Aglanthol
4

Tyrnae


(Journey to the Otherworld)

by Dolores Esteban




“Love is the magic of the heart”



01

Neldor looked out of the window. Although it was still early in the morning, people had already gathered in the yard. Neldor saw stable boys, maidens, royal servants and valets. They stood in groups, talking to each other and making quite a fuss.

“What’s going on? Why has no one informed me?” the wizard said grumpily.

Neldor had not left his chamber in the tower for a week. A servant had brought him food and drink. The man had not spoken to him because the wizard’s piercing looks had appalled the man. It was the second day that people gathered in the yard in the morning. Neldor looked out of the window grumpily. The noise outside distracted him from his studies.

A group of royal soldiers on horseback suddenly crossed the yard. The people stepped out of their way. The riders left the yard and the people gazed after them before they returned to talking to each other excitedly. Neldor frowned. He turned around abruptly and walked to the door.

“I need to find out what is going on,” he said, while he descended the stairs of the tower.

Neldor stepped into the yard. The people fell silent and gazed at the wizard. Neldor, however, ignored them. He crossed the yard and entered the royal hall. The king and his counsellors had gathered inside. They looked flustered and agitated. Neldor glanced around and frowned at the people before he crossed the hall.

“What is going on here? Why has no one informed me?” Neldor asked the king straight away as soon as he had approached him.

The king looked up and opened his mouth. But before he could say a word, a man stepped in Neldor’s way. Neldor shot him a dark look. The man was the king’s new magician, just an adept in Neldor’s eyes. The king had promoted the man and had discarded Neldor from his duties. The king found he did not require the old man’s service anymore.

Luckily, the new court magician had rejected the offer to live in the tower. The building was old and the chambers were small. The king had left the tower to the wizard Neldor. Although he had discarded him from his duties, he had not dared to send the old man away. Neldor had pouted for a certain amount of time, but then he had acknowledged his fate. He now spent most of his time in his chambers, reading old manuscripts and doing all kinds of research. Nobody missed him when he was absent from court. Neldor could do as he pleased. He had, however, never entirely lost interest in the royal affairs. He now and then attended the royal gatherings and dinners in the main hall. Thy royal counsellors still showed respect for him, which greatly pleased the old wizard.

“What is it you want, Master Neldor?” the king’s new magician asked him.

Neldor looked the man up and down, and then he turned his eyes to the king. From what he had heard, the new magician’s main duty was casting all kinds of horoscopes. Neldor found he was not obliged to reply to the man. The new magician was about to make a step towards Neldor, but the king made a gesture with his hand and invited Neldor to step closer.

“Take a seat, Zhoron,” the king said in a measured voice.

Surprise showed on Zhoron’s face. The expression turned into anger and for a moment hate showed in the man’s eyes. Neldor saw the whole range of emotions, but he chose to ignore the man. He made a step forward instead and repeated his question.

“My son Lyaris has disappeared,” the king answered. “I sent out royal soldiers to find him.”

Silence fell. The counsellors stopped talking. All eyes rested on the king.

“We found out that he was missing three days ago. He’s absent often for a day or two. So we did not give it a thought at first,” the king continued. “However, he has not yet returned. That’s why I sent out the soldiers this morning.”

“You could not have done anything. This is why no one has informed you,” Zhoron said, casting Neldor an angry look.

The king looked at the new magician out of the corner of his eye. Neldor looked at the man grumpily. However, he refrained from a response.

“I suspect my son set out for a journey. He cannot be far,” the king carried on. He tried to keep his voice calm, but his nervousness showed nonetheless.

Lyaris was the king’s only son. He was supposed to follow the king on the throne. Lyaris’ two brothers had died in early childhood. Only three sisters had survived. The king still hoped for a second son. But the king was fifty-six years of age. Everybody knew that a newborn son would never follow the king on the throne. There were too many men eager to step in and seize power. If Lyaris died untimely, then the king’s lineage would come to an end. That was why Lyaris was watched over, protected and guarded like gold. And that was why the young man stole away whenever he could.

“He left no hint as where he wanted to go?” Neldor asked the king.

The king shook his head.

“I had his chambers searched. But nothing was found. I had his servants and friends questioned. But nobody knew anything or at least they did not reveal it,” he said.

The king looked around. His look was dark.

“Question them again,” he said to his counsellors. “Make them aware that I will have those punished who do not reveal the truth. Make them aware that I will find out about it. Make them aware that, if anything happened to my son, I will blame them for it.”

The king rose to his feet. He left the main hall and a group of men followed him. Among them was the new magician. Neldor looked after them. He turned his head when a man addressed him. Neldor recognized the royal secretary.

“What are you thinking, Master Neldor?” the man asked.

“I can’t believe the prince left without a trace,” Neldor said.

“That’s what we are thinking also. But the king does not listen to us,” the man replied.

“What are you aiming at, Master Haryk?” Neldor asked, giving the man a suspicious look.

Master Haryk cleared his throat.

“The counsellors advised to send out men and look for Lyaris as soon as they learned he had disappeared,” he replied.

“I heard he steals away often,” Neldor said slowly.

“But he usually returns the same day,” Master Haryk said with a nod. He leaned in more to Neldor. “The king did not tell you the entire truth. Lyaris’ horse is in the stable. But the queen’s horse is missing, a beautiful and fast mare. The prince has not taken along many personal items. The servants swear that only a few clothes are missing.”

“Perhaps the prince just went for a ride with his mother’s horse,” Neldor said. He was already wondering why people made such a fuss about it.

“Sure. But he has not yet returned. He might have encountered an accident,” Master Haryk replied. “We all know what the implications will be, if the prince died untimely. Perish the thought! But, Master Neldor, I, for my part, I am wondering why the king did not follow his counsellors’ advice and send out men earlier in order to seek the prince.”

Neldor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The man was certainly right. The prince was watched out, protected and guarded like gold. Why had the king waited so long?

“What are you suspecting, Master Haryk?” he asked curiously.

“I overheard Zhoron, the new magician, speak to the king. He told him he would find Lyaris within two days with the help of his magic. The king trusted him. This morning, however, the king had to yield to the pressure of his counsellors. That’s why he sent out a group of royal soldiers,” Master Haryk said.

“There are two possibilities,” Neldor replied. “Either the adept is complacent and irresponsible, risking the prince’s life with his amateurish efforts, or he deliberately delays the search for the prince.”

“The adept?” Master Haryk asked with a questioning look.

“Zhoron,” Neldor said impatiently. “That’s how I call him. He’s a sapling, after all. I think that’s plain to see. I tend to think he is a mere idiot. But I could be biased, of course.”

Neldor frowned at Master Haryk. The man nodded thoughtfully. A faint smile showed on his lips.

“He can by no means replace you, Master Neldor,” he said. “Everybody knows this except of the king. The king truly trusts the man.”

“I wonder why,” Neldor said grumpily, narrowing his eyes a bit.

He looked into the hall absent-mindedly. Neldor was thinking. He finally made an impatient gesture with his hand.

“Anyway, I must be thinking about it, Master Haryk. Thank you for confiding in me. Please watch Zhoron’s steps and report your observations to me,” he said.

He gave Haryk a conspiratorial smile. Master Haryk smiled back. He felt pleased that the old wizard had listened to him. He did not like Zhoron’s influence. It weakened the counsellors’ impact on the king.

~~**~~

Neldor left the hall and went back to his tower. He shot the people dark looks as he crossed the yard. The people gave him fearful looks and a few of them even made a step beck. Neldor shook his head. Why did people always feel threatened by him? Why did they just not realize that he always shot dark looks when he was absorbed in deep thoughts? Did they really expect him to smile and chatter when his mind was busy at work? Neldor shrugged inwardly. ‘So much the better,’ he thought. It got them off of his back, after all.

Neldor reached the tower. A thought occurred to him just when he opened the door. He closed it again and then hurried towards the royal stable. He entered it and spotted two stable boys in a corner. They were talking to each other furtively. Neldor approached them. He pointed a finger at them.

“You two. What is it about the queen’s horse? Tell me the truth at once or I’ll turn you into frogs,” he said in a sharp voice and with a frown, inwardly chuckling at his own words.

The boys winced and made a step back. They gazed at the wizard in fear. Neldor narrowed his eyes and made another step towards them.

“Wait,” one of the boys said in a frightened voice, while the other boy retreated even more.

“Speak up,” Neldor said in an imperative voice.

“Zhoron...” the boy started.

“Quiet!” the other boy hissed from the background.

Neldor raised his hand and pointed at the boy who pressed his back against the wall.

“Zhoron,” the other boy said quickly. “Zhoron took the queen’s horse three days ago. We must not tell anybody, else he’ll send a demon out to haunt us.”

The boy in the background started to sob. The other one gazed at Neldor. His face was as white as snow.

“The demon will haunt us now,” he said in a whisper.

“Nonsense,” Neldor hissed. “The adept can’t do you any harm.”

He snapped his fingers in order to stress his words. A ball of white light appeared out of nowhere and hovered in the air. The boys gazed at it in fear.

“A ward,” Neldor explained. “Tell me all and I’ll leave it here in order to protect you.”

The ball of light was just a ball of energy that had no purpose at all. But it demonstrated the wizard’s power and it impressed the boys. Neldor was pleased.

“He came here and took the horse and led it out of the stable,” the boy continued, his eyes fixed on the ball of light.

“Why did he not take the prince’s horse?” Neldor asked, watching the boys.

The boy shrugged. The other stepped forward.

“He mumbled something about energy. He said the energy of the prince’s horse was too high,” he said.

“So he said he wanted the horse for the prince?” Neldor asked patiently.

“Not exactly,” the boy said. “He took the prince’s saddle and bridle. So I guessed the prince was waiting outside. We only heard in the afternoon that the prince was missing. They questioned us in the evening.”

“And what did you tell them?” Neldor asked.

“That somebody had probably taken the queen’s horse from the stable when we saw to the king’s horses. The king’s horses are in a separate stable. So someone could have led the queen’s horse away when we were absent for a while,” he explained.

“Why did you not report this to the king earlier?” Neldor asked.

“Because of the demon,” the boy said.

“I see,” Neldor replied. “And they did not scold you for not informing the king?”

The boys shook their heads.

“Zhoron had come with them. He made sure that they inquired us only briefly,” one of them said.

“Interesting,” Neldor said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

The prince and his horse were connected by a strong energy thread. If the prince had taken his own horse, it would have been easy for Neldor to track him down. The queen barely ever rode out. The queen and her horse were only faintly connected. Almost three days had gone by. It would be difficult now to trace the queen’s horse.

“Where is he riding to?” Neldor asked pensively.

“I cannot say,” one of the boys said. “But Zhoron must know, I suspect. Why don’t you go and question him?”

Neldor looked at the boy and blinked.

“I cannot question him directly, good boy, else I would reveal to him that I talked with you,” he replied.

The boy swallowed. He looked at the ball of light.

“Will the ward work?” he asked nervously.

“Sure,” Neldor said.

He made a gesture with his hand. The ball enlarged. Neldor channelled more energy into the ball. The light moved and enwrapped the boys. They smiled at the wizard.

“I feel it works,” one of them said.

Neldor nodded kindly. He had sent reassuring energy to the boys. The wizard turned and left the stable. The boys looked after him.

“Do you think he would have turned us into frogs?” one of them asked.

“Definitely,” the other said. “With a snap of his fingers. The old man has it down pat.”

~~**~~



02

Neldor returned to his chamber in the tower. He stood by the window, rubbing his chin. The old wizard was thinking.

Zhoron had taken the queen’s horse from the stable. Presumably, the prince had left on his mother’s horse. However, Zhoron concealed the truth from the king. Moreover, he had made sure that the king delayed any actions and thus gave the prince a head start. Was Zhoron the prince’s confident? Had Lyaris asked the new magician to help him and cover up his secret departure? Neldor gazed outside.

Or had Zhoron sent the prince away? Why? A disturbing thought occurred to Neldor. Had Zhoron found a way to dispose of the prince? Would his henchmen wait for Lyaris? Would they kill him? Would his body never be found? Would everybody assume that the prince had left on his own accord? Would nobody suspect that Zhoron was involved? What had the magician in mind? What was his plan?

Neldor spent the day in his chamber, musing and pondering. Evening had come when a noise outside distracted him. Neldor went to the window and looked outside. The soldiers had returned. Neldor guessed from their slumped shoulders that they had not found a trace of the prince.

‘Incredible,’ Neldor thought. ‘Did they not find any hoof prints?’ He rubbed his chin. “Zhoron applied magic that made the foot prints invisible, I guess,” he said aloud. Neldor narrowed his eyes. “I must find out about Zhoron’s role and his plan.”

He heard a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he hissed grumpily.

The door opened and a young man stepped in. He looked neat and clean and he was dressed elegantly. Neldor gave him a questioning look.

“Excuse me for disturbing you, Master Neldor,” the young man said. “I am Aaron. I’m Prince Lyaris’ friend.”

Neldor looked the young man up and down. His clothes revealed his noble origin. Neldor did not remember that he had ever seen the young man. He made a gesture with his hand. Aaron closed the door and then he stood in the room awkwardly. Neldor refrained from offering the man a seat. His eyes were fixed on his face instead.

“Yes?” he asked finally when the young man did not speak up.

“The king had everybody questioned again. But nothing new came to light. Master Haryk talked to me in the afternoon. He told me that you were looking for Prince Lyaris,” he said.

Neldor raised an eyebrow with surprise. Was he looking for the prince? This was new to him. People always tended to exaggerate things.

Neldor cleared his throat.

“Master Haryk talked to me. We exchanged some thoughts, indeed,” he said. “You are saying nothing new came to light. So why are you coming to see me?”

Aaron shuffled his feet. He looked at the floor, and then he raised his eyes again. His cheeks had blushed.

“Because I know where Lyaris went to. I did not tell anybody because I distrust the king and that man,” he said.

Neldor narrowed his eyes and studied the young man closely. Aaron looked around nervously. He was obviously feeling uncomfortable.

“Which man?” Neldor asked.

“The new magician,” Aaron replied.

They exchanged a look. Neldor pointed at a chair.

“Take a seat, Aaron,” he said. “Tell me all you know, please.”

Aaron sat down. He looked at the manuscripts on the table.

“I heard you’re doing some mysterious research, Master Neldor,” he said.

“That’s quite right,” Neldor replied, sitting down as well. He refrained from explaining more to the man. Life had taught him to be cautious.

“What is it about?” Aaron asked, pointing at the manuscript on top of the pile of papers.

“The magical symbols that were used in the early times,” Neldor said briefly.

Aaron nodded. He looked at the wizard. His eyes sparkled with excitement. Neldor leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He measured the young man’s face. The man was curious and most likely he was smart.

“So where is Lyaris going to?” Neldor asked in a sober voice.

“Tyrnae,” Aaron said simply.

Neldor’s eyes widened. He straightened at once.

“Good boy,” he said. “Tyrnae is not a place in the real world. It is the world beyond. How can you say the prince set out for the otherworld?” Neldor’s voice was slightly shaking.

“This is what everybody believes. But once you research and dig deeper, you find evidence that the first magicians came from Tyrnae and that Tyrnae is a real land,” Aaron replied. His eyes twinkled with excitement.

Neldor took a deep breath. He made an encouraging gesture with his hand. Aaron swallowed.

“I was doing research with Lyaris. We rummaged in the king’s library and we delved among books. We found a few books that looked very old. They were written in the ancient language. We were not able to read them. But it was all so exciting. Until the day Lyaris spoke to the magician Zhoron. Everything changed from that day on,” Aaron said in a sad voice.

Neldor watched him closely. The young man had not yet revealed all.

“Go on, please, Aaron,” Neldor said kindly.

Aaron nodded.

“I wanted to go and see you, Master Neldor. I wanted to show you the ancient books and ask you to translate them for us. But Lyaris objected to my idea. He went to Zhoron instead. His father trusts the man and so does Lyaris.”

Aaron paused. Neldor gave him another nod. The young man continued.

“Zhoron was excited about the books. He had not yet found the books in the library because they were hidden in the secret part of it. The king had not yet granted him access. I suppose because he had simply forgotten about it. Else that man would have doubtlessly found the books before we even spotted them,” Aaron said in a resigned voice.

“What are you thinking, Aaron?” Neldor asked kindly, although he had a premonition already.

“Zhoron was fascinated. He and Lyaris met every day. They spent hours together and studied the ancient books. The books contain tales on Tyrnae. In the beginning, Lyaris told me of their findings. But he gradually withdrew from me until one day he said me straight in the face that he would not reveal anymore to me. I asked him why. He said it was a secret that lay in the mists of time, a secret that only he was supposed to uncover. He said he was a chosen one. He and Zhoron had found out about it,” Aaron said.

Aaron looked at the floor for a while. His face had turned white and his lips were slightly trembling. Neldor watched him sympathetically. The prince had discarded his best friend and had turned to the sapling, the adept. Neldor understood Aaron very well.

“What did you do?” Neldor asked softly.

Aaron raised his eyes.

“I ran after him for a while. But my efforts were useless. I gave up finally. I only made a fool of myself. Lyaris had ended our friendship,” he said.

The young man and the wizard exchanged a look.

“I think Zhoron has a big influence on the king and his son,” Neldor said slowly.

“What is he aiming at, Master Neldor?” Aaron asked.

Neldor shrugged.

“I have not yet seen through his plan. Try to remember. What did Lyaris tell you? Why did he set out to the otherworld?  Why does he want to visit the land of Tyrnae?” he asked.

Aaron looked at the wall and bit his lip. Then he turned his eyes back to the wizard.

“Like I said, the ancient books tell of Tyrnae and they apparently reveal a way to the land. Lyaris said that the gate to the otherworld is open for the chosen ones on a specific day of the year. I think he thought he was a chosen one,” Aaron said in a bitter voice.

“Samuin,” Neldor said thoughtfully.

“What?” Aaron asked.

“The legend says that the gate to the otherworld opens wide on the day of Samuin. Many have sought the gate to the world beyond, but only few have ever found it,” Neldor said pensively. “Why did Lyaris think he was a chosen one? Did he reveal this to you?” he asked.

Aaron shrugged.

“Because he was born on the day of Samuin?” he asked back.

Neldor straightened.

“Good Lord,” he exclaimed. “This can help to open the gate, but it won’t suffice to find the way to the otherworld and moreover it does not guarantee a safe way back from it.”

Neldor rose to his feet. He had no doubt any longer that the prince was in danger. The wizard was agitated. He felt the need to investigate at once. Aaron rose to his feet also. He looked at the wizard insecurely. Neldor turned to the young man.

“Aaron, don’t tell anybody of our meeting. Don’t mention a word to Zhoron. I will do some research. Come back and see me tomorrow morning,” he said.

Aaron nodded. He felt confused. But at the same time new hope filled his heart. He gave the wizard a brief bow and then left the chamber.

Neldor went to his bookshelves at once. He pulled an old book from a shelf. The volume looked ancient. The book had been written aeons ago. Neldor put it on the table cautiously. He opened it and looked at the ancient hand-writing. A shiver ran through Neldor’s body as he read the title: ‘The Legend of Tyrnae’. Neldor took a deep breath, and then he started to read.

~~**~~



03

Aaron came back the following morning. Neldor invited him to sit down.

“How are you feeling, Aaron?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Aaron said briefly. He leaned forward and looked at the wizard. “Master Neldor, tell me, what have you found out?”

“Aeons ago...,” Neldor started. “Aeons ago, only primitive tribes inhabited the land. The legend says that on a cold autumn evening the secret gate opened wide. It was the night of Samuin. Twelve mighty and powerful magicians passed the gate. They came from the land of Tyrnae. They came to bring their wisdom and knowledge to the human world. This is how this country’s history began.”

Neldor paused for a moment. Aaron’s eyes rested on him.

“The magicians founded a secret castle. It was the centre of magic from that day on. The realm of Aglanthol was founded many centuries later. This is when official history began and historical events were recorded,” he said.

Aaron nodded. He was curious. His eyes were fixed on the wizard’s face.

“These books are written in the Aglanthol language. There are many of them in the king’s library. They go back to the battle of the wizards Norlorn and Khaalindaan,” Aaron said.

Neldor nodded slowly.

“This battle took place a thousand years ago. Part of the story is considered legend, but part of the story is recorded history. However, there are older books that tell of events that happened before this battle. These books are written in the ancient language and these books are rare to find,” he said.

“Lyaris and I found a few of them in the king’s library,” Aaron replied.

“There are more of them. They are kept in a secret place,” Neldor said, pointing at the book on his table. “This book is one of these ancient books. I inherited it from my master. The magicians still have many of them.”

Aaron gazed at Neldor.

