Neldor looked at the piece of paper in his hand. He had read Qildor’s message twice. The wizard looked at the paper and then he read the message once more. Neldor looked into the room. He looked at the shelves that were filled with leather-bound books. Was the man kidding him? No. Neldor doubted the man had sent him a message in order to just fool him around.
The old wizard placed the paper on the table that was covered with old parchments and manuscripts. Neldor usually spent his time with research and studies. He barely left his chamber in the tower and he rarely visited the royal hall. When he had returned from the Castle of Saelethiel, he had started to write a book. Neldor wrote down the results of his studies. He wrote down his experiences in the castle where he had deciphered Norlorn’s code and, following Norlorn’s instructions, had turned back time and had accomplished a mission.
The leather-bound book that he had filled with his report and reflections was placed on the table. Neldor had placed a quill on it. He had been writing all morning. He had written the last sentence a few minutes ago and then he had closed the book. Nostalgic feelings had overwhelmed him. He had finished his last task and had completed his mission. Neldor had folded his hands and had closed his eyes. He had just given in to his nostalgic feelings when a knock at the door had disturbed him.
Reluctantly, he had risen to his feet and had opened the door. A royal servant had led a man to his room. The man had been dressed like a royal soldier and had claimed that Qildor had sent him with a message for the wizard. The man had looked tired and he had smelled like a man who had ridden fast and for many days. Neldor had believed him, but he nonetheless had scanned the man’s motives with his sixth sense. The man proved trustworthy and Neldor had taken the sealed paper that the man had held out to him.
As soon as Neldor had seized the paper, the messenger and the royal servant had turned and had hurried down the stairs of the tower. Neldor had looked after them grumpily. Did the men not know how to behave before a royal magician? Neldor had closed the door sourly. The current king had promoted a younger man and Neldor was only the former royal magician. This, however, Neldor found was no excuse for the men’s disrespectful behaviour.
Neldor looked at the shelves that were filled with books. One book particularly attracted his attention. The wizard’s eyes rested on it. He rose to his feet, crossed the room and pulled out the book. Neldor stopped, wondering what he was doing. He had no idea what the book was about. He turned it in his hands and read the title ‘Words of the Wise Men’. Neldor let out a sigh.
"Good Lord, where and when did I get this book?" he asked himself. Neldor shook his head. "I can’t remember I have ever read it."
He went back to his chair and sat down. He placed the book on the table in front of him. Was this ever coming to an end? He had finished his report only today. He had written down in detail what he had found out in the Castle of Saelethiel. He had described in detail his discoveries and his journey back in time. He had felt satisfied when he had written the last sentence. He had felt his mission was finally completed. He had intended to enjoy the last days of his life. He had just given in to some nostalgic feelings and memories. Why had the messenger disturbed him?
Neldor compressed his lips. He was seventy-six years of age. He had been certain he would die as soon as his mission was completed. However, he was in good health. In fact, he felt better than he had ever felt in the previous fifty years.
"Good Lord, why must fate summon an old man? This task is certainly meant for a younger man," Neldor grumbled.
Then he leaned forward and read Qildor’s message again.
"The palace without entrance," he said slowly, his mind already working and looking for connections. "So be it," he said grumpily.
Neldor took the book and opened it. He studied the table of contents. The book was hand-written. The hand-writing was delicate.
"It looks very much like the books in the secret chamber of the Castle of Saelethiel," Neldor said with surprise.
And then it hit him like a bolt from the blue. The book had been a farewell gift. He had received it from the master of the library when he had left the castle after his training had been finished.
"Oh, good Lord," Neldor said with another nostalgic feeling. "What a precious gift. I have not thought of it in decades."
Neldor turned the pages slowly and read a few paragraphs. He vaguely remembered the words. Yes, he had read the book many years ago. Neldor studied the table of contents again and then he opened page nineteen and started to read chapter two. The chapter was titled ‘The Palace without Entrance’.
An hour passed. Neldor was still sitting at his table. He had closed his eyes and folded his hands. The book was placed in front of him. The wizard opened his eyes and slowly looked around in the room. He took in every detail and then he rose to his feet and started to pack his things.
"I may never return," he said almost apologetically to the books in the shelves. "I cannot take you along, unfortunately."
Neldor opened the door and looked back one last time.
"I may never return," he said calmly. "If this is true, then I must not waste time. Fate has summoned me. I’ll do what I can. But my chances are small. I could very well fail."
Neldor nodded at his books. His look was sad.
"Farewell," he said in a low voice. And then he left the room quickly.
Neldor headed for the royal stables. He had not informed anybody of his departure. He doubted anybody was interested anyway. The king had discarded him and had chosen a new magician. Neldor found that the man was no more than an adept. But luckily the adept had refused to live in the tower. And so they had let the rooms to Neldor. The wizard was grateful for this.
Neldor mounted his horse and rode out of the stable. He had shot the stable-boy a dark look when he had entered it. The young man had stayed away from him and had not even helped him mount his mare. Neldor shot him another dark look when he left the stable. The man made two steps back. Neldor smiled wickedly. He felt pleased at the effect of his dark look.
Neldor rode out of town. Nobody stopped him. Those who saw him stepped out of his way. It was early in the morning. The air was fresh and cool. The morning sun shed an encouraging light. It raised Neldor’s spirits greatly. Neldor smiled and looked ahead. He was on his way to Tanmil.
