If anyone is interested in the new, improved Prologue to the book, I am posting it here. It's too long to put up on Writing Moms.
The Golden Gryphon
A new moon hung low over the shoulders of the mountains as two figures sat huddled in a crevice, sheltered by a stand of aspens that rattled their branches in the chill wind. They were hamen, of the race of the Hanorja, the mysterious, part-magical folk that dwelt in the foothills of the Dagger Mountains. Some said they were akin to men, and some to elves, and some said neither at all. They themselves knew only that they were Hanorja, and that their ancestors had come over the mountains in ages past.
The two were hooded and cloaked, and had drawn themselves up to a dark fire. One was taller and broader of shoulder; he stared into the purple flames with his head bowed, as if a great weight were upon him. The other was shorter, leaner and had propped his back against a rock with a quiet watchfulness, mouthing an unlit pipe. He was Faldur, a captain of the King’s Rangers that patrolled the mountain border. His companion was Prince Melbrinor, eldest son of King Elmoran and Faldur’s closest friend.
They had been following another haman into the mountains, a lord protector, or Delfenward, called Chalmeth, whom they suspected of plotting against the King. He had led them to Blackpool – an opening in the rocks into which a waterfall poured with thundering force. At the edge of this pool, Chalmeth’s trail had stopped; it was as if he had vanished along with the water.
Faldur and Melbrinor could see a cave behind the waterfall, but it was protected by the relentless onslaught of the falling water, and there was no other entrance anywhere on the mountainside. They had assured themselves of this in the course of a long, discouraging day spent examining every foot of the surrounding rocks, and had finally sought shelter in a cleft a short distance below the falls. The roar of the water was not so deafening here, though it still mocked them.
“He can’t have possibly entered that cave, so where is he?” asked the Prince in a low voice.
Faldur stretched his well-worn boots to the fire. The soles were getting thin in places; he could feel the hot spots on the bottom of his feet. “Perhaps he sprouted wings and flew away.”
“Or perhaps he was taken. An eagle?” said Mel without conviction.
Faldur shook his head. “No blood.”
“Perhaps he fell in.”
“We wouldn’t be that lucky.”
The Prince and the Captain fell silent as the wind shook the trees, and both pulled their cloaks more tightly around themselves. They had come up on foot, leaving their mounts with the rest of the patrol at the base of the mountain. Faldur was tired and his thoughts drifted to a warm bed and hot food. They were not too far from Glenhym Castle; once this mess was sorted out, he and his men could stop there for a few days, and he would see Marenya again. Marenya, with her slim, capable hands, and eyes the color of the evening sky.
With an effort, he pulled himself back to the present. He closed his eyes and relaxed his mind, thinking of everything and nothing. The sound of the waterfall filled his consciousness. The only thing that stood in the way was the water.
Water that disappeared.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes. “The water isn’t there!”
“What?” Mel looked up, his eyes gleaming purple in the reflected firelight.
“What can you see from the top of the falls?”
“Nothing, it’s blocked by a ledge,” the Prince replied.
“So where does it come from?”
“The snows above. Presumably.”
“And where does it go?”
“Into the earth.”
“And disappears!” Faldur jabbed his pipe in the air.
“You think it’s magic.”
“Protecting the cave, yes. Chalmeth’s trail leads right up to the edge and disappears. There is a ledge around the side of the pool that could easily be used to enter the cave - if the water wasn’t there.”
“But it is there,” said Mel. “We can hear it, we can see it, we can feel the spray. It would take a very powerful magic to create such an illusion.”
“There was very powerful magic in these mountains, not too long ago.” Faldur paused, then said more softly, “And Chalmeth is not the first Hanor to disappear.”
The Prince was quiet for a long moment. “You think that this cave could be the way that Raynor went?”
“I don’t know. I only know that Chalmeth disappeared. Perhaps the water can be stopped somehow.”
Mel shook his head. “Even Raynor could not have done so. I am sure that I could not, and I have studied much longer than he did.”
“Then it is an illusion. I am sure of it. The water isn’t really there.” Faldur rose to his feet. “Let me test my idea. I am willing to risk it.”
“Very well,” said Mel, rising also. “But I insist that you let me tie a rope around you. I can ill afford to lose a captain just now.”