“So there are still men who hold the ancient secrets?” he asked in awe.

Neldor nodded. His eyes rested on the young man’s face.

“Certainly,” he said with a smile. “The ancient magicians passed them on. These secrets were passed on to our day. The ancient magicians came from Tyrnae. And like you said, a gate leads to the land. However, the gate is closed usually. It only opens on rare occasions and it does not open to everyone. Only the chosen ones may enter the land of Tyrnae. And even the chosen ones must leave it again.”

“Why are they allowed to enter it and why must they leave it again?” Aaron asked curiously.

“Because Tyrnae is a magical land. It resembles our world at first sight. But it is different from our world. It is the otherworld,” Neldor said in a sober voice.

Neldor paused for a moment. The wizard thought of his journey to the Western Mountains where the brethren had changed the material world. Neldor looked at Aaron gravely.

“The holy rules and laws are valid everywhere. They are written down in the book of time and these laws cannot be shaken. Think of the law of cause and effect, for instance. You see it at work everywhere, don’t you?” Neldor asked.

Aaron nodded eagerly.

“You know how this law works. You can calculate effects, can’t you?” Neldor asked.

Aaron gave another nod.

“However, you only know how the law works in the human world. It does not necessarily work the same way in another world, although it is valid there also,” Neldor said with a serious look.

Aaron shifted in his chair. He looked at the wizard in confusion.

“Just an example. Please, rise to your feet and start a fire in the fireplace,” Neldor said.

Aaron looked even more confused, but he did what the wizard had told him. He fumbled with wood chips and the lighter, and then he took the poker. After a few minutes, the fire burned well.

“Put the fire out,” Neldor said.

Aaron looked utterly puzzled, but again he did what the wizard had told him. He turned to Neldor when the fire was out.

“Now, look,” Neldor said.

He snapped his fingers and then pointed at the fireplace. The fire burnt well and high. Aaron looked between the wizard and the fire. Neldor snapped his fingers again. The fire went out at once. Aaron just stood and gaped at the wizard. Neldor smiled at him.

“Sit down,” he said.

Aaron sat down and gazed at Neldor.

“You started the fire, following the rules of this world. I started it, following the rules of magic. What did you observe?” Neldor asked.

“It took me minutes to start the fire, while you started it in only a second...with a snap,” Aaron said slowly.

He looked at the wizard. His eyes showed a mixture of excitement and fear. Neldor smiled.

“This is magic, Aaron,” he said. “A very simple magic, in fact. However, I was faster than you were, wasn’t I?”

Aaron nodded slowly. Neldor leaned forward.

“Now imagine a world where everything happens much faster than you are used to. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?” he asked.

Aaron nodded again.

“Tyrnae is a magical world. You can’t approach things there like you are used to approach them here. Do you know how the laws work in the otherworld? Do you know how the rules work in Tyrnae? Would you know exactly what to do if you entered the otherworld?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shook his head. He looked at Neldor pensively.

“Do the chosen ones know what to do?” he asked finally.

Neldor nodded.

“The chosen ones know what to do. They are not summoned to visit Tyrnae in order to learn about magic. Magical understanding and skills are a necessary requirement. They are summoned there to receive something that they are supposed to bring into the human world, like the mighty magicians did in the early times,” he said gravely.

Aaron swallowed.

“Lyaris is not a magician. How can he believe he can enter Tyrnae?” he asked under his breath.

“A chosen one is preferably born on the day of Samuin. His energy then relates to the world of Tyrnae. However, this is not a necessary criterion, Aaron. The magical skills and the visitor’s motives are far more relevant. It is said that many have looked for the gate, but only few have found it. Those who entered Tyrnae came back with a mission. They completed it, yet kept it secret. How did Lyaris come to believe that he was able to find the gate?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shrugged.

“Zhoron must have told him lies,” he replied. “He made him go, perhaps to get rid of him?”

“I was thinking the same for a while,” Neldor said slowly, rubbing his chin.

“What are you thinking now, Master Neldor?” Aaron asked worriedly.

Neldor looked at Aaron.

“I suspect Zhoron wants to enter Tyrnae himself. Perhaps he hopes Lyaris will find the gate. He was born on the day of Samuin. So he might felt drawn to it,” Neldor mused.

“Can’t the magician find the gate on his own?” Aaron asked.

“Perhaps he can’t. Lyaris is his advance guard perhaps,” Neldor said.

Aaron rose to his feet.

“Master Neldor,” he exclaimed. “You are saying Zhoron made Lyaris set out for Tyrnae in order to find the gate and find out about the passage. He’ll sacrifice Lyaris. Lyaris could very well die.”

Aaron hurried to the door. Neldor jumped to his feet.

“Wait, Aaron,” he said in an urgent voice.

“No,” Aaron called out. “I must follow Lyaris and I must find him soon and in time.”

Neldor placed his hand on Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron shook it off.

“Wait,” Neldor said urgently. “We must not warn Zhoron. I suspect the man will soon leave the royal court in order to meet up with Lyaris. We must wait until then.”

Aaron was breathing heavily. However, he made a step back from the door. He turned to the wizard.

“You are right, Master Neldor,” he said. “So what are we supposed to do?  Will you come with me?”

Neldor looked at the young man, becoming aware of what he had just said. Had fate summoned him again? Zhoron’s face came to Neldor’s mind. Neldor compressed his lips. He had never trusted the man.

“Why are you looking so grimly?” Aaron asked desperately.

Neldor turned his eyes to him.

“Just a thought that occurred to me,” he said with a dismissive gesture of his hand. “I’m getting prepared, Aaron. Get prepared also. Send Master Haryk to me. He must come here at once. He must spy on Zhoron. As soon as the adept leaves, we will be leaving as well.”

“The adept?” Aaron asked.

“The intruder, the trespasser, the gatecrasher,” Neldor hissed grimly.

Aaron looked at the agitated old man. A smile spread on his lips and his eyes sparkled with excitement. The old wizard impressed him greatly.

“I’ll send Master Haryk to you,” he said cheerfully.

Neldor gave him a brief nod. Aaron opened the door and hurried down the stairs of the tower. He felt no need to receive a mission in Tyrnae. He had a mission already. He wanted to find Prince Lyaris.

~~**~~



04

Zhoron was in his chamber, packing his things. The soldiers that the king had sent out in search for Prince Lyaris had returned a short time ago. They had found no trace of the prince. They had not even found hoof prints of his horse. The counsellors had advised to send out more soldiers and also trained scouts. One man had advised to summon the old wizard Neldor. But Zhoron had urged the king to reject the request. He had convinced the king that the discarded magician would be of no help. He, Zhoron, himself would set out and look for the prince. The king had announced his decision to his counsellors. The announcement had instantly caused a stir. Zhoron knew that he had to find a trace of the prince soon in order to calm down the king and his men. Zhoron left his chamber and went to the royal stables. Curious eyes looked after him.

Master Haryk stood in the yard and watched the new magician walk to the stables. Zhoron walked upright. He looked confident and self-assured. The new magician looked determined and focused. Master Haryk found that the man was far too self-assured. And he found that there was something dark and shady about Zhoron. The wizard Neldor had asked him to spy on the new magician. The request had confirmed Master Haryk’s suspicions.

Zhoron left the stable on horseback. He rode a black stallion that looked fiery and wild. It was about noon when Zhoron rode out of the yard. Master Haryk looked after him. He made a gesture with his hand. A grim looking man mounted his horse and rode out of the yard as well. Master Haryk had built up a network in the previous decades. His henchmen were reliable and they worked fast and well.

~~**~~

Aaron had spent the morning in his chamber. Like Neldor hat told him, he had been wary and cautious. Aaron was pondering on how to explain his absence to his parents. He could barely tell them that he would set out in search of the prince.

Aaron thought of Lyaris. They were the same age. They had been friends from childhood on. Aaron’s father was a noble man and his mother was related to the queen. He and Lyaris had had the same teachers. They had spent their spare time together. He and the prince were almost cousins. And they had felt like almost brothers.

Aaron stopped within the movement. He held a ruby velvet vest in his hand that he had been about to put in his bag. Aaron looked at the vest. Lyaris had given it to him as a birthday present two months ago when they had still been friends. Aaron felt a lump in his throat. That day he had confided to Lyaris that he loved him more than just a brother. Lyaris had been confused. He had not understood. Aaron had placed his arm around Lyaris’ shoulders and had placed a kiss on his cheek. Lyaris had not moved and this had encouraged Aaron. He had placed a soft kiss on Lyaris’ lips. Lyaris’ body had stiffened and Aaron had instantly known that he had made a big mistake.

He had withdrawn from Lyaris, feeling awkward and with his cheeks blushed. Lyaris had not said a word. He had avoided Aaron’s eyes and had found an excuse to leave instantly. Aaron had felt hollow and empty. His world had fallen to pieces in only an instant. He realized that his hopes were in vain. Aaron’s heart broke that very instant. He fell sick and was confined to the bed for a week. And then nothing had ever been the same.

Aaron took the velvet vest and turned to a wooden chest. He was about to put it in the chest, but something stopped him from doing so. Aaron was not able to say what made him hesitate, a vague feeling of fondness maybe. He turned around and put the vest in his bag. And then he swallowed. Things had never been the same.

While he had been ill, Lyaris had become friends with Zhoron. He had befriended a man who was more than twenty years older than he was. Aaron had not understood. He had tried to reconnect with the prince. But every time he spoke to Lyaris, the prince was reserved and Zhoron suddenly, like out of nowhere, showed up and joined the young men. The magician always found an excuse to send Aaron away. Every time Aaron found a way to speak to the prince, Zhoron showed up and told him the prince’s extra lessons were just about to begin. Lyaris had never intervened or objected. And finally Aaron had accepted the truth. Lyaris had turned to the new magician in order to protect himself from Aaron’s unwanted approaches. It had hurt Aaron to the core.

Aaron had given up on his efforts to reconnect with the prince. On the rare occasions they met, Lyaris told him that he now studied the ancient language of Aglanthol. Lyaris had not asked Aaron to join him in class. The prince had banned his former friend from his company. He had stopped their secret research and investigations and had turned to Zhoron instead. 
Lyaris had not only banned him from his heart and his company, he had also taken from Aaron what had inspired his dreams. This insight hurt Aaron deeply.

Aaron felt reduced and worthless. He had become reclusive and solitary. This, however, had not gone unnoticed. His parents became worried. They made plans to send Aaron to his uncle for some time. The man had a mansion and a large estate in the west of the country. He had three sons who were about the same age of Aaron. Aaron’s parents found that their company would raise their son’s spirit again. Aaron had objected to the idea. His parents, however, had not yet given up on it.

A smile spread on Aaron’s lips. His thoughts had revealed the perfect excuse to him. Aaron hurried out of his room and hastened to see his father. He found him in the parlour. He was talking to his wife. His parents looked at their son in bewilderment when he rushed into the room.

“How about I travel to Uncle Garrik soon?” Aaron blurted out.

His parents exchanged a bewildered look.

“What made you change your mind?” his father asked with surprise.

“I just find that it is all so depressing,” Aaron replied.

His cheeks blushed. His mother gave him a worried look.

“Don’t you want to wait until the prince has returned?” his father asked in a reproachful voice. “After all, you are best friends, aren’t you?”

Aaron’s cheeks blushed even more. His mother intervened.

“They were best friends,” she said to her husband softly.

Aaron’s mother was an empathetic woman. She always knew more than she revealed. She was aware that Aaron was heart-sick, but she kept silent to not embarrass her son. Aaron’s father looked between his wife and his son. Then he nodded slowly. He had always been proud that his son was raised with the prince. He compressed his lips and narrowed his eyes for a moment. His wife placed her hand on her husband’s arm.

“That’s why I suggested we send Aaron away for a while. It would help him to distract his thoughts and get over the humiliation,” she said.

Aaron’s father gave a brief nod.

“Etiquette, nonetheless, requires we wait until the prince returns or we have heard from him,” he replied.

“Certainly,” Aaron’s mother said. “I heard Zhoron, the new magician, rode out in order to find a trace of the prince.”

“He ought to be back soon,” Aaron’s father said with a nod. “He rode out at noon and wanted to return in the evening. He was certain his magical skills would help him to find a trace of the prince.”

“We can only hope that nothing happened to Lyaris. I would be happy to hear that he just set out for a brief trip,” his wife replied.

Aaron’s father gave another nod. He turned to his son.

“Etiquette requires we wait, Aaron. But then you will be travelling to your uncle and you will stay there for the winter. You will resume your studies in spring. I’ll write another letter to my brother Garrik. He answered my last letter positively. He invited you to his house. You could also study with your cousins. I’d prefer you did so in order to not come across exclusive and haughty,” he said.

Aaron nodded slowly. He was feeling nervous. What would his parents do if they found out that he had disappeared also? Aaron felt bad. Perhaps he could visit his uncle after he and Neldor had found and rescued the prince. His thoughts prevented him from giving a reply to his father. His mother intervened again.

“Is this fine with you, Aaron?” she asked softly.

Aaron looked up and looked between his parents. He recalled his father’s words.

“Yes, I will be studying with my cousins. I look forward to my stay there. But I will delay my departure like etiquette requires,” he said in a firm voice.

His father gave him a nod and a smile. Then he excused himself in order to go to the royal hall. Aaron’s mother placed her arm around her son’s shoulders.

“I’m happy you do not object to the idea any longer, Aaron. You will be back in spring with new heart,” she said softly. She gave Aaron an almost impish look. “I’m certain Lyaris will return soon. I have a feeling he left in order to find new heart also.”

Aaron gaped at his mother. She always saw through things. Aaron did not understand how she did it. She took him by surprise again and again.

“Yes, this might be the reason why he has disappeared,” he said slowly. “But I have a feeling that the new magician had a hand in it. He was at Lyaris’ side always. I have a feeling he encouraged him to leave.”

His mother nodded slowly.

“I agree, Aaron,” she replied. “Lyaris has changed considerably in a short period of time. Someone had an influence on him. Perhaps it was this man.”

 She smiled at Aaron.

“I don’t want you to travel alone, Aaron. Go and ask around if somebody travels west soon. Ask if you can join them,” she said with a slightly worried expression on her face.

Aaron nodded and gave his mother a smile. Things worked out just fine. His mother wanted him to travel in company. Now he could openly travel with the old wizard. His parents would not object to it.

Aaron squeezed his mother’s arm and smiled. Then he hurried out of the room. His mother looked after him. The sudden change of her son’s behaviour bewildered her. She had a feeling that Aaron kept a secret from her. Did he want to leave in order to look for Lyaris? She would insist on her son travelling in company.

Aaron hurried back to his chamber and resumed packing his things. When he had finished, he hastened towards Neldor’s tower. He felt the need speak to the wizard at once.

~~**~~



05

Like he had said, Zhoron returned in the evening. He walked triumphantly into the main hall where the king and the counsellors already waited for him. Zhoron pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. He handed it to the king.

“My lord, the soldiers had ridden west, following the main road. But I rode east and I discovered hoof prints and I followed them. I spotted a place that looked as if someone had rested there. I scanned the place with my sixth sense. I sensed the prince’s energy. I found this piece of paper in the dust. The prince probably dropped it there,” he said in a self-assured voice.

The king unfolded the paper and looked at it. Then he handed it to the man who stood on the right of him. The man looked at it and passed it on. Finally, all the counsellors had cast a look at it.

“The paper shows a map that the prince has drawn. He put down the names of towns and villages. It is the prince’s hand-writing, isn’t it?” Zhoron asked in a firm voice.

The king and the counsellors nodded. A few of them looked at the map again.

“The map shows a route to the biggest seaport in the east. I suspect that Prince Lyaris set out to this town,” Zhoron said.

“Why would he want to travel to Oldea?” the king asked in a bewildered voice.

“He was fascinated by the town,” Zhoron said. “A few weeks ago, we talked about the history of the place. It was mentioned in an historical report that was written in the ancient language. The prince studies the ancient language of Aglanthol.”

The king and his counsellors exchanged a confused look.

“I do not understand. Why Oldea?” the king asked again.

“The big vessels, my lord. I can only imagine the prince wants to see them. As far as I have understood, he has never been to the coast. He has never seen the sea nor has he seen the big vessels. Young men are fascinated by the unknown,” Zhoron said.

The king and the counsellors looked at each other. A few men spoke up and supported Zhoron’s idea. The librarian said that the prince had asked for books on nautical science a few weeks ago. He said that he had handed five books to the prince. Among them had been one that covered the history of the big seaport Oldea. The king leaned back with a sigh at the librarian’s revelations. He wiped his forehead.

“My son is a foolish young man,” he said in a resigned voice. “Why did he steal away? I would have given him permission to visit the seaport, if he had asked me. Why should I have objected to the idea?”

“It is far more interesting for a young man to do things in secrecy,” the man right next to the king said. He gave the king a wink. “Think of our secret journey to the mountains,” he said with an impish smile.

The man was the king’s cousin and therefore dared to speak openly. The king looked at him and then shrugged his shoulders resignedly. He made a gesture with his hand.

“A group of soldiers shall set out at dawn tomorrow and find the prince and take him home,” he said.

“Wait,” Zhoron intervened.

The king and his counsellors looked at him in bewilderment.

“Don’t you think this would humiliate Prince Lyaris, my lord? How about I set out and ride to Oldea? I’ll bring him back home. He’ll come back with his teacher and not in company of royal soldiers. Do you want him to feel like a captive, my lord?” Zhoron asked. His voice sounded as if he was shaken by the king’s command.

The king and his counsellors gazed at Zhoron, struggling to understand Zhoron’s thoughts. The king’s cousin finally cleared his throat.

“He is right, my lord. I would have never forgiven my father if soldiers had led me back to the court,” he said.

The king looked at his cousin.

“In fact,” he said, thinking of their secret adventure in the past. “In fact,” he repeated. “It would have been a disgrace.”

The king straightened.

“Zhoron shall set out at dawn tomorrow and find Prince Lyaris,” he said in an imperative voice.

He turned to the magician.

“Find him and take him back home. Take one of my horses. They are fast and persevering,” he said.

“As you wish, my lord,” Zhoron said in a grave voice.

He bowed to the king and then left the main hall. Everything went according to plan. Zhoron felt pleased, almost ecstatic. Adrenaline flushed his body. One more night, and then he would set out and join the prince. And then Lyaris would open the magical gate for him.

Master Haryk watched Zhoron leave. He had remained in the background and had observed the magician. He had felt the urge to speak up and reveal the truth to the king. This, however, would have only warned the magician. Master Haryk’s henchman had followed Zhoron furtively. The magician had not noticed the man. Haryk’s henchman had reported that Zhoron had ridden east for an hour. Then he had sat down on the ground under a tree.  He had spent two hours reading a book. The magician had not investigated the place, nor had he investigated any other. After two hours, Zhoron had mounted his horse and had ridden back to the royal court. Haryk interrogated the man again after Zhoron had left the royal hall. The man swore to him that Zhoron had not picked up a piece of paper in the place.

~~**~~

“He took the piece of paper with him. It was written by the prince before he had left. Zhoron presented the paper to the king. The map convinced the king and his counsellors. However, it was a lie. It is deception. The man is a fraud,” Master Haryk concluded his agitated report to the old wizard.

Neldor rubbed his chin.

“Like I have suspected,” he said slowly. “One question remains, though. Does he cover up the prince or is he his accomplice?” he asked thoughtfully.

“Master Neldor,” Haryk said in an indignant voice. “I rather think Prince Lyaris is that devil’s victim. Zhoron sent him somewhere for whatever reason. The prince, naive and inspired by whatever, did what the villain told him to do.”

Neldor nodded.

“I agree with you, Master Haryk,” he said pensively. “And I think I know where he sent him to and why.”

“What?” Haryk exclaimed. “Speak up, Master Neldor. You need to talk to the king.”

Neldor shook his head.

“This would only warn Zhoron. And it would endanger the prince. I suspect Zhoron established an energy bond between him and the prince. He established one between him and the king also, by the way, I think. This is why father and son have fallen for the man. They do whatever he wants them to do. Unveiling Zhoron’s plans to the king would not have any effect, Master Haryk. Zhoron is manipulating him and the prince,” Neldor explained.

He rose to his feet.

“So what can we do?” Haryk exclaimed.

“I will follow Zhoron,” Neldor said. “He will lead me to Prince Lyaris. As soon as the time is right, I will cut the evil bond.”

Master Haryk gazed at Neldor.

“You will follow him?” he asked in almost disbelief.

“Don’t you think me capable of doing so?” Neldor asked grumpily.

Master Haryk shook his head quickly. A knock at the door distracted him. The door opened and Aaron looked into the room. He stopped short at the sight of Master Haryk.

Neldor made a gesture with his hand. He led Master Haryk to the door.

