The Tale of Asterlan Edit
Setting the Scene Edit
Now Duke Asterlan was a wise and just ruler, and the Kithain of his duchy reaped the benefits of his good rule. All the fae, from the meanest of the boggans toiling in the fields to the sluagh who live in the catacombs beneath the nearby city (which men call Boston), were contented. His subjects toasted his health, life, and good fortunes over draughts of gossamer wine and steaming tankards of goblin ale. Even the vile and brutish redcaps were treated with a measured and appropriate degree of kindness, once they forswore their bloodthirsty ways. In all the lands, there was none to compare with the duke. He was a paragon of all fae virtues: skilled and strong in battle, merciful in victory. Artist, philosopher and patron of the arts, none could match his wit or his fae beauty, both of which were justly famed throughout the lands. Justice flowed from the duke's right hand and righteous might from his left. A rare and radiant stone was on his brow, and that stone was called "wisdom." Truth was the duke's shield and courage was his sword.
In the few short seasons since the Dream Lords' return from Arcadia, the borders were made secure for the first time in the memories of even the oldest graybeards. The wild and dangerous chimera were mostly slain, and good-hearted creatures, both chimerical and mundane, gave bended knee and lowered head before the duke's train, as was his due. Even the smallest beggar childling could sleep soundly in his bed, content that all was safe and well.
The Celebration Edit
Now it came to pass that the Kithain of the dukedom rose up as one and cried out for a celebration in the duke's honor. Word of the unsolicited celebration spread quickly, even in other kingdoms. In every glade and hearth and lodge the duke's subjects spoke of nothing else. Lord and lady, burgher and peasant sought to outdo each other in the devising of the grandest gift. Honest nocker smiths labored deep into the night over forges of green balefire. Satyr bards and sidhe poets did battle with their own creative demons in hopes of wresting the choicest morsels of wit and sentiment from the lips of the muses. As the glorious day drew near, the people's excitement grew. It was also a time that the mortals called "bicentennial," and the festival air sparked 'twixt mortal and Kithain like summer lightning.
The center of the celebration was the duke's palace, that was in those days called Lenoria. Nowhere in all the Dreaming was there a place to compare with Lenoria. Here, it is said, the water married the summer sky. Built on the surface of a great lake, the duke's palace was a symphony of glass and mirrored turrets, each reaching higher than the last. On the day of the celebration the turrets mirrored clouds as white as angel hair. The lake was as blue as the Oracle Stone, and so calm that it created a second great mirror, echoing the beauty of Lenoria to the heavens. The duke's subjects came in their finest raiment; a symphony of finery that might well shame fair Arcadia herself. In the great mirrored hallway, the duke received his grateful people. Beneath their feet the glass floors presented a tableau of fish, both mundane and chimerical, who made their home beneath the palace's surface. Gifts both great and small were given, and in every instance the givers of the gift found their generosity returned tenfold by the duke. The merry laughter of excited childlings and aged graybeards mixed together in a revelry never before seen by the subjects of the duchy. Besides the gifts of the duke's subjects, however, each of the nine great peoples of Concordia chose a representative to give the best of their kind.
The Gifts EditThe gift of the satyrs was a lusty ballad of comedies great and greater still. After this the people were even merrier. Laughter fair shook the palace to its foundations; this a palace that a hundred armies could not destroy. Second came the boggans. Six of them there were and each of them held aloft a golden rail. Between them they carried a great golden cauldron. Placed before the duke, the cauldron's lid was lifted and a hundred birds of gold and silver flew out, circling the assembly and nesting in the palace's rafters. The joyous squealing of the childlings at this spectacle lifted even the most dour and Banality-weighted of graybeard hearts.
A waft of cinnamon and incense announced the arrival of the eshu, gaily attired in the colorful voile of a dozen lands. In chorus they wove a musical tapestry of danger and high adventure throughout the throng. For a time the duke and his subjects walked through that tapestry to lands beyond fair Arcadia, beyond the Dreaming itself — yet when the last note was carried off by the breeze, all were safely returned. Next came the pooka, all flash and guile and yellow silk. Their leader, a clever rabbit named Brer, sternly delivered a scholarly polemic on why the duke's lands outshone all others, while all the while his fellows capered and juggled and ballyhooed about him. A second time the foundations of fair Lenoria shook with laughter. The graybeard chamberlain was heard to warrant that it sounded like the Doomsday Dragon itself was at the gate.
When the china stopped its rattling, a throng of nockers stood forward. With calm and serious demeanor they presented the duke with the results of a hundred smiths laboring a hundred night: a shield they named Doria. Its surface was as black as the Great Darkness and emblazoned on it was an eagle rampant, red as blood. "A thousand blows will not dent it, nor will a thousand arrows pierce it": such was their pledge. Next came the lordly sidhe and all in the audience were near blinded by their radiance. Highest among them was the duke's goodly cousin and sovereign of those lands, Queen Mab. The mirrors of the hall reflected her flawless beauty into infinity and for a moment all the seasons of Arcadia were reborn in the hearts of those assembled. Her voice made even the oldest young again as she accorded her queenly esteem to the duke: the great sword Tamerlain, given to her by her father, and his father's father before him. Its silver blade, it is said, could cut through the veils of time itself. All was silent for a time, as the queen's magnanimity sunk in.
"We have no gift to compare with great Tamerlain," said Borach. "But, as you did defeat us in fair combat and did spare us, we do offer you our service and our lives. Where'st you go, we will be there to serve you, till the ends of the world and beyond," finished Thulio. Both men bowed low, with sincere humility, and Duke Asterlan allowed that this was as great a gift as any that had been given that day. Last came the sluagh soothsayer, named Surreal.
The Gift of Surreal Edit
Now Surreal had no love for the duke, though the duke knew it not. The ugly sluagh was sick for the wanting of a certain highborn maiden, but as long as Asterlan lived, Surreal knew she would never be his. "I bring you the greatest of gifts," he said with an obsequious bow, and so schooled in the arts of deception was he that not even the wisdom of the duke could pierce the fog that shrouded his heart. "I have long viewed into the Mirror of Souls, a treasure of my kind. I have divined a thousand entrails and drunk deeply from the Pool of Memory. One thing can I, with certainty, vouchsafe. I see a noble sidhe on a horse of white, held aloft by a band of brave men arrayed in armor of gold. I see before him a great silver portal, the Silver Gate of Arcadia!" The sluagh spoke in no more than a whisper, as was the custom of his kind, but to each of those assembled there it was a thunderclap.
"You, brave lord, more than all those of the Shining Host, are marked by the kindly forces of Dán. A long and perilous road lies before you, if your brave heart compels you to walk it. Many a stout companion you may lose on the way, but in time you are the one fated to bring the Dreaming back to the realms of man, that it may be Spring again."
Now it is not known what Surreal's proficiency as a diviner was, for he is long dead, but of one thing there can be no doubt: Surreal was a skillful and inveterate liar. He baited his hook most craftily with a bait that no sidhe with a heart as noble as Asterlan's could refuse. He mixed equal portions of danger and reward, of flattery and duty in his honeyed lies, and Asterlan, wise Asterlan, saw no deception in him.
The Call to Adventure Edit
With all the celebrations ended, Asterlan called for 30 of his most loyal knights. There was Celtchair of House Gwydion, as brave and as strong as a lion. There was the handsome and always-laughing Idath of House Fiona, fast as a hare and as steadfast as the Scarlet Oak. From the strange and mendicant House Scathach was the warrior maiden, Winter: silent as death and slightly blood-mad. Many other noble warriors of the sidhe were there, and Borach and Thulio too, who had thrown in their fates with Asterlan.
"None will speak ill of one who refuses this call to duty, for the road ahead is long and dark," the duke told them, but as one they rose and held their gleaming swords aloft. "Lead us into the very depths of the Great Darkness itself and we will follow!" the knights cheered with one voice. Asterlan took with him Tamerlain and Doria, and a coat of silver-blue mail. Then he mounted his great white charger, Chiron. The freehold's trod opened: a blazing portal of scarlet flame, and as one the knights rode through.
