Jewels of Darkness - Manual
Welcome to the adventure world of the Jewels of Darkness.
This adventure is a trilogy of the classic Level 9 adventures Colossal,
Quest, and Dungeon. The trilogy retains the acclaimed quality of the
original versions, but now stretches the imagination even further with the
addition of graphics, extended text descriptions, an extremely flexible
English-language sentence interpreter, and a whole host of user-friendly
features which allow the player a more versatile means of communication.
For the player new to adventure games, the first part of this booklet will
explain how to use the keyboard to enter the magical world or orcs,
dragons, dwarves and fabulous treasures.
The seasoned adventurer will find the first section of the booklet a quick
and easy guide of how to use the extensive features available.
Scenarios have been included to set the scene for each adventure in the
trilogy, and point you roughly in the right direction. Further information
on what your objectives might be have been included in the 'Scoring and
Part two of this booklet contains the novella 'The Darkness Rises' by Peter
McBride, which will take you even deeper into the fantasy world of the
adventurer in the Jewels of Darkness.
Good fortune on your quest, and remember that to succeed in your quest, you
must show courage, determination, skill, cunning, and have a brain the size
of a planet!
Cassette users: To remove a cassette from the box, firmly press the top of
the cassette label inwards, and the cassette will pop out.
Remember to always have a blank cassette or a formatted disk at hand to
save your game position on. See part iii (Special Commands) of 'Game
instructions' for more information about saving and restoring your game
Each version of the Jewels of Darkness has a menu program, which will
instruct you in the further loading of the program (if necessary). Simply
refer to the table below, and select the appropriate loading
MACHINE CASSETTE DISK
Amstrad CPC 464 Run "" -
664 Type |TAPE and -
6128 Run "" RUN "MENU"
Amstrad PCW - MENU
Apple II - Insert disk in drive and turn
the machine on.
Amiga/Mac/Atari ST - Select the appropriate drive.
Double click the MENU icon on
Atari XE/XL* Hold START & OPTION Insert disk. Hold down OPTION
when turning on. while turning the machine on.
Start the tape and press
Commodore 128 In 128 mode, type GO 64 In 128 mode, type GO 64 and then
load as Commodore 64 load as Commodore 64
Commodore 64 Press SHIFT and RUN/ LOAD "MENU", 8, 1
STOP together, and
start the tape.
IBM PC - Insert disk in drive A and type
MSX 64k RUN "CAS:"
Sinclair QL Insert 1st microdrive and type RUN "MDV0:MENU"
Spectrum 48k Type LOAD""and start the tape -
Spectrum 128 Switch on, select Tape Loader -
with the SPACE BAR and press
* 8-bit Atari users should turn off the machine and remove all cartridges
If you're having any problems loading the Jewels of Darkness into your
computer, then try the following...
1. Try the other side of the cassette.
2. Load another game from cassette that you know works correctly, to check
that everything is connected correctly.
3. Vary the volume and tone settings on the recorder if you are able to.
4. Clean and demagnetize the recorder (following the maker's instructions).
5. Try another cassette recorder if possible.
1. Try again from the very beginning, including removing all
disks/microdrives and turning the computer completely off and back on
2. Is the disk the right way up? (This especially applies to
3. Load another game from disk/microdrive to check that everything is
4. Have you added any non-standard or peculiar hardware to the computer?
5. Clean the drive (following the manufacturer's instructions).
GUARANTEE (WHAT TO DO IF THE PROGRAM DOESN'T WORK!)
If you have no success in getting the program to run correctly, return it
to Rainbird without our packaging, and we'll replace it(if you're returning
a floppy disk, then make sure it's safely packed!). Please include a short
letter telling us exactly what the problem is, and what your computer
system comprises of. Postage will be compensated.
Software Returns Department
Upper St Martin's Lane
Colossal Cavern is a name of power, whispered in dark corners, embodying
incredible riches and untold danger. Sensible folk hold this cave to be a
myth, the product of fevered imaginations - but every year a handful of
people set out to find it, driven by necessity, or by overwhelming greed.
Most return empty-handed with tales of fruitless wanderings, or lies about
the dangers faced:volcanos, dragons, gigantic snakes and the like. But some
have never returned, and speculation holds that they are the successful
ones who have found the cave and perished - or maybe used the enormous
wealth from it to found great empires in far-off lands where they live in
Thus it is a unique event when a travel-stained warrior enters the tavern
where you are sitting one evening, pays the inn-keeper with an absurdly
high value gold coin, and over his drink claims that he has visited
Colossal Cavern - and escaped with his life!
The other drinkers flatly disbelieve him, "thief" and "mercenary" are two
of their more flattering suggestions to explain his wealth, but you are not
so sure - for he has a haunted look and refuses to discuss his exploits.
Thus, when you realize that an ambush is being planned to deprive the
stranger of his money (and life), you lead him out to safety by a bank
"A thousand thanks!", he exclaims when the sounds of pursuit finally die
away, "May the Gods smile upon you for your deed tonight! But I fear that
your friends may seek revenge if you return."
"Thus, to reward you for your valor, I will give you the most valuable
treasure that I own...the location of Colossal Cavern!", and he presses a
crumbled scrap of paper into your palm. Frankly, you were expecting hard
cash - and a lot of it - but he looks like a good man in a fight, so you
accept the meager reward and even manage to shake his hand warmly.
Despite your natural suspicions that the map may be a fake, it would be
foolish to stay and face the wrath of your fellows, so you set out to
follow it. And the map turns out to be genuine! It leads you through
uncharted lands: over mountains, thorough forests and skirting deserts -
always avoiding the inhabited places of the earth - until one day's journey
would bring you to Colossal Cavern itself.
Then disaster strikes. You are leaning on the wall of a building from which
a river emerges and follows the road south. To the north is open country
and all around is dense forest. As you attempt to decipher the next part of
the map, a freak gust of wind lifts it from your hand - and carries it into
the water. Rescue is not possible for the river sucks it down instantly,
and in any case
you cannot swim.
It is now up to you to find the Cavern, enter it and return with its
treasure. And, as you stand thinking, you remember a scrawled note on the
margin of the map:
"Warning, Magic works in the Cavern!"
Hundreds of years have passed since the time of Colossal Adventure, and
life has become peaceful and tranquil in all the surrounding lands.
The last elves sailed for the West centuries ago, after the rescue of their
fellows from the dungeons below Colossal Cavern. Indeed, nothing remotely
interesting has happened for ages, and the ordinary folk lead peaceful,
mundane and - for the most part - contented rural lives.
At least this was true until a year ago. First there was a complete
crop-failure in the northern provinces due to a drought of unprecedented
severity. This was followed with attacks by maddened wild animals on
storehouses and outlying farms, with the result that people fled south in
Then the troops sent north to keep order were ambushed and decimated by
unseen enemies in a hundred coordinated attacks. And finally a vast army of
orcs moved in.
There was total panic.
The combined armies of all the friendly kingdoms were mustered and marched
north. As yet nothing has been heard from them but it is rumored that they
are besieged near Amon Sul.
Then a messenger appeared at the gates of Valaii. "My Lord Agaliarept calls
on you to surrender. Even now his armies are sweeping towards you and he
cannot be defeated in battle. If you surrender, you will be permitted the
boon of death with dignity:otherwise it will be much worse when you are
defeated. You will have one week to decide."
The name Agaliarept is well known to the magicians in the city:it is that
of a Demon Lord announced for his ferocity and skill in battle - there is
no doubt that he will be victorious and there seems to be no hope.
There seems to be only one option open to the King, and he takes it. The
leader of the Wizards Guild is hauled before the throne and issued with an
ultimatum. "We remember the favors bestowed on your guild over the years.
Now is the time for you to repay them. You have one week to defeat the
Demon Lord by magic. Fail and you will not live to see the fall of the
city. That is all."
You are an apprentice magician (as are all members of the Wizards Guild
under 60 years old), and have taken courses in the three M's (Meditation,
Mysticism and Moneymaking), but not yet used a spell in earnest. Thus you
are amazed to be called before the Wizard's High Council.
"The base of the Demon Lord's power has been discovered: He has taken up
residence in the Black Tower, on the far edge of the world. Even now the
full council is preparing an assault on its defenses."
"But there is a second way. Perhaps one person, acting along, could find
the four Stones-of-the-Elements and use them to enter the tower. Then, the
Amulet-of-Life could perhaps enable you to defeat the Demon. There is
little chance of success But will you do your duty and try?"
You mumble a reply and are rushed from the room. As you leave you think
that you hear the shouted order "Next!"
Shortly afterwards you are dressed in travel clothes and stand before the
tele portal. You step through and there is a sensation of rapid movement.
As your vision clears you find that you stand at the end of a road,
outside a small brick building.
A day has passed since the success of Adventure Quest and jubilation reigns
in Valaii! At sunset yesterday the city was besieged by a sea of orcs,
with more arriving every hour, and it seemed that the defenders were
doomed. But at sunrise, the watch looked out over an empty plain - the
attackers had given up the assault when on the point of victory.
Initially, the only reaction was stunned amazement. But gradually a rumor
began to spread:first whispered in quiet corners, lest the telling should
make it untrue, but eventually shouted in every street...
"The Demon Lord is dead!!!"
When this was confirmed by the Wizard's Council, a two week carnival was
announced - the provisions hoarded against a long seige were lavishly
dispensed and the population proceeded to enjoy themselves as you would
But a few people, yourself included, thought along different lines, as
1) The Demon Lord must have been very rich;
2) If he really is dead, his treasures may be unguarded;
3) When the orcs marched south they cut a swathe of destruction through
the countryside but they moved too fast to completely loot the area;
4) So, if I were to ride swiftly north, I'd have no problem in finding
provisions and could probably reach the Black Tower in ten days. The
wizards would never have repaired their teleport system by then, so I'd
very likely be the first person there.
5) This could make me incredibly rich.
You gather together all the lethal weapons you can get your hands on and
leave within the hour.
All goes well. You have taken a team of horses and make very great progress
indeed (aided by Horseshoes-of-Speed, a Staff-of-the-Seasons for fodder,
night-sight goggles etc. 'donated' by a cavalry barracks) and after eight
days are nearing the Black Tower, lair of the late Demon Lord.
Then, about a mile from the tower itself, you are riding through a
seemingly deserted forest when a spell is cast! Your anti-magic defenses
spring into action, but too late... you fall to the ground asleep.
Some time later you wake, cold and wet, on a mud bank below a bridge
spanning a wide river. All of your weapons and magic are lost. It seems
that you were robbed and then your body was thrown into the river but that,
rather than drowning, you have survived long enough to be washed up on the
You clamber soggily up onto the bridge and ponder over your fate. Can you
take on the Dungeons of the Demon Lord unaided? It seems you have little
choice, as this is where the adventure starts...
"Good Luck! You'll need it!"
GAME INSTRUCTIONS - COMMANDS
The Jewels of Darkness uses an advanced command language interpreter
(called a 'parser') that understands both simple one or two word commands
and complex multiple command sentences. This chapter is split into sections
describing ways in which to communicate with the program.
To move around the land, use the following commands:
WORD ABBRV. WORD ABBRV.
NORTH N NORTHEAST NE
EAST E SOUTHEAST SE
SOUTH S SOUTHWEST SW
WEST W NORTHWEST NW
UP U DOWN D
INSIDE IN OUTSIDE OUT
CLIMB - JUMP -
The EXITS command will list any likely exits.
The majority of commands that you will use are actions, such as picking up
objects, opening doors, lighting lamps, etc. Here are some examples of the
most common action commands.
GET SWORD Pick up the sword from here.
DROP AXE Leave the axe in this room.
GIVE FOOD TO UNICORN Feed the unicorn with the food I'm carrying.
FILL THE BOTTLE Fill bottle with a liquid.
WEAR ARMOUR Put on the armour that I'm carrying.
OPEN THE DOOR Open the door(!)
LIGHT LAMP Turns on the lamp that I'm carrying.
EXAMINE THE GOLD Take a look at the gold I just found.
INVENTORY (INV) What am I carrying?
SAY SESAME Utter the magical word.
SCORE How well am I doing?
QUIT Abandon your quest.
AGAIN (A) Repeat the last command entered.
You can use punctuation, or the word AND to string together multiple
commands, for example...
OPEN THE DOOR.GO SOUTH AND CLOSE THE DOOR.GO EAST AND SAY SESAME.
