The Frozen Past Arch, 13sc
The farther across the ice he went, the more Gilthanas convinced himself that the huldrefolk portal would
prove the key to his journey. He trudged steadily, day after day, across a wilderness of unrelieved frost and
snow. The Courrain Ocean was somewhere off to his left, but he would worry about that later—for now, it was
just important to keep making progress south.
Fortunately, the enchanted cloak the gully dwarves had given him kept him warm even in the most harsh
arctic conditions. He slept directly on the snow but never felt a chill underneath him so long as he kept the
scarlet fabric between himself and the glacier. Also, no matter how harsh the wind that tore across the flat
swath of ice blew, it could not penetrate the tight weave of the cape that he kept wrapped around him.
Fondly he recalled the simple generosity of the gully dwarf clans in Purstal and Elial. On this cold expanse
he actually found himself missing the companionship of his hosts in those ruined cities.
Eventually he arrived at the great precipice, the Icewall, and here at last he turned his course toward the
east. For many more days he plodded, always looking up at the sun-dazzled face of blue-white cliff. He began
to ration his food, though—thanks to the magical decanter of Purstal—he had no worries about drink.
Alternately he poured sweet nectar of squeezed citrus fruit to invigorate his limbs, or tart red wine to warm his
torso, and with the singleminded purpose that had driven him since the garden of Stone Rose he continued on.
And then he saw it.
The arch was so tall that it rose from beyond the horizon, even though it towered a mile or more past the
crest of the Icewell. As Gilthanas walked closer, the arch seemed to sink from his view behind the nearer
skyline, until at last he stood at the foot of the great cliff and could see no sign of the massive stone shape
rising into the sky above. Darkness settled around him as he was studying the sheer surface, though the ice
seemed to glow even in the pale light shed by a crescent moon.
After an hour of study, the elf conceded that he could not climb this cliff anywhere along here. Of course, in
the days before the Summer of Chaos, he could have cast a spell, using his training and talent to control the
arcane powers he had mastered for most of his adult life. A spell of levitation would have carried him easily up
the cliff, or—if he was really in a hurry—he could simply have teleported himself and his possessions up the
precipice, or even into the very shadow of the arch, for that matter.
However, that magic had departed with the gods who had abandoned the world to its mortal masters. And
so Gilthanas found himself faced with the prospect of an impossible climb.
Instead, he resolved to find another way. For the next day he marched across the glacier, now following the
foot of the cliff until, at sunset, he reached the sharp dividing line between ice and sea. Here the glacier ended
in broken shards and spires—a treacherous landscape that shifted and surged with tempest and tide.
However, Gilthanas was not interested in going further.
Instead, he saw where the cliff of the Icewall ended and where the vast shelf of bedrock became a tumble
of boulders and rubble spilling into the harsh, cold sea. Icicles draped many of the large stones, and here and
there great swaths of loose snow had swept avalanche channels through the slope. At least the surface was irregular, though, allowing Gilthanas to climb it.
He began ascending at dawn, using his sword as an icepick and counting on the grip of his boots to cling
even to the slipperiest of surfaces. He avoided the worst of the avalanche chutes, and when forced to cross a
lesser ravine, he hastened with reckless abandon. Once he leaped out of a gully seconds before a rumble of
icy snow roared from the precipice down to the sea.
By nightfall he found that he was only halfway up, but he rested in a windswept crevasse between two
boulders. Even the protective ability of the cloak was taxed, causing Gilthanas to move out before the dawn.
To remain still any longer meant he'd risk freezing to death.
Thus it was that the first rays of the sun fell across him as he pulled himself over the ultimate crest of the
Icewall. Before him, ten miles or more away but rising in crystalline relief against the azure sky, the Frozen
Past Arch crested in glorious perfection.
It must have taken hours for Gilthanas to cross that distance, but he was not aware of time passing. Instead,
he had eyes only for the massive semicircle of stone—the portal that swept into the sky and then curled back
down to the ground. It seemed to the elf that this course must be symbolic of the promise for his life and future.
He had a destiny—a path to follow—and its course was before him!
Finally he stood beneath the stone surface. It might have risen a thousand feet over his head, but he had no
way to make an objective reckoning. He sniffed the air, he listened and tasted and touched, seeking for some
sign of the portal's power. But he wasn't surprised to find no glimmer of a magical aura.
He did not take this as evidence of failure. Instead, he had anticipated this—surely the power of such an
ancient and hallowed place would not be focused so directly that any dumb brute that wandered beneath it
would be affected. No, to reach the center of the arch's power, Gilthanas knew he would have to do more.
