Age of mortals Volume 2
NANCY VARIAN BERBERICK
Sir Chance Garoll looked ahead at his fellow Knights, five in all, and he the sixth. He looked behind
him and sighted down the wide road, flattened earth, thin and sun dappled, straight as a shaft
through the woodland. The overarching trees gave him the uncomfortable feeling of riding through
a tunnel,one closing behind, opening ahead.
One of his fellows hawked and spat then looked over his shoulder at Chance. "Headsman," he
called, "keep up!"
Headsman. The others laughed, one pulled hard on the reins, making his broad-shouldered mount
snort and curvet. "What's the count, Chance?"
Sir Chance—Headsman Chance—hefted the sack hung from his saddle's pommel. Blood dripped,
staining the ground.When he closed his eyes, Chance could see the killing ground, the sunny green
swale in the forest where he and his companions had fallen upon a den of elf highwaymen. The
Knights had run through the hapless robbers like death's own horsemen, swords flashing in
whistling descent to swipe off heads.
Sometimes. Chance thought as he recalled the slaughter, the death-scream had howled out of arolling head's gaping mouth.
"A dozen," he said, settling the sack again. His tall mount's brown shoulder was black with blood.
Blood etched a thin trail down the steed's foreleg. Trained to battle, inured to the scent of death, the
great beast flung up his head at the thick, coppery scent, an eager light in his eyes.
Headsman, they had named him. He grinned. Not a bad name. He had not taken allthe heads, but
he'd taken most of them and collected them all. The orders from Lord Thagol had come to him
directly; he considered it his duty to bring back the trophies. Chance shuddered, recalling how the
brief moments in the Skull Knight's presence had seemed like hours. He'd have to spend time with
Lord Thagol again, and here, far away from the Knight, he dared hope and wish it wouldn'tbe a
Iron-shod hoofs fell heavily on the road. One of the Knights lifted his helm from his head and hung
it on his saddle. The other five had a farther road to take than Sir Chance. With the Headsman, they
would go down to Qualinost, then they would leave him and ride on to Miranost near the border
between Qualinesti and the free land of Abanasinia.
Though the dragon Beryl held theelf kingdom in thrall, there were still ways past the borders of
Qualinesti. The main roads had long been warded by Dark Knights who kept the elves in and
intruders from any of the Free Realms out. Traders with the proper passes could cross the
checkpoints, for these were a source of Qualinesti's wealth and so a resource for the greedy dragon
who had her tribute from every steel coin earned.Other ways in and out of the elf land existed, all
those that existed before the Dragon Purge and the coming of the great Green, Beryllinthranox.
Headsman Chance lifted in the stirrups, searching high ahead. He caught sight of a shimmer
through the trees but decided that must be a glimpse of wishful thinking, for they were yet a three
hour ride from the capital of the elf kingdom. No shiningtower could be seen yet. He settled to ride,
moving in unconscious rhythm with his mount's gait. It was a time before he noticed that in the
wake of the passage of the dark Knights, silence flowed.
At the highest point of noon, no birds sang, squirrels did not dart and scold, rabbits did not leap
aside and freeze in the bracken. In the sky, far above the arching green canopy of trees, hawkshung,
wondering. Six humans armored in ebony steel rode through the Qualinesti Forest, Knights of an
order once dedicated to a dark goddess now departed, warriors now in the pay of a dragon just as
ruthless. Mail chiming, bridles and bits jingling, the six followed the south-running arm of the
Though he had been posted to Qualinesti for five years now, Sir Chance had never...