Nancy Varian Berberick

Dalamar The Dark


In the Hall of Mages, in the secret heart of the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth, the dark elf stood in perfect stillness. Dalamar Nightson. Dalamar of Tarsis. Dalamar Argent. Once, long ago, he had been Dalamar of Silvanost. He wore dark robes given to him by the head of his order, Ladonna herself, silver-stitched with runes of warding- ancient runes like those upon the outer wall of the Tower, marks whose meaning few knew, but he understood. As had become his habit, whether abroad or indoors, he wore the hood of that robe up, shadowing his face, leaving only his eyes to be seen.

Light shone down pale from the unseen ceiling high above. It made no shadow. It gave no cheer. Though torches stood in brackets upon the walls, none were lit. No sound whispered in the vast chamber, not even the sigh of the breathing of the four gathered in the hall.

Upon his high seat, Par-Salian, the Master of the Tower of High Sorcery and the Head of the Conclave of Wizards, sat, tall and straight. Except for his white hands, those veined, gnarled hands, twitching restlessly to some private thought, he might have been carved from alabaster. To the right of the Master stood Justarius, his red robe the color of poppies, and Ladonna stood at Par-Salian's left. The regard of the three sat upon Dalamar like a weight He did not move or indicate in any way his discomfort. He simply stood before the heads of the three Orders, breathing the perfumes of magic, musky oils, herbs, and, as always, dried roses.

Outside the Hall of Mages, two corpses lay in state. Even as these four gathered, mages of all the Orders went into the Rear Tower to pay respect to a woman all had known and a dwarf few had. Both had been mages.

Inside the Hall, Ladonna came forward, her beautiful face shining in the eerie light, her silver hair glittering with jewels, her fingers with rings. One step she took, her black velvet robe moving like shadows, and she took it smiling. 'You have done well, after all, Dalamar Nightson.'

After all. Dalamar allowed her a lean smile. 'Did you doubt me, my lady?'

She did not return his smile. 'Strength and will. These are always to be questioned in everyone.'

Dalamar inclined his head to agree. 'And so, I have passed your test.'

Justarius raised an eyebrow, the expression clearly speaking his surprise at the temerity of this fledgling mage. 'You are bold, young mage. Perhaps over-bold.'

'I am bold, my lord, in proportion to my need.' Dalamar swept the three with one swift glance. 'Is that not what you need, a bold mage who is not afraid to risk what he has in order to get what he wants? Or what you want?'

Justarius's eyes flashed at the impudence. 'What can you possibly know about-?'

Ladonna raised a hand. The rings sparkling on her fingers lit a simple, calming gesture. Justarius subsided, but the color of his anger still showed in his face.

'My lady,' Dalamar said, stepping toward Ladonna, 'I have done all you asked. A life you valued was lost in the doing, but what is one against many?' He looked around the chamber at the three gathered. 'My part in the matter is finished. How else may I serve you?'

Ladonna's smile did not reach her eyes when she said, 'We will see what you can do, but first tell me this, Dalamar Nightson: What do you know about the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas?'

Dalamar's pulse quickened at seeing what flickered in the eyes of Par-Salian, of Justarius, and even of Ladonna herself, though she strove to hide it. Fear. Fear swiftly hidden, but fear nonetheless.

'I have heard what everyone has,' he said softly, 'that the Tower has been long shut up and lately opened.' He inclined his head to one and all. 'And I have heard what only a few know-that he who holds it forbids you or anyone entrance to that Tower.'

White robes rustling like the voices of ghosts, Par-Salian leaned forward. Seeing him, Dalamar had the same feeling he always had when looking upon a human whose count of years was not so many as his own and who yet looked like an elf of three hundred years or more. How swiftly their candles burn!

'You have heard rightly in much of what you say,' Par-Salian murmured. 'He is a powerful mage, this one who took the Tower. His like has not been seen in many long years, perhaps in centuries. But you are wrong, young Dalamar, if you think he forbids the Tower to everyone. He does not.'

Par-Salian smiled, a small rugging at the corners of his mouth. That smile did not warm, and Dalamar braced to deny the three mages sight of him shuddering. White as alabaster, so he'd thought Par-Salian. Now he thought the man was white as ice-that cold were his eyes. With a gesture, the Master of the Tower took in the two standing beside him.

'You see here before you three of the most powerful mages in Krynn, but the mage who sits in the Tower of Palanthas is stronger than any one of us, and he will become stronger still.' His expression grew hard. His face seemed made of stone. 'He calls himself the Master of Past and Present, and we wonder what work he is at there in his Tower. It seems to us all that it would be a good thing to know.'

Ladonna lowered her eyes and smiled a secret smile. Justarius scowled. In the smile, Dalamar recognized ambition. He felt at once that the Head of the Order of Black Robes knew she held her place only so long as the upstart in Palanthas did not want it. In the scowl, he recognized a similar feeling. It was widely known that Justarius would succeed Par-Salian as Head of the Conclave and Master of this Tower when Par-Salian chose to stand down. This station, too, the mage in Palanthas could claim if having it appealed to him. These things ambitious people were wise to consider, but it seemed to Dalamar that the three most powerful mages in Krynn feared something else, something more.

'And so you see,' said Par-Salian, 'that some things are known about this Master of Past and Present. Here is another. Though he has scorned to take what power he might rightfully gain by challenge, he keeps to himself, perhaps creating power and position outside the Orders and the Rule of High Sorcery.'

The shock of such an idea ran like lightning along Dalamar's nerves. Before he could think, he spoke. 'This cannot be permitted, my lord!'

Par-Salian nodded, but absently. 'That is easy to say. We have said it here time and again. But now we must do something. I have said the mage has not locked the gates of his Tower against all. He will admit an apprentice, a student.'

Quiet again, his eyes modestly cast down to hide the spark of his own sudden ambition, Dalamar murmured, 'Why would he, my lord?'

Par-Salian did not reply. He nodded to Ladonna, who said, 'I do not know why. I only know he will. I have asked it, he has said it. A student of our Order, a dark mage, he says, one who has at least two wits to rub together. If I were to send him a student'-Dalamar's heartbeat quickened, and Ladonna's level gaze told him she sensed the sudden beating-'I would send a spy. I imagine mat if he took in a student, he would know that. Perhaps he would seek to turn the spy.'

'He would not turn me, my lady.' Dalamar stopped, keenly aware that he had not been invited to volunteer.

She smiled, a lean tugging of her lips. 'I don't think he would. You are uniquely schooled in the virtues of balance, are you not?' Then, before Dalamar could respond she said, 'Indeed, you are.'

Justarius nodded, at last in approval. He glanced from Par-Salian to Ladonna, and it seemed to Dalamar that some communication passed among the three. Par-Salian inclined his head, as though in response, perhaps even agreement.

'We will not command you, young mage, to take up this apprenticeship. We cannot, for the one who does this work will put his life and perhaps his very soul at risk the moment he speaks his acceptance. And if he is found out'- Par-Salian shook his head-'he will die. That death will be a terrible thing, and a long, long time coming.'

Dalamar took that warning seriously. Yet, hadn't he been risking his life, by some accounts even his soul, for magic's sake since the first moment he felt the sparkle of magic in his blood? To serve as apprentice to the one

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