He would have to climb.
For the first time he took stock of the arch's surroundings. He realized that other unnatural shapes softened
and masked by a permanent snow cover stood around him. In one place a great dome mounded out of the
icepack's surface, appearing too smooth and symmetrical to be anything but a designed structure. Of course
any outer surface it may have displayed was buried beneath millennia worth of glacial accumulation.
Beyond the dome was the suggestion of a crooked wall, also smooth and icy on its exterior. Other
structures that might have been elaborate towers or giant statues were now buried beneath the ice, though
they still jutted upward enough to suggest imaginative design and incredible workmanship.
Gilthanas walked a circle around the base of the arch—a span with a diameter of nearly a thousand paces.
The body of the structure seemed to be a curving shaft of solid stone. Each footing was only twenty or thirty
feet across, and no broader than the trunk of a full-grown vallenwood tree. Yet these pillars swept upward and
in, somehow bearing the weight of a span that seemed to deny possibility. The prince knew that no one in the
world, not even the most skilled of dwarven stonemasons, could have built anything resembling this in the
modern era. He needed no further proof of the arch's origins—this was clearly an artifact of a long-vanished
race, boasting workmanship of a quality lost to the world.
At the foot of one of the stone legs he saw that narrow steps had been carved into the surface. The climb,
especially at the beginning, looked to be treacherous and steep. Still, Gilthanas wasted no time in dropping his
satchel of treasures given to him by the gully dwarves. He wrapped his cloak around the bundle and, wearing
his sword in its sheath and using the soft boots on his feet, he started up the stone stairway.
For its lower course this was more accurately a ladder, since the arch started out rising nearly straight up
into the air. The steps were only wide enough for his toes,but his fingers could cling to the higher notches in
the stone surface, and he made his way without a great deal of difficulty. Soon the wind began to whip at him,
and he felt the chill through his wool tunic, but he clung tightly to his handholds and made sure that each foot
was firmly planted before he advanced to the next step.
By the time he had risen a hundred feet above the surface of the glacier, the angle of incline had decreased
enough that Gilthanas could climb without the use of his hands. Even so, he remained hunched forward, and
as the wind rose to howling force, he frequently grabbed at the stone surface to steady himself. He began to
take note of the irregularities in the surface of the ice below—the shrouded structures of the ancient huldrefolk
This was not a ruin in the same sense as Purstal, where it was possible to guess at the nature of the
structures and clearly perceive their purposes. Here, any purposes eluded his understanding—except,
perhaps, for one great bowl that might have served as some kind of amphitheater. Otherwise the walls, domes,
irregular shapes, and icy spires that extended for miles inland made no sense in the context of any city
Gilthanas had ever seen.
Finally he stood at the top of the arch, where he found a smooth platform no larger than the main table in a
typical inn. Like the rest of the arch, this flat expanse was clear of snow and ice—a fact which, for the first time,
struck him as unusual. With a steady stride he walked to the center of the platform and turned to face the sun.
He spread his arms wide, braced himself against the wind buffeting him, and raised his voice to the heavens.
"Silvara!" he cried. "I seek you! May the power of the arch fulfill my quest!"
He waited, feeling the chill of frostbite on his cheek, seeking some sensation of ancient power—some
magic that would sweep him away from here. But he sensed no indication—no smell or taste of an aura. He
listened, but the sound that reached his ear evoked a much earthier company.
The word was followed by a hearty laugh—the speaker apparently greatly enjoying his suggestion.
Immediately Gilthanas opened his eyes. Stepping forward, heedless of the long drop, he looked down to
see a trio of tiny figures standing in the snow below.
"Jump!" shouted one of them, and this time all three bent over from the force of their fulsome guffaws. "We'll
catch you!" he hollered, spreading his great arms in an expansive, ludicrous gesture.
"Thanoi," muttered the elf, recognizing the tusked faces and the powerful and hulking bodies of the
walrus-men. His memories of the crude race were bad, dating back to his first quest on this glacier—a search
for an orb of dragonkind that had brought him here more than forty years ago.
"Go away," he shouted in reply. "Or perhaps you'd care to catch one of my arrows!"
He tried the bluff, hoping that the creatures hadn't seen that he wasn't armed with a bow. He was
disappointed when they only laughed harder. "Are you going to throw them down? Perhaps we can catch them
in your pretty cloak!"
Now he saw that the largest of the walrus-men, the speaker and presumed leader, was holding out a scarlet
bundle. The other two pawed through the robe, howling as they picked up the elf's treasured belongings.
