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Paul B.Thompson, Tonya ъ.Carter. Darkness and Light
("DragonLance Preludes I" #1).
Darkness & Light
Paul B.Thompson and Tonya ъ.Carter
* * *
Autumn painted Solace in gay colors. Each porch, each window,
was filled with red, orange, and yellow foliage, for the shops and
houses of Solace were nestled among the stout branches of a vale of
vallenwood trees, well above the mossy ground. Here and there were
clearings in the treetown. These were the town's commons, where there
might be a market one week and a traveling carnival the next.
On this bright afternoon three figures stood in a sunlit
clearing -- two men and a woman. Two swords played back and forth,
flashing with fire when the sun's rays caught them. Two figures
circled warily, feinting with sudden flicks of their naked blades. The
third one stood back, watching. The swords scraped together with a
kiss of tempered steel. "Well met!" said Caramon Majere, the onlooker.
"A very neat parry, Sturm!"
The tall young man with the drooping brown mustache grunted a
brief acknowledgment. He was rather busy. His opponent sprang forward,
lunging at his chest. Sturm Brightblade cut hard at the onrushing
point, backpedaling as he swung. It missed him by a scant inch.
Sturm's foe wobbled as she came down off balance, her feet too
"Steady, Kit!" Caramon called. His half-sister recovered with
the practiced grace of a dancer. She brought her heels together with a
smack of boot leather and presented Sturm with only her slim profile
as a target.
"Now, my friend," she said. "I'll show you the skill that comes
from fighting for pay."
Kitiara cut tiny circles in the air with her' sword tip. Once,
twice, three times -- Sturm watched the deadly motion. Caramon
watched, too, open-mouthed. At eighteen, he was the size of a
full-grown man, but he was still a boy inside. The wild and worldly
Kitiara was his idol. She had more drive and dash than any ten men.
From his place, Caramon could see every nick in the edge of
Kitiara's blade, mementoes of hard-fought battle. The flat of the
blade was shiny from frequent and expert polishing. By contrast,
Sturm's sword was so new that the hilt still showed the blue tinge
from the smith's annealing fire.
"Watch your right," said Caramon. Sturm closed his free hand
over the long pommel and awaited Kitiara's attack square on, as a
Solamnic Knight would.
"Hai!" Kitiara whirled on one leg, cleaving the air with an
upward sweep of her sword. Caramon's breath caught as she carried her
swing forward. Sturm did not move. Her sword would complete its arc at
his neck. Caramon shut his eyes -- and heard a solid ring of steel.
Feeling foolish, he opened them again.
Sturm had parried straight across, hilt to hilt, with no finesse
at all. He and Kitiara stayed locked together with their sword points
high. Kitiara's wrists shook. She stepped in and braced her sword arm
with her empty hand. Sturm forced her guard down. Her face paled, then
flushed red. Caramon knew that look. This friendly bout was not going
to her liking, and Kitiara was getting angry.
Vexed, she shifted her stance and strained against Sturm's
greater size and strength. Still her hilt fell. The knobbed quillon of
Sturm's new sword brushed her chin.
With an explosive gasp, Kitiara ceased the struggle. Both sword
points stabbed into the green sod.
"Enough," she said. "I'll buy the ale. I should've known better
than to let you bind up my guard like that! Come on, Sturm. Let's have
a tankard of Otik's best."
"Sounds good to me," he replied. He freed his blade and .
stepped back, breathing heavily. As he moved, Kitiara thrust the flat
of her weapon between his ankles. Sturm's feet tangled, and he
sprawled backward on the grass. His sword flew away, and in the next
instant Kitiara stood over him holding thirty-two inches of steel
poised at his throat.
"Combat is not always a sport," she said. "Keep your eyes open
and your sword firmly in hand, my friend, and you'll live longer."
Sturm looked up the blade at Kitiara's face. Sweat had stuck
dark curls of hair to her forehead, and her naturally dark lips were
pressed firmly together. Slowly they spread in a lopsided smile. She
sheathed her weapon.
"Don't look so downcast! Better a friend knock you down as a
lesson than an enemy cut you down for good." She extended a hand.
"We'd better go before Flint and Tanis drink all of Otik's brew."
Sturm grasped her hand. It was warm and calloused from gauntlets
and sword grips. Kitiara pulled him up until they were nose to nose.
