The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Fifteen: Le
It was an entirely
different Eldron that sat at the head of the Council table. His eyes were
clear, now, and
his gaze steady. Somehow, the dignity of his bearing made the wreckage of his surroundings
a fitting setting for the noblest Elf of Midgarde. Despite the raging fury of the Ring
upon his finger, he had roused himself in one final mighty effort to meet his end as befit
a great warrior and wise councilor.
He beckoned to Sara, "Come closer, child
from the heavens. I do deeply regret that I have not come to know you better since your
arrival. I have been occupied, as you know."
"Uh, no problem,
sir," she said, almost shyly, approaching him with her
hands clasped behind her back.
He smiled warmly at
her, "It is fitting that you should call me
Eldron. We are closely bound together now by destiny and burden."
"Thank you, Eldron. I'm Sara," she
She looked carefully
at him, with obvious concern, and asked, "Are you all right?"
"For the moment. But a moment shall
suffice. I know of your duty and I am ready."
"Well, I'm not exactly sure that I
am. Gundolf has been telling me all kinds of things about the Rings and stuff, but I think
he left a lot out."
"It is the way of
Wizards, I fear. Their
vision is full of ambiguous portents and vague prophecies. Even now, he fights constantly
to keep some parts of his mind hidden from Soraun's far-ranging
Eye. Perhaps he fears
that making his intent clear to you will reveal too much to our Enemy."
"Sure, that makes sense, I guess. But what
am I supposed to do now? I can't just -- there's no way I can...
What...? Just... Just kill you? Vaporize you or whatever? It's something I'm
not ready for. I like you people. I feel I know you so well just from the books, and even
more so now that I've been here. Especially old Gundolf. I mean, I don't want to
let anybody down or anything, but it's just not right. It's not my style.
I... I don't think I can do it."
Eldron looked with sympathy on the sorely
troubled girl and reached out to comfort her. "I know this must be hard for you.
Sometimes, though, a great sacrifice must be made to prevent a greater evil. We do not
always choose to bear such burdens, but as fate calls us, we must do what is necessary
whatever the cost."
His calm and stoic presence encouraged her. She
finally stood resolutely before him and announced, very softly, "I am ready. What do
"I was called 'the Wise' before
our recent calamity proved otherwise. For so the races of this world thought of me. By
this it was meant that my intellect was my greatest strength. You shall challenge me on
the basis of this vaunted intelligence and thereby claim the spoils of your victory. I
warn you, I will not go lightly, for the Ring will compel me to make my utmost
"OK," said Sara doubtfully,
"what do you have in mind?"
"I am given to understand through
Gundolf's otherworldly research that there exists identically on nearly every plane a
certain game that constitutes a perfect contest of minds. I am assured that the
inhabitants of your planet know as well as those of our Midgarde
the game called chess. Do you play?"
"Chess?" She was
astonished. "Oh, sure. The Russians taught me."
"Excellent," he said. "I can think of no more
fitting arena for my final battle. I pray that you will not
dishonor me with anything less than the maximum effort of which
-- as I understand -- you are quite capable."
"Are you serious? I have to beat you at
chess to get the Ring? And... But, you're playing for
your life. Only... You don't want to keep it..."
she trailed off uncertainly.
"Pawn to queen four," began
determinedly and without hesitation.
serious," she said wonderingly. What else could she do but
accede to what amounted to his dying wish. For she could see all
too plainly that he couldn't maintain his dearly-bought lucidity
for much longer, and the strain was likely to make his
unbearable condition even worse.
said. "Pawn to
And so it began. Eldron
proved to be excellent,
having had the advantage of hundreds of years to perfect his game. It had been a passion
of his shared with other long-lived great minds like Gundolf. He was true to his word
about playing the game of his life -- and what a game it was!
There was power and
subtlety in Eldron's play, as he constructed a masterpiece of
cunning and brilliance. The pawns and pieces flew in the minds
of the contestants like living armies of champions, the ebb and
flow of interlocking movement deploying in complex patterns of
advance and retreat.
In some strange way,
it was like the roundball game of another time and place --
mere flesh refusing to bow before overwhelming technology. His
experience, pride and love of the game were challenged to the
utmost, demanding -- and producing -- the highest expression
of his capabilities. The mere stake of his life and the fate
of Midgarde itself paled in comparison to the joy of ultimate
competition against a truly worthy foe.
But he had no chance of staving off the inevitable.
Sara's computer brain was just too powerful and all-encompassing,
revealing every possible permutation of move and countermove, guiding her unerringly
and irresistibly to final mate. In the end, Eldron was exhausted by the effort, sagging
visibly in his chair.
"You have won," he gasped wearily.
