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the Crown of Ice

Chapter 3: Meetings Both Merry And Menacing (continued)

"But how?" the anxious sprite demanded, "The Crown was melted, and it is said that most of his wicked power came from it!" "It's just that I've come to see you about," the aged faery announced, standing up from the violet softness of his chair. "Where is your grandsire's scrying-ball?" he asked precipitately. "Why, it's there on its stand as it always is," Spryte responded, confused, gesturing to the crystal orb sitting in pride of place in the center of the parlour mantel-piece.

"Ahhhhhh...." Grynnis breathed, striding up to the fireplace and gazing at the scrying-ball. "Have you ever used it?" he asked pointedly over his shoulder. "No, never," Spryte replied honestly, "I was told never to touch it much less look into it, for it is very fragile," he finished. "Is it indeed?" the Sage laughed shortly, and in a twinkling his hand shot out, grasped the orb, and flung it forcefully against the stonework of the hearth. Spryte jumped up crying out in dismay, but the pellucid sphere simply bounced off the rough stones and rolled unharmed onto the patterned parlour carpet. "Here, now, that's an heirloom and you might have broken it!" Spryte said angrily.

"No, Spryte, I could not have broken it," Grynnis replied somberly. "Neither of us could break it, not if we dropped a mountain upon it," he added. Spryte picked the shining sphere up from the carpet, and looked at the old faery uncomprehendingly. "That orb is not empty," Grynnis continued dolefully, "For as I suspected, it contains the melted water of the dreadful Crown of Ice!" he said dolefully. Startled out of his wits, Spryte dropped the sphere -- which merely bounced and remained unharmed as before.

"But what -- how --?" Spryte sputtered, again taking up the orb from the carpet. Grynnis sank back into the violet velvet of a chair, stroking his long white beard. "The sprites wouldn't let it be poured away into the River, Spryte," the Sage said wearily, "Have you never guessed the reason for the long enmity of our races? Over and over and over we Faeren argued that the water of the melted Crown should be mingled and diluted with the waters of Mirror Earth, but the sprites and their Magister would have none of it, fearing he would gather the waters together again," Grynnis continued, "And now see what has come of it. He is looking for this orb, Spryte," the Sage announced darkly. "He knows now that the water was not poured away and diluted. He longs to take it to his bitter fastness in the North and forge his frightful Crown anew."

Spryte was not easily frightened, but the silver-haired Sage's words struck terror into his stout heart. "But -- that can't be allowed, Grynnis!" he burst out. "I agree, but how are we to prevent it?" the aged faery asked wryly. "Well --well -- we must destroy it, we must pour it away where he can't get at it!" Spryte responded in a rush. "Far easier said than done, friend sprite," Grynnis replied forbiddingly. "For the nonce, we must strive simply to keep it out of his hands, and that will be no easy task."

"Whatever do you mean?" asked Spryte, feeling as if the world had turned topsy-turvy in the last half-hour. "I mean that when you go to the Golden Lion with your cub friend tonight, you will find more than ale and sprites and Cubs there," the old faery responded. "You will find, I fear, that there are strangers travelling through the Forest -- including Kloanz." Spryte was aghast.

"Kloanz?!?!?" he demanded incredulously. The squat muscular Humans were almost never seen outside of their cities in the South! Still holding the scrying-ball in his hand, Spryte sank backward into a chair. "This is too much at once, Grynnis," he said, dazed, "I can't make any sense of it!" The white-bearded Sage nodded. "To be sure, I have only found out the truth after long years of travel and inquiry. You cannot expect to understand it all in a trice," he said.

Spryte held up the ghastly crystal globe. "How did it come to pass that the water of the Sorcerer's Crown is here in my grandfather's scrying-ball?" he demanded. "Your grandsire Gebyne was the only sprite in the council of the then-Magister who agreed with we Faeren, that the water should be diluted and dispersed," Grynnis began. "But he was one lone voice amid a dozen nay-sayers. That Magister and his council determined to hide the water of the Crown away forever, instead."

"Now, in those days," the old faery went on, "the Peoples of the Forest and the Mountain had more interchange and commerce with the Humans. That was long ago indeed, before the War Between The Humans, when many of their talents and arts were forgotten and lost," Grynnis continued. Spryte sat listening intently, spellbound by the Sage's history- lesson.

"In your grandsire's day, Spryte, the Kloanz were marvellous smiths. They wrought wondrous and splendid things of all kinds -- Magister Forl has one as an heirloom of his House, in fact: a casket made of silver alloyed with moonlight, with a cunning lock that cannot be picked either by craft or magic. The Kloanz were famed far and wide for their marvellous crystalsmithing, too; they made the invisible window-panes for the palace of the King of the Mountain," the silver-maned Sage went on.

Grynnis sighed. "And so the Magister of Sprites in that time sent the water of the wicked Crown, under heavy guard, to the Kloanz, and paid a king's ransom to their smiths to have it sealed thus as you see it, in imperishable crystal," the Sage explained, "And then he locked it into his wondrous casket to keep it safe forever," Grynnis finished.

Spryte sat looking at the terrible globe in his hand. "But how does it come to be here on my mantelpiece then, if it's supposed to be locked up in Forl's casket?" he burst out in confusion. "Why did the Magister give it to my grandfather?"

The Sage's expression was grim. "He didn't," Grynnis said curtly, "Your grandsire learned where the casket's key was concealed, and he stole the Orb and substituted his scrying-ball in its place." Spryte flushed darkly green, and cried out, "That is a lie! No sprite has ever been a thief, least of all my grandfather!" "Calm yourself, calm yourself, my friend," Grynnis soothed, "Gebyne did not take the Orb for his own gain. He feared that if the Sorcerer should come again, he might discover where the water of his Crown had been hidden, and seek to take the Orb by force," the Sage said. "But your grandsire reasoned that, if he could not destroy the Orb, he would instead hide it and tell no one -- and should the Sorcerer indeed come again, force would serve him ill, for even victory would gain Serpos nothing but an old scrying-ball," the elderly faery explained.

Grynnis rose and paced the patterned carpet, his gnarled hands clasped behind his back. "And as Gebyne feared, the Sorcerer has come again. After his downfall, Serpos fled to the South. Though his power was made small by defeat and the loss of his Crown, it was still enough to make him useful to the Humans who have no magic at all, and as the years have passed he is become a powerful advisor to the Queen of the Kloanz," the old Sage said.

" 'Queen' ?" Spryte asked in bafflement, "But no one has ever seen or heard of a female Kloan!" "Perhaps not," the faery replied, "That does not mean there are none. The women of the Kloanz are few, but they are far more cunning and dangerous than their brothers! Yet this is aside of the issue at hand," Grynnis continued. "Serpos pored long into the tatters and shreds of the Kloanz' histories, and now the Sorcerer has learned what befell the water of his Crown, and where the Orb that guards it is secreted -- in the Hall of the Magister of Sprites, on the banks of the Paron."

"But it isn't," Spryte interrupted, "It's right here in my hand," he said, gazing at the globe with abhorrence. Grynnis whirled to face Spryte, his silvery robes swirling around his boots. "Exactly!" the faery exclaimed, and in a flash Spryte realized the terrible implications. "Then Forl -- and all the sprites of the Valley of the Paron --" Spryte trailed off. "Yes, my friend; the Magister and all the River-sprites are in peril -- grievous peril!" the old Sage declared. "A battle between Forl's people and the Kloanz, and battle I fear is coming, would be wicked enough even if the sprites should prevail. But if the Kloanz were to triumph and carry back a useless ball of glass to the Sorcerer instead of the Orb -- his wrath will be terrible!" Grynnis groaned.

Spryte leaped from his chair, full of dread, and cast the Orb aside. "This is frightful!" he cried out, "We must save them, I must write to Forl at once!" "NO!" Grynnis thundered, "That is precisely what you must NOT do!" Spryte stepped back, bewildered by the elderly Sage's vehemence. "What would you write," Grynnis demanded, "That the Sorcerer's Kloanz are come to make war on him? That the Orb is not in his casket at all?" The old faery seated himself heavily, shaking his head. "Forl would either think you mad, or command you to explain yourself. And it would not be long before word spread abroad, either in jest or in earnest, that Spryte of Gebinning was penning dire warnings to the Magister and his people! No, Spryte, to write would be to risk alerting the Sorcerer and his spies that you know more of Serpos' plans than you ought -- it would be to risk the Orb falling into his hands," Grynnis said.

Spryte wrung his green hands in perplexity. "But we must do -- something!" he exclaimed, "We can't leave Forl and the River-sprites unwitting of the awful danger they're in!" the sprite argued. "Leave the Magister to me, friend Spryte," Grynnis quieted him. "You say he has written to me? Good! For I have only passed by here to warn you of the danger, and am on my way to the Paron to counsel with Forl," the old faery explained, "I am gladdened that this time I shall not find his doors barred to me. There may yet be time for the Magister to save himself and his people, if I can get there with haste."

It was not in the nature of sprites to trust the other races of Mirror Earth overmuch, yet Spryte was comforted knowing Grynnis was on his way to warn and help the River- sprites; the old Sage had long been his friend, though he saw him but seldom, and he trusted Grynnis. "Please help them, Sage," Spryte implored, "Forl is often stubborn, but his letter was troubled and I think he will take your counsel this time."

"I will do all I can," the aged faery assured him, "And I can do much when the need is great!" Grynnis exclaimed, drawing himself up commandingly. Spryte gasped, for around the Sage's form, the halo of a young and robust warrior glowed briefly before fading to reveal the stooped old faery again. Grynnis smiled again for the first time in hours. "I am not always as I seem," he said with a wink, "But speaking of haste, I must away -- the day has spent itself whilst we discoursed, and I have many miles before me." Spryte glanced at the purple dusk beyond the window, amazed that so much time had passed.

"Say nothing of all this to anyone," Grynnis warned, taking Spryte's hand in parting, "Least of all to that Cub! His kind may say anything when befuddled, and not a word of this must be babbled about in a tavern full of strangers! Goodbye! And do not worry, Spryte -- I will save the River-sprites," the old Sage promised. "Safe journey, Grynnis," Spryte said warmly, gripping the stooped faery's hand, "And send word as soon as you can!"

"That I will, when it is safe to do so," Grynnis pledged, "Farewell, Spryte!" he said, going out of the parlour, and in a moment Spryte heard the Sage clambering slowly downward to the Forest floor. He picked up the terrible Orb from the carpet, touching the thing reluctantly as if it might burn him, and replaced it on its stand on the mantelpiece.

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