“Should I observe anything important, I will let you know at once,” Haryk said in a low voice.

Neldor nodded.

“Find out when exactly he plans to leave,” he replied in a low voice also.

Haryk gave Neldor a conspiratorial nod, and then he hastened down the stairs of the tower.

Neldor closed the door and turned to Aaron.

“Are you ready, Aaron? We will be leaving tomorrow at dawn,” he said.

Aaron’s eyes widened.

“So soon? You need to talk with my parents at once. They want me to travel in company only,” he said.

“By a happy coincidence, I will be leaving tomorrow for the Western Mountains,” Neldor said drily. “You can come with me, Aaron, provided your parents don’t fear the company of a weird wizard and an old man.”

Aaron shook his head.

“I don’t think so. Are we really travelling west? I heard that Lyaris travelled east,” he said.

“Nonsense,” Neldor hissed. “I can barely believe the king and his counsellors believed this crap.”

He walked to the door.

“Come, Aaron, I’ll be talking to your father now. And then I need to start packing.”

Neldor descended the stairs of the tower and Aaron followed him quickly. Aaron’s parents were surprised to see the wizard Neldor. Like many of the people living at court, they feared yet also respected the man.

“I asked Aaron to ask around. So he asked you as well, Master Neldor?” Aaron’s mother started.

Neldor nodded.

“I’ll be leaving for the Western Mountains tomorrow. I’ll cross the area where Aaron’s relatives live. I’ll take him there. It would not be much of a detour,” he said.

He scanned the energy of the house and the energy of Aaron’s parents with his sixth sense, and then Neldor decided he would not betray Aaron’s parents. He would take Aaron to his uncle’s place, either before or after he had found and released the prince from Zhoron’s spell.

They continued talking for a while. Then Neldor rose to his feet and left.

“He is said to be weird and very grumpy. But I thought he was quite sociable,” Aaron’s father said with surprise.

“I think Aaron is safe with him,” his wife said. She had not felt anything negative about the old man.

She turned to Aaron and smiled.

“Just do not annoy him, Aaron. He is said to be reclusive and solitary. He is said to not like the company of others. And people say he can fly into a rage,” she said.

“I think I will like his company,” Aaron replied, smiling back at his mother.

Aaron rushed out of the room and hurried to his chamber in order to check his bags again. His parents looked at each other in bewilderment.

“He’s almost overly excited,” Aaron’s father said, shaking his head in confusion.

“He was bitter and depressed for months. I feel relieved to see him happy again,” his wife said. “The change of scenery will do him good. He’ll find new heart, I’m sure.”

Aaron’s father smiled at his wife and placed his arm around her shoulders.

~~**~~

Lyaris was sitting under a tree, eating cheese and bread. He had found the place that Zhoron had described to him in detail. It was a hunter’s lodge in a wood. Zhoron had drawn a map and had explained the route to Lyaris. The prince had ridden west for two days. He had followed Zhoron’s instructions carefully. Lyaris had met only few travellers on the road. They had not paid much attention to him.

The hunter’s lodge was hidden in the wood. A barely visible path led to it. Lyaris was waiting for Zhoron who was supposed to arrive in a day or two. The magician would lead the king and his men on a wrong track. And then he would ride west to catch up with Lyaris. So far, everything had worked out according to the plan they had devised. Lyaris had arrived in time. He had found the hut without difficulties. He had meanwhile spent two days in the lodge.

Night had fallen. Lyaris looked into the darkness. A few weeks ago he would have objected to the idea of travelling on his own and spending the night alone in the wood. The thrill of the adventure, however, had swept his fears and concerns away. Lyaris was all excited. The ancient books had revealed a new world to him. The ancient words had fascinated him and the vivid imagery had drawn him in. Lyaris dreamed of passing the secret gate. He looked forward to entering the magical world of Tyrnae. Lyaris was grateful that Zhoron had not objected to teaching him the ancient language. His father’s new magician had understood his dreams and ambitions. Lyaris trusted the man and he had opened up to him. Zhoron had introduced to him to a new world that had fascinated the prince. They had delved into the ancient tales together and finally they had devised their adventurous plan.

Lyaris rose to his feet and entered the hut. He lit a candle and sat down on his blankets. Autumn had come. The days were still warm, but the nights were already chilly. Luckily, he had taken warm clothes and several blankets along. Lyaris rubbed his cold hands, and then he took a manuscript out of his bag. He had summarized the ancient tales. Lyaris read a few paragraphs, and then he lowered the paper. He looked into the light of the candle. His birthday was near. He would turn eighteen in two days, on the day of Samuin exactly. That was why he and Zhoron had acted quickly.

They had found out that the gate to Tyrnae opened to the chosen on Samuin. A chosen one was often born on the day of Samuin. It was not the single criterion for a chosen one and not a necessary either according to the ancient texts. But the finding had fuelled Lyaris and Zhoron’s ambitions. They were determined to enter Tyrnae. Lyaris had no particular plans. He looked forward to visiting an entirely unknown and magical world. In all honesty, he had no idea of what awaited him there. But the prince imagined that the place was beautiful and full of wonders and Zhoron had never corrected the idea.

Lyaris’ thoughts turned to his father. Did his father worry? Had he sent out soldiers to find him? Lyaris felt bad for a second, but he brushed the feeling aside. Zhoron would calm his father’s mind. They would be back soon anyway and they would tell the king and his counsellors of all the wonders they had seen. Lyaris was certain that his tale would impress his father greatly. He had no doubt that his father would ultimately forgive his disobedient son.

Aaron came to Lyaris’ mind. The prince lowered his eyes briefly. He felt guilty and ashamed. Aaron would have been delighted to accompany him. He would have deserved it anyway. He had always stood behind Lyaris and he had always backed up his projects and plans. But he had rejected Aaron and he had banned him from his life. Lyaris swallowed. What else could he have done after Aaron had kissed him? The kiss had taken Lyaris entirely by surprise. He had not known how to react and how to cope with it. And he had felt utterly uncomfortable when he and Aaron met accidentally or when Aaron approached him. Lyaris had been grateful when Zhoron had intervened. The magician had somehow saved him from embarrassment, disgrace, and shame.

Lyaris swallowed again. A faint voice in his head told him that he was nasty and that he was a coward. It told him that he was entirely wrong. Lyaris seized his manuscript and gazed at the letters. He refused to listen to the faint voice in his head. Lyaris resumed reading his manuscript. He focused hard on the words and he did not stop reading until the voice had finally faded.

~~**~~

Zhoron stood in his room. He had finished packing. A content smile crossed his face. One more night and then he would finally leave and catch up with the prince. Zhoron was satisfied. Everything went according to plan. He had deceived the king and his counsellors. It had been surprisingly easy, although Zhoron had expected that the king would give in very soon. He had established an energy bond between him and the king. Thus Zhoron was able to subtly influence and manipulate the man. However, he had expected strong resistance from the king’s counsellors. But the men had quickly agreed with the king and had endorsed Zhoron’s proposal to ride out and look for the prince. Zhoron shook his head. The men had bought his crude tale. He could hardly believe that the men had not seen through him and his plan. Those men were all imbeciles in Zhoron’s eyes. But so much the better. Zhoron was free to carry out his plan. Zhoron rubbed his hands. He felt content and confident. He would leave and ride west in just a few hours. He would soon reach his destination. He would soon enter the magical realm of Tyrnae.

Zhoron knew that he was not a chosen one. He did not meet a single criterion. But the prince would help him to open the gate. The prince was born on the day of Samuin. His energy related to the energy of Samuin and the energy of the secret and magical gate. Zhoron knew that a true chosen one would hear Tyrnae’s call and without ambiguity would understand where he was called to and why. This was the only criterion that really counted. All others were helpful, but not necessary at all in the end. Zhoron had concealed this from the prince. The young man was ambitious and excited. He looked forward to an adventure. Zhoron would not stop the young man nor would he reveal the truth to him.

Zhoron’s look turned grim. He thought of the ancient tales and legends. It was said that the ancient magicians had come from Tyrnae. It was said that their magical power had been big and mighty. Zhoron was determined to get for himself what those ancient masters had possessed. He wanted their skills, their talents, and their powers. Zhoron compressed his lips. No, he did not hear Tyrnae’s call.  But Prince Lyaris was born on the day of Samuin and his personal energy related to the magical gate. Zhoron nodded confidently. Prince Lyaris would open the secret gate, and then he, Zhoron, would force his way in.

Zhoron lay down to sleep for a few hours. He knew that his subconscious mind would wake him in time.

~~**~~

Aaron and Neldor met early in the morning. Dawn had not yet come. The wizard and the young man led their horses out of the stable and then they passed the gate unseen and unheard. Neldor had put up a ward that made him and Aaron and also their horses invisible. The wizard and the young man hid in the shadows. They waited outside of the town in the dark. They waited for the king’s new magician in order to follow the man. Neldor and Aaron stood quietly. They waited for Zhoron to pass them by.

Zhoron awoke in time. Dawn had not yet come when he left his room and hurried to the royal hall. The hall was empty except of an old man who was sitting at the table. Zhoron informed the man on his departure. The old man nodded tiredly and made a weak gesture with his hand. Zhoron bowed to him and smiled wickedly. He left the hall and went to the royal stables. Zhoron picked a black stallion. He left the stable and led the horse to the gate. The watchmen eyed the king’s magician fearfully, yet they did not dare to speak to the man. Zhoron mounted his horse and passed the gate. Neldor and Aaron watched him from the shadows.

Neldor fixed his sixth sense on the magician. He read Zhoron’s personal energy pattern when the man passed them by. Neldor sensed no resistance. Zhoron did not react. He showed no sign that he had sensed Neldor’s intrusion into his energy field. Neldor looked after the figure that disappeared in the dim morning light. He now knew Zhoron’s personal energy pattern which would allow him to easily track the man down. Neldor shook his head in disbelief. The man had not sensed his intrusion. He had not even put up a ward. Neldor wondered if the man really thought he was able to pass the secret and magical gate. Did he really plan to enter the magical realm of Tyrnae? Neldor shook his head once more. Zhoron was either a fool or he had delusions of grandeur.

Neldor leaned in to Aaron.

“We will be waiting for another while, just to make sure that he is ahead of us. Then we will be following the adept,” he whispered.

Aaron gave the wizard a nod. He looked in the direction where the magician had disappeared. The road led to a crossroad. One road led east and the other west. The legend said that the gate to Tyrnae was located in the west. Aaron had no doubt that the magical realm of Tyrnae was Zhoron’s destination. Neldor and Aaron waited for some time. Then they mounted their horses and followed the man. Like Aaron had expected, Neldor took the road that led to the west. Morning had meanwhile broken. The wizard and the young man rode silently for a while. Aaron looked ahead.

“What if he turns back, Master Neldor? Won’t he stop us?” he asked with concern.

“He won’t,” Neldor replied. “I have put up a ward that makes us and our horses invisible. He can’t see us. He won’t even spot hoof prints in the dust.”

Aaron gazed at Neldor. The old wizard impressed him greatly.

“Has Zhoron put up a ward also?” he asked curiously.

“Yes,” Neldor replied. “He has put up a ward a short while ago. The hoof prints of his horse disappeared at the crossroad.”

Aaron looked at the road. He did not see any hoof prints.

“How do we know where Zhoron is?” he asked worriedly. “We don’t know when he leaves the road or stops for a rest.”
 
“He is still ahead of us. He is moving at a steady pace. I can track him down. He was careless. I gained access to his energy pattern. I’m able to locate the man,” Neldor said.

Aaron looked at the wizard in awe. Neldor gave him a smile. They moved on silently.

Like Neldor had said, Zhoron moved on at a steady pace. He had no idea that someone followed him. The idea, so far, had not even occurred to him. Zhoron was confident. He trusted his plan. He would meet up with the prince in two days at the latest.

Zhoron reached a wood in the evening. He dismounted and led his horse into the forest. Neldor sensed that Zhoron had stopped. He stopped his horse also and looked ahead. The wizard pointed at the wood in the distance.

“He has stopped. I suspect that he will camp in the wood. We need to find a safe place for the night also. I think I saw a deserted barn a couple of minutes ago,” Neldor said.

~~**~~
 
Neldor and Aaron settled in the barn for the night. They sat silently for a while.

“It’s a true adventure, Master Neldor,” Aaron said out of a sudden

“This is not an adventure. I’m determined to find Prince Lyaris before his adventurous trip turns into a nightmare,” Neldor replied seriously.

“What do you mean, Master Neldor? Why do you think Lyaris’ trip will turn into a nightmare?” Aaron asked in a pressed voice.

“Because the prince has no idea of the magical realm of Tyrnae,” Neldor replied.

“Lyaris was all excited,” Aaron said. “I think he and Zhoron found out how to cross the gate. I suspect that they are determined to enter Tyrnae.”

“I have already told you, Aaron, that they most likely read in the books that Tyrnae was the land where the ancient magicians had come from. The day of Samuin reminds us of this event. The gate to the otherworld opens wide on Samuin. A magician knows how to handle the forces that come from the otherworld to the human world. There is a constant flow of energy. The energy, however, moves slowly in our world and therefore it does not confuse and perplex people. Sometimes, however, you can get a glimpse of this energy. You just need to be attentive. Haven’t you experienced something that you cannot explain with your common sense, Aaron? Everybody does notice the unknown now and then. But people usually put the sensation aside because it does not make sense to them.”

“I once went to see Lyaris,” Aaron said pensively. “He had just come back from his training, bow and arrows. He told me of the training. It was odd. I had a feeling that his words were not new to me. I felt as if I had already heard the story. I even knew the ending before he told it to me.”

Aaron’s look was absent-minded. He thought of the incident before he looked back at the wizard.

“How did I know the ending of the story before Lyaris told it to me? Did my knowledge come from the otherworld?” he asked curiously.

“In fact, Aaron,” Neldor replied seriously. “Time is not linear there. Past, present, and future are entwined. This is why you can go to Tyrnae and meet the ancient magicians before they even passed through the gate and entered the human world, for instance.”

“You mean you can travel back in time there?” Aaron asked in bewilderment.

“You can’t travel back in time there, Aaron, because time does not exist there. Not the flow of time at least that you know and that you are used to, the flow from the past to the present and from the present to the future. You can travel through time only where time exists, and this is in our world, Aaron,” Neldor said with a smile.

“I cannot travel back or forth in time,” Aaron replied.

“But you can think of the past and you can make plans for the future,” Neldor said. “You could rise to your feet now, Aaron, and get your horse and ride back to the royal court. Or you could ride to your Uncle Garrik. Or you could just ride west in hope of finding Lyaris. Either decision would generate a different future. You see, Aaron, you can very well change the course of time,” Neldor said.

“Yes,” Aaron said slowly. “But I cannot go back and change what I did. I cannot go back to the day when I kissed Lyaris and make it undone.”

Aaron fell silent. He gazed at the wizard in shock when he realized what he had just said. Aaron looked to the ground. He blushed deeply and his muscles tensed. Neldor’s eyes rested on the young man. A faint smile showed on his lips.

“You are not supposed to go back and make it undone because this was exactly what fate wanted to happen,” he said softly.

Aaron did not respond for a while. He just looked at Neldor out of the corner of his eye. Neldor sat silently. He looked at Aaron and gave him another smile. Aaron relaxed. He turned his eyes to the wizard.

“I guess Prince Lyaris was a bit overwhelmed?” Neldor asked.

Aaron gave a brief nod. He swallowed.

“I took him by surprise. And then he ran from me,” he said in a low voice.

“He needed time to come to terms with himself, I guess. Unfortunately, the adept took advantage of his vulnerability,” Neldor said thoughtfully.

“The intruder,” Aaron said in a bitter voice.

“Lyaris is a sensitive young man, predestined to attract the energies of Samuin,” Neldor said pensively. “He’s vulnerable. Zhoron took advantage of his vulnerability. He established an energy bond. However, the bond of love is much stronger than Zhoron’s bond is. Zhoron is a dilettante. I suspect he thought that spending a few weeks with Lyaris would suffice to make the prince fall for him.”

“But perhaps he did. Perhaps Lyaris fell for him,” Aaron replied in a worried voice.

“No,” Neldor said, shaking his head. “No, I did not sense love when I scanned Zhoron’s energy field, neither love that streamed from his heart, nor love that streamed to it. Their connection is not based on love. It is based on ambition and eagerness.”

“Is Lyaris that greedy?” Aaron asked in a disappointed voice.

“No, they don’t crave for the same. The prince aims at filling a hole in his heart. He is vulnerable and he hurts himself by his stubbornness. Deep in his heart, the prince wants to be healed. And he hopes for a magical wonder. The prince is not evil. He is naive, maybe. Well, the prince is a very young man,” Neldor replied. He paused.

Aaron looked at the wizard.

“Zhoron’s motive, however, is greed. The bond that Zhoron has established is based on eagerness. However, the bond is weak. It should be easy to weaken it even more,” Neldor said pensively.

“We need to find Lyaris soon, Master Neldor,” Aaron said in a desperate voice.

“We will find him in time. I’ll send Zhoron astray,” Neldor said with a smile. “I was just thinking of a plan. I’m confident that it will work out.”

New hope filled Aaron’s heart. He smiled back at the wizard. Neldor gave the young man a reassuring nod.

Neldor turned the conversation to more mundane topics until Aaron yawned and wiped his eyes. Finally, they lay down to sleep. Neldor formed a small energy ball and sent it out to Zhoron. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep instantly. The energy ball reached its goal in almost no time. Neldor had programmed it to connect with Zhoron’s personal energy pattern.

Zhoron sensed an extra heart beat when the energy ball hit him and released its message. Zhoron, however, had no suspicions. He ascribed his brief uneasy feeling to his exhaustion because of the long ride.

~~**~~



07

Lyaris felt bored. The days were long. He was still in the hunter’s lodge, waiting for Zhoron. He had read his manuscript several times. He meanwhile knew all the words by heart. Tyrnae was a magical world full of wonders. Lyaris yearned to see them all. He had left the royal court furtively. He had jumped into a secret adventure. However, after three days of extreme boredom, the flush of excitement had almost gone. Lyaris had come back to earth and reality had caught up with him. He suddenly felt that he had been naive and childish. Like a child he had fallen for a fairy tale.

Lyaris rose to his feet and left the hut. He stretched. He was not used to sleep on the ground. Lyaris wished for a good meal. He had taken along only dried food. This had been interesting in the beginning. Meanwhile, however, the prince felt instantly sick when he took out the dried food from his bag. Luckily, a small brook was close to the hut. He had fresh water at least.

Lyaris scratched his neck. He wished for a bath, preferably in a tub filled with very hot water. The prince walked down to the brook. He put his hand in the water. It was terribly cold. Lyaris hesitated, but then he took off his clothes and stepped into the water. The icy water made him gnash his teeth. But Lyaris longed for cleaning up. He moved on and finally sat down in the brook. Lyaris splashed water in his face. Then the prince lay back in the water. He looked up at the sky. The sun was already high. But the day was cold. No wonder. It was close to his birthday. It was close to Samuin. Lyaris started to tremble. He sat up and quickly washed his body and hair.

Lyaris remained sitting in the water until he got goose bumps and until his fingers and toes turned blue. Finally, he got out of the water. He grabbed his clothes and ran back to the lodge. The prince entered the hut and picked up a blanket. He wrapped it tightly around his body and then he sat down on his primitive bed. Lyaris’ lips trembled and his body felt numb. And yet at the same time, the prince felt refreshed. His body was clean and his mind was clear. The prince felt as if a fog had gone.

He thought of Zhoron and suddenly feared the man’s coming. He suddenly felt that something was wrong with their plan. Zhoron was a dark and dominating man. While Lyaris had acknowledged Zhoron’s traits in the beginning, he now realized that he had felt more and more like the man’s puppet. The cold water had cleared Lyaris’ mind. He suddenly knew what to do. The prince dressed and packed his things quickly. He got his horse and mounted it. Lyaris crossed the brook that had made him see clearly. He looked at the water in wonder and for a moment he thought that he heard the faint sound of a bell. Lyaris looked around, and then he moved on quickly. He needed to get away from Zhoron’s influence and reach.

Neldor’s energy ball had weakened the energy bond between Zhoron and the prince. While the prince was able to see more clearly, Zhoron’s mind drifted to a satisfied slumber. Neldor’s energy message made Zhoron believe that he would reach his goal and that nothing could go wrong anymore. Zhoron felt like he had already won.

~~**~~

Lyaris led his horse through the forest. The trees were high and stood close to each other. The leaves were green and had not yet changed colour. Lyaris looked at them in wonder. The trees looked ageless. They looked as if they had not changed their appearance in aeons. They were surrounded by an aura of mystery, or so at least it seemed to Lyaris. Ferns and other bushes grew from the ground. The thicket was almost impassable. The prince, however, sought his way through it.