"You have my admiration, my gratitude and my love, Sara of the heavens. I shall now
be free of this agony. For here is your token."
He pulled the Ring of gold with its great blue
stone from his finger and held it out to her. "This is
Valia, the mightiest of the
Three. It passes to you until the end of all things."
fair!" cried Sara.
"You couldn't know you didn't have a chance against this damned alien
technology. I don't want your Ring. Please..."
Eldron smiled, "Oh, but I knew. That is
why they called me 'the Wise'. It is yours now, and I am so happy that it falls
into your hands. Take it with my blessing."
Slowly, reluctantly, she reached out to take it. As she did
so, she could sense the unbearable strain lift from his body like a sigh. In final
slumber, his arm fell and he reposed with the same dignity in death as he had had in life.
was the Lady Gladariel at least temporarily out from underneath her terrible shadow. Her
ageless beauty and grace somehow transformed the tangled patch of weeds, so that now they
seemed befitting of this old Elvish place, like a gardenly tribute to some wild
landscape. The Lady's threadbare rags were brightened and uplifted as well, streaming
about her like clouds of mist and light.
The cold afternoon was giving way to
of perfect stillness. She smiled warmly as Sara approached, took her hand and embraced her as
she would her own long-lost child.
"You have done great service already this
day, Sara from beyond the sky. For dear Eldron, I thank you again, for I loved his gentle
kindness and wisdom. Soon I will join him, along with Gundolf and many others who have
gone before us, in a place to which Soraun cannot come."
"I wish there were some other way, my
Lady. I don't like the idea of bringing death to anybody, no matter what the excuse
"Do not think of it as such. You are our
rescuer, who brings comfort and rest. And takes up a burden we cannot bear."
"I guess so," she said with downcast
eyes. "What do you want me to do?"
"Walk with me awhile. Let me enjoy my last
clear sight of Midgarde. But not too long, for the darkness will not forbear much
Hand in hand, they made a leisurely stroll
across the garden, stopping from time to time to remark on one bravely struggling flower
here or a sturdy vine there. The shadows lengthened inexorably until at last the Lady
stopped and turned toward Sara, holding both her hands.
"It is said I was the fairest dancer in
all the lands of our world," she told the girl. "None could challenge me, for I
had the Gift, and loved to so express myself above all other things. Do you dance, lovely
"A little. Nothing fancy, but sometimes it
makes me happy. Not as well as you, I'm sure."
"We shall see,"
"For this will be my final dance if you can better me." And away she twirled to
some hidden, soundless rhythms.
So splendidly did her slender Elven form spin
and leap, soaring over the hard ground, lightly touching down to spring anew in ever
changing fluid harmonies of motion. Her bending body evoked wordless memories of love and
life, her supple arms gave meaning to nameless emotions, and her springing legs bore
testament to perfection.
"Dance with me, Sara," she called
out. "Come and join my celebration."
"But, you're so beautiful," she
protested. "How can I do this?"
"By being true to your ability. Let go of
your thoughts and hear your own music. Follow me."
Sara followed, matching her steps with all the
precision her computer brain's unconsciously detailed analysis of every kreened movement provided to
automatically direct her own inexhaustible body. They became twins, two dancers moving as
one, ever faster, ever more complex, ever more fantastic.
At last, from memories made in another time and
far away, she heard the music and remembered her airborne dance above the concrete canyons
of another world. On her own now, she soared above the garden, above the hall, above the
watchtowers, and became one with the darkening sky. Swooping and gliding, she
made impossible pirouettes, astonishing spins and breathtaking maneuvers that defied
description, until she heard the sound of the Lady Gladariel
clapping her joy and
appreciation at the sight. Abruptly coming to herself, Sara hastened to touch down lightly
in front of her audience.
"Oh, my Lady! I'm so sorry. I just
got carried away."
"It was wonderful, my skydancing
Sara," she told her, embracing her again. "You gave me such delight and pleasure
that I must thank you. For by so doing, you have bested me."
"What? No!" Sara protested, "I
didn't know! I didn't think... Oh, this is just so horrible.
You can't just..."
"Peace, my darling child. It is a fitting
end for me, and long awaited. I must depart in as great a happiness as I could imagine for
these times. But not before I gladly surrender Nynia to you."
The Lady offered her Elfsilver
Ring with its
single white stone to Sara with a smile. Wretchedly, Sara accepted it, then caught the
slumping Lady and laid her gently down in her sheltering garden.
As she lay in sweet
repose, Gladariel bade Sara, "Leave me here, for this is my last beloved place in
this world. Then go thou, with my blessing, and fail us not, remembering us at the end of
Sara wept as the
When Sara entered the
study, Gundolf seemed unchanged, gloomy as ever and bent down by
some unseen weight. He merely
said, "At last."