“And I can ill afford to be lost.”
With a wave of his hand and a whispered command, Mel extinguished the fire. He produced a rope from his pack and slung it over his shoulder. Silently, the two hamen crept from the crevice and climbed up the rocks to the base of the waterfall. The roaring of the water pounded in their ears. Faldur’s eyes moved up the black wall to the shadowed ledge above them from which the water issued, glinting silver in the weak light of the sickle moon. He removed his boots and cloak, putting them carefully aside.
Mel raised his hand and an apple-sized orb of light floated up from it to rest a few feet from their heads. “This is not work for the dark,” he said, nodding at Faldur and tossing him the rope.
Faldur fastened it tightly around his waist. He focused his gaze on the rim of the pool, which curved back into the cave as if carved by the falling water. It was slick but solid and flat, about two feet wide. He took a long, slow breath, released it, and stepped onto the rim.
The rock was as slick as it looked. He walked carefully, feeling the cold wetness on the soles of his feet. He went forward until the wall of water was directly in front of him. He stretched out his hand, hoping that it would pass right through.
It did not.
The force of the flow grabbed his arm and thrust it downward. Losing his balance, Faldur fell into the pool and was immediately sucked towards the bottom. It was icy cold, piercing him like needles. He held his breath and focused on finding the surface again, beating with all his strength against the current that pressed on his head and shoulders, forcing him further under. The rope around his waist tightened; Mel was pulling him up. Faldur felt as if he would be torn apart at the middle as the rope caught his ribcage. He felt rock beneath his feet and kicked off of it sideways as hard as he could, out of the flow of the downward current. It worked; he could feel himself moving slowly upward.
Then his shoulder collided against the rocks at the side of the pool. Reeling with pain, he scrambled to hold onto them and climb up again. His lungs were burning; he needed air. The current was still drawing him down and he lost his hold. Scrambling, he couldn’t find the rocks again. He was starting to lose the feeling in his arms and legs. He opened his eyes, looking for the light at the surface but couldn’t see it. He felt a roaring in his veins. Kicking with the last of his strength, he felt for the rocks again, this time groping them with the tips of his fingers.
And then the current suddenly stopped. The falls were silent and the water drained away beneath him with a loud gurgling that echoed eerily in the chamber beyond.
“Hold on!” Mel shouted. Faldur gasped and shivered, breathing deep, ragged breaths. He felt the rope hauling him upwards, and with a great effort he climbed up the slippery rocks to the rim. Finally, he felt Mel’s hand clasp his wrist and scrambled over the edge. Mel threw his discarded cloak around him and Faldur curled up into it, shivering violently.
“Thank you,” he whispered hoarsely, when he could speak.
“The water stopped by itself,” Mel replied.
Before Faldur could answer, they both heard the sound of murmured voices approaching them from inside the cave. Immediately, Mel reached up and caught the light he had made, extinguishing it. They crouched down in the shadows near the rocks where Faldur had climbed out. Faldur sensed rather than felt something like a fine gauze fall over them; the prince had cast a hiding spell. The blood was starting to flow again in his limbs. The pain was excruciating and he wanted to cry out.
Instead, Faldur closed his eyes and turned inward, searching for the calm, bright center of his being. Before he found it, however, he felt a golden warmth spreading through him, starting at his chest and filling his entire body as the pain left him. Mel had placed a hand on his heart and restored him more quickly than he could have restored himself. It was one of the gifts of the Hanorja, magnified by the blood inheritance and training of the King’s son.
Faldur opened his eyes and strained to see inside the cave as the footsteps and voices drew nearer. Soon, two figures emerged from the darkness. They were unrecognizable from this distance, but their voices echoed weirdly in the dripping cavern. One carried a crystal lantern in which a white flame flickered.
“Remember what I told you,” said the taller of the two, who towered over his companion by a full two feet. His voice was rich in timbre, young and full of confidence. “Wait until the day after the wedding, when everyone is overcome from celebrating. No blood is to be spilled except in self-defense. Do you understand?”
“Yes, elevja,” replied the other quickly. It was Chalmeth. He used the old Hanorjan word for royalty. Elevja. Uplifted one.
“Good. Do not put the men in place too soon, lest they be discovered.”