The sun was shining, but the rays of the sun barely reached the ground and the light in the wood was dim. The plants emitted a fragrance that infatuated the prince. Lyaris soon felt like in a daze. His body felt light and his mind was calm. The prince felt drowsy, yet in a good way. He forgot his concerns and his fears as he moved on slowly. Lyaris moved deeper into the forest. His horse seemed to find the way on its own. Lyaris looked at the leaves and admired the play of colours that was caused by the rays of the sun.

The prince moved on for several hours. He had entirely lost track of time. The sun was already low when the prince reached a clearing. His horse stopped and Lyaris awoke from his dreamlike state. He looked at the clearing in wonder. A tree stood in the centre of the clearing and beside it was a fountain. The tree was high and its branches were thick and spread far. Thick roots grew from the trunk of the tree. They crept along the ground until they found a spot to grow underneath. Lyaris looked up and down the tree. The leaves were of a very dark green. Lyaris realized that the tree was an evergreen ash tree. The tree was old. More, it looked ancient. Lyaris found it was the oldest tree he had ever seen.

Lyaris dismounted. His horse started to graze. Lyaris walked to the fountain. The wall was made of stone and the stones were overgrown with moss. Lyaris leaned forward and looked into the fountain. Clear water was inside. The prince reached out his hand. The water was as cold as ice. Lyaris took a handful and rinsed his mouth with it. He heard a faint sound at this very moment. He heard a jingle like from a very small bell. Lyaris looked around in confusion, but he did not see anything or anyone. His horse was grazing peacefully. Lyaris turned back to the fountain and looked into the water once more. He suddenly felt very tired. His body felt numb and all he wished for was sleeping. Drowsy, the prince turned away from the fountain. He made a few steps and stopped in front of a huge and thick root that grew from the trunk of the tree and grew into the ground some distance away from the trunk. Lyaris stretched on the soft grass under the root and fell asleep instantly. He slept for a whole night and a whole day. Dusk had come again when the prince awoke. It was the evening of Samuin.

~~**~~

Zhoron had meanwhile reached the hunter’s lodge. He had looked out for the prince, yet he had not found a trace of Lyaris. Strangely, Zhoron did not worry at all. His logical reasoning tried to convince him that something was doubtlessly wrong. Yet Zhoron pushed his thoughts aside. The prince most likely travelled slowly. Zhoron had taken hidden paths on the last day of his journey. He had probably moved faster than the prince. The prince would arrive very soon. Zhoron made himself comfortable in the hut. He felt content and in a good mood. A voice in the back of his head tried to tell him the truth and called him to think logically. Zhoron, however, ignored the voice and did not even think about why he ignored it. Neldor’s energy ball had seized control of Zhoron’s thought process. A part of Zhoron’s mind tried to offer resistance. This part, however, did not stand a chance. Zhoron’s brain was lulled to sleep.

Neldor knew that he had succeeded in seizing Zhoron’s mind. He was astonished that it had been so easy. This convinced the old wizard even more that Zhoron was just a fraud, a man who claimed to be a magician, yet did not even know the basics of magic. Neldor thought that Zhoron was a juggler who had impressed the king with his cheap tricks. Neldor, however, was cautious. Never underestimate a foe. Neldor told himself to follow this advice.

He and Aaron moved on at a steady pace. Neldor led them past the hunter’s lodge. He sensed Lyaris’ presence with his sixth sense. However, the prince was ahead of them. They moved deeper into the forest. Like Lyaris, Aaron was impressed by the wood. Neldor watched the young man closely. As soon as they had entered the wood, Neldor had sensed the forest’s magical aura. Neldor, so far, had kept his finding to himself. Neldor wondered why Lyaris had left the hut. Neldor mused that the magical wood had drawn the prince in.

Neldor thought of what he had read on Tyrnae. The legend said it was located far in the west. Neldor had expected to travel a few more days. Had he been mistaken? The aura of the wood was strong. Neldor sensed its powerful magic. And Samuin was near. Were they already close to the gate? Neldor looked at the old ash trees that were surrounded by a timeless aura. Had they already entered the area where time ceased to be? Had the gate to Tyrnae already started to open?

The wood did not influence the old wizard. Neldor was immune to its spell. Aaron, however, was drawn in by the wood’s magic. He startled at the sound of small bells.

“Master Neldor,” he exclaimed in bewilderment and with utter surprise. “Master Neldor, did you hear the bells?”

Neldor studied the young man’s face. He listened, yet he did not hear anything. Like he had feared, the magic of the wood drew Aaron in. Neldor reminded himself to keep a clear head. He did not reply, but he pondered deeply.

“From where did the sound come from?” Neldor asked calmly.

Aaron pointed to the right.

“Over there, Master Neldor. Shall we go and have a look? Perhaps Lyaris heard it, too. We might find him there,” Aaron said excitedly.

“Then we will turn to the left,” Neldor said in a determined voice.

Aaron gazed at him in confusion.

“But...” he started.

“To the left,” Neldor said grumpily.

He turned his horse and rode to the left. Aaron followed him reluctantly.

“But...” the young man said again.

“We have reached the sphere of Tyrnae,” Neldor said with a grave look at Aaron. “Don’t you think it’s strange you hear the sound of small bells deep in a dark wood?” he asked. “You will lose your way in Tyrnae if you follow your first impulse and do what you usually do in the physical world. I told you, Aaron.”

Aaron felt utterly bewildered.

“We have not passed a gate, Master Neldor. And it is not yet the evening of Samuin,” he said.

“The world may look like the world you know. But the wood is not like any wood you know, Aaron. This wood is a magical wood. The gate is close. We can already sense the magic of Tyrnae and we will discover more very soon,” Neldor replied.

The old wizard dismounted. Aaron did so as well. He was hesitant. Neldor’s words did not make sense to him. For the time being, however, he would remain quiet. But he would watch out and listen attentively. At the faintest sign of the prince being close, Aaron would run for his help. He heard a chuckle. Aaron turned his head abruptly. He looked in all directions, yet he did not see anyone. His heart beat faster. He was sure that he had heard someone laughing. It had not been the voice of Lyaris. Neither had it been the voice of the wizard. But it had clearly been the voice of a man. A cold shiver crept up Aaron’s spine and fear seized his heart. Aaron turned his eyes back to Neldor. Neldor’s eyes rested gravely on him.

“Did you hear it as well?” Aaron asked under his breath.

Neldor shook his head.

“No, I did not hear a sound. But I sensed that an energy was close,” he replied.

Aaron’s eyes widened. He looked around again. The wizard’s words made his flesh crawl.

“I heard a man laughing,” Aaron said in a low voice.

“I sensed the energy of a being, mighty and ancient, and definitely not human at all,” Neldor said in a calm voice.

Aaron seized the reins of his horse tightly. He made a step towards the wizard.

“Who is the being? Where is it now?” he asked anxiously.

“Gone,” Neldor replied. “It is gone. And so far, I have no idea who or what it was.”

Neldor looked at the trees with narrowed eyes. The aura was calm and peaceful. And yet, Neldor sensed something else, too. It was not an aura of threat. Neither was it an anticipation of evil. Not even danger. And not a warning. Neldor took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He calmed his mind and focused on his sixth sense. The aura resembled the aura that had come from the Western Mountains when he had travelled there with his companions in order to stop Ogol, the black magician. The aura of the wood resembled the aura of the Castle of Saelethiel. Yet it was older or, more precise, it was timeless. The aura spoke of a state before time had started ticking, before time and space were entwined.

Neldor opened his eyes. He had gained certainty.

“This journey is of no return for those who are not summoned to pass the gate,” he said in a toneless voice. There will be made no exception. This is not malice. This is just the law.”

Aaron’s eyes flickered briefly. He did not understand the wizard’s words. But the tone of his voice made his flesh creep again and deep inside Aaron knew that the magician had spoken the truth.

“We must find Lyaris soon. I don’t think he is summoned,” Aaron uttered. “He might pass the gate because he relates to Samuin’s energy and because he is a fool.”

Neldor’s eyes rested on Aaron’s face for a moment. The young man had unconsciously spoken the truth.

“If he is summoned, then Prince Lyaris will get an opportunity to gain wisdom and knowledge. He will get an opportunity to realize and become aware. He then can choose and take the right path. However, if he passes the gate accidentally, then the prince will be lost,” Neldor said gravely.

He paused and looked absent-mindedly at the ash trees.

“However, this won’t happen. I’m certain about it. I’m certain that Lyaris is summoned,” he said.

Aaron did not dare to speak. He seized the reins of his horse tightly. Neldor patted the neck of his horse and then he smiled vaguely at Aaron.

“Where did the laughter come from, Aaron?” he asked.

“From over there,” Aaron replied, pointing in a direction.

“We won’t go there. We will stay here for the night. And from now on we must keep a clear head and watch out for anything that is unfamiliar,” Neldor said.

He looked at Aaron seriously.

“And we must not react instantly and follow our first impulse. Why, Aaron?” he asked.

“Because this could lead us astray,” Aaron replied in a low voice.

Neldor nodded pensively.

~~**~~
 


08

Lyaris awoke. Night was falling. He looked around. He was still feeling dizzy. He rose to his feet and went to the fountain. Lyaris looked into the fountain again. He put his hand into the dark water. The long sleep had made him thirsty. Lyaris took a handful of water and rinsed his mouth. He bent over and drank more water. Suddenly, he heard a voice beside him. Startled, Lyaris turned around. A man stood in the shadows. Lyaris was not able to see his face clearly. The figure was tall and the voice was the voice of a man.

“Welcome to my fountain. My name is Mimir,” the man said. His voice was dark and cold.

Lyaris tensed. He looked at the figure. A few moments passed before the prince replied.

“My name is Lyaris. I am the Prince of Aglanthol,” he said finally. He tried to keep his voice firm. His insecurity, however, showed clearly.

Lyaris felt nervous. Who was the man? What did he want? And where had he come from so suddenly? Lyaris thoughts were running. He kept gazing at the man who stood motionless in the shadows.

“A prince,” the man said with a chuckle. His laugh was accompanied by the sound of small bells.

Lyaris glanced left and right in order to make out where the sound of the bells had come from. Yet he did not see anything or anybody.

The man stepped closer. Lyaris felt tempted to retreat. However, he kept standing in his place. He took a deep breath.

“It is nice to meet a prince,” the man said. “Do you wish to visit the venerable kingdom?” he asked.

“Kingdom?” Lyaris uttered in confusion.

“You knocked at the gate. Did you not knock for admittance?” the man asked while he made another step towards Lyaris.

Lyaris now saw the man’s face more clearly. He was middle-aged. He had an ash blond full beard and his ash blond hair fell to his shoulders. The man was dressed in a green tunic and dark brown suede pants. He wore black leather boots and he carried a spear in his hand.

Lyaris gazed at the man. Then he turned his eyes to the spear. He gazed at the weapon.

“I haven’t knocked on a gate,” Lyaris said slowly. He looked back at the man.

“Oh, you did, Prince Lyaris,” Mimir said in a full voice. “You drank of the water of the fountain on the evening of Samuin.”

“Samuin,” Lyaris muttered.

His manuscript came to his mind. The gate to the otherworld opened on the day of Samuin. His birthday had come. He had not noticed. Lyaris suddenly felt hot and cold. He made a step back.

Mimir laughed.

“Not so fast, my prince. You might stumble and fall,” he said.

Lyaris made another step back. His back touched something hard. Lyaris glanced back. A huge root of the ash tree stopped his retreat.

Mimir gave another laugh.

“You drank from the fountain yesterday. The water made you sick, didn’t it? Why did you not leave the place?” he asked.

Lyaris felt confused.

“I drank from the water. But it did not make me feel sick. I just grew very tired,” he replied.

“Ah,” Mimir said as if Lyaris’ words sufficed as an explanation. “You tasted the water again today. Did you want to fall asleep again?” he asked.

Lyaris felt perplexed. In all honesty, he had not given this a thought. He had just followed his first impulse to drink more of the water.

“I was thirsty,” he said weakly.

“Thirsty for what?” Mimir asked.

He made another step towards Lyaris. Lyaris turned to the right and stepped a few steps away from the man. Yet, suddenly, like out of nowhere, another huge root appeared in his way and stopped him from moving on. Mimir gave a loud laugh. He moved closer to the prince until he stood right in front of him. Lyaris held his breath. Mimir’s look was grim and his eyes were piercing. Lyaris felt totally scared.

“Thirsty for what?” Mimir asked again. His voice sounded menacing this time. “Answer, Prince Lyaris. Thirsty for what? Fame? Glory? Knowledge? Or power?”

Lyaris gazed at the threatening man. The prince swallowed. His mind was chaos.

“I’m thirsty for adventure,” he replied in a meek voice.

Mimir gazed at the prince. His eyes showed surprise. Then he let out a hearty laugh. His cheeks flushed and his eyes sparkled.

“Your answer is pleasing me,” Mimir said. “Come, follow me, Prince Lyaris.”

Mimir pointed with his spear at another huge root that was formed like an arch. Lyaris looked at what looked like a natural formed gate. The gate was wreathed in mist. Lyaris heard the sound of bells from the other side of the gate.

“Come,” Mimir said again.

Lyaris swallowed. Hesitatingly, he made a step towards the gate. Mimir made an encouraging gesture with his hand. Lyaris moved on and Mimir followed him until they had reached the gate. A cold shiver ran up Lyaris’ spine. He felt an urge to turn and run. But at the same time he felt tempted to move on and step through the gate.

“Come,” Mimir said in a soft and tempting voice. “Step through the gate, Prince Lyaris.”

Lyaris glanced at the wondrous man, and then he made another step forward and crossed the gate. The sound of the bells grew louder for a moment, yet then the sound faded away.

“Welcome. Welcome to the land that only few do find and less do leave,” Mimir said in dark and grave voice.

Lyaris startled at Mimir’s words. Frightened, he turned his head back to Mimir. The man was standing in the gate.

“Welcome to Tyrnae, Prince Lyaris,” Mimir said. His piercing eyes were resting on Lyaris’ face.

His figure faded. And then, from one moment to the other, Mimir had disappeared. The gate had also vanished. Lyaris tensed. His body stiffened and fear crept up his spine. He looked around desperately. The surrounding had changed entirely. The huge ash tree and the fountain had gone. Lyaris stood on a clearing. The trees had also changed. The evergreen ash trees had disappeared and oak trees had replaced them. The colour of the leaves had already turned into yellow, orange, and red. Despair took hold of Lyaris as he realized what he had done. Totally unaware of it, he had entered Tyrnae. He had entered the ancient realm that was mysterious and magical and only welcomed the chosen ones.

‘Welcome to the land that only few do find and less do leave.’ Mimir’s words echoed in Lyaris’ mind. Tears came to his eyes and he opened his lips, yet no cry or sob escaped his mouth. Lyaris felt petrified. Reality had caught up with him.

Lyaris gave a mocking laugh at his thought. Reality had not caught up with him. On the contrary, he had entirely lost touch with it. He was trapped in some unreal and magical world. Lyaris felt as if he was trapped in a dream. However, he was totally aware that this was not a dream. The gate had opened to him on the evening of Samuin. It had opened to him on his birthday. The veil between the worlds was thin on the day of Samuin. Lyaris had passed the gate to the ancient world. Lyaris had entered the magical world of Tyrnae.

Lyaris stood and did not move. He gazed at the tainted trees. A warm morning sun was shining down on him. Even the time of the day had changed.

~~**~~

A sudden, albeit faint sound shook Lyaris out of his paralysis. He heard a rustle in his back. He turned around slowly and looked in the direction where the rustle had come from. He did not see anyone or anything. Lyaris heard another rustle and he walked in the direction slowly. The noise had come from behind a rowan tree. Lyaris approached it and stopped in front of it. He listened attentively and stood motionless until he heard another sound.

“Is anybody watching me?” Lyaris asked in a firm voice.

There was a brief silence. And then a melodious voice answered from behind the rowan tree.

“Yes, I am watching you. I’m a around here often, but I have never seen you. Who are you?” someone asked back.

Lyaris straightened.

“I am Prince Lyaris of Aglanthol. I have just passed the gate to Tyrnae,” he said.

“Oh, have you?” the voice asked with a chuckle. “Welcome then. I am a prince as well. I am Prince Erendil.”

“So why don’t you come out of your hiding place?” Lyaris asked. “I won’t harm you.”

A moment later, a young man stepped from behind the rowan tree and smiled at Lyaris. Lyaris was stunned. The man was tall. Long blond hair framed his pale face. The hair was braided and revealed pointed ears. Lyaris gazed at them. Prince Erendil chuckled once more. Lyaris looked the man up and down. Erendil was dressed in a purple tunic with elaborate embroideries. He wore light brown suede pants and brown suede boots. He carried a bow and a quiver with arrows. Lyaris judged that the man was his age. He had blue eyes and a handsome face. He looked pure and clean and somehow ethereal.

“Welcome to Tyrnae,” Prince Erendil said again. “I suspect you come from the human world and passed the gate on the day of Samuin. Did you look for the gate or did you cross it accidentally?”

Lyaris gazed at Erendil. He felt somehow perplexed by the man’s curiosity.

“I met a man who called himself Mimir. He invited me here,” Lyaris said slowly.

“Oh, Mimir, the prankster,” Erendil said with another beautiful smile. “So you drank from the water of his fountain and then felt tempted to cross the gate?”

Lyaris kept gazing at the man. He stared at his pointed ears. Lyaris thought on Erendil's question.

“Actually, I set out to find the gate,” he said finally. “I read on Tyrnae in ancient books. The tales drew me in. I wanted to find and explore the ancient realm.”

Erendil tilted his head and smiled.

“Be careful what you wish for. Your wish might be granted,” he said mysteriously.

Mimir’s words echoed in Lyaris’ mind. ‘Welcome to the land that only few do find and less do leave.’ Lyaris swallowed.

“Is it true then that I am forever trapped in Tyrnae?” he asked in a hollow voice.

Erendil tilted his head again. He looked at Lyaris thoughtfully.

“I cannot judge on this, Prince Lyaris. But only those who were summoned will leave this world again,” he said.

A cold shiver ran up Lyaris’ spine.

“What happens to those who come here without being summoned?” he asked under his breath. Fear showed in his voice.

Erendil studied him seriously.

“There is a place in Tyrnae where these lost souls do gather. Their life is tedious and the place is arid and bleak. They came here to exploit the ancient realm for whatever reasons of theirs. As a result, they must stay here. They would only attract more intruders, if Tyrnae let them leave. They get what they deserve,” Erendil said coldly.

Lyaris felt a lump in his throat. He had not heard a call. This meant that he was doomed to ruin.

“You can show me to this arid and bleak place then,” Lyaris said in a defiant voice. “I heard no call. So I’m your captive. Punish me. Let’s get over with it quickly.”

Lyaris felt angry. This was all so unfair. He had not come here to exploit the ancient realm. He had just wanted to have a look. Lyaris frowned at Erendil.

Erendil gave a soft laugh. He smirked at Lyaris.

“There is something about you that I have never seen before on anyone who came through the gate. None of those travellers asked to be punished in the first hour of their stay in Tyrnae,” Erendil said.

They looked at each other for a while. Lyaris kept frowning. He did not reply. Finally, Erendil made a gesture with his hand.

“Come, Prince Lyaris. I’ll show you to my father’s house. He’s an Elvish noble man, yet not a king, although I am called a prince,” Erendil said.

“Elvish?” Lyaris asked in a perplexed voice. He blinked, and then gazed at Erendil.

Erendil gave a soft laugh.

“Yes, Prince Lyaris. You have entered the ancient realm of Tyrnae. It’s mainly inhabited by elves,” he said. He looked at Lyaris curiously. “Have you heard of the elves in your world?”

Lyaris nodded slowly.

“The ancient books tell of Tyrnae, yet they do not mention the elves. From the books, however, I know that the veil is thin between the worlds on the day of Samuin. There are folk tales on Samuin in my world and these tell of the elves,” he said.

An excited sparkle showed in Erendil’s eyes.

“You must tell me of these tales,” the elf said. “I’m curious to learn what the humans think of us.”

“Why so?” Lyaris asked in confusion. “Do you plan to visit the human world?”

Erendil’s pale cheeks turned rosy. He lowered his eyes for the split of a second. Lyaris smiled. His smiled broadened and then he broke into laughter. Erendil looked at Lyaris awkwardly. After a few moments, however, the elf felt reassured. He smiled also and then gave a soft laugh.

“We have a lot in common, Prince Lyaris,” he said with a smirk. “A happy coincidence led you here. Or maybe you followed Tyrnae’s call.”

