Neldor, Qildor, and Magath soon reached the point where the path got steep. They dismounted. Neldor handed the reins of his horse to Magath and without a word turned away and walked a short distance up the path. He stopped and looked at the mountains. Qildor and Magath stood and watched the wizard from the distance.
"What is it with him?" Magath asked. "I find he has changed a lot since we have left the wood. Something is radiating from him. It is disturbing me."
"I don’t know," Qildor replied. "He’s grumpy sometimes. I witnessed that. However, I agree, there’s something disturbing about him. I think it’s time we talk with him."
After a while, the wizard returned. He looked at them, his face showing no emotions. Qildor cleared his throat.
"Master Neldor," he started. "I suspect the man has already reached this path. He most likely already went up there. Don’t you think he can see us from where he is? Should we not better hide from his sight?"
"He can’t see us," Neldor replied. "I put up a ward when we reached the open land. It will shield us from his sight. The man cannot see us."
Neldor turned away and looked up the path again. Qildor and Magath gazed at the wizard.
"You didn’t tell us. You did not talk a lot anyway," Qildor said.
Neldor turned back to them and gave Qildor a piercing look.
"Good man, I was occupied. I sensed a strange aura when we left the wood. The aura is strong. It is powerful, cold, and menacing. It grew stronger with every step that we took. It radiates from there," Neldor said, pointing up the path.
Magath and Qildor looked in the indicated direction, yet they did not see anything.
"I tried to figure it out all the way from the wood to the mountains. I meanwhile know for sure where it radiates from. It radiates from the castle," Neldor said.
Qildor and Magath gazed at him. Then Qildor looked up the path and Magath’s eyes followed his look. Finally, Qildor looked back at the wizard.
"I can’t see the castle up there. Are you sure that the energy radiates from it? Perhaps the man sends out the energy," he said.
Neldor grimaced and made a dismissive gesture with his hand.
"Why would he send out an aura like this and thus draw attention to him? He probably protected himself from the sight of others also. But a ward that makes one invisible to others naturally cannot be sensed by others. The effect would be counter-productive to the intent," Neldor said grumpily.
Qildor just nodded.
"All right," he said. "I do not sense this aura. I cannot say where it radiates from."
"I don’t feel anything either. Just a disturbing feeling that I thought came from your odd behaviour," Magath said to the wizard.
Neldor compressed his lips and shot Magath a dark look.
"Odd behaviour. Good man, I was concentrating. And when I do, I cannot chatter and prattle," he replied with a frown.
"All right," Qildor said in an attempt to calm the situation. "Tell us, Master Neldor, what have you found out?"
Neldor took a deep breath and straightened.
"The aura radiates from the Castle of Saelethiel. I am sure of this meanwhile. The aura is strong and it reaches far. I have never sensed an aura like this. By all means, I have experienced a lot and I have sensed many kinds of energies," he said.
"All right. Carry on," Qildor said.
"The guardians of the castle put up an additional ward," Neldor said. "And this is evidence enough."
"Evidence of what?" Magath asked, measuring the wizard.
"I suspect that someone or something warned the guardians of someone or something evil approaching the castle. The castle is hidden from the sight of an average man," Neldor said. "Usually," he added when Qildor opened his mouth.
Neldor raised his hand and Qildor refrained from replying. The wizard continued.
"The ward that usually guards the castle sufficed for thousands of years. So why would the guardians put up an additional ward? Because they fear the first ward will not suffice? And why would it not suffice? Because someone or something is approaching the castle. Someone who is far more skilled than an average man. Someone who would know how to pass the usual ward. Someone who knows the castle well. A wizard whose power is big. A powerful magician who threatens the castle," Neldor mused. "Just one line of my thoughts."
Magath could not help but look the wizard up and down. Magath’s behaviour clearly revealed his thoughts. Neldor gave him a scornful look.
"Good man," he said grumpily. "I can see through you with ease. Why would I tell you of my observations if I was the one planning to intrude into the castle?"
"You may have your reasons, Master Neldor. And by the way, this was your original plan. You planned to intrude into the castle," Magath said defiantly.
"Pah," Neldor hissed. He shot Magath another dark look.
"Why would the guardians draw attention to their additional ward?" Qildor asked quickly.
Neldor turned his eyes to him.
"This was exactly what I was trying to figure out. The aura is strong, cold, and menacing. The guardians let the intruder know that they see him coming. It’s an open challenge, I suspect," he said.
He looked up the path thoughtfully. This was only one explanation for what he was observing. Neldor found it sounded plain and far too simple. But why disturb the two men with his musings? They would not understand them anyway. In all honesty, Neldor did not believe that the man was powerful enough to threaten the castle. The brethren, however, had reacted. They had sensed the man coming and had put up an additional ward. In case the energy field was a ward. Neldor meanwhile doubted it.
"Then this man is most likely sensing the aura also," Qildor mused.
"Most likely," Neldor said thoughtfully.
"But he won’t give in?" Qildor asked, distracting Neldor from his thoughts.