Although a head taller and fifty pounds heavier, Sturm still felt like
a callow youth beside her. But her bright eyes and engaging smile
dispelled his anxiety.
"I see now how you've managed to prosper as a fighter," he said,
stooping to retrieve his sword. He buried the blade in its sheath.
"Thank you for the lesson. Next time I will keep my feet out of
"Later, will you teach me some of your moves, Kit?" asked
Caramon eagerly. He carried a short sword himself, a gift from his
adventurous sister. She'd picked it up on one of her many
battlefields. Flint Fireforge, who knew metalwork as few did, said
that Caramon's sword had been made in southern Qualinesti. Only by
clues such as this did her friends know where Kit's wanderings had
"Why not? I'll tie one hand behind my back to make it fair."
Caramon opened his mouth to retort, but Kitiara clapped a hand over
his lips. "Now, to the inn. If I don't get a draft of ale soon, I'll
When they reached the base of the great vallenwood tree that
supported the Inn of the Last Home, they found their friend Flint
sitting at the bottom of the ramp. The dwarf had a split of kindling
in his massive, knobby hands and was shaving off hair-thin slices with
a single-edged knife.
"Well, you came back with your skin whole," said Flint, eyeing
Sturm. "I half-expected to see you carrying your head under your arm."
"Your confidence in me is enormous," the young man replied
sourly. Kitiara halted and draped an arm across Caramon's broad
"Better watch yourself, old dwarf. Our Master Sturm has an
uncommonly strong arm. Once he learns not to hold to outdated knightly
"Honor is never outdated," said Sturm.
"Which is how you landed flat on your back with my sword at your
neck. If you would --"
"Don't start!" groaned Caramon. "If I have to hear another
debate on honor, I'll die of boredom!"
"I won't argue," Kitiara said, slapping her brother on the rump.
"I made my point."
"Come with us, Flint. Kit's buying," said Caramon. The elderly
dwarf rose on his stumpy legs, sweeping a cascade of white wood
slivers off his lap. He straightened his clothing and tucked his knife
back in his leggings.
"No ale for you," Kitiara said to Caramon with mockmaternal
sternness. 'You're not old enough to drink." Caramon ducked under her
arm, sprinted up to Sturm, and said, "I'm eighteen, Kit."
Kitiara's face showed surprise. "Eighteen? Are you sure?" Her
'little' brother was an inch or so taller than Sturm.
Caramon gave her a disgusted look. "Of course I'm sure. You just
haven't noticed that I'm a grown man."
'You're a baby!" Kitiara cried, whipping out her sword.
"Any more out of you and I'll spank you!"
"Ha!" Caramon laughed 'You can't catch me!" So saying, he dashed
up the stairs. Kitiara returned her sword and bounded after him.
Caramon's long legs covered the steep boards quickly. Laughing,
he and his sister disappeared around the tree trunk.
Flint and Sturm ascended more slowly. A light breeze rustled
through the tree, sending a shower of colored leaves across the steps.
Sturm gazed out through the branches at the other tree homes.
"In a few weeks, you'll be able to see clear to the other side
of the commons," he mused.
"Aye," said Flint. "It's strange not to be on the road right
now. For more years than you've been alive, boy, I've tramped the
roads of Abanasinia from spring to autumn, plying the trade."
Sturm nodded. Flint's announced retirement from his itinerant
metalworking had surprised them all.
"It's all behind me now," Flint said. "Time to put my feet up,
maybe grow some roses." Sturm found the image of the bluff old dwarf
tending a rose garden so unnatural that he shook his head to dispel
At the level platform midway up to the inn proper, Sturm paused
by the railing. Flint went a few steps beyond before halting. He
squinted back at Sturm and said, "What is it, boy? You're about to
burst to tell me something."
Flint didn't miss a thing.
"I'm going away," said Sturm. "To Solamnia. I'm going to look
for my heritage."
"And your father?"
"If there is any trace of him to be found, I shall find it."
"It could be a long journey and a dangerous search," Flint said.
"But I wish I could go with you."
"Never mind." Sturm moved away from the rail. "It's my search."
Sturm and Flint entered the door of the inn just in time to
receive a barrage of apple cores. As they wiped the sticky palp from
their eyes, the room rocked with laughter.