They stopped laughing. Another shiver ran through Lyaris’ body. Erendil looked at him kindly. Then he made a gesture with his hand.

“Come, Prince Lyaris. I’ll show you to my father’s house,” he said again.

Erendil turned around and walked into the forest. Lyaris followed him. The sun was shining and shed a warm light. The rays of the sun fell through the leaves of the trees and tickled Lyaris’ face. The rich scent of herbs and autumn flowers made Lyaris feel at ease. He looked at Erendil’s back as he followed the elf on the path through the forest. Lyaris breathed deeply. He felt totally at peace. He did not think of the human world that he had left behind just a couple of minutes ago.

~~**~~



09

Neldor and Aaron awoke the following morning. The sun was shining, yet the rays of the sun barely reached the ground. The air was chilly and Neldor and Aaron felt cold. Aaron looked for additional clothes in his bag. He took out the velvet vest that Lyaris had given to him as a present. Aaron touched the smooth fabric. He felt a lump in his throat and tears came to his eyes.

Neldor watched Aaron. He felt pity for the young man. The old wizard racked his brain. He sought for a way to find the prince and take him safely back home. For the time being, however, he had to keep an eye on Aaron. He had to stop the young man from acting carelessly.

They mounted their horses and moved on through the wood. Neldor let his horse find the way. Aaron followed the wizard close behind. He was cold and he was scared. The huge trees were dark and menacing. Aaron felt that something drew them in. He felt as if they could not go back. He felt they could only move on. The magic of the wood controlled their steps.

They moved on for a while. Then Neldor stopped and raised his hand. The sudden stop shook Aaron out of his absent-minded state. He looked up anxiously.

“I’m sensing the energy again,” Neldor whispered.

Aaron’s eyes widened and his lips opened slightly. He gazed into the wood and listened attentively. He had expected it. He had almost waited for the sound. Yet his body tensed when he actually heard the sound of small bells. Aaron gave Neldor a frightened look.

“The bells,” he said under his breath.

Neldor nodded. They sat silently on their horses and listened into the wood. Suddenly, Neldor raised his hand and pointed ahead. Aaron looked in the direction, yet he did not see anything.

“The being retreated,” Neldor said. “However, I sensed its energy. It’s a timeless energy, old and ancient.”

The wizard patted the neck of his horse. The animal moved on. Aaron followed Neldor close behind. After a few minutes, they entered a clearing. A huge ash tree stood in the centre. Mimir’s fountain, however, was invisible to them.

“Yggdrasil,” Neldor said in awe as he recognized the ancient ash tree. “The tree of life,” he said to Aaron who had caught up with him.

Aaron looked at the huge tree. Roots had grown out from the trunk and crept across the clearing. The tree looked ancient and mysterious. Aaron felt intimidated.

“We have reached the gate,” Neldor said in a serious voice. “It is the day of Samuin. The gate is close, Aaron. It’s somewhere here. However, I do not see the fountain.”

“Which fountain?” Aaron asked nervously.

“Mimir’s fountain,” Neldor said. “It is said to be located right next to Yggdrasil, the tree of life. Mimir guards it and Mimir is around.”

Aaron gave Neldor a questioning look.

“The energy I sensed,” Neldor explained. “The being is not a human being. It is timeless and ancient. But I suspect that Mimir will contact us soon.”

Aaron swallowed. He felt no need to get to know an ancient and non-human being. He felt, however, that there was no way back for them. They had already gone too far. The wood now would not let them go anymore. Aaron touched the collar of the velvet vest. The smooth fabric reminded him of Lyaris and why he had set out to find him. He would accomplish his mission. He would even meet an ancient and supernatural being, if he had to. Aaron gave in to his destiny. He moved his horse closer to Neldor’s, and then he sat silently, awaiting the inevitable that was to come.

Neldor scanned the surroundings with his sixth sense. He was sure meanwhile that Prince Lyaris had come here also. Had the prince passed the gate already? Neldor suspected he had. Had Tyrnae called the prince to visit the ancient land? Neldor was pondering on this question. The correct answer was essential and would determine how they had to carry on. Neldor wondered why the fountain did not reveal itself to them. Did Mimir not trust them? Would he lead them astray? Neldor closed his eyes. He concentrated and focused his mind. He called out to the timeless being. And Mimir responded. In the split of a second, a mighty energy entered the clearing. Neldor took a deep breath and opened his eyes. Aaron’s lips opened and his eyes widened in fear. He now felt the energy as well.

Mimir materialized in front of the huge ash tree. He carried a spear. His look was cold and grim.

“Who are you?” he called out in a loud and dark voice.

Aaron tensed. He clenched his fingers and bit his lip. He gazed at the strange and odd looking man. Neldor gave a bow to the man.

“My greetings to you, Mimir, guardian of the fountain of wisdom and knowledge,” Neldor said in a grave voice.

Mimir’s eyes rested on the old wizard.

“My greetings to you, wanderers,” he said. “What or who are you looking for?” he asked.

“We are looking for Prince Lyaris of Aglanthol,” Neldor replied.

Mimir studied them. His look was cold and grim.

“The prince passed the gate. However, you are not invited to Tyrnae. The fountain remains invisible to you and the gate remains sealed,” he said coldly.

Neldor gave a nod.

“I accept your decision, Mimir, guardian of Tyrnae,” he said. “Yet, the wood led us here. It drew us in. What is the message you have to pass on to us?” he asked gravely.

Aaron looked between Neldor and the weird man. He did not understand much of what they were talking about. He had, however, understood that Lyaris had passed the gate and that he and Neldor were not given permission to cross it. Tears came to Aaron’s eyes. Mimir gave him a brief look before he turned his eyes back to Neldor.

“Quiet your mind, wanderers,” Mimir said. “The prince heard Tyrnae’s call. He is free to leave the ancient realm again and carry with him something that he will be given. This is the ancient law.”

Neldor nodded gravely.

“I feel relieved to hear these words. And I acknowledge the ancient law,” the wizard said. “And yet I sense that there is more to it. What else do you have to pass on to us?” he asked.

Mimir studied the old wizard.

“The prince is free to leave the ancient realm again. However, he will feel tempted to stay on his own accord. This is against Tyrnae’s will. Tyrnae wants him to carry something to the human world,” Mimir said.

Neldor wondered why Tyrnae had called a wayward prince to carry out the mission. Yet, he quickly focused his mind again and concentrated on Mimir. Mimir knew the wizard’s thoughts.

“Nothing happens without a reason, wanderers,” he said in his full voice.

Mimir chuckled. He pointed his spear at Aaron. Aaron tensed instantly.

“You only can convince Prince Lyaris to leave Tyrnae again. And that is why you and your companion are granted access to the ancient realm, albeit for only one day and only if you find a passage on your own. The gate remains sealed to you. Prove you are worthy,” Mimir said. His voice was almost threatening now.

Aaron felt paralyzed with fear and his mind was chaos. He seized the reins of his horse. His hands were trembling. So it was all up to him? How should he manage it? Aaron had no clue at all. Fear and despair overwhelmed him.

Mimir turned back to Neldor. Neldor also felt bewildered at Mimir’s words. However, he forced himself to focus his mind on the magical being.

“There is only one other way that I have heard of,” Neldor said calmly.

Mimir nodded gravely.

“This is the way, wanderer. You must find it and ask for a passage,” he said.

Neldor nodded.

“We must find the ferryman then,” he said, just stating the fact.

Mimir gave a nod.

“The ferryman offers a passage to the realm of the dead. However, he can also transfer you to the realm of Tyrnae. Convince the ferryman. Do the right thing and you will enter Tyrnae. Else you will be lost to the realm of the dead,” Mimir said in dark and hollow voice.

His figure faded and then disappeared. Neldor sensed the energy no longer. The old wizard straightened on his horse. He looked at the huge ash tree. Fate had summoned him. It was up to him to arrange the passage. And it was up to Aaron to find the prince and lead him out of Tyrnae.

Neldor turned to Aaron who gazed at the old wizard in fear.

“We are summoned to find the passage,” Neldor said calmly.

He channelled reassuring energy to the young man until Aaron relaxed a little. Aaron gave Neldor a nod.

“All right, Master Neldor,” he said weakly. “Where do we start our search?

Neldor rubbed his chin pensively. And then the wizard dismounted.

~~**~~

Erendil and Lyaris reached the edge of the wood. A field of asters spread in front of them. The flowers were red, yellow, and purple. The play of colours impressed Lyaris greatly. He was barely able to look his fill. Thy sky was blue and the sun shed a golden light. The air was warm and a soft breeze was blowing. Two purple butterflies danced in the air. Lyaris felt totally enchanted.

“What a beautiful place!” he exclaimed in awe.

Erendil smiled at him.

“Come, let’s cross the field. My father’s house is on the other side,” he said in a melodious voice.

Erendil moved on and Lyaris followed him. They walked through the flowers that were bigger and more colourful than the flowers in the human world. A happy feeling took hold of Lyaris and he moved on cheerfully. They reached the end of the field and Lyaris caught sight of Erendil’s home.

The house didn’t look like any house Lyaris had ever seen. It was big and the walls were made of white stones that looked like tuff. The house looked light and yet it was solid. The large entrance was made of white wood. Many windows let the light in and the sun reflected in the window panes. Ornate balconies and small towers made the house look like the fairy palaces Lyaris had read about in his childhood tales. Lyaris stood and took in the sight. The house did not resemble his father’s house in the slightest. The king’s house was splendid, too, yet in an old-fashioned way. The windows were small. The walls were made of thick stones.  The stones were often covered with moss and creepers. Erendil’s home, however, was embellished by climbing roses and flower beds in front of the house. Lilies exhaled an enticing scent and small ponds invited to sit down beside them.

Erendil moved on and Lyaris followed him like in a trance. He took in every detail. He felt like under a charm. Erendil now and then cast him a glance and smiled at him. He did not say anything, however. The elf moved on silently. Finally, they reached the door. Lyaris wondered where the watchmen were. Erendil saw his questioning look.

“We don’t need guards to watch over this place,” he said softly. “The place is protected by a ward. Nobody can pass it without permission. I invited you. You’re welcome here,” he said.

Lyaris looked at the elf in wonder. He had never seen such a beautiful place. Tyrnae was very different from his world. Lyaris understood why Tyrnae had closed itself up from the human world. The humans would only disturb and ultimately destroy the beautiful place. Lyaris thought of Zhoron, his father’s magician. He had not given Zhoron a single thought since he had left the hunter’s lodge. The man had wanted to intrude into the ancient realm. Greed and thirst for power had been his motives. Lyaris wondered what the man had done when he had found out that he was gone. Did Zhoron follow him? Was he close? Fear showed in Lyaris’ eyes.

“What is wrong with you?” Erendil asked. He stood in the doorway and looked back at Lyaris.

“I was just wondering if someone followed me here,” Lyaris replied quickly.

Erendil tilted his head and looked at Lyaris.

“You travelled with someone else?” he asked. “And you don’t want him to come here as well? Do not fear, Prince Lyaris, Mimir will not let him in.”

“He wanted to intrude into the ancient realm,” Lyaris said in a low voice.

“Like you did?” Erendil asked back, studying the prince attentively.

Lyaris swallowed.

“I just wanted to have a look. But I am sure meanwhile that Zhoron wanted to steal something from Tyrnae,” he said.

Erendil smiled.

“Mimir won’t let him in,” he repeated in a firm voice and then he opened the door.

Erendil made an inviting gesture with his hand. Lyaris stepped inside. Erendil followed him and closed the door. They had entered a large entrance hall. Many pillars divided the room. The pillars, the walls, and the floor were made of white marble stone. Flowers in crystal vases exhaled an aromatic scent. Fine woven carpets covered the floor and elaborate tapestry decorated the walls. The light of the sun fell through a window. It played on the marble floor and made it look airy and light. Lyaris just stood and took in the sight. The beauty of the place overwhelmed him once more. The king’s hall in Aglanthol looked dreary and dark, and the decoration was coarse, compared to this hall. Lyaris took a deep breath. He found that breathing was much easier here. Erendil watched Lyaris. An amused smile played on his lips. Lyaris looked around once more.

“Where are the people?” he asked, suddenly realizing that the hall was empty.

Erendil looked at him for a moment, yet did not reply. Lyaris was shaken out of his trance. He started to wonder and ponder. Yet before he was able to ask another question, Erendil spoke to him. He pointed at a winding staircase in the back of the hall.

“Come,” he said in his enticing and melodious voice. “Come, Prince Lyaris, I will show you to my room.”

Lyaris stopped pondering at hearing Erendil’s soft voice. The elf had already moved on. He climbed the stairs and Lyaris followed him close behind. As they ascended the stairs, Lyaris heard the sound of small bells. Erendil glanced back and smiled at him. Lyaris moved on in wonder. He felt enchanted again.

~~**~~



10

Neldor and Aaron stood in front of the huge ash tree. Neldor looked at it. The wizard was deep in thoughts. Aaron stood close to Neldor. He glanced around nervously. What were they supposed to do? Aaron looked at the wizard. Neldor nodded thoughtfully.

“Do you have an idea, Master Neldor?” Aaron asked hopefully.

Neldor turned to him.

“I was thinking, Aaron,” he said. “Today is the day of Samuin. The veils between the worlds are thin today.”

Aaron nodded. He hung on Neldor’s lips.

“The ash tree is the tree of life,” Neldor carried on. “The tree will lead us to the realm of the dead.”

“How so?” Aaron asked with a questioning look.

“Death is not what it appears to be,” Neldor said. “Death is not the end of life. It is just a threshold that we pass as we move from one world to the other. The tales describe this threshold in various ways. One image is that of a river that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

“I thought we were supposed to find a real river,” Aaron said in confusion. “I thought we were supposed to find the ferryman who will set us over.”

Neldor nodded.

“The threshold will probably materialize as a river,” he said. “This is what Mimir said and I do trust his words,” he replied.

“So why do we stay here in front of the ash tree?” Aaron asked. He felt in despair.

“Because the ash tree symbolizes the worlds. There are many worlds, not only our world, Tyrnae, and the realm of the dead. We want to enter Tyrnae, but the gate is sealed. We don’t have permission to pass it. Like Mimir said, we must find the way to the realm of the dead and persuade the ferryman to make a side trip to Tyrnae,” Neldor said.

He rubbed his chin and an amused smile played on his lips.

“I don’t find it very amusing,” Aaron said. He sensed tears in his eyes again.

Neldor reached out and touched Aaron’s arm lightly. He channelled reassuring energy to the young man.

“Calm, Aaron,” he said. “I myself cannot imagine that the ferryman wants to make a detour. Let’s trust in Mimir’s words, however. We need to find the river today. The veil between the worlds is only thin today.”

“So why do we stay in front of the ash tree?” Aaron repeated his question. He sounded impatient this time.

“Like I said,” Neldor replied, “The tree symbolizes the worlds. The branches symbolize the higher worlds and the roots symbolize the netherworlds. The trunk connects them all.”

Aaron turned his eyes to the ash tree and looked up at its vast and mighty branches. How were they supposed to find a river there? This was all beyond his understanding.

“You are looking in the wrong direction,” Neldor said in a sober voice.

Aaron looked back at the wizard. His cheeks blushed, although he could not exactly say why he was feeling embarrassed.

“The realm of the dead, the netherworlds,” Neldor said, pointing at the large roots of the tree. “We must find the root that symbolizes the realm of the dead. Then we will follow it.”

Aaron looked from one large root to the other.

“They creep across the ground and then grow back into it. Are we supposed to dig a hole?” he asked.

Neldor shook his head slowly.

“I do not think so,” he replied. “I suspect the material world will change as we follow the root. I suspect we will see the river without any difficulties, once we have followed the correct root, that is.”

Aaron looked at the roots. He felt entirely at a loss. He moved to the nearest root and placed his hand on the bark. He even placed his ear against it.

“Excellent, Aaron,” Neldor exclaimed excitedly.

He hurried to Aaron. Aaron straightened and looked at the wizard in utter confusion.

“What, Master Neldor?” he asked in a perplexed voice.

“Very good, Aaron,” Neldor said. “We must listen attentively. We must listen for the laments of the dead.”

Aaron kept gazing at Neldor. Had the man gone insane?

Neldor noticed Aaron’s look. He smiled at the young man.

“You heard the small bells, Aaron,” he said. “I did not hear the faint sound. Listen for the faint sounds that the roots carry to your ear. I then will trace the energy. This is how we must do it.”

Aaron stood motionless for a while until the words had sunk in. Then he nodded slowly. He placed his ear against the root. He closed his eyes and focused deeply. He listened for any faint sounds. Suddenly, he startled and opened his eyes. He straightened abruptly and gazed at Neldor with widened eyes.

“What, Aaron?” Neldor asked excitedly. “Did you hear anything?”

Aaron nodded slowly. He felt stunned that the wizard’s plan seemed to really work out.

“I heard the pounding of hammers,” he said.

Neldor clapped his hands with excitement.

“The realm of the dwarves. I really would like to have a look. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to,” Neldor said with a sigh.

“No, Master Neldor,” Aaron said in a grave voice. “We must really hurry up.”

Neldor looked at Aaron and then nodded quickly.

“Yes, you are right, Aaron, carry on,” he said.

Aaron rushed to the next root and placed his ear against it. He focused his mind and listened for any faint sounds. He then reported to Neldor what he had heard and the old wizard pondered until he had identified the realm. Aaron was surprised that he was able to hear the faint sounds. He felt insecure in the beginning and he listened carefully for a long time. Soon, however, Aaron felt more confident. He rushed from root to root. Neldor followed him close behind. After one hour, Aaron finally heard the sounds that they were hoping to hear. He heard distant laments and a song that sounded like a death song.

Aaron stepped aside and Neldor stepped forward. The wizard placed his hand on the root. He closed his eyes and focused his mind. He stood like in trance for some time. Finally, Neldor opened his eyes and nodded at Aaron.

“I sense the fading energy of those beyond,” he said.

He gave Aaron an encouraging look.

“Our journey begins,” Neldor said and started to move along the large root.

Aaron followed Neldor close behind. They moved slowly. Aaron looked left and right out of the corner of his eye. A mist arose as they moved closer to the point where the root grew back in the ground. The large trees, that seamed the clearing, suddenly looked black and cold, and a cold breeze started to blow. The smooth forest ground turned hard. Aaron glanced down and saw gray pebbles under his feet. He suddenly felt as if he walked down a slope. Aaron looked ahead. The sight took his breath away. Aaron gasped. Neldor stopped and turned to Aaron. He placed his arm around Aaron’s shoulders.

“We have arrived,” the wizard said gravely, reaching out his hand and pointing at the river Styx.

The river was large and wide and the water was gray. Neldor and Aaron stood in a dim and poor light. But the other side of the river looked entirely black.

Aaron and Neldor stood motionless and looked out on the other side of the river. The young man and the old wizard were equally awe-struck.

~~**~~

Erendil and Lyaris reached the top of the stairs. They walked down a corridor. It was as splendid as the entrance hall. Erendil opened a wooden door. It showed elaborate carvings. Erendil pointed into the room.

“Come, Lyaris,” he said in a seducing voice. “Come and have a look at my room.”

Lyaris stepped into the room. Erendil followed him and closed the door. Lyaris looked around. The room was bathed in light that fell through a large window. The floor and the walls of Erendil’s room were also made of marble stone. Fine carpets covered the floor and the walls were decorated with drawings and paintings. Lyaris stepped closer and looked at the aquarelles. They showed airy landscapes and they were painted in soft colours.

“Did you paint them?” Lyaris asked, turning to Erendil.

Erendil smiled.

“Yes, I love the arts. Many elves love the arts. It is part of our innate nature,” he said.

Lyaris smiled back. He felt a little awkward. He had never painted in all his life.

“I don’t think I could paint,” he said meekly. “They look very beautiful.”

Erendil gave a soft laugh.

“You must try. We could do a painting together, maybe,” he replied.

Lyaris smiled faintly, and then looked around in the room again. A wooden desk stood at a wall. Bookshelves were arranged beside it. Lyaris walked to the shelves that were filled with leather-bound books. The books looked familiar. Lyaris reached out his hand, yet he stopped within the movement.

“Don’t worry,” Erendil said cheerfully. “Pull one out if you like to. I have read them all. I study here and sometimes I also write poems.

Lyaris glanced at Erendil, and then he pulled out a book from the shelf. He opened it cautiously. The hand-writing was elaborate and it looked like the hand-writing in the ancient books that he had taken from his father’s library.

“I have already seen books like this one,” Lyaris said in amazement. “I learned of Tyrnae from these books.”

Erendil tilted his head.

“Then some of the ancient books found their way to the human world,” he said.

