R. A. Salvatore
Echoes of the Fourth Magic
JEFF DELGIUDICE AWOKE in the stillness of night; perhaps it was the absence of sound itself that had stirred him from his peaceful slumber. For this enchanted valley, Illuma Vale, home of the elves of Ynis Aielle, was rarely silent, full of song and the music of nature: the wind blowing down off the Great Crystal Mountains, singing through the trees and tree houses; the dance of a mountain stream, leaping stones and calling its partings as it flowed through the vale.
Del slipped out of his bed and moved to the window. A quiet blanket of snow lay deep all about Illuma Vale, though the winter season neared its end. Even from this vantage point, in the dim light of night, Del could feel the enchantment of the place, the magic of the elves, and though he was troubled, that magic did find a tiny corner of his heart, bringing some measure of comfort and warmth.
He knew that he would not be able to find sleep again this night. Every night he awoke, or couldn’t get to sleep at all, his anxiety building as winter’s grip lessened. Soon the mountain trails would be open again, back to Avalon.
How many months had it been since he had walked the wondrous paths of that blessed forest? Since he had heard the song of the Emerald Witch, the mysteries of the melody sweeping through him like the veils of a gossamer gown? After the Battle of Mountaingate, the worst day of Jeffrey DelGiudice’s life, he had tried vainly to find his way back into the enchanted forest, even going so far as to travel around the Southern Crystal Mountains to seek a different route.
But Brielle, with her confusing magic, had shut him out.
Del had sought out the rangers, pleading with them to guide him into the wood. But, alas, they had no answers for him.
Summer turned to autumn, autumn to winter. And the snows had forced Del from Mountaingate, back to Illuma Vale, and had then shut the trails behind him.
Still, Del should have enjoyed these times. The scars of the battle were fading and the elves had returned to their dance and merriment. The harsh winter could not daunt their eternal play, and now, with the season turning again and the coronation of the new King of Pallendara fast approaching, their joy seemed tenfold.
But an awkward perception, the feeling that he was trapped in a land where he did not belong, had grown like a cancer within Del. He could not escape the fact that he was from a different world, a long lost world, one of ambition and responsibility, and though he had always rebelled against those aspects of his society, the tendencies of his former life were painted indelibly on his mind. For all that he might agree with them in principle, the trivial frolicking of the elves did not satisfy his needs.
And his restlessness, he feared, might bring his dangerous knowledge crashing down on this innocent world.
His depression had only deepened with the wintry season. A beard now adorned his face; he wouldn’t be bothered with shaving, and he rarely left his room, for interaction with the elves only reminded him that he was not of this place called Aielle, was not, for all his desires, kindred spirit to the new world he and his companions had found on their emergence from the sea.
He dressed and moved to Billy Shank’s room and could not help but smile at the contented snores of his friend. Billy had grown to be at home here. His friendship with the daughter of the lord of the elven people had blossomed into something more, something wonderful.
Del thought of the upcoming coronation in the southland, and of the bond that would strengthen between the races, human and elf, and he smiled again. He and his companions had found this new world in turmoil, and despite all, had indeed done some good. “Bear witness for me,” he whispered into Billy’s ear, and he left the grand house.
Bordering on desperation, he made his careful way up the invisible stair to Brisen-ballas, seeking Ardaz, the one man who might understand his troubles.
But the wizard was nowhere to be found.
So Del wandered under the crisp, star-bright skies of winter’s last night. He could not deny the truth of his fears and his feelings, yet he could not escape who he was, the conditioning implanted upon his heart and soul by the years of growing up in a far different world.
He thought back across those centuries as he drifted aimlessly about the elven valley, considered again the amazing course that had brought him to this special place, a winding path that had traded technology for magic, pragmatism for mysticism, humanism for spirituality.
What a wonderful journey indeed! Del only wished that it had led him to a better place within himself…
The Passage of the Unicorn
THE UNICORN RAN deep, ran smooth, gliding with the ease of an eagle on wing. But no hunter this; she was a ship of peace, the pride of the National Undersea Exploration Team, NUSET, pelagic counterpart of NASA, and the one, soon after the turn of the second millennium, to garner more of the government funding. The disaster at the space station, with seven astronauts dead, a shuttle and the multi-billion dollar station lost, had curtailed NASA’s budget tremendously and dampened the nation’s taste for space exploration.
But scientists had found it easier to sell the public on exploration of the seas, the last great unexplored expanse on the planet. Particularly after yet another disastrous El Nino year, with the warm Pacific water brewing a long series of disastrous storms sweeping across the continental United States; public opinion rang out favorably for the fledgling NUSET.
And the Unicorn was the result. Every member of NUSET looked upon her with satisfaction and deep respect, for this submarine was the epitome of technological achievement. More than that, in accordance with the legend of her mythical namesake, the Unicorn had become a symbol of hope for the future of mankind amidst the constant threat of technological annihilation. For NUSET was an organization openly and honestly dedicated to the peaceful application of science. Any nation, friend or foe, could, for a modest fee, sign on to share in the wealth of information the project meant to collect. Any nation. And that, more than anything else, was the true victory of the Unicorn.
More than five miles of water now separated this splendid example of the new generation of submarine from the sunlit surface. All was dark here and quiet, save the gentle hum of the ship’s engines and the ping-poc of the hull-insulator hydraulic system beating back the tremendous ocean pressure. Powerful searchlights cut a swath of illumination through the lightless waters as this lone sphere of civilization prowled the Atlantic’s depths.
On the surface she had bobbed nervously about, each swell threatening to spin her over, but in this watery environ, she swam swiftly and effortlessly. Here she was made to be at home, graceful and swift, and yet for all of her detailed and near-perfect designs, here she remained a stranger.
Morning sparkled in bright reflections on the glassy surface, but this depth knew only night. So began the Unicorn’s thirty-second day out of Woods Hole, her first without a dawn. Down she had gone. Down from the curious Russian trawler; from the humming propellor of a private plane-suspected of being a spy plane out from Cuba; from the beating of the Navy helicopter’s gigantic blades. Down from the clamor of a mechanical world, deeper than any hint of the sun could reach, deeper even than the fish dared swim.
Jeff DelGiudice lay back on a weight-lifting bench and clasped the metal bar. “Five miles up and a thousand across,” he mumbled, his thoughts inevitably drifting back to Woods Hole and Cape Cod and the woman he had left behind. Again, as always, he found himself examining his relationship with Debby, trying to find some answers to his unresolved emotions. He cared for her-deeply-and he could admit that to himself openly. Yet, though he was afraid to admit it, their love wasn’t the passionate desire that he had fantasized about. That special spark, the tingling excitement that brightened even the blackest moods, simply wasn’t there. Ever the resigned pragmatist, though, Del wasn’t sure it could be there. He and Debby were as content as they could be, he supposed; for the realities of his world, the constant little pressures and petty headaches, had dulled his ability to hope. In truth, Del doubted the existence of ideal romantic love. That was the substance of a poet’s pen, not the reality of the world.