The wizard looked at him.
"I do not know," Neldor said. "He is after the powerful magical tool that is hidden in that mysterious palace. I suspect the castle holds the secret. I think the ancient palace is just another term for the castle itself."
"But I still don’t understand why the guardians reveal their ward. Why warn the man and not just wait and destroy him?" Qildor asked.
Neldor shrugged. This was exactly what he was trying to figure out.
"I suspect there’s more to it. Like I said, I was trying to see through this oddity. But so far, I have not figured out the reasons," he said.
"Perhaps we should move on and just visit the castle," Magath said. "Since you’re not a hostile intruder, they will probably let you in," he added with another sceptical look at the wizard.
"This is exactly what I have planned and intended to do. Ant I think I mentioned this plan right in the beginning before we set out for our journey," Neldor said grumpily.
He turned away from the two men and looked up the path. Up there lay the Castle of Saelethiel, hidden from the eyes of an average man. The brethren had built up an additional energy field. What was its purpose?
Qildor and Magath exchanged a long look. Magath frowned and compressed his lips. Qildor made a gesture with his hand in an attempt to calm Magath. Magath just grimaced.
Neldor turned back to them.
"I want you to watch out and pay close attention to whatever seems odd, strange, or unnatural to you. You’re a scout, Qildor. You walked this path once and even saw the castle. Try to spot anything that is unfamiliar. And you," Neldor said, turning to Magath. "You could watch out for any unfamiliar weather signs or plants that are not fitting the season or the like. You must have paid attention to those kinds of things all your life. So make good use of your abilities."
Magath opened his mouth, but closed it again at Neldor’s piercing look.
"I must concentrate on the invisible energies and must watch the realms that are invisible to your eyes," Neldor said drily. "I must trace the man and find out who he is and what his intentions are. I must find out what it is about the brethren’s energy field. And therefore I must focus my mind and concentrate and work with my magic."
Neldor gazed at Magath grumpily. Magath frowned back at him. He definitely didn’t like the wizard’s behaviour and his haughty attitude. But why pick a quarrel with him? Magath was aware that he could only lose.
"All right," he said resignedly. "Weather signs and plants then. All right, I’m going to watch out and check the area a bit."
Magath walked away. He needed some alone time. He needed to sort things out. Qildor looked after him. He turned to Neldor and gave him a sharp look, and then he followed Magath. Neldor looked after them. Then the wizard raised his eyes and looked at the mountains.
"Why do they reveal the ward to the man? Why do they not just trap him? There must be more to it. I must find out about it soon," he said pensively.
Ogol had climbed the path that led up the mountain. He had not visited the Castle of Saelethiel in twenty years. But he remembered exactly the path that led to it. Ogol was sure that he had taken the correct path. He moved along the path at a steady pace. After a few hours, however, he stopped and took a deep breath. The path was steep and he felt exhausted. Ogol had left his horse behind. His men had taken it with them. Ogol walked on for another while. Then he stopped again and looked at the mountains.
The aura had grown stronger. Ogol had sensed the energy all his way west. A cold and menacing energy was radiating from the mountains. It was radiating from the Castle of Saelethiel. Ogol meanwhile was sure of this. He was not sure, however, if the aura was just the castle’s usual ward or if maybe the guardians had enforced the energy. When he had come here as a young man, he had not sensed anything. When he had left, his extrasensory perception had been developed and he had sensed the castle’s mighty energy. Was it the same energy? Ogol was trying to figure it out and he finally came to the conclusion that the aura that he sensed now was much stronger than the energy he had sensed when he had left the castle.
Ogol looked at the mountains with his arms crossed in front of his chest and his eyes narrowed. He pondered.
"They put up an additional ward," he said finally.
Ogol gave a dry laugh and looked at the mountains mockingly.
"So you sensed me coming," he said.
A disdainful and at the same time triumphant smile appeared on his lips.
"This is evidence enough. You guard a powerful secret and you know I’m coming to get it. So you think me capable of stealing it," he said to the mountains.
Ogol gave another laugh.
"Do you really think this will stop me? How foolish a thought. I now feel a lot more encouraged to follow through with my plan. At least, I know now that I must find a way into the castle. There you either guard the secret of the ancient palace or..."
Ogol’s smile broadened as a thought occurred to him.
"...or the castle and the palace are just different terms for the same place," he said.
Ogol nodded slowly. He narrowed his eyes.
"Or are you just trying to fool me around? Do you want me to walk right into a trap?"
Ogol glared at the mountains. Disdain and hatred filled his heart. His mind was working fast.
"Too simple an intent, I think. There must be more to it. Or not so? Do you want me to think complex in order to entangle myself in my own thoughts?"
Ogol’s face turned motionless. He looked at the mountains for a considerable time without really perceiving his surroundings. Ogol sank in deep meditation. His mind was focused and like a razor blade it cut off every thought that led into the wrong direction. Ogol’s mind worked fast and efficiently. And when he moved his body again, Ogol’s mind had formed a plan.