The Hawk Eternal
The young priest was sitting in the sunshine, studying an ancient manuscript. Slowly he ran his index finger over the symbols upon it, mouthing each one. It was cold up here by these ancient stones, but Garvis had wrapped himself in a hooded sheepskin cloak, and had found a niche in the rocks away from the wind. He loved the solitude of these high, lonely peaks, and the distant roar of the mighty falls of Attafoss was a faraway whisper upon the wind. “All the works of Man are as dust upon a flat rock,” he read. “When the winds of time blow across them they are lost to history. Nothing built of stone will endure.” Garvis sat back. Surely this was nonsense? These mountains had existed since the dawn of time and they would be here long after he was dead. He glanced up at the old stone circle. The symbols upon each standing stone had weathered almost to nothing. Yet still they stood, exactly where the ancients had placed them a thousand years ago. The sun was high now, but there was little warmth in the rays. Gaunt shadows stretched out from the stones. Garvis pulled his cloak more tightly about him.
According to Lord Taliesen, this was once one of the Great Gates. From here a man could travel across time and space. Garvis rubbed a slender hand over his pockmarked face. Time and Space: the legends fascinated him. He had asked Lord Taliesen about the Ancient Gates and had been rewarded with extra study. The Lesser Gates still allowed a man to move through space. He himself had traveled with Lord Taliesen from the mountains to the outskirts of Ateris-that was more than sixty miles of space, but the journey had taken less than a heartbeat. According to Metas, the Lesser Gates could carry a man all over the land. So why were the Great Gates special?
Garvis’s attention was distracted momentarily, as his fingers found a ripe spot upon his chin. Idly he squeezed it. It was not ready to burst, and pain flared across his face. Garvis gave a low curse and rubbed at the wounded skin. A hawk landed on the tallest of the standing stones, then flew away. Garvis watched it until it rose high on the thermals and was lost to him. “I would like to have been a hawk,” he said aloud.
Lightning flashed across the stones, a blaze of brightness that caused Garvis to fall backward from the rock on which he sat. Rolling to his knees, he blinked and tried to focus. The stones seemed darker now. Violet light blazed out, and pale blue lightning forked up from the tallest stone. More lights flared, gossamer threads of light forming a glittering web around the stones. It seemed to Garvis as if tiny stars were caught in a pale blue net, gleaming like diamonds. It was the most beautiful sight. At the center of the light storm one diamond grew larger and brighter than all the others, swelling until it was the size of a boulder. Then it flattened, spreading out like a sheet upon a wash line, moving from circle to square, its four corners fastening to the top and bottom of two standing stones. The wind increased, howling over the crags, and for less than a heartbeat two suns hung in the sky.
All was silent as Garvis knelt, mouth open, shocked beyond words. Standing between the central stones was a tall warrior in bloodstained armor. He was supporting a woman, also attired for war; blood was flowing from a wound in her side. Garvis had never seen armor quite like that worn by this fearsome pair. The man’s helm was full-faced, and boasted a white horsehair plume. His bronze breastplate had been fashioned in the shape of a human chest, complete with pectorals and a rippling solar plexus. He wore a leather kilt reinforced with bronze, and high, thigh-length riding boots. With a start Garvis realized that the warrior was looking at him. “You!” he called. “Help me.”
Garvis scrambled to his feet and ran forward as the man lowered the warrior woman to the ground. Her face was grey, and blood had stained her silver hair. Garvis gazed down upon her. Old she was, but once she had been beautiful.
“Where is Taliesen?” asked the warrior.
“Back at the falls, sir.”
“We must take her to shelter. You understand, boy?”
The woman stirred. Reaching up, she gripped the warrior’s arm. “You must go back. It is not over. Leave me with the boy. I will… be fine.”
“I shall not leave you, my lady. I have served you these thirty years. I cannot go now.” Reaching up, he made to remove his helm.
“Leave it,” she said, her voice ringing with authority. “Listen to me, my dear friend. You must go back, or all may be lost. You are my heir; you are the son I never had; you are the light in my life. Go back. Set a lantern for me in the window.”
“We should have killed the bitch all those years ago,” he said bitterly. “She was warped beyond evil.”
“No regrets, my general. Not ever. We win, we lose. The mountains do not care. Go now, for I can feel the air of the Enchanted Realm healing my wounds even as we speak. Go!”
Taking her hand, he kissed it. Rising, he gazed around at the mountains. With a sigh he drew his sword and ran back to the stones. Lightning flickered once more. Then he was gone.
Garvis ran into Taliesen’s chambers, his face flushed, eyes wide with excitement. “A warrior woman has appeared by the Ancient Gate,” he said. “She is wounded, and nigh to death.”
The old man rose and gathered up his cloak of feathers. “The Ancient Gate, you say?”
“Yes, Lord Taliesen.”
“Where have you taken her?”
“I helped her to the supply cave on High Druin. It was the closest shelter I could find. Metas was there and he has stitched her wounds, but I fear there is internal bleeding.”
Taliesen took a deep breath. “Has she spoken of herself?”
“Not a word, lord. Metas is still with her.”
“That is as it should be. Go now and rest. Make sure that not one word is spoken of this-not even to a brother druid. You understand me?”
“Of course, lord.”
“Be sure that you do, for if I hear any whisper of it I shall turn your bones to stone, your blood to dust.”
Taliesen swung the cloak of feathers about his skinny shoulders and strode from his rooms.
Two hours later, having activated one of the Lesser Gates, he was climbing the eastern face of High Druin and feeling the bitter wind biting through his cloak. The cave was deep, and stacked with supplies to help wandering clansmen through the worst of the winter-sacks of dried oats and dried fruit, salt and sugar, salted meat and even a barrel of smoked fish. It was a haven for crofters and other travelers who needed to tackle the high passes in the winter months. There was a man-made hearth in the far corner, and two pallet beds; also a bench table, rudely fashioned from a split log, and two log rounds that served as seats.
The druid Metas was seated upon one of the rounds, which he had placed beside a pallet bed. Upon it lay an old woman, bandages encasing her chest and shoulder. As Taliesen approached the bed, Metas rose and bowed. Taliesen praised him for his skill in administering to the woman, then repeated the warning he had given to the young druid when in his chambers.
“All will be as you order, lord,” said Metas, bowing once more. Taliesen sent him back to Vallon and seated himself beside the sleeping woman.
Even now, so close to death, her face radiated strength of purpose. “You were a queen without peer, Sigarni,” whispered Taliesen, taking hold of her hand and squeezing the fingers. “But are you the one who will save my people?”
Her eyes opened. They were the grey of a winter sky, and the look she gave him was piercing. “Again we meet,” she whispered with a smile. The smile changed her face, returning to it the memory of youth and beauty he recalled so well. “I fought the last battle, Taliesen. ..” He held up his hand.
“Tell me nothing,” he said. “Already the strands of time are so interwoven that I find it hard to know when-or