The Journey Begins Edit
At first they road through friendly lands, peopled by those subjects of the duke who chose to live in the Near Dreaming. The Silver Path was broad and true, and the men sang songs of knightly valor. Then came the Wylde Lands, where virtuous encounters grew less and less. Wicked chimerical beasts and Unseelie brigands peered with menace from fen and thicket, though few dared to harass so determined a company of knights. Those few that did met with sorrowful ends, for it is well proved that the least of sidhe knights is a match for any 10 foemen. Still deeper into the Dreaming they rode and still, for a while, the Silver Path held true, though thinner than before. At length they came to the Dark Lands and the Silver Path faltered, sometimes there, sometimes not. Many a bog and treacherous dale they traversed. The sky was always a whirl of dark and sickly hues, Like those found on the pallet of a mad nocker painter. Still there was good and knightly company, and those of House Scathach are renowned hunters, so there was no want of food.
The Dark Lands went on and on, seemingly forever. The air grew thick and full of stale and pestilential night vapors. There were great and angry flies the size of falcons, which harried the party day and night. (Though in truth there was little difference between the two in those foul lands.) A constant rain of a black, sickly water fell upon them, soiling their clothes and blistering their skin. Worse too, the clouds hung heavily with the weight of Banality and only the duke's mightiest Arts were of any use. In those lands walked strange creatures from beyond the Dreaming. Some were gibbering things, or flying things; others looked like men from afar, but their darkling eyes betrayed them. Here the first of Asterlan's complement fell in battle. Two brothers, young knights of House Dougal, rode into the thick of the dark men and slew many, but the dark men had fearsome weapons of unbridled Banality. The two were dragged into the baleful sky, despite the cries and curses of their comrades.
Beyond the Dark Lands EditAt last they departed those cursed lands and for a time their road was clearer. They met an occasional wanderer, here and there; though strange, most were not unfriendly. Asterlan questioned them about the path to Arcadia, but none of them possessed that secret. Then, in a place called Trillium Veil, they met one of the skinchangers (who are more properly called Garou). This one was a wise graybeard of a tribe called the Fianna, who are oath-friends to our kind. Asterlan charged the venerable Garou to tell them all he knew of the path to Arcadia. The noble creature allowed that he had heard stories of a place called Arcadia's Gate, a portal of silver and gold that must certainly lead to where they sought. Over the Splintered Mountains and then through the Forest of Lies was the path he conjured. The duke invited the wise Garou to join them on their quest and act as guide, but the creature declined. His own quest did he undertake, to find the endings to seven songs, which he swore would give him power over his enemies. So the duke did thank him, bestowing upon him a song of his own composing (for such is the way of showing proper appreciation to the Fianna). They parted company with many good words. Then, with purpose renewed and faith restored, the company did continue its quest.
The Splintered Mountains were properly named, for their once-great peaks were laid low, as if by the wrath of the gods. The lands were craggy and fractured, with spires of jagged rock that tumbled down on unwary travelers, dislodged by the force of the merest whisper. There were only the narrowest of walking spaces along the faces of many of the mountains. Many a false path was abandoned and retraced so that the knights could retain their trusted steeds. All the while, even the sharpest-eyed among them did not sense that baleful eyes were upon them, casting the darkness of their glance upon their every step. The air was filled with only the most evil-tempered of wind sprites, who delighted in starting landslides in an attempt to trap or crush the band. Still Asterlan's sense of direction was true and the troll Thulio walked far ahead of the party, for mountain craft is the domain of all of his noble kith.
Then, late one night, danger came upon them. Mountain giants, as tall as oak trees, emerged from the rock faces above them, and then of a sudden unleashed a hail of great boulders upon the band. Three knights fell in the first onslaught, and then five more, including dashing Idath, as they battled their way from that valley. The bow of Winter sang its deadly song, while Celtchair and Thulio returned boulder for boulder with the surprised giants. Borach's black ax cleaved at giant legs and to his companions' delight his cap grew redder than that of any redcap's hood in Kithain memory. In final great battle, beneath the mountain's roots, Asterlan swung mighty Tamerlain and a bolt of lightning took the head of the giant king. Even now the giants of those mountains whisper the name of Asterlan with fear and call him "mountain slayer."
