The Song of Shadows
1. The Task
Dim in dusk, dark fields and forests lay
Open, exposed to lengthening light.
Golden beams glinted on heads and helms
Silently slipping from forest fastness
Into open twilight
-- reaching the road --
-- on the verge of night. --
They were awaited: one in sable silk
Bowed gravely in greeting, held out his hand,
Wishing welcome to His Lordship's lands.
The riders reined in, their heavy helms
Revealing elvish eyes:
-- Avari, unyielding --
-- Wary, yet wise. --
Hunched on the heights, a castle crowned the crag:
In fading light it loomed stark and strong.
The cobblestones clattered; flaming torches flared
Shielding corners in shadows that dipped and danced.
They entered the hall:
-- bright gold, crystal --
-- a trophy-lined wall. --
The master of his men sat in state
Tall as a tower, gaunt, with gleaming hair.
Briefly they bowed, then stood silent, still
Like statues of stone in a tyrant's tomb.
The tall lord smiled
-- as a hunter might --
-- to something free and wild. --
'Welcome,' he said, 'And where is the smith,'
'Whose unbreakable armor is famed near and far?'
One stirred and stepped forward; softly spoke:
'The smith stands before you, for Cordil has come,'
'And would learn from your lips what price you would pay.'
And his face was cold
-- his voice polite --
-- and utterly controlled. --
'Have you skill sufficient,' said that master of men,
'Armor to make unbreakable by man?'
'No price may be paid for the perfect piece,'
'But gifts I may give, exchange priceless for perfect.'
Thus the grim lord
-- offered for armor --
-- a choice from his hoard. --
'If the metal is mithril,' the Avar answered,
'My skill could shape it strong and sure.'
'But armor unbreakable? Only Powers could prove it,
'Or battering of battle, though the smith should strive'
'Armor to make unbreakable by man.'
'But what, great lord,'
-- might you have to offer --
-- from the depths of your hoard? --