The parser also understands the words ALL and EVERYTHING to mean everything
moveable that it can see. This is an extremely useful time-saving feature.
In most other adventures, to pick up a number of objects, you would have to
do the following...
Without using the ALL command, the Jewels of Darkness would allow you to
GET LAMP, WAND AND CROWN.
But this can be abbreviated even more simply to...
Another useful feature is the ability to refer to the last used item/object
as IT, for example...
EXAMINE THE PLATINUM RING AND TAKE IT
GET THE GREEN BOTTLE AND FILL IT WITH WATER.
Exceptions are also understood by the parser, such as...
TAKE EVERYTHING BUT THE SAPPHIRE
EXAMINE ALL EXCEPT THE CROSS.
Using all of these command structures allows you to type in near-English
sentences of great complexity, such as...
EXAMINE ALL BUT THE CROSS, DRAGON AND LAMP AND GO EAST.
DROP EVERYTHING BUT THE LAMP.SAY XYZZY
GET THE KEYS.OPEN THE DOOR AND WALK NORTH.INVENTORY
iii. Special commands
There are a few commands that are neither movement or actions. Two of these
affect the way the adventure is presented to you; they are...
WORDS Turn off the pictures.
PICTURES Turn them back on again.
A HELP feature has been included, to give you a clue at certain points
within the three games. The HELP command is generally useful in the
locations around the start of each adventure, to get you on your way.
The other commands are concerned with saving and restoring your game
position. Full instructions will be displayed on the screen where
necessary. Those marked with an asterisk may not be available on all
SAVE Stores game position to your filing system. Be sure to have a
blank tape or formatted disk ready. If you are using cassette,
press PLAY and RECORD before issuing the command.%
RESTORE Loads a saved game position. Lenslok will be needed. Please
refer to the Lenslok instructions at this time. If you are
using cassette, start the tape after the Lenslok
RAM SAVE* Stores game position in the computer's memory.
RAM RESTORE* Loads a RAM SAVEd position from the computer's memory.
OOPS* Restore position as it was before you last moved. OOPS is a
very useful command, and versions on larger machines let
you use it several times in succession to go back a long
way in time.
Naturally, you can use OOPS, RESTORE, or RAM RESTORE, even when you have
just been killed, so that you can return to your position before your fatal
* Commodore 64/128 users should add ,8 after the save/restore filename to
save the file to disk.
Lenslok is a plastic lens which is folded and placed against the television
in order to read a security code. Lenslok is extremely easy to use, but it
is vital that you read these instructions carefully, so that you
familiarize yourself with its use.
About halfway through each game, and whenever the RESTORE command is used,
the program enters Lenslok mode, and you have to complete the Lenslok
sequence before you can return to the adventure.
1. A large "H" appears on the screen. Place the unfolded lens lengthwise on
the screen, between the two vertical legs of the 'H', and using the keys
specified on the screen(usually the cursor keys or <and>), adjust the 'H'
until it is the same width as the lens holder before it is folded (Fig.1).
In other words, adjust the 'H' until it is 4 inches across. Press the SPACE
BAR to move to the next section.
2. Now fold the lens holder into a U shape, ensuing that the words on the
holder "THIS SIDE OUT", and the large raised "LENSLOK" logo are on the
outside. You will not be able to decode the characters on the screen if the
lens is folded the wrong way, and you may even break the lens holder.
3. Hold the lens at arm length against the screen with the feet of the lens
holder firmly against the screen and "Top" at the top (Fig.2). If you have
a flat anti-glare screen, you may have to hold the lens closer to the
screen by relaxing the U shape slightly.
4. Align the center line of the lens with the vertical line on the screen
and close one eye. Holding your head at least 1 ft away from the screen
with your eyes level with the lens, the letters "O" and "K" should be
5. Keep the holder in the same position and press any key when "OK" can be
clearly seen (Fig. 2&3).
6. The two character security code, has now appeared on the screen.
7. Read the two characters using Lenslok and enter them on the keyboard.
Make sure that you differentiate between upper and lower case characters,
if applicable. If you get the code right, you're through to the next part
of the game. If you get the wrong, you'll be given two more chances with
the same pattern. Three errors, and you're back in the adventure at the
point just before the Lenslok check.
* Lenslok is a trademark of A S A P Developments Limited.
SCORING AND HINTS
The Jewels of Darkness can be played as three entirely separate games, if
you wish. However, the only way to obtain a maximum score and the title of
"Supreme Adventurer" is to complete them in the order Colossal Adventure,
Adventure Quest, Dungeon Adventure, carrying your score across from one
adventure to the next (when you finish Colossal Adventure with a maximum
score, you will be told how to carry your score across).
Each adventure has its own scoring system and objectives, and these are
listed below, along with a few pointers to get you going in the right
You score points for finding fabulous treasures, but only get the full
points for each treasure by carrying them back to the small brick building
near the start. You also score points for entering the Colossal Cavern
(when and if you find it!). You will lose points if you are killed. A
number of bonus points can be obtained, and one of these is for not using
To reach the 'end-game', and so have the opportunity for high scoring, you
must find all the treasures. If you can't get to the end-game, there must
be at least one treasure that you have missed.
There are many magic words in Colossal Adventure, and one in particular is
needed to get at one of the treasures. To make it possible to guess this,
it is included in one of the room descriptions.
Almost everything in Colossal Adventure has a purpose.
In Adventure Quest, you score points for getting nearer to the Demon Lord's
Black Tower, and more for possessing any of the four
Stones-of-the-Elements. There are bonus points available for entering the
Tower itself and, of course, for winning the adventure.
On the debit side, you lose points as time goes by, and lose more points if
you manage to get yourself killed.
Almost everything in Adventure Quest has a purpose: if only to keep you
trying to work out is purpose!
Use SAVE/RESTORE regularly. Adventure Quest involves an epic journey and
don't want to have to start all over again if you get killed. SAVE the
state of play when you get past a significant obstacle and you can start
from there if you have a later accident.
To score points, you must collect treasures left by the late Demon Lord,
and take them to the store room. There are bonuses for getting rid of
undesirable beings (though, to prevent a massacre, only the worst enemies
give you a bonus score).
Try to avoid getting killed, as you will lose points in doing so...
Almost everything in Dungeon Adventure has a purpose, and you may get some
idea as to what this is likely to be by EXAMINing an object.
Resurrection is possible, and uses a machine which is initially situated
very close to where you start the game. By default it only works while you
remain close to this machine, and you must register your body pattern for
it to work at all.
The setting for Dungeon Adventure is a "cave network" that was originally
the headquarters for the Demon Lord. Some parts are now blocked off by rock
falls, but it may help you to bear in mind the original functions (if you
can guess them) of the accessible areas.
In response to an overwhelming public request, there are several ways of
carrying a lot of objects at once!
ARE YOU REALLY STUCK? TAKE A HINT FROM US...
Trying to move an immovable object, which simply MUST conceal a vital piece
of treasure? Don't know how to get out of a maze? Can't work out the magic
word? Don't despair! Although Rainbird bring you the most fiendishly
devised adventures, we've got a heart, so if you really are stuck trying to
solve a seemingly unsolvable problem, then fill in the Hint Request Form
provided with this package.
The Jewels of Darkness trilogy was bought to you by the following people:-
Game design and text: Pete Austin
Programming: Mike, Nick and Pete Austin
Pictures: James Horsler
"THE DARKNESS RISES"
A novella by Peter McBride
THE DARKNESS RISES
As he struggled to raise himself, a searing shaft of pain stabbed through
his skull and set a deep throbbing thrumming in his temples. He was blinded
by an angry vivid light though his eyes were closed, lids weighed down by a
weariness that reached from the depths of his tortured body.
He tried to lift an arm, and the pain redoubled, sweeping in a rush, a
floodtide of great waves of crashing agony that crashed on the shores of
his innermost self. A cry escaped his lips, bitten back almost as soon as
it was sounded. Even in the tormenting fires of his pain, the treacherous
cry was accursed. He must shown no weakness.
Once more he fought to sit up and to look about him. A heavy hand rested on
his shoulder and held him down.
"Be still. Be still. You have suffered much. You must rest."
The deep voice rumbled softly, easing through the agony and from the heavy
hand flowed a gentle strength that reached into his soul and pressed back
the tide of pain. The glaring agony dimmed and he sank once more into the
He slept the deep sleep of exhaustion, but in the early dawn he woke again,
drenched in sweat yet icy cold, haunted by the hideous faces of the
nightmare. Nightmare? Nightmare? No, for it had been!
He opened his eyes and looked at the firelight flickering on the rough-hewn
walls, but he saw only the light of his camp fire and the dancing points of
light reflected off the vicious curved blades and in the vicious animal
eyes of the shrieking, leaping, hacking devils that had burst upon them
from the blackness of the night, from the blackness of the caverns of evil,
bursting into their circle of light and life and sweeping through it in a
ravaging torrent of death.
He saw again that evil face, eyes afire with the lust of destruction,
mouth agape and great crooked fangs poised to plunge into his throat. The
howl of triumph. Then the sudden jerk, and the howl of death and the black
tongue lolling and the choking cough and the black blood welling and the
blackness covered him.
He recoiled from the vision and with the movement the pain returned, but
the voice and the hand were there.
And he was still and slept once more.
Brandon the dwarf jutted out his chin and stared at the dragon, waiting for
it to make its move. Slowly the dragon reached out a horny claw towards
him, then suddenly it snatched at this beard and lifted it.
"Keep your beard off the board. I can't see the pieces" it hissed. "And I
know you cheat behind it!" It lifted the beard higher, pulling Brandon's
chin up until all he could see was the cavern roof high above. With its
only claw, the dragon rearranged the red and blue gems on the checkered
"Your move, master dwarf!" It let go of Brandon and gave him a leering
grin. The dwarf looked at the board and knew he had been had again. The
dragon was a terrible cheat. It was probably a rotten loser too, but until
they got to the end of a game without it cheating, Brandon would never
"Looks like you win again, Oh Great One." said Brandon. "Another game?
Double or quits?"
"Why not? I do enjoy our little games." The dragon picked up a long golden
sword encrusted with jewels and bit a nick out of the blade. "How much do
you owe me now?" it asked, counting long the nicks. "1, 2, 3, 8, 16,
..er. .22, ..um 40 bags of gold. One of these days, master dwarf, you are
going to have to pay your debts."
"One of these days I might win!" said Brandon brightly.
The dragon belched smoke as it laughed.
Brandon coughed and wiped the smoke from his eyes as he set up the board
again. This time hew was going to watch the dragon like a hawk and make
sure it didn't cheat.
In the days that followed he was aware of waking time and again into pain
and the presence of the big man. The pain eased, but the big mas was always
there. He remembered bowls of a hot sweet infusion, and the taste was there
still, redolent of forest herbs and wild mountain honey. Its warmth and
fragrance had done much to dispel the cold nightmare of suffering.
He heard a movement on the other side of the room, and turned to the noise.
He saw a broad back bent by the fire, thick coarse hair merging into the
thick coarse fur of a dark wolfskin jacket. He heard the sound of a pot
being stirred and the rich smells of thick broth wafted across to him.
Fully awake now, he realized that the one who tended him must also be the
one who had saved him from a savage death. There could have been no other,
for he had seen all his comrades fall around him, hacked and torn. He
should have died too.
"Mayhaps. Now it's time to eat." He brought a bowl of broth over to his
patient and propped him up in the pallet bed. "Eat."
The food was good, and as he ate, he took in his surroundings. It was a
cottage in the old style, with low walls and a steep pitched roof of hewn
logs. In the center of the room a hearth of stone held a fire now burning
low. In its orange-red light he could see the skins of bears and wolves on
the floor around it. Beside the fire lay a dog almost as hugh and
shaggy-haired as the man who squatted on a stool by the bed.
"Who are you that tend me?"
"Peasants call me the Woodman. You shall too."
"I am no peasant!" He spoke sharply, stung into life and for a moment
forgetting his blood debt. "I am sorry, I owe you my life. I should not
"Ha!" the Woodman cut him off with a brief laugh. "There's fire in you yet.
That's good. And as for your life - when I killed that orc I didn't know it
was still there to be saved."