The Forest of Lies EditStill the perils of the Splintered Mountains were as nothing to the lurking fear that awaited them in the Forest of Lies, which borders between the Far and Deep Dreaming. At the entrance to the forest they met a solitary traveler who warned against their intended path. When they insisted that their resolve to battle the forest was firm he shuddered with fear, but resolved to arm them with what advice he could give. There was a bare fragment of the Silver Path that ran the length of the forest and its entrance was nearby, he told them. They thanked him for his advice and soon found the pathway that he spoke of. It was a slender and twisted parody of the Silver Path that most Kithain know, in places no wider than a hair's width, but it was a path nonetheless. Although it was daylight when they entered the woods, within the forest it was perpetual night. Shadows were chaotic and restless here, some dancing menacingly, maddeningly just beyond the range of perception. Other shadows leaped out to attack the knights with whispered screams and phantom clutches, yet when the knights beat back with their blades and magics the shadows dissolved, as insubstantial as the night. The trees were chimerical monsters with dark and rotten hearts. Their twisted branches seemed at times to be skeleton fingers, trying to strangle the moon (always crescent and directly overhead), which was the knights' only constant source of light.
Glamour was plentiful here, as the trees had dreams of their own. At first the knights rejoiced in this, but the Glamour was tainted with darkling energies. The casting of cantrips was unpredictable and sometimes their draocht rebounded horribly on them. The troupe rode for what seemed like weeks, but in that perpetual midnight the marking of time became impossible. There was no food to be found anywhere. Even the meanest and most lonely of berries spurned their advances with vile flavor and poisonous humors. The duke's squire ate one and had to be carried for many days. Nor was their luck any better at hunting. No matter how carefully Winter aimed her bow, the target was never where it seemed. Many an arrow she lost before admitting defeat. Slowly their provisions dwindled and before long they would have seemed, to a stranger's eyes, to be a troupe of walking skeletons, with skin stretched tightly over their bones and sunken eyes. When one of the horses died it was a cause for some small celebration. Its demise meant food for a few short days. Six more horses died in this fashion and still they were no closer to the forest's end.
Aside from shadow and tree, or the occasional bat, they saw no living thing. Still the. unseen denizens of the forest taunted them with visions. Sometimes the smell of roasting venison and the sounds of merry laughter would burst in on them suddenly, tempting them from the Silver Path. Then Asterlan saw a maiden, beckoning to them from among the trees. Fair she was, with hair of gold and robes of white. She appeared many times, becoming a constant, and silent companion to the troupe, but never did they stray from, the path in the wanting of her. Then at last they came to a place where the forest parted suddenly. At first, they rejoiced, but then their spirits fell, Spread before them the crescent moon lit upon a chasm, many leagues across, with lower depths reaching down to where none dared guess. But the true horror was in what spread across it. Stretching from side to side were great spiderwebs, the greatest of which traversed the entire chasm with strands as thick as a strong man's wrist.
Web & Chasm EditThe party's spirits fell to their lowest ebb, for here was an obstacle they feared to overcome and even Duke Asterlan felt a touch of dread. He planned for a while how they might go around the wicked place, but as they turned to leave, a plaintive cry rent the air. At the web's far edge, bound with ropy strands, was the lady of the forest and nearly upon her was a host of the most fearsome creatures the duke had ever seen. Spiders the size of mundane elephants tripped delicately along the silken ropes, towards the defenseless lady. Now Asterlan was no fool and he was mindful of the forest's propensity for deception, so he was wary of a trap. But his noble heart could not turn away from a woman in such dire straits. With not the slightest hesitation he leapt from the cliffside and onto the nearest strand. Scholar that he was in the ways of nature, he knew that not all of the strands on a spiderweb are sticky. After watching the spiders' movements he quickly divined his course. His men waited for him at the cliffs edge, in accordance with his shouted command.