"Who's the rascal responsible?" roared Flint. A gawky young
girl, no more than fourteen, with a head of robust red curls, handed
the outraged dwarf a towel.
"Otik pressed some new cider, and they had to have the
leavings," she said apologetically.
Sturm wiped his face. Kitiara and Caramon had collapsed against
the bar, giggling like idiots. Behind the bar, Otik, the portly
proprietor of the inn, shook his head.
"This is a first-class inn," he said. "Take your pranks outside,
if you gotta pull'em!"
"Nonsense!" said Kitiara. She slapped a coin on the bar. Caramon
wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and stared. It was a gold
coin, one of the few he'd ever seen.
"That will ease your temper, eh, Otik?" Kitiara said.
A tall, well-favored man stool up from his table and approached
the bar. His motion was oddly graceful, and his high cheekbones and
golden eyes eloquently proclaimed his elven heritage. He picked up the
"What's the matter, Tanis?" Kitiara asked. "Haven't you ever
seen gold before?"
"Not as large a coin as this," Tanis Half-Elven replied. He
flipped it over. "Where was it struck?"
Kitiara lifted her mug from the bar and drank. "I don't know,"
she said. "It's part of my wages. Why do you ask?"
"The inscription is Elvish. I would say it was minted in
Sturm and Flint came over to examine the coin. The deli cate
script was definitely Elvish, Flint said. Far-off Silvanesti had
practically no contact with the rest of Ansalon, and there was much
curiosity as to how an elvish coin managed to drift so far west.
"Plunder," said a voice from the corner of the room.
"What did you say, ъaist?" asked Caramon. In a corner of the
inn's common room a pallid figure could be seen. ъaistlin, Caramon's
twin brother. As usual, he was immersed in the study of a dusty
scroll. He rose and moved toward the group; the colored light
filtering through the inn's stainedglass windows gave his pale skin
"Plunder," he repeated. "ъobbery, rapine, booty."
"We know what the word means," said Flint sharply.
"He means the coin was probably stolen in Silvanesti and later
turned up in the coffers of Kit's mercenary captain," said Tanis.
They passed the coin from hand to hand, turning it around and
feeling the heft of it. More than its crude monetary value, the elven
coin spoke of far-off places and distant, magical people.
"Let me see," said an insistent voice from below the bar. A
small, lean arm thrust between Caramon and Sturm.
"No!" said Otik, taking the coin from Tanis's hand. "When a
kender gets hold of money, you can kiss it a quick good-bye!"
"Tas!" cried Caramon. "I didn't see you come in."
"He was in the room the whole time," Tanis said.
Tasslehoff Burrfoot, like most of his race, was both clever and
diminutive. He could hide in the smallest places, and was known to be
light-fingered -- "curious," as he said.
"Ale all around," said Kitiara, "now that my credit is good."
Otik filled a line of tankards from a massive pitcher, and the friends
retired to the great round table in the center of the room. ъaistlin
took a chair with the others, instead of returning to his scroll.
"Since we are all here," Tanis said, "someone ought to make a
"Here's to Kit, the founder of the feast!" said Caramon, raising
his clay mug of cider.
"Here's to the gold that pays for it," his sister responded.
"Here's to the elves who coined it," offered Flint.
"I'll drink to elves in any form," Kitiara said. She smiled over
her mug at Tanis. A question formed on his lips, but before he could
speak it, Tasslehoff stood on his stool and waved for attention.
"I say we drink to Flint," said Tas. "This is the first year
since the Cataclysm that he won't be on the road."
A chuckle circled the table, and the old dwarf reddened. "You
whelp," he growled. "How old do you think I am?"
"He can't count that high," said ъaistlin.
"Well, I'm a hundred and forty-three, and I can lick any man,
woman, or kender in the place," Flint declared. He thumped a heavy
fist on the table. "Care to test me?" He had no takers. Despite his
age and short stature, Flint was powerfully muscled and a good
They toasted and drank from then on with good cheer, as
afternoon became evening and evening became night. To stave off
tipsiness, one of Otik's large suppers was ordered. Soon the table was
groaning under platters of squab and venison, bread, cheese, and
Otik's famous fried potatoes.
The red-haired girl brought each platter to the diners. At one
point, Caramon put his gnawed chicken bones in her apron pocket. The
girl responded gamely, dropping a hot potato slice down Caramon's
collar. He squirmed out of his chair as the girl skipped back to
"Who the blazes is she?" asked Caramon, wiggling the crispy
potato slice out his shirttail.
"She is in Otik's care," said ъaistlin. "Her name is Tika." The
night passed on. Other patrons came and went. It grew late, and Otik
had Tika light a fork of candles for the friends' table. The merry
banter of the early evening gave way to calmer, more reflective
"I'm going tomorrow," Kitiara announced. By candlelight her
tanned face seemed golden. Tanis studied her and felt all the old
pangs return. She was a most alluring woman.
"Going where?" asked Caramon.
"North, I think," she answered.
"Why north?" Tanis asked.
"ъeasons of my own," she said, but her smile softened the flat
"Can I go with you?" Caramon said.
"No, you can't, brother."
Kitiara, seated between her half-brothers, glanced at ъaistlin.
Caramon's gaze went from her to his twin. Of course. ъaistlin needed
him. Though twins, they were not much alike. Caramon was a genial
young bear, while ъaistlin was a studious wraith. He was frequently
ill and had an uncanny habit of antagonizing large belligerent types.
After the birth of the twins, their mother had never recovered
her strength, so Kitiara had fought for young ъaistlin's health. Now
it was Caramon who watched out for his twin. "I'm leaving, too," put
in Sturm. "North." He glanced at Kitiara.
"Foo," said Tasslehoff. "North is dull. I've been there. Now
east, there's the way to go. There's lots to see in the East --
cities, forests, mountains --"
"Pockets to pick, horses to 'borrow'," said Flint.
The kender stuck out his lower lip. "I can't help it if I'm good
at finding things."
"Someday you'll find from the wrong person, and they'll hang you
"I have to go north," Sturm said. He leaned forward, resting his
chin on his hands. "I'm going back to Solamnia."
They all stared at him. They knew the story of Sturm's exile
from his homeland. Twelve years had passed since the peasants of
Solamnia had risen against the knightly lords. Sturm and his mother
had escaped with only their lives. The knights were still despised in
their own country.
"Could you use a good right arm?" offered Kitiara. Her offer
caught everyone by surprise.
"I wouldn't want you to go out of your way," said Sturm,
"North is north. I've been east and south and west."
"Very well then. I'd be honored to have you with me." Sturm
turned from Kitiara to Tanis. "What about you, Tan?"
Tanis pushed a hunk of bread through the remains of his dinner.
"I've been thinking of doing some travel myself. Nothing specific,
just a trek to see some places I haven't seen. I don't think my
journey will take me north." He looked at Kitiara, but her gaze was
directed at Sturm.
"That's the idea," Tasslehoff said briskly. His right hand
dipped into his fur vest and came out with a flat copper disk. He
rolled the disk over the back of his knuckles. It was an exercise he
sometimes did to keep his fingers nimble. Not that he needed practice.
"Let's go east, Tanis, you and me."
"No." The flat turn-down froze the copper disk midway across the
back of the kender's small hand. "No," said Tanis again, more gently.
"This is a trip I must make alone."
The table was silent again. Then Caramon let out a single great
hiccup, and the laughter returned.
"Pardon me!" said Caramon, reaching for Kitiara's tankard. She
was not fooled. As his hand closed around the pewter stem, she rapped
his wrist with her spoon. Caramon snatched his hand back. "Ouch!" he
"You'll get worse if you try it again," said Kitiara. Caramon
grinned and made a fist.
"Save your energy, brother," ъaistlin said. "You'll need it."
"How so, ъaist?"
"Since everyone has decided to undertake journeys, this seems
like a good time to announce one of my own."
Flint snorted. "You wouldn't last two days on the road."
"Perhaps not." ъaistlin folded his long, tapering fingers.
"Unless my brother goes with me."
"Where and when?" asked Caramon, pleased to be going anywhere.
"I cannot say where just now," ъaistlin said. His pale blue eyes
stared fixedly at his nearly untouched plate of food. "It may be a
long and perilous voyage."
Caramon jumped up. "I'm ready."
"Siddown," Kitiara said, dragging on her brother's vest tail.
Caramon plumped down on his stool.
Flint sighed a great, gusty sigh. "You're all leaving me," he
said. "I'll not go a-tinkering this season, and all my friends are
going their own way He sighed again, so heavily that the rack of
"You old bear," Kitiara