Gilthanas flushed with rage. Not for the first time did he truly miss his magic, knowing that in years past he
could have unleashed his power on these insolent wretches to punish them thoroughly—while barely batting
his own eyes from the effort. Gritting his teeth, he checked that his sword was loose in its scabbard and started
back down the stairs he had ascended
Only then did he stop and reflect. He had felt no power— no arcane effect atop the arch—but he had been
so sure he could find Silvara by using it somehow. Purposefully he stepped back across the platform, this time
turning his face to the east. Again he beseeched the ancient power of the huldre, calling Silvara by name,
straining his mind for some senstion, some suggestion of an image, of his silver dragon maid.
But there was nothing beyond the howling of the wind and the increasingly mocking laughter from below.
He squinted in the distance, following his tracks back across the snow, and then he saw it:
A brown shape, clearly the hull of a sleek boat, lay in a notch on the icy shoreline. Had the thanoi come here
in that craft? Certainly he hadn't seen any sign of them in the ruined city beforehand. Yet, though his tracks
were clearly visible, there was no spoor leading from the boat, or anything suggesting that the walrus-men had
come from other than the snow right below.
Once more Gilthanas started down the arch. On the lower, steepest stretch, he was forced to face the steps
and thus turn his back to the thanoi, who had gathered in a loose ring below him. The elf startled the hulking
bullies by spinning when he was twenty feet off the ground and leaping to the snow to land beyond the ring of
walrus-men. By the time they had recovered from their surprise, turning to face him, he was standing with his
"It has been years since I have killed one of your clan," Gilthanas declared coldly. "But it is not a knack I
"Hoark, hoark!" laughed the largest thanoi. "A big sting for a little fellow." The creature hefted his formidable
weapon, which was a wooden shaft with a vast sheet of clear ice forming an ax-blade at one end. Gilthanas
didn't let the crude appearance of the weapon fool him; he knew that the frostreaver was a weapon as deadly
as any razor-edged blade of steel.
"Give me my things, and I will go," the elf declared boldly. "Unless you choose to fight."
"We give your things back—but only if you go that way," grunted the thanoi, pointing inland.
Immediately Gilthanas remembered the boat. Did they want to keep him away from the craft? Or did they
merely intend to follow him across the glacier and kill him at their leisure?
"I have a mind to go there," he replied, indicating the coast. "But I will take my things, regardless."
"No! Go away!" bellowed the greatest of the walrus men.
"Are you thieves?" the elf scoffed. "You wouldn't know what to do with those things if you kept them!"
"Do?" The thanoi's voice dropped to a menacing growl. "Do this!"
Gilthanas was startled when one of the thanoi hoisted the decanter of Purstal and smashed the glass
against the stone arch. Another tore asunder the scroll—the precious map that had brought him to this point.
And the third rent his cloak into small pieces with savage, grunting tears.
The elf lost his temper and charged in to attack. His steel sword shattered one frostreaver, then cut down
two of the lumbering thanoi. He stabbed the last one in the back,
ously twisting the blade, then kicking the corpse as his trembling rage lingered long after his enemies were
dead. Most of his magical treasures were gone, destroyed uselessly, mindlessly ... and for what?
Finally, cold and thirsty, he plodded across the ice, seeking the wooden hull he had seen from so far above.
Darkness fell, but now he couldn't stop, for to sleep was to die. The cold wind tore through his tunic, and he
longed for the cloak. If the boat proved useless, or even barren of provisions, he would undoubtedly perish
from exposure to frost or sea. But now it was his only chance.
He discovered the craft and was astonished to see that it appeared new—at least, it showed no signs of
weathering. It floated in a natural slip between two jutting prongs of ice. The planks were smooth, and the hull
was polished to a high sheen. There was no snow in it, nor were there tracks in the fresh powder around it. He
scrambled over the gunwale, estimating the vessel at a good twenty-five feet long. More to his delight, he
found a cask of water—somehow, miraculously unfrozen—and a crate containing many fresh loaves of elven
warbread. The provisions should last for a month or more. Furthermore, he looked under the foredeck and
found clean blankets and several plush furs. However, th boat held no oars, and he could not find any sign
that a mast had ever been mounted.
Most curious was an elaborate scrollwork of words carved into the transom. He recognized the structure of
verse, though the letters themselves were arcane and utterly foreign to him. Nevertheless, he ran his fingers
over the words, whispering to himself. He decided to camp here and warm himself in the furs while he made
He dozed off, and the last thing he did was mumble the words "Elian Wilds," with the vague notion that he
could get supplies there.
Suddenly, the boat began to move.