Chalmeth bowed slightly.
“And do not take more than was taken from you. You are not to seek revenge, only justice.”
Chalmeth bowed again.
The other stood still for a moment, regarding him. Then he lifted the lantern and they could see Chalmeth’s long, wolfish face clearly in its light. The speaker raised his hand and Chalmeth stiffened, staring at the light as if he had been frozen. Faldur strained to see the taller Hanor’s face, but he could not, for it was turned away from him. All that he could see was that he was dressed in black, with strange designs embroidered in gleaming red strands upon his cloak and that his hair was pale gold and fell in loose waves down his back, nearly as long as a hawin’s.
“Do not try to deceive me, Chalmeth. I know what is in your heart. I will give Lord Tarnbel back his land and cut your throat myself if you harm one hair of his family’s head. Do you understand me?”
Chalmeth nodded stiffly and the other lowered his hand. Chalmeth's body relaxed to its normal posture.
“Very well. Go,” said the tall one. He lowered the lantern and extended his hand again, this time clasping Chalmeth’s wrist in the traditional manner of farewell. “Aden fath, Chalmeth.”
“Vebril kelfa,” replied Chalmeth. He turned aside and, quickly and carefully, made his way along the ledge of the pool and down the mountain path.
The tall one stood looking after him a moment. Then he turned, and Faldur and Mel could finally see his face. Faldur felt as if he himself had been frozen as he looked. The haman before them, with the long hair and strange clothing, was almost the image of Mel himself. The last time they had seen him, he had been a determined, impetuous young Prince of twenty-nine. Now he seemed much older than the five years that had passed since he disappeared.
It was Raynor. The prince’s brother.
Raynor turned his head slowly back and forth, surveying the darkness, and then stopped, staring in their direction. He smiled then - a wry, tired smile as if something unexpected had occurred to him - and for the briefest second, Faldur felt the spell over himself and Mel flicker like a curtain in a wisp of breeze. He must have imagined it, however, for Raynor’s gaze passed over them and, turning, he retraced his steps back into the cave.
As soon as he had moved out of sight, Mel jumped up and followed. He ran silently in his soft-soled boots, intent upon the bobbing lantern light reflecting off the walls in the back of the cave. Faldur ran after him, falling a little behind for the prince’s legs were longer. Just as Mel reached the spot where Faldur had fallen in, there was a rushing sound above them. Mel jumped back and Faldur grabbed his shoulders, thrusting them both sideways as the water came down in a solid, thundering sheet right where they had been standing.
Mel rose to his feet and stared after his brother. Faldur put his hand on the Prince’s shoulder. “We should go back down right away. It is not safe to wait until morning.”
Mel nodded and the two of them returned silently to camp, preparing to make the weary march down in the darkness. Faldur was bitterly regretting his swim.
“I must go to my father,” said Mel. “Go to Glenhym and warn Tarnbel, tell him to prepare a defence. I don’t trust Chalmeth. The Rangers can serve as reinforcements, and I'll send soldiers as well.”
“What of Pelwyn?” Faldur asked. Lady Pelwyn, Lord Tarnbel’s daughter, was soon to be Mel’s wife. Their wedding was scheduled to take place on the first day of summer and she was due to depart in a few days. Her father was planning to accompany her on the six-day journey to King Elmoran’s seat at Tor Aden.
“Escort her yourself. Tell the Delfenward not to alter the schedule, but to send her ahead. He can follow as soon as he is able. It would probably be wise for him to pretend to go with her as far as the Forest, then circle back. We don’t want to reveal our hand.”
“Say as little to Pelwyn as possible; I don’t want to frighten her,” added Mel, frowning. “Swear her father and brothers to secrecy. Chalmeth won’t harm her, for the wedding is essential to his plans, but all the same I want her safe.” He paused, grasping his friend’s arm. “Promise me you will bring her yourself. She is more precious to me than my own life.”
Faldur clasped his hand over the Prince’s. “I promise. We will be at Tor Aden in ten days at the most.”
“Promise me also that you won’t speak of Raynor to anyone until I have seen my father.”
The Prince raised his pack onto his back with a jerk of his shoulders, and settled it into a comfortable position. Faldur did the same, and they started down the mountain in the silver-black darkness.