Sara was bitter. "I've killed your friends. And my
friends, too, for as long as I've been alive -- and even before, from my love of
"You beheld their
"I beheld their deaths. And that's
enough. To hell with your damned Rings. And your idiotic plans. I don't care if
Soraun takes over your stupid island full of nasty little Elves, either. There's
nothing left anywhere that's worth any more of this."
"Sara, you know what must
"I can't -- I won't kill
you, too. It's not going to happen. As mean and cheerless as you are, you're all
I have left and I won't lose you. I can't even allow you to be harmed. Surely,
you must understand that this was built into me from the ground up as part of my design. I
can't even consider it. I will protect you with every power I have, forever. I have
no choice. You can't change that and I don't want to."
Gundolf considered this for a long moment.
"You seem determined."
"Know you that I am the
chief architect of Midgarde, that it was my designs that brought about
all that has transpired in this age in opposition to the Great Enemy.
And that it was to me that you were sent in the last hour of our need."
"If you indeed unmake my plans against all
that I can do to dissuade you, then I am utterly defeated. Take, therefore, this
"Wait!" shouted Sara.
"You've tricked me! This isn't fair. I don't want your Ring. No!"
"The Ring is yours, take it or not. My
time approaches swiftly."
"OK, wait a minute." Her mind raced
frantically, seeking any way to avoid the crisis. "Look, if you die now, I promise
you I'll just fly off to some decent planet somewhere else and leave your whole
stinking world to rot. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
"I cannot prevent you, and it will soon
matter not at all to me. Goodbye, Sara."
"Dammit! Hold on, hold
right, you've convinced me. You win, I lose. I'll do everything you
"Yes, yes. Just the way you planned
"Then you must still defeat me so that I
may forfeit this Ring to you and die."
"Aaaahhh! I can't..."
"I can! I can! I
"Truly, Sara, you must decide. I am an old
man, and all this commotion will be the death of me."
Sara blinked twice. She saw a smile force the
corners of the old man's mouth to rise.
"That's a joke,"
she said, disbelievingly. "With everything the way it is, you made a
Now, she saw the
Gundolf of old.
Vigorous and full of mirth, warm and laughing, great of heart. He bellowed his laughter
until it boomed back at them from the walls.
"Aye. A Wizard's tricksy joke, full
of deceit and fraught with meaning. A way to face the truth with courage. I have your
promise now, and you must keep it."
Sara just stood with her jaw open. "But
how can I..." She couldn't finish.
"See, now. I am in the final throes of
clarity before my finish, one way or another. If I die not, then will I have no strength
to resist the irresistible might of He who binds my Ring to His. This will be great harm
that you cannot forestall with all your powers as long as this Ring is mine. If you do not
act to wrest it away from me, then you will have defeated me and the Ring is yours. If you
challenge me to claim the Ring, you will either succeed and I die, or you will have undone
my plans and I die. This night I will perish, thankfully, no matter what you do or do
But if you allow the Enemy to take me, you will allow the ultimate harm to befall me. What
makes your alien logic of this?"
Deep within the
computer brain of
Sara, where not even she could go, this reasoning was evaluated. Something seemed to click,
adjusting her fundamental directions to a certain, precise degree. She must accept the
inevitable and protect against the greater harm. She was bonded to his request.
"You're on, Pops," she said, grimly. "What's it
gonna be? Bare knuckles or bazookas, it's all the same to me."
"Then I choose to go down fighting."
He flung his robes behind him, drawing his ancient Elven sword,
Gladringg, with his right
hand. In his left hand, his Wizard's staff grew bright with gathering energy.
"For I am Mytrandur, the warrior of old, and you shall not conquer me so easily. I
shall administer unto you the test of battle as a preparation for those terrible days to
come. For I say truly that ere night falls again, the Dwarves shall cover you with their
"Fight me? No way! Even in your prime and
with your Ring, we both know that you can't really do anything to me."
"Ha!" he laughed, "You should
know by now that I'll not make it so easy for you. I will seek to accomplish my own
destruction and make it your challenge to prevent it. You must defeat me by keeping me
"What...?" she began.
She had no time to protest.
He swept his staff around in a broad arc, fire
leaping forth in its wake, consuming table, priceless scrolls and stone walls alike. With
a crashing roar, the heavily beamed and tiled roof gave way, hurtling flaming fragments
into the room below to carom off of Sara's warding arms like so many raindrops from a
He evaded her sheltering attentions and blasted
his way into the main hall, walls collapsing behind him in an orgy of destruction. Sara
was quick to follow, knocking hurtling blocks aside as she went.
"Eldron, my friend.
