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Edo van Belkom

Lord Soth

Dear Astinus;

I know it has been your intention for many years to pen a volume chronicling the spectacular rise and fall of Lord Loren Soth of Dargaard Keep. Understandably, work on the literally thousands upon thousands of other volumes in your wondrous library has always kept you from this important task.

That is why I accepted this assignment with both eagerness and trepidation. While I was anxious to show you that your confidence in my abilities was well-founded, I was also unsure about those same abilities and concerned that they might not be up to the challenge of recording a life story so tangled and mysterious as that of Lord Soth's.

The history of the lord of Dargaard Keep is a fascinating one, full of as much honor, devotion to duty, love, knightly law and discipline, as cruelty, jealousy, greed, falsehood, unbridled lust, infidelity and murder.

Putting it to paper was not an easy task. for despite how well his exploits are known to the people of

Krynn, the details of each are as varied as the number of people who are familiar enough to speak of them.

Before this volume was completed, the life story of Lord Soth- also known to many by such names as Knight of the Black Rose, the Death Knight, or the Death Lord-had been a mixture of legend, fable, myth, spoken histories and long-lost tales.

For example, there are many variations of the story concerning the death of Soth's first wife, Lady Korinne Gladria of Palanthas. (Even in this, something as simple as a name, there have been errors as the woman has sometimes been incorrectly referred to as Lady Gladria of Korinne.) Lady Korinne wed Soth in a magnificent ceremony on the grounds outside Dargaard Keep. But while some histories have reported that she died during childbirth, or merely under 'mysterious circumstances,' they are all only partly true.

But you, Astinus of Palanthas, Master Historian of Krynn, did not become a master historian by chronicling half-truths and lies, and neither shall I. The reputation and respect you have earned in every corner of Krynn has been won by your tireless pursuit of truth in all matters pertaining to its history. It has been my goal to produce a history worthy of that same respect.

Whether I have achieved that goal or not, only you are qualified to judge. On my own behalf, I will say only this. While this is as well a researched history of Lord Soth's life as I could pen,

I cannot say in all honesty that it is the one true version. For while I worked diligently to confirm each fact found in the various written records scattered throughout Solamnia and across the four corners of Krynn, far too many aspects of the story could only be verified verbally, and even then by-how shall I say? — less than reputable sources.

Speaking in more general terms, I found Soth's tale to be an utterly shocking one. Yet, as startling as it is, I suspect that there were even more disturbing elements that, even with the utmost diligence, I was unable to unearth. With much regret, I fear that those parts of Soth's history might be lost to us forever.

Nevertheless, I have combined all of the reliable facts concerning lord Soth's sordid life and gathered them together in a single volume for the very first time. The result is as true a history of the knight's life as is within my ability to produce.

I submit it for your approval.

Verril Esteros, Second Aesthetic

Great Library of Astinus of Palanthas 401 A.C.

Prologue.

Three moons might well have been in the sky, but only two dared show their faces. Lunitari glowed a dark shade of red while Solinari shone a bright white, leaving the dark moon Nuitari to be hidden by the night.

Lunitari and Solinari hung over the dark rippling waters of the northern sea like a pair of watchful eyes, shining crimson and white light down onto the sleeping port city of Kalaman, and casting spiderlike shadows across its dim, quiet streets.

A dark figure moved swiftly through the shadows. His movements were strong and sure, like those of a nobleman, but his dress was an ill-fitting patchwork of worn and tattered garments, suggesting the man was no more noble than a petty thief or common rogue.

Whatever the man's class, he moved quietly from shadow to shadow, avoiding the light as much as he shunned the open spaces between the scattered homes and shops.

When he reached the open mouth of a darkened alley, he stepped into its blackness and paused for a moment to catch his breath. As he stood there, he felt for the weapons hidden beneath his cloak, making sure everything was in place. He'd have only one chance to complete his task and he knew failure would not be tolerated.

After he had rested and his breathing had slowed, he ventured deeper into the alley's uncertain darkness.

After a short walk, he came upon the open back door of a popular tavern-The Rose and Thistle. From inside, the faint sound of laughter and song echoed into the alley while flickering firelight blazed through the half-open doorway like rays from the midday sun.

The dark figure stopped and strained to hear the people singing merrily inside, all the while making sure to keep his distance from the warm light emanating from within.

Next to the door, on the side closest to him, one of the tavern's more inebriated patrons-a dwarf-was propped up against the back wall of the establishment, no doubt sleeping off the effects of an over-indulgence of its finest ale. The dwarf was sleeping so peacefully it seemed a shame to wake him, but there was no time for such polite considerations.

Not tonight.

So without further hesitation the shadowy figure reared back and gave the dwarf a hard kick in the upper thigh.

'Ow!' exclaimed the dwarf, then muttered sleepily, 'I assure you sir, I had no idea she was the daughter of a-'

So the dwarf was a scoundrel as well as a drunkard! He gave the dwarf another hard kick, this time causing the dwarf's ale-soaked eyes to flutter open. After taking a moment to wipe the last remnants of sleep from his eyes, the dwarf looked up at the dark, hooded figure standing over him… And gasped in fear. 'What do you want?' he asked.

'I'm looking for a young man, a bard'-he said the word as if it were a bad thing-'by the name of Argol Birdsong. Is it true that he performs in this tavern on occasion?' 'Now,' the dwarf said casually, foolishly thinking he held a position of power over the dark figure standing before him. 'Who wants to know?'

The hooded man stepped on the dwarf's foot then, pressing down hard with the heel of his boot. 'I'm not interested in, nor do I have the time for dwarven games. Is he here or not?' He turned his boot to emphasize the point.

'Ow!' the dwarf cried, then quickly nodded. 'Y-yes, he's here, he's here,' he said. 'In fact, that's him singing now.'

The dark man held his breath for a moment and listened.

He could just make out the sound of some ballad coming from inside the tavern. Satisfied, he lifted his boot from the dwarf's foot and fished inside his pouch for some coins.

'Go inside and tell Argol Birdsong there's an old friend waiting for him out in the alley.' He dropped a few coins onto the dwarf's lap. 'Then remain inside until you've drunk your fill… and then some.'

The dwarf immediately stopped rubbing his aching foot and picked up the scattered coins. 'Yes sir!' he said, jumping to his feet and limping back inside the tavern.

When the dwarf was gone, the dark figure looked up and down the alley then retreated into the safety of the

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