Conspiracy of the Dead
Chapter 1 A Warning From Beyond
Prince Alorn woke early and lay still in the silence
of the dawn. Something had woken his mind and urged his body to rouse
itself. He glanced at the still sleeping form of his wife Annalor. Her
expression was calm and her sleep untroubled. It seemed unlikely that
she had interrupted his slumbers.
He recalled how restless she had been when Morgg's
summons had disturbed her with cold dreams, a chilling prelude to the
dangers and privations of the search for the beam of hate. But now she
slept soundly, her midnight red hair spread on a pillow of the same
sunshine blue as her skin.
Careful to avoid waking her, Alorn slipped from
their bed, crossed the chamber and, pulling aside a sky-red arras,
passed through the doorway into a smaller room. He approached a cradle
and looked down at the closed eyes of his son Merianon. The child's
half smile brought an answering joy to Alorn and he stood gazing at the
pale blue countenance, the short straight red hair and the delicate
features which so inextricably mingled the appearances of his mother
Alorn watched the sleeping child for a while but it
was clear that there was nothing amiss. Perhaps after all there was no
significance to his early waking and the vague feeling of unease which
assailed him. He stepped quietly to the door which led to the balcony
and went out into the cool morning air. To the east the pale pink sky
heralded the rising of Talas, Lavandrel's fierce blue luminary. Below
him spread the courtyards and halls, the walls and battlements of the
castle of his father, King Gault of Born. Five other towers rose to the
same height as the one in which he and Annalor had their private
apartments and which was known as the Heir Apparent's Tower. The others
also had names - the Record Tower, the Armourer's Tower, the Guard
Tower, the Quartermaster's Tower and the Royal Tower in which King
Gault and Queen Nerin had their own chambers. Each of these six towers
occupied one of the angles of the hexagonal curtain wall of the bailey.
From the central mass of the sprawling keep loomed a seventh pile,
taller by far than the others. There lived the great bats of Born,
creatures trained to carry the monarch or his emissaries wherever he
Beyond the jagged battlements huddled the slumbering
city of Onuma. Here and there thin tendrils of smoke curled into the
air, showing that some at least of the citizens were out of bed. He
suspected they must be smiths or bakers since it was now the
season of Pollination and the day was likely to be too mild for fires
to be needed for warmth. Already a distant haze was collecting over the
Hills of Garfand to the east.
A slight noise caused him to turn just as Annalor
followed him on to the balcony. They kissed good morning.
"Couldn't you sleep? "
"I slept well but woke early."
"Is there anything wrong? "
"No I don't think so, in fact I'm sure there isn't.
Perhaps I need some exercise. Shall we ride on the moors this
The day passed pleasantly, like so many days since
their return from the world of Ua. It had been a good time, made joyous
by the birth of their son and their delight in his development.
Nevertheless, Alorn could not quite dismiss the uneasiness with which
he had begun the day and when night came he was still troubled.
"Maybe you are bored," Annalor teased him, but there
was a hint of worry in her tone. "You are tired of peace and
tranquillity and yearn for more adventure!"
Alorn did not rise to her laughing accusation.
Instead he answered seriously.
"I am content with our life. Perhaps it is a
premonition that it cannot last that has disturbed me.''
"Nothing lasts for ever," answered his wife. "We
should enjoy each day as it comes for no one can foretell tomorrow, not
As she uttered the name of the sage, Alorn looked up
"That is the cause," he told her. "It has come back
to me; a dream I had last night. I must have forgotten it on waking and
remembered only the distress it caused me. Merian is dying. I am sure
of it. He wants to see me before he does."
"Are you certain? Perhaps it was just a fancy."
"No! You and I can tell when dreams are true and
this most definitely was. I saw your uncle lying in his bed in his
cottage on the slopes of the Hills of the Wind. He looked much older
than when last I saw him. His beard was almost black with age; his eyes
were closed but he was not asleep; he was calling to me across the
ocean. I must go to see him."
