Elves and trolls engage in an epic battle for the Palace of the High Ones
Part 4 of The Grand Quest (read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3)
Under attack from the newly arrived elves, the trolls retreat, and the wounded Wolfriders are taken to the lodge of the snow elves. Leetah manages to heal Cutter, who is on the verge of death. She has help from an elf who, after the healing, reveals himself to be Rayek, formerly Leetah's lovemate and Cutter's rival for Leetah's hand. Leetah is shocked, since she had found elf bones while traveling through the desert and had thought they were his.
Rayek later tells his story to Leetah: after he left Sorrow's End, he crossed the desert and journeyed through the troll caverns underneath the Wolfrider's burned-down holt. During his time in the caverns, he came across an ancient rockshaper elf named Ekuar who was missing a leg, an arm and a finger; apparently the trolls had used the rockshaper to open new tunnels and find gems for them, and they had badly mistreated him. Rayek and Ekuar became friends, and Ekuar helped Rayek grow in his magic powers to the point of being able to levitate himself and others. During the battle between Greymung's and Guttlekraw's trolls, Rayek and Ekuar escaped up the troll tunnel passage leading to the Frozen Mountains. Ekuar had told Rayek that the High One's Palace was in the Frozen Mountains, and Rayek wanted to search for it. But on the way, they were misled by a 'strange voice' (that of Two-Edge) which caused them to get lost and come out of the troll tunnel prior to reaching the Palace. They instead came to the lodging of the snow elves, who took them in.
The snow elves, a tribe of about forty elves under the leadership of their chief Kahvi, have hardly any magical powers and no longer breed using Recognition. As a result they are not as genetically 'refined' and tend to be a bit more crude and ungainly than other elves. They had been nomads, following herds of great deer, until eight years ago when they got close enough to the Palace to feel its magic “calling" them to it. They now call themselves “Go-Backs," a name which refers to their goal to “go back" to the Palace of the High Ones. To try to reach this goal they have been in a continual war with trolls, who apparently live to keep elves from accessing the palace. The Go-Backs are even more fierce and war-like than the Wolfriders. They are tough and hardened due to their long battle with the trolls.
The Go-Backs have been trying to reach the palace by crossing over or going around the mountains but are always stopped by the trolls. But Two-Edge has left Blue Mountain and is now in the frozen mountains. He appears to Cutter outside the Go-Back's lodge and opens up a hole in the ground which leads to a troll tunnel, telling Cutter that it can lead the elves straight into the heart of the trolls' kingdom, where the elves can fight and defeat the trolls once and for all and reclaim the palace. Cutter is now determined that, after all they have been through, they must persevere in reaching the High Ones' Palace. Cutter presents Two-Edge's idea to the Go-Backs and Wolfriders, and they all agree to it.
After a night of wild revelry, those who will enter the troll caverns to do battle prepare to leave. After a tearful farewell to the children, the wolves, and some of the adult elves who are staying behind in the lodge, the Go-Backs and Wolfriders go into the tunnel Two-Edge revealed. On the way in they free three wild wolves whom the trolls had trapped in a pit to kill any elf who came through. The three wolves accept Cutter as kin, and accompany the group into the troll caverns. Guided by Petalwing, the elves begin to make their way into the troll caverns and come to a mining pit, where they discover Greymung's trolls, including Picknose, working in the pit as slaves. Petalwing tells the elves they must go across the pit in order to continue on toward the palace. The elves attack only the troll guards and convince Greymung's enslaved trolls to aid the elves in the attack against the guards. Cutter tells Picknose that he can have all the treasure to which Cutter's sword New Moon apparently holds the key, if he and Greymung's freed trolls aid the elves in their battle against Guttlekraw's trolls. Picknose agrees, and Greymung's trolls accompany the elves through the mining pit and deeper on into the caverns.
