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“For the Word of God is living and
active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the
division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the
thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His
sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we
have to do.” Hebrews 4:12–13 (NASB)
In loving memory of Erica
Prologue: Of Crowns & Quill
Timothy son of Garth looked up to see an ill-favored, pink-headed bird perched
in the tree above him. Eating his lunch of rye bread and cheese, he sat alone
in the whispering wood, having no sisters, brothers or other playmates.
As usual, his father was somewhere
between Beechtown and the Green Sea, poling his raft up the River Foamwater. A
flaxen-haired boy of ten, Timothy wished Garth could spend more time with him,
especially during the summer—a raftsman’s busiest season. Timothy’s mother Nora
took in laundry, scrubbing the soiled tunics of the rollicking bargemen and
raftsmen who stopped in Beechtown to test their landlegs.
Timothy whiled away many an idle
June afternoon in the forests above Beechtown hunting squirrels and pheasants
or spying on stoats and badgers, salamanders and snakes. Still hungry after his
meager meal, he picked a few wild strawberries, popping the sweet, fragrant
fruits into his mouth.
As the ruff-necked bird raucously
croaked again, Timothy saw it was a vulture. The carrion eater was tugging and
pecking at something, no doubt a poor dead thing stuck in the tree. Then
Timothy’s keen eye caught a metallic luster—perhaps the point of a huntsman’s arrow
lodged in a limb. He had often seen crows carry off coins and other shiny
objects with which to brighten their drab, untidy nests—but never vultures.
Failing to pilfer the pretty, the bird squawked and flew away.
Timothy smiled. Such a lot of fuss
over a snippet of steel! Just then, a wind gust waded through the foliage,
caressing the polished leaves into rustling curls and setting the “arrowhead”
to twirling and flashing. Timothy wished he could view the mysterious object
through a starglass, such as riverboat captains often used. He sighed and made
a face. Owning a starglass was out of the question; one of those long tubes
with their glass lenses would cost his father a month’s wages. If he wanted to
see what had so attracted the vulture, he’d have to climb the tree.
Ten minutes later, moss-grimed and
well winded, Timothy had reached a gnarled limb halfway up the tortoiseshell
trunk. Crawling out on the branch, he found a black satchel, its strap caught
on a couple of crooked twigs. Sunlight glinted off a metal clasp securing a
wide flap to the case’s front.
Timothy gave a low whistle. Some
wily highwayman—maybe Bartholomew the Bold himself—must have flung the satchel
into this tree while fleeing a sheriff’s posse, intending to retrieve his loot
later. “Catcher, keeper, thief’s a weeper,” Timothy chortled. Whatever was
inside, it now belonged to him.
Freeing the tangled strap, he
hefted the grimy satchel, which looked as though it had hung in the tree for
quite a spell. Though heavy, the case didn’t rattle or clink the way a pouch of
gold and jewels would. When the rusted catch refused to open, he looped the
strap around his neck, wriggled back down the tree and set off for home,
clutching the case to his chest.
After crossing the Beechtown
bridge, he ducked into an alley to avoid notice—but not quickly enough. Someone
had been waiting for him. “Hey! It’s Garth the River-Rover’s brat!” growled
Baglot son of Baldwyn, the brash town bully. “I thought I told you never to
show your ugly mug around here again!”
As Timothy broke into a run, Baglot
and his gang gave chase, catcalling, “Tim-my boy, the tin-ker’s son, watch him
run, O what fun! Tim-my boy, the tinker’s son, go hide in your hole by the
Whizzz! A stone
sailed over Timothy’s head. Another struck him in the thigh. He vaulted a fence and
hopped into a drainage ditch, where he crouched among some cattails.
When the hoots and cries had died
away, Timothy crept out of the ditch and limped along the riverbank to his
parents’ thatched hut. Beside it sat his father’s ramshackle shed. Inside the
shed, broken furniture, warped wagon wheels and pitted pieces of iron littered
the floor. In his spare time, Garth repaired and sold cast-off odds and ends to
help his family eke out a living.
After rubbing away his tears and
catching his breath, Timothy set the satchel on Garth’s workbench, noting a
peculiar emblem embossed on the side. Arranged in a crowned “W,” a gold circlet
and four quill pens rested on an open-book design.
Convinced the symbol must be the
mark of royalty or nobility, Timothy pried open the latch with a chisel. As he
raised the flap, a musty, furry smell escaped.
“Papers?” he groaned. “All that
work for a bunch of moldy papers!” Stomping out the door with the case, he was
about to fling the whole lot into the river when he realized that the owner
might pay a handsome price for the satchel’s return. Besides, its contents
might make interesting reading. Thanks to his grandmother’s training, Timothy
had already devoured all the books he could lay hands on, and his parents could
ill afford to satisfy his demand for more.
After settling down on the
riverbank, he removed all the stacks of parchments from the satchel. Then he
upended and shook it. Only a frayed quill pen fell out, its hollow tip heavily
scored as if by a knife or file. Squinting at the spidery script squiggling
across the stiff, yellowed papers, Timothy read, “Be it hereby enacted by the
power vested in me . . .”
Grappling with more flowery terms,
he came upon the names, “King Rolin” and “Queen Marlis” penned in bold letters.
His first hunch hadn’t been far from the mark; it seemed he had discovered the
records of a royal court. More references to the king and queen were sprinkled
throughout the following pages.
Then he came to a thick sheaf of
parchments bound with green and purple cords. Across the front, someone had
scrawled the words, “Torsils in Time.” Torsils? Timothy pictured pea-green
lizards with powerful tails and long, forked, flickering tongues. Chewing on a
river grass stem, he read further.
1: The Black Pearls
olin, King of Lucambra whistled as
he hurried down the familiar cobbled path along the bluffs above the Sea of
El-marin. Just before entering a thick pine wood, he paused, thinking he’d
heard footsteps. Putting a long wooden tube to his eye, he perused the empty
trail behind him. Then he focused on a balcony high on the Tower of the Tree,
where a bright-faced woman was waving a white kerchief.
“Goodbye, my queen,” murmured Rolin,
waving back. “I shan’t be long!” Pocketing the starglass, he strode into the
On this fine autumn morning, the
sunlight was slanting through the treetops to caress red-capped pogankas sprouting on the forest floor.
Ordinarily, Rolin would have tarried to admire the striking colors of those
deadly mushrooms. However, he was anxious to take in the last day of
Beechtown’s annual fall market, where he hoped to meet his father, Gannon son
Once among the poorest of
Beechtown’s hill folk, Gannon no longer made his living as a vendor at the
spring and fall markets. Thanks to the rubies and emeralds his son had pocketed
from the sorcerer Felgor’s hoard, Gannon still lived very simply but much more
comfortably. Peddling his prize honey and potatoes was now only a pleasant
Today, Rolin had shed his royal
robes for the homespun jerkin and leggings of a Thalmosian hill dweller, the
better to blend into the crowds of marketgoers. A floppy, broad-brimmed hat
topped off the disguise, hiding his auburn hair.
At length Rolin came to a
mossy-barked tree whose branches spread like many-jointed arms. “Is anybody
home?” he called, tapping on the trunk. He heard only a rumbling rattle in
reply. How trees snored—being noseless and all—was a mystery to Rolin. Rat-tat-a-tat-tat, he rapped
again on the whorled bark.
“Umph, who’s there?” croaked a
creaky voice. Owing to the scent of amenthil blossoms, Lucambrians could
converse with trees and other forest dwellers, a secret they jealously guarded
from their Thalmosian neighbors.
“It’s me, Rolin. Wake up!” Lately,
Lightleaf had been dozing most of the day. After all, he was over four hundred
“Forgive me, my lord,” yawned the
tree. “I was just enjoying the most marvelous dream: It was autumn, the poppies
were blooming, and—”
“It is autumn, you silly torsil!”
Rolin laughed. “You shouldn’t be sleeping away such fine fall weather.”
“Why can’t a tree take a nap without
all the neighbors complaining? Humph. I suppose you want passage.”
“I do—if you don’t mind, that is.”
Lightleaf sighed. “I suppose not,
but only if you promise not to disturb me again until my dream is finished.”
“That could take months!” Rolin
retorted. “I’ll be gone all day, so you can dream away until I return.”
Climbing the tree, Rolin took care not to scuff off any bark. At the top, he
looked back at the tower, its colorful flags and banners waving. Still higher,
a griffin lazily circled in the sky. Any enemy with designs on Queen Marlis or
the Hallowfast would first have to reckon with Ironwing.
Before climbing down, Rolin lightly
rubbed his finger under one of the torsil’s shiny leaves. The tree shivered,
making a sound not unlike a sneeze.
“Whuff!” wheezed Lightleaf. “You
know how I hate being tickled. Stop it at once, or I won’t let you back into
Rolin chuckled, knowing the tree
was only bluffing. Like most torsils, Lightleaf could be touchy—even
cantankerous. However, the tree had never refused him passage. It helped that
Rolin always avoided breaking any of his friend’s branches.
“Touch the top, then drop,” he told
himself, repeating the rhyme all Lucambrian children learned when they were old
enough to climb trees. Though Thalmosian by birth, Rolin was half Lucambrian
and had learned the first rule of torsil travel: If you didn’t climb all the
way to the top of a tree of passage before starting down again, you wouldn’t go
anywhere at all. You might as well have climbed a cherry or an alder for all
After a moment’s dizziness and
tingling—the only side effects of making passage—Rolin alit on Thalmosian soil.
Though he’d often traveled between the two worlds, the abrupt change of scenery
was still unsettling. Gone were the bright-needled pines and high sandstone
cliffs overlooking the Sea of El-marin. In their place stood a stolid fir
forest marching down from the Tartellans’ craggy, snow-clad peaks, now flushed
pink with the dawn.
Rolin bade Lightleaf farewell and
made off down the mountainside. Following paths known only to him and a few
trusted Lucambrian scouts, he came at last to the River Foamwater.
Melting into the crowd crossing the
new Beechtown bridge, Rolin fell in behind a boy and girl accompanying a lanky
“Greencloak,” as Lucambrians were called in Thalmos. He couldn’t help
overhearing their conversation.
“Thank you, Father, for letting me
join you and Sylvie today,” the boy bubbled, his mop of hazel hair bouncing
with each step.
“I did promise you a visit to the
market before your thirteenth birthday,” sighed the long-legged man, whom Rolin
recognized as a Lucambrian woodcarver named Gaflin son of Hargyll. Rolin
guessed the lumpy bag he carried contained wooden bowls, cups, spoons and
trinkets for sale. “Since it’s the final day of the market, you might find some
rare bargains, if you’re lucky.”
“Oh, I hope so,” beamed the boy.
“Say, what are all these yeg statues on the bridge? They’re awfully ugly.”
His sister rolled her eyes. “Oh,
Arvin. Don’t you know anything? King Rolin petrified those batwolves in the
Battle of Beechtown. So many fell into the Foamwater that they dammed up the
river and made this bridge.”
“Lifelike, aren’t they?” remarked
Gaflin, running his fingers over a stone yeg’s razor-edge teeth. “I’m glad we
cleaned these cursed creatures out of Lucambra.”
Arvin pointed out some snarling statues
standing by a shop entrance. “Then why do people keep them by their doors?”
Gaflin snorted. “They’re supposed
to scare other yegs away. They don’t, of course. Even the birds pay them no
mind. See? There’s a nest on that one.”
Arvin gestured at two more statues
flanking another doorway. “What about those? They don’t look like the others.”
“That’s because they’re man-made,”
his father replied. “When the Thalmosians ran out of whole petrified batwolves
to guard their homes, they started carving their own. If you ask me, they’re
even uglier than the real thing.”
Rolin grimaced. Gargoyles, the townspeople called their grotesque
sculptures, evidently a corruption of the Lucambrian word, “yeggoroth.”
“I only hope your starglass peddler
won’t drive you too hard a bargain,” Gaflin was saying to Arvin. “Most of his
kind are cheats and ne’er-do-wells. Have you enough gilders for the thing?”