With the speed of a cat he closed the span between himself and the damsel in distress. Strand to strand he leapt, avoiding the clever pitfalls that awaited him. When once he guessed wrongly, Tamerlain flashed with silver fire and the strand fell away. He reached the fair maiden just ahead of her attackers and with a sword stroke freed her from her bonds. Her gratitude for his valor was a wide and evil grin. A single glyph she hissed, in wintry tones impossible for a human throat to form. The very air shimmered about her, as her fair form transformed into the most loathsome of spiders. Five times the size of her minions she was, and every inch of her swarmed with her horrid progeny. Spiders from the size of a thumbnail, to those the size of large dogs crawled over her. Black and boiling venom fell from her maw and madness blazed in her hundred eyes. Asterlan choked with the horrid odor that permeated the air. For the first time, in his long life he was forced to flee, for he knew he could not overcome such a monster through force of arms. The spider brood laughed at what they thought was his cowardice, for he ran as swiftly as he could.
Asterlan's comrades cried out in anguish when they saw the spiders cut off his retreat. But crafty Asterlan was not retreating. Large the spiders were, and in their place of power, but they could not match Asterlan for speed or guile. Asterlan leapt nimbly from strand to strand. As he did this he sang a song penned by a mortal kinain of the fae for just such an occasion. Soon the mocking call of "old Tom-Noddy" and "lazy cob" and "attercop" carried melodically on the wind as he led the enraged beasts toward the center of the web.
"Catch the naughty fly! Drink his blood and eat his cursed eyes. Leave his empty husk in the sun lands, 'til nothing is left but brittle bones!" the spiders shrieked in fury. Again Asterlan's companions groaned as a full four score of the loathsome beasts converged on the web's center, obscuring the duke from sight. Then suddenly Asterlan was free and on the web's other side. "Great is Asterlan in the Arts of Wayfaring!" chorused his joyous companions. The spiders knew not what had happened, for they still fought and bit at each other to kill the duke, oblivious to his escape. Asterlan danced around them now, cutting each strand as he passed, while his knights hewed at the web from their side of the chasm.
When at last the spiders realized their mistake, it was far too late. They were tangled up with each other in a ball of their own webbing, and a finer knarl had never been woven. The writhing mass of shrieking monsters was held aloft over the bottomless pit by a mere strand of web on either side. Asterlan, who had made his way back to his companions, took a blazing torch from them and hurled it at the foul creatures. The mass of them screeched and flailed and spat vile curses as they burned. Desperately they tried to untangle themselves from the burning pyre and never was such a hideous tumult heard. But, in the end, not one of them escaped, and a dark and hideous stain was removed from the forest forever.
A Different Path EditAs the knights rested from the great ordeal, Asterlan thought long and hard. At last he spoke to his men. "I have pondered much the riddle of the Forest of Lies and there is but one answer. The greatest lie is the one told to us before we entered, the one that the Silver Path exists here. To leave this forest, we must leave the path."
The knights were doubtful of this, but trusted in their duke. At first they noticed little difference, but then the moon sank in the sky to be replaced by the sun. It was a poor sun to be sure and the forest was still sinister, even at high noon, but at least they could mark the passing of the days. Many days passed and still there was no food. Of them only Borach remained fed, for redcaps can eat anything. (And it is well he could feed off rocks and sticks, because a hungry redcap is not the most congenial of traveling companions.) All the horses died, save Chiron, and he was a skeleton of his former self. And still the forest went on and on. Then one day, while they rested, Winter smelled food. Although they had smelled many phantom feasts since entering the forest, they had smelled none after leaving the path. They followed the scent, their stomachs rumbling all the while. What they saw in the clearing made them dumb with amazement.
Arcadia Gateway Edit
Before them was a palace, as lofty and as grand as fair Lenoria. But instead of brick or stone or gleaming mirror, it was made entirely of food. Pastries, roast mutton and cheese were its foundations. Towering piles of fresh fruit and candies were its pinnacles. And the smell, the glorious smell, spoke directly to each man's soul. Forgetting themselves, even the most cautious of them flew to the palace's walls. Celtchair grabbed a shingle and Thulio a paving stone. Even Asterlan quite forgot himself and reached to grab a windowsill made of finest white bread. Then suddenly the food became rotten and pestilent in their hands and mouths. A foul reek filled their noses and each man fell back in disgust and dismay. Without warning they were surrounded by an army of soldiers who wore armor of black. Each of the soldiers was very like the sidhe in appearance, with faces beautiful and grim. And each one carried an Unseelie black blade, limned with a fire of green. Asterlan knew they never could battle such an army in their present condition, so he held aloft his ring of office and turned to the knight whose demeanor marked him as their leader.
