A few days passed. Ogol and his men had crossed the vast northern wood and had reached open land. Ogol stood, his arms crossed in front of his chest, his lips compressed and his eyes narrowed. His companions had ridden ahead and were scouting the area. Ogol stood and looked west. A steppe-like area stretched in front of him, a wide plain as far as the eye could see. The ground was hard and had dried from the sun. Only weeds grew in this part of the country.
Ogol saw the Western Mountains on the horizon. The mountain ridge stretched far from north to south. The mountains were high and the highest peaks were covered with snow. The sky was blue and the sun shed a warm light. Yet the mountain ridge looked cold and menacing. And the vast and dry plain was not inviting for a ride at all.
Ogol’s eyes wandered along the mountain ridge. The palace was hidden somewhere in the mountains. Ogol had read about it twenty years ago when he had sneaked about in the library of the castle. He had stumbled across a book that was written in the ancient Aglanthol language that Ogol had learned in the castle. The words had been mysterious. He had not really understood them. All he had read from the text was that the Palace without Entrance held a mighty magical tool. Seizing this tool was Ogol’s ultimate goal.
Ogol planned to discard his men as soon as they had reached the mountain chain. He would then enter the mountains and move on alone. First, however, he would first visit the Castle of Saelethiel. Ogol felt repulsed by the idea, but the mountain chain was vast and the palace was well hidden. He needed more information on it. Else he would only waste time with a long and fruitless search.
Ogol stood and looked west. The mountains looked cold and menacing. Ogol bit his lip. He had sworn to never visit the castle again. A long time ago, Ogol had studied in the castle. He had been an aspiring adept and an enthusiastic young man. Until that day when his enthusiasm had turned into hate. Thirst for vengeance now was the only motive that drove Ogol on. Everything had changed when the brethren had humiliated him.
Ogol glared at the Western Mountains. He felt bitter and hatred overwhelmed him. He hated the castle, the brethren, all magicians and aspiring adepts. Ogol felt hatred against Aglanthol and against the whole world. Ogol stood, his arms crossed in front of his chest, his lips compressed and his eyes narrowed. He looked at the mountains grimly.
Ogol was forty-five years of age. He had come to the Castle of Saelethiel twenty-five years ago. Ogol had been born in the north of the land. His father had been an average Khalindash man. Ogol’s magical talent had shown early and his father had taken him to a Khalindash shaman. He had asked the man to teach his son and further his talents. The Khalindash shaman was skilled. However, his magical abilities were limited. But the man recognized the boy’s talents and he sought for a way to further and promote the young man.
The Khalindash had been driven out of their homeland by the Aglanthol a thousand years ago. Their most powerful magician Khaalindaan had been banned by the Aglanthol wizard Norlorn. From that time on, the former Clan of Bre had called themselves Khalindash, the avengers of Khaalindaan. From that time on, they had lived far in the north of the continent where the climate was harsh and the crops were bad and the lives of the people were more painful than pleasant. From that time on, only holy men and shamans lived amongst the Khalindash. Never again a Khalindash man had developed skills that matched those of the mighty wizards. Until the day the boy Ogol was born.
The shaman recognized Ogol’s talents and saw a chance to finally change the fate of the Khalindash. Once Ogol had become a mighty and powerful wizard, the Khalindash would finally be able to stand up against Aglanthol and win. The shaman trained the boy for five years and he planted hopes and high goals in the heart of the young man. The shaman knew the legend of the ancient castle and, almost against his own belief trusted that the legend held a truth. The shaman told Ogol the legend of Khaalindaan. He praised the ancient wizard’s skills and talents and again and again compared the young man to him. When Ogol turned twenty years of age, the shaman took him on a long journey westward. He told him of the Castle of Saelethiel.
The Castle of Saelethiel, high in the Western Mountains, was built aeons ago to train the young and talented adepts, regardless of their origin. The castle meanwhile was within Aglanthol territory, but mighty wards hid it from the eyes of an average man. The castle guarded secrets that were far beyond a man’s understanding. It was not only a training centre. The Castle of Saelethiel also enforced the law.
Ogol stood and looked out on the Western Mountains. He recalled the day when he and his mentor had left the wood and had reached the open land. Twenty-five years ago he had also looked out on the Western Mountains, his heart filled with enthusiasm, ambition, curiosity, and joy. His mentor had left him that day and had told him to travel on his own and look out and find the castle. His mentor had said that he was just a simple shaman and an average man and therefore would not be able to see the secret castle. Ogol, however, was a true magician and therefore would find the castle on his own. His mentor asked him to never forget his origin, his clan, and their fate. And Ogol had promised the man to come back one day and work for the good of his clan. Then they had parted and Ogol had travelled on alone. He had looked for the castle for many weeks. He had never grown disillusioned and his ambition had never left him. Ogol had trusted in his abilities and he had believed in his fortune and fate.
Ogol stood and closed his eyes for a moment. And then he recalled the day when he had found the castle. One morning, he had found a path, untread and covered with weeds. Ogol had sensed in his heart that he was close to his goal. He had followed the path until its end. He had stopped and looked out and, although he saw nothing, Ogol had known that the castle was near. Ogol had stood motionless the whole night and had focused on his goal. Strange noises and shadows had tried to disturb him. But Ogol had only smiled inwardly at those, in his eyes, simple attempts to make him turn and run from the castle. At daybreak, the weather had changed. Heavy clouds had covered the sky and a cold wind had gotten up. Lightning had flashed and thunder had rolled and heavy rain had fallen down on him. Ogol had stood motionless and had waited for what was to come.
The sky had finally cleared up. Ogol had watched the area. Silence had fallen. No noise was to be heard. He had curiously waited for what was coming next. But nothing had happened for many hours. For the first time, Ogol had felt insecure. Just when this feeling arose, a man stepped out from the shadows. He was dressed in a black robe, his face covered by a hood. Ogol had not seen him coming. He had felt nervous and even frightened a bit. The man had approached him and without a greeting or introduction had asked Ogol questions as to who he was and where he had come from and why he was there. Ogol answered the questions in all honesty and the best he could. And then the man had disappeared from his sight from one second to the other. For the first time, Ogol had felt disillusioned and sad. He had doubted his goal.
The day had passed and also another night. This time, Ogol had sat down on the ground. He had listened into the night and had gazed into the darkness. This time, the nightly noises had frightened him. Ogol had thought of his mentor and his motives. ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Faith can move mountains,’ the man had said before he had parted. Ogol had pondered on these words for the whole night. He grew exhausted. He was hungry and he was dehydrated. And as the hours passed on, his thoughts had become incoherent and his mind had become more and more dominated by his conflicting feelings. At daybreak, Ogol had felt like in a trance, yet not a trance that helped him focus. He rather felt as if he was wrapped in cotton wool. He felt like in a cocoon that was made of only feelings and emotions.
Ogol had risen to his feet. His legs had trembled from exhaustion. He felt small against the high mountains. He felt alone and left alone. His high ambitions had left him. Ogol felt like a child that had trusted some incalculable and wayward adult. He had entirely lost faith in his mentor’s words. He felt fooled and deceived. He was disillusioned and sad. And then Ogol had turned angry. He had scolded himself a fool and a simpleton. For an hour or two, he grimly spoke magical spells and applied some magical tools. The castle, however, remained out of a sight. Ogol then ranted against the mountains until he felt entirely ashamed of himself. That was when Ogol gave up and planned to travel east to a seaport and hire up on a vessel. Ogol stood for another half an hour and gazed at the cold and menacing mountains. A bird in the sky finally distracted him. A white dove crossed the sky. Ogol watched the bird and admired its ability to fly. He watched the bird against the blue sky. The sun warmed his skin and he smelled the scent of flowers. A smile spread on his lips and he felt joy in his heart. When he had lowered his eyes, the Castle of Saelethiel had materialized in front of him.
Ogol stood and looked out on the Western Mountains. He recalled the day when the castle had opened its door to him. Ogol felt wistfulness in his heart as he sensed a long gone joy. The magician suddenly felt insecure. Was it right to invade the castle and look for information on the ancient palace? Was it right to disturb the peace of the brethren who had nothing evil in mind?
Ogol thought of the day when his fellow Aglanthol student had said to him that, no matter how talented he was, Ogol as a Khalindash man would never make a career. Ogol had turned to their teacher, hoping the man would scold his fellow-student. But the man had smiled mildly at Ogol and had said that a career perhaps was only something for a haughty man. His eyes had rested warmly on Ogol and then the man had said that a simple shaman could do so much good to the people. From that day on, Ogol had hated the man. He hated the castle, the brethren and all Aglanthol men. Ogol’s heart was broken and he turned bitter. However, he finished his studies. He was dedicated and committed. He absorbed the castle’s knowledge with new motivation. As a highly skilled and trained magician and as man with a new and high set goal, Ogol had returned to his clan. From that day on, Ogol had worked on his rise and on the rise of his clan. And now, twenty years after he had left the Castle of Saelethiel, Ogol finally felt on the brink of success and close to his ultimate goal.
