Chapter One

    The way was obscure but he moved onwards, little caring what he moved towards. The trees thickened and the darkness of the forest closed in upon him yet he hardly noticed; his thoughts were frozen; tomorrow unimaginable, but forgotten, yesterday a strange dream that had happened to someone else - if it had happened at all. Now the thing was destroyed, what else was left to do? All the fear Morkin had held at bay for so long, because he had to succeed, was unleashed with that success. His mind was just a wilderness now, bleaker than the Plains of Despair.
    Elsewhere, time still moved. The burden of the Witchking’s cold dominion had lifted from the lands of Midnight like a sudden wakening from nightmare. At first not daring to believe that their ordeal was over, people simply took quiet and solitary pleasure in the respite. Then, as dawn followed dawn and the dread did not return, the day of tidings came. Doomdark is finished! The Witchkings is dead! Rejoice, we are free! Borne on the wings of whispers, the message took flight and sped across Midnight, bringing laughter and song to hearts that had too long been empty of all but despair.
    In its wake, the warriors of the Free made their weary way home, welcomed as heroes in each village or hamlet on the way, yet longing beyond all for the welcome of their hearth fires and the glad faces of their kin. South from Ushgarak. Luxor’s great army trudged a desolate path, at Kor the army turned and plunged into the Forest of Dreams. No signposts marked their way but the Fey, gathering magically out of the gloom of the trees bearing lanterns and firesticks, lit a deep road into the darkening forest to their hidden fastness, the fabled Citadel of Dreams.
    The victorious army made camp beneath its shimmering walls. The city was in turmoil as it set about to prepare for a vast feast of celebration. All through the encampment ran rivers of children, festooning the soldiers with garlands and ribbons and begging tales of war. Still, a sadness lingered, the memory of friends irrevocably lost, of brothers’ spilt blood, of the cold implacable Ice Fear that had stricken so many good men.
    Tarithel did not remain at the feast. As night fell and the city put on all the raiment’s of light it could find, she slipped quietly into the forest. Her father would not notice; with all the grand and puissant Lords of the Fey and the Free gathered here, he would scarcely have a moment to spare.
    He would expect her presence, but he would not notice it. Though there was no doubting the greatness of the triumph, what part had she in a warrior’s carnival? In the silent, dreaming glades, lit only by starlight and with the song of the forest, as the only fanfare, Tarithel would whisper her thanksgiving to the dead and the living and the dying.
    The deep shadows of the forest wrapped the girl in long gowns of grey and she slipped through the twilight like a wraith, swiftly, silently trailing between the colonnades of trees. Far from the clamour of the city she wandered, letting the forest lead her down its secret ways, letting her mind mingle with the slow and ancient thoughts of the dreaming trees to catch glimpses of Midnight’s long-forgotten summer, the birth-pangs of its green dawn and the dark dance of death auguring autumn. Gradually her pace slackened. As if the rhythm of the forest had seized her lithe limbs and urged a gentler motion upon them, until she halted at last in a deep glade. There she stood, flanked by tall towers of green, waiting and watching just as the forest had waited and watched down the long ages. Gently she swayed, a young sapling in the midst of its elders, till softly the dew gathered like stars in her sweeping tresses and bedecked her green cloak with the glistening jewels. The boy rode past her like a ghost, unmoving, unseeing. Tarithel called out to him but he did not turn. Then, suddenly struck with fear for him, she whispered a strange wordless song, swift of rhythm yet slow at heart and as a clear and broad of melody as the wind rushing through the tall grasses of the open plains. The boy’s horse lifted its head, turned and cantered up to her, nuzzling into her cloak as it stopped beside her. The boy himself stirred too and turned his puzzled eyes upon her.
    She saw him then, as the moonlight struck down through the trees and bruised his face with its stark brilliance, lost in desolation. His eyes were as cold as death, his mouth a thin scar frozen on a face of stone, yet Tarithel seemed to see behind this mask and sense a greeting in his icy gaze, a hint of laughter in his barren eyes. She smiled warmly.
    "I bid you welcome, sir, to the Forest of Dreams. Will you not tarry a while? ‘Tis a long and lonely road you follow"
    The boy was silent for a moment and then he laughed bitterly.
    "I follow no road, I simply ride," his harsh words softening even as he spoke. "I go where my horse takes me; if he has led me here then I should be thankful, for fairer vision than thee I have never seen."
    Suddenly, the boy’s marble face was lit by the faint fire of a blush and he turned his eyes from Tarithel to gaze intently on the snow on the ground. Tarithel shivered inwardly, sweet delight and bitter apprehension mingling and clashing within her as his words touched her open heart, his gauche compliment, his hopeless statement of no intent, his simple and unbroken pride. She loosened her mind to let his dreams flow into her yet she felt nothing but the slumbering, ageless reveries of the Forest. Somehow, he had sensed her intention and had drawn into himself so swiftly that his mind was intangible. She gasped with wonder.
    "Come," she said, "let us find shelter. The night grows long and cold."
    The boy smiled. "Then you must ride with me; I cannot ride and have you walk,"
    Tarithel laughed softly.
    "And can you not walk?"
    "I can," he replied, then lowered his voice, "But I would rather we rode together."
    With a nimbleness that surprised him, Tarithel took two swift steps, grasped his arm and leapt up behind him onto the horse. Wrapping her warm arms around his waist, she brought her mouth close to his ear and whispered, "The path to the left, gallant knight."
    Suddenly, the boy spurred his horse forward; like an arrow unloosed from a taut bow, they galloped across the frozen glade into the deeper darkness of the Forest of Dreams. The boy laughed in delight, the girl clung tightly to him, knowing he expected her to, and the stallion snorted with pleasure, stretched out its swift legs and ran for sheer joy after so many days of dreary wandering.
    It was but a few minutes before they broke out of the forest again and saw before them the Citadel of Dreams, its high towers glimmering like amber in the glow of a thousand torches, its sheer walls bright with the banners of the Fey and the Free, its great gates decked with flags and lanterns. Before it lay another city of tents and pavilions that shivered and shimmered as the air trembled in the heat of bonfires that bejewelled the dark plain. The boy reined his stallion and gazed in awe.
    "What is this place?" he asked. "Why this carnival? How can they?"
    Tarithel felt the boy’s muscles stiffen and begin to tremble. His growing fury was unmistakable.
    "How can they do what?" she asked, gently.
    "How can they rejoice, how can they rejoice?"
    "This is the Citadel of Dreams, stronghold of the Fey, Imlath Quiriniel, Jewel of Midnight. Before you lie the armies of Luxor the Moonprince, bearer of the Moon Ring, the War Ring of the House of the Moon. They have journeyed here from the gates of Ushgarak itself. They rejoice surely this much you know - because Doomdark is defeated, slain by the sword of Prince Luxor himself!"
    The boy slumped forward, buried his face in the stallion's long mane and began to sob uncontrollably, Tarithel leant forward to try to comfort him, whispering gentle questions and words of solace, but he would not speak or listen. At length, she dismounted and led the boy and his stallion across the open snow, through the ranks of lanterns and bonfires and merrymakers, through the high arches of the Gate of Dreams, along the bustling streets, to a deserted courtyard deep within the Citadel.
    In the midst of the courtyards toodagreenoak. Lamps flickered in every branch, casting dancing rainbows on the worn cobbles under its vaulting canopy. Beyond, a fountain tumbled molten silver into a shivering pool and, further still, on a plinth of marble, blazed a bowl of green and golden fire that sent a trembling mist of light and warmth throughout the stillness. The peace of the courtyard seemed to fall upon the boy and his sobbing slackened. He slid down from his horse, letting Tarithel take his hand, letting her lead him to the side of the fountain pool, then letting himself down to rest beside her on the sitting-stones by its bank.
    Tarithel wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly, as though he were a small child who had grazed his knee. Gradually, his sobbing ebbed away.
    "Tell me what ails thee," she whispered.
    The boy eased away from her. He took her hands in his and raised his head to gaze at her steadily. His eyes were sparkling with gladness as his mouth suddenly creased into the broadest of smiles.
    "I thought he was dead," said the boy in a rush of words," I thought the War was lost and Midnight doomed. Rejoicing! I thought they were rejoicing for Doomdark's victory. I thought I'd found it and destroyed it all in vain. Too late to help, too late for anything. I don't know where I’ve been since. What did it matter? If the Foul One had won, nothing mattered anymore: everything would be wilderness. Why bother finding haven? There would be no haven, there would be no peace, there would be no warmth, ever. I thought he was dead, but he lives!"
    "Who? Who did you think was dead? What did you destroy? You talk in riddles that I cannot fathom," said Tarithel, but the boy seemed not to hear.
    "When I cast it into the lake, it shrieked and screamed as it dropped towards the water. Even the air about it seemed to thicken, as though the thing was trying to save itself by freezing the very wind. It fell so slowly, like a knife dropped in syrup, I thought it mightstop. Then, when it touched the water, came a crack of thunder as it shattered and flew apart. Suddenly, the lake erupted with boiling clouds of steam that caught and melted the fragments even as it burst asunder."
    "I leapt and danced for joy. It was gone, forever. The task was done. It was over! Then, as the lake stilled and the clouds of steam thinned awayto nothing a rolling peal of laughter boomed from the North and an icy yet velvet voice spoke to me. 'Fool,' it said, 'You are too late, you puny child. Luxor is dead. His mighty armies are maggot-fodder now. Xajorkith has fallen and burns even now; Corelay has been ravaged and every man, woman and child put to the sword - if they were lucky! The Fey fawn at my feet. All you have done me is a favour. It is so tiresome having to dispose of obsolete possessions.' Then the laughter rolled again and slowly dwindled away. For days, perhaps moons since, I've just wandered aimlessly. There was no point after that, no point at all."
    The boy's eyes glazed over as he remembered. Another moment and he would be lost again in the silence of his long ride. Taking his shoulders in her hands, Tarithel shook him until he was jogged back to wakefulness.
    "What did you destroy?" she insisted.
    The boy looked at her quizzically, as if this were no puzzle at all.
    "Why, the Ice Crown of course."
    For the moment. Tarithel was aghast. Then, she shook her head and laughed softly.
    "That is the sweetest answer I have ever heard. 'Why, the Ice Crown of course. A mere bauble, a deed of no more consequence than . . . than casting away an old cloak. You must be Morkin, then, son of the Moonprince."
    Tarithel looked at the boy as though he were a dream that might suddenly vanish. He gazed backat her, wistfully.
    "Yes, I am Morkin, ' he said, "But your name I know not."
    "I am Tarithel, the daughter of the Lord of Dreams and Lady of the Forest, since my mother relinquished the right on the eve of the Solstice."
    "But you are so young and the Forest- I have wandered in this Forest for days- it seems to have no end!"
    "I am as old as you, my Lord, and though you be but a boy, you have travelled half of Midnight on your quest. Was that an easy task?" said Tarithel, fiercely.
    Morkin laughed and shook his head. He looked up slowly and fixed his eyes upon hers. He could not believe the completeness of her beauty, still less the longing and love that shone in her face, no more than Tarithel could believe the rapture with which he beheld her. Neither could look away, neither could speak, so fierce and tender was the fire they saw kindled in each other's glistening eyes.
    Blindly, their hands touched and twined. Morkin seemed to melt inside as he felt the warmth of her slender hands seeking and finding his, Tarithel felt a fresh, cool wind blow through her as his firm but yielding grasp closed up on hers and slowly, like two branches bending towards the same brilliant light, they drew closer together until their lips touched in the gentlest of kisses, to part swiftly as though each had brushed a candle-flame. They looked at each other, bewildered by themselves. Then, suddenly overwhelmed by longing and delight, Morkin took Tarithel in his arms, crushing his lips against hers. They clung to each other tightly and, as they kissed, they seemed to become one fire, one flame burning in the cold, clear night.
    Though the stars span overhead, though the night seeped away like a dark liquid running from a crystal goblet, their thirst for the heady wine neither had tasted before stayed unquenchable. As the sounds of feasting waned and the footsteps of home comers rang in the cobbled streets, Tarithel led Morkin within and took him along the winding corridors to the Western Tower.

Foreword Contents Chapter Two