Annalor did not try to dissuade her husband. She
knew the power that such dreams exerted.
"You should go," she agreed. "Tomorrow we shall see
your father and arrange for a ship to take us across the Ocean of
"Us? You would come too? What about Merianon?"
"We can take him with us. He is no longer a tiny
baby. I am sure it will be safe."
So it was settled between them, but that night
Annalor dreamed almost as soon as she slept and in her dream her father
Machanat spoke to her.
"Time is short," he warned. "Poor Merian's strength
is ebbing. He will hold on until Alorn comes but it taxes him. Urge
Alorn to come swiftly."
Annalor woke from her dream and rousing her husband,
related her vision to him.
"A sea voyage will be too slow," he decided. "I
shall take Deth, my father's bat. I can reach the Great Continent in a
matter of days." He regarded her with sadness. "I must go alone; it
would be folly to risk our son on such a venture and it would not be
fair for both of us to leave him."
"You are right. I shall miss you and I am sorry that
Merian will not see again the child we named for him. But you must lose
no time. I will pack a satchel for you while you tell the King of your
change of plan."
When Alorn returned all was ready.
"Take this for Merian," suggested Annalor. "It is
the portrait of Merianon I painted." She rolled up the canvas and
slipped it into a bag.
Parting was painful and so they made it as brief as
possible. Alorn hugged his son and embraced his wife and hurried across
the courtyard towards the bat tower. His parents met him at the door.
"Take care," urged Gault. "Twice before you have
departed our house in this fashion and both departures were the prelude
to dangerous events."
"Yes, do be careful," echoed his mother. "And don't
worry about Annalor and the child; we shall take good care of them."
"Tell Merian we shall remember him always."
"Is it really certain that he will die?" asked Nerin.
"You know well, mother, that both Annalor and I are
doomed to dream truth. We have received the same message. What could be
The queen sighed.
"I do not doubt it. It is just that when we last saw
him he seemed so - so permanent, unchanging."
"I know. Almost I believed him immortal."
Alorn clasped his father's hand and kissed his
mother before entering the musty tower. He climbed the rope ladder up
through the gloom to the beams of ocken near the open top. Through the
opening he glimpsed stars glowing redly in the night sky. He pursed his
lips and blew air through them, moving his tongue in a fashion taught
to him long ago. He heard nothing, but a dark shape trembled. Now he
caught a whisper, a faint trilling as ultra-sound waves were trapped by
the crystal in his ear and re-emitted as fluting notes. He moved
carefully along the beam until he came to the source of the sound. A
short ladder hung from the ocken and he clambered down until he could
grip the harness on the huge body of the giant bat.
Quickly he secured himself and once more signalled
to the animal. The bat dropped instantly from the beam, spread its
leathery wings, and beat them against the still air inside the tower.
Now they rose towards the unroofed top of the building and with a rush,
sailed out into the cool night air. Alorn sat up as high as the harness
would allow. He peered down and thought he glimpsed the figures of his
parents, pale in the grey light of the moon Umandrel. They waved and he
was sure. Then the bat was carrying him rapidly away from the castle.
Annalor stood looking up at the heavens; saw her
husband, a diminutive figure astride the great animal, dark against the
moon-lit sky. A coldness seized her heart and she had a premonition of
danger, one which she knew she could not ignore. Yet it was not an
over-whelming feeling and she clung to that omen of hope. He would meet
with great peril, she did not doubt, but she believed fervently that he
would prevail in adversity.
High in the air Alorn glanced down at the sleeping
city of Onuma. Here and there blue lantern light outlined a window but
for the most part the houses were dark. Above him the stars burned with
an intense red light. The constellations of the bow and the butterfly
spread themselves across the vault, while towards the horizon those of
the wheel and the ship were partially obscured by narrow bars of dark
cloud, almost black against the deep crimson of the night sky. Beneath
him he felt the powerful movements of Deth as the great bat beat its
leathery wings against the chill atmosphere of night.
