He was riding horseback when I came upon him. He was dressed in the light armor of the Dragon Riders and clothed in green and jet and gold. He sat stooped slightly in the saddle as if under some unseen weight. Moonglum, ever at his side unless whiling away the hours in peaceful Tanelorn, rode beside him. On Elric’s right hip, plainly visible, sat Stormbringer, the Black Sword, sheathed in a scabbard lined with red velvet. It seemed to sense me and I heard a lilting titter in the back of my mind. The albino seemed to brighten a little as he approached, his milk-white hair fluttering in the breeze, his cheeks barely flushed in the sun. Moonglum kicked his pony up and cantered to where I stood, thumb stuck out.
“I’ll give you a ride, lady,” the short, red-headed man of Elwher said, dismounting in the grass. We embraced as only close friends do, quickly and eagerly. I then held him at arm’s length, smiling into eyes only just above my own. The field we stood in was lush from the spring rains. The sky shone a clear, cloudless blue with touches of pink and yellow, the sun beginning to droop in the west.
“My thanks,” I said, “It is good to see you, friend Moonglum. I feared you had stayed behind.”
“Not this time, lady,” Moonglum replied. I pushed my black broad-brimmed hat back to gaze at Elric, the last prince of Melniboné. The albino’s lips seemed to curl in the semblance of a smile.
“The distance I need to travel is short. We should arrive at my destination ere long. Perhaps my lords would walk with me a ways?”
Elric said nothing, but he dismounted and took up a position on my left, Moonglum on my right, leading their horses by their reins. It was some minutes of awkward walking before he spoke.
“You travel a hard road with no mount, lady. There are brigands roaming the countryside,” he said reproachfully.
“I have no fear of brigands.”
He smiled slightly wider, “Of course not. You will be here only a short time. The rest of us must dwell here and undertake all of life’s perils.”
“I undertake perils as well, only they are more conventional perils,” I said defensively, “Such as paying my bills.”
“Such perils I hope to avoid,” Moonglum said, patting his hip pocket, “I find that the fear of accruing such weighty responsibilities gives me all the more reason to travel. I’ll keep my coin in my purse if nobody minds.”
“Agreed,” I laughed. We lapsed back into silence. I felt a slight weight on my shoulders. Elric, his smile now genuine and friendly, pulled me roughly to his side. I put one arm around his waist and the other on Moonglum’s shoulder.
“So boys,” I said, “Another adventure is upon you?”
“Aye,” Elric said, “As one ends, another begins.”
“For me as well,” I said, noticing the weight of my two trusty blades strapped to either hip, “I go to join the army of Kamarg. I heard there is quite a story to be told there.”
“Perhaps, though I have never heard of that country,” Elric said flatly.
Ever were thou encouraging, my lord.
I played it off. I could tell he was avoiding my gaze. I knew he brooded, and often his world-weary eyes seemed to search for something in the distance that only he could see. But this was different. This time, it seemed purposeful.
“Something troubling you, my lord?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said without pause, his eyes never leaving the horizon. The sun was dropping, and it seemed at our present pace we would not reach our destination by evening. I could see in the distance, seemingly just over the next rise, the spires of a small city, shining in white. Though I did not know the name, it seemed vital that all of us should arrive on schedule. I glanced at Moonglum, and the short man of Elwher was just as lost in his thoughts as the tall albino. I gave him a squeeze, and the poor guy went so far as to lean his head upon my shoulder. I sensed his pain, both of theirs, and knew not the cause.
“You are not sad to be going?” Moonglum asked.
“Sad to be–of course I’m sad,” I said in some incredulity, “I’m always sad when I leave you two.”
“Especially Moonglum,” the short one said. It was really more of a statement than a question. Elric raised an eyebrow.
Oh really, sir?
I winked at Elric. His expression softened somewhat, and a wry smile touched the corners of his mouth. We lapsed back into uncomfortable silence. I glanced repeatedly at their two stoic expressions, wondering what I had done wrong. I opened my mouth to speak, but the albino’s words stopped me.
“Will you come back?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, trying to keep the emotion from my voice, “I always come back. But you have to promise that you’ll be here when I return.”
“I cannot promise that,” Elric said, “The future is a devious thing, as you are so fond of reminding me. I do not know where my fate leads me. It could be that we part for the last time.”
“You always say that,” I retorted, “And you are always here when I come looking for you. I daresay I do not force you into an unkeepable promise.”
Elric turned a slight smile to me and unflinchingly crushed me in a short hug. I could not help but laugh at him. He was so serious and remote. He always seemed hundreds of miles away. Yet when I needed him, he was always there, always waiting for me patiently beside a dry river bed or on a deserted plane, immaculately dressed and seated on horseback.
“Well, and you are here at last. Come, our adventures begin anew,” he would say with a bow, before heading off in a direction seemingly chosen at random. I would follow unquestioningly. If we got separated, we always met again, as we were now, before I took my leave of him.
Now a small town came into our sights. I sighed.
“I guess this is good-bye, boys,” I said.
“Are you sure you won’t come with us?” Moonglum asked, “Is their situation in Kamarg so ill that they must call you away again?”
“From what I understand, its desperate,” I said, stopping. Elric’s arm slipped from my shoulder and he turned away. I could no longer hold any glimmer of bravado. His turned back did not strengthen my resolve, but only heightened my desire to stay.
“We must go where Fate commands us,” I said, laying my palms out to him placatingly.
“Now that I do not believe,” he said, spinning around and grabbing me by the shoulders. His grip was not hard, but neither was it relenting, “We are not the toys of Fate. