That night, having recovered his memories of both Quatria and his home away in Cannaxus to the south, Benda fell into a deep dreamless sleep, until sometime near dawn. And then, the blue-robed figure with dark hair who had appeared to him outside the hollow lower down on the Cloud Spire appeared again to him in a hazy dream-vision — the one whom the sage Banarat had identified as Murta, the shape-shifter and King of Holmat, Third King of Kremel.
Benda could almost make out his face atop the rough silhouette of his body approaching in the distance, as on a great empty plain. But something seemed to impede his progress, and he was not able to come closer. Benda still could feel the will of Murta seeking him through the haze, probing the peripheries of Benda’s mind and awareness. It was an altogether alarming sensation, Benda decided, and struggled in his dream to break free from it. It seemed he could not, however. He watched in horror as the hazy figure of Murta-the-man lifted up his arms, cloak outstretched, and the transformation overtook him. His arms and cloak became wings and feathers, his dark hair and face elongating into the beak and eyes of a great bird of prey — an eagle. Benda recognized it at once as the same eagle which had tracked their progress around the Cloud Spire. It flapped its wings, and with a great leap, took to the air.
The eagle seemed to be able to draw closer to Benda, where Murta-the-man had not been capable. Benda was not able to move, and knew that, in an instant, the creature would be upon him. Just then, with a flash, the wizard Banarat appeared in front of Benda out of nowhere. With a cry, hethrust up what looked like a stone knife into the air. For a terrible moment, all was silent, and the eagle bore down on them, talons extended as if to strike. Until suddenly, Banarat’s spell took effect, and a resounding crack of thunder split the air. The eagle quailed, and shrieked. It swept its wings and veered off and away from the haze of the plain, which was rapidly being dispelled by the light of the rising sun.
Benda awoke with a start, and his paralysis ended. Banarat was standing over him in the flesh, in much the same position as he had last seen him in the vision, but the stone knife was nowhere to be seen.
Eradus too, awoke suddenly. “Right strong thunder,” he said, scanning the clouds above the castle. As the surprise wore off, he felt afresh the excesses of the endless goblet of the night before, and he rubbed his temples. “What a way to wake up!”
Benda and Banarat looked at one another, and Benda understood immediately it had not been a dream.
“He should not have been able to breach the walls of this castle, and yet he nearly did,” said Banarat. “His power is heightened by his desire.”
“His desire for what?” asked Benda, genuinely confused.
“The way to Quatria,” replied Banarat.
“But I don’t know the way,” Benda said.
“Don’t you though?” replied Banarat. “Who else has gone there and back again?”
Benda, considering this, rose in silence.
“What’s all this about Quatria, then?” Eradus asked, rubbing now the bridge of his nose. “I… seem to have some blank spots from last night. Bit too much to drink, I had.”
Banarat’s eyes sparkled.
“Come now, you two. Arise, Eradus,” Banarat said. “A quick breakfast, and you must away.” He shepherded them to the crude table, and produced from somewhere hard boiled eggs, and a bit of bread for each.
“There is little time to waste. He will be seeking you all the more in earnest, now that he knows your memory is recovered.”
“He, he — he tried to enter my mind,” Benda said between bites. “Didn’t he?”
“He was seeking images of the way, so he could reproduce the voyage without you,” Banarat said. “But make no mistake, he is not above taking you bodily as a guide —or as prisoner — to get back there and to re-open the way.”
“To Quatria?” Eradus demanded, laughing. “So you’ve really gone there then?”
“Yes,” Benda admitted, quite serious. “I remember everything, or almost everything.”
Eradus merely arched his eyebrows in a question mark as he chewed the old stale bread Banarat had given them.
“I don’t know the way, in truth,” Benda said. “There was a storm-at-sea on both the voyage there and the voyage back again. And the ship drifted for many days before striking ground at the place you found me. I had no hand in it.”
“You say you don’t know the way,” said Eradus. “But what if you are the way?”
Benda said nothing.
Having finished their meal, they took up their bedrolls, sacks, and cloaks, while Banarat went somewhere else to fill their water-skins. Returning, he lead them to another part of the castle courtyard, on the far side of the central keep. There were two round wooden upright posts standing up from the ground. Across the top was a lintel, slightly wider than the breadth of the distance between the poles. Eradus remarked that it looked like a door.
“Aye,” said Banarat. “Go you two now through it, and you’ll pass in an instant to the Plain below.”
“Like the Arch of Passing,” Eradus whistled. “Handy, that!”
“Before you set off, please accept these gifts. To King Eradus, I give the goblet with which we drank our fill last night. Be it filled by the hand of a king, it will never go empty.”
Eradus was obviously greatly impressed and flattered by this gift, “I couldn’t,” he blurted out. “I shouldn’t!” he exclaimed. “Not after last night,” he laughed, and Banarat and Benda laughed with him.
“I insist,” said the old man, handing it over to him.
“And to Benda, once Lost, not yet Found, who is now Seeker, become you now also exceedingly careful and a Keeper of Secrets, oh Secret King of Somewhere. For whether you know it or not, you hold the way back to Quatria, which is a gift of inestimable value. Be wise, now that you remember, and exercise intuition and judgement in whom you take now into the bosom of your confidence, and who is worthy of these riches.”
“Thank you, dear sage,” Benda said, bowing low.
“I’m not done,” corrected Banarat, smiling. From the folds of his clothes, he produced the stone knife. “Take this,” he said. “Thunderstone,” he thrust it into Benda’s unwilling hand.
“I thank you, oh wise one, but I am no weather worker. I must decline.”
“You were a fisherman before you were a minstrel. You don’t yet know what you are, or who you will become,” countered Banarat. “The true journey is just now beginning. Please, take my gift,” he said more gently. “It is the thunderstone knife of my departed father. I give it not lightly, and lay upon you the commission to only use it in hour of greatest need.”
“I am greatly honored,” Benda went down on one knee to take this treasured heirloom.
“Now, be off with you. Go and find your family by the hidden and secret ways. Avoid ever the eyes of the eagle, whose gaze cannot penetrate below the ground or where the sun shines not,” Banarat said, pushing them towards the threshold.
“And give my warmest regards to Machef, who is waiting for you below with your golek steeds. He will be your guide through the ancient tunnels of his people. With any luck (which you have in great measure, I should say), you may be able to pass through most of Holmat, and back to the land of your people undetected.”
Without further delay, the two travelers stepped through the doorway, and found themselves immediately back onto the Great Plain, not far from where they’d left their goleks. Dema and Selef appeared presently over a hill, accompanied by the larger sable golek, Machef, whose people were native to the Isle of Edebia, and aided in softening the blow Hard-Hammer.
Benda turned and looked back up at the Cloud Spire one last time, the height of which was no longer visible. And then they crossed the hill to join the goleks.