"I will be," said their passenger.
"Rather you than me. The elves are much more active after dark. They prefer the dark, and dislike direct sunlight."
The green strip sitting on the horizon of the blue sea grew larger. Soon they were cruising past a shore that led directly into heavy forest. There was no sign of buildings. The isle itself looked very hilly and overgrown with trees, but showed no sign of habitation.
"Wal Langand--Elvish Isle," breathed the passenger. "Or in the Elven languages, Hy Hesidtha." If he showed any disappointment at the lack of marvels, he gave no sign.
The ship cruised the coast. The isle was two hundred miles long along one direction, not small at all. As the sun climbed higher and higher, the crew became visibly more anxious, and the lookouts peered for their destination. Then there was a cry from the crow's-nest, and a cheer from the crew. In a minute or two, the passenger could see it to. The entrance of a river mouth, which led right into the forest. Overhanging trees arched over the river, making its waters dark as it rushed into the midst of the forest.
"The rushing Mabsin river," breathed the passenger. "At last."
The captain turned to the passenger. "Get all your things. We will be leaving you here at the landing very shortly."
"How often does the ferryman come?"
"Twice a day, supposedly. We'll leave you a bit to lunch on. I've heard that no one waits too long...I suspect some magic alerts them that one has landed."
"You wouldn't like to wait--?" The stern look of the Captain and the frightened glances of the crew made his words die in his throat. "Never mind. I'll be fine." He gathered his things, a duffel bag and one other small bag. He was handed a groud filled with water and a small bags of biscuits and meats. Then he was rowed ashore by the first mate.
"Don't be afraid," the first mate said. "I've made this trip more times than most of the crew. You'll be fine."
Yet when the rowboat left the landing, and slowly rejoined the great ship, and the ship weighed anchor and the wind sent it on its way, he felt extremely small and alone. The trees at the mouth of the river, arching over the entrance, were tremendous. He was at a small grassy landing, overlooking the sea, just before the first tree. He sat and waited, and the waiting seemed interminable. He tried singing...
"By the banks of the river Mabsin;
... But echoes came from within the riverentrance that seemed disturbingly different. He peered down the river, and it was like a vast emerald cathedral. No sunlight dappled its surface directly, but was instead filtered by many leaves, and it was like a river running in a hall of immense proportions, a hall built for beings as much bigger than giants as giants are bigger than fairies. All he could hear were the usual forest noises.
"It seems an odd way to start my training to be a wizard," he said, talking to himself. He sounded loud, even to himself, as if his crude mortal voice wasn't meant to be there. He tried to read, but he couldn't keep his attention on the pages. By the sun, it was just an hour at most, but it seemed like an eternity--he heard the slosh of a paddle, and far off, could see a ferryboat and a bowed ferryman on the river.
"Hey!" he called into the echoing river-tree-enclosure. It echoed back and forth. The ferryman raised a dismissive hand, in effect saying, I see you already, stop the shouting.
The boat angled for the landing. The boat was thin and only had room for two or at most three passengers, and one ferryman, and was a plain brown, and unadorned. The ferryman was old and weather-beaten, like he had been doing this for a thousand years. His expression, on a face framed by a silver beard, was sour and sardonic. "Ahh, another would be magic-maker! I am Draival. I take it the college is expecting you?"
"Yes." The passenger's mouth was dry.
"Well, hop aboard!"
Somewhat clumsily he jumped into the boat, yet the ferryman managed the sudden mass lightly and adroitly. "I'm called Falnee..."
"That was your name. You'll be given a new, Elvish name here. But that's not my responsiblity, thank goodness."
The old man obviously was not one of the undying elves. "You're a wizard?" asked Falnee, as they started down the sheen of the Mabsin river, and the trees blocked the sun. This may be my last time to see the sun in quite a while, Falnee thought.
"I have been. Now I am just a ferryman." The old man laughed. "But it is better to be a ferryman at Hy Hesidtha--Elvish Isle to you--than the court conjuror at the grand palace at C'Stepho in Honrar." Slow and low the old man started to sing. "Ry da ober, tita da hetua..." Falnee could follow some of the Elvish words, but by no means all.
Perhaps a half hour passed with the old man singing and the young man feeling more and more dwarfed by the immense forest.
"Do you have any songs in the benighted country you came from?" the ferryman asked.
"Well, let's hear one, boy!"
So the young would-be-wizard sang a song from Grejakim, the country with the Golden Bay.
"Time is a stream...
The old man grinned, showing discoloured teeth and a gaptoothed smile. "Not too bad. But on this river, I think I'll stick to the language of the land." Then he started to sing again in Elvish. Then the old man stopped singing and said, "You'd like to see an elf, wouldn't you?"
"Well, most are asleep, but there are some who serve as sentries for Jequeror. They will come out in the half-light of the tree-shrouded river. Let me see if I can get one...hai! Faiel!"
Suddenly part of the greenery stirred, and on the shore stood a thin, pale youth, with eyes that followed the boat unblinkingly. Green and gold he dressed in, and his features were thin and haughty. There was a longknife by his side.
"Draival. Yet another mortal to mimic us?" The voice was low, yet carried from the shore quite easily. The inflection was precise, the tone full of conempt.
"Yes, another fool who thinks magic will solve all his problems."
"It's not like that at all. I--," but the elvenguard Faiel gestured, and suddenly Falnee was silent...though his mouth was moving, his vocal chords working, no sound came out.
"First lesson, young pupil," came the elvenvoice. "Respect. Mortals speak to elves only by invitation, pupils to wizards similarly. Draival is priveledged in some ways concerning that, but after the hailing me, he waited for me to speak first. Respect. It will get you far on this fair isle."
Then Faiel melted back in the foilage.
Falnee pointed frantically at his mouth. Draival shrugged. "Who knows? It may be just for a few minutes. It may be the rest of your life. We'll see."
Now, in an enforced silence on Falnee's part, and an amused singing on Faiel's, they rode down the face of the river till they came, for the first time, to some buildings, and a gate , a dock, and a bridge. "Welcome to the Wizards' College...the only mortal dwellings on all of Hy Hesidtha, the only humans on Elvish Isle. Here we will teach you as we were taught, on how to imitate the elves in their magicks. It will astound other mortals. It is a source of endless amusement to the elves at how bad we are at it, though."
But if I can't speak, can I identify myself? Will I be able to carry on as a student, if I'm unable to speak, to ask questions? Is my apprenticeship ended before it began? Falnee thought. Still, nothing else he could do. Wearily, he lifted his duffel bag on the landing, while Draival steadied the boat. Then the old man helped him out. Then Draival the ferryman said, "The least you can do is say thank you."
"Thank you," said Falnee automatically...and suddenly his gloom was shattered by the realization that his voice was back. "I can talk! Thank--"
"Thank Faiel," said Draival, quickly.
Falnee swallowed. "Yes. Thank Faiel."
"You learn quickly, pupil. You'll do well."
Click here for a map of Elvish Isle.
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