The feasting was done and the songs had drawn to an end. Luxor and Lord Blood were talking with Galahar but this time, unlike the feast in Xajorkith, Corleth and Arin were listening eagerly. These were new tales.
    "We have heard much over the years about Midnight, Moonprince, but I fear thou knowest little of the Blood March. There is an evil that stalks this land, an evil more potent than Doomdark and all his brood and minions," said Galahar, dropping the courtly convolutions of the fey and speaking simply now, in the manner of men, to drive his point home.
    "Here, in Immiel, we yet live in peace," he continued, "The powers I still possess are sufficient to keep Glimormir safe and make the Golden Isle a sanctuary against darkness and evil. Yet if we venture beyond our realm, the powers of the Golden fey wane and wither and we become as weak as children. And it is beyond our realm that the dark storm gathers!"
    "Indeed, we have heard nothing of this in Midnight!" Yet the Blood March lies upon our borders. How have we not heard of this?" said the Moonprince, frowning, "What is this evil that you speak of?"
    "Fear, Luxor, fear keeps it secret. Though they do not rule it yet, the Dark Fey hold the Blood March in terror. They have spies and assassins everywhere save Immiel. It is a brave man who speaks a word against them and a lucky one who does so and lives to tell the tale."
    "The Dark Fey?" said Luxor, "The Fey are a goodly people. The world over, they are untainted by evil."
    "Yes," said Galahar, "It was always so, and so it used to be in the Blood March...

In Eldark, the Eldrin weave with nimble hands
The silken threads that frame the fate of other lands,
The Long Dwarves in the Mountains, the Athelings in the Lee,
The Arakai in the Last Northing gazing out to sea,
The Uskarg in the Fallows free in the hills to roam
The Giants in the Delve hewing out the stone,
More Dwarves in the Deeping, their digging just begun,
In the Gelm, the Gelmings basking in the sun,
The Kith in the Witherlands seeking lands more fair,
In Arungor, the Dragonlords riding through the air,
The Golden Fey in Immiel amidst the shining lake,
The Dawn Fey in Dawnwood where the sun first breaks,
In Weirdwood, the High Fey under the shimmering trees,
In Ravenwood, the First Fey taking their ease.

    The First Fey were the eldest and noblest of us all," said Galahar, "No one could have foreseen the darkness that overtook them."
    It was nigh on four hundred years ago, when Coronoth the Fair was King of Ravenwood. The land was at peace and was abundant. In the forest, the trees grew tall and shady and bright flowers carpeted the floor. There was little need for toil and the people made songs and told tales, there was laughter and joy morning, noon and night.
    One summer's morn, Coronoth had been strolling through the forest and was reading a while in a glade beside a rushing stream, watching a kingfisher dive into the clear water. Then, behind him, Coronoth heard a faint moan. He turned to see a young maiden stumble from the forest into the glade. She was barefoot and in rags, her dark hair matted and bedraggled, her face and arms and legs begrimed and scratched but even so, Coronoth saw at once how beautiful she was. The girl stumbled a few steps more and then collapsed upon the grass.
    The young king leapt to his feet and rushed to the maiden's side. Gently, he lifted her up in his arms and carried her to the bank of the stream. He laid her down on the soft turf, making a pillow for her head with his tunic. Then, tenderly, he bathed her face with cool water. As the grime and blood were wiped away, Coronoth could see her skin was as soft and smooth as silk. The girl opened her eyes and they seemed deep, dark pools into which he was drawn. The girl, likewise, gazed at Coronoth in wonderment.
    From the king's cupped hands, the girl drank of the cold, clear water and revived a little. Biding her to rest, Coronoth went into the forest, returning shortly with a handful of dark, red merilberries, the richest fruit of Ravenwood. The maiden's lips were a rose. One by one, Coronoth put the berries between the girl's lips and she ate them hungrily. Swiftly, like a potion, the sweet juices brought new strength to her tired limbs and some colour returned to the maiden's cheeks. She smiled and thanked him.
    "How comest, thou here in such distress?" asked Coronoth.
    Tears welled in the maiden's eyes.
    "I am in mortal peril, sir. They have been hunting me for five hundred leagues or more," she replied.
    Gently, Coronoth brushed a tear from her cheek.
    "Fear not, I prithee, here in Ravenwood thou art safe from all peril." he said,     "But who art those that hunt thee?"
    "Warriors from the north," replied the maiden, sobbing. "Their prince desired me but I could find no fondness for him in my heart. I rebuffed all his advances to no avail. One night he used his witching ring to cast an enchantment upon me and took me to his bed. In the dark hours of the morning, waking from his spell, I fled, realising with loathsome horror what had befallen me. But before I fled, I vowed to repay him for his wickedness. While he slept, I prised from the ring on his finger the stone that gave it power. His warriors and hounds have been hunting me ever since as they would a wild beast. I fear for my life sir."
    "These cowards shalt not find thee in Ravenwood, I promise," said Coronoth, "All they will find is my steel through their craven hearts. Pray, tell me thy name, sweet maiden."
    "Arithel, my Lord," said the girl.
    "And I am Coronoth, at thy service, my lady," said the king.
    Then Coronoth, kneeling beside her, placed a single kiss upon Arithel's lips. It is said that he was in love with her from the first moment he set eyes upon her and she likewise. In any event, before the moon could wax and wane again, the twain were married in the Golden Citadel of Maranor and there was great rejoicing throughout the land.
    Two days after Coronoth found Arithel in the glade, warriors from the north did indeed reach the borders of Ravenwood and, on the king's command, were allowed to pass unhindered into the forest. Then lost midst the towering trees, they found themselves surrounded by the king's host and were slain in a hail of arrows. Not a single warrior escaped. Thus was the king's promise kept.