"Orcs! So that's what they were. I had heard of them, but I though they
were the stuff of old men's tales and children's nightmares." In his mind's
eye, he saw them again. Smaller than men, and wiry, clad in coarse leather
of their skull - like faces. Most of all he remembered the gleaming eyes of
red, and the yellow ivory of the glistening fangs.
"What were you doing in the Old Forest?" The Woodman's question cut through
his vision. "It's a dark place for a young prince." His eyes glittered with
amusement as he watched the reaction.
"How do you know who I am?"
"I could see it in pride, even if your clothes and the uniforms of your men
hadn't made it clear. Prince Tobiah isn't it? I have heard of you - and
"Thank you. Yes, I am he. Would that I had heard of you before we set out.
You would have been a good man to have had on our expedition."
"You were hunting wolves." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes. They terrorize our people, those few that still try to scratch a crop
from the dried up lands in the valleys below. We sought to rid the forest
of wolves, but there are so many! We had killed four score or more in a
se'night, yet still we heard their howls from all quarters of the forest.
And then chance brought the orcs upon us."
"Not chance! The orcs hunted you as you hunted the wolves." The Woodman
turned and spat into the fire in disgust. The sharp sizzle woke the great
hound. It turned its head and looked at his master. He caught the mood and
bared his teeth in a snarl. The Woodsman nodded. "Yes Dog, orcs. He picked
up their trail at sunset four days ago. I saw then they were on the track
of men. Would that we had caught up with them sooner. There was little to
do by the time we reached your camp."
"My men did well, "Tobiah recalled with pride. Though taken unaware, they
had fought back and wreaked a heavy toll on their attackers. "Would that
there had been more of us... Woodman, " he asked after a moment's silence,
" what brought those orc bandits to the forest?"
"They were no bandits, Tobiah, and they were not the only orcs in these
parts. The forest has been infested with them throughout this last year. At
first they came in twos and threes - spies! Though few returned to tell of
what they found." He nodded towards a great longbow of yew that stood in a
corner beyond." This last month they came in greater numbers - the vanguard
of an encroaching army, if I'm right. They seek to seal off the forest, to
mass in its cover ready for an assault on your country."
"Why did we know nothing of this?"
"The Kingdom of Valaii has grown soft in the long years of peace. He
snorted his contempt. "When did your father last send a patrol beyond the
"It's true, "Tobiah replied, "my party was the first in many a year to
venture into the Forest."
"And that only at your insistence?"
The Woodman expected no answer. He could see in the face of the prince the
strength of the ancient kings and perhaps some little hope for the future.
Tobiah lay silent. There was much to do, if he but knew where to begin.
"Lutist, stop!" cried Queen Gwendalan, catching a noise from beyond the
window. The musician laid a hand on the strings so that they could hear the
street sounds more clearly. "The people shout. Does it mean that Tobiah has
returned at last?"
"By the Gods, it's time he did." King Asuin wrung his hands. "I should
never have let the boy go on that foolishness."
The hubbub grew closer, bursting into the courtyard below. A wailing of
grief foretold ill tidings. Soon footsteps were pounding towards the Royal
chambers. The guard outside tapped briefly on the door, then opened it in
"My son! What news of my son?" asked the king desperately.
"None, my Lord" replied the guard. "Two merchants bring ill news from the
Dusty, dishevelled, nearly dropping with exhaustion, the two staggered into
the room and fell at the king's feet. "Orcs!" they cried.
"Where? Out with it!"
"My Lord, "panted the leader of the merchants, "our caravan was passing
through the valley by the edge of the great forest. Of a sudden one of the
outriders cried 'Orcs. Flee for your lives.' We turned, and the valley
sides were black with orcs rushing down upon us. My companion and I were at
the head of the caravan and our horses are swift, else none would have
returned to tell the tale."
"Orcs!" cried the king in horror. "Oh ye Gods, truly the darkness rises
around us and will swallow us up!"
"Our son! He said they came from the forest!" cried the Queen. "What of our
son? Is he too slain? Do you have news?" she implored.
The merchants shook their heads slowly and dolefully.
"Hush, woman." The king spoke harshly to hid his fears. "We know nothing
yet. Guard!" he called, "Call the High Council together immediately."
The king's command was scarcely needed, for the councilors, hearing the
cries of 'Orcs' spreading through the city, were already hurrying to the
It was a sombre and despairing meeting of the High Council. Too many of its
members had grown old and softened by the years of ease and peace. Even the
great drought and the plague of wolves that afflicted the northern
provinces had done little to stir them. Food was never short for the rich
in the city, but the loss of the caravan to the orcs had shaken them to
their souls, and to their pockets.
"I am ruined!" cried Kerrian of the Merchant's Guild. "I had ten thousand
ducats invested in that caravan."
"And I, "moaned Verdin, the Royal Wizard. "I had sent money with the
traders too - on your advice!" He turned on Kerrinan.
"It's the army's job to protect those roads and keep them safe for honest
travellers." replied the merchant, looking at Eliglas, the Chief Marshall.
"All the taxes I have paid these many years, and what is the army doing
"The army is short of men and short of arms." retorted Eliglas. "Those
taxes you complain of were never enough to defend the Kingdom properly.
Anyway, "he continued, turning to Verdin "the wizards should have warned
us. These are orcs, not human foes. There must be magic at work."
Verdin sat with his head in his hands and said nothing. The others lapsed
into melancholy silence.
"Where's Jarnac? Why isn't he here when we need him?" asked the king at
last. Jarnac was crusty and sharp-tongued, but at least he wouldn't be
wailing and wringing his hands like the other wizards. "Where is he?" King
Astuin demanded, glaring at the Royal Wizard.
"I know not, my liege." Verdin replied. He chose to say nothing of his last
meeting with the old wizard. It was one that he would have preferred to
forget. Jarnac had warned him that he felt evil was at work;that the great
drought and the plague of wolves had been brought upon them by the black
arts;that the Dark Lord had returned to Dom Burnur, the Black Tower beyond
the northern mountains. He had even warned that they should soon see the
shadow of orcs in their lands. Verdin had called him an old fool,
frightened by the weather and a few wild animals, and had forbidden him to
spread panic with his fears. He had felt no evil magic in the air, and was
he not the greatest of them? Was he not the Royal Wizard? Jarnac had left
the city the same day, but his parting remark stayed with Verdin. "I shall
seek out the truth." He had said. "Pray that I find it before it finds
"Would that Prince Tobi were here." muttered one guard to another as they
stood by the door. "These have no stomach for war."
The king then turned to his marshall. "This is an army matter, Eliglas. I
expect action immediately."
"I shall send an expeditionary force out directly, sire. I think we can
clear up these orc bandits within a few days."
"If I may say, my liege.." Verdin interposed hesitantly. "It may well be
that this ambush is but part of a larger problem. Taken with the other
signs - the drought, the wolves, the disappearance of the Prince Tobiah -
one might suspect some evil hand behind it. It may be that a Dark Lord has
returned to the Black Tower and will try again to conquer our world." The
wizard was still not convinced that Jarnac had been right, but he felt it
prudent to give the warning now if only to protect his own position. His
announcement caused instant consternation. Where before men had grieved for
their lost wealth, now they feared for their very lives.
"The Demon Lord!" exclaimed the king. "Why was I not told of this earlier?"
"It is but a surmise, Your Majesty. We have no firm evidence. We could
perhaps send a party to investigate..."
"No!" The king cried fearfully. "If he has returned, we must act
immediately. I want the full army assembled within the week. I want
ambassadors sent to all our neighbouring friends entreating their support
in this terrible time. I want the defenses of the city strengthen, and you,
Eliglas - you must send troops today to the forest to drive out those orcs
and search for my son."
"It shall be done." Eliglas bowed to the judgement of the king.
And so it was done. And so it came to pass that on the third day's march
from the city, 200 horsemen of the Queen's Guard and 600 foot soldiers of
the Second Regiment reached the plain below the hills of Culdaron. Terror
and death waited for them there.
Brandon had been right. The dragon was a rotten loser. When Brandon finally
managed to win a game, it had bitten the score sword clean in two and eaten
the jewelled handle. And when Brandon had asked nervously if he could
collect his gold now, it had snarled "What gold? You said double or quits,
and now we're quits!" Then it clambered back up onto its hugh pile of
treasure and sulked.
The dwarf, with more greed than good sense, had suggested another game.
His idea had been greeted with a sudden jet of flame that had set this
beard on fire.
Now he sat in a passage just off the great cavern, trimming the singed end
of his beard and planning his next move. There was another opening on the
far side and a couple of interesting looking sacks close by it. He might
just be able to grab those and get away. All he had to do was to find a way
round the cavern.
It was a journey no man would have attempted. The passages were narrow and
twisted and as black as pitch. Brandon set off steadily, feeling his way,
aiming to stay at the same level and to circle around the cavern. Oft times
he would stop as his keen ears picked up a distant sound. The hoarse shout
of an orc, the eery flapping of a giant bat, the scurrying of some small
creature or the heavy slither of things too evil to be thought about.
He trudged on. Sometimes squeezing through tight corridors, sometimes
inching his way along narrow ledges bottomless canyons. For a while he
marched on a broad highway that sloped gently upwards, then stumbled and
staggered down precipitous winding stairs. All too often the passages ended
in disused storerooms - long since emptied of anything of interest or value
- or in boulder-strewn rockfaces where once dwarves had mined for precious
metals. And always he went in a timeless darkness.
Who knows how long he had travelled before at last he smelt the fetid
stench of dragon blowing strongly towards him, and saw the glint of gold at
the end of a tunnel. He hurried on silently, then paused and risked a quick
glimpse through the opening. He was back where he had started.
"Hello, "said the dragon. "Fancy a game of chance? I'm, bored."
Tobiah woke from a deep healing sleep. He lay still for a moment, flexing
his muscles and feeling their response. The wound in his arm still troubled
him and would slow him down in a fight, but he knew he was strong enough to
walk and he must return to the city.
He rose into an empty room. Both the Woodman and his hound had gone.
Hunting? Perhaps, thought Tobiah, for there was little enough to eat and he
was ravenously hungry. He found some bread and the remains of a roast hare
and set to. Later he strapped on his sword and stepped out into the bright
light of an autumn morning.
The Woodman's cottage was built in a small clearing encircled by tall oaks.
Tobiah looked around, trying to get his bearings, and as he turned he saw a
hawk launch itself from the top of the tallest tree and beat its way
powerfully up and away to the south east. He stared after it with envy.
"Ha! If I could fly like you, I would be home before nightfall."
"Then it's as well that you can't. I need you elsewhere."
Tobiah span round in surprise, drawing his sword clumsily. He let if all
back in its sheath as he saw who had spoken.
"Jarnac! What brought you here?"
"My feet. And they're sore, and I'm hungry. Did you leave me any breakfast?
I don't suppose so, but no matter. The Woodman knows I have arrived. He'll
bring something back with him."
"How does he know? Have you seen him?"
"He knows everything that happens. His birds keep him informed. Did you not
see the hawk that went to tell him that you were practicing at being an
The young prince looked again at the dark spaces between the trunks of the
great trees. "Are they, then, around here?"
"No, but you weren't to know that. Come inside. We'll build a fire to roast
that young fallow deer that the Woodman has shot, and you can tell me of
your adventures with the orcs while we wait."
Tobiah followed him into the cottage, marvelling at the old wizard.
Later, as they sat around the table eating venison, Tobiah asked how
Jarnac had known about the deer. The Woodman answered the question.
"He didn't. He was just hopeful. Jarnac's been living on roots and berries
up in his cave. He was eager for some real meat. Isn't that true?" He
grinned at the wizard.
Jarnac nodded and took another bite. "Thank you, old friend. I knew you
wouldn't fail me, but I haven't just been sitting in my cave." He waved
away Tobiah's unasked questions and spoke no more until he had finished
At last the wizard pushed himself back from the table and wiped his grey
beard. "Now, Tobiah. You were going to ask me something?"
"Indeed! Will you now tell me what brings you here? I didn't know that you
and the Woodman were friends. He never spoke of you. And also, what of this
cave of yours?"
Jarnac spoke slowly, savoring a pot of the Woodman's beer. "The cave is but
a day's long walk from here. I have used it for many a long year,
retreating there whenever I needed to think deeply or to search out truth.
The city is no place for that. It is too full of distractions for inner
peace, and its walls too high for distant friends. And if he did not speak
of it to you, why should he? He has never been one to say more than is
needful. Is that not right?"