Lyaris nodded thoughtfully. He turned the pages of the book slowly. Then he put the book back into the shelf. He turned to Erendil.

“It is said that aeons ago very wise and powerful magicians came to our world. They came from Tyrnae. I guess they brought the books to our world. A few of them have found their way to my father’s library,” he said.

Erendil nodded.

“This is true, Prince Lyaris. A long time ago - from the perspective of a human being, of course - these magicians were sent to your world. And time and again a human is called to the land of Tyrnae to receive a gift for the human world. These are the chosen ones. They carry the gift back to your world,” he said.

Lyaris nodded.

“This is what I also learned from the ancient books. You said ‘from the perspective of a human being’. What do you mean by this, Erendil?” Lyaris asked with a questioning look.

Erendil smiled.

“Time is different in Tyrnae, Lyaris. A thousand years in your world may be only one day in Tyrnae,” he said mysteriously.

Lyaris looked at the elf in confusion. Erendil raised his hand.

“I will tell you more of it later, Lyaris. Come, look around more,” he said.

Lyaris turned his head. He saw wooden chests that looked quite familiar. He also had wooden chests in his room. They contained his shoes and clothes. Erendil opened a chest. He took out a ruby velvet vest and held it out to Lyaris. Lyaris felt a twitch in his stomach. He gazed at the ruby velvet vest. Aaron’s face came to his mind. Aaron looked at him worriedly. He had tears in his eyes. Lyaris felt dizzy. His hands started to sweat. He swallowed and took a deep breath.

“Is anything wrong with you?” Erendil asked in a concerned voice. He put the velvet vest back in the chest.

Erendil walked to a small side table and took up a jug. He poured water into a fine crystal glass and handed it to Lyaris.

“You must be tired and feel exhausted. Your journey was long and the passage was draining. Sit down, Lyaris, and rest,” Erendil said in his melodious voice.

He pointed at a lounge that looked like a bed or sofa. Pillows were arranged on it and it was covered with a fluffy white coverlet. Lyaris sat down on the edge of the bed and drank of the water. The water was soft and fresh and tasted of lemons. Lyaris emptied the glass. He felt better at once. Erendil took the glass and placed it on the side table. Then he sat down beside Lyaris and smiled.

Lyaris looked at Erendil. The elf was handsome. Long blond hair framed his beautiful face. His hair was braided and revealed pointed ears. Lyaris studied Erendil’s face. He took in his handsome features. Erendil’s enticing beauty drew him in. The elf’s eyes showed a pretty sparkle. An enchanting smile played on Erendil’s lips. Lyaris felt charmed. He felt dizzy again. He felt as if he was in a trance. He felt totally relaxed and comfortably numb. Lyaris leaned back until his back touched the bed.

Erendil bent over Lyaris and smiled at him. Lyaris smiled back and looked up in Erendil’s eyes. He felt dazed and numb, bemused and drunk. What had caused his state? Was it the water? Lyaris tried to think, but he was not able to follow the line of his thoughts. The soft cushions distracted him. And so did Erendil’s beautiful face. The elf leaned in more. His face came closer. Lyaris looked in Erendil’s blue eyes. Erendil smiled, and then his lips touched Lyaris’ lips softly. Lyaris let out a sigh.

~~**~~



11
 
Aaron and Neldor looked out on the other side of the dark and scaring river.

“Good Lord,” Aaron said in a hollow voice. “It is pitch black over there. What a horrible place to live in the afterlife. I do not want to die, Master Neldor.” Aaron was shocked at the horrible sight. His voice was almost breaking.

Neldor patted his shoulder.

“This is what we see from where we stand now, Aaron,” he said in a calming voice.

The wizard channelled reassuring energy to the young man. Aaron’s tensed body relaxed a little.

“We are still alive. We see what we expect to see. I am not free of these expectations. We created this sight together, Aaron. The humans tend to think that it is forever night when things come to an end,” Neldor said.

“This is why the deceased do lament,” Aaron replied. His voice was hollow. “I heard their laments. I cannot blame them for it. This place is absolutely horrifying, Master Neldor.”

Neldor nodded and patted Aaron’s shoulder again.

“We must work on our expectations, Aaron,” he said in a sober voice. “We must work on our beliefs before we call out to the ferryman. Else a creepy being will appear. Or how do you imagine the ferryman?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shrugged.

“Yes, a creepy creature. The ferryman is a dead man, a skeleton. He is dressed in a ragged black robe and a hood is hiding his skull,” Aaron said with utter conviction.

“Do you want to meet this creature?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shook his head.

“In no way, Master Neldor. But we must. He needs to take us to Tyrnae,” Aaron replied in a dismal voice.

“If you want to meet this skeleton man, you must continue believing in him,” Neldor said seriously.

Aaron turned his head and looked at Neldor. Neldor looked back and gave a faint nod. Aaron thought on the wizard’s words. He swallowed.

“What can we do, Master Neldor? You are saying we created the river and the place beyond, or rather the sight of it. Look, Master Neldor, we created hell. How can we change the sight quickly? We must hurry. Lyaris is in imminent danger,” he said.

“First,” Neldor said. “We do believe the ferryman only comes to take us aboard when we call out to him? Do you agree?”

Aaron nodded vividly.

“Exactly,” he said.

“Good. I can stick to this belief also. And we better continue sticking to it. Else that creature might come to us on its own accord,” Neldor said seriously.

Aaron swallowed hard. By all means, he would stick to that belief, too.

Neldor rubbed his chin.

“I see no sense in calling out to the ferryman and then start trying to pay, bribe, or persuade him to take us to Tyrnae. Do you believe this could work out, Aaron?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shrugged.

“In all honesty, Master Neldor, I don’t think any of this would work out. I don’t think the ferryman is an idiot,” he replied.

Neldor chuckled. He patted Aaron’s shoulder.

“I’m also having difficulties with this,” he said. “I can’t believe we can pay, bribe, or persuade him. So this would not work out.”

Neldor rubbed his chin.

“We could try to persuade ourselves that one of these methods will work out well,” Aaron suggested.

“Can we?” Neldor asked.

Aaron shrugged.

“I don’t think so, Master Neldor,” he said meekly. “If we had more time, perhaps.”

“So we must think of something else, Aaron,” Neldor replied. “Why would the ferryman take us instantly and without delay to Tyrnae? We must both believe in this excuse.”

Aaron shrugged.

“Because the skeleton ferryman has a day off and a nice and kind man works today,” he said. “After all, it is the day of Samuin. It is said that horrible creatures sneak about at night. The skeleton ferryman is far away and occupied,” Aaron said in totally convinced voice.

Neldor laughed heartily. Aaron looked at him in confusion.

“Wonderful, Aaron,” Neldor said. “I can totally believe it.”

Neldor did not believe in Aaron’s skeleton man. Yet, since they created their sight together, Aaron’s vivid imagination would doubtlessly materialize a somewhat nasty creature. The wizard thought of Aaron’s words. Yes, he could relate to them. The skeleton ferryman was probably at work elsewhere.

“All right, Aaron, we are lucky. We arrived on the day of Samuin. The skeleton ferryman is not around. A nice and kind man is on duty,” Neldor supported Aaron’s imagination and belief. “Why would the kind man take us to Tyrnae and not to the realm of the dead?”

Aaron looked on the other side of the river. He found it was less black over there. He pointed at the other side. Neldor looked in the direction. He had seen the change also. Neldor nodded softly.

“Yes, we are less afraid now. We have changed our sight on the realm of the dead,” he said.

Aaron nodded slowly. He started to believe in Neldor’s words. Perhaps they were true, after all, and they were able to influence their surroundings or their sight or their perception or whatever. Aaron pondered on Neldor’s question.

“Well,” he said after a while. “We are not dead. Why should he take us to the realm of the dead then? We ended up at the river accidentally. We’re headed for Tyrnae. This is where we want to go to, after all. The good man is kind enough to take us there. Perhaps it is not much of a detour,” Aaron said.

Neldor looked ahead. A smile played on his lips. It was always amusing how quickly people were ready to find excuses and how fast they were able to whitewash and blandish everything. This was usually an annoying habit that often hindered people from reaching their goals. Under the given circumstances, however, this annoying ability was worth a mint. Neldor understood why Mimir had sent him and Aaron on this quest together. The skilled wizard was not able to deceive himself so perfectly. Neldor patted Aaron’s shoulder again.

“Right, Aaron,” he said in a grave voice that showed also surprise. “You found the solution to the riddle at your first attempt.”

Aaron gaped at Neldor, and then he smiled awkwardly. Aaron felt embarrassed and flattered at the same time. Neldor smiled inwardly. He had sustained Aaron’s belief with ease. This was essential under the given circumstances. Time was ticking. They needed to cross the river in short.

“Look, Master Neldor,” Aaron called out suddenly.

He pointed at the other side of the river. Neldor turned his eyes. A pale moon was now shining on the other side and a few stars twinkled brightly. Neldor smiled and nodded at Aaron.

“We’re getting better at this, aren’t we?” he asked.

Aaron smiled with relief. He relaxed. His horrible fear had finally gone and he almost looked forward to crossing the river. His altered state of mind instantly showed its effect. Dawn was breaking on the other side of the river. Aaron gaped at the sight of it.

“Good Lord,” he said in awe. “Good Lord, Master Neldor, I can barely believe it.”

Neldor nodded, and then he moved on. He descended the slope and moved to the river. Aaron followed him close behind. They stopped at the river bank. The river was deep and wide and the water looked cold and gray. Neldor and Aaron looked left and right. There was no boat on the river.

“We need to find the landing stage,” Aaron said.

He hurried down the river bank. Neldor followed him slowly. The young man would find the landing stage where he believed it was supposed to be. They walked for a few minutes. The river made a soft curve. The water was shallow on their side.

“I found it,” Aaron exclaimed excitedly.

He waved his hand. Neldor walked to where Aaron stood. A wooden landing stage led out on the river. Aaron had already entered it. Neldor followed him. He walked to the end of the landing stage. Neldor took a deep breath and then he called out loud.

“Take us over, ferryman!”

The call split the silence and for the split of a second the energy of the place changed. Neldor found it felt like a rupture that, however, in the split of a second healed.

Like out of nowhere, a boat came to the landing stage. A stout and small man with a bald head and rosy cheeks secured the boat and then smiled at them kindly. Neldor and Aaron exchanged a quick look. Neldor winked and Aaron smiled briefly.

“Good day, wanderers,” the man said in greeting. “A passage to the realm of the dead?” he asked in a businesslike voice.

“I fear we have lost our way,” Aaron said quickly. He stepped forward and looked at the man. “We wanted to travel to Tyrnae, but we lost our way. Look, good man, we are still alive. We’re not headed for the realm of the dead.”

The stout man studied Neldor and Aaron. A good-natured smile appeared on his lips.

“Good you met me, wanderers,” he said. “The place can be scary on the day of Samuin. Get into the boat. I will take you to Tyrnae. It really is not much of a detour,” he explained.

“Thank you, good man,” Aaron said quickly and then jumped into the boat.

He waved at Neldor. The wizard moved forward. Aaron helped him climb into the boat. The man set the boat adrift. He pointed at the other side of the river where a golden sun had risen.

“A good day there also,” the man said in a cheerful voice, and then started to whistle a merry song.

Aaron and Neldor exchanged a look. An amused smile played on Neldor’s lips and Aaron almost burst into laughter. After some time, the riverside changed. Fine sand replaced the gray pebbles and the water of the river looked dark blue.

“We’re almost there,” the stout man said cheerfully.

He pointed in the distance. Aaron and Neldor spotted another wooden landing stage. They arrived there a short while later. The man secured the boat. Aaron jumped out of it quickly.

“Wait,” Neldor called out to him.

Aaron turned around and bent down to help the wizard out of the boat.

“What do you think does he want in return?” Neldor whispered at Aaron.

“A gold coin,” Aaron said in a convinced voice.

He pulled out a neck pouch from under his tunic and took out a gold coin. Neldor watched him and let him do what he believed was the right thing to do. Aaron bent over and thanked the man. He handed him the gold coin. The man set the boat adrift. He waved at them, and then moved on. Neldor and Aaron looked after him.

“Good Lord,” Neldor said, shaking his head. “Your imagination is truly peculiar.”

Aaron looked at Neldor as if he was pouting.

“Why so? Better a stout man with a bald head and rosy cheeks than a skeleton man,” he said.

He smiled at Neldor. Neldor smiled back, and then the wizard pointed up the river bank.

“So hopefully this is the land of Tyrnae,” he said. “Now let’s go and find Prince Lyaris and then let’s get out of here. Hopefully, we can cross the gate.”

Neldor smoothed down his tunic. He found he looked a bit too ragged in the ancient realm of Tyrnae.

“We can always call the stout ferryman again,” Aaron said.

He followed Neldor’s example. He smoothed down his clothes and wiped back his hair. Aaron felt nervous. They had arrived in Tyrnae where only the chosen ones were welcomed. Aaron reminded himself of Mimir’s words. The gatekeeper had told them that they were supposed to come here. Aaron took a deep breath.

“Master Neldor, where do we go now?” he asked.

“Do you remember what I told you?” Neldor asked. “Time is different here. Everything is different here. This is a magical world.”

“It looks much like our world,” Aaron said, looking around.

“Appearances are deceiving,” Neldor said with a serious look.

A cold shiver ran up Aaron’s spine. He sensed that the words of the wizard were true.

~~*~~



12

Lyaris opened his eyes slightly. He saw Erendil’s beautiful face. The elf had stretched beside him and had wrapped his arms around him. Erendil smiled at Lyaris and Lyaris smiled back at him.

Erendil pulled Lyaris closer. Their bodies touched. Lyaris felt warm. He felt almost heated. He closed his eyes and opened his lips. Erendil’s lips touched his lips again. Lyaris opened his lips more. The tip of Erendil’s tongue touched his tongue. Lyaris let out a stifled moan. He moved his body closer to Erendil’s.

Lyaris pressed his body against the elf. He lost control of what he was doing. He felt at ease and comfortable and he banished all thoughts from his mind. Erendil turned on his back and pulled Lyaris with him. His hands roamed over Lyaris’ back. One hand moved under Lyaris’ tunic and stroked the bare skin. Lyaris lowered his head. His lips nibbled on the elf’s pointed ear. Erendil’s soft hands stroked Lyaris’ skin. Lyaris felt good. He felt like in an awesome dream where all his wishes fulfilled at once.

Erendil watched Lyaris’ face. The elf’s cheeks had turned rosy and his eyes had darkened from lust. His hair was ruffled and his skin was heated. The airy elf was set on fire. Erendil felt sultry, voluptuous, and totally carnal. How he had longed to feel vitalized. Erendil’s lips sought Lyaris’ lips again and Lyaris responded to the elf’s eager kiss. How he had longed for some grand adventure. Passion overwhelmed the elf and the human man.

~~**~~

A path led away from the river bank. Neldor and Aaron followed it. It led through a field of heather. Neldor and Aaron walked slowly. They watched out cautiously, yet they did not see anybody. Neldor, however, was well aware that this did not mean anything. Any observers could well hide from their sight. The wizard focused on his sixth sense. He scanned the area for any energy forms that were focusing on them. So far, however, he had not noticed anything that alarmed him.

They moved on for some time. The field of heather seemed to be endless. It stretched as far as the eye could see. The sun was high meanwhile and the day was warm. Neldor wiped his forehead and Aaron pulled up the sleeves of his tunic.

“It is very warm for a day in autumn,” Aaron said.

Neldor glanced at Aaron and just nodded. They moved on silently for another while. Suddenly, Neldor stopped and pointed ahead. Aaron looked in the indicated direction. The heather field ended. Aaron saw many colourful flowers. They moved on and stopped again when they reached the edge of the flower field.

A field of asters spread in front of them. The flowers were red, yellow, and purple. The play of colours impressed Aaron greatly. He had never seen flowers of such intense colours. Aaron felt totally amazed. He was barely able to look his fill. The sky was blue and the sun shed a golden light. The air was warm and a soft breeze was blowing. The place was absolutely beautiful. Aaron took in the sight and his heart filled with joy. Two purple butterflies danced in the air. Aaron felt like the butterflies. He felt happy, carefree, and airy.

Neldor watched the enchanted young man. The place was indeed beautiful. The excessive impact, however, that the sight of the place had on Aaron made Neldor wary. The wizard closed his mind up from the magic of the place. He put up a ward for him and the enchanted man. Aaron’s state changed instantly. His dreamlike state vanished and his look was almost sheepish as he turned his eyes to the wizard. Aaron blushed slightly.

“I am sorry, Master Neldor,” he said meekly. “You must think I’m crazy. I cannot say why, but for a moment or two I felt overly delighted at the sight of the flowers. It seems a bit odd to me now.”

Neldor’s look was serious for a moment. Aaron felt confused and totally awkward. But then Neldor smiled. He patted Aaron’s shoulder.

“Tyrnae is a magical land. The flowers are indeed magical. They cast a mighty spell. I put up a ward meanwhile,” he said.

Aaron’s eyes widened.

“The flowers are charmed?” he asked in almost fear.

Neldor shook his head.

“They are supposed to charm those who look at them. You sensed it yourself, Aaron. You felt instantly happy and found this was the most beautiful place in the world,” he said.

“Well, isn’t it, Master Neldor?” Aaron asked.

Neldor pointed at the flowers.

“How do they look when you are able to perceive them without being influenced by their spell?” Neldor asked.

Aaron turned his head and looked at the flowers. He felt almost disappointed at the sight.

“They look like ordinary asters,” he said.

“Yes,” Neldor said. “I wonder if Lyaris saw them, too. If so, then he may be in a somewhat dreamlike state, I guess.”

Aaron looked into the distance.

“Where are we supposed to look for him? Tyrnae is most likely a vast land,” he said.

Neldor nodded thoughtfully. He looked at Aaron.

“Your magic might work here, too, Aaron,” he said.

Aaron gave the wizard a questioning look.

“My magic? I am not a magician, Master Neldor,” he replied.

Neldor smiled.

“Oh, you are, Aaron. You totally changed the scenery of the river. May I remind you that this river is the borderline between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Changing this scenery can only be done with powerful magic,” Neldor said.

‘Or a strong belief and naivety,’ Neldor thought, ‘which should never be underestimated.’ “Under the given circumstances it worked wonders,” Neldor said aloud.

Aaron felt confused. He refrained from asking. He waited patiently for the wizard to carry on. Neldor rubbed his chin. He thought again, and then he turned back to Aaron.

“Let’s try it again, Aaron. Let’s assume Lyaris came along here and saw the flowers. Where did he go? What happened? Where can we find him?” he asked.

Aaron pondered.

“If he felt like I felt a short while ago, then he probably crossed the flower field. I had a feeling that I needed to run through the flowers and jump in the air. I felt drawn to the other side of the field. I felt that something great was awaiting me there,” Aaron said.

Neldor looked ahead and nodded.

“Something great,” he said slowly. His voice sounded worried.

Aaron watched the wizard with concern. Neldor turned his eyes and looked at Aaron seriously.

“Appearances are deceiving, Aaron. What is on the other side of the field? What or who needs charmed flowers that cloud the minds of wanderers and visitors?” he asked.

“Someone in disguise, in a sense,” Aaron said worriedly. “Do you mean some horrible creature lured Lyaris into a trap?”

Aaron felt cold and utterly worried. Neldor stood motionless, looking ahead. His mind connected the bits and the parts he had seen and heard and sensed with his sixth sense.

“Mimir said Tyrnae summoned Lyaris. This means he will receive a gift that he shall carry back to the human world. However, Lyaris hesitates to leave Tyrnae. Why does he want to stay in the otherworld?” Neldor mused.

“Because he crossed this field,” Aaron said. “He is enchanted, bewitched. He thinks this is the most beautiful place in the world. Perhaps it is even more beautiful on the other side of the field.”

Neldor nodded slowly.

“Yes, Aaron, I agree with you. Mimir said that only you can lead Lyaris out of Tyrnae. This means you must free him from this spell,” he said. “Provided Lyaris crossed the field and actually is over there.”

“Let’s find out about it, Master Neldor,” Aaron replied. “Let’s cross the field of asters. Let’s move on to the other side of the field and let’s see what we will find there. We’ll find out about the truth very soon.”

Aaron’s look was grim and determined. Inwardly, however, he was at a loss. Would they find Lyaris? What was he supposed to do then? Neldor was a magician. He was not. Aaron felt helpless, but he was determined to free Lyaris.