The boy held up a leather sack. “I
don’t need any money to buy my starglass. I’ll just trade for it.”
“I’m sure any peddler would love to
have one of your frogs,” sneered
Sylvie. “Or did you steal Mother’s rings to barter with?”
“They’re not frogs or rings, and I
didn’t steal them; I found—” Arvin began. He broke off, the back of his neck
His fair-haired sister pawed at the
pouch with greedy fingers. “So there is something valuable in this bag of
yours! Come on, open it; I want to see what’s inside.”
Arvin pressed the sack to his
chest. “Stay away from me!”
“I don’t care what you’ve got in
there,” Gaflin said. “Just be sure to find me once you have your starglass.
Remember: Not a word about the torsils! These potato eaters are a crafty lot.”
Rolin chuckled. Since becoming
king, he had encouraged his people to trade freely with the “potato eaters,”
who differed from Lucambrians mainly in their broader stature, more boisterous
ways and eye color. (Lucambrians’ eyes were a deep green.) Lucambrians also
lived much longer than their neighbors.
Visiting Beechtown was not without
its risks. Some nosy potato eater might trail a Greencloak back to a torsil,
and that would be the end of tranquil Lucambra. A flood of Thalmosians would
surely follow, unless the Lucambrians cut down all the torsils leading to their
sister world—an unthinkable act.
“There he is!” cried Arvin, darting
away. Curious to see how the boy would fare with the starglass peddler, Rolin
followed. Like as not, a sadder and wiser Arvin would come away from the market
The wizened starglass peddler and
his stall had been fixtures at the spring and fall markets longer than Rolin
could remember. Nobody knew where the old codger lived, but everyone knew what
he did: He sold the magical tubes, and nothing else. Not horses or hogs,
baskets or beads, hammers or harnesses—just starglasses, and everybody wanted
As Rolin pushed his way through the
milling marketgoers, he noticed a squat bulldog of a man talking to Arvin.
“Whatcha got in yer pouch, boy?” The stranger reached for the sack.
Arvin recoiled from the man’s hairy
Rolin wedged his body between Arvin
and the pickpocket. “Begone, ruffian, or I’ll have you thrown in irons!” he
The thug brandished a long knife.
“If it’s trouble ye’re wantin’, I’ll give ye plenty!” he snarled, showing a
mouthful of broken, discolored teeth.
starglass struck the thief’s hand, knocking the knife away. Muttering a stream of oaths,
the man slunk off.
“Fawnk you, fine fur!” mumbled
Arvin, whose bobbing head reminded Rolin of a spring-necked doll’s. His bulging
cheeks wobbled like a fat dowager’s.
“What did you say?” Rolin asked.
The left bulge disappeared, only to
bolster the right one. “I said, ‘Thank you, kind sir!’”
Rolin burst into laughter at the
sight of Arvin’s lopsided face. “Whatever have you got in your mouth?”
“My pearlf,” he replied with a
guilty look. “I almoft fwallowed vem!”
Rolin grinned in sudden
understanding. Arvin had scooped the pouch’s contents into his mouth, the
better to hide them from the bulldog. Now, where had the son of a Lucambrian
woodcarver gotten a mouthful of pearls?
“Might ye be lookin’ for one o’ these?” quavered a dry, cobbly voice.
There stood a shriveled prune of a man dressed in a baggy black jerkin and
breeches, his beak-nosed, weathered face wreathed in a toothless grin. Loose
pink skin ringed his scrawny neck in wrinkled folds. In his clawlike hands, he
held a wooden starglass elaborately inlaid with silver stars and a gold moon.
“Yeth. Pleeth,” Arvin lisped
through his pearls.
Rolin frowned. The peddler looked
different. For one thing, the starglass hawker he remembered had brown eyes,
not these light-licking, coal-deep pits in a fawning, pockmarked face.
