Richard Baker: Final Gate

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Richard Baker Final Gate
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    Final Gate
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Richard Baker

Final Gate


6 Flamerule, the Year of Stern Judgment (666 DR)

Blood ran in the streets of Myth Drannor. Fflar Starbrow Melruth stared at the bodies of elf and human alike, cut down in the square before the ruined Rule Tower. Crowds of angry partisans loyal to a dozen different noble Houses quarreled over the bodies of the fallen, shouting and brandishing steel at each other.

“Someone else is going to be killed here before long,” Fflar said. “We need to put a stop to this.”

“I don’t see how we can,” Elkhazel Miritar replied. “We’d need a hundred warriors to disperse this crowd and prevent any more bloodshed.” The young sun elf shook his head, appalled by the senselessness of the scene. “Have we all gone mad, Fflar?”

“The answer lies in the streets before you,” Fflar murmured. He was young as the People counted it, a tall moon elf of only sixty years. In a different day he would not yet have been accepted into the Akh Velar, the army of Myth Drannor, but in the short years since the coronal’s death many things had changed in the city of his birth. “They are killing each other for the privilege of dying with their hands on the Ruler’s Blade.”

Across the square a diademed high lady of some sun elf House spoke the words of a flying spell and ascended. She soared up toward a great globe of golden energy that hovered over the spot where the Rule Tower had stood. Inside the shimmering sphere the silver Ruler’s Blade hung in the air, point to the sky, spinning slowly as it awaited the hand of the elf who could claim it. Around the royal sword five high mages floated in the air, safeguarding the ancient rite of choosing. Until an elf set his hand on the hilt of the Ruler’s Blade and lived, Cormanthyr had no coronal.

“Is that Tiriara Haladar?” Elkhazel asked, gazing up at the noblewoman who ascended toward the blade hundreds of feet above.

Fflar peered closer, not sure which of the Haladars soared toward the waiting test. But it did not matter; when the lady approached the sphere of magic, some mage amid the crowd of onlookers hurled a deadly green orb of crackling energy at her. With a shriek of dismay, the Haladar claimant dropped to the ground, her golden robes fluttering around her. A furious scuffle broke out in the crowd, as Haladar-sworn warriors leaped after the mage who had brought down their lady. Adherents of other Houses shouted defiance or even cheered the fall of the would-be coronal, who lay broken in the center of the plaza amid her beautiful robes.

“Corellon, have mercy,” Elkhazel whispered.

Fflar stared in stunned amazement; he’d just seen murder done in broad daylight in the heart of Myth Drannor. With a sick feeling in his stomach, he started to push his way through the crowd toward the place where the lady had fallen. As a warrior of the Akh Velar, he was supposed to keep order in the city-though how he could hope to calm the chaos around him, he had no idea.

“Stop!” he shouted. “All of you, stop! There is to be no more killing today!”

“This is no business of the Akh Velar!” a bold human bravo snarled. The man shook his heavy rapier in Fflar’s face. “Where were you when Lord Erithal was murdered? Do you think to tell me that the life of a human lord is less than that of some sun elf sorceress?”

Someone behind the human swordsman drew steel, and Fflar took half a step back and swept his own blade from its sheath. We should have a full company of Akh Velar swords here to put a stop to this, he fumed silently. But the Akh Velar barracks were three-quarters empty, as warriors of all races had answered the calls of their own native Houses and causes.

“You will not tell us what to do, moon elf!” the human hissed at Fflar. “We will make our own justice today!”

“Wait!” cried Elkhazel Miritar. “Wait! The Srinshee speaks!”

Fflar lowered his sword and looked up into the sky. All around him, noble-sworn blades did the same, enmity forgotten for a moment. The great golden sphere of magic in which the Srinshee and the four masked high mages hovered grew brilliant, throwing off gleams of golden light. The shadows of evening fled, and dusk brightened into bright daylight beneath the radiant orb overhead. Fflar could distinctly make out the Srinshee herself, in her elegant robes of black, floating a few feet above the Ruler’s Blade itself.

“Attend me, people of Myth Drannor!” the Srinshee said, and by some artifice of magic her voice, high and clear, rang out over the whole city. “Look on what you have done today, and despair! A great gift was given to you, and it lies in shambles!”

Fflar let his gaze drop to the shattered stump of the Rule Tower, smoldering a bowshot beneath the great mage’s feet. His heart ached at the sight. This is not who we are, he told himself. This is not what Myth Drannor stands for. What madness has stolen over us? From somewhere in the ranks of the Maendellyn House blades, he heard an elf sob openly at the Srinshee’s words.

“Two score elves have reached for this blade with arrogance, with ambition, with hate or division in their hearts,” the Srinshee continued. “All have been found wanting. The tower of the coronal’s rule lies ruined under my feet! You have spurned the blessing of the Seldarine! Do you not understand what has been lost here today?

“I can bear no more. I will attempt the blade myself, because your madness must be made to stop. Should I prove less than worthy, the Claiming will continue. Decide your own fate thereafter!”

Robes swirling with the magic she wielded, the great archmage confronted the sword floating in the air over the shattered tower.

“Corellon’s wrath!” Elkhazel murmured. “Does she mean what she says?”

“She must,” Fflar answered.

The Srinshee had stood beside Cormanthyr’s throne for as long as anyone he knew had lived, six centuries or more. In all that time she had been content to aid, advise, and serve. The magical might she wielded had never been employed in her own service. Fflar was terrified that she would be destroyed by the sword, incinerated as so many others had been in the last few days. How could Myth Drannor survive without the Srinshee to counsel and protect the city?

Or, worse yet-what might happen if she succeeded? Who could gainsay the Srinshee in anything? Power such as she wielded, unfettered by bonds of fealty and service… that way lay tyranny so black and desperate that Fflar quailed to consider it. No one possessed the wisdom to wield that sort of power. No one!

“Someone must stop her!” shouted a highborn noble in the street.

“The Srinshee will save us!” cried another. “She brings us hope, you fool!”

“She cannot draw the Ruler’s Blade!” cried the human rake who stood by Fflar.

Dozens of shouts of reproach, of acclaim, of protest filled the air, but the Srinshee paid them no mind. With only a moment’s hesitation, she reached out her slender hand and grasped the hilt of the mighty sword.

A great white gleam shot from the blade in the Srinshee’s grasp, and the mighty orb of magic hovering above the wreckage of the Rule Tower glimmered white in response. Fflar felt the shock of the blade’s acceptance even where he stood, the tremendous magic of the Claiming taking his breath away like a hammer blow.

“She has done it!” he gasped.

Thunder pealed through the streets of the city, and slowly died away. The Srinshee, her face streaked with tears, turned the Ruler’s Blade point down and drew it close to her dark robes.

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