Deth climbed steeply to clear Onuma Crag and
maintained his altitude as he flew steadily across the hinterland of
the Garfand Hills. The vales between the summits were steeped in
impenetrable darkness but the bat smelt the water as they crossed the
River Garf where it tumbled south towards the Ang. Alorn crouched lower
against the warm fur, remembering other flights. Twice before he had
set off in just this way across the Ocean of Storms and on both
occasions it had been many seasons before he had returned. He hoped
that his present misgivings would come to naught. Perhaps Machanat and
Merian had mistaken the gravity of the elder brother's condition,
although that seemed unlikely.
Presently Alorn fell asleep while his mount flew on
over the land of Born, crossing the shore between the slumbering port
of Dinnal and Logair's Tower.
Below winked the blue lamp of Lingelt Light on the
Goory Rocks and then the last of the land was left behind and Deth was
heading out across the heaving swell of the coastal seas, where
breakers rolled grey-capped in the beams of Umandrel, with deep red
troughs reflecting the warmer light of the lesser moon Hirandrel. On
and on through the watches of the night Deth flew.
Prince Alorn was woken by nervous pipings from the
crystal in his ear. He saw that dawn was approaching and the great bat
abhorred the light. But there was no resting place, no concealment from
the sun. Alorn looked round and in all directions saw only the heaving
ocean. He made comforting whistling noises to reassure the creature,
and then took a slice of bread from his knapsack and ate it slowly.
Deth could go for long periods without food and in any case it would
take no longer than a few days to cross the seas, so swiftly did the
animal fly. He watched as the blue orb of Talas edged its way over the
eastern horizon, its disc surrounded by a green halo, lurid against the
pink sky of morning. He knew that it would get very hot as the sun
climbed towards the zenith and this would not suit the bat.
By mid morning, however, clouds were gathering, deep
brown banks rolling out of the west. As they spread across the sky it
grew gloomy and cool until by midday it was quite dark and cold. Rain
fell suddenly and Alorn huddled against the warm body of his mount. The
bat did not mind the wet and was happier in the gloom. So the day
passed in discomfort for Alorn and the night brought no relief. Sheets
of lightning rent the sky, precipitating sudden squalls of icy rain.
Sharp cracks and slow rolls of thunder shattered the silence of the
night. When the feeble light of another dawn seeped into the sky the
downpour abruptly ceased. Gradually the clouds were shredded by the
power of the newly risen Talas and it grew warm. Alorn's clothes
Late in the afternoon he spied a purple smudge on
the eastern horizon and knew that they were nearing the Great
Continent, but dusk was gathering before they flew across the line of
surf glinting in the setting sun. The sands looked black below them and
the wooded slopes beyond were deep in shadow. Alorn had absolute
confidence in the bat's navigational sense, knowing that if anything
the creature oriented more surely at night than during daylight. Deth
flew a little way inland until they reached a tract of open woodland
and there he swooped down and caught hold of an upper bough of an ocken
tree. The great body swung vertically and the man clung tightly, then
as soon as they were still he slipped out of the harness and scrambled
up into the tree.
Deth immediately took to the air again as Alorn had
known he would. The bat would need food more even than sleep and there
should be fruit in plenty in this grove. Alorn himself found a
comfortable niche in the tree, secured himself with the rope he kept
about his waist, and slept.
The next day the great bat slept while Alorn roamed
through the wood, feeding himself on fruit and completing the drying of
his clothes by a blazing fire of aldaran. When night came they set off
eastward once more, Alorn straining his eyes for landmarks and
whistling occasional directions to his mount. By morning the Hills of
the Wind were in sight. The man signalled to the bat to come down in a
copse which straggled up the rocky lower slopes of the hills. Here, he
knew, they must separate. He could not guide the bat through the dark
to the cottage. Indeed he was not entirely sure himself whether it was
to the north or south of their present position.