    Within a year, Arithel bore Coronoth a son, Careth and two years later, another son, Boroth. The two princes were fine and handsome boys. Careth golden haired like his father, Boroth dark like his mother, and they grew strong and sturdy. When Careth was twelve, however, there was an accident in the forest. The brothers had been firing arrows at apples to bring them down from the branches. Boroth's arrow had missed its apple, striking a branch instead and staying there, so the boy climbed up the tree to fetch his arrow back. Boroth crawled out along the branch, reached down and tugged his arrow free but as he did so, he lost his grip and slipped from the bough. Careth, watching from the ground, ran to catch his brother who tumbled into his outstretched arms, knocking Careth backwards. Boroth scrambled to his feet unhurt, but in the fall his arrow had pierced Careth's shoulder.
    "Bo! It's stuck me!" Careth cried out in pain and shock.
    Boroth watched in horror and disbelief as a red rose of blood blossomed at the shoulder of his brother's white shirt. He knelt down beside him, sobbing.
    "Car, th'art bleeding!" he wept.
    "Don't cry," said his brother, fighting back his own tears, "Twas no one's fault. Just take out the arrow, it hurts me badly."
    Boroth wiped the tears from his face with his grimy fingers, leaving streaks of black beneath his eyes.
    "That will hurt thee even more," said Boroth.
    "Then do it quickly," said his brother.
    Trying not to tremble, Boroth gripped the arrow tight.
    "Thou art the best brother in the world," he said, "Thou shouldst have let me fall."
    Then, closing his eyes, he ripped the arrow free. Careth screamed and fainted. Weeping afresh, Boroth cut away the sleeve of his brother's shirt with his hunting knife and bound the wound with the blood-soaked sleeve as best he could. Then, finding a strength he did not know he had, he hoisted the older boy over his shoulder and stumbled homewards through the forest.
    Though the healing arts of the First Fey were famous, the wound in Careth's shoulder festered and the boy grew weak and feverish. Careth's bed was moved into the Queen's bedchamber so that Arithel could tend to him night and day. Three days passed and each day the boy grew weaker. A less sturdy child would have been dead by now, the healing master told Coronoth grimly, out of the Queen's hearing.
    Arithel was sitting at the boy's bedside, gently wiping his brow with a damp cloth. In a corner of the room, Boroth was idly exploring his mother's jewellry boxes, trying on her rings and bracelets. Then, in one box, he found a large bright stone, sitting alone unadorned by gold or silver. With an unvoiced gasp, Boroth knew that this was the witching stone of which he'd heard, the magical gem that the wicked prince of the north had used to ensnare his mother. His thoughts leapt ahead. If the stone could charm, perhaps it could also heal. His heart racing, Boroth took the witching stone from its wooden box and clenched it tightly in his small hand. "I wish my brother were healed,     I wish my brother were healed," he whispered, over and over again.
    Then, quietly, Boroth placed the stone back in its box and closed the lid. He stood up and walked over to his brother's bed, beside the window. Standing at his mother's shoulder, he gazed down at his sleeping brother.
    "Is Careth better yet, Mother?" he asked.
    "Nay, child, the fever still has him," said Arithel, quietly.
    But at her words, a glimmer of sunlight fell upon the boy's face and Careth stirred, opening his eyes and smiling up at her.
    "Have I been sleeping long, Mother?" the boy asked.
    The fever had passed and, mysteriously to all save his brother, the boy's wound had healed. In the Golden Citadel, there was much rejoicing that day and happiest of all was Boroth. But this deed, done in all innocence and out of his love for his brother, was the beginning of Boroth's downfall into darkness."
    Galahar paused, a deep sadness in his eyes.
    "As the years passed, Boroth returned to his mother's chamber again and again to take the witching stone from its box and hold it in his hand, whispering a boyish wish, a fine hawk for his brother, a sunny day for his father's return from the Gelm on the morrow, a silken dress from Coromand for his mother. Each time, his wish was granted, but each time the witching stone took deeper hold upon him.
    It seemed to others that he had become studious and where his brother was chided for paying little heed to his letters and lore, Boroth was praised. But the books that Boroth read most avidly were ancient books of magic arts and spells and the writing that the boy most loved to do was all the sorcerors and their enchantments.
    As he grew, so did his knowledge of the magic arts. There was one book that he longed to read, the Last Book of the Wise. All the other books referred to it and a dusty copy of it lay in his father's library but it was written in the ancient tongue and script of the Wise which the boy could not decipher. Determined not to be thwarted, Boroth set out to learn the ancient tongue.
    He studied until his head ached and his eyes throbbed but, try as he might, he could not understand. Each new word seemed to have a dozen meanings, each part of speech a thousand rules. Each night he sobbed with frustration and his head span. One evening, his mind in a daze, he threw his books against the wall and flung himself on his bed, weeping. Careth tried to console him.
    "Rest thine eyes, brother," he said. "Tis a dry old tongue that no one speaks any more. Come to the dancing with me and we'll study pretty maidens instead."
    But Boroth shook his head and refused. Careth left him and his misery deepened. It seemed to the boy that he understood less than when he started. Finally, angry and confused, Boroth turned to the witching stone for help. For the very first time, he found himself wishing for something for himself.
    "I wish I could understand the tongue of the Wise," he wept, clutching the witching stone tight in his hand, "I wish I could understand!"
    He repeated himself again and again, waiting for something to happen but nothing seemed to. Then, with astonishment, he realized that he had been whispering not "I wish I could understand!" but "Ara darith uranar garak tha-ithil!" over and over again, without even thinking.
    "Du-aran ara!" he yelled in joy, I can speak it!
    As his words rang out, there was flicker of lightning at the window and, with a roll of thunder, a mighty storm broke over the Golden Citadel. Boroth ran to the window and leaned out. Down below, in the courtyard, the dancers were scurrying for cover as the rain lashed down. He spotted his brother and called out to him.
    "Car!" he shouted.
    Careth, running for shelter, stopped and looked up.
    "Du-aran ara!" shouted Boroth, "Car, I can speak it! I can speak it!"
    Careth grinned and shouted back, "Well done, Bo! This night must be ours!     Thou hast won knowledge, I a maiden's sweet heart!"
    The storm raged all night, Boroth sat beside his open window, reading the Book of the Wise by candlelight, glancing up from time to time to watch the rain sheeting down over the roofs and the lightning flicker across the forest.     By daybreak, the boy had just reached the last page when his brother burst into the room and flung himself down on the bed, full of smiles.
    "Hast thou finished the book already, Bo?" he said.
    Boroth looked at him, his eyes red and weary but filled with wonder.
    "Yes, every page," he said.
    "I fancy I learnt sweeter secrets last night," said Careth.
Boroth smiled at his brother.
    "What secrets? I thought thou werest asleep in bed, Car."
    "I was in bed but not in mine and I swear to thee I slept not a wink."
Boroth laughed in delight. He was thirteen years of age and the thought tingled.
    "Idronel, ara b'ka e irin ur-anar!" said Boroth.
    "Bo! Thou canst speak that tongue, but I canst not," said Careth.
    "I said, brother, I shall have sweethearts too!" replied the younger boy.
    "If they like reading, I suppose thou shalt," said Careth, laughing.
    "Oh that! I am done with that! That's the last book I shall ever read. Th'art telling me always that I study too much. Well I'm not going to study a thing more, even if I'm beaten for it. Now I'm going to enjoy myself, for ever and ever!" said Boroth.
    The boy was true to his word. Careth was amazed and joyous at the change in his pallid, sore-eyed brother. It was high summer and for day after day, the two brothers were blissfully happy together, hunting in the forest, swimming in the river, wrestling in the long grass, making rope swings in the trees or just lazing in the sun, talking and laughing. The colour quickly came back to Boroth's young face and his eyes grew clear and sparkling once more. Of an evening, the two would go down to the courtyard together for the dancing and it was not long before Boroth caught the eye of a young girl as pretty as his brother's sweetheart.
    The summer seemed to last forever. Yet the witching stone preyed upon the boy's mind, giving him strange, unsettling dreams. He felt uncomfortable without it, as though he was naked, and took to carrying it everywhere with him. In idle moments, he would roll it about in the palm of his hand, watching it glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. Careth thought nothing of it, imagining it was just a glass bauble given to his brother by his girl, as a keepsake.
    Unfortunately, it was not, as Careth was soon to find out. One late afternoon, walking homeward through the forest, the boys were set upon by five tall warriors, wearing coats of mail and armed with swords. In a flash, Boroth realized the prize they sought and clenched the witching stone in his hand. Unarmed, Careth had been gashed already and flung to the ground. One of the warriors was towering over him, his sword already slicing downwards towards the boy's neck. Another two of the men were closing in on Boroth, but Boroth darted between them, crying "Garog ithar-harak!"
    For a moment, the warrior attacking Careth froze and the boy rolled clear just before the gleaming sword thudded into the ground. Then Boroth leapt upon the man, tearing at his neck with his bare hands. The witching stone fell to the ground, but its power was already burning fiercely in Boroth. With strength unheard of, the boy's fingers stabbed deep into soft flesh. Blood spurted from the man's neck and, in a frenzy, Boroth ripped out the man's throat with his bare hands. The warrior fell to the ground, writhing in agony and terror.
    Then, whirling round, the boy plucked the warrior's sword from the ground and ran at the other warriors, shrieking as he ran. As men would when faced with a callow boy, they stood their ground but the sword in Boroth's hand was just a blur of silver slicing through the air. Wild-eyed and drenched in blood, the boy cut through the warriors as though they were naught but straw and as they lay dead and dying on the ground, still he hacked at them.     At last, Careth grasped his brother's wrist and stayed his hand.
    "Enough, Bo, enough," he said quietly, leading the boy away.
    Boroth, dazed and exhausted, let the sword fall to the ground and turned to his brother, hugging him tightly.
    "They were going to kill thee," he wept.
    "Thou didst save our lives, that's for sure," said Careth, "Though I canst not fathom where thou didst find such strength."
    "Twas the witching stone," said Boroth, "The witching stone that Mother brought with her from the north."
    Then Boroth turned and pointed at the gem gleaming brightly in the grass beside the fallen warrior. Boroth pocketed the stone again and, wearily, the two boys headed home. Along the way, Boroth explained everything to this brother, who listened in wonderment. Then, as they approached the gates of Maranor, Careth turned to his brother.
    "Bo, say naught of the witching stone when we speak to Father. He would be furious, thou knowest. Place it back in the jewel box, but do not touch it again after that. There is something wicked about it, I fear. Promise me," said Careth.
    "I promise thee, Car! I felt it burning me inside," said Boroth.
    "Tell me one last thing, Bo, what didst thou shout at the one who nearly killed me?"
    "Oh, that! It was a spell to turn him to stone, but I think I missed a word out," said Boroth.
    Boroth did as his brother suggested and did not touch the stone again. The witching stone, however, had tasted blood. Summer turned to autumn. Ravenwood grew golden and misty. But the land was at peace no longer. The king, hearing how his sons had so narrowly escaped death - or some part of that tale at least - posted guards at every border and had patrols ceaselessly criss-cross the great forest. Yet no attack came and no more murderous brigands were found. The king's fears receded and he stood down the patrols, although keeping the watch on the borders of Ravenwood.
    Late in the month of the squirrel, the two brothers were in the forest gathering conkers, more for Boroth than for Careth, who had already begun to put aside the games of childhood. Seemingly from nowhere, a thick fog gathered, so thick that the boys were almost touching before they could see each other. So as not to lose each other in the cold, clinging fog, Careth took Boroth by the hand and they tried to make their way home. Although they both knew the forest well, quickly they became lost, stumbling deeper and deeper into the endless trees.
    Every direction was white. Boroth's eyes ached with peering into the mist and, faint in the distance, he fancied he heard a voice calling to him. Then, through the smothering whiteness, he saw a light glimmer. He tugged at his brother's hand, steering them both towards the flickering light. Then suddenly, as they approached the light, the fog parted like a curtain and they emerged in a glade where the air was clear and the sun shone brightly.
    At the heart of the clearing, an old man was sitting hunched by a campfire. He looked up and greeted them kindly, beckoning the boys to join him. Cold and weary, they did so gladly. The old man gave them each a warming drink from the pot boiling on the fire and the brothers told him of their plight. The old man smiled sympathetically and told them not to worry, saying that the mist would soon lift and then they would find their way home with ease. Careth, stretched out beside the fire to warm himself, grew drowsy and presently fell fast asleep. Boroth's eyes felt heavy too, but he felt strangely uneasy, so uneasy that he could not let his eyes close.
    "This clearing is like an island in an ocean of fog," said the boy, looking hard at the old man, "How can that be so?"
    "Oh! Come now! I think thou knowest that! Th'art the one that dabbleth in the witching arts. Thy brother sleepeth and thou dost not, yet that draught I gave thee would put a whole kingdom to sleep," said the old man, "No other would keep awake like thee, Yes, th'art the one I seek!"
    "If 'tis I thou seekest, then wake my brother! He has done thee no harm," said Boroth.
    "Oh I shall! Of course I shall! Twould be such a pity not to! But first, give me the stone!" said the old man.
    "What stone?" said Boroth, trembling.
    "What stone!" laughed the old man. "Why, the witching stone whose powers thou didst, unsurp but three moons ago, slaying five strong and battle-hardened warriors, one with thy bare hands, boy!"
    "Th'art mistaken sir! Twas my father's houseguards that killed those men."
The old man spat into the fire, his spittle sizzling on the bright embers.
    "Dragonshit, boy!" he snarled, "When a witching stone is used, the ripples spread far and wide: I felt it in my bones, I sniffed it in the air, I heard the stone sing out and in the witching fire, I saw the bloody deed! Twas only they face I could not see. The stone, boy, give me the stone!"
    "And if I do not?" said Boroth.
    "Oh come now! Let us not bicker so! The stone is too powerful for thee! Tis too great a burden. Let me lift that burden from thee!" said the old man, becoming gentle once more.
    "Tis not mine to give thee," said Boroth.
    "If thou hast used it, then 'tis thine to give," said the old man, softly.
    "But if I do not?" asked the boy.
    "How many midnights are there in a day, boy?" said the old man.
    "Only one, sir," replied Boroth, puzzled.
    "Precisely!" said the old man.
    "But if I do not?" Boroth persevered.
    "Ah! Twould be such a pity not to wake thy brother, such a good boy, such a handsome boy," said the old man, shaking his head sadly.
    Boroth grew hot with anger and his thoughts grew black with hatred.
    "Do not even think of it," said the old man, "Try to harm me in any way and thy charming brother will sleep for ever. The spell guards against such things, in a quite intriguing way. Of course it does! Now be good and give me the stone."
    To demonstrate, the old man drew the blade of a knife across the back of his hand. His hand did not bleed but Careth cried out in his sleep. When Boroth turned to his brother, he saw that the back of Careth's hand was bleeding instead.
    "I do not have the stone with me," said Boroth.
    "Such a wise boy!" said the old man, soothingly, "Go then and fetch it. Oh yes! And be back before the sun sets or I shall worry so much I might forget how to lift the spell."
    Then the fog that surrounded the glade rolled away and Boroth recognized, at last, where he was. He stood up, looked at his sleeping brother and then ran off through the forest. Lest he be spied, he entered the Golden Citadel by a secret passage that led to the old well under the king's tower. Boroth fetched the jewel box without mishap. Then, leaving the Citadel by the same route, he slipped at the dry bottom of the old well, tumbling forward onto his face. The jewel box fell open and the witching stone rolled out, glowing softly in the darkness.
    Gazing into the stone, Boroth could see what was about to happen. He saw Careth awakening, he saw himself handling the stone to the old man, he saw himself helping Careth to his feet, he saw the old man swirl around upon them, laughing, blue lightning crackling in his cupped hands. The old man flung the lightning towards them and he and Careth were struck down by blue tongues of fire that sizzled into their writhing bodies. He and Careth rolled about on the ground, screaming in agony. Then they grew still and quiet. The blue flames died away, leaving two charred and lifeless shapes on the ground.
    Boroth knew why the stone had let him see this, knew that it was trying to grip him in its power, trying to persuade him to use it in anger once more but he also could see that there was little reason the old man should not do such a thing once the witching stone was his.
    Whispering softly, in the tongue of the Wise, Boroth spoke to the stone.
"Stone, let all wickedness from thee drain!
    Let only the goodness within thee remain!
    And if aught wouldst use thee to work some harm,
Upon him instead turn the evil charm!"
    The stone shrieked aloud and burned with a terrible crimson brightness, deafening and blinding Boroth. Beneath him, he felt the bowels of the earth rumble. A gust of hot, fetid air rushed against his face, so foul and putrid that the boy's stomach churned and he almost vomited. Then all grew still and cool and dark again. Trembling, the boy scooped up the witching stone into the jewel box again and closed the lid. He clambered to his feet. His head span. He felt weak and shiverish and his skin was damp with sweat. He wanted to turn back and lie down in his cool, soft bed but he forced himself onwards into the dark passage under the Citadel. By the time he reached the open air again, the strength had returned to his limbs and he felt a new vigour, as though his blood was tingling. The sun was already dipping down towards the tree-tops and Boroth ran through the forest, fleet as a deer, back to the glade.
    The old man looked up at him, smiling.
    "Ah, such a good boy! Thou hast brought me the stone! Well then," he said, stretching out his arm and opening his hand, "Give it to me and I shalt wake thy brother."
    "Nay, old man, thou shalt wake my brother first. Only then wilt I give thee the stone," said Boroth coldly.
    "Oh come now! Would I break my word to thee?" said the old man, soothingly.
    There was a flicker of anger in Boroth's eyes, but calmly and quietly, he simply repeated, "Wake my brother."
    The old man shivered and withdrew his hand. There was a deep compulsion in the boy's words and, somehow, he did not doubt that the boy would give him the stone. Yet the boy had spoken so gently, not as the old man would have done if he were wanting to compel. Uneasily, the old man turned to Careth, laying his hand upon his brow and whispering an incantation.
    In a few moments, the sleeping boy woke. He looked at Boroth and smiled. Boroth smiled back and beckoned him. Careth sprang to his feet and went to his brother. When he reached Boroth's side, Boroth tossed the jewel box to the old man who caught it nimbly in his hands.
    "There, thou wizened old fool, have thy bauble!" said Boroth, his voice bitter and dark with anger.
    The old man rose to his feet, turning his back on the boys. He opened the box, taking from it the witching stone and let the jewel box fall to the ground.     Then suddenly the old man swirled around upon the boys, laughing, blue lightning crackling in his cupped hands. The old man flung the lightning towards them but the lightning curved around, back towards him. The old man screamed as he was struck down by blue tongues of fire that sizzled into his writhing body. He rolled about on the ground, screaming in agony. Then he grew still and quiet. The blue flames died away, leaving his charred and lifeless shape on the ground.
    On their way home, Boroth told his brother of all that had passed, laughing darkly when he touched upon the old man's death. His brother looked troubled but said little save that he wished the witching stone were a thousand leagues from here. Boroth agreed, saying that he feared that wickedness might still remain within the stone despite his command to it. Then he suggested that on the morrow they ask their father's permission to make a journey to the Isle of Storms at the eastern tip of the Delve and there, secretly, cast the stone away forever into the Great Ocean. On their return, they mentioned nothing of the old man and on the morrow, Careth put the question of the journey to his father. Coronoth would hear nothing of the idea.
    "It's out of the question!" he said, "Tis but three moons since both they brother and thou were near murdered in cold blood not a league abroad and now thou hast the foolishness to ask this! And why, for pity's sake, wouldst thou want to visit the Isle of Storms?" There's naught but rocks and waves and mumbling giants there!"
    "Tis the place where the Great Ocean rages fiercest, Father," said Boroth, "Where the shore is strewn with ancient wrecks and dead man's bones and treasure lies drowned in the creeks and bays."
    "A treasure hunt is it? Are not the riches of the Golden Citadel enough for thee, Boroth? Dost thou lack of anything here, Careth?" said Coronoth.
    "Only adventure, Father," said Careth.
    Coronoth sighed wearily. He remembered his own youth and that same unscratchable itch.
    "I know," he said, smiling, "I know how adventure beckons, but I cannot allow it. You are my only sons."
    A black anger boiled up within Boroth.
    "What's that got to do with it?" he shouted, "Th'art our only father, yet thou wouldst march off to war if the need arose. Thou dost scorn danger yet wouldst tuck us safely away like babes in our cots!"
    "Enough!" commanded the king, "Get thee to thy chamber, Boroth, and do not show thy face until thou canst speak more civilly!"
    Careth tugged at his brother's arm, saying, "Bo, let it be!" but Boroth shook himself free.
    "No, I shall not! I will not leave until thou dost answer me, Father, Answer my question!" said Boroth, hotly.
    "Thou wilt obey me!" said Coronoth, striking the boy across the cheek with the back of his hand but Boroth stood his ground, a trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth.
    "Art thou afraid to answer my question?" goaded Boroth, a dark fury in his eyes.
    Careth looked at his brother, aghast. Coronoth raised his hand again but then paused. The boy's forehead was beaded with sweat, his face was deathly pale and his eyes dark-rimmed. Did the boy have a fever? He must have a fever, else he would not speak in such a manner. The king laid his hand gently on Boroth's shoulder but Boroth twisted away, glaring.
    "Very well, Boroth, thou shalt have thy answer," said Coronoth mildly, "Being king, I must march to war if the need arises. Likewise, being the heirs to the kingdom, thou and Careth must keep thyselves safe and well against the time of my passing from this world. Surely thou dost, understand this?"
Grudgingly, Boroth said, "Yes, Father, I know all that, but..."
    "Perhaps a smaller adventure could be arranged, a journey upriver to the mountains of the Deeping on our eastern borders," said the king, smiling.
    Then the king took Careth aside and said to him, "Take Bo to his room. Then fetch the doctors. He is not himself and I fear he has a fever."
The king was right, it seemed. The doctors confirmed that the boy indeed had a fever but their salves had little effect. By the next day, Boroth was delirious, writhing and twisting in his sleep, mumbling nonsense and, from time to time, screaming out in pain. His brow was like a furnace to the touch and the boy sweated so much that his bed was drenched, needing fresh sheets three or four times in the course of a day. In Boroth's every breath, there was a fearful stench. Incense from distant Coromand burned ceaselessly beside the boy's bed to sweeten the air.
    Day after day the fever raged. Occasionally Boroth would still and wake. Then, weakly, he would take a little nourishment before slipping back into his delirium. One day, when Careth was sitting along at his brother's bedside side, the boy awoke and, for the first time since the fever began, spoke lucidly.
    "Car?" he said, blinking against the light.
    "Yes, Bo, 'tis I," said Careth.
    "Car, 'tis the witching stone! I can feel it! It burns me terribly, inside, like hot irons in my head and, and in my guts," said Boroth.
    "Hush now, Bo, th'art feverish," said Careth, taking his brother's hand.
    "Nay, 'tis no fever, Car, 'tis the witching stone! Please, please believe me," said Boroth, tears welling in his eyes, "Take it and cast it into the Great Ocean as we planned, take it far away from me, 'tis killing me, Car!"
    "In truth, I think I do believe thee, Bo," said Careth, squeezing his brother's clammy hand, "Fear no more, before dusk the witching stone will be gone from here. I will not let thee die."
    Boroth smiled weakly, squeezed his brother's hand in return, then closed his eyes again. Careth pleaded with his father once more to be allowed to make the journey to Great Ocean but this time told him of Boroth's meddling with the witching stone. Coronoth was much afeared and swiftly agreed, although not before admonishing Careth roundly for not telling him of this sooner.
    "There is a trading ship, the Green Mermaid, moored in the river and it sets sail this very noon for Coromand," said Coronoth, "Twill get thee to the Great Ocean far swifter than foot. Within the hour, thou must take passage for upon the Green Mermaid. Six of my houseguard will I provide thee with for thy safe keeping. 'Tis no journey for a callow boy to make alone."
    And so, that very day, Careth set sail into the east upon the River Falthrang and watched the Golden Citadel of Maranor dwindle into the distance, not realising that he would never set eyes upon it again.
    As the day drew on, Boroth's fever began to wane and his sleep grew less troubled. Upon the following day, his brow was cool, he sweated no more and he sat up awake in bed. Still only permitted soup, he ate it hungrily. Within a week, the boy was fit and well again and was allowed from his bed.
    To be sure the boy was strong and healthy, the king waited a month before he called Boroth to his chambers to talk of the witching stone. Coronoth listened patiently to what his son had to say.
    Finally, sighing, he said, "It was a dangerous thing to do, to use the witching stone to stay thy brother's fever but 'twas well meant and done in kindness only. It seems, indeed, that thou didst save Careth from death. I cannot chide thee for that. But the rest! To use such a thing as a toy and to dabble in magic arts! I can barely believe it, even now. By thy foolishness, thou hast enticed evil men into the very heart of Ravenwood! For this alone, thou knowest I must punish thee, Boroth, though it pains me to do so."
From a wooden clothes chest, the king drew a leather belt and bid the boy bend himself over the table he was standing by. Boroth drew back, furious and defiant.
    "Thou shalt not! I did no wrong. 'Twas the witching ring, thou knowest that!" shouted Boroth. "Don't touch me!"
    But the king was coldly determined that the boy should be punished. He seized Boroth and flung him across the table, pinning him there. Though the boy kicked and struggled and screamed and cursed, Coronoth thrashed him soundly until Boroth, in exhaustion, grew still and quiet.
Then, as the king turned and went back to the wooden chest, Boroth sprang to his feet, his eyes blazing with dark fury, and snatched his father's hunting spear from where it hung on the wall. With all the force he could muster, the boy flung the spear at his father. It struck the king between the shoulder blades and pierced him through, bursting out of his chest. Coronoth fell forward onto his hands and knees. In agony, he managed to push himself upright and then, still on his knees, the spear through him, he turned and looked in horror at his son. He tried to speak but only blood bubbled from his mouth.
    "I warned thee not to touch me, Father," said Boroth calmly, "Now I shall be king and do exactly as I please."
    With a mighty effort, the king pulled the whole spear out of his chest, and staggered to his feet. Then he lunged forward at the boy, who was too amazed to move. Boroth fell backwards, borne down by the weight of his father who tumbled down on top of him. Coronoth's hands closed around the boy's throat but there was no strength in them now and in a moment, they fell away again, lifeless. Boroth truggled free and stood up, drenched in his father's blood.
    Boroth knew he must act quickly now, for if he was caught in this, neither his rank nor his tender age would offer him protection. He stripped off his bloodied clothes and boots and washed himself at the bowl on his father's table. After scrubbing himself clean, he wrapped himself in an old, torn cloak that his father used for hunting and which would draw little attention if he were to be seen in it. Then, to hide his crime completely, he sprinkled the room and his father's body with lamp-oil, took a burning brand from the fire and flung it onto the bed. The bed began to blaze merrily and then the flames caught the oak-panelled walls.
    Smiling, Boroth took one last look at the burning room before fleeing to his own. He encountered no one on the way. Then, safely in his own room, Boroth put on fresh clothes and cast his father's cloak onto the fire. Boroth left the tower by the secret way, out by the old well under the citadel and went deep into the forest. Eventually, he rested by a stream. He ate some sweetbread, drank of the cool, clear water and presently fell to sleep.
    By the time he woke, it had grown dark but in the sky to the east, there was a red glow. Boroth leapt to his feet and scrambled up a nearby tree. As he reached the upper branches, in the distance he could see that all the Golden Citadel was ablaze, great tongues of flames leaping up into the sky. For a while, he just gazed at the sight in wonder and amazement. Then, coming to his senses, he scrambled back down to the ground and began to run back through the forest towards the burning city.
    When he reached the approaches to the Golden Citadel, he was tired and filmed with sweat. People were pouring from the gates hauling carts and barrows, some laden with possessions, some with the sick and the injured who had been charred and burnt and who screamed terribly. Beyond, in the city, the rooftops were ablaze and flames gushed out of the windows of every tower.
    Boroth made his way against, the flow towards the Eastgate but a soldier standing at the roadside, took him by the arm.
    "Nay, lad, there's naught that thou canst do!" said the soldier, gently.
    "Unhand me, I am the king's son!" said Boroth, whirling round on the soldier.
    The soldier looked at him in astonishment and let go.
    "The powers be praised! Thou art an' all! Why, we thought thee dead and burned, my lord! 'Tis a miracle!" said the soldier.
    "Where is my father?" said Boroth.
    The soldier shook his head sadly.
    "No one knows, sire. Some are still searching for him in the city. The Captain of the Houseguard has taken charge in his place. See that tent over yonder, at the edge of the forest. That's his headquarters." said the soldier, putting his arm around the boy's shoulder to comfort him, "Come, lad, let me take thee to the Captain. He will tell thee more than I can. This is a terrible night."
    Boroth let himself be drawn against the soldier's side and began to sob convincingly.
    "There, there lad," said the soldier, kindly, "There's yet some hope."
In the headquarters tent, Boroth was seated at the Captain's table. A soldier brought him a warm drink and another wrapped a blanket around his shoulders against the chill of the night air. Boroth listened gravely to Elireth, the Captain of the Houseguard who had known the boy since he was knee-high. Tears streaked Boroth's face.
    The fire began in the king's tower," said Elireth, "Some say they saw the first flames of all leap from thy father's own windows but others say it began in the kitchens. They had the pumps working within minutes but the tower was too tall for the water to reach all but the lower windows. Then the wind blew up, fanning the flames and scattering burning cinders across the rooftops. The blaze raced across the city, Boroth. There was naught that anyone could do."
    "What of my father and my mother?" asked Boroth, a tremble in his voice.
    "They have not been seen or found. Parts of the city we cannot reach until the fires die down, but I must tell thee, we fear the worst," said Elireth.
    Boroth covered his face with his hands and fell forward onto the table, weeping afresh with renewed vigour.
    "Thank the good powers, thou art safe and thy brother abroad in Coromand," said Elireth. "Come, to bed with thee now. Let us see what morning brings."
    The city burned for three days more, leaving no more than a smouldering, blackened ruin. At length, when the searchers could reach the king's tower within there was just a tangle of charred timbers and bones. All hope of finding the king or queen alive was lost. Elireth broke the sad tidings to Boroth, who seemed overcome with grief. Then, on the morrow, there were more ill-tidings. A ship had just sailed upriver, coming from the south, with news from Coromand. In a storm, the Green Mermaid had foundered off the coast of Coromand and no survivors had been found.
    On hearing this news, Boroth grew angry, saying that his brother could not be dead, that he would know if Careth were dead, that he would feel it in his bones if he were dead. He screamed at Elireth to cut out the tongues of all that had told this wicked lie. Elireth, for his part, fearing that the boy's mind had become unhinged by sorrow heaped upon sorrow, tried to calm Boroth, saying that he would deal with them. Then, he went to the captain of the ship and commanded him to begone with all haste. Yet, when he returned, Boroth was calm and composed and mentioned nothing more of his gruesome demand.
    As time went by, all remarked how nobly the young prince bore his grievous loss. A new city of tents sprang up beside the old one and, as the days began to grow bitter with winter, Boroth went amongst the people, consoling those who had lost loved ones in the great fire and giving food and winter clothing to those in need.
    The building of a new citadel upon the ashes of the old had already begun. The young prince had asked that it be rebuilt in black marble, in memory of those who had perished, and all were struck by the thoughtfulness and decorum of this. So it was that Boroth, son of Coronoth, became king of Ravenwood at the tender age of thirteen. Stone by stone, Maranor was rebuilt. And how well the people loved their handsome young king! People began to refer to him as Boroth the Good, Boroth the Kind. But Boroth had killed, and had enjoyed the killing, his blood burning and tingling, his mind reeling in ecstasy, and the killing did not stop. Yes, the boy had drained the wickedness from the witching stone, but it had seeped into himself and into the very ground on which Maranor stood. And yes, the stone had been killing him but only because of the goodness that remained within it.
    Year by year, the evil in the land grew, but none suspected that the fount of it was their good, young king. Children would mysteriously disappear in the forest, their bodies to be found weeks later, mauled and torn beyond recognition. Pretty maidens would be ravished in their beds at night and found of the morning, their throats slit. Strong warriors keeping watch atop the battlements in the small hours would be found the next day at the foot of the walls, disembowelled, their ears lopped off, their eyes gouged out.
    A great fear fell upon Maranor. At night, people locked their doors and barred their windows and did not venture out. Children were kept at home, bored and listless and the streets emptied of their laughter and carefree games. Even the warriors kept watch in three or fours and kept awake no matter how late the hour. The young king imposed a curfew and announced a generous reward for the capture of any of these fiends.
    The penalty that Boroth set for breaking the curfew was death. Erileth, still Captain of the Guard, protested that this was too harsh, that more innocent souls would perish than guilty but the king was adamant, saying that the people must be shown that some action was being taken. Elireth refused to have any part of it, replying that if death were the penalty, he would not order the Houseguard to impose such a curfew. Thereupon, Boroth accused Elireth of being in league with the murderous fiends and told him that he would pay with his life.
    And so, the executions began. The following day, Elireth was dragged from his cell by his own guards and taken to the marketplace, gagged and bound.     A great crowd had gathered there. The young king made a speech, saying that there was a canker in the very heart of Ravenwood and that, however painful the surgery might be, he would cut it out. Weeping, he said that he had loved Elireth as he would a father but that his beloved captain had refused to impose the curfew and, in doing so, had revealed himself to be in league with the evildoers.
    The king said that he could show no mercy, even to those who were his friends, that this evil must be rooted out. The crowd, much moved, applauded, some weeping in sympathy for the king, others cheering wildly. Then, weeping afresh, Boroth drew his sword and severed Erileth's head with a single blow. As though distraught, the king turned from the crowd, his head bowed and let himself be led from the dais by one of the guards. In truth, however, Boroth was merely trying to contain his laughter.
    As Boroth had planned, his harsh measures appeared to work. Within the first month, twelve curfew-breakers were publicly executed, each by the king in person, who declared that since it was his edict, he alone must bear the heavy weight of carrying it out. And, able to sate his bloodlust openly now with a crowd to applaud and cheer him on, Boroth abandoned killing in stealth. The murders ceased and the king's reputation grew further. No longer did the people call him Boroth the Good or Boroth the Kind. Now it was Boroth the Ironheart or Boroth the Strong. He was but seventeen years of age.
    Unsurprisingly, curfew-breaking dwindled quickly but the people wanted more blood. It pleased Boroth greatly to assuage their thirst. A steady stream of informers came to the king's court at handsome reward and the slightest whisper of any evil intent was enough to have someone hauled away to the king's dungeons for questioning, a sergeant of the guard whose attic bats had been found, a maiden accused of putting a curse on her lover who died of fever, a young boy who, play-acting, had threatened to kill his friend. All were put to the torture by Boroth himself. Drunk with bloodlust, he would play with his helpless victims for hour upon hour until, to end the unbearable pain, they repeating their confession urgently lest the torture be renewed, their heads would be severed by Boroth's sword to rapturous applause.
    The wicked power of the witching stone was in the very ground under their feet, and the people of Maranor grew lost deep in bloodlust too. Yet still there were some within the city who thought that the king had gone too far, that there had been enough killing, some who began to call him Mad Boroth or Boroth the Wolfheart. One by one, these few were rooted out and put to the sword. But Boroth realized that now, his people needed something more than public executions to slake their thirst for blood. It was time to make war, to let every warrior get blood on his hands, to unite the whole kingdom of Ravenwood in an orgy of killing. He would enslave the entire Blood March and have thousand upon thousand of helpless before him.
    So did the long fall of the First Fey into darkness begin. The great forest of Ravenwood was plundered relentlessly for fuel to feed the fires of Boroth's swordsmiths and as the long wars of the Blood March drew on, the land became bare and barren. No longer was the kingdom referred to as Ravenwood but instead the Marish, meaning, in the ancient tongue, the desolate land. And the First Fey, drawn deeper and deeper into evil as the bloodletting went on, became known as the Dark Fey, the once fair and golden city of Maranor as the Dark Citadel.
    There, even now, does Boroth the Wolfheart still keep his reign of terror. Time after time have his armies been beaten back to the borders of the Marish, only to return stronger, more bloodthirsty and more rapacious than before and each time, the realms of the Blood March have grown weaker and more afraid. No, I fear, we are in the worst of times. In turn, these past ten or twenty years, the Wolfheart has threatened each realm with utter desolation lest they yield to him a hostage of his choice of royal blood or connection and, in turn, to keep a peace with him, each realm has reluctantly complied. Of late, he has demanded further tribute, at first in gold but now in slaves. Year after year, these poor wretches, selected by lot, are sent to their doom in the Dark Citadel. Only Immiel has remained untouched by Boroth's evil and now, I fear, he is planning a grand campaign that, one by one, will crush every kingdom of the Blood March. If that comes to pass, nowhere is safe."
    As Galahar finished his long tale, his audience gazed at him in stunned silence. At length, Luxor broke the silence.
    "These are ill-tidings, Galahar. I knew naught of this," said Luxor.
    "Long have I peered into the past, Moonprince, to unravel the mystery of Boroth's fall into wickedness," said Galahar.
    "Yet perhaps I can add a little to your knowledge," said Luxor.
Gravely, Luxor told him the story of how, long ago, Rarnor the Unlucky had lost the Eye of the Moon from the Moonring which bound it. He told him of the minstrel boy's song of Sherehar and the news the jewel still lay in the king's tower in Coromand. Then he told him of how, at this very time, he was bound for Coromand, bearing gifts, to try to reclaim the gem.
    "This is surely the witching stone that was Boroth's downfall," said Luxor, "And surely, if the goodness within it near killed him once, it can do so again!"
    "So Boroth was right!" exclaimed Galahar, "His brother did not perish in the storm, else the stone would still languish in the ocean deeps! These are fair tidings indeed, Luxor!"
    "We must set sail on the morrow, with all speed. If the winds be good, it may be that this Boroth can be thwarted before more evil befalls this sorry land," said the Moonprince.
    "May the winds be with thee, Luxor, but beware the Marish!" said Galahar.

Chapter Two Contents Chapter Four