"Get on with it, Jarnac. Even I don't know why you are here. Though I can
"And perhaps you would be right. There's little that escapes your
knowledge. You will know, Woodman, and you may have guessed, Tobiah, that
the storm clouds are gathering over our lands. That skirmish of your with
the band of orcs was but the smallest hint of what is to come. Soon the
whole land will ring to the stamp of orc armies on the march."
"..I must get back to the city to alert them!" burst in Tobiah.
"There's no need. They already know of the orcs. Jarnac, you have missed
this on your travels. A host of the enemy passed through the southern
bounds of the forest last week and descended upon a merchants' caravan and
slew them. A few managed to escape and reach the city."
"Then the orcs could be at the gates of the city by now. I must return and
lend my sword to the fight."
"Be still, Tobiah." The Woodman chided him. "The city is not yet in danger
for the host was not that great. Now pay heed to Jarnac. He has come far to
speak with us."
"Indeed, Tobiah. The wizard looked steadily at the young prince. "Your
sword will be little use until your wound is fully healed, but you have
within you the spirit of ancient kings. It gives you a strength that will
be of more value in another part of this battle. Don't worry about the
city. Its walls can withstand a long siege if it comes to it. There is a
greater danger in the mountains a long siege if it comes to it. There is a
greater danger in the mountains to the north, and that is where we must
Tobiah had been ready to argue with the wizard, but at the hint of his
mission he fell quiet and waited to hear more. The Woodman sat impassively,
patient and watchful as the forest itself.
"There is a Dark Lord again in the Black Tower. If I am right, his name is
Agaliarept, a warrior wizard terrible in battle and a master of the black
arts. I have heard some rumors of him in the far northern lands, and it
would seem that he seeks to extend his empire to encompass us. It was he
who sent the wolves to plague us, who holds back the clouds so that our
lands shrivel in the burning sun, who directs the orc armies and is even
now stirring yet viler creatures in the bowels of the Earth. But fearsome
though his armies are, the danger lies less in them than in his magic. The
darkness of great presence spreads out from the Black Tower and falls as a
shadow to chill the hearts of men and to cloud their minds with fear. Yet
his power is not complete. I can feel him questing, searching the lands for
that final link that will join the chains to enslave us all." The wizard
fell silent and the room grew still and dark.
"What is this link?" asked the Woodman at last.
"I know not. I know only that he has found the Stones of the Elements and
unlocked their secrets. There were other gems and rings and amulets that
the great ones of old invested with their powers. I know from his works
that he has gathered many of these unto him, but something is yet missing
of his darkness would have already fallen upon us all. We must seek out the
source of his power and destroy it, or find that weakness in his armour
that will let us drive a blade into the black heart of his evil. Either way
our quest must take us within the very bounds of his dark empire."
"Come, the road ahead is long and grim. "The Woodman spoke somberly, aware
of the dark days ahead, and seeing in his mind's eye the foreboding Orc's
Head, dark gateway to a dark land. "Let us at least start in full sun."
It was just before noon that one of the forward scouts came galloping back
to the main column. He headed directly to Thornback Hamber, Captain of the
Queen's Guard and leader of the expeditionary force.
"Sire, the enemy! Less than an hour's march from here."
"How many and where?" As he spoke, Thornback reined in his steed and
signalled the column to halt.
"About a hundred in all, mainly orcs with some dwarves and men Northmen by
their red hair and the axes they carry. They are camped on the far side of
a stream bed just below yonder hills. A rise in the land conceals them from
view." The scout paused, then added, keen to do battle, "Do we attack,
"We haven't marched all this way for the exercise." said Thornback grimly.
He knew that the enemy ahead was but a fraction of the main force, and
wanted a good victory that would inspire his men for the more difficult
times to come. "To attack their camp directly will cost us many men. I know
that land, and the steep sides of the stream bed are as good as fortress
walls. Ellyett!" he called to his second-in-command. "Take sixty horsemen
and make a feint at their camp. Fall back immediately towards that rise
where I shall be waiting with the foot soldiers. Denat will take the rest
of the horses and circle round in the cover of the hills. The enemy will
charge after you believing that you are routed and then.." he snatched at
the air with his hand. "..we will have them in our grasp and slaughter
Ellyett's troops rode off ahead of the main column, the sunlight glinting
off their burnished armour, and the pennants on their lances fluttering in
the wind of their passage. As they topped the rise, the riders' hearts
filled with the excitement of battle. The enemy lay before them,
unsuspecting and at their ease.
"Onward men of Valaii! Onward to victory!" Ellyett cried, launching his
horse down the slope at the gallop, attacking with such vigour that the
enemy could not suspect it for a feint.
"Valaii and victory!" his men shouted with one voice and the tide flowed
onto the enemy's shore.
But waves break upon the shore, and just so was the onslaught checked by
the orcs. They leapt to their weapons and rushed out to meet the charge.
Their black barbed arrows found targets in the flesh of men and horses,
and their curved swords hacked at the riders as they fought their way up
from the steam bed. For a few moments the fight was poised along the edge
of the bank, lances plunging, swords and battle-axes flailing, then Ellyett
took up his horn and sounded the retreat.
The riders whirled and swept away as swiftly as they had come. The orcs
shouted in triumph and ran after them. Ellyett's horsemen galloped up the
slope, drawing the enemy after them into Thornback's trap. But the trap did
not close. Where were his Captain's foot soldiers that should now have been
rushing down to join the fray? Where was Denat's troop that should have
been sweeping in from the side?
As Ellyett reached the top, the truth struck him like a blow. They were the
ones who had been trapped. The orc camp was bait for them, and their every
move had been foreseen. Denat's horsemen had been scattered by a host of
orc riders that must have lain in wait for them in the hills. The remnants
of the troop were even now flying towards the main column with terror at
their heels. Wolves were steeds for the orcs and their howling echoed
across the plain. From behind Thornback's army and from the right, dense
lines of orcs closed in at the trot, the thunder of their feet and the
clamor of swords on shields striking fear into the men of Valaii.
Ellyett's riders wavered at the sight before them, but he rallied them with
a great cry "To me, men of Valaii! To me!" and as a troop they galloped
across the plain and into the midst of the battle.
He led his men across the path of the wolf-riders, hewing to left and right
and breaking their charge. His fleeing comrades rallied to his cries and
turned once more upon their foes. Round they surged in a milling mass of
men and orcs, of horses and wolves, half-blinded by the clouds of dust
churned up from the dry plains, half-deafened by the cries of battle and
the clash of steel on steel.
At last the orc cavalry withdrew. The wolves, maddened by the iron-shod
hooves that lashed at them, were throwing off their riders and running
wild. Ellyett looked around to count the cost to his troops and to view the
main action beyond. Of two hundred riders that had set out from the city,
but two score remained mounted and fit. The foot soldiers were faring
little better, their dwindling band hard-pressed on all sides, yet the
standard still flew aloft. Thornback Hamber could be seen in the thick of
it, urging his men to hold firm against impossible odds.
Once more Ellyett rallied his men and led them against the enemy. Once more
the sharpness of his sword and the valor of his voice gave new heart to
near- exhausted men. For a moment it seemed as if his charge might turn the
tide of the battle, but its impact was absorbed by the great mass of orcs
and the cavalry were pressed back.
In the burning heat of the afternoon sun and the choking dust of the plain,
the fight raged on;the black noose of orcs drawing ever tighter around the
men of Valaii. Then Thornback saw his chance. For a moment there was a
clear path through to the enemy leader who directed his troops from the
back of a great black stallion. He was a tall and thick-set orc with a
single, gleaming eye. Thornback spurred his horse forward, his sword held
high and the cry of 'Valaii' ringing across the blood-soaked field.
The hugh orc turned to his attacker and they met with a crash of tempered
steel. Their battle steeds whirled and lunged at each other as man and orc
fought blade to blade and shield to shield. Around them all other action
ceased and all eyes were drawn to this combat of champions. Thornback at
first gained the initiative and began to press the orc back into the ranks
of his army, but his opponent steadied, then turned the fight with a mighty
blow that snapped the man's sword in two. The Captain of Valaii pulled
back, cast aside his sword and took up the ball and chain that hung from
his pommel. As he swung it about his head the orc pressed home his
advantage and thrust his scimitar into Thornback's breast.
Yet the man fell not, but gathering all his dying strength he smashed the
heavy spiked ball into the orc's head.
The orc leader, his skull crushed, fell from his horse but Thornback, the
scimitar protruding from his breasts remained mounted, the ball and chain
still swinging in his hand. "Valaii!" he cried again, and the host of orcs
turned and fled. And then he fell.
Thus ended the battle of Culdaron.
"Perhaps the Great One would like a song?" suggested the dwarf. Legend had
it that here in the dragon's hoard was the Harp of the Sirens - the harp
with the magical power to lull to sleep all who listened to it.
The dragon thought about it for a moment, then rummaged through the
glittering mound on which it lay. It pulled out a golden flute and tossed
it to Brandon. "Yes, sing me a song."
"Oh Wondrous Light of the World, I fear I cannot play a flute and sing at
the same time. Would you perhaps have a harp?"
The dragon snorted. It liked the sound of flute and voice. "You're a poor
musician." it accused Brandon, then gestured behind him. "Try over there in
the chest. I think I put one there."
Brandon raised the heavy brass-bound lid of a great oaken chest and
trembled at the sight that met his eyes. Never before had he been so close
to so much wealth. True, the mound that was the dragon's bed was worth
infinitely more, but the dragon kept him at a distance from that. He lifted
the treasures out one by one and placed them lovingly on the floor beside
him. Cunningly carved ornaments of brilliant green jade and the purest
ivory;a golden crown beset with a dozen matching black rubies;a statuette
almost a foot long fashioned from a single flawless diamond;rings,
necklaces, belts and bracelets without number, all of glittering gold and
heavy with rare gems.
"Come along, master dwarf!" The dragon grew impatient. "Get the harp and
put those oddments away."
The dwarf shook his head to try to clear it of the fogs of gold-greed. He
could see the harp now, and picked it from the chest. It was the Harp of
the Sirens, of that there was no doubt. What other harp would be made of
white gold and decorated with golden shells inset with pearls as big as a
dwarf's hand? He grinned at his cunning, and went back to the dragon.
"I hope the song is about gold. I like songs about gold." The dragon stared
at Brandon, daring him to sing about anything else.
"Well, ..it starts 'The golden day..' You'll like it." said Brandon
The dragon puffed a cloud of grey smoke as if to say 'I'd better.' Brandon
played a few melodic chords then struck up a song that his mother had
taught him when he was but a dwarf-child.
"The golden day is ending,
The time for play is done.
It's time to lay your head in sleep,
For sleepeth now the sun."
The dragon yawned and settled closer to Brandon.
"Though night is drawing on us,
Be not thou afear'd,
But lay your head in mother's lap
And hold your mother's beard."
The dragon fell asleep, with a smile on its face. Its head lay in Brandon's
lap and it clutched Brandon's beard tightly in its taloned claw. The dwarf
didn't notice. He too had fallen asleep as soon as the song had ended.
Their path took them along narrow forest trails, winding steadily
northwards and upwards. By late afternoon they had left the oaks and
beeches of the lower slopes, and entered into a more rugged land of dense
pines. There were no sounds of bird or beasts up there, and the pine
needles beneath their feet deadened the noise of their passage.
They passed the night among the firs, and the next day marched many miles
beneath the dusty, low-hanging boughs. At length, the trees thinned out,
and by noon they stood on a rocky upland clear of the Great Forest. Jarnac
scanned the barren hills and cliffs ahead, then turned and cast his eyes
over the tree-clad lands behind them.
"Woodman, you are a marvel!" The wizard congratulated him. "How many
leagues have we travelled through that sea of greenery, scarce ever seeing
more than a few yards in front of us? Yet you bring us out just here within
sight of our first goal, the Pinnacle of Obdurat. I must ascend that
pinnacle. It is a place of seeing." He pointed to a spire of rock that rose
from the hills before them.
As they walked the final mile towards the pinnacle, Jarnac explained his
purpose to Tobiah. "Within our lands and the lands of the enemy, there are
several such places of seeing. They have a magic within them that makes
each place an aspect of the other. From that pinnacle I shall be able to
see, not merely the land around here, but the land around every place of
seeing. I believe that in the ancient days, when the magic was stronger, a
man could transport his whole body - not just his vision - from one such
place to another. Would that we commanded that magic now. It would save my
poor feet much labour!"
