The Silver Key of Reason, the Golden Heart of Courage, and the Iron Hammer of Strength--these three talismans were used to lock the Gates of Chaos a thousand years before. Now the spell that binds the Gates is crumbling, Heldra the Dragon Queen is awake a|nd her Demons are once more loose in the Realm. Heldra has sent them to destroy the talismans and kill the One True King who might use the talismans together to re-lock the Gates
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Glenn S. DeTurk is a Dartmouth graduate, a newspaper journalist, poet, and a writer of fiction. His science fiction, fantasy and horror stories have appeared in "Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine," "Tale Spinner," "Kaleria," "Lore," "Zone 9," "Bardic Runes," "Dead of Night," "Mystic Fiction," "Just Write," "Flickers 'nFrames," "Midnight Zoo" and numerous other periodicals. "The Silver Key" is Glenn's first published novel. Glenn lives in Dunstable, Massachusetts with his wife Joan, son Chris and golden retriever Maggie. In addition to writing, Glenn is a talented fingerstyle guitarist and avid skier.
Part I -- Map of the Realm
Shadows on the Trail
THE STONE pendant hanging from Aren's neck tingled wildly. He spun on his heels, and looked back along the leaf -- littered trail. Dappled sunlight fell on the empty path and the ferns that bordered it, but beyond, in the shifting shadows under the trees, Aren couldn't see.
He was a small boy with a high, clear brow, but there was something in his dark green eyes that made him seem older than his fourteen years. As he stared into the shadows a cloud passed over the sun, and a sudden, bitter wind raked the trees. Aren shivered, turned up the collar of his green tunic against the cold, and set off rapidly down the path. I'm imagining things, Aren told himself. All the rumors about Old Ones being seen in the mountains of the north have made me jumpy. Still, the ward -- stone had never been wrong before, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being followed.
Aren hurried off through the growing afternoon shadows. Imagination or not, he didn't want to be caught on the trail after dark.
On his way home to Harkfast after buying herbs in Millerton, Aren had taken a shortcut on the old hunting trail through the edge of the Ringwood. It was a trail he had hiked a hundred times before, and in the bright morning sunshine it had seemed as friendly and familiar as ever. But now, in the gathering gloom, the trail seemed ominous and foreign, and Aren began to foster a nagging doubt that he had taken a wrong turn. He was just about to turn back and retrace his steps, when he came upon a trail marker.
Aren relaxed and slowed down. To pass the time as he walked, he thought of the safe and comfortable kitchen at Harkfast. In his mind's eye, he saw the brass pots and steel cutlery sparkle in the cheery glow of the fire. He could almost smell the warm, tantalizing aromas drifting from the iron kettles in the huge stone hearth. Aren's mouth watered as he thought of the food: great heaping platters of roast goose and chicken, golden and crusty outside and succulent within; baskets of fresh bread, steaming from the oven, with mounds of creamy butter to lavish on top; vegetable dishes like green beans garnished with bacon and acorn squash baked with maple syrup.
Aren thought of Hetta, who was responsible for everything served in Harkfast's kitchens. As plump as one of her famous stuffed chickens, Hetta ruled the kitchen and household of Harkfast with an iron hand and a soft heart. And Hetta raised Harkfast's orphans with the same combination of love and discipline.
The children would scramble out of Hetta's way as she bustled around the kitchen. If they were too slow and got underfoot, they would be scolded or, worst of all, be denied a slice of Hetta's apple pie for dessert. Aren smiled when he thought of all the times Hetta had threatened him with that dreaded fate, only to relent in the end.
Sometimes Aren wished he was still one of Hetta's kitchen brood. But most of the time Aren was happy in his new position as apprentice to the Sorceress. Katren Abene -- Dis, the Sorceress of Harkfast, had taken Aren in, as she had countless other children. But she had taken a special interest in Aren, and a close bond grew between them.
Aren believed that his special treatment had something to do with his ward -- stone. It was only a feeling, really. Aren knew little about the stone -- except that it tingled to warn him of danger. Yet he had the inexplicable feeling that the stone was important.
What else did he know about the ward -- stone? Only that he had been told that it was around his neck when Katren's father, the wizard Tantor, brought him to Harkfast as a toddler.
Tantor -- Aren smiled when he thought about the wizard. Like all the children, Aren had loved Tantor and his tales of faraway places and long forgotten times. But Aren's smile faded as he remembered the deep, overweening sadness that had consumed Tantor and how the old wizard had finally gone away without a word of explanation.
After Tantor had gone, the Sorceress regularly found excuses to be alone with Aren, and now he was her apprentice. He was quick to learn much of what she taught him: languages, the identification of plants, the preparation of medicinal potions and ointments -- all these came with relative ease. But there were other studies which Aren found far more difficult.
The Sorceress tried to teach him the Will and the Word -- what others called magic. But using the Will and Word did not come naturally to Aren, and he was inconsistent in performing even the simplest tasks. After endless practice, he learned to kindle fire and summon a pale ball of witch -- light, but he could not do more. Privately, Aren doubted that he would ever become a true wizard.
Aren's thoughts were interrupted by a much stronger jolt from his ward -- stone. Aren wheeled about. He saw nothing in the black shadows that swallowed up the trail, but he could feel something evil waiting, watching in the darkness. Then fear overcame Aren, and he ran as though his life depended on it.
On and on Aren sprinted, ignoring the daggers of fire which stabbed at his lungs. Finally, just as he knew that he could go no further, the trail emerged from the wood. As he rushed out of the shadows under the trees, the strange fear which had fallen over him departed as quickly as it had come. Aren staggered across the wooden footbridge that spanned Otter Brook, and collapsed in the tall grass beside the trail.
Aren watched the place where the trail disappeared into the woods as his pounding pulse slowly returned to normal. Minutes passed, and nothing came rushing out of the woods after him. Suddenly the whole affair seemed funny, and Aren laughed out loud.
"Boogeymen!" he said. "What's the matter with me?"
As Aren shouldered his pack and started off down the trail, he thought of the abuse his friends Agorn and Tobin would heap on him if he told them he had run from a shadow. Aren resolved to keep the whole incident to himself. Soon the sun came out again, bathing the fields of grain in amber light. Aren laughed at himself once more, and then he began to whistle.