Ogol looked at the Western Mountains, his arms crossed in front of his chest, his teeth gnashed and his eyes narrowed. A crow cried and Ogol shot it a dark look. The bird flew up and Ogol’s eyes followed it. Ogol smiled.
Neldor, Qildor, and Magath reached the open land two days later. However, they spent the night in the wood for it protected them from the sight of the riders and the sight of any random travellers. They sat together and ate cheese and bread and drank water from water skins that they had filled on their way with water from the brooks in the wood. They had abstained from starting a fire. It would have only attracted attention.
"I suspect the men are already crossing the open land. They are faster than we are and therefore they are ahead of us," Qildor mused.
"Yes," Neldor said. He took his crystal out of the pocket of his robe. He looked at it for a while. But no light emanated from it.
"Do you think he found out meanwhile that we are following him?" Magath asked the wizard.
"I cannot say for sure," Neldor replied. "I checked the crystal and I observed that now and then light is emerging from it. This means the man is still watching my energy clone’s movements. I suspect that he would have stopped checking on me if he had already figured out the trap."
Silence fell for a while. Neldor looked at his crystal until he finally put it back into the pocket of his robe.
"How far is the castle?" Magath asked into the darkness.
"Four more days until we reach the mountains," Qildor replied. "And then two more days until we reach the Castle of Saelethiel. We’ll have to walk. The path up to the castle is steep and hard to go. We’ll need to lead the horses on the reins."
Qildor recalled the day when he and Neldor had climbed the mountain until they had stood in front of the castle. An old man, Leandor, had opened the door, answering Neldor’s coded knocks. Their guide had shown them to a hall and then had led the wizard to a secret chamber. The room was filled with old books that were ordered chronologically from the time of the early wizards to the time of the wizards Norlorn and Khaalindaan. Neldor had studied the ancient books and finally had deciphered Norlorn’s code. Qildor had been shown to a chamber, a monk’s cell, where he had spent three nights and two days. The chamber had been small and the air had been stifling. Qildor had felt like in a trap or in a prison. He had almost gone insane.
"I have no doubt that the castle is ancient and holy. However, I find they could make their guests’ stay more comfortable," Qildor said in a thoughtful voice.
Neldor did not reply. He remained silent. Magath turned his head to Qildor. Qildor sensed his questioning look.
"I told you," Qildor said. "I felt like imprisoned. Not welcomed at all. I spent three nights and two days in a small chamber. They brought me food and water now and then. But nobody talked to me. I wonder why they let me enter the castle at all."
"They could barely dare to not ask my companion inside," Neldor said.
"Why?" Qildor asked with surprise. "Wasn’t it a risk to let me in? I now know where the castle is located. I know how to open the door. I saw the main hall. I spoke to Leandor. Yes, I saw only little. But I could tell the whole world of the secret castle and I could lead others there. I do remember the way very well."
"Even if you did tell others of the castle and they would set out to seek it, no one would ever find it, because mighty wards protect the castle from the sight of an average man," Neldor said in a sober voice.
Qildor opened his mouth for a reply. But he refrained from saying anything when the wizard rose to his feet and looked up at the nightly sky. Magath had chosen to not get involved in the conversation at all. Something about the wizard disturbed him. His last words had sounded like an offence to him. More so the tone in which he had said them. Magath gazed at the dark figure of the wizard, wondering if he was oversensitive and therefore distrusted the man.
Neldor stood and gazed at the sky. The moon was almost full and shed an opalescent light. Something emanated from the wizard. Magath and Qildor looked at the figure. There was an eerie silence.
"I’ll leave the forest and look out on the mountains. The night is clear and my eyes can see far. Perhaps I can see the light of a fire or something that indicates where the man and his companions are," Neldor said finally.
The wizard left the clearing. Qildor and Magath watched the figure disappear in the darkness. They remained silent for another while, each of them lingering on their own thoughts.
"I should ride back," Magath said finally. "I cannot be of help. I only hold you up."
Magath’s voice was rough and hollow. Qildor turned his eyes to him with surprise. Magath did not turn his head to Qildor. He looked ahead instead.
"Why so?" Qildor asked in a baffled voice.
Magath did not reply for a while. Qildor kept looking at him.
"Because I’m just an average man," Magath said finally. "I won’t be able to see the castle whereas it will not hide itself from you and Neldor’s sight. I’d only hold you up. So I’ll better ride back to Tanmil tomorrow."
Qildor looked at Magath. He felt a knot in his stomach. Qildor moved closer and placed his arm around Magath’s shoulder. Magath tensed under his touch.