"Do you think that the Dark Lord possess the secret of the places?" asked
"There is no great secret to the seeing, Tobi. Many magicians have acquired
that art, and we can use it to communicate with each other, though as most
of the places are in these distant parts, they are little used normally.
As for the Dark Lord, I think I may even have come upon that one, once. It
was some time ago, before he began to expand his evil upon us. I think he
had but newly discovered the power of the places, and thought that he
along commanded it for I sensed great surprise in him. I also sensed a
force of hatred and fury, far more potent than any I had ever felt before.
Then he was gone. In after times, some of the places became clouded with a
mist that obscured vision. I seek now to clear those mists and to learn his
By then, they had reached the pinnacle, and as the old wizard began to
mount the steep and narrow steps, Tobiah asked after him "Is there not
great danger for you in this?" But Jarnac replied not.
While they waited for the wizard, Tobiah and the Woodman sat and ate in
silent contemplation of the lands before them. The pinnacle was on a ridge
of high land above a rocky-sided valley that opened out onto a great
rolling plain. In the far distance, shimmering in the heat of the day, was
a thin line of purple - blue;the mountain wall that marked the edge of the
Dark Lord's vastness. The land between was dry and barren, save for a few
stunted trees and patches of burnt-out gorse at the mouth of the valley
A thin, brief cry from the pinnacle made them start. Swiftly they ran up
the rocky staircase only to find, when they reached the top, that the
wizard was no longer there.
"Has he then discovered the power of movement between the places?" asked
"No!" replied the Woodman. "For look, he has left his wand behind. It is
the Demon Lord who has that power, and who has taken him."
"Then we must rescue him!"
"We must try." His older companion said grimly. "The wand points to the
eastern end of yonder mountain chain. The Black Tower lies there, and there
we may find him." The Woodman tucked the wizard's wand into his belt and
led the way down again.
Once more at the base, they shouldered their packs and prepared to set out.
"Wait!" said the Woodman, catching sight of a movement high in the sky. It
was a hawk far above, winging swiftly towards them. The bird circled once
over their head, then flew off, turned and came back low flying as straight
and true as an arrow. It rose and landed on the pinnacle.
"What does it mean?" asked the young prince.
"Orcs! A party is coming swiftly towards us along the line of the ridge.
The enemy may have seen us, or may have guessed that Jarnac had companions
on his journey. There will be too many for us to fight in the open. Let us
find shelter in the valley. There are caves in its rocky sides where we may
hide or stand and fight if need be."
The Woodman led Tobiah at a scramble down the slope, dog loping swiftly
alongside. Near the bottom they found a deep, high-mouthed cave and flung
themselves into its cool darkness. They lay still, breathing deeply and
silently, straining to catch any sounds from beyond. But another sound came
first to their ears. A deep regular rumbling from deeper in the cave told
them that they were not alone. They peered into the darkness and tasted the
air. The heavy smell of sweat and badly cured leather, and an undertone of
cold roast meat suggested orcs or wild mountain men, but the rumbling
snores told of a much larger frame. And as their eyes became accustomed to
the darkness they could see the great bulk of a giant lying on a bed of
Tobiah shifted his position to bring his sword to hand, and the movement
upset a small pile of bones by his feet. The rattle as they fell echoed
through the stillness of the cave. The giant stirred and yawned mightily.
He scratched his massive gut and stretched out arms as long as a man is
tall, then he yawned again. The travellers pressed cautiously back into the
deeper shadow against the cave wall.
Other sounds now reached them - the soft padding of leather-soled feet on
rocky ground and the sniffing of an orc tracking his prey. The giant also
heard the sounds and rose from his bed. Tobiah could scarcely believe how
one so large could be so nimble and silent. The giant crept swiftly to the
cave mouth, paused and listened, then leapt outside. They heard the orc cry
in surprise, and the swish of a sword being unsheathed, then a sickened
crunch as the giant caught up his victim and dashed him against a rock.
The deep voice rumbled softly as the giant returned, trailing the orc by
one leg. "Ho, ho. Roast orc for supper. Better than scrawny goat, though
I'd rather 'ave a bit of man-flesh. Bin a long time since I 'ad any of
that. It's you lot what 'ave done it. Driving all them good tasty farmers
away. Right. I'll 'ang you up by the chimney, and see if I can find another
'un. You never comes 'ere by yourselves..."
The giant left the orc hanging upside down at the back of the cave and
returned quietly to the hunt. As he reached the cave mouth he paused, the
smell of men reaching his nostrils. He turned and looked towards the
travelers, though seeing them not in the darkness of shadow. The Woodman
and Tobiah prepared to sell their lives dearly, but the giant turned away
again, hearing more orcs outside.
"Cor! Loads of 'em. I'll not go 'ungry this month." He picked up a massive
club from the floor by the cave mouth and went outside.
"What now, Woodman?"
"Leave the orcs to him, and him to the orcs. Come! He spoke of a chimney.
There may be a way out there."
The chimney was a natural feature of the rock, a wide fissure that angled
steeply upwards and backwards. Though it was slippery with greasy smoke,
the two men and the dog were able to scramble up through it, emerging into
daylight on a brush covered slope. There was no sight of orcs, though the
sounds of fighting drifted to them over the hill from the valley beyond. As
they climbed down the slope, the cries of the orcs ceased one by one.
"We have lost time, Tobiah, and I fear for Jarnac. Let us hurry."
Together they set off at a steady trot northwards across the wide and dusty
King Austin sat brooding in the Council Chamber, scarcely aware of
Marshall Eliglas, his aides and the other councilors who were brooding over
maps spread out on the great table. Why, after so many centuries of peace,
had the orcs chosen his reign in which to return? He was no warrior king.
He didn't even enjoy hunting, let alone battle, and was now far too old to
ride out at the head of an army. Why couldn't they have waited ten or
twenty years when Tobiah would be king? He would have thrown himself into
the campaign heart and soul - probably pulled some good young bloods round
himself too. The king looked balefully at the ageing marshall and his
And what of Tobiah anyway? The queen had scarcely stopped crying in the
week since the merchants had brought news of the orcs. And when she wasn't
crying she was cursing the king for allowing the boy to go off alone. Boy!
Tobiah was over twenty - a grown man. And the king had sent him with a
guard of a dozen men. That seemed more than enough for anything at the
A disturbance at the door made the king look up. Verdin, the Royal Wizard
came hurrying across.
"My liege! I have had communication from Jarnac. He has much news of the
enemy - and of your son."
"News!" cried the king eagerly. "Is it good? Is he alive and well, but."
"Enough!" The king cut him off sharply. "Does the queen know this?"
"No, my liege. I can straightway to you. But.."
"Later, Verdin." The king called to a servant. "Take the news to Her
Majesty that Verdin has spoken with Jarnac the wizard, and that Prince
Tobiah is alive and well." He waited until the servant had left, then
turned once more to his councilor. "Only good news for Queen Gwendalan. She
has worn me out with her crying this week. Now you may tell me the rest."
"Jarnac spoke to me from the Pinnacle of Obdurat - it is to the north of
the Great Forest on the borders of the wastelands. Prince Tobiah was with
him, and though wounded in a fight with orcs was much more recovered. They
intended to press across the waste into the enemy's vastness..."
"You forbade it, of course. I cannot allow the prince to go there!" the
king burst in.
"My liege, he wouldn't listen to me. He.."
"You blithering fool! Do you know what the queen will do when she hears of
"My liege!" implored the Royal Wizard." There was nothing I could do!"
"Her Majesty must not know of this." The king was adamant.
"The secrets of the High Council do not pass beyond this door." said
Kerrinan the merchant, who also had a wife. The other councilors nodded
their support, and the king looked a little relieved.
"Jarnac also had news of the enemy. "Verdin began again. "He had a vision
within the realm of the Black Tower and had seen a great army assembling
and beginning to march east - towards Valaii." He paused for a moment and
tried to find the right words in which to convey the rest of Jarnac's
message. "He estimated the force at one hundred thousand orcs, and
suggested that we would be unable to defeat them on the field. He - Jarnac
- suggested, "the wizard continued over the protests of the marshall,
"that we seek a solution in magic."
"Poppycock!" cried Marshall Eliglas. "We have defeated them once on the
field of battle. We shall do so again. Magic, ha! Where has your magic got
us so far?"
"Have we defeated them?" asked Verdin. "What news is this?"
Eliglas showed the magician a scroll. "A messenger brought this within the
hour. The expeditionary force met with an army of orcs on the plains at
Culdaron. After a fierce fight, the orcs withdrew, and our troops return.
Casualties were heavy on both sides. This is Captain Ellyett's report on
"Did not Hamber lead that force?" asked the magician.
"Thornback Hamber died gloriously in combat. His body is being borne back
to the city."
"Do you mind if I read Ellyett's report?" Verdin was sure that the marshall
was leaving much unsaid about the battle, but knew that the young Captain
could be relied on to give a fair account. He took the scroll and read it
silently. At length he spoke quietly to the marshall. "Ellyett estimates a
force of two thousand orcs against the eight hundred of ours. He puts the
enemy's dead at under a thousand, while our own force is reduced to a
miserable handful. They were outmanouvered and outfought and they would
have been utterly defeated had it not been for Thornback Hamber's valiance.
How can we repel one hundred thousand orcs, especially now that the flower
of our troops lie dead at Culdaron?"
"We have full twenty thousand men under arms now, and the promise of as
many again from our neighboring princes. As for the enemy's numbers, we
have only Jarnac's word for that. My army stands ready to defend our
country. "The marshall spoke stiffly to Verdin.
"Can we not sue for peace?" asked Kerrinan. The merchant had little faith
in either Eliglas' army or Verdin's magic.
"Pease with the orcs?" Verdin laughed bitterly.
"Never!" cried Marshal Eliglas. Then he added, impetuously. "My liege, I
ask permission to lead my forces against the enemy."
"Not all of them!" replied the king in haste. "The city must remain well
guarded. You must leave at least half of them here."
The marshall thought over his command, and weighed the likelihood of
Jarnac's estimates being right. "Then perhaps, Sire, I shall wait for
Ellyett's return and send him with ten thousand to join forces with our
allies against the enemy. I shall supervise the defence of the city
"Do what you will." said the king.
Jarnac lay where he had been thrown on the filthy floor of an evil-smelling
dungeon. He had seen much from that magic place on the pinnacle, and had
managed to contact the Royal Wizard in the city to pass his knowledge on,
but he had lingered too long. The Demon Lord had felt his questing eye and
had come to him, face-to-face. They had locked their wills in combat, and
though Jarnac was strong, the enemy was stronger yet and had prevailed. He
had beaten down the old wizard's defenses and swept through, capturing him
bodily and transporting him to another place deep within his citadel. There
he had given him into the charge of his orcs to guard until he had time to
spare to question the wizard. His jailers locked and bolted the cell door,
then one went to report to his chief.
Grok, Keeper of the Orc's Head Tower - for that is where Jarnac had been
taken - was in his room staring out of the single round window. For over
two hours he had been standing there, watching the Demon Lord's army march
across the bridge of stone and down to the crossroads beyond. From there
the soldiers were turning southwest towards Valaii. Many thousands had
already passed, and many more thousands yet were still assembling in the
great caverns beneath and behind the guard tower.
"Chief.. It's me, Zaxz."
"What is it?" Grok snarled, without turning his gaze.
"We just put a prisoner in the fourth dungeon. Some wizard what 'Is Worship
caught. We gotta keep 'im safe, 'cept if 'e tries any of 'is magic, we've
gotta chop is 'ead off. An' if we don't keep 'im safe.."
"..'Imself'll chop our 'eads off, right?" Grok growled, and turned at last.
"Who's bleeding, think 'e is? That's what I wanna know. Who goes out an'
gets 'emselves killed? Eh? Orcs! That's who! An' who sits around where it's
safe giving the orders, livin' off the fat of the land? Eh? 'Imself! That's
who! It 'ain't right. Orcs does the work. It oughta be an orc as sits on
"Don't talk like that Chief! 'E'll 'ear you! 'E'll 'ave you strung up
inside out!" Zaxz whispered frantically.
