The party circled around to the south, seeking the pool they had been told of. With several hours to go before darkness fell, they saw a spectacular waterfall plummeting well over a hundred feet to crash in a spray of mist in the pool below. Surely this was the pool of legend.
Maewyn smiled - the pool was a welcome sight. Sending Amber ahead of her she willingly moved closer to the waterfall that they were searching for. "I am agreeable. A rest and a chance to wash some of the dirt off of me would be very welcome indeed."
Herger opened his eyes and attempted to sit up a bit straighter in the saddle. The last week's journey and his wounds had worn greatly upon him and he constantly seemed on the verge of passing out. He gave a weak smile to his friends and asked, "Did anyone catch the insignia of the coach that ran me down?"
He then looked with relief upon the fountain they had traveled so far to find. The majestic stream of water leaping from the heights above and plummeting into the pool below was enough to take his mind away from the pain constantly hammering at his innards. The pool looked so inviting...
He laboriously worked himself down from his mount and began doffing his accoutrements in preparation for a nice dip.
Taking every care, the party dismounted and watered their mounts. This place seemed somehow distant from the chaos and foulness of the badlands through which they had travelled. There was no sign that the orcs and other, fouler, creatures that dwelt in the region had been to this pool. They bathed gently and drank and even the horses seemed more content. They ate sparingly of their remaining rations, running very low at this point.
As the sun began to set, a point of light appeared on the side of the mountain, perhaps a mile away they estimated, a short distance up a gentle slope.
"Well, shall we investigate?" said Marri. "I know rest seems appealing, but our rations are low, and I for one will not truly be able to rest until I am well fed and tucked into a soft bed somewhere other than here! And... we've saved the world of course!" she finished with a small smile and a bit of her old spark.
With a sigh, the company got to their feet and went to investigate. The slope rose gently to a cliff face near the waterfall, and as they approached the glow, it could be seen to be emanating from a cleft in the side of the cliff. The cleft went back for ten feet or so and terminated in a set of wide rough hewn stairs rising into darkness. Further investigation showed that glow was coming from a small shaft, perhaps two feet wide, near the stairs. This shaft was covered with shiny rock, like a mirror and seemed to be reflecting a light source somewhere far above. As they watched, the glow dimmed and winked out.
Marri looked at the stairs for a bit, wondering how far up they really went, then suggested "Perhaps we should camp here for the night and begin the climb first thing in the morning? We probably ought to post a watch, I would suppose. Still we'll get a bit of sleep and be about as fresh as we can hope to be."
Maewyn was all for a little rest before climbing the stairs. She set Amber to watch outside with the instruction to awaken her if anyone approaches the waterfall.
In the morning, after an uneventful night, the company unloaded the horses to get them through the cleft in the cliff, then loaded them again for the ascent. Each leading their beast, they began to climb the stairs, with a lantern in front of the single file train and another at the end.
The stairs circled gently up through the interior of the mountain, rising through the darkness. There was no sign of who or what had made them, only a feeling of great age.
The hours passed, though it was difficult to keep track of the passage of time. Finally, the stairs ended. The passage continued for another few feet, then opened out onto the mountaintop.
The company was dazzled, first by the sunlight after so long in darkness, then by the sight that greeted their eyes. Surely at the top of such a peak, they could expect only snow and barren rock, but such was not the vista they saw. Ahead of them was a lush valley, wide and green, with fruit trees growing in abundance. Marri and Maewyn saw signs of other plants which were good to eat as well, and small wood creatures chittered and ran from place to place, giving Maewyn hope that she would not go hungry either. From their vantage point, slightly above the valley floor, they could see a spring bursting from the cliff wall to one side, running down the face and becoming a spring which ran down the valley a few hundred yards and ending in a pool. Leading from their position, down a gentle slope, was a path. The path ran down the middle of the valley, through the woods and clearings, past the pool and to the far end of the valley, perhaps a quarter of a mile distant. There, the cliff walls came nearly together and the path went through the narrow gap, where it was lost to sight.
Rubbing his eyes in disbelief, Tibbiddo blinked rapidly. "Is it as I see? what is this place?" He ventured a step, "How many others have found such a land as this?" he asked aloud.
Marri had to agree with Tibbi! Coming back into the light, and such a beautiful place! She was excited to see what appeared to be abundant food, and she bent to pet Traveller, who hadn't much cared for all that darkness either. On the other hand, she wasn't any too pleased to see that the path seemed to lead them back into darkness. "Ah well, no point in putting trouble in your pot before you're ready to cook!" she thought. Aloud she said "I think I'll have a quick wash if no one minds! I know you can't wash off darkness, still... Then I'll put together a bit of a meal and I suppose we should move on! I'll put a few of these plants and some of the fruit into our packs as we go along, just in case! You never know!" She finished up and started off in the direction of the pool.
Rurik smiled and forgot his aches for a moment. "We've sure seen some sites," he spoke cheerfully, with a bit of unveiled awe.
They moved down the path, alert but somehow confident that they were safe for the moment. Marri gathered some fruit and edible plants as they went and Swiftwind brought down a small bird, so Maewyn could lunch as well. The horses drank deeply from the pool as they rested a few moments and washed and ate.