Neldor nodded his agreement. Aaron turned away and entered the flower field. He did not pay attention to the beautiful flowers. He trampled them down, while he walked forcefully. He looked ahead grimly. Neldor followed the young man at a measured step. He focused on his sixth sense while they walked ahead. Neldor sensed no living energy. The wizard pondered. He doubted that the place was deserted. Someone had used magic to guard the place. Someone was hiding here. What was the secret of the place? Would they really find Lyaris on the other side of the flower field? Neldor looked ahead. He caught up with Aaron. The old wizard and the young man walked on side by side.

~~**~~

Lyaris glanced at the ceiling. He felt comfortable. He was still in a dreamlike state. Erendil was lying beside him, one arm wrapped lazily around Lyaris’ body. The light of the sun fell through the windows. The rays of the sun felt warm on their skin. Lyaris glanced at Erendil from under his lashes. A smile was playing on the elf’s lips. Erendil turned his body a little. He opened his eyes and smiled at Lyaris.

“You make me feel alive,” Erendil said in his soft and melodious voice. “I didn’t know how good it feels to be vitalized and carnal.”

Lyaris smiled back. He had not known how good it felt to give in and just surrender to his feelings. Lyaris turned on his side. They faced each other. Erendil’s blue eyes rested on Lyaris’ face. His cheeks were still rosy and his body was heated. His keen senses were entirely focused on the human man who had so willingly given in and had opened up his heart to him. Erendil yawned. He was tired. The feeling was new to him, yet it did not disturb him. Lyaris was enjoying the moment. He did not ponder on the future nor did he think of the past. Lyaris liked it the way it was. He felt enchanted and he hoped his dreamful state would last forever. Neither of them thought of the world around them. Erendil felt safe. The elf was off guard. He did not sense Aaron and Neldor coming.

~~**~~



13

Aaron and Neldor moved at a steady pace. Suddenly, however, the wizard stopped and shielded his eyes with his hand. Aaron stopped also and looked ahead. They saw a house in the distance. The walls were pearly-white and reflected the light. The house looked like a trinket in the sun.

“It is an almost palace,” Aaron said in astonishment. “Look at the filigreed towers, Master Neldor. They look like the towers that are described in some fairy tales.”

Neldor did not reply. He took in the sight. He focused on his sixth sense and cautiously scanned the area.

“The house is large. It’s neat. The lawn is trimmed. I don’t think it is deserted. Where are the people? We have not yet seen anybody,” Aaron mused.

Neldor nodded absent-mindedly. He scanned the house, yet he did not get a response. It was very odd. Neldor found no energy trace of the house. It seemed as if the house was not there. It seemed as if it did not exist. Neldor looked more closely with his carnal eyes. He saw the house clearly. What was wrong with it? What was going on here? Neldor stood motionless and pondered. This was confusing him. He had not perceived any energy patterns. Where was Lyaris? Was he really somewhere around in this place?

Aaron watched Neldor worriedly. He guessed from Neldor’s behaviour that something was wrong. Aaron looked at the house again and then he startled. For the split of a second he had thought that the sight of the house had changed. The house had looked as if it was hovering in the air. Aaron narrowed his eyes and looked more intently. The house looked solid again.

“Something’s going on here,” Aaron said.

He turned his head to Neldor. The wizard looked back and nodded thoughtfully.

“I cannot perceive any energy patterns. At least not the usual patterns that material objects emit. The house is not real,” Neldor said.

“I saw it hovering. Just for the split of a second,” Aaron said slowly.

Neldor looked at the young man. He gave him a nod.

“I think it is just an image, a three-dimensional image, a hologram,” he said.

“An image?” Aaron asked. He was thinking. “You mean it is some kind of mirage?”

“In a sense,” Neldor said pensively. “After all, we are in a magical world.”

“But where is Lyaris? Did we take the wrong way?” Aaron asked. He was feeling alarmed.

Neldor rubbed his chin.

“I think the hologram is a ward. If Lyaris is inside of the hologram, then I cannot perceive him,” he said.

“The image was hovering. It is not persistent. You could try once more when the image dissolves again,” Aaron suggested.

“Let’s move a bit closer,” Neldor said. “I have enforced our ward.”

They moved closer to the house. The walls were made of white stone that looked like tuff. The house looked light and yet it seemed solid. The large entrance was made of white wood. Many windows let the light in and the sun reflected in the window panes. Ornate balconies and small towers made the house look like a fairy palace. The walls were embellished by climbing roses. There were flower beds in front of the house and also a neat and trimmed lawn.

“It looks very elaborate. Almost too perfect,” Neldor said. “I think someone spent a very long time on developing and perfecting the image.”

Aaron turned his head.

“You mean someone created the image?” he asked.

“Is creating it,” Neldor replied. “Someone channels energy into this perfect hologram constantly.”

“Why can’t you trace him?” Aaron asked. “You sensed Mimir’s energy and even the energy of the dwarves.”

Neldor nodded.

“Like I said, Aaron, the hologram is a ward. We must wait until the image is hovering once more. This happens, I think, when the creator is off guard. So we must be cautious, Aaron. We must not warn him,” he said.

“Can’t we distract him?” Aaron asked.

“We must not draw his attention to us. The image is his hiding place, his shelter. We are a danger, a threat. He would enforce his ward instantly, if he perceived us, I suspect,” Neldor replied.

“So we must make him feel safe instead,” Aaron mused. “He then might come out of his hiding place. He might take Lyaris with him.”

“Provided Lyaris is inside the hologram,” Neldor said slowly.

“I am sure he is,” Aaron said. “Tyrnae invited us, Master Neldor. We’re called to free Lyaris and take him back home. I don’t think they make it overly complicated,” Aaron said in a totally determined voice.

Neldor smiled.

“I forgot, Aaron,” he said. “I forgot your magic. What I can’t do, you certainly can. I can’t perceive any energy patterns. My magic is useless. So why ponder on this any longer. Yes, we turn to your magic instead,” Neldor said. He sounded convinced and excited.

Aaron looked at the old man, and then he smiled.

“Well, yes, Mimir said that I am supposed to free Lyaris. Don’t ask me why. And don’t ask me what my magic is all about. It doesn’t really make sense to me,” he said.

“This is the land of magic. Things are different here,” Neldor replied in a sober voice.

“We can’t get into the house without drawing attention to us. An alternative approach then?” Aaron asked vividly. He had found new heart.

Neldor nodded and pointed at the hologram.

“So tell me, Aaron, when will this hologram start to float?” he asked.

“When the creator does not focus on the outside world,” Aaron said.

“He most likely spent a long time developing the hologram. It is a hiding place and a ward. Why should he suddenly pay less attention to it?” Neldor asked.

“Because he is otherwise distracted,” Aaron replied promptly.

“He is occupied with what?” Neldor asked.

“Lyaris,” Aaron said.

He crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at the house.

“He tempted Lyaris to follow him. The magical flowers enchanted Lyaris. But apparently the tempter is enchanted, too. He is off guard. He can only be enchanted by Lyaris,” Aaron said.

He narrowed his eyes and looked ahead grimly.

“I do not like this at all, Master Neldor,” he said.

Neldor looked at the young with a mixture of amusement and worry. He gave Aaron a reassuring nod.

“Provided your magic works, Lyaris is inside the hologram,” Neldor said. “You placed him there together with the creator of the image.”

Aaron gaped at Neldor.

“Do you want to blame me for it now, Master Neldor?” he asked defiantly.

“No, no,” Neldor said, shaking his head. “I am just stating facts, although the word ‘facts’ is a bit out of place here. Anyway, don’t act on your first impulse, Aaron. This is what I told you.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow. He gave Neldor a questioning look. Neldor pointed at the house.

“We want to see the image dissolve. This will only happen if the creator of the image feels enchanted by Lyaris. I’m just following your line of thoughts,” Neldor said with an apologetic look.

Aaron swallowed. He shuffled his feet. He did not like his line of thoughts. But finally he straightened and nodded.

“Yes, you are right, Master Neldor,” he said.

Aaron shrugged. He looked at the image.

“Back in our world, I made the first move. I approached Lyaris, yet he did not respond. If he had made a move by himself, then this would have impressed me greatly. But he left me feeling like a fool. He ran from me. He ran to Zhoron. He closed himself up. I want him to open up to me. I want to feel his embrace. I want to show to the world that I love him. And I want him to come out of his lonely hiding place,” Aaron said without looking at Neldor.

His heart beat faster at his confession. He felt dizzy and his hands had started to sweat. Aaron looked ahead for a while. His cheeks turned red and he felt a lump in his throat. But then he swallowed and turned his head to Neldor. His look was determined and it was sincere.

Neldor gave Aaron a faint nod.

“You have spoken the truth. Your magic works. So be it,” the wizard said gravely.

He looked ahead and pointed at the fairy palace. The image was hovering in the air.

~~**~~

Lyaris awoke from his dreamlike state. He saw Erendil’s beautiful face. This was not a dream. This was all real. Lyaris felt love and he felt overwhelmed by the feeling. Love was in his heart. He had never felt such a beautiful feeling. Lyaris reached out and wrapped his arms around Erendil. He pulled him closer and held him tightly. His lips sought the elf’s lips and then touched them softly. Erendil’s lips tasted so sweet. Lyaris longed for this taste and the warmth that spread in his body. He kissed Erendil softly. And then he deepened the kiss. Erendil felt touched. The elf moaned softly and then gave in to Lyaris’ kiss. Erendil had longed so long for a moment like this. Erendil had lived in a world of his own. He had never shared his precious place with someone. For the first time in aeons, Erendil did not feel alone. He did not feel the need to hide any longer. He felt safe in Lyaris’ arms. Erendil let totally go.

The hologram hovered in the air. The solid house suddenly looked transparent. And then the image dissolved and vanished in the air.

Erendil and Lyaris were lying in a bed of flowers. They were lying in a tight embrace. The sun was shining down on them. The rays of the sun were tickling their skin. Lyaris and Erendil were lying among the flowers, showing their love to everyone.

~~**~~



14

Aaron and Neldor stood and watched the hovering image. They slowly turned to each other when the image disappeared.

“Are we supposed to move on or are we supposed to go?” Aaron asked in a low voice, fearing to see the truth that probably lay ahead of them.

“How do you feel about it?” Neldor asked softly.

He saw the fear in Aaron’s eyes. Neldor knew that this was Aaron’s quest and mission. He would not press the young man to make a decision.

Aaron was hesitating, but then he stepped forward slowly. Neldor remained standing in his place. He watched the young man move ahead. Aaron felt a mixture of emotions. Was it right to intrude into whatever was going on between Lyaris and the unknown creator of the image. Then again, it was his mission to find Lyaris and take him back home. Mimir, the gatekeeper, had said so at least. Aaron had crossed the borderline between his world and the magical world of Tyrnae in order to find Lyaris. No, he would not stop now and turn back. Aaron was determined to face whatever it was that he had to face. He would try to convince Lyaris to go back where he belonged. Aaron knew that he would never forgive himself if he turned away now. He was determined to face the pain if that was what he had to face. He moved on slowly.

~~**~~

Erendil and Lyaris drew back from their embrace. They looked up at the blue sky in astonishment. Lyaris blinked in bewilderment. Erendil’s room had disappeared. The whole house had vanished. Erendil gazed at the sky. The sun shone down on them. Erendil turned his head and saw the flower field that stretched around them. The elf slowly awoke from his trance. He realized what had happened. He had stopped channelling energy in his shelter and ward. He had been entirely focused on the human man.

Fear took hold of Erendil’s heart. It was his instinctive reaction on everything unfamiliar. Erendil made an attempt to rebuild the energy field. However, he failed. A voice in the back of his head told him that it was too late anyway and that it was the best for him. Erendil breathed heavily. He tried to control his instinctive fear. Lyaris saw the elf’s distress. Although he did not know how Erendil had done it, he knew that the elf had created the house as a shelter and in order to close himself up from the world. Lyaris could relate to Erendil’s feelings. Lyaris knew the same fear all too well. He reached out his hand and touched Erendil’s cheek softly. Erendil looked at him. His look was sad.

“This is the end of all I knew,” Erendil said in a low voice. “I am the one to blame. I tempted you to come with me. I led you in my secret place of shelter. The place is gone and I cannot rebuild it. I am scared, Lyaris.”

“I am scared myself,” Lyaris whispered. “I understand your feelings very well. I am vulnerable and so are you. But I also feel loved and I hope you feel loved, too.”

Erendil nodded and then smiled faintly. He closed his eyes. Lyaris stroked his cheek softly.

“Perhaps vulnerability is the price of love,” Lyaris said.

Erendil opened his eyes.

“Perhaps it is essential to love and feel loved,” he replied.

They looked at each other for a while.

“You brought me a gift, a very precious gift, Prince Lyaris from Aglanthol,” Erendil said in a serious voice. “You brought me the gift of love. I thank you, Lyaris.”

Lyaris looked at Erendil.

“Your words sound like a farewell,” he said worriedly.

Erendil nodded with a smile. He reached out his hand and stroked Lyaris’ temple.

“This place was beautiful. But it was a prison. I closed myself up and I created this world. I suspect you don’t create such places in your human world,” Erendil said.

Lyaris pondered, and then he nodded.

“I understand, Erendil. No, I cannot create a solitary place and a secret shelter with magic, but I can close myself up as well. I did, Erendil. You made me a present as well. You gave me love and you opened my heart,” Lyaris said.

They looked at each other for a while.

“What is going to happen now, Erendil?” Lyaris asked.

Erendil looked at Lyaris seriously.

“I am not a human being, Lyaris, although you made me feel vitalized and carnal. My appearance is not as solid as yours. My energy changed and I feel my appearance will adjust to the change. Tyrnae calls me to go to another place where I fit in better than in this lonely yet beautiful place,” Erendil said.

Lyaris struggled to understand. He did not grasp all the words that Erendil said. He felt, however, that Erendil was leaving him soon. And Lyaris sensed that he was not allowed to hold him back. His heart sank and he felt a lump in his throat. Lyaris swallowed and tears filled his eyes. Erendil touched Lyaris’ cheek. He wiped away a tear with his finger.

“You brought me the gift of love, dear Lyaris, and your brought me the gift of lovesickness. So precious feelings, Lyaris. I want to share them with the world of Tyrnae. Tyrnae is the place where I belong,” Erendil said.

Lyaris nodded slowly.

“You gave me the same gift, too, Erendil. I will take it with me to the place where I came from and where I belong,” he said in a stifled voice.

“Tyrnae summoned you for a reason, Lyaris,” Erendil said seriously. “Like the ancient magicians you must take your gift to the human world.”

Erendil turned his head slightly and listened attentively.

“Someone is approaching, Lyaris,” he said. “It is time for me to leave.”

Erendil moved closer and kissed Lyaris’ forehead. Then he kissed Lyaris’ lips gently. Lyaris responded. He kissed Erendil’s lips tenderly. And then, from one moment to the other, Erendil was gone. The elf had disappeared.

“Farewell, Lyaris,” a faint voice whispered into Lyaris’ ear.

A soft breeze tickled Lyaris’ skin. Lyaris looked up and saw a purple butterfly dancing in the air. More tears filled Lyaris’ eyes.

“Farewell, Erendil,” he said under his breath.

The butterfly flew away. Lyaris looked after it until it had disappeared from his sight. Then he turned his head and looked around. Flowers spread wherever he could see. Lyaris sat up and brushed back his hair. He caught sight of his clothes amongst the flowers. Lyaris dressed slowly. And then he just sat and looked out. He saw nobody approaching. But he trusted that Erendil had told him the truth. Lyaris decided to just sit and wait for who was coming to find him.

~~**~~

Aaron stopped short at the sight of a figure in the distance. Who was it? Was it Lyaris? The man was sitting among the flowers. He did not look in Aaron’s direction. Aaron moved on hesitantly. And then his heart made a jump. He recognized Lyaris. The prince was sitting alone on the ground. Aaron’s heart beat faster, and then he started to run.

“Lyaris!” he called out. His voice was excited.

Lyaris turned at the call. He recognized the voice instantly.

“Aaron,” he uttered, feeling perplexed.

Lyaris rose to his feet and looked in the direction where the call had come from. He saw a man running towards him. It was him. It was Aaron. Lyaris’ heart made a jump, and then the prince started to run.

“Aaron!” Lyaris called out as he hurried towards the young man.

“Aaron!” he called out when they met.

“Lyaris,” Aaron uttered under his breath.

Lyaris flung into Aaron’s arms and Aaron wrapped his arms around him. They stood in a tight embrace. They stood motionless, just giving in to their feelings. Finally, Lyaris drew back and looked at Aaron.

“Aaron, where have you come from?” he asked, feeling totally perplexed.

“I was seeking you,” Aaron said. “I am so happy I found you, Lyaris.”

Aaron stood and looked at Lyaris. He was overwhelmed with emotions and feelings. Lyaris stepped closer and embraced Aaron again.

“I was a fool,” Lyaris said in low voice. “I was a fool when I left my home. I was enchanted by the old tales. I wanted to enter Tyrnae and look for adventures.”

Aaron stroked Lyaris’ back.

“And have you found what you were looking for?” he asked softly.

Lyaris nodded against Aaron’s neck.

“I am so happy you have found me, Aaron,” he muttered.

“This is a good thing,” Aaron replied. He did not want to know more, not here and not now.

Lyaris drew back from Aaron’s embrace. He was about to say something when he spotted a figure approaching. Aaron turned his head and saw the wizard Neldor.

“I travelled with the wizard Neldor,” Aaron said. “He helped me come here. I would not have made it without him.”

Lyaris was too mixed up to reply. He looked at the wizard who approached them with a smile.

“My greetings, Prince Lyaris. I am glad to see you are doing well,” Neldor said in a measured voice.

“My greetings, Master Neldor,” Lyaris said meekly at realizing that the old wizard Neldor and his best friend Aaron had set out to find him in the magical world.

Neldor smiled at Lyaris’ embarrassment, yet he refrained from commenting.

“How about we travel back to our world?” Neldor asked in a sober voice instead.

“I’d really appreciate it,” Aaron replied.

“And so do I,” Lyaris agreed. “Did you cross the gate as well? Did you meet Mimir, too?”

“We took a different way,” Neldor said.

“We had to find the river Styx that is the borderline between our world and the realm of the dead,” Aaron explained.

Lyaris’ eyes widened. He felt startled at this revelation.

“The realm of the dead,” he said in a stifled voice.

“We did not enter it,” Aaron said. “The ferryman took us to Tyrnae.”

Lyaris’ eyes widened even more.

“Good Lord, what have I done to you,” he said weakly. “You faced the skeleton man?”

“Fortunately not,” Neldor replied. He cast an amused smile at Aaron. “Thanks to Aaron’s vivid imagination, we were able to avoid a meeting with that creature.”

Lyaris looked between Neldor and Aaron. He felt even more confused.

“I will tell you all later,” Aaron said. “A kind man brought us here. However, I think we can leave through the gate.”

“Yes,” Neldor said with a nod. “This is what I guessed from Mimir’s words also.”

“So you met him, too?” Lyaris asked again.

“We did,” Neldor replied. “And I could imagine we will meet him again when we leave.”

“Better do not imagine anything, Master Neldor. This is my job,” Aaron said with a wink at the wizard.

Lyaris did not grasp their words and he gave up quickly. Neldor and Aaron apparently knew how to get out of Tyrnae. He would follow them and not make any more moves of his own.

Neldor chuckled.

“Well, then, young man, where is the gate? Do you have an idea?” he asked Aaron.

Aaron looked around. He scratched his head. Lyaris pointed in a direction.

“I’m pretty sure the gate was over there,” he said.

They all looked in the direction, yet they did not see anything particular.

“It was right near the rowan tree where Erendil hid,” Lyaris said.

He fell silent instantly. His cheeks blushed and he looked to the ground.

Aaron’s cheeks blushed also. He felt a twitch in his stomach.

“Don’t follow your first impulse,” Neldor said almost casually and to no one in particular.

Lyaris looked at Neldor in confusion. Aaron, however, bit his lip. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. He nodded, and then turned around. He pointed in the direction Lyaris had indicated.

“All right,” Aaron said. “Let’s go and find the rowan tree.”

He moved on. Neldor and Lyaris followed him. They walked for a while. Then the flower field ended. They reached the edge of the wood.

“There was a path. We stepped on it,” Lyaris said.

He walked ahead and looked out for the path. He finally spotted it.

“Good,” Neldor said.

The wizard walked ahead and followed the path. He was certain now that they would find the gate. Aaron and Lyaris followed the wizard. They did not speak and moved on silently. They reached a clearing. Lyaris stepped ahead and looked out for the rowan tree. He spotted it and moved towards it. Just when he reached it, a purple butterfly flew up and danced in front of him in the air. A shiver ran up Lyaris’ spine.

“Farewell, Erendil,” Lyaris whispered.

A faint breeze tickled his skin. The butterfly flew up in the air.