He whistled instructions to Deth, telling him to
return to Onuma and then set off out of the wood and up the incline
that would lead him eventually to the ridge which ran north to south
along the eastern boundary of the Red Grass Plain. It was hard going as
the ground was strewn with boulders tumbled from the heights above him
and where patches of bluish earth had collected, bramble and thorn had
rooted, their prickles fierce enough to deflect him from his preferred
path. Mist swathed the summits but as Talas rose higher, so the white
vapour boiled away and he was disconcerted to find it had concealed
from him a rocky scarp. He stared at it in surprise, unable to recall
ever having seen such cliffs before. They stretched away both north and
The prospect of climbing the precipitous acclivity
was daunting yet he was anxious to reach the ridge as he hoped from
there to be able to see far enough to fix his position. Now, however,
he doubted whether he would he able to do so. Since he had no
recollection of ever seeing this feature of the hills before, it was
unlikely that he was as close to Merian's cottage as he had imagined.
On consideration he was inclined to think that he
was too far north, since he was more familiar with the uplands to the
south of the sage's home. He would be able to get a better idea,
perhaps, at midday when the sun would be at its highest point.
Meanwhile he judged it best to work southwards and, realising that it
would be easier to walk across the scarlet sward of the plain, he
scrambled back down to lower ground, but striking diagonally southward
so as to avoid ending up in the wood.
He reached the flat and continued until he was well
away from the foothills and the debris at their margin before he turned
due south and strode briskly along beneath the steadily growing heat of
the midmorning sun. He was delighted by the flowers which peeped
through the tufts of grass, the tiny red rememberme, the tall blue
sunblooms bending in the breeze, the yellow elgbane and pink eartsfoot.
His spirit lifted as he saw clouds of bright sulphurs flying down from
the hillsides to sip nectar from the meadow blue. He watched a flock of
tiny fieldfinders, snapping up the buzzers and droners. His pace slowed
as it grew ever hotter and he was glad to come to a clear stream
meandering across the plain from the foot of the hills. He drank deeply
and splashed his face. As he rose from the crystal water he caught
sight of a herd of centaurs emerging from a nearby grove. He hailed
them and one of their number trotted across to him, tossing its red
mane and eyeing him with circumspection.
"Greetings," called the man. "I am Prince Alorn,
friend of Kapallitas.''
The creature smiled suddenly.
"Then you are also a friend of mine. I am Endalas.
Can I be of service to you?"
"I am looking for Merian's cottage but I have missed
"You are too far north. You must journey southward
for some four days." He saw the consternation on Alorn's face. "Are you
on an urgent errand?"
"Merian is dying," answered Alorn simply. "I must
see him before it is too late."
"I run more swiftly than you. I will take you some
of the way."
Alorn knew the centaurs to be a proud race,
resentful of any attempt to treat them as beasts of burden. Willingness
to carry someone as might a horse was a sign of true friendship and he
"I accept your offer."
Soon they were galloping across the grasslands, a
warm breeze tugging at the centaur's mane and Alorn's cloak. Another
member of the herd accompanied them and the two centaurs took turns
carrying the man to conserve their strength and maintain a good pace.
It was exhilarating pounding across the plain, the wind bending the
grass into scudding waves beneath the hot sun. He could see a great way
and, when the coastal strip narrowed, he could even glimpse distant
surf glinting in the sunshine. He suddenly realised that he was
enjoying himself despite his melancholy errand and he felt a twinge of
guilt. Yet he new that to be irrational. Death was no more a tragedy
than any other parting. Merian would be gone from the physical world,
would no longer dwell in his cottage in the hills. But he would have
moved on to the worlds beyond, whither Alorn himself must one day
follow him thus to meet again. There were far worse things in life than
They came to a wide but shallow stream and the
centaurs galloped through it sending up a splattering of clear water.
"Begen Beck," called Endalas over his shoulder.
Towards dusk they splashed across another river, the
Fledd, and soon after that halted for the night. Before they slept
Endalas told Alorn of events which had occurred since last the Prince
had been among the centaurs and Alorn was pleased to hear that
Kapallitas too now had a son.
They were up before dawn, pressing on in the
By late afternoon Alorn began to recognise the
countryside and before much longer they crossed the Delen Burn and
reached the rough road which led up to Battle Pass. The centaurs turned
their heads from what was, for them, an ill-omened way, for it was in
the pass that so many of their kind had been massacred by the men of
the Vale of Tamon when tragic misunderstanding had precipitated war
between the two species. Out of respect for their feelings, Alorn too
averted his gaze, but once they were past the track he turned his
attention again to the hills. As always an armada of small brown clouds
drifted slowly along the summits and he could see dark specks wheeling
above the heights of Delen Law and Solen Law. From the way they flew he
recognised skydots and skikes and the larger black shapes of carrion
croaks, alert as ever for the scent of death.
Abruptly the centaurs slowed and stopped. Endalas
pointed up the hillside.
"You can see the cottage now. We can take you no
further for those rock strewn slopes are treacherous enough for us even
"You have done more than I could have expected and I
thank you. Grant me one further boon and convey my greetings to
Kapallitas when next you meet him. Tell him too that Merian is close to
death. Kapallitas also was his friend and will want to know."
"We shall do as you ask. Farewell."
For a while Alorn watched as the two centaurs
galloped away northward, then he turned towards the hills. Keeping the
track which led to Battle Pass on his left and at the limit of his
vision, he began to pick his way upward. Now that he was on the steep
slope rising towards Holme Crag, he could no longer see the cottage. It
was warm work toiling beneath the hot sun. An unnatural stillness
seemed to have fallen across the hillside. He heard the menacing call
of carrion croaks as though reminding him of the reason for his errand.
There was an occasional flash of red and blue as a multipede fled his
approaching footfall. The flowers of the plain had given way to
flatweed and rambleblue and the grass was a darker red with here and
there patches of bare blue soil. Skikesbill and starshine did little to
relieve the monotony and he looked in vain for the splayfooted hoppers
that normally frequented the uplands. Here and there were groups of
stunted werran trees. He missed the bright butterflies of the plain
although once he saw a yellow emperor.
He came to a fast flowing stream and followed it a
little way until he was certain it was the Solen Water which he knew
passed the cottage. Then he struck off in a more southerly direction
but still climbing. He found the Hills of the Wind as confusing
as always. Merian knew every stone of them but to Alorn they seemed
never the same as when last seen. Suddenly he saw the cot he sought a
little below and south of his position. He scrambled down towards it,
abruptly realising that he had begun to grow alarmed at the prospect of
missing it altogether in the gathering dusk. A shaft of blue light
sprang from a window and his heart lifted. In no time he was pushing
open the gate set in the thick hedge, and walking up the brick path.
Before he reached it, the door of the cottage swung open and Machanat
stood in the blue lit opening.
"I'm glad you're here at last," he greeted. "Come
Alorn followed him into the living room and warmed
to the sight of the log fire.
"How is he?" he asked without preamble.
"He is waiting only to talk to you," was the answer.
"Then he will go."
Alorn studied Machanat's serene countenance, his
complexion darkened to a deep mauve by the suns of many Pollinations.
For all his age he looked youthful still, too young to be the brother
of so venerable a personage as Merian. Machanat's locks were a deep
midnight red with no sign of blackening and his bright red eyes were
sharp and piercing.
"Are you sad?" asked the Prince.
"Of course. I shall miss my brother. I love him and
besides there is a feeling of security implicit in being younger than
others: in having some one of greater experience to turn to when need
arises. Although we do not fear death of itself, nevertheless the world
of beyond is an unknown place. It may not be free of its own dangers.
Indeed I believe it is for that reason that Merian is particularly
anxious to see you. At the moment he sleeps and I will not waken him.
You must he hungry and thirsty after your journey. Your room is ready
for you. Go and wash while I get a meal ready and then while we eat you
can tell me all the news of Born, and especially of Annalor and
Alorn bathed his face and hands in the rivulet that
gushed into his tiny room through a hole in the wall. Then he returned
to the living room where Machanat had already put bread and fruit on
the table. There was jam made from berries gathered on the hillside and
there was hot wine to drink. All was the produce of Merian's labours
and it filled Alorn with sadness to be eating it there with the old man
himself dying in the next room.