The old man must have noticed his
gaze, for he winked and cackled, “I look just like the man in the moon, don’t
ye think? Ye can see for yerself through my starglasses. They’re fifteen
gilders this year.” He nodded at the wheeled stall behind him, where rows of
glittering starglasses stood at attention along worn wooden shelves. Seeing
Arvin’s despairing look, he hastened to add, “But for a young feller like you,
I’ll make ’er ten.”
“Oi dot haf amy momey,” Arvin
mumbled, evidently trying to dislodge a pearl from under his tongue.
The peddler clenched his fists. “Er
ye playin’ games wi’ me, boy? If ye er, I’ll—” He broke off as Rolin shot him a
Arvin shook his head until the
pearls in his mouth rattled.
“Then give me yer money, an’ stop
makin’ a dumb show!”
Grimacing, Arvin spat out five
jet-black pearls into his cupped hands. At the sight of the marble-sized
spheres, the peddler’s eyes bulged. Then he gripped Arvin’s arm with bony
“Come back here with me, boy,” he
hissed, drawing Arvin behind the display table. “Even if ye haven’t the usual
fee, those five will buy ye the best I got—this ’un here.” Unlocking an oaken
cupboard, the hawker drew out the most exquisite starglass Rolin had ever seen.
Fully a foot longer than its fellows, it was encased in gleaming silver and
embellished with intricate eye designs.
The peddler held up a leather
canister with a sturdy strap. “Comes wi’ its own case, too. Does it please yer
fancy, young sir?” The old man licked his lips, his greedy gaze wavering
between Arvin and Rolin.
“Yes, very much,” Arvin said,
putting the starglass to his eye.
The peddler thrust his hand in
front of the eyepiece. “No! Ye mustn’t look through it yet.”
Scowling, Arvin lowered the tube.
“Ah, the light down here is poor so early in th’ morning. Ye should wait
awhile—say, an hour or so, until ye get home. The light’ll be better then.”
Arvin nodded and grudgingly slipped
the starglass into its case. After dropping his payment into the peddler’s
outstretched palm, he left Rolin to puzzle over the five black pearls.
The rarest of all gems, black
pearls were found only in the El-marin’s southern waters. Even one was worth a
king’s ransom—and Rolin had never seen such perfect specimens. They reminded
him of the peddler’s fathomless, ebony eyes.
Convinced the boy had gotten the
worst of the bargain, Rolin feigned an interest in some wicker baskets while
watching the starglass peddler out of the corner of his eye. Though curious
shoppers were still crowding around, the old man swept up his wares and climbed
into the cramped confines of the rambling, rickety stall. As soon as the hinged
doors had scraped shut, Rolin ambled over to press his ear against the
The peddler’s raspy voice carried
through the thin wooden wall. “I’d nearly given up hope, my pretty pets! But we
knew he’d come along one day, didn’t we? Now we’ll be free of this stinking
town. No more selling starglasses to grubby, half-witted street urchins and
bumbling country bumpkins! Since we’ve done his
bidding, we’ll be rid of him and his confounded riddle, too!
Of all the fish that are in the
You must hook the one without the
For in its mouth, it carries the
To purchase the power to mesmerize.
“I’d say we’ve found our ‘fish,’”
the starglass vendor chortled. “It won’t be long before he takes the bait—and
he’ll be only the first of many. Let’s hope he crosses over before using it.”
Rolin heard a ‘bang,’ and a hatch
flew open in the top of the stall. “Fly, fly, to the five corners of the sky!”
the peddler cried. With strangled croaks and a flurry of wings, five coal-black
ravens flew out to scatter over Beechtown.
About the Author:
Having spent most of his teenage years vicariously adventuring in Middle Earth, the author is an avid fantasy fan. His first fantasy title, "The King of the Trees," came out in 1998 (first edition). While still in high school, he began his writing career editing his father's popular identification guides, "Edible and Poisonous Plants of the Western/Eastern States." As an Assistant Professor in the Special Education Department at Western Oregon University, he served as a successful grant-writer and program coordinator.
Burt holds a B.S. in English from Lewis and Clark College and an M.S. from Western Oregon University in Deaf Education. He is an RID-certified sign-language interpreter with over 40 years' experience. His interests include reading, foreign languages and mycology. He is married with two grown children.