After their rest, they continued on their way. The path led down the valley, which narrowed into a pass. The pass was short, only a hundred feet or so, and it rose so that by the end the walls were only twenty feet high. At the end, there was a massive iron gate. Near the gate was a rock of a convenient size to sit upon, and upon it sat what appeared to be an elf. His eyes were milky orbs; clearly he was blind. He played on a pipe of ancient design and the music was unlike anything they had ever heard. Later they would be unable to remember the tune, only that the music spoke of a crystalline order, a clarity and purity. Tibbo found it mildly disconcenrting, a little too rigid for his tastes, although beautiful.
Through the gate the could see the ground rise fairly quickly to where it was the highest thing around, the ultimate point of Mount Adnor. On that point was a simple stone fountain.
Marri stood quietly for a few moments, swaying a little and totally caught up in the beauty of the music. "Divine Verena," she said softly "I think you would enjoy this!"
Coming back to herself, she glanced at Maewyn, thinking it might be appropriate for her elf companion to be the one to speak first to the elf before them.
"Probably ought to chat with the gatekeeper before chancing entry," thought Michel. "Hail fellow, well met," he said aloud.
Clearly blind, perhaps the elf was mute as well, for he gave no sign whatsoever of hearing Michael's hail.
Marri, who had been waiting for Maewyn to speak, was still surprised that the elf did not respond. She had met very few impolite elves; even the ones who looked down on all the other races were still polite in their snobbery. She wondered if he would speak to Maewyn or if perhaps it was Herger, with his ancient lineage, who needed to speak to him.
Maewyn smiled at Mari, as she clearly enjoyed the music - it was a lovely tune, one that Maewyn felt she could listen to for hours. Still that was not to be their pleasure. This ws not a pleasure trip and no matter how much she would love to stay in the mountain enjoying the pleasent valley that was not to be.
Walking up to the blind elf Maewyn placed a hand gently on his arm speaking softly to him in their language. "Excuse me. I do not mean to disturb you. But my friends and I need to go through the gate."
Tibbiddo raised an eyebrow, and thought this elf most curious. Having been around entertainers before, Tibbiddo speculated that all performers liked the adoration of fans, so he began to clap in appreciation. Applause brought no more response than anything else.
Dismounting from his horse, the Wastelander walked past those talking with the blind elf as he approached the gate. The music resonated in his mind and cleared his thoughts. As he arrived at the gate, he stood there and admired at the workmanship.
And fine workmanship it was. Massive iron bars and tightly fitting hinges bespoke power and skill. It was hinged at both edges, and seemed that either half could open in either direction. There was no latch, the gates seemed merely pulled closed.
Herger thought they were in quite an enigmatic situation. He wasn't certain what the best approach should be to get through the gate. Of course, they could try going over it, but it just didn't seem right. He stepped towards the old Elf and addressed him, "Ancient One, I am Herger Blichtrest, of Bundesmarkt, descended from Hermann Blichen who fought with the forces of Ryo-Aldenar and the Elves of Lin-Adelle to seal entry to this world against the Black Death God whose name I shall not mention here. We have brought an artifact of Ryo-Aldenar's and the with the blessing of Lin-Adelle we seek entry into this place. The tree of Lor-Anoran is dying and needs water from the Fountain of Lemnar and we have traveled far to find it. Please, give us a sign. Give us hope that our destination is at hand."
The elf gave no obvious sign that he had heard, but the music changed tempo slightly and moved into a more triumphal mode.
Maewyn laughed, "Well that sound to me like the answer to your question." Moving forward, she placed her hands on one of the door and pushed.
The gate swung easily inward, whoever had built it had balanced it exquisitely. The piper made no sign nor move and so the company entered. The path went up to the fountain atop the rise, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind they had achieved their goal.
Rurik was tracing a finger absently along the metalwork when the elf pushed open the gates and walked into the courtyard beyond. Smiling sheepishly, Rurik followed in step behind her.
The fountain was a circular pool, with a simple column rising from the center. The pool was about two feet high and the water came up to within a few inches of the lip. The column was carved at the top with nine figures: three elves, three dwarves and three men. The largest figure was perhaps a foot tall. Each bore a pitcher, held as if to pour, and from out of pitcher a stream of water fell to splash gently in the basin. There was, oddly, no visible drain.
Rurik whistled in awe at the view once he arrived in the clearing. "It just keeps getting better," he beamed and walked about the clearing, looking at this and that. "I'm of the mind to build a summer house here," the Wastelander quipped in good humor.
"Amazing," was all Tibbiddo could muster turning his head from side to side trying to take everything in at once. The others saw him counting out something on his fingers, assuming that it was an involuntary reaction to seeing things that could bring great value in the market.
When she stepped through the gate, Marri was as dazzled as everyone else seemed to be. Stepping a little away from her companions, she spent a few minutes giving sincere thanks to both Verena and Esmeralda for helping them to get this far. Then, being Marri, she began to bustle about: offering Herger a clean flask to carry the water, leaving an offering of fruit and flowers near the still playing elf, puzzling over plants she had not seen before, finding a good place to camp for a day or so, putting on some water for tea once she found it, and tossing a stick for an excited, yelping Traveller. Although she knew the way back would no doubt hold many dangers, she put those thoughts firmly out of her mind. "I shall store up memories of this place" she thought as she peered around intently "to help light the way in the dark places we shall face on the way back!"