"How is Annalor?" Machanat interrupted his
melancholia and Alorn was glad to tell his father-in-law all the news
of the family. He showed him the painting of Merianon he had brought
"It is time I visited Onuma again," mused Machanat.
"I don't want to become a stranger to my grandchild.''
They finished their meal and repaired to the
"We had a sister, Merian and I," remarked Machanat
unexpectedly. Seeing the look of astonishment on Alorn's face, he
"It is really not a surprising thing in itself," he
admonished. "Your surprise arises I suppose from you never having heard
us speak of her. We rarely do, for she died long ago; more than two
thousand cycles since." It was Machanat who now looked astonished as he
calculated the passage of so much time. "She was so young," he
continued sadly. "An illness overcame her. I mention her now because
Merian has been talking of her. He may perhaps mention her to you.
Mynedd she was called.'' He spoke the name softly with a long ago look
in his eyes. "He hopes that soon he will see her again and our parents
too of course, but especially Mynedd for she had her whole life still
to live when she departed for the worlds beyond. She will have lived it
there. We wonder how she has fared." He sighed and after a while began
to speak of other, more recent events.
Abruptly he broke off in the middle of relating the
latest news from Twoom, capital of the Vale of Tamon.
"Merian is awake. I felt his mind stir."
Alorn stood up.
"I will speak to him."
The Prince tapped on the stout ocken of the sage's
bedroom door and pushed it open without waiting, so to spare the old
man the effort of calling out. He crossed to the bed through the
darkness of the room.
"I have come at last," he murmured. "Shall I light
Merian grunted an assent and Alorn took the lanthorn
out to the living room. He lit it with a burning spill from the fire
and reentered the old man's room. He set the lamp on a table and its
pale blue glow drove the gloom into the corners of the chamber. Now he
could see Merian properly. His hair and beard were quite black and his
once so observant eyes now seemed turned inwards. His face was as pale
as Talas seen through morning mist but its expression was peaceful and
Alorn sat on a chair by the bed and smiled at his
"I have brought you a present," and he produced the
portrait of Merianon. The old man returned the smile and took the roll.
Alorn was reassured to see that the hand which grasped the picture was
"Thank you," acknowledged Merian and his voice,
although quiet, was clear and firm. He studied the likeness.
"He will have your resolution and strength of
character " he prophesied, "and Annalor's gentleness and understanding."
"Am I then obstinate, rough and unsympathetic?" he
Merian grinned back and his whole expression was
suddenly younger and stronger but he did not reply.
"I have not thought of myself as being resolute or
strong," continued Alorn in a more serious tone. "If you knew the
doubts and hesitations which afflict me you would not call me so."
"I am glad you have doubts " replied Merian. "It is
important constantly to question oneself, to probe one's motives. And
sometimes it is right to hesitate, to have second thoughts, indeed as
many thoughts as there is time for. There is no fault in that. The
important thing is to act when the time is finally ripe. Then you must
put doubt aside and eschew hesitation. This I know you can do."
"But I can never be as strong and sure as you. We
shall miss you sorely. In times of trouble you have ever been the firm
foundation on which we have built our defence. Your advice has always
been good; your knowledge and understanding surpassing all others."
"Are you trying to make me feel guilty at leaving
you?" teased Merian.
"Of course not. You have lived long and given more
of yourself than anyone I know. You deserve to rest. I am merely
"I am not so sanguine as you about the prospect of
"So Machanat hinted. Do you have any reason for
Merian did not answer directly but reverted to their
"In some ways you are right. I am going before I
ought. My tussle with the Psychologist has sapped my strength
"I would not describe so fierce a contest as a mere
tussle," protested Alorn. "Nevertheless if it is that which ails you,
might you not recover from it in time, resting quietly here?"
