He had planned it perfectly, arriving on tired horses on a cloudy, moonless night so his son would not yet be able to lay eyes upon the greatest wonder of the realm. Oh, it had been there, a void looming in the darkness; they could feel its presence. The boy had wanted to go to the spire then, but the stonecutter had hurried him toward the stables. The lamp lit inn sat by the side of the flagstoned trade road that ran between the great cities of the inland sea to the east and Vimar Keep to the west.
The night in one of the inn’s tiny rooms had been more restful than any he had known for years, even those nights spent exhausted from hard labor in the mines. The magic of the spire cradled them and gave them soft and pleasing dreams.
It was a harsh life cutting blocks of marble from the quarry. The stonecutter had endured by holding tightly to the dream of bringing his son to see the Peace Spire. A week before his son’s twelfth name day--a week before the boy must himself begin laboring in the quarry--the king’s man had agreed to give the stonecutter that week for himself. He had wasted no time, renting a pair of brown nags and setting off the same day so that they could reach the spire and still have time to return by week’s end.
This morning the boy had wanted to rush straight out to see the spire, but the stonecutter had forced him to sit at one of the trestle tables in the large common room and eat a hearty breakfast. He wanted to give the sun time to crest the enormous wall of mountains to the east. The first view of the spire should come in sunlight, he thought.
Now the stonecutter paused just outside the door of the inn, savoring the moment. A frost-rimed path led around the side of the inn toward the ancient monument. He looked at his son, seeing the excitement plain on the boy’s face. The boy smiled, and the stonecutter, normally taciturn, could not help but grin.
He nodded his head and said, “Come.”
They rounded the corner and the stonecutter saw that many other pilgrims were already swarming about the base of the spire. He heard his son gasp.
The stonecutter had not seen the spire for nearly twenty years. As he drew his eyes up the length of the spire, he snapped his hand to his mouth to stifle his own gasp. He had expected beauty, but he was unprepared for what he now saw. The height of the spire, its red granite rising up and up seemingly to touch the sky, did not surprise him. Neither did the enormous teardrop crystal at its tip. It was the dazzling shimmer of colors that stole his breath. The sky was cloudless and the sun striking the crystal caused a burst of rainbow colors to dance in the biting air above the snow covered fields.
“Father,” whispered the boy.
“Yes,” he answered. He knew he was grinning like a fool but he didn’t care.
“I want to go closer.”
With his heart thudding in his chest, the stonecutter felt the power of the spire surge through his blood like a raging torrent, filling him with energy and strength, and the confidence that he could accomplish anything he desired. He had felt it all his life, but it was never so overwhelming as now, so close to the source.
The boy had set off down the path and was even now crossing the small arching bridge over the stream that flowed behind the inn. The stonecutter hurried to catch up. He took a deep breath and smelled the sweetness of grass and rich earth. His knees often pained him these past few years, but the energy from the spire filled him to overflowing so that he leapt over the bridge in two quick hops.
“Do you feel it?” he called to his son.
The boy laughed aloud. “I could push a marble block all on my own, Father.”
They passed other pilgrims, some of them laughing and others gazing openmouthed into the sky.
As they drew close to the monument, the stonecutter grew even more excited. “Look, Son. This is what I wanted to show you.”
The base of the spire was a wide slab of carved red granite perhaps fifty paces across. Its sides were covered with intricately carved bas-relief scenes from the lives of a myriad tiny figures. The stonecutter stepped close and ran a hand over a picture showing stocky bearded figures wielding picks and awls within a mine.
“And these are elves here, Father! They look so real. How could they carve in such detail?”
The stonecutter wished he knew. He had cut stone all his life, yet he could never mimic the delicate strength of these carvings. Tracing a finger down the trunk of a tree in a forest scene, he marveled at the fantastic skill of some ancient master who had managed to turn stone into thousands of perfect leaves. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the smell of cold stone.
“Look up there,” said the stonecutter, pointing.
The spire’s presence was intimidating when viewed so close. It towered into the sky, and the stonecutter felt his neck creak from staring up the dizzying length of red stone. Large runes were etched into the mica-flecked granite, each rune lined with silver that somehow never tarnished.
“What do they say, Father?”
“You know the story, my Son. It was always your favorite.”
“Tell it again. It’s different hearing it here.”
The shimmering colors in the sky were hurting the stonecutter’s eyes, so he dropped his gaze back to the carvings.
“What do you see in these?” he said.
The boy pursed his lips and examined the rounded base of the monument. “They are beautiful beyond anything I have seen.”
“They show scenes of peace,” said the stonecutter. “You won’t find war in any of these pictures.”
The boy nodded and said, “Here, let’s sit, Father, while you tell me the story.”