"And who are you, who without invite descend upon our palace and eat our home?" queried their leader.
"1 am Asterlan, a lord in my own lands. We are hungry knights upon a quest and truly we meant you no harm."
"You are very more like wolves than knights, to behave as you did." Asterlan hung his head, for he knew that they were right, and that even a starving man must not steal his bread. "We will take you to our queen," concluded the dark knight.
Now Princess Marianna was a woman both puissant and passionate, as are most of the Unseelie nobility. When she first saw Asterlan, even in his decrepit state, her heart grew soft, for she knew that she desired him. She then spoke words of welcome, making light of their transgressions, and with a wave ofher hand the palace regained its original form and the hall was filled with light and music. They were fed and bathed, and robed in the finest of voile. And when they were made comfortable she asked them of their quest. Asterlan told her and she laughed in merriment. "Then your quest is ended, for 'twixt this land and the next (which is ruled by a king, Seelie as I am Unseelie), there is a silver gate which leads to fair Arcadia itself." Upon hearing this the knights rejoiced and made merry, though Asterlan's heart misgave him. They did stay in the Unseelie palace for a fortnight and each evening there was an entertainment more lavish than the night before. Many of Asterlan's knights made friends and lovers among the Unseelie kind, and Asterlan's heart did misgive him more.
To the Gate Edit
Then finally one day, upon Asterlan's insistence, the queen consented to escort them to the gateway. On a fine autumn day they took to the main road that split, the two kingdoms. They saw how on one side of the road the trees were ordered and in full bloom, and the houses were friendly and filled with airy light. On the dark side of the road the forest was twisted and foreboding and even the humblest of dwellings had a dark grandeur. They came upon a thriving city by a sea. The city was built on seven hills, with spires that reached the sky, and it too was divided between light and dark. A grand procession formed about them as they ascended the steep road toward the city's center. At last they came upon a great and ancient wall of white marble, frosted with veins of black. The wall was invisible from a distance, yet upon close inspection it reached into the heavens. On it were the vines of a thousand year's growth and white doves perched and cooed in their branches. Centered in that wall was a great door, as tall as a hundred men, made of purest white gold. Carved on the door was a great tree and on each branch stood a faerie lord of antiquity.
The great procession stood behind Asterlan in silence, for they too were exiles from Arcadia and word had spread quickly about the Seelie duke from the mortal lands who would open the great door. He approached the door, mounted on proud Chiron, and his men hewed boards out of trees and lifted both the duke and his mount aloft, in accordance with the prophecy. The sea was silent beneath the city and the doves stopped their cooing. Even the wind died as though it had never had a voice. His hand reached for the great silver knocker. And his hand seemed to pass through a thousand seasons as he pulled its great weight back. Then he stopped and gently lowered the knocker to its resting place; not a sound did it make. And he walked away from the door.
The fae of the city drifted away in silence, for they had a hundred such legends about one who would one day open the gates. They had tasted disappointment before. All the way back to Marianna's palace they rode in silence and a pall was upon them.
Temptation EditThat night there was a winter storm that blustered in from the sea and the sky was filled with spirits of lightning and rain. Marianna came to Asterlan in his chamber and asked him why he had not knocked on the door. "It is not the true Arcadia beyond the great door, but merely one of its shadows. You are deceived and your long guardianship of this portal has been for naught," he said. His words were spoken kindly, for he feared the revelation might do her harm. Marianna lowered her eyes and spoke.
"Perhaps it is not the true Arcadia, I have entertained this thought often enough. Yet, come with me back to the gate and knock on the door. We will live there in that shadow together — for surely even a pale imitation of Arcadia is greater than all other worlds." But Asterlan swore he would have none of that; he would not live in a lie.