I have come to light a fitting pyre," he cried, unleashing a red blast at his
"What are you doing?" shouted Sara
above the din. She swept in front of the ravening bolt of energy as fast as thought, so
that it splashed harmlessly against her -- only to ignite still greater fires
elsewhere in the room.
"Stand aside! This is fit and proper. His
body shall be consumed by my act of love and respect, or by the wolves which close about
us even now. What would you have?"
He unleashed another shot, bouncing it off a
remnant of the ceiling directly onto Eldron's chair, consuming the shriveling body in
seconds. With a great cry, an expanding wall of cold blue energy exploded from the
Wizard's body, causing splintering destruction to everything it touched save the
horrified girl. Almost too late, she again fended cascading wreckage from
head as he scurried through the smoking remains of a wall into the garden.
"My Lady," he cried loudly.
"Here is thy funeral."
Sara screamed as she sought to be everywhere at
once, dousing the burning bracken with her cold, cold breath until her internal supply of
nitrogen ran dry. Gundolf's billowing cascades of flames overwhelmed her efforts, as
she was distracted time and again by the need to shield him from his own wrath.
Soon, the night was uncovered for miles around
as the violent flames cast by Gundolf's waning magic leapt high. In the glow, dire
war-wolves could be seen, racing instinctively to the sounds of destruction. He strode
resolutely to meet them, arms spread wide as if in welcome.
Sara was forced to abandon
body to the flames to meet this new threat. She landed in front of him with the snarling
pack closing quickly to surround them.
Irrationally, she began yelling, "Nice
doggie. Shoo, shoo. Down, boy."
Gundolf laughed again, "That will hardly
deter them. This must be your blooding, else I go to assuage their healthy
She turned and grasped him firmly, making ready
to fly him to safety.
"Nay," he said, "this defeats my
purpose. I have chosen this peril for your testing. Do you admit defeat so easily?"
She looked exasperatedly at him for a moment,
then let him go and spun away. The beasts leaped from all directions.
Gundolf held his
ground serenely. Sara managed to jam every limb she had into a gaping set of slathering
teeth. She frantically flung them howling back into the others, but there were too many,
and she could not surround Gundolf as they could. She began pushing and shoving with
blurring speed, throwing them back nearly as fast as they pressed inward.
"It's no use, Sara,"
Gundolf remarked calmly. "You must accept the fact that you cannot do this without bloodshed,
either theirs or mine. Which shall it be?"
"Why do I have to kill them? They're
just poor animals. I know some have broken bones, but that's not stopping them. Are you
controlling them or something?"
"They are more than the animals of your
experience. They serve the Master of the Ring. Who may have decided that I will serve Him
just as well as a disembodied shade than as a broken-down old
Wizard. They have come for
all here who are living or dead. Knowing this decided my course."
Sara screamed again in frustration, loudly
enough to make the wolves pause briefly, blinking their yellow eyes at the insult to their
sensitive ears. But they were driven inexorably, and leaped with renewed fury.
The sudden fire from Sara's eyes cut them
down all around as she made a swift circle about the Wizard. Some
grievously wounded remains
still refused to cease their attack, until she blasted them again and again, the stench of
burning flesh filling the air.
With the menace ended, she turned at last to
Gundolf, blazing pyre at his back. He was more frail even than when she first saw him,
sagging from his efforts and defeat. His depleted staff crumbled silently to dust. His
ancient sword lay broken at his feet. She carried him gently back to the top of the barrow
away from both flame and carnage.
"The fire will burn longer than I will.
Please see to it that I join my companions, Sara my dear."
"Is this what I am in for? Death following
death, killing Dwarves and Men and other creatures until there is none left but the Dark
Lord to face? I want to build, not destroy. I want to help, not murder. I am not a
warrior. What am I going to do?"
"You will do your best. There is an end to
all things, and you will reach it. I know you are a gentle soul by choice, but we are
given no choices in this age of this world. I did what I had to do to end this era and
prepare you for what is to come. You have earned my thanks, my confidence and my blessing.
Now you must take this."
He was almost too weak to wrest the third Ring
from his bony finger. "This is known as Nyria the Great. It is yours. Remember my
instructions. Fare well, and farewell."
As she took it, his essence departed. There, in
the flickering firelight, she saw some formless shape join two waiting others. They seemed
to bend over her in a kind of benediction before fading away. They were free, she knew,
as she gently lowered Gundolf's fragile remains into the heart of the blaze.
The sky was lightening in the east when the
last embers died. Sara finally stirred and looked to the horizon.
Muriah, she thought. I will be there before the
sunrise. A trail of bitter ashes was dragged into the sky by her wake.
© Patrick Hill, 2000