There are no snakes. No snakes.’
The horse started to relax and the image of the snakes disappeared. Yorda pulled back and looked around. There were no snakes anywhere, but the horse had seen them. By now the rider had control of his mount and was talking to him and cajoling him. Yorda was pleased. The man obviously knew his animal and was giving him plenty of time before trying to remount him. A lot of bad horsemen would have been taking the whip to their steed for throwing them for no apparent reason.
The crowd disappeared and Yorda walked on into the city. Two eyes followed his motion. The owner of the two eyes turned away, a smile upon his lips, and looked once more at the horse. ‘No more snakes. No more snakes.’ He turned and followed Yorda into the city.
Yorda much preferred the company of animals to people, which was the main reason he lived in the village and came to the city infrequently, but when he did make the effort to come he was always pleasantly surprised at the smells that seemed to assail his senses. To Yorda there was no such thing as a nasty smell or a nice smell – just a smell. In fact, not just a smell; every smell had to have a source. For instance, the man who had just passed him: his sweat was two, maybe three days old. He was dressed in fine quality clothes, walked with an air of confidence and had fairly new riding boots on. Yorda assumed that he was someone from out of town – maybe three days’ ride away – who had just arrived and was looking for an inn to get some warm food and a hot tub of water to wash himself. The next smell was of cooking meat. Pork. The smell was not quite right, however; a slight undercurrent suggested that whoever ate this pork had better not be far from a quiet spot because it would not stay too long in the stomach. Another scent wafted over from his right – A particularly fine ale if I am not mistaken, thought Yorda. He turned towards the Lantern, a small inn that he would drink at on his rare excursions to Parkent. The landlord knew Yorda, not because he was a regular but because he only ever ate fruit with his drink.
‘Hello, young fellow. Some ale and a fine vintage apple?’
‘Good to see you, Josh. Just a drink today. This ale you are selling: it’s the first time you have had this one.’
Josh lifted his head to look at Yorda.
‘That nose of yours! You haven’t even tasted it, yet you know it’s a different brew. Came in yesterday. A new brewery has started up downriver in the fen district. It’s good stuff.’
‘You never serve bad ale, Josh, which is more than can be said of some of the taverns here.’
‘Anyway, Yorda, what brings you to Parkent?’
Yorda knew Josh well enough not to take offence at his direct question. Josh was interested in everyone and everything. There wasn’t much that went on in the city that Josh didn’t know about.
‘Voicekill. Wow, that ale is really good. If I’m not mistaken there is a tiny bit of cardws salt in there. Have you heard of many cases?’
‘You know your ale, young fellow. Yes, nasty little bug. Most of the children have had it. Never seen the likes before. I said to a few folks that you were the guy to see to get their children well quickly, but the local physician seemed to get the kids back to form in a couple of weeks. People seem to be moving away from the more natural ways of healing and drifting towards these new physicians. I think if it was more serious, however, you would have had some people turning up on your doorstep.’
‘You know that they are all welcome, Josh. If I can help, man or animal, I will.’
‘I know that, son. Anyway, enjoy your ale. I have some customers with empty pots over there.’
Yorda looked around the inn. He spotted an empty table in the corner, went over and sat down, facing away from most of the clients. He had not been seated long when a voice just behind him said, ‘It’s not natural – voicekill.’
Yorda turned his head towards the voice and saw a tall man with long blond hair standing beside him. The voice seemed to be as light and happy as a young child’s and yet as strong and old as a seasoned warrior’s. He smiled and added, ‘Do you not agree?’
Yorda nodded. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before.’
‘Oh, but I think you have.’ The stranger looked straight at Yorda, still smiling.
Yorda stood slightly and motioned to the stool in front of the stranger. ‘Take a seat, Mr…?’
‘Mertok, just Mertok,’ the stranger replied.
‘Take a seat, Mertok. Why do you think I’ve seen it before?’
Mertok sat and looked at Yorda. ‘Let me rephrase that. You know of its existence elsewhere but not here and not now.’
Yorda looked into his tankard and inhaled slowly through his nose. He lifted his head and looked at Mertok, a puzzled expression on his face.
‘Nothing?’ said the stranger.
‘I’m sorry, Mertok?’ replied Yorda.
‘I said, “nothing”,’ replied Mertok. ‘You smelt nothing. Am I right? You get information by sight, touch and smell. You can see me, touch me, but you cannot smell me.’
