| It was a strange
dawn. The Sun seemed reluctant to shake off the shackles of night and soar over the rim of
the world. When it did, the rays it sent spinning across Midnight seemed cold and pallid.
From the north a frozen mist was seeping over the hills and forests and plains and the
dawn was silent, the air empty of birds, the earth untrodden by the chattering creatures
of day. Even to Corelay the coldness spread and a nameless chill gripped mens hearts
as they rose to greet the new day. Old warriors, in dread, whispered of Doomdark, for they
had been touched like this before, but the rest simply shivered and tried, with small
success, to shrug off their unreasoning fear.
This was only the vanguard of the ice-fear that gathered in the north. Around Ushgarak, the mist was so thick and high that the city still lay in darkness, though the rest of Midnight was bathed in light. Then, like a storm driven by the winds of the tall sky, the great mist began to roll south over the Plains of Despair. Even Doomdarks creatures quailed and shivered as it passed. The mist fanned out as it moved ever southwards but it did not seem to thin or diminish: rather, it grew thicker and taller as it devoured the waking landscape.
From the Tower of the Moon, Luxor the Moonprince rode out to meet the dawn. At one side of him rode Morkin, his face eager and shining with the fire the dawn seemed to lack. At the other side rode Corleth the Fey, a hint of unbidden laughter playing round his lips. Luxor turned first to Corleth.
"My friend, we must part now but I will be with you. I know your people are loathe to fight but this is more than a war of Men. Ride north to the forests of the Fey and gather those you can to our banner: we will have need of you and all your kin before this war is done."
"The Fey will fight, my Lord Moonprince, though at times you may not notice how. I will raise more than a war-band, I promise you. Fare thee well, my friend."
Then the Moonprince turned to his son. He placed his hand on the boys shoulder.
"This parting has come too soon. I fear your task may be the hardest of all, Morkin: take no risk without need. You risk enough already."
"Have no fear, Father. I will return. You risk more than I and it is you who should take care: do not orphan me again."
"I will try not to! Farewell, my son."
The Moonprince turned to the south-east, towards Corelay. He took the Moon Ring and slipped it on his finger. In his mind, the distant murmur of battle seemed to grow and a warm fire burned in his blood. Suddenly, the horizon seemed to expand and fly away into the distance as into his mind flooded all the hopes and fears of the peoples of the Free. He drew his sword from its scabbard and held it aloft, then spurred his white stallion towards the Forest of Shadows and distant Corelay.
"Arise, Midnight! he called as he rode, "Arise the Free! Peril and doom lie at our gates. Waken your valour, arm yourselves with courage! We ride to conquer Doomdark forever! Arise Midnight, arise!"
His war-cry rang out across the still dawn, flying over the forests and hills, whispering over the plains, in the distant citadels of the free, in Ithrorn, in Marakith, in Shimeril, in Kumar and in Grad and in Xajorkith, men paused and looked about themselves, imagining they heard a faint echo whose words they couldnt quite catch yet which quickened their hearts and made their blood race.
Then, as if swept away by a sudden wind, though the air stayed as still as the mountains, the dour mist that lay over Midnight vanished northwards, shrinking back towards Ushgarak. The full dawn broke suddenly over the land, showering it in a blaze of warmth and light. A wave of hope rippled outwards from the Forest of Shadows across the country of the Free, to far Corelay, to the Plains of Dawn, to the Mountains of Morning, warming chill hearts and bringing a glimmer of gladness to Midnight that had too long been absent.
In the Winter Palace of Ushgarak, the frozen mist that should have been flowing out in an endless stream was rushing back in. Doomdark flailed his arms through it as it thickened about him.
"Back!" he cried, "Back! Fly out, out!"
It was to no avail. The ice-fear rushed homewards and sank back into his cold flesh. When all had returned and the air cleared, there was worse a warmth, an explicable warmth seemed to touch his mind. The Witchking grimaced. He had almost forgotten what pain was like. A spore of doubt buried itself in his thoughts and like a canker, began to grow.
"A Moonprince?" he mused, "No! It cannot be."
But far to the south, already Luxor the Moonprince sped through the Forest of Shadows to rally Corelay and the Free. The War of the Solstice had begun.