Ogol, the Khalindash magician, had retired to a secret place, a cave that only he knew the way to. He held a crystal orb in his hands and he focused his mind on the inside. Yet, however hard he tried, no images formed in the orb. Ogol put the orb on the ground and gazed into the darkness angrily.
His confidants at the royal court of Aglanthol had spied on the wizard Neldor. The current king had discarded the man and had promoted a younger magician. Neldor was old and the king did not trust his abilities any longer. However, the wizard had permission to stay in his tower where he lived a solitary life. Ogol’s confidants had reported that Neldor spent his time researching and reading old scripts and documents.
"He’s not a fool," Ogol said, gnashing his teeth. "He set up a ward apparently. I cannot perceive any images of the man."
Ogol narrowed his eyes and then a mischievous smile spread on his lips. A thought had occurred to him.
"I’ll get you anyway," he said.
He took the orb and touched it with the palm of his hand.
"If not concrete images, then energy patterns," he said.
Ogol concentrated. A blue light suddenly emanated from the orb and a violet spot of light moved within it. Ogol smiled. His magic had worked. He had managed to track the wizard’s energy. Ogol watched the violet spot of light inside the orb. It moved slowly to the right and then back to the centre of the orb. There it remained motionless for a while.
"I have access to your life force pattern," Ogol whispered to himself. "You have not thought of this magic, my dear fellow magician. You forgot to put up an appropriate ward," he said with a pleased voice.
Either the old wizard did not know of that magic or he was not able to put up a ward that hid him from curious eyes. The violet spot of light moved to the right again, remained motionless for a minute, and then moved back to the centre of the orb.
"What did they say?" Ogol mused. His spies had reported him that the old wizard spent his time mainly in his chamber reading old books. "Apparently so," Ogol said. "I suspect he moves to his shelves and then back to his table. I’m going to watch the movements for a few days, just to make sure that I am not mistaken."
Ogol activated the orb several times in the following hours. The violet spot repeated its movements. It moved only rarely far to the left. But when it did, it remained there for a considerable amount of time.
"That’s when he goes to the royal hall, I suspect," Ogol mused. "They told me that once or twice the week he attends the royal gatherings or dinners."
Ogol relaxed. He would keep an eye on Neldor. Never underestimate your foe. Ogol was aware that Neldor most likely was the only one who was able to stop him. He doubted meanwhile, however, that the old magician was really a threat. He had gained access to Neldor’s life force, yet the old wizard apparently had not taken notice of Ogol’s intruding. So much the better, Ogol thought.
Ogol deactivated the orb. He rose to his feet and left the cave. Ogol blinked. He had spent two days in the dark place and the morning light blinded him. As soon as his eyes had adjusted, Ogol moved forcefully through the wood. He entered a clearing. Five men instantly rose to their feet. Ogol looked at the men who were all dressed in black. Their faces were hidden by hoods. Ogol had summoned them to come to the clearing, early in the morning that day. Ogol clapped his hands. He gave the men a piercing look.
"We will be leaving now. Get your horses ready," he said in a loud and determined voice.
The men instantly followed his command. Ogol watched them. He had hired the men to scout and stop anybody from coming too close and watch Ogol’s ways. The men were villains, greedy for money. Ogol would pay them as soon as they had reached the Western Mountains. He did not trust the men. But he knew that they were intimidated by him. They would not dare to stab him in the back. Ogol had decided to refrain from using magic while he was on his journey west. This would have only warned the brethren. Ogol did not want to attract attention. Not yet.
He stood motionless, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He stood upright. An aura of menace radiated from him. Ogol’s robe was of a singular black. It seemed as if the colour absorbed the light and thus made the wizard almost invisible. The five Khalindash men did not dare to fix their eyes on Ogol too long. Something radiated from the wizard that appalled the men. However, the magician paid well and that was why the men followed him. Ogol watched them. He had decided to not use magic on the way and travel conventionally. He needed a life guard and scouts. That was the only reason why he had hired the men. He would get rid of them as soon as possible.
Ogol’s face was hidden by a hood. His look was piercing and a satisfied smile played almost invisibly on his lips. An aura of menace radiated from him.
Neldor was sitting on a rock. The wizard chuckled. Neldor finished his bread and then rubbed his hands. One more day on the road. A few more hours, to be exact. Then he would arrive at the village of Tanmil.
Neldor once again looked at the violet crystal in his hand. Now and then a light emanated from it. Neldor nodded. He felt amused.
"You still have not seen through it, my dear fellow wizard," he said mischievously.
Light emanated from Neldor’s crystal whenever Ogol activated his orb and observed the movements of the violet spot. Neldor’s crystal indicated when Ogol watched the energy clone that Neldor had left behind in his chamber. Neldor chuckled. As a matter of prudence he had taken precautions. The old wizard was happy that his plan had worked out. Neldor put the crystal back in the pocket of his robe. He rubbed his hands.
"Now at least I know that you, whoever you are, are out there. And I know that you are scheming plans. And you think that I could stop you. You think I could endanger your plans. So what are your plans that only a wizard can stop you?" Neldor mused.
He rose to his feet and went to his horse.
"I must talk to Qildor. We must find out more about our invisible enemy," he said pensively.
He looked at the sky. The sun was high. It was about noon.
"The weather is good. I will make it to Tanmil today," Neldor said, and then he mounted his horse.