They come to a crossroads and hear Two-Edge's voice through the walls, telling them that one of the walls is hollow. To escape the warriors coming toward them from one of the hallways, Ekuar the rockshaper opens a hole in the hollow wall and the elves and Greymung's trolls go through and find themselves in front of a huge set of double doors. The key in Cutter's sword New Moon opens the doors, which lead to a room filled with elf-shaped metal armor and weapons. This is the 'treasure' Two-Edge had spoken of to Picknose long ago, with the intent that the information would get passed on to the elfin owner of the sword New Moon.
Two-Edge reveals himself to all of them, and tells them how to use the armor and weapons. He claims that by using the armor, the odds will now be even in the troll vs. elf battle to come. Picknose, however—greatly disappointed that there is no treasure here as Two-Edge had promised him—plans to aid the elves in the battle in order to topple Guttlekraw and take over the kingship himself. Two-Edge is very upset to hear of Picknose's plan, because he wants elves and trolls only fighting each other, not helping each other. Torn between his elf and troll sides and not altogether sane due to childhood trauma inflicted on him by Winnowill, he had long ago begun to orchestrate this battle so that he can align himself with whichever race wins it.
As the newly armored elves and Greymung's trolls make their way through the caverns toward Guttlekraw's throne room and the Palace beyond, Two-Edge tries to separate the trolls from the elves, but does not succeed. They all make their way to Guttlekraw's throne room, where the decisive battle begins as Two-Edge looks on. With Greymung's trolls aiding the elves in the battle, it quickly turns in the elves' favor. Guttlekraw and his trolls are afraid that if the elves regain the palace, that they will rule over the trolls as they did in the High One's time, and Guttlekraw's army fights fiercely to prevent this fear from becoming reality. But in the end Guttlekraw is killed and his army defeated, Picknose declares himself the new king, and the elves' passage to the palace of the High Ones is now open.
Two-Edge, greatly dismayed that his plan to determine which race to align with has failed, disappears while the elves and Picknose's trolls celebrate their victory. When the elves return to the Go Backs' lodge, they learn that it had been attacked by some of Guttlekraw's trolls, but the trolls were defeated. Redlance, who had stayed behind in the lodge and is very peaceful by nature, was greatly shaken by the attack, and he and his warrior lifemate Nightfall voluntarily exchange soulnames.
All the Wolfriders and Go Backs finally make their way to the Palace of the High Ones, along with Picknose and some of the trolls. Once inside the Palace, one of the three wild wolves that had been freed from the troll pit starts acting strangely, and then suddenly transforms into Timmain, the High One, to the amazement of all.
Timmain talks with the elves briefly and realizes how much time has passed (almost 10,000 years) since she first shape-changed into a wolf. She also explains to them that the Palace is the resting place for the spirits of all dead elves. Cutter asks her if she can explain to them the story of the High Ones and where they originally came from, which none of the elves know.
Timmain takes them to a room which holds what she calls the Scroll of Colors, a magical spinning scroll which acts as a sort of movie screen, displaying a huge visual history of the High Ones. Timmain has Petalwing wrap her body in a cocoon of 'wrapstuff,' which allows an elf to live indefinitely in a hibernation state without food or water, so that she can control the Scroll of Colors from within the cocoon (to the disappointment of the elves who had hoped Timmain would stay among them). She then explains to them, speaking through Suntop and using the Scroll of Colors, the entire history of the High Ones. Timmain concludes by saying that the Wolfriders have a special significance because they alone “share blood with beasts born of this world. It was my gift to my son. He was the first of us to have the right to call the land his own. If you choose, Wolfriders, you too have that right—and none can take it from you.”
After hearing the story, the elves and trolls have mixed reactions. The Wolfriders decide to leave the Palace and settle in a new forest holt in the Forbidden Grove. The Go-Backs decide to stay right where they are, as do the trolls, who can now live in peace with the Go-Backs since it is clear that the elves have no intention of trying to rule the trolls. Rayek decides to live with Timmain and Ekuar in the Palace to try to find a way to make it fly again. Skywise at first wants to also stay in the Palace because it has the possibility of flying to the stars, much to Cutter's dismay. But Skywise changes his mind and rejoins the Wolfriders as they travel away from the Palace toward their new forest home.
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