"Bleedin' nonsense! 'E won't know nothin' unless some squealin' rat goes
tellin' 'im. Now you wouldn't do that would you?" Grok grabbed the guard by
the throat and hissed in his face.
"No, Chief, no!"
"Ere, did you say a wizard? A wizard like "Imself?"
The trembling orc nodded. Grok let go of him and paced the floor. "A
wizard, eh?" he mused, his small red eyes gleaming brightly. "Now tell me,
my lad, what's 'imself got what we 'aven't? Don't know, do you? Well I'll
tell you. 'E's got a bleedin' great big army - what's just marchin' out the
door - and 'e's got magic. Now we got our little lot what's lookin' after
the tower - all mates from the same cave - an' the only soldiers what'll be
left 'ere soon. Now just suppose we 'ad a wizard of our own.. then we'd
'ave magic, and we wouldn't need 'im. Would we?"
"Nah, it wouldn't work." Zaxz shook his head, then stopped as cunning
overcame fear. It might just work. It was certainly worth playing along
with Grok. If thing started to go bad, he could always shop him to the Dark
Lord - perhaps get his job as keeper. He grinned conspiratorially. "Yeh,
why not I'll go get the others."
"Not yet." Grok stopped his quickly and gestured to the open window and the
marching army beyond. "Wait till that lot 'ave gone. An' wait till I've 'ad
a word with their 'ere wizard."
Jarnac stirred as the heavy feet of the orcs tramped into his cell. He had
been stunned by his encounter with the Demon Lord and he had to struggle to
bring his mind back into focus. He was award of an orc bending over him, a
horny hand pulling him up by his beard and a warty face only inches from
"Wizard!" Grok hissed, and the foulness of his breath made Jarnac snap his
head back. The orc turned to his fellow "Zaxz! 'E's awake. Go and keep that
lot busy out there. I want a bit of quiet chat with our friend 'ere."
Grok waited while the wizard sat up, then handed him a flagon. "It's
alright." he urged, as Jarnac refused it." Some men's drink. Never touch it
meself." He preferred the glagon again. The wizard took it cautiously,
sniffed and tasted it. A honey liquor, thick and sweet with a fiery heat.
He drank and felt the warmth spread inside.
"Enough!" Grok snarled and grabbed the flagon. "Maybe a little more later
if you're a good boy."
The wizard stiffened. No orc was going to weasel information out of him.
But Grok's questions were not what he expected.
"Now what do you think's gonna 'appen to you, eh? Well, I'll tell you. As
of right now, you got two choices. Either they torture you till you tell
'em what they wanna know an' then they kill you, or they torture you till
you die without telling 'em nothin'. Not a lot o' bleedin' choice really is
it?" Grok grinned evilly, then hunched closer. "But supposin' there was
another choice, eh?.. Now, I got a proposition for you, my old son..."
The dragon woke first and tugged Brandon's beard to wake him too. "I liked
that, master dwarf. Sing me another - only make it a bit livelier this
The dwarf shook his head to clear the fogs of sleep. Then the dragon shook
Brandon's head. "I won't take no for an answer. I want another."
"All right, all right!" said Brandon, half-dazed. "Just give me a minute or
two, Oh Master of the Living Flame!"
"Only one." The dragon spoke severely. "If you want two minutes, you'll
have to give me two songs...Wait! That's a good idea. Let's have two
songs-but make them about gold."
"Yes, right." Brandon though frantically, trying desperately to remember a
song. He had heard so many in his hundred and forty years. Why couldn't he
recall one - two! - when he needed it.
"Time's up!" The dragon was smoldering gently, ready to burst into flame if
it didn't get its song.
"Er...er...I've got one! It's called Gilmor's Quest for Gold. It's all
about how a warrior is torn between love for a dwarfess and love of gold.
You'll like this." He struggled to find the right chords on the harp, then
"She was a golden maiden fair
And would have given him ought.
Though gold her beard and gold her hair,
'Twas not the gold he sought."
Getting drowsy, and beginning to dream about gold, Brandon lost
concentration and got his fingers tangled in the harp's strings. The dragon
looked at him crossly. It was enjoying this song. He snorted smoke and
hissed at the dwarf. "Never mind about the harp, just get on with the
Brandon shrugged and carried on unaccompanied.
"She loved her handsome warrior tall,
And the golden axe he carried.
Full three foot two he stood in all
Oh, fain she would have married.
Come sit by me and drink, she cried,
Handing him a flagon.
No, no, he said, for I must go
And kill that flaming..er..wolf."
Brandon's song ended rather lamely. He peered up at the dragon to see how
it was taking the ending. The dragon was disappointed.
"That doesn't rhyme. I don't like songs that don't rhyme. Why doesn't it
"O Living Volcano, O Golden-Winged Elegance!" said Brandon hurriedly before
the dragon could think too much about rhymes. "I have just remembered.
There's a whole scroll of songs in my pack. I left it in that passage. If
your Smokiness will but wait, I'll go thence and fetch it." He scurried
off while the dragon was still thinking, and had reached the entrance to
the passage before there was an explosion of anger.
"Pah! It should have been 'flaming dragon'! Come back here you tricky
little dwarf, and bring back my harp. I'll give you flaming dragons!" And
to make its point, it sent a burst of fire after Brandon.
All through the long hot afternoon, Tobiah, the Woodman and his hound ran
across the baked-dry plains. As evening came, a wind sprang up and whipped
the dusty earth into a choking, blinding fog that made further progress
impossible. They stopped and took the enforced rest, then later, in the
chill of the nigh when the air was again calm and the stars could guide
them, they urged their weary legs into action once more.
Through the night they ran, running through pain and exhaustion, running at
last in a mindless state in which nothing existed save the ground beneath
their feet and the Pole Star above their heads. In the half-light before
the dawn, they saw the mountain wall looming high on the horizon and the
plain falling away to their left in wooded valleys. They ran on, into the
cover of the woodlands and there slumped down for a few hours' sleep.
Towards sunset of that day the two men and the dog came onto an ancient
road that ran eastwards from the edge of the woodland and across the grassy
plain beyond. The weeds that grew through its cracked surface were trampled
and crushed. The Woodman bent low and studied the road, then read the signs
to his companion, pointing to faint marks as he spoke.
"A great army has passed, heading southwest. Orcs without number-many
mounted on wolves. A train of wagons with iron bound wheels, drawn by the
sturdy ponies of the south, led by dwarves. Engines of war and siege towers
drawn by oxen. Elephants, hunting leopards and the feet of many men from
distant countries. All these have passed by in the last two days-some but a
few hours since."
"The Demon Lord has spread his net wide to amass such a force. Now he seeks
to engulf the world." Tobiah spoke somberly.
"Perhaps, " replied the Woodman evenly, "but this army marched away from
his lands. How many now are left to guard his fortress? Our passage will be
much easier now that the army has gone, and Valaii is safe for yet a while.
That great host must move slowly. Come, I would reach the Orc's Head before
it is fully dark."
They marched off with the setting sun at their backs and their shadows long
before them. But the road also was long and the sun had sunk far below the
horizon before they reached the cross-roads and saw the Orc's Head to the
north. It looked an evil, fearsome place in the dismal twilight. A great
head, fully sixty foot high, carved out of the solid stone at the base of a
high cliff. Its stone tongue formed the bridge over a fast flowing river
and led into the fetid darkness of the fang-fringed mouth. Beneath a
massive brow, its stone eyes in deep sunken sockets stared a deadly
challenge across he lands below. Many centuries ago, another Dark Lord had
caused it to be built as a guard tower and gateway to his kingdom. Ancient
battles and the long years of neglect had etched deep scars in the graven
face, making it yet more grim and foreboding. Now once again it stood guard
at the entrance to a land of evil.
The hound growled deep in his throat, and his hackles rose. "Aye, dog.
There's orcs in there, but go quietly now. "The Woodman laid a hand on its
head and calmed him down.
"How far is the Black Tower from here?" asked Tobiah.
"How far?" echoed the Woodman. "Time and distance have no meaning beyond
that bridge, Tobiah. It has ever been thus. I ventured in there once, in
the days before the Demon Lord took possession of the lands. How long I
wandered I will never know. Beneath is a maze of unlit passages and
caverns;above a marsh of mists and forgetfulness. I know only that the
Tower is there, somewhere above and beyond, and that to find it we must go
only where we least want to." He pointed down the road. "Do you want to
cross that bridge?"
Tobiah looked at the glaring Orc's Head and sensed the evil flowing out
from it. "No." he spoke heavily. "That must be the way."
They set off up the road in single file, the Woodman in the lead, with his
hound padding silently at his heels. As they crossed the narrow bridge of
stone the noise of the rushing waters below rose up to greet them, but from
within the gatehouse came no sound. They stepped inside the cavernous mouth
with its broken rows of stone fangs jutting up from the floor and hanging
low from the ceiling. All was still and quiet, then suddenly from somewhere
deep inside, there came the echoing clang of an iron door being flung open,
and distant sounds of harsh voices raised in angry argument. At the
thundering of heavy feet running towards them, they drew their swords and
made ready to fight. But the running stopped and instead they heard the
lashing of a whip and cries of pain and death. Then the footsteps receded,
the iron door clanged again and all was silent once more.
"What do you make of that, Woodman?"
"I know not, but it would seem that the guards have no time for us. Now,
which way, Tobiah? I judge that Jarnac could be either in some dungeon or
in the Black Tower itself. But which? The wizard would tell us to seek
light in the darkest places, and the darkest opening is to that passage
They trod softly forwards, swords drawn and all senses alert. The passage
angled sharply to left and then to right, but always sloping gently
downwards. The air was cold, damp and heavy with the smell of orcs and the
walls and floor were slippery with a slimy wetness. In that total darkness,
where they dared risk no light, they moved slowly, feeling their way,
listening for any sound that might guide them. They came to a junction and
paused. To the left rose a flight of stairs, while to the right the passage
seemed to continue downwards. Tobiah moved towards the stairs, but the
Woodman held him back.
"Listen and look!" he whispered. From up above there drifted a faint
murmuring of voices, and there was the merest hint of light that suggested
a flickering torch somewhere far out of view. "I would guess that leads to
the guard rooms. We need to go much further in to find the Black Tower."
The passage down which they now walked had many doors leading off it.
Massive doors of wood or iron, at which they listened but heard nothing.
Then at one where a slit of light beneath told of its use, the Woodman
heard the scraping of stools on the floor and the sound of footsteps. He
hurried Tobiah forwards urgently. They had gone only a few yards when the
door opened, and an orc bearing a torch stepped out into the passage. He
was startled to see the men and it was a moment before he turned to call to
his fellow guards.
"There are m..." The Woodman's swift sword cut him down before he could
finish, but the damage was done. More orcs poured out from the guard room,
swords and whips flailing.
The Woodman and Tobiah fought back fiercely, hewing at the orcs with their
swords. The great hound also lunged forward, massive jaws agape, but sheer
weight of numbers told against them. They fell back steadily looking for
some way of escape. Tobiah felt an opening in the wall beside him and
turned to tell the Woodman. In that one brief moment that his attention
slipped from the fight, an orc whip wrapped around his leg and jerked him
off balance. Down he crashed through the opening, and headlong down a steep
flight of stairs.
Up above, the Woodman fought on with renewed ferocity, careless of his own
life, seeking only to protect the young prince and to safeguard his escape.
Blind to his wounds, he pressed forward, scything at his foes and hewing
them to the ground. One by one the orcs fell, but they were all
battle-hardened soldiers who sold their lives dearly. At last it was over.
The orcs lay all around him, slain by the Woodman's sword or rent by the
hound's fangs. And the Woodman, overcome by his many grievous wounds laid
himself down by his dying dog, and together they passed into the spirit
Brandon ran along the passage, the dragon's fire licking at his back. The
stone walls echoed to the clatter of his clogs, the panting of his breath
and the occasional twang as a harp string caught on a toggle. At last he
reached a sharp bend and once round it, he was safe from any further jets
"Typical!" he puffed, pressing his back gratefully against the cold wall.
"Two dozen ways out and I pick the straight one that's wide enough for it
to get its head in! Still, mustn't complain. I've got the harp. It must be
worth a king's ransom. I suppose I could even go back and sing it to sleep
and collect a bit more..."
