FIRST JOURNEY TO FAYDWER

Belrosian stumbled, for his vision had not yet cleared. Leaning heavily on his runed totem staff to maintain his balance, it sank deep into the loamy soil. "At least my stomach isn't churning too badly," he thought. The apprentice wizard looked around him, trying to get his bearings in the dark. There was the silent druid who had ported them, and there was Benarque, coiling up his gnoll hide lariat. The ranger had a drained look about him, a queasiness. He was assuredly not as used to the rigors of teleportation as Belrosian was. But already Ben was on his feet, peering eagerly out into the darkness with the keen elvensight that Belrosian secretly envied. The wizard, an erudite, had only a dim nimbus of pale light, a summoned lightstone, to illumine his way. But Benarque of Surefall Glade was half-elven, and always seemed just as comfortable at night as he was during the day. The ranger was already himself again, eager as always to explore new places. And the Butcherblock Mountains were certainly that.

It started to rain.

"Look at these tracks, Bel," said the ranger, pointing. "They are avian, yet larger than any bird I have ever seen. And they seem to walk upright!" The wizard nodded, but all he saw were a few scratches in the muddy ground. He was trying to get his bearings, and fumbled for the map he'd stuffed in his pack. This druid who had brought them from Qeynos Hills was their last link to home- to anywhere, really. Fortunately, the man noticed the sour look on the face of the young wizard, and offered to lead them through the dark mountains as far as Kaladim.

"Kaladim," asked Benarque. "What place is that?"

"Tis the homeland of the dwarves," Belrosian answered, "an underground city." The young wizard had studied many old maps and scrolls of lore during his training in the High City, and had in his mind a rough idea of what should lay nearby, and what manner of creatures were thought to inhabit these lands. But his map showed only the major roads and landmarks of the island continent of Faydwer. "Little help when one is suddenly dropped into the middle of a foreign mountain range in the dark," thought the wizard. The druid lead them northward at a brisk pace. All the while, Benarque was taking in the surroundings.

"Look," the Gladesman exclaimed, pointing up into the night sky. "See, even the patterns of the stars look different here!" Belrosian only nodded. He knew, of course, that the stars would be different here, for astronomy was taught to even the most novice erudite. What concerned him at the moment was keeping up with the druid, and trying not to get lost until they reached the relative safety of Kaladim.

The three reached the gates of the city at dawn, soaked to the skin but none the worse, and there the old druid took his leave. Benarque handed him a few coins, and bowed, bidding him safe travels. The wizard and the ranger did not stay long in the city of the dwarves. While the wizard mumbled and fussed over his map, Benarque gazed up in wonder at the great stone carving over the gates. Nothing quite like it existed in Qeynos.

Once they were at the gates of Kaladim and it was light out, they paused only long enough to take care of some quick necessities. Belrosian was able to figure out the next leg of their journey, for the city was clearly marked on his travel map.

They set out, this time with the young wizard in the lead. He guided them unerringly along the winding dwarf-road, passing several squat, sturdy guardposts of well-fitted dwarven stonework. The armored dwarven guards watched them pass by, as impassive and indifferent as the brown stone cliffs which loomed up to impressive heights on either side. At last they reached a crossroads, a place where many were gathered. Most of these folk were dwarves, merchants and travellers, probably. Dwarves were rare indeed in Qeynos, and there whenever one arrived at the gates, he was sure to draw a small crowd of onlookers. It was a bit disconcerting, to Belrosian at least, to see so many of the stout little folk about. But apparently erudite and half-elven travelers were common enough here, for the dwarves paid no heed when Bel and Ben stopped to rest among them.

The two friends said nothing to the strangers, and paused only long enough to drink some water and eat some rations. Belrosian sat propped up against the guardhouse, eating little and trying to stay dry in the rain. His map was folded and put away in his backpack. "This road leads straight to the elvenwood, Ben," said the wizard, indicating one of the paths leading away from the crossroads. "We should be able to reach them by nightfall, and be in Kelethin soon after."

"Kelethin," Benarque repeated, nodding. It was there, in the city of the wood elves, that he hoped to find his father. But neither mentioned that subject. Finding a single elven bard in the entire city, one whose name they did not even know, would require more than a little luck. "It is said that the archers of Kelethin rival even old Hager," said Benarque, "and their fletchers and bowyers are beyond compare."

"Hrm," agreed the wizard. "I would not doubt it."

Though the sun was hidden behind heavy rain clouds, they could tell it was reaching noon, and they still had a long road ahead before they came to the elvenwood. Benarque was eager to press on.

They took the left fork, and set out again, heading east now. The land here was less rocky, and the path less well-travelled. At one point, they thought they heard the sound of swordplay, echoing up one of the canyons. But the wind brought with it a faint smell of death and decay, and the two decided to press onward.

At last they came to a great narrow pass in the mountains, this one covered with green grass rather than the bare stone of the Butcherblocks. The rain finally stopped, and there was a lightness in the air as they made their way between the hills. Then, all of a sudden the hills parted, and they found themselves in a great forest. They were come to the fabled elvenwood, the Forest of Faydark.

And dark it was, though not so dark as the Toxxulia Forest near Belrosian's home. Tall trees with straight trunks and smooth bark reached gracefully upward all around them, their canopies interlocking to filter out much of the sunlight. There was fairie music in the air, though they could not catch more than a glimpse of the elusive little folk. All the forest was fay and magical. They continued along the path, winding over and around small hillocks and through fern-covered dells. Then, they came in sight of the great wizard spires of the Faydark, and halted in amazement.

Benarque of Surefall Glade quickly became accustomed to the narrow ramps and swaying wooden bridges between the trees of Kelethin, but it took the wizard Belrosian quite some time to become comfortable, so high off the ground. Benarque spent his days speaking with the rangers of Kelethin, while Belrosian would often walk to Felwithe to scour the libraries of the High Elves. Still, the two friends spent most of their time together exploring the city among the trees. Benarque even took up the challenge of teaching the young wizard the elven tongue, and found his student to be a quick learner.

"Now, if only I could teach you to handle a sword as easily as I have taught you the elven language," laughed Benarque.

"Perhaps you should," replied the wizard with a grin. "After all, my spells were of such little aid to you in the tundra of Everfrost." Both chuckled at that, knowing it to be the exact opposite of the truth.

They found the wood elves to be a happy folk and carefree, perhaps even a bit quirky and frivolous by the conservative standards of Qeynos that they were accustomed to. Perhaps the oddest thing about the Faydark culture was the deferrent respect in which the wood elves held their neighbors, the High Elves of Felwithe.

It came as a surprise to learn that the entire forest was in fact in a state of war. It seemed that a powerful tribe of orcs inhabited a mountainous citadel north of the city. Mercenaries and adventurers from all over Faydwer came to aid the elves against the forays the orcs sent into their forest, keeping the city and the elvenwood safe with their efforts. Perhaps grimmest of all was the news that the orcs held many dwarves and elves as slaves in their citadel, forced to work in chains in the mines beneath the lash.

After several days spent resting in the elvenwood, the two companions had learned a great deal about the lifestyle and mannerisms of the elves. But they heard no tidings of Belrosian's kinsman Forne, and Benarque had no luck whatsoever in finding his father. As for the dragon-mark each man bore, those they kept discreetly hidden.