Mortalis - By R. A. Salvatore

Jilseponie-Pony-sat on the crenellated roof of the one squat tower of St. Precious Abbey in the great city of Palmaris, looking out over the snow-covered rooftops, her gaze drifting inevitably to the dark flowing waters of the Masur Delaval. A bitterly cold wind nipped at her, but Pony, deep in memories, hardly noticed the sting. All the region, the northwestern expanses of the kingdom of Honce-the-Bear, had experienced an early snow only a week before, winter coming on in full force, though the year had not seen the end of the tenth month.

By all estimations, the war against the demon Bestesbulzibar and its goblin, giant, and powrie minions had gone unexpectedly well, had been completed with minimal loss of human life and without a single major city burned to the ground. Now with winter, though, the aftereffects of that war were beginning to show, most notably the food shortages in villages whose supplies had been diverted to towns that had harbored the King's soldiers. Rumors had come to Palmaris of uprisings in some of those villages against King Danube and against the Abellican Church, whose leader had surely acted in the interests of the demon. Other rumors spoke of several mysterious deaths along the coast of the Mantis Arm and of a group of fanatics threatening to break away from the Abellican Church while rejecting outright the notion of any church dedicated to Avelyn Desbris.

So the war had ended here in Palmaris, but it seemed to the grieving Pony as if the turmoil had only begun.

Or was it merely a continuing thing? she wondered. Was such travesty and turmoil, such unrest, merely a reflection of the human condition, an unending procession of one battle after another, of one cause of bitterness replacing another? The notion stung Pony deeply, for if that were the case, then what had they really accomplished? What had been bought by their sacrifice?

Why had Elbryan, her beloved husband, died?

Pony gave a helpless sigh at the futility of it all. She thought back to her early days, up in the wild Timberlands, in Dundalis, when she and Elbryan had grown up together, carefree. She remembered running down the wooded trails beside the boy, running particularly among the white caribou moss in the pine-filled valley north of their village. She remembered climbing the northern slope beside him one chilly night, looking up at the sky to see Corona's Halo, the beautiful multicolored ring that encircled the world, the source, she had later come to learn, of the blessed magical gemstones that served as the power and focus of faith of the Abellican Church.

The next dawn, Pony and Elbryan had witnessed the return of their fathers and the other hunters. How clearly Pony now remembered that, running, full of excitement, full of anticipation, full of-Horror. For suspended from a shoulder pole had hung a most curious and ugly little creature: a goblin. Never could Pony or Elbryan have foreseen that slain little brute as a harbinger of such doom. But soon after, the goblins had attacked in force, burning Dundalis to the ground, slaughtering everyone except Pony and Elbryan, the two of them somehow managing separately to elude the monsters, each not knowing that the other had survived.

And afterward Pony had wound up here, in Palmaris, bereft of memory and identity, adopted by Graevis and Pettibwa Chilichunk, patrons of the bustling tavern Fellowship Way.

Pony looked out across the quiet city now, in the direction where that establishment had stood. What wild turns fate had placed in her path: married to the favored nephew of the city's Baron Bildeborough; the wedding annulled forthwith and Pony indentured in the King's army; her ascension to the elite Coastpoint Guard and her appointment to Pireth Tuime; the coming of the powries and the fall of that fortress. It had all taken years, but to Pony now it seemed as if it had happened overnight. She could again feel the chill deep in her bones as she had escaped doomed Pireth Tuime, floating in the cold waters of the Gulf of Corona. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps mere chance, that had pulled her from those waters in the vicinity of Avelyn Desbris, the "mad friar" from St.-Mere-Abelle who was being hunted by the Church for the death of a master and the theft of many of the sacred magical gemstones. Avelyn had taken Pony back to Dundalis, and there she had been reunited with Elbryan, who had returned to the region after being trained