He walked on for some way, debating the issue with himself, weighing
treasure that had been gained against even greater treasure that might be
gained. At last, overcome by the memories of the dragon's hoard, Brandon
sat down to think about it properly. How could he just walk away and leave
it? But could he get any more? Perhaps a song would work-though he must
remember to stop up his own ears first. Or perhaps there were other ways.
The dragon must leave its hoard sometimes, if only to feed. Perhaps if the
dwarf learnt the ways of the passages, he could even lure the dragon out
then slip in and take a few sackfuls. As he lay day-dreaming, his hands
stroked the golden harp making soft melodic music.
An orc patrol found him there a few hours later, and carried him off, fast
asleep. Brandon woke as he bounced down the steps into a cell. A hard thump
in the back and a resonant twang told him that his harp had been thrown in
"You musicians ain't supposed to be down 'ere. You just wait till 'Imself
'ears about this!" the guard shouted as he locked the door.
The true strength of dwarves lies not in their thick muscles and sturdy
bones, but in their resilience in the face of sudden misfortune. Brandon
may have been a thief-though he would call himself an 'adventurer'-but he
was a true dwarf. He waited until his orc jailers had settled to their
supper in the guard room just beyond. Then he rose and sat by the iron bars
of the door, stuffed his hair in his ears and struck up a song. It was one
that he had composed while he was waiting.
"There were four vicious orc soldiers,
None worse in all the land.
They loved to kill and maim their foes,
To chop off head and hand."
Brandon glanced round to check the reaction. So far, so good. The orcs
seemed to be enjoying it.
"Now Nazgarod their captain
Was the nastiest of them all.
He used to grab foes by the nose.
And smash them 'gainst the wall.
But Grindlesocks the greedy
Was no use in a fight.
As soon as he had killed a man,
He'd sit down for a bite.
While Bumblespots the horrible
Was a foul and filthy fiend.
The dwarf let his song trail to an end. The orcs all seemed to be asleep,
and he still hadn't worked out the rest of the verse. He couldn't find a
rhyme for 'fiend'.
It was then that he realized the shortcomings of his plan. The cell door
was locked. The keys were on the table and the table was out of reach. He
turned back into his cell to hunt for something long;found nothing and
wandered back to the door. The fourth orc was standing there, holding out a
plate of vile-smelling stew. The dwarf could see the other three slumped
over the table, snoring loudly. He looked up at his jailer and wondered.
"Would you like another song?" he asked hopefully.
"Eh?" replied the orc, cupping a hand to his ear. "Speak up!"
"Never mind. "Brandon accepted the food through the bars and sat down.
"Now then, mates. You all knows me, an' what I stand for, don't you. You
all knows you can trust Grok, don't you. "Ave I ever whipped or killed
anyone as didn't deserve it? No, course not! Not like some as I could
mention." Grok gestured upwards in the direction of the Black Tower and
there were grunts of agreement.
"Ere, Chief!" called a voice from the back. "We knows you, but who's this
wizard you got with you?"
"Ah, don't you mind 'im. 'E's all right. I'll tell you why 'e's' 'ere in a
minute. The wizard you got to worry about, mate, is that other one up
there. An' what I says is, who's 'e think 'e is, going round givin' out all
the orders an' killin' orcs what don't do just what 'e says. What I says
is, it's time we got ourselves a new boss-an orc like us-what 'ud look
after our interests, not 'is own."
"Forget it!" another orc jeered. "You don't stand a bleedin' chance. Not an
earthly. 'E'd 'ave yer guts for garters before you'd even started."
"Guts! What would you now about guts? Apart from filling that fat gut of
yours.." Grok snarled back, and waited while the cruel laughter died down.
"You need real guts for this. Guts enough to stand on your two feet an' say
'I'm an orc, an' orcs don't take orders from no wizards!"
Grok looked over his audience as they cheered and shouted their approval.
There were a few at the back who would need careful watching. "An' we can
do it.." he went on, speaking more quietly, so that the other orcs had to
be silent and listen."..an' 'ere's 'ow. There's three score of us 'ere now,
all orcs from the same cave, bin through thick an' thin together, an' we'll
stick together in this one too. Out there in the rest of this place, there
ain't no more than fifty-an' most of 'em 'll join us when they sees what's
'appening. So that's the fightin' sorted out, right?"
"What about his bleedin' great army?"
"..Yeah, an' what about his magic?"
"Don't you worry yerself about the army, mate. By the time it gets back,
we'll be in charge 'ere, an' the army'll do what its told, like what it
always does. An' as for magic...that's where our friend 'ere comes in."
Grok cocked a thumb in Jarnac's direction. "We gotta wizard of our own.
Only this one don't wanna be boss. 'E just wants to go 'ome, ain't that
right, my old son?"
"Yeh, but is 'e any good?" asked a worried voice.
Jarnac made no reply but looked steadily at the one who doubted his powers.
The orc held his gaze fro a brief moment then recoiled clutching his head.
"All right, all right. Tell 'im to stop. I only wanted to know."
"An' now you do." Grok didn't know what Jarnac had done, or how, but it had
done the trick. "All agreed then?" He glanced around the company.
"No! I still don't reckon it'll work, an' anyway, I'd rather 'ave 'imself
for boss than you. Look at all them battles what we won with "Imself
tellin' us what to do."
"Yeh! But it were the orcs what done the fightin', an' it always will be.
We'd 'ave won them battles without 'imself, but if it weren't for us, 'e
wouldn't 'ave got nowhere."
"You're wrong, Grok. An' I'm not gonna get meself killed for you. I'm off."
The angry orc stormed to the door and crashed it open.
"Stop 'im!" shouted Grok. "'E'll squawk to 'imself an' ruin it."
Zaxz stepped into the passage after the other, unwinding his whip as he
moved. Before the running orc had gone ten paces, Zaxz had lashed out,
catching him by the legs and bringing him crashing down. Flicking the whip
free, he lashed the dazed orc again and again as he walked closer, down on
his victim. One blow was enough. Zaxz turned and went back to the meeting,
slamming the door shut behind him.
"Any more objections?" Grok asked. "No? Right. Now we're all goin' down the
stores to get ourselves some extra weapons, then we 'ead for 'is tower.
Anyone we meet on the way, we gives 'em a choice-join us or get topped.
When we get there, the wizard goes in an' sorts out 'imself-an' that's it!
"What 'appens then, Grok?" Zaxz asked the question that he had arranged
with his chief.
"We raid 'is cellar an' 'ave a booze up." Grok knew that this would delight
The shouting, cheering orcs cleared a way for Grok across the room to the
door. "Follow me, mates!" he cried.
Jarnac was swept along in the crush. This was not the way he would have
chosen to approach the Black Tower, but it was better than none. Quite how
he was supposed to 'sort out' the Demon Lord was another matter altogether.
Most of all he wanted to know what had happened to Tobiah and the Woodman.
There was a thudding and crashing down the stairs towards the cell block.
Brandon ignored it, the deaf jailer couldn't hear it and the other three
slept through it.
Tobiah lay stunned for a few moments, then picked up the sword that had
clattered down ahead of him. He rose cautiously and painfully, peering
through the open doorway to the jailers' room. Three orcs were slumped
about a table-the stone walls echoed with their snoring-while a fourth was
picking his teeth with a key, his head turned partly away from the man.
Tobiah hefted his sword to his left hand, took up a club that stood against
the wall and crept upon the unsuspecting orc. The club came down on the
orc's skull with a loud thud that made Brandon turn and take notice. He
watched with interest as Tobiah span round towards the other three, ready
to deal with them too.
"I shouldn't bother, "Brandon told him, "they'll not wake up for ages."
"Who speaks?" asked Tobiah, startled by the dwarf's voice.
"Brandon Brannigon's son at your service, or will be if you would be so
kind as to open this door." replied the dwarf politely.
"A dwarf, eh?" said Tobiah, picking up the keys and approaching the door.
He looked closely at the captive.
"Yes, but no friend of the orcs, as you can see." He gestured to the keys
and the lock. The prince eyed him doubtfully, for dwarves had a poor
reputation amongst men and some were known to be in the Demon Lord's
service. "And what are you doing in this place?" he asked.
"I might ask the same of you, noble sir, for you are my visitor are you
not?" The dwarf politely reminded Tobiah of his manners, but went straight
into his explanation, for he was keen to be free. "I am, good sir, but a
humble minstrel. I can to these parts by chance and was thrown into this
dungeon for my pains. And I, who want only to please the world with my
music...Shall I sing you a song?" He realized that if Tobiah fell asleep
where he then stood, the keys would come into reach.
Tobiah looked at the harp and laughed. "And what humble minstrel carries a
harp of gold? Ha! I judge you for an adventurer, come to steal gold and
caught in the act." Even as he laughed he unlocked the door. "Come out,
for I am an adventurer too, though it is not gold that I seek. I am Tobiah
of Valaii, come here in search of knowledge. Now tell me again about
yourself. But tell me no more lies!" He swung the club with half-serious
menace to emphasize his point.
"My noble lord is right. I am an adventurer in search of gold. There is a
vast treasure here, guarded by the most cunning dragon. So far I have
acquired only this harp-though it does have its uses!" He gestured with the
harp towards the sleeping jailers.
"A Sirens' harp, no less! And you would have sung to me?"
Brandon shrugged. "An adventurer must take care of himself.."
"What do you know of these caverns?" Tobiah grew suddenly sombre. He had
found the dungeons, but the wizard was not there. He had become separated
from the Woodman, who might be captured, or even dead. It fell now to him
along to seek out the Demon Lord's lair and discover what he could. "Do you
think you could guide me to the Black Tower?"
"I think I would rather guide myself to the outside. I have decided that I
shall give up adventuring and go home."
"Home! Do you think you have a home to go to? Do you know that this Demon
Lord has already conquered the northern world and is even now set to
overwhelm the rest of the surrounding lands?"
"No." This was all news to Brandon.
"How long have you been here?" asked Tobiah incredulously.
"I confess, I do not know. I would guess a few weeks. The first snows had
fallen the day I entered these caverns."
"But 'tis now autumn! Have you been here nearly a year?"
Brandon looked surprised, then he shrugged again. "Time has little meaning
in this place, and I am in no special hurry."
"Well I am! And you, master dwarf, will use your knowledge of these
passages and caverns to take me where I must go. There are things that must
be done, for your sake as well as for the rest of our peoples. When all is
done, Valaii will be grateful-in gold!"
The promise of gold seemed to overcome any doubts Brandon may have had
about getting involved in Tobiah's enterprise. He took a flickering torch
from a wall bracket, strapped the harp on his back and strode purposefully
towards the exit opposite the staircase. "Follow me."
"Is the torch wise?" asked Tobiah.
"Yes." replied Brandon firmly. He was tired of being lost in the dark. "But
don't worry about orcs. I could hear one at a thousand yards."
Tobiah was not entirely reassured by the dwarf's confidence and kept his
sword poised as they walked.
Brandon stumped solidly on. He reasoned that orcs were orcs, and that their
Demon Lord, whatever he might be, would certainly be no better. Therefore,
the path from the dungeons to the Black Tower would be well worn and
probably marked by trails of blood. It was not a cheerful thought, but it
seemed to be paying off. Their route took them along passages and up
stairways that grew steadily wider and higher. At last they reached a
junction with a broad highway lit by torches all along the walls. It
stretched away in both directions, as far as the eye could see. Both ways
were equally well worn, and both splattered with patches of dried blood.
Brandon came to a standstill.
"I thin we should go to the right." Tobiah suggested, sensing a great force
of evil in that direction.
"Definitely not! It's this way." The dwarf could also feel it, and was not
going to argue about the way. He set off to the left, then almost
immediately he stopped and turned. In the far distance he could see a group
of orcs marching towards them. He pointed them out to Tobiah. "Perhaps you
are right, fair lord. Let us hurry on this other way."
They ran swiftly until the orcs behind had fallen from view and the far end
of the highway was in sight. It opened out into a great cavern, and a
massive ornate stairway could be seen on the opposite side. There were orc
guards on the stairs.
"Master dwarf, it's time to unstrap your harp again. Play it as we walk the
Brandon nodded his agreement and made ready. "What shall I play?" he asked,
but got no reply, for Tobiah had already blocked his ears and gone on
ahead. The dwarf swung into 'There were four vicious orc soldiers' and
followed at a distance. His caution was not necessary, and before they had
reached the cavern the guards had lain themselves down on the stairway and
fallen into a deep sleep.