Yorda was completely unprepared for this.
‘I’m sorry?’ Yorda said again.
Mertok laughed. His laugh was like bells tinkling in the wind. Yorda could not help but smile also.
‘I believe that your name is Yorda. The innkeeper mentioned it earlier today. I’ve been looking for you.’
‘Josh never mentioned anyone asking for me.’
‘Of course not. He wouldn’t remember me asking. It wasn’t important to him.’
Yorda was becoming more puzzled. It was true, Mertok had no smell. He had never met any human or animal without a smell. Whether it was sweat, soap, bad breath, unclean clothes, wet fur, anything, he could always smell something. But Mertok was different: not even his clothes had a smell.
Mertok smiled again. This time his eyes were set like steel.
‘I’ve had a little fun with you, Yorda. I know you are very puzzled by me but there is a serious side to all of this. A very serious side.’ Mertok looked past Yorda’s head. The tavern was filling up.
‘Now if you will excuse me, I have some work to do. Please meet me here tonight at 10 p.m. If you intend doing any shopping, please do not enter any more animals’ minds, or imaginary snakes may be the least of your problems. If I don’t get to see you again, send my regards to Toreal and Melisse.’
Before Yorda could ask him how he knew his parents, Mertok had turned and left the tavern. Three large men followed him almost immediately.

Chapter Three
Mertok left the inn and walked to the side of the street. He hadn’t had enough time to give Yorda his message before the trackers had found him. Once a tracker had picked up your scent it was only a matter of time before they found you. Mertok smiled ruefully. All creatures had some sort of odour about them. At least, all creatures except the ones that made up Mertok’s race. Mertok was not an ordinary creature: he was an elf. To all other creatures, elves had no scent, but to another elf it was as though you had a sign on top of your head with your name in large letters.
OK, now they had found him there were three options. He could try to escape and elude them until the mission was finished, but there was no telling how long that would be, and to avoid a confrontation with a tracker for any length of time was incredibly difficult. So far he had managed four months, which must be a record. Option two: he could kill the trackers. Not so easy with three of them. They always travelled in threes. This was not because they needed each others’ help in the search – one could find the target as easily as ten could – but three was the most efficient. More than three could rouse suspicions if stopped by any army or sheriffs’ patrols. Only one or two would give the prey an easier chance of killing them.
Option three: he could let the trackers kill him. It would be quick and efficient and probably painless. Not that this mattered much to an elf. Even though they were a long-lived species, death held no fear for any elf. Their souls would be released and sent to the Floating Islands where they could join in the Endless Song with their ancestors. Even now, if he listened carefully, Mertok could hear the distant sweet music that all of the White Elves could hear.
Now that he had actually located Yorda, option three would solve nothing. No, option three was not a valid choice until his message had been passed on to Yorda. He must somehow engage the trackers in battle. Killing the trackers without forfeiting his own life was really the only option open to him and would gain more time for Yorda.
He looked around and decided to move away from the busy street. Even if he succeeded in vanquishing his opponents, too many people might spot the bloodshed and, if he was taken into custody by the authorities within the city, his mission might fail.
By now the trackers had left the inn and the eyes of all three were in contact with Mertok. They made no attempt to split up. Casually they crossed the street towards their prey. Mertok turned and headed down a narrow alley just to his right. He exited into a large yard, on one side of which was a smithy. The blacksmith was not around, nor were there any other people present. To his left was what looked to be a deserted building. The windows were boarded up but the door was hanging open by one hinge. Mertok picked up a long metal rod that was leaning against the unlit forge and quickly crossed over the yard and entered the house. He climbed the stairs and looked around. There were three bedrooms off the corridor at the top of the stairs. All three doors were open. He quickly looked inside each. The first room was empty with the window boarded up. He closed the door and left.
The second room was also empty but the third one had a few pieces of furniture inside and the window was open. He closed the door of bedroom three then turned back into bedroom two, closing the door behind him. Except for a small table and a couple of chairs, the only things in the room were about a dozen slates of wood, some nails and a hammer on the floor next to the window. Mertok hoped that if he could take out the first tracker, then leap out of the window before the other two entered the room, it would even the odds somewhat. Two against one was a much better position to be in and would probably turn the tide in his favour.
