Elfsorrow - By James Barclay

Chapter 1

The Unknown Warrior reined in on the crest of a rise overlooking the once tranquil lakeside port of Arlen. In the gathering gloom and encroaching mist, battle raged through its streets. Buildings were burning across the town, a heavy pall of smoke thickening the mist. The thud and crack of spells echoed against the mountains to the north, blue-edged for Xetesk, stark orange for Dordover. The shouts of men and the clash of weapons, muted by the mist, reached his ears.

In the last two seasons, he had seen and heard plenty of evidence of deteriorating relations between the two colleges but this was infinitely worse. This was war. He’d hoped to get them out before it started. Even thought his plan could bring peace. But here was proof of that folly.

‘And you expect us to ride through all that to the dockside?’ Diera was right beside him, her horse nuzzling at his.

He looked over to her and down to Jonas, his baby son, cradled in one huge arm. ‘I want to know you’re both safe. And away from Balaia’s the only way.’

‘Tomas didn’t think so,’ said Diera, wisps of her light hair blowing outside the hood of her cloak.

‘Tomas is more stubborn than any man I know,’ said The Unknown, smiling. How hard he had tried to get Tomas to bring his family too, to leave The Rookery they owned together. An inn now ruined by a hurricane. ‘Except one. He’s never left Korina and he’s blinded himself to the disease, the rats and the starvation. He thinks it’ll get better now spring is here. I don’t. I’ve seen Balaia. And it’ll get worse not better. I won’t leave you here. I can’t.’

Diera shivered, and as if sensing her unease from where he lay in the safety of his father’s arm, Jonas started to whimper.

‘Shh, shh,’ he said gently, rocking the child. ‘It’s all right.’

‘It isn’t all right,’ said Diera. ‘Just look down there. They’re killing each other and you want us to ride through it.’

‘And this is just the start, believe me.’ He looked deep into her eyes. ‘Please, Diera. War is here. Nowhere on Balaia will be safe.’

She nodded. ‘How do we get to the docks?’

‘On one horse we can ride where ten or more could not but I need you close. Sit in front of me and hold Jonas. I’ll keep you from falling. Try not to be afraid.’

‘Don’t ask that,’ she said. ‘I’m terrified. You’re used to the noise and blood.’

‘I won’t let anyone hurt you.’

‘Better not.’ Her expression softened slightly.

‘Just remember to do what I ask. It’ll be difficult down there and there’s no time for debate. You must trust me.’


She dismounted and he helped her up in front of him before handing her their baby son. He kicked his big stallion to a gentle trot down the slope towards Arlen.

Riding in from the north-east along a narrow, barely used trail, The Unknown could see the fires of a camp some miles off to the east and a Dordovan column under torchlight heading down the main track into the heart of the port. Xetesk had been in tacit control of Arlen when he put into port two seasons ago and he had no reason to believe anything had changed barring the fact that Dordover was now on open offensive.

Closer to, the sounds of buildings aflame and collapsing, of spells crashing into structure and soldier and the roar of close-quarter fighting were deafening. Jonas was crying and Diera was rigid in the saddle.

‘We’ll be all right,’ said The Unknown.

‘Just get us there, Sol,’ she said, trying to comfort their bawling son.

Entering the town on a dark and shadowed street with the din a terrifying press on their ears, The Unknown snapped the reins.

‘Hang on,’ he said. ‘It gets tricky from here.’

He heeled his horse’s flanks and the nervous animal sprang forward. In his ears the clash of metal and the shouts of warriors mixed uncomfortably with the wails from his boy. He fought to keep the horse in the middle of the street, galloping headlong for the docks. He aimed to ride down the eastern edge of the town past the Park of the Martyrs and through the Salt Quarter to emerge at the end of the docks where Captain Jevin had the Calaian Sun at berth.

But already he could see it would be difficult if not impossible to avoid the conflict around them. To their right, multiple FlameOrbs burned away the mist, their arcs of