“Farewell, Lyaris, and thank you so much for the love that you gave me. May you do well in the world where you belong,” Erendil’s soft and melodious voice spoke out of nowhere.

Lyaris felt a lump in his throat. He swallowed and then gave a nod.

“Farewell,” he whispered. “Goodbye, Erendil, may you do well and best of luck.”

Neldor and Aaron watched Lyaris from the distance. They sensed that the moment was precious for the prince. Neldor reached out and patted Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron glanced at the wizard and gave him a nod. Neldor gave Aaron a smile and, unnoticed by Aaron, the old wizard channelled reassuring energy to the young man.

Finally, Lyaris turned to them again. He waved his hand.

“I found the rowan tree,” he called out.

Neldor and Aaron joined the prince.

“The gate was right here,” Lyaris said.

“Call out to Mimir, Master Neldor, like you called out to the ferryman. I am certain this will work out,” Aaron said.

Neldor rubbed his chin, and then he nodded. He straightened and then he called out loud.

“Mimir, gatekeeper of Tyrnae, please open the gate!”

A mist rose and the air grew cold. The fog grew thicker and then they found themselves standing under the huge root of a tree. The root formed an arch that looked like a gate. Neldor sensed a powerful energy on the other side of it.

Neldor made a gesture with his hand, and then he walked through the gate. Aaron and Lyaris followed the wizard close behind. The mist disappeared as soon as they had crossed the gate.

~~**~~



15

Neldor, Aaron and Lyaris found themselves in a clearing. The huge ash tree stood in front of them. They all recognized the tree instantly. Dark trees seamed the clearing. The light of the sun barely reached the ground and the air was chilly. The three of them felt cold.

“Good day, wanderers,” Mimir, the gatekeeper, said in a dark and loud voice.

He stood in front of them with his spear in his hand. Mimir’s look was grave.

Neldor bowed to Mimir. Aaron and Lyaris followed his example.

“My greetings, Mimir,” Neldor said. “We have completed our mission.”

“You two have completed your mission,” Mimir said, pointing his spear at Neldor and Aaron. “He, however, has not yet completed his mission,” Mimir said, pointing his spear at Lyaris.

“I will complete my mission,” Lyaris said in a serious voice. “Tyrnae summoned me in order to give me a gift. I have received the gift and I took it with me. I will take it to my home in Aglanthol.”

Mimir nodded slowly.

“Very well, Prince Lyaris of Aglanthol. Tyrnae called you. You followed the call. Thank you so much,” he said.

Lyaris smiled.

“My thanks to Tyrnae for a most precious gift,” he replied.

Mimir gave him a faint nod. Then he pointed with his spear into the forest.

“Follow this path, wanderers,” he said. “It will lead you out of the wood. There is one more thing you need to know, wanderers. As soon as you have left the wood, you will find yourself back in your world. Almost no time has passed there.”

Neldor raised an eyebrow.

“You will leave the wood at the same time you and your young companion entered it,” Mimir said to the old wizard.

“Thank you, Mimir, gatekeeper of Tyrnae. May you do well,” Neldor said in a measured voice.

He bowed to Mimir again. Aaron and Lyaris followed his example.

“Tyrnae bids you farewell,” Mimir said. He gave a nod, and then he stood motionless with a serious look.

A mist rose, and then the gatekeeper of Tyrnae disappeared from sight from one moment to the other. Neldor, Aaron, and Lyaris looked at the place where Mimir had stood. They looked at the huge ash tree. It looked solemn and ancient. The fountain was invisible. Lyaris looked at the place where it had stood.

“Tyrnae is hidden from our sight again,” Lyaris said pensively.

Neldor nodded.

“Yes, only the ash tree, the tree of life, remained and reminds us of the magical realm,” he said.

The old wizard turned away and walked in the indicated direction. Aaron and Lyaris followed him quickly. They soon found the path that Mimir had talked of. They found their horses. They were in good health. They took the reins and followed the path through the dark wood. The evergreen trees seemed to watch their steps. They walked for an hour, and then they reached the edge of the wood. They stepped out of the dark forest and into broad daylight. Neldor and Lyaris moved on without looking back. Aaron, however, glanced back at the wood. For the split of a second he was under the impression that he heard the sound of small bells. Aaron smiled and raised his hand.

“I bid you farewell, Tyrnae,” he said.

Neldor and Lyaris stopped and looked back. Neldor nodded at the dark wood and Lyaris raised his hand and waved.

Then they moved on at a steady pace. They reached the place with the hunter’s lodge. Lyaris looked at it warily. Had Zhoron meanwhile arrived? Just when he had finished his thought, he heard a horse approaching. Lyaris turned his head. Neldor and Aaron turned also. They left the road quickly and hid behind a bush. Their horses stood motionless, luckily. A rider came down the road.

“Good Lord, the adept,” Neldor said in disgust.

Zhoron came closer. He passed the bush where the three of them hid and then stopped his horse. He looked at the hunter’s lodge.

“Arrived,” Zhoron called out cheerfully.

He dismounted and led his horse to the lodge.

“Good Lord, he has just arrived,” Neldor said.

“Tyrnae turned back time a bit, it seems,” Aaron said under his breath.

Neldor nodded.

“What will he do? In just a few seconds he will find out that I’m gone,” Lyaris said anxiously.

Zhoron led his horse behind the hut. He came in sight again after a few minutes. The false magician entered the lodge.

“Quick now,” Neldor hissed. “Let’s walk behind the bushes that seam the road. Thus he won’t see us when he comes out of the hut.”

“He’ll spot us anyway,” Lyaris said. He felt discouraged.

“No,” Aaron said. “He will enter the wood. He suspects that you have entered it.”

Just when he had finished his sentence, Zhoron came out of the hut with a grim face. He hurried behind the hut and a minute later came back with his horse. He mounted it and, like Aaron had said, the false magician entered the wood.

“It seems your magic works here also,” Neldor said with surprise.

Aaron chuckled.

“No. I could just foresee what he will do. No magic at all, Master Neldor,” he said.

Neldor smiled at Aaron, and then he pointed down the road.

“Anyway, let’s move behind the bushes for a while before we step on the road again,” he said.

They did like Neldor had suggested. When they were certain that they were out of Zhoron’s sight, the three of them led their horses back on the road. They mounted them and then moved on at a steady pace. They rode until night fell and then they camped in a field.

When morning broke, Neldor talked to Aaron.

“I promised your parents that I will take you to your Uncle Garrik. I must keep my promise, Aaron,” he said seriously.

Aaron looked at the wizard, feeling totally bewildered. He had entirely forgotten about it.

“But I don’t want to go there anymore, Master Neldor,” he said, feeling appalled. “I want to travel back with you and Lyaris.”

Neldor shook his head.

“We better do what we have promised, Aaron. Thus we can keep our journey to Tyrnae a secret. I will take you to your Uncle Garrik. I will take Prince Lyaris to his father’s home,” he said.

Aaron and Lyaris started to protest. But the old wizard raised his hand.

“Listen. How would you want to explain what has happened?” Neldor asked.

The wizard’s words did not sound appealing to Aaron and Lyaris. After a brief discussion, however, the two of them understood and gave in to Neldor’s plan. They travelled on.

Garrik’s mansion was just a day’s ride away. They arrived at the place in the evening. Lyaris camped outside in a sheltered place, while the wizard and Aaron approached the house. Aaron’s uncle had received the message that Aaron’s father had sent him. He was surprised, however, that his nephew came to his house so soon. Nonetheless, Garrik welcomed Aaron and, like Neldor had expected, he invited the wizard to stay for the night.

Neldor left the following morning. The old wizard told Aaron that he would meet up with Lyaris again very soon. Aaron understood, yet he felt depressed nonetheless. The old wizard channelled reassuring energy to the young man. And then they parted.

Neldor joined Lyaris. They moved on together. Finally, the last morning of their journey was breaking. Neldor and Lyaris slowed down their horses. They had agreed on it without saying a word. They felt a need to prolong their journey.

~~**~~

“How are you feeling, Prince Lyaris? Are you ready to face your father, the king?” Neldor asked.

Lyaris glanced at the wizard. He gave him a nod.

“I feel ready to face him, Master Neldor,” he replied. “I was absent for a few days. He will scold me. But I’m confident that my father will forgive me.”

They rode on for a while.

“Will you tell my father that you set out in order to find me, Master Neldor?” Lyaris asked. “Will you tell him that Zhoron betrayed him?”

Neldor pondered. He looked at Lyaris thoughtfully.

“No, Prince Lyaris. I did not set out to seek you. I travelled west for some personal reason. I took Aaron to his Uncle Garrik. This is what I told his parents. This is what I will tell the king. We met accidentally, didn’t we, Prince Lyaris?” Neldor asked.

Lyaris smiled at the wizard.

“Agreed, Master Neldor. I also travelled west for some personal reason. I wanted to find Tyrnae. I got lost, however. Luckily, you picked me up. And I have not seen Zhoron,” he said.

“I am not yet certain if I saw the adept or not,” Neldor said grumpily.

“The adept?” Lyaris asked.

“Yes, the intruder, the trespasser, the would-be magician. He’s just a fraud,” Neldor replied.

“I can honestly say that he fuelled my inspiration to set out and find Tyrnae. However, we made plans to meet up at the lodge. If Zhoron comes back, he will reveal it all to my father,” Lyaris said.

“Then you must be the one who tells the king,” Neldor said in a determined voice. “Your father will forgive you. You are a young man. The would-be wise man led you astray.”

They looked at each other.

“He wanted to take advantage of you, Prince Lyaris. He betrayed your trust and he betrayed your father’s trust. If Zhoron really dares to come back, then the king will deal with him. This is not your business, Prince Lyaris,” Neldor said.

Lyaris nodded.

“I have another business that I must address,” he said silently.

He glanced at the wizard shyly. Neldor gave the prince an understanding nod. They road on silently until dusk was approaching. They had almost arrived at the capital. They already saw the walls of the town in the distance. Neldor and Lyaris dismounted. They walked, leading their horses by the reins. Night was falling when they reached the gate. The watchmen called out to them.

“Who are you? What are your names?” a watchman called out grumpily.

Lyaris straightened.

“I am Prince Lyaris. Please open the gate,” he said in a firm voice.

The watchmen looked at him closely. They straightened when they recognized the prince.

“Who is with you, Prince Lyaris?” the watchman asked in a formal voice.
 
“Master Neldor, the royal magician,” Lyaris replied.

The watchmen instantly opened the gate. Lyaris and Neldor passed it. They walked slowly and upright and they seemed not to be in a hurry. A watchman ran to the royal hall in order to inform the king and his counsellors. Lyaris and Neldor had half crossed the big yard, when a crowd of people rushed out of the royal hall. A noble man hurried to greet the prince. He waved at a servant impatiently. The man hastened to take Lyaris and Neldor’s horses.

The noble man, one of the king’s counsellors, bowed to the prince.

“Welcome back home, Prince Lyaris,” he said. He was not able to hide his relief.

The man turned around and ordered the crowd to part and let the prince and the magician pass. The people did what he said. They gazed at the prince and the wizard. As soon as Lyaris and Neldor had passed them, the people started to babble and chatter.

“Goodness,” Neldor thought. “Nothing has changed here during my absence.”

He shot a few dark looks at some people. Neldor noticed that the people winced slightly in response. ‘Goodness,’ Neldor thought. Their reaction to his looks had apparently not changed either.

Lyaris walked upright. He looked ahead and ignored the people. He straightened when they reached the entrance to the grand hall. Prince Lyaris stepped into the hall and Neldor followed him. Then they stood and looked at the other end of the hall.

~~**~~



16

The hall was illuminated by candles. But the light was still poor in the room. The walls were made of rough stones. The carpets on the gray stone floor looked old and worn. The tapestries were rough and looked almost tawdry. The air in the hall was stifled and stale. Lyaris looked around in the hall. The hall was by no means an airy and a beautiful place. It did not look magical at all. Lyaris swallowed. The hall, nonetheless, was part of his home and it felt so good to be home. Lyaris’ heart jumped. He sensed tears in his eyes. He looked ahead at a lonely figure that stood at the end of the hall.

The king had risen to his feet. The counsellors, the servants, and the other people had retreated to the side walls of the hall. They stood motionless and watched the scene quietly.

Lyaris looked at his father. His father looked back at him. The king raised his hand almost insecurely. Lyaris’ heart flew out to him. The prince started to run. He crossed the hall and then he stopped in front of his father.

“I love you, my father,” Lyaris said under his breath.

A smile replaced his father’s grave expression. Lyaris’ father stepped forward and placed his arm around Lyaris’ shoulders.

“I love you, my son,” he said cheerfully. “I am glad you have returned home.”

Lyaris’ father looked in his son’s eyes deeply. Then the king turned to the crowd.

“Let’s feast tonight for my son has returned home,” he said in a loud voice.

The people gazed at the king for a moment. Then they moved and cheered aloud. They started to chatter and then hastened to prepare the feast. While the people hurried through the hall, Lyaris’ father talked with his son. Lyaris told him of Zhoron. The king then talked to the old wizard. He placed his hand on Neldor’s shoulder.

“I confided in the wrong man. I was led astray. I will deal with him, in case he comes back. I apologize to you Master Neldor. At dinner, sit down next to me as my royal magician for all to see,” the king said.

Neldor gave the king a faint nod. He acknowledged the king’s offer. The king smiled at him in return.

 The king turned to the crowd and clapped his hands. The feast began.

The feast lasted until late at night. Then, finally, Lyaris found a way to retire to his room. He lay down on his bed, feeling exhausted and tired. And yet, he could not go to sleep. Lyaris thought of the elf Erendil and he thought of his friend Aaron.

~~**~~

Erendil stood on top of a hill. He had returned to his previous form. The elf looked out on the flower fields. He had always lived among the flowers. Erendil could not remember that it had ever been different. He wondered why he did not remember where he had once come from and when he had decided to live in this place. It seemed to him that it had always been like this. For the first time, Erendil had a sense of time. Time so far had never mattered to him. It had changed when he had met the human man. Lyaris had taught him so many things.

Erendil let out a sigh. The tall elf looked out on the flowers. His pale cheeks were still graced with a touch of rosy. Erendil still felt carnal and vitalized. He had not turned into a human being, but he felt less airy now. Erendil had longed to learn about the human world. Lyaris had fulfilled his wish. A smile graced the elf’s lips as he looked out on the magical fields. Then he descended the hill slowly.

Erendil felt drawn so some other place. Tyrnae called him and Erendil heard its call. Erendil sent Lyaris a final goodbye. He thought of a purple butterfly and then he let it fly. The elf wandered across the fields. He left behind the place where he had closed himself up for so long. Erendil felt happy and light-hearted as he moved on to some other place and goal.

~~**~~

Aaron spent the winter with his uncle’s family. He missed Lyaris badly. Yet he refrained from writing letters to his beloved. He did not want to press the prince. Aaron trusted in his fate. He had developed a strong faith and belief. Tyrnae had called him and he had followed the call. He found that all had happened for a reason.

Aaron spent the days with his cousins and he forced himself to focus on the things at hand. The weeks passed by and finally spring was breaking. One day, Aaron received two letters. His father wrote that Aaron was expected to come back home. A new session of an academic year was about to begin. His father wanted him to resume his studies. He wrote that the old magician Neldor offered lessons on the ancient language of Aglanthol. Aaron’s father thought that Aaron might be interested to join the classes. Aaron rejoiced. Finally, he could turn back to the studies that interested him most. There was no need any longer to research secretly in the king’s library.

The second letter was from Lyaris. He had only written a few lines.  Lyaris had sent Aaron three poems.

Like a child I felt
When my eyes opened
Anew to the world

The light tickled my eyes
And astonished I watched
Two dancing butterflies  

               ***

Free your mind from guilt
Escape the cage you built
Your heart speaks no lies
Listen! Don't you hear?
The call of the butterflies

               ***

I feel the sunshine on my skin
I smell the scent of roses
I see a golden morning sun
And hear your ringing laughter
The darkness' gone; I want to sing
And celebrate with you
The blossom time of spring

In love, Lyaris


Aaron’s heart made a jump when he read the lines and tears filled his eyes. Aaron read the lines over and over again. Then he folded the piece of paper carefully and put it in his neck pouch. Aaron left his uncle’s house. He arrived at the capital of Aglanthol on the day of Alban Eiler.

Aaron came back exactly six months after Samuin. He arrived on the day when the vernal equinox was celebrated. This rare balance in nature represented a powerful time of magic to the Aglanthol people. Crops were sown at this time of transition. Aaron felt that the day was a landmark in his life as well. Aaron had not informed Lyaris on his return. He wanted to surprise the prince. Aaron’s parents welcomed their son. They celebrated the day together. Aaron feasted with them. Inwardly, however, he felt impatient. He looked forward to seeing Lyaris again.

~~**~~

Lyaris had spent the winter reflecting and pondering. He had spent long hours with the wizard Neldor. Neldor had told him of Tyrnae. Tyrnae was a magical land where time did not matter like it did in the material world. Lyaris learned that time and space were a continuum. Things developed faster in Tyrnae and the developments took different ways than the usual and slow ways they took in the material world. Neldor told Lyaris that this was the principle of magic. Neldor explained that a true magician did not have to cross the secret gate in order to gain access to the magical realm. A true magician always had access to Tyrnae as all the worlds were entwined.

“The worlds interfere. They are like layers of spheres,” .Neldor said. “Think of the wind and the rays of the sun. Think of the water in a brook and the tears that sometimes fill your eyes. And what about your thoughts and feelings? Are they solid and permanent?”

Lyaris looked at the wizard and then he grasped the wizard’s words.

“I understand, Master Neldor,” he exclaimed excitedly. “The worlds interfere. I have access to Tyrnae through my thoughts and my feelings.”

Their conversations distracted Lyaris. They distracted him from a pain that had remained in his heart.

When he was alone, Lyaris pondered on the beautiful place and the airy elf who had opened his heart. Neldor’s words helped him understand who and what Erendil was. Lyaris understood that the elf was an individual being whose appearance was less solid and fixed in time and space. Lyaris understood that he had not just had a dream and that the elf had not been a hallucination. The two of them had felt drawn to each other because they had had the same problem. They both had closed up their hearts. Lyaris understood that Tyrnae had called him to free the elf from his self-made cage. And while he had freed Erendil, Erendil had freed him also. The two worlds had successfully interfered. Lyaris felt amazed how wonderful magic could work. He finally felt reconciled with his fate. Winter came to an end and raised his spirits even more. Lyaris felt happy and light-hearted.

Two weeks before the feast of Alban Eiler, Lyaris went out for a walk. He stood on top of a hill and looked out on the fields. The ground was still muddy, but the first plants sprang up already. Lyaris saw small and colourful flowers that announced the arrival of spring. Lyaris could not remember that it had ever been different. Warm spring had always followed a cold and dreary winter. This was the course of time.

Lyaris let out a sigh. The sun was shining down, but the air was still chilly. Lyaris felt cold. The cold, however, did not bother him much. Lyaris thought of the beautiful place in Tyrnae. He had longed to learn more about the magical world. Erendil had fulfilled his wish. A smile showed on Lyaris’ lips as he looked out on the muddy fields. Lyaris descended the hill slowly.

He stopped short and looked in amazement at a purple butterfly that, unexpectedly at this time of the year, danced in front of him in the air. Lyaris gave a cheerful laugh. He waved at the butterfly. The butterfly approached him slowly and then flew high up in the air. Lyaris smirked. The worlds had interfered again. Lyaris walked across the fields. He felt drawn to accomplish his mission.

Lyaris returned home and sat down at a desk in his chamber. And then, inspired by the purple butterfly, Lyaris wrote three poems. He folded the piece of paper and sealed it carefully. He carried it to the royal post office himself. The dispatch riders left twice the day.  Aaron would receive the letter soon.

~~**~~

The day after the celebration of Alban Eiler, Aaron went to Lyaris’ room. Morning had broken. The sun had just risen. Aaron pushed a piece of paper under the door of Lyaris’ room. He knocked at the door.

Lyaris glanced into the room. A noise had woken him. Lyaris got up and opened the curtains. The morning light fell into the room. Lyaris turned around. He spotted the piece of paper on the floor. Lyaris picked it up and started to read. A smile spread on his lips as he read the lines of a poem.

My heart speaks no lies
I heard Tyrnae’s call and
The call of the butterflies

Love is the magic of the heart

In love, Aaron

Lyaris’ heart jumped. He opened the door. Aaron stood in front of him and smiled. Lyaris opened his arms and smiled back at Aaron. Aaron did not hesitate any longer. He flung into Lyaris’ arms.



THE END





© 2012 Dolores Esteban

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First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction