Chapter Four

    A dark and starless night fell upon the Forest of Dreams as, high overhead, the vanguard of Shareth's storm gathered. Long past midnight, the feasting finished and the two cities of stone and of cloth fell silent under the lightless sky. Though the parting would be brief and tomorrow he would bejoined forever with Tarithel, Morkin could not sleep. He wandered restlessly around the encampment, pausing at the dying camp fires to gaze into the embers and wonder what the future held for him and his beloved Tarithel.
    In the distance, he heard the vague rumble of thunder and instinctively drew his cloak more closely about him. He thought of the strange message from the Icemark. Turning to the North, he peered into the chasm of the sky where soft-flickering flames of lightning lit the heavy clouds. A shiver ran through him; this was no ordinary storm: there was something unnatural in the way it moved, in the far distance churning swiftly southwards yet overhead almost motionless.
    An urge suddenly betook him to see once more the sweet glade where Tarithel had found him. In a few minutes, Morkin was on his horse and riding slowly through the blackness of the forest, his way lit only by memory. Whether it was Morkin or the stallion who truly found it is difficult to say, but eventually he emerged into the broad clearing where the snow glowed on the frozen ground like a pale, phosphorescent pool. The stallion walked to the heart of the glade and waited there while the boy peered around himself, trying to conjure out of the darkness his meeting with Tarithel .
    Above, the storm clouds thickened and deepened and circled over the Citadel of Dreams, as though searching for something. Thunder cracked and lightning raked the steep walls of the great fortress, scouring the stone with its blinding fire. Sheets of hail hammered at the rooves and windows of the tightly huddled houses and the taut canvas of the encampment. The wind wailed through the empty streets, tearing at slates and shutters, rending proud banners, flinging itself at the tall wooden gates till they groaned and shrieked at the onslaught. The turbulence flew outwards from the Citadel, whirling through the ancient trees of the Forest, stripping them bare and snapping their stout limbs.
    Into the clearing where Morkin sat rushed a flurry of debris and flying leaves, yet at the very centre of the glade the air remained unruffled. Suddenly everything grew still. Then, a moment later, a torrent of sharp and icy hail sliced down. The stallion, not waiting for command from its master, started for the shelter of the trees but before they reached the edge of the clearing a single brighttongue of blue fire licked down from the tormented sky and seared into the ground before them. The stallion reared, throwing Morkin into the snow, then rushed off into the darkness.
    Stunned and half-blinded, the boy clambered to his feet to go in search of his terrified steed. Once again, the lightning struck down ahead of him, so close that he could feel its heat on his face, feel his skin tingle and tremble as its power crackled through the air about him. Then the storm loosed off bolt after bolt after bolt until the boy was trapped in a circle of raging, incandescent fire. So fierce was the raw power that danced around the boy that his very muscles seized and locked. Helplessly frozen there by the lightning, he could only stare into its blinding blue flame until consciousness fled him.
    Suddenly, the storm relented, the lightning stopped abruptly and the unconscious boy slumped to the ground. Above, the towering clouds simply melted away and the bright stars gleamed in the sky once more. The calm thatfollowed was profound the Forestseemed to hold its breath and wait, as if suspecting that the slightest whisper would bring the terrible tumult raging through it again.
    Morkin lay unmoving, wrapped in strange dreams. A woman stood before him beckoning gently. Somehow he knew he was hopelessly in love with her. As she stood there smiling, radiant in her beauty, he ran towards her open arms yet he seemed to draw no closer. Her deep, crystal eyes mocked him. You must run more swiftly to catch me, my love, she seemed to say, you must run more swiftly.
    As he ran, the ground gave way beneath him and he began to tumble down a dark chasm. The wind rushed swiftly past him and he seemed to fall for hours before he saw a tiny point of light glimmering in the yawning space beneath him. The point grew and grew as he fell until it became a room in to which he was falling from the dark and open sky. Upon a silk-strewn bed lay the woman who had beckoned him, her sheer and perfect beauty now naked to his enraptured eyes. But, as he tumbled, an invisible hand seemed to reach out and slow his downward flight until he hovered above the sleeping figure, almost able to reach out and touch her, but not quite. "So the dream ran on, the woman who had beckoned appearing again and again, each time her beauty more ravishing and voluptuous than before, each time the boy seeming to move inexorably towards her open embrace but never completing that final distance.
    Morkin woke with no memory of the night that had passed. His mind felt blank and numb. A tall stallion nuzzled him as he lay in the cold snow, trees that were high, bare and broken enclosed in but beyond that the boy knew naught. Only a single, urgent thought filled his mind. North, it whispered, North! You must ride swifter than the wind. In a daze, he hauled himself onto the stallion's saddle. He looked around himself bemused, then, shaking off the last shackles of sleep, urged the horse forward. Northward they galloped, and were quickly lost in the deep tangle of trees.

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