Avenger - Richard Baker


5 Nightal, the Year of the Heretic’s Rampage (1473 DR)

When Geran Hulmaster heard the distant strains of song drifting through the evening air like the snow falling lightly on his shoulders, he knew he’d reached Myth Drannor. He could see nothing of the city yet, but he stopped on the old elven road that lay under the soft snow and stood listening, captivated by voices inhumanly pure and sweet lifted in ancient elven melodies. He knew only a few words of the Elvish tongue, but he felt the song’s meaning in the deepest part of his heart. It was sad and beautiful and wise, a song about the winter sleep that had fallen over the land, a memory of the year that was fading and the longing for loved ones now far away … and yet in the countermelody he heard celebration of the winter’s own beauty, the anticipation of spring soon to come, the hope for reunions long delayed. Snowflakes drifted silently down to coldly kiss his face and catch in his hair, and still he stood listening, heedless of the long chill that had crept into his limbs during days of travel from old Harrowdale into the heart of the elf kingdom. The city of the elves was near, and yet Geran could not bring himself to take another step for fear that he might lose the marvelous song that drifted faintly to his ears.

The dim golden glow of lanternlight in the winter sky waited ahead of him, as if the forest had somehow given way to a great hall pillared with slender silver trunks. Geran stood as quietly as the drowsing beeches in the gentle snow. He was a tall, lean man, twenty-five years of age, with raven-dark hair and eyes of steel gray, now half closed as he gave his full attention to the song. Beneath his weatherbeaten cloak and sodden hood, he wore a fine jacket of blue suede, a shirt of good Turmishan cotton, breeches of gray wool, and knee-high boots of chased Cormyrean leather—the clothing of a man of means, perhaps a noble born to rich estates or a merchant of great wealth. He was neither, having come by his fortune in a different fashion. Silver mail beneath his shirt glinted at his collar, and at his hip he wore a long sword enchanted in old Chondath five centuries earlier. It was the most valuable of the treasures he’d won in five years of adventuring across the lands of the Inner Sea.

He might have stood mesmerized for hours, but a new sound grew behind him—a faint jingling of bells, and muffled hoofbeats. Geran realized that he was standing in the middle of the road, and managed to rouse himself enough to step aside for the carriage or sled that was approaching. In human lands a fast-driving coachman might not take any great pains to avoid running down a fool in his path. He doubted that the Fair Folk were that callous, but who could say what elves might or might not do? They were a strange people, and sometimes proved dangerous in unexpected ways. He’d met a few in his travels, including one he’d come to regard as a comrade as true as any he’d ever known. But even after years of traveling, fighting, drinking, and competing alongside Sonnelor in the Company of the Dragon Shield, he’d hardly begun to glimpse the elf’s depths. He liked to think that Sonnelor had regarded him as a friend, and perhaps not quite as foolish and shortsighted as most humans, but Geran still wasn’t sure of it.

“I suppose I’ll never know now,” he muttered aloud. Sonnelor was dead a year or more now, and Geran’s journey to Myth Drannor was something of a farewell to his fallen comrade. Sonnelor’s kin had heard of his death many months before, but Geran thought that they deserved to hear the full story of the Dragon Shields’ last adventure and the part Sonnelor had played. More to the point, Geran owed it to Sonnelor—and to himself. He’d never said as much to Hamil or any of his other friends in Tantras, but some part of him simply wasn’t satisfied to carry on with his own affairs and leave the Company of the Dragon Shield behind him forever, not until he’d found a better way to say good-bye to those who’d fallen.

He glimpsed a shadow of white and gray overtaking him along the road, and stepped a little farther out of the