"Then stay with me here in the forest and rule by my side, and you may make of my lands what you will," she said. Asterlan rebuffed her overtures as gently as he could, for she had shown him great courtesy, but Marianna flew into a rage.
"You would refuse a queen in her own palace? Such an insult will not be borne!" And saying this, she turned into a great black serpent and wrapped him in her coils, that he should not escape. But Asterlan was too strong for her and forced open her viselike grip. Then she turned into a ravening wolf with eyes of green flame, for if she could not have him she wished him dead. Asterlan was her master in the arts of war, however, and evaded her rending fangs. Finally she turned into a great eagle, with feathers as dark as night. She flew for the window, for she knew she was not his match and feared his retribution. Asterlan seized his mighty bow and let fly an arrow, piercing her wing. With a shriek she fluttered to the ground, regaining her original form.
Tamerlain was at her throat now and Asterlan, grim faced, behind it. Marianna knew that she was beaten, but like the queen she was, she would not beg for mercy. Asterlan saw her green eyes stare back into his, proud and defiant, even in defeat. He sheathed his sword then, and helping her to her bed, gently removed his arrow from her arm. "We will speak no more of this," he said.
The next morning his procession left the castle, but smaller than when it had arrived. Many of his knights wished to stay among the people of the gate, for though it was not Arcadia, or even its shadow, it was still more like it than any land they knew. Asterlan left each man with a gift, so they might know that he was not angered by this, for the road behind them had been difficult and the road ahead would be harder still. Only Celtchair, Winter, Borach and Thulio rode forth with him now, and their spirits were not high. At the front gate Marianna awaited them. Taking Asterlan aside, she spoke with him a little space.
"Your quest was undertaken on the word of a soothsayer. While I know not what his powers or intentions might be, this one thing I will foretell: I too am skilled in the arts of divination and see before you only the darkest of Dáns; unless you turn from your present path." Then she entreated him to stay once more, and this time not for her sake, but his own. Asterlan would not be swayed, though. While he too now suspected Surreal of falsehood, the quest had taken on a life of its own and he could not bear to kill it. Then she gave him a scarf of gossamer twilight and watched him as he rode into the fog that had rolled in from the ocean. It was thus, on a gray and rainy morn, that Asterlan left the eyes of the Kithain, perhaps forever.
From there they rode farther and farther into the border realms of the Dreaming. And many more tales might be told of him, but none know what they are. Some say that he eventually found Arcadia and may yet return to bring a new Spring to all the lands. Others say that he became weighted down with dread Banality in some far-off land, and lived and died as a mortal man. Yet there are many stories of late in these, the mortal lands, that a ghostly covey of gray Kithain, with dark eyes and swords of flashing red have been seen. And there is a screaming, gray wind about them that cuts through the most Banality-sodden of hearts. And their demeanor is fearsome, but their deeds are those of heroes.
When Duke Asterlan disappeared in 1976, it was a cause of great sorrow among the fae. Although some of his more dazzling accomplishments are somewhat exaggerated, he was a man of uncommon merit nonetheless. A minor cult of personality devoted to his memory now stretches throughout Concordia. Mostly made up of wilders (noble and commoner), these fae strive to honor his memory by emulating his heroic deeds. Some malcontents scorn this movement and even imply that Asterlan was no hero, but a despot. They delight in pointing out logical and historical inconsistencies in the accounts of his exploits. The story of his quest for Arcadia is a special target for their derision. Few Kithain are fooled by this historical revisionism, though. If anything, Asterlan's legend continues to grow.
Some wags call Asterlan the "Elvis Presley of the Kithain," because of the many sightings of him and his company in recent years. While the general consensus is that Asterlan died while questing for Arcadia, reports of these sightings persist. Usually these witnesses speak of being delivered from peril by a group of ghostly Kithain surrounded by a gray mist and accompanied by a screaming wind. A common thread in all of these accounts describes how Banality miraculously lifts in the troop's presence. These stories are gaining great currency among the foolish and the superstitious. Sophisticated Kithain, of course, know better.