The stonecutter joined his son on a length of smooth gray stone set back about ten paces from the base of the spire. More such benches surrounded the monument, most of them occupied by other pilgrims. The stonecutter tugged at his beard, trying to figure out the best place to begin.
After some minutes he asked, “Do you remember when man arrived in these lands?”
His son nodded. “Arrival Day is now four hundred and thirty seven years past. The great King Aronis led our people through the great pass where East Gate now stands.”
“Yes,” said the stonecutter, “though it was the wizards who showed us this realm, where we could not easily be attacked and where the Peace Spire had already stood for more than five thousand years.”
“Twas the elves and dwarves who built it,” the boy exclaimed.
The stonecutter chuckled. “I thought you wanted me to tell it?”
The boy nodded and waved a hand impatiently for his father to continue.
The stonecutter combed his fingers through his graying brown beard. “Long and long ago there was a terrible war between the two races that dwelt in these lands. They were deceived, drawn into war by the wizard Bilach, whose lust for power had caused him to turn to evil, though his fellow wizards knew it not at that time. The dwarves marched on the forest of Laithtaris with fire and axe, and the arrows of the elves turned the sky dark at midday. With both sides terribly bloodied, Bilach struck them with his own army, secretly gathered from among the orc tribes that infested the mountains. The elves and dwarves had no choice but to put aside their grievances and unite against Bilach. Victory seemed assured for the hosts of evil; their numbers seemed endless. Yet the allies defended stubbornly and at last Bilach’s forces broke and fled back to their reeking caverns. The allies were too exhausted and heartbroken to rejoice. Then it was that the remaining wizards brought the elf queen and the dwarf king to council and told them that they should together construct a monument to peace so that they might put aside their grudges.”
The stonecutter pointed at the flat land around the spire. “This place they chose because it lies midway between the capitals of the two races. The wizards asked...”
“Father! What’s wrong?”
“In the sky there,” said the stonecutter, pointing to the northeast. “I thought it was an eagle, but it seems too large now.”
He stood up from the stone bench and his son stood with him. Whatever it was, it was blacker than night. It looked like spilt lamp oil slowly spreading, until it drew close enough that the stonecutter could see vast bat-like wings, though no bat could ever grow so large.
A man shouted, “Dragon!”
“It can’t be,” said the stonecutter.
“There’s no such thing as dragons,” said the boy, his voice breaking. “You always said so.”
Screams broke out all around and people began to run toward the inn.
“They are just legends,” said the stonecutter. He shook his head at the impossible sight. The inky stain became the unmistakable form of an enormous jet-black dragon. It seemed to hover motionless on its outstretched wings even as it loomed larger.
“No such thing,” said the boy, panic clear in his voice.
“Run, my Son,” whispered the stonecutter. He reached out his hands and shoved at the boy, though he could not take his eyes from the dragon. The monster wriggled sinuously and then folded its wings and plunged like a dart toward the crystal atop the spire.
“Father!” screamed the boy. He had begun to run but then turned back when he saw his father had not joined him.
As the dragon neared the tip of the spire, it again spread its wings and pulled out of its dive. It seemed to the stonecutter that the beast dropped something, though at this distance he could not tell for sure.
Then the world seemed to explode.
The stonecutter spat dirt from his mouth and pushed himself up from the rumbling ground, shaking his head to try to clear it. A high whine was the only sound in his deafened ears. My Son, he thought, and he frantically searched the ground around him. He saw the boy lying unconscious about ten paces away, so he scrambled to his feet. Dizziness nearly overwhelmed him as he weaved toward his son. Something hard struck his shoulder and knocked him back to the ground. He clawed over the hard ground, trying desperately to reach the boy. A large chunk of rock shattered his leg.
In terrible pain, the stonecutter reached out, grabbed his son’s foot, and used it to pull himself closer. A head-sized piece of granite smashed into the ground two paces away, and tiny fragments stung the stonecutter’s forehead. He turned himself onto his back to stare at the sky. A dark cloud hung in the air where the top of the spire had once been. More debris rained down all around.
Out of the corner of his eye, the stonecutter saw the dragon banking around in a lazy arc. He ignored the beast and watched as the spire, which even strong winds had never been able to move, swayed slowly back and forth. Cracks ran through the red granite near the base. Though he still could not hear, the stonecutter felt the ground thrum as the spire snapped and began to topple.
Tears mingling with the blood flowing down his cheeks, the stonecutter pushed himself over and lay his body atop his son’s, as if he could protect the boy from the collapsing tower with his love.
He couldn’t hear his own voice as he whispered his last words into the boy’s ear: “I’m so sorry, Son.”
He couldn’t hear his own voice as he whispered his last words into the boy’s ear: “I’m so sorry, Son.”