Tobiah stood at the end of the passage. Though the immediate danger of
discovery had been removed, he was reluctant to go further. The air in the
cavern was so heavy with menace that it pressed upon him with a physical
force, and evil shimmered on the stairway. Brandon came and stood by him,
then shuddered. "I think my harp is of no further use here, my lord. If you
don't mind, I'll await your return in that little storeroom we have just
The prince nodded and spoke leadenly. "Thank you, master dwarf, for all
that you have done. I shall look for you on my return." He gritted his
teeth and forced his way forward.
That last short distance across the cavern and up the great flight of
stairs seemed infinitely long, his feet growing heavier with each step. The
evil bit into his body, chilling him to the bone and numbing his brain. No
ordinary mortal could have made that journey, but Tobiah of Valaii was no
ordinary mortal. In his veins flowed the blood of ancient kings, and he had
inherited their strength in full measure. The flame of his inner self
flickered and dimmed but never stopped burning.
At length he stood before a pair of massive doors of ebony studded with
silver. They were closed firm, but slivers of light showered around a
wicket gate within the left-hand door. Tobiah moved to it and slowly pushed
From where he stood, he could not see that black sorcerer and Demon Lord,
the evil genius Agaliarept, but the shadow of his robed figure loomed high
on the wall beyond. A giant, menacing shadow dancing a sombre dance of
death in the vivid red light of a fire that seemed to rise and fall at his
command. And his voice! So cold, so harsh, hissing venomously, it cut
through his consciousness like a jagged knife. What was said made little
sense to him, yet would not be forgotten. But to whom did he speak? Tobiah
could see no other shadow, hear no other voice.
"...but not yet. Let them sweat for seven more day.s Fear will make them
weaker yet and our victory so much easier..."
"..Bangara! You have found the Amulet?....I will not have failure!" The
shadow of a robed arm swept across the wall. Its long talons slicing
through the air. "....You! What is your name?....Well, Talak, you have
charge of this miserable crew. Throw this body to the wolves, then go! Find
that talisman! I must have it!..."
"Tobi! Tobi! Come away boy!" Another voice, kindly and warm, pushed itself
urgently into the prince's mind. "Come away! You must not linger here.!"
Tobiah drew his eyes from the unholy sights within and turned towards the
voice. Jarnac stood beside him, tugging at his sleeve, pulling him away
from the door. "Come quickly! Soon he will sense me, then all is lost!" The
young man resisted, transfixed by the black power beyond the doors, but
slowly Jarnac overcame him, drawing him sep by step away.
Then the Demon Lord returned from his visionary travels and sensed the
presence of the two, sensed that he had been betrayed, or had betrayed
himself somehow, and a great shriek of rage rent the air, echoing down the
stone staircase. That scream released Tobiah from the grip of his power.
"The Amulet! He seeks the Amulet" the prince whispered.
"The Amulet of Life! Of course! What other talisman could resist the magic
of the bane fire that he commands. Come quickly, Tobi! Our mission here is
done." The wizard led the way down the staircase at the run. Before they
made the final turn that would bring them insight of the cavern, he thrust
Tobiah behind a tapestry and told him to wait. Then he continued on alone
to face the orcs below.
They had heard the great shriek and now cowered fearfully, wondering what
it had meant. When Jarnac appeared, there was a ragged cheer and hoarse
sighs of relief.
The wizard said nothing, but stood to one side, and gestured to the orcs to
pass him. Grok's eyes gleamed brightly, his nostrils quivered with the
false scent of success. He swirled his scimitar above his head and shouted
to his troops. "Come on! 'E's ours now!"
The orc rebels charged swiftly up the staircase, and when they were past,
the wizard called softly to Tobiah. As they ran together across the great
cavern, they heard from above the screams and cries of the orcs as they
burst into the Chamber of the Bane Fire and were met by the Demon Lord's
"My councilors, my friends..."the old king looked around the table, his
face full of sorrow. He spoke on, with quavering voice. "This morning an
ambassador of the enemy did approach the gates of the city. He bore this
message." King Astuin opened a scroll with shaking hands, and read to the
High Council. "My Lord Agaliarept calls upon you to surrender. Even now his
armies are sweeping towards you and cannot be defeated in battle. If you
surrender, you will be permitted the boon of death with dignity;else if you
resist it will be the worse for you when you are overcome. You have one
week in which to decide."
He raised his eyes from the scroll. "I am not a fighting man and never have
been-though in our long years of peace that has been of little account-but
I will not give up my people to slaughter by this tyrant. If we must die,
we shall die fighting." Pride and a strong sense of duty had overcome. You
have one week in which to decide."
The marshall answered first, summing up the current state of the campaign.
"My liege, members of the High Council. As you know, our troops under Field
Captain Ellyett have been acting in concert with the armies of surrounding
kingdoms. It is now over a fortnight since they decamped from the plains
below the city and marched north. The enemy hosts were met some forty
leagues off, by the borders of the Great Forest. The couriers tell of a
series of engagements-running battles, for they are heavily outnumbered and
cannot risk a standing fight. Ellyett commends the valor of our troops but
reports that they have suffered many casualties. The last message told that
the line of retreat to the city had been cut and that they were seeking the
shelter of the earthworks at the base of Mount Suwl. That was four days
ago. Whether they got there or not, I do not know. It should have been
possible, but by all accounts the enemy shows great tactical ability and an
alarming capacity for anticipating our every move."
The marshall laid down the handful of scrolls to which he had been
referring and picked up another set. "I also have reports of a second army,
equipped with siege engines, now marching down the northern road towards
the city. Our estimate is that it will be three to four days before they
come into sight of the walls. That will give us sufficient time to complete
the strengthening of the city's defenses and to bring our people and stores
of food in from the outlying farmlands. I have every confidence in our
ability to hold the enemy at bay for many weeks if not months."
"Marshall Eliglas, you had every confidence in the army's ability to defeat
the enemy on the field of battle." pointed out Kerrinan the merchant. "But
even assuming we could hold out for months-who would then relieve us? Are
there any forces left that could come to our aid?"
"It won't be a matter of months." said Verdin dourly. "This Demon Lord is
but playing cat and mouse with us. If he chooses to spread his power he
could enter the city today. No army can withstand him. Only be destroying
the base of his power within the Black Tower can we hope to resist him."
"Could we attempt that, Eliglas? Do we have forces to spare for the
venture?" asked the king.
"If the wizard speaks truth, My liege, " he replied, "we had best send an
army of wizards to attack the Black Tower!"
All eyes turned towards the Royal Wizard. "Well, Verdin?" The king prompted
him. "It's time the Wizard's Guild did something useful."
The wizard thought deeply for a few moments, recalling his past
conversations with Jarnac and piecing together what he know of Agaliarept.
"Not an army of wizards, "he said at length, "but a single wizard could
perhaps slip beneath his gaze and enter the tower."
"So be it. Call your guild council together and put this in train
immediately. I hold you responsible for its success, Verdin. The Guild
failed to see the onset of these dark times. If they fail in this venture,
you will not live to see its end." The king spoke harshly and dismissed the
wizard with a flick of his hand. "And Eliglas, let us at least try an
assault on this Black Tower."
"It shall be done, my liege."
Brandon cowered in the little storeroom off the highway and waited until he
had heard the orcs' feet tramp by. He eased the door open a crack and
peered through. The orcs were all gathered at the foot of the great
staircase in the cavern beyond with their backs turned to him. Deciding to
retreat further down the highway ready for a quick escape, the dwarf
slipped out and crept away stealthily. No-one noticed him.
He had gone only a few hundred yards when Agaliarept's blood-curdling
shriek set the stone walls echoing. Brandon didn't wait to find out what
had happened. He fled. He ran without stopping and without looking back
until he came to a major crossroads. He knew that the passage along which
he had come led from the Black Tower to the Orc's Head, and that this
gatehouse would always be heavily guarded. He guessed that the cross
passage led down and right to a second and little-used exit to the west,
while in the opposite direction the passage would lead to hose great
chambers where once dwarves had held banquets, but now the dragon stored
"I've got the harp. I'm still alive. I'm off." Brandon told himself
severely and headed to the right. The passage had some sharp twists in it
and began to rise steadily upwards, so that the dwarf soon wondered whether
or not he had made the right choice. And then, a hint of roast venison came
to his nostrils, and he knew he must be approaching the outside world where
dwarves and men hunted deer, ate well and lived without fear. "I shall sing
for my supper!" said Brandon gaily.
The gleam of sunlight at the end of the passage and the rich meaty smells
now flooding towards him filled his heart with joy. Brandon shielded his
eyes against the brightness and ran. He burst out of the passage and cried
"Ooh, hello again!" replied a familiar voice. "Did you find your music?
You've been ever such a long time."
Brandon lowered his hand and saw the dragon roasting a deer in its flames.
In the firelight, the mounds of gold shone like the morning sun. "Sorry,
no." Brandon replied, struggling to smile politely. "Someone must have
taken my pack."
"I hate thieves!" the dragon hissed. "I had an awful lot of trouble with
"Did he steal a lot?" Brandon was suddenly interested.
"Ha! Don't be silly!" The dragon dismissed the possibility. "It was just
that he gave me the most terrible stomach ache." It held the deer to its
flaming breath, turning it gently in the fire until it was done. "Like a
leg? You can sing to me after we've eaten."
"Thanks, I love spit-rotated venison."
Tobiah stumbled to a halt just within the entrance to the broad highway
that led from the cavern. "The dwarf! He is hiding here somewhere. We must
"No need." replied Jarnac, his keen eyes spotting a small figure running
off in the distance. "He is already saving himself. You must tell me about
him later. But hurry now." He urged Tobiah on, aware of the prince's great
weariness, but also aware that they were still in mortal danger. The Demon
Lord had sensed their presence and the threat that it posed. It might be
that his anger at the betrayal of Grok's rebellion would for a while cloud
his mind, but of this Jarnac could not be sure.
"Good for you, Brandon!" cried Tobiah, and his heart lightened in the
knowledge and his step grew more firm. "And the Woodman? Where is he? Where
shall we meet him?"
"He is safe out of here. Now hurry!" Time now for haste, thought the
wizard, later for explanations. Jarnac knew that their comrade had died so
that Tobiah might succeed, and he knew that his memory could best be served
by making good their escape. He had seen the bloody carnage of the
Woodman's stand when he had gone with the orc rebels earlier. Some had
asked if there were others of his ilk at large in their domain. But Grok
had had more pressing business and had led them past with little more than
They stumbled and ran the length of the wide passage, going straight on at
the crossroads where Brandon had misjudged his way, until they came once
more to the stairs below the Orc's Head Tower. There Tobiah collapsed,
exhausted by his long hard travels and the terrible strains of his
closeness to the Demon Lord. From far away behind there came a terrible
howl of anger and revenge, that echoed and re-echoed down the stone-walled
"Come! Come! We are nearly there!" The wizard pulled him upright, but
Tobiah slumped once more. "Save yourself, Jarnac. I am done!"
The howl came again, terrifyingly closer. Jarnac knelt by his prince in
despair and as he knelt, he felt a hardness at his thigh. "Fool that I am!"
he cried, reaching into the deep pocket of his robe and drawing out a small
flagon. "Drink this!" He poured the honey liquor down the exhausted man's
throat and sighed his gratitude to Grok as Tobiah began to revive.
The howl came once more, and with it the flickering edges of an icy shadow.
"Come!" he cried and this time Tobiah staggered to his feet. They struggled
up the steep and winding stairs and through the fanged mouth of the Orc's
Head Tower until they stood on the bridge beyond. The shadow of the Demon
Lord was now close behind them, and a long straight road and open plains
"We cannot escape across there!" panted Tobiah.
"No! This is our way." So saying the wizard took the prince's arm and
together they leapt from the bridge. Down they fell into the rushing
torrent and by the torrent were carried many miles. Over hurtling rapids
they were swept, dashed against the cruel rocks, helpless in the surging
force of the current until the river disgorged into a wider valley and the
water grew calmer. They were washed up on a muddy bank in the shade of an
old tree and there they lay.
"We have failed, Jarnac. We can never return in time to find those amulets
that we need to defeat him." The prince spoke sorrowfully.
"No, Tobiah. If I can but pass our knowledge on, then we will have
succeeded. Our part is done, but there will be another who can complete the
Provided by RAP and THE SOUTHERN STAR for M.A.A.D.