"Don’t listen and do not believe all he says," Qildor said in a low voice. "I was inside the secret castle. I spent three nights and two days there. I spoke to Leandor, the master of the library. And I am only an average man myself. But they let me in anyway and so I can say for sure that the castle is real." He patted Magath’s shoulder. "They’ll let you in also, I am sure of this."
Silence fell. The two of them looked into the darkness.
"Who knows what’s going to happen? Who knows what lies ahead of us? So far, we have not even found out who the man is and what he is up to," Qildor said. "We need to be confident. We will find our way."
Neldor meanwhile had reached the edge of the wood. He stood and looked out on the open land that lay in darkness. He sensed the Western Mountains far in the distance. He sensed a cold and menacing aura. Neldor could not really make out anything in the dark. He had just found an excuse to spend some time on his own. Neldor sensed the Castle of Saelethiel. Its sphere of influence reached until the edge of the wood, although it was still far away. Neldor sensed a strong energy radiating from the castle.
A powerful energy summoned him. Neldor sensed it. It was not just an illusion. Something was going on and it confused him. The energy that was radiating from the castle was strong and had an unfamiliar quality. It was not just the usual ward that guarded the castle. The guardians had built up an additional energy field. Why had they done it? Neldor pondered. Had they been warned? Did they wait for the man? Was the man a real threat to the Castle of Saelethiel? Was he, Neldor, summoned to intervene? The brethren, the guardians of the castle, would not go to war. Their codex prohibited it and the brethren followed the law.
A shiver ran up the wizard’s spine at his thoughts. He raised his eyes and looked into the darkness. The brethren followed the law that had been enforced in the beginning of time. Neldor shivered inwardly. Some laws were valid for all times. Some laws could not be shaken. Neldor sensed the energy that was emanating from the castle. It summoned him to do what had to be done. Although he had not yet seen through the plan, Neldor had heard the call that came from beyond or from the depth of time or from a place where neither time nor space existed. Neldor had heard the call and he had answered it. Fate had summoned him and he would not avoid his destiny.
When Neldor returned to their camp, Qildor and Magath had already fallen asleep.
Silence had fallen in the Castle of Saelethiel. The brethren sat in deep meditation. Their states of mind were neutral and their hearts were free of emotions. The brethren followed the ancient rules and built up an atmosphere of strict neutrality.
The spirit in the room gathered and built up and emanated from the hall throughout the whole castle. It emanated from the castle, enwrapped it whole and spread in all directions like the beams of light from the sun. The brethren continued their meditation for many hours, throughout the day and throughout the night. Their bodily functions reduced to a minimum. The brethren needed neither food nor drink nor sleep. The life force of each man concentrated in his solar plexus. From there it radiated and connected with the life force of the others. A mighty spirit built up that nurtured on the brethren’s willpower and their power to live. Together, the brethren built up an aura, a spirit that guarded the castle.
When the mighty ward was established, the brethren deepened their trance. They built up a second energy field that spread in every direction. This energy was not a ward. It served a different goal. The energy was strong and after it had reached its major dimension, the energy started to condense. It concentrated and consolidated. As the hours passed by, it became more compact and concrete. The brethren focused on the ancient symbols that the early magicians had left to them. Their gathered minds focused on the symbols in the exact order the ancient wizards had specified. Each symbol was connected with an image. And when the brethren visualized one symbol, then the related image formed in their minds. The image was sent out to the outer sphere where it started to condense. The image became more concrete and compact. As the hours passed by, the images materialized. The images came to life outside of the castle.
When Ogol looked out on the Western Mountains, the outside energy field had just formed. Two days later, when Neldor looked out into the night, the images had already started to materialize. When Ogol and his men reached the mountains, the materialized world was complete. The guardians of the ancient Castle of Saelethiel had built up a second and far more powerful energy field.
But so far neither Neldor nor Ogol had a clue of it. They headed west, convinced of their own goals and motives. However, the closer they got to the Western Mountains, the more they sensed the presence of the ancient castle and they sensed an aura that they both had never sensed before. Both wizards were powerful and skilled. They both sensed that menace emanated from that aura. They shied away from it, but at the same time it drew them in. Both men had a sense of foreboding. Ogol did not tell his men of his observations and Neldor did not speak to Qildor and Magath.
Ogol and his men reached the mountains two days later. Ogol paid his men and discarded them. And then he climbed up the mountains, drawn to the place where the aura emanated from. Neldor and his companions arrived another two days later. Neldor had become unapproachable and reclusive. Qildor and Magath felt almost repelled. They followed the wizard reluctantly up the path that led into the mountains.