Location: Fantasy Books » Dragonlance
from Well of Darkness
by Weis & Hickman
1: The Whipping Boy
boy gazed up at the castle. Its shining white marble walls were wet with
the spray from the seven waterfalls that flowed on either side of it,
four to the north and three to south, and glistened in the early-morning
sun. Rainbows shimmered and danced around the castle walls. The peasants
believed the rainbows were fine cloth spun by fairies, and more than one
silly lad had gone to his death in the tumbling water trying to snag them.
The boy knew
better. He knew that rainbows were not substantial, being made of nothing
more than sunlight and water. Only that which exists in both the darkness
and in the light is real. The boy had been taught to believe only in what
was real and substantial.
The boy looked
at the castle without much feeling, good or bad, nothing but a sort of
uncaring fatalism that is often seen in ill-used dogs. Not that the boy
had been particularly ill-used in his life, if to be ignored is not to
be ill-used. He was about to leave his parents and his home and enter
into a new life and by rights he should have felt sad, homesick, frightened,
and trepidatious. He felt none of those: only tired, from the long walk,
and uncomfortably warm and itchy in his new woolen stockings.
He and his
father stood before the gate set in a high outer wall. Beyond the gate
was a courtyard and beyond the courtyard myriad steps leading up into
the castle, which had been built against a cliff. The castle looked out
to the west, gazing out over Lake Ildurel, its back planted solidly against
the rocks to the east. Its very topmost turrets were level with the River
Hammerclaw, which flowed from east to west and whose rushing water, tumbling
over the cliff face, created the rainbows.
walls were white marble--the boy had once seen a representation of the
castle at a feast, made of sugar lumps--and it was several stories tall.
How many stories the boy could not count because the castle roamed all
over the cliff face. So many turrets jutted off every which way, so many
battlements slanted off in such different directions, and so many small
lead-paned glass windows winked in the sunlight that the sight confused
him. He had wanted to play with the sugar castle, and his mother had told
him he might, but the next morning he found it had been eaten by mice.
The boy gazed,
awed, at this castle, which was not made of sugar and not likely to be
eaten by mice or even dragons. One wing of the castle caught his eye.
This was a wing to the east, overlooking the four waterfalls. Atop it
was a turret larger than all the rest, with a balcony that stretched around
it. That was the King's Walk, said his father. King Tamaros, blessed of
the gods, was the only person permitted to walk that balcony.
must be able to see the whole world from there, the boy thought. Or if
not the whole world, then at least the entire great city of Vinnengael.
The boy could practically see the whole city himself, just standing on
the palace steps.
was built on three levels, the lowest level being even with the lake,
which stretched to the horizon, its distant shore just barely visible
from the King's Walk. The second level of the city was built atop a cliff
that rose up from the first level. The third level was built atop another
cliff, which rose from the second. The palace stood on the third level.
Across from the palace, behind the boy and across a vast marble courtyard,
was the Temple of the Magi.
palace, the heart of the kingdom and its head, were the only two major
structures standing on the third level. Soldiers' barracks occupied the
north; the barracks were attached to the palace. To the south, built on
a jutting rock groin, were the elegant houses of the foreign ambassadors.
guarding the outer gate gave the boy's father a bored glance as the two
of them passed through. The boy craned his neck to gaze up at the huge
portcullis, with its rows of grim teeth. He would have liked to stop,
hoping to see some blood, for he was well acquainted with the tale of
Nathan of Neyshabur, one of the heroes of Vinnengael, who had ordered
the portcullis to be lowered though he himself was standing beneath it,
fending off the kingdom's enemies, refusing to give ground though the
wicked teeth thundered down upon him. Nathan of Neyshabur had lived and
died several hundred years ago, when the city and the castle, but not
the rainbows,were young. It was therefore unlikely that his blood would
still be dripping from the portcullis, but the boy felt disappointed,
yanked at the boy's mantle and demanded to know what he thought he was
doing, gawking like an ork during festival time, and hustled the boy along.
across a vast courtyard and entered the castle proper, where the boy was
immediately lost. His father knew the way well, however, being one of
the King's courtiers, and he led the boy up marble stairs and down marble
halls and around marble statues and past marble columns until they reached
an antechamber, where the father shoved the boy down onto a carved wood
chair and summoned a servant.
The boy gazed
at the high ceilings, stained with soot from the winter fires, and at
the wall opposite, where hung a tapestry that depicted long-bodied, long-snouted,
long-eared dogs that resembled no known dog then living and people all
turned sideways hunting a stag which, by its expression, appeared to be
enjoying it all immensely though it had six arrows in it.