"It is not physical fatigue which afflicts me but a
weariness of spirit. The Psychologist posed questions which strike at
the root of the beliefs which have sustained me through two and a half
millennia. The questions were not of course new to me. I have faced
them again and again throughout my life; have wrestled with them as I
tramped the hills; have discussed them endlessly with my brother and
with others. "In essence they arise from the
struggle for existence; they concern the rights of individuals and
species to supersede others; they involve the whole process of
evolution and whether it should be resisted. They are not really
soluble in terms of the physical universe and this is a conclusion long
accepted by me, albeit with dissatisfaction. But the Psychologist
presented these problems in a more acute form. He used my own partial
answers to justify his maniacal values. Presented side by side, his way
of life and our own are poles apart and it seems obvious that our
ideals are right and just, while his were deluded and evil. Yet it is
possible to connect these apparent opposites by a series of smoothly
changing intermediate states in such a way that there appears to be a
scale of behaviour from good to evil, and where on that scale the
balance turns from one to the other is not only a matter of judgment
but seemingly an arbitrary one. How bad does a person have to be to be
regarded as sufficiently evil to be resisted? It is an old question but
one which still perplexes."
"But actions are not to be judged in isolation,"
countered Alorn. "Motives too must he considered. It is those who
strive towards the just and good end of the spectrum of behaviour who
should be adjudged worthy, and those who seek always after evil, even
if inefficiently, who should be condemned.''
"It is good to hear you say so with assurance and
passion and I would not undermine your beliefs for anything. Indeed I
share them. But it is not simply an intellectual matter. A man needs
faith in his ideals if he is to sustain them and my faith has been
shaken. You might imagine that the example of the wickedness of the
Psychologist would strengthen my belief in what is right, but evil
contaminates us all. From what did his malice arise? Partly from
adversity but mainly from straightforward selfishness. He argued that
we are all selfish, that even those who appear to act altruistically do
so only because they enjoy the feeling of piety it brings. That ancient
saving 'Virtue is its own reward', was to him but another example of
the selfishness of all creatures. Those who act virtuously do so
because they like the self-satisfaction it gives them - it is pure
"That is sheer nonsense," denounced Alorn. "I cannot
believe you give it credence."
"The robustness of your convictions is a comfort to
me but my misgivings are not easily to be overcome. I have expounded
the conundrum shorn of the subtleties which perplex me. It is I suppose
a measure of my weariness that I can no longer shrug off these doubts
as you do. But we must not waste time on casuistry. I have matters of
importance to tell you."
He closed his eyes and seemed lost in thought, so
deep in thought indeed, that Alorn felt a sudden alarm that he might
simply fade away. His concern may have communicated itself to Merian
for the old man's eyes opened suddenly.
"Danger threatens once more," he stated simply. "It
has not yet impinged on Lavandrel. There is no sign of it here. I am as
attuned as ever to all that occurs in the natural order and that has
given me no cause for suspicion. The warning comes from beyond this
world. I am now so close to the worlds beyond that I catch glimpses of
them." He sighed. "People think of the afterworld as a place of rest
after life's struggle. They are wrong. The strife continues but on a
different plane and by different means. It rarely affects the physical
world directly; much energy is needed to bridge the gap between our
cosmos and the purely spiritual worlds of beyond."
"My ancestor Mhod explained something of this to me
when his manifestation visited me after the defeat of the Lords of
Hate. He also said that it was easier for evil to break through the
barrier because those who are wicked do not care what damage they do
those who offer their vital energies for malign purposes."
"That is so. Even the gentlest of contact, through
the medium of dreams for example, can drain the receiver of his
spiritual energy to a critical extent. Such intercourse must be kept to
a minimum in the interests of the recipient. Those intent on evil have
no qualms and their victims are often willing, thinking to gain power
by 'raising the dead' or conjuring up devils and other powerful
spirits. They are deluded! They are the slaves not the masters of those
they summon. But we are wasting time and I am weak. Let me
tell you what I fear."