A creak on the stairs told him that he was not alone. They must be confident, thought Mertok. Elves normally made little or no noise, especially when close to their target. Mertok lifted his bar and stood back. His breathing was slow and rhythmical. With a final prayer to his Mistress to take his soul, he bared his teeth.
The door burst open and one of the trackers flew through the doorway, but his dive was misjudged because he landed face down on the floor before reaching his target. The back of his head was missing and the tracker was very dead. Mertok heard a thud and a loud gurgling noise outside in the corridor. He moved slowly towards the door and could see a second tracker lying there, obviously dead, with a poker through his neck. The third tracker was making the gurgling sound because he was being held at arm’s length around the throat about a foot off the floor by one of the largest men the elf had ever seen.
The gurgling stopped and the thick fingers of the hand opened and let the body slump to the floor. The man turned. He had a hammer dripping blood in his other hand.
Mertok quickly summed up the situation. What must have happened became clear. The trackers had entered the building and followed him upstairs. At this stage of the kill, all of their senses were devoted to their prey in front of them. This huge man had obviously followed them up the stairs and it was he who had caused the slight creaking. A poker through the neck had surprised the first tracker as he turned, the second had been throttled and the third had had a hammer across the back of his head, the impact of which had thrown him through the door. Mertok again lifted the bar in readiness against this man-mountain.
‘Put down the bar, laddie. If ye bend it on my ’ead ’ow do you think I can make my ’orseshoes with it?’ A smile lifted the corners of the big man’s mouth. Mertok held firm.
‘Stand your ground, mister. You may have surprised three unarmed thieves but I will prove a much more worthy adversary.’
At this, the man’s smile turned into a chuckle and then an explosion of laughter.
‘Three unarmed,’ and he emphasised the word, ‘thieves? Laddie, ye must think I was born yesterday. Let me tell you what I see.’
He bent down next to the tracker he had killed first and pulled the poker out of his neck. ‘OK. My name is Dawson. I’m the blacksmith. I’ve just packed up work for the day when I see you through my window rushing into the yard. You pick up a metal bar and ’ead for my ’ouse. I’m just about to come out of the forge to call after you when these three geezers enter the yard and follow you up into the ’ouse. They obviously ain’t soldiers or sheriff’s men so I pick up my ’ammer and poker and follow them in. As I get to the front door, I see the three of them going upstairs, but they are making no sounds at all. Nothing.’
Dawson stood up and glanced at the poker, still wet with the tracker’s blood.
‘This confirms what I was thinking, laddie. Green blood. Now, I know of only one race that ’as green blood – elves.’
Mertok raised his eyebrows.
‘Don’t look so surprised, laddie. I’m not the only man to know that elves exist.’
Dawson looked once again at the poker.
‘To my way of thinking I see three men that make no sound, following a fourth. The only men I know that make no sound at all when they move are trackers. They must be trackers from the Dark Elves, so I’m a-figuring that you could do with a bit of ’elp. I thought perhaps they might ’ave ’eard me behind them on the stairs but they were too intent on getting you. You must be a pretty important elf. I ’ave never ’eard of trackers being sent this far south to locate a prey.’
Mertok relaxed a little. This man had just saved his life but he had a few questions himself.
‘Well, Dawson, you say your name is. I guess I owe you my life and for that I am indebted to you, but you seem to know an awful lot about elves for a blacksmith. And that brings me to another point. If you are a blacksmith and you live here, then why is there no furniture in your house? And also, why has your forge been unused for days? There seem to be no clients and, from the smell of the place, there have been no horses here for a while.’
Dawson chuckled again, a deep rumbling sound which seemed to come almost from the earth itself.
‘Even when being pursued by trackers you don’t miss much, laddie. This ’ouse is empty except for the last couple of chairs because I’m leaving the city. And you are quite correct: I ’aven’t used the forge for about a week. There is no action around ’ere. I think I retired from soldiering too early.’
For a moment the big man’s eyes lost their focus and stared straight past Mertok. Old memories flooded back into his head. The smile faded from his lips to be left with a look of sadness. As quickly as it appeared, it left. Dawson tilted his head to the side, almost as if puzzling over something, and then he said, ‘Eliathil rhôn maieril. Yrn aygar hirrin cherail.’
Mertok’s jaw dropped and at the same time he put down the metal bar.
‘The pledge of friendship in my language.’
All wariness left the elf as he stepped forward and crossed his arms in the elven form of acceptance.

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