Kite bounded up the granite stairs to the portals of Winthrop Keep. Winthrop was a small holding, perhaps a dozen leagues southwest of Dargon. Recently, Kite, an aspiring young lord of the house of Talador, a wealthy duchy south of Winthrop, was engaged to Pecora, the only child of the ruler of Winthrop. But this sunny morning, Kite had received a message from Mistress Izetta, Pecora’s woman-in-waiting and nursemaid of many years, asking him to come at once to Winthrop Keep. It seemed that Pecora had fallen ill, but the note had revealed little more.
Kite walked quickly through the halls he knew so well. He had often visited Pecora during their courtship, and had cherished each moment within these walls. Yet he strode to Pecora’s room quickly, and without any emotion more evident than concern. At last he came to the door to her chambers, and rapped anxiously. After a moment, an older woman quietly opened the door and bade Kite enter.
He entered into a spacious and well-decorated lounge area. He hardly noticed as the woman guided him to a seat. “What is wrong, Mistress Izetta?”
“Pecora is ill. Last night she went weak and pale as a ghost. She is not well, milord. Come speak to her.” With that, she led him to the bedchamber, where Pecora lay. She did not see Kite until he had knelt beside her. She tried to speak, but could not, but Kite could see her words in her questioning eyes.
“I am here, love. It will be all right. I promise.” He kissed her forehead, and she closed her eyes. He stood, and the two silently returned to the entry.
After a few moments, Izetta spoke. “Milord, I have done what I can for her, but I have seen this disease before, many years ago, when we lived in the south. It was my mother.” Kite knew by the servant’s downcast eyes that her mother had not survived.
“Is there anything you can do?” he asked, futilely, seeing the weariness in her eyes.
“I have done all I can. Yet there may be something you can do, if you have a strong heart. I remember when my mother was dying, my father saying that an Elder would possess the knowledge to help her. He sent friends to seek an Elder named Isentraum, but none believed him, and he would not leave my mother. Do you know of the Elders?”
“I have heard the tales, but I thought the Elders were all dead. The legends say they lived hundreds of years ago!”
The woman smiled. “And so they did, and still do, for the Elders know far more than any nursemaids or even great lords. If you can find an Elder, he will know how to save Pecora, for I know not.”
“Yet where shall I look? The Elders all are said to have lived far from other people, or in secret places.”
“If you ride southwest, you will pass many villages, and after several days come upon a great lake. This is where my father sent men to search for the Elder Isentraum. Look there, and godspeed.”
After a moment of hesitation, Kite stood. The anxiety he had fought to contain finally had an outlet, and there was hope that Pecora would be healed. He would search for the Elder.
Kite wrapped his cloak tightly around him, but the rain soaked through, chilling him as his horse slowly plodded up the slope of the valley where Winthrop was nestled. To keep his cheer up, he talked to Dagley, his horse.
“Well, Dag, this is it. The quest has begun. But it isn’t much of a quest, eh? Here we are, trudging out of town in the rain. This isn’t one of those quests the minstrels will sing about, that’s a certainty; the hero, plodding along on his soggy mount, watches his sword rust in the scabbard because all the monsters are inside where it is dry and won’t come out to fight!” The horse turned his head, looking at Kite, who tried to fathom what the horse might say if he could speak.
Eventually they reached the ridge above the valley, and Kite turned to view the town below. After a few silent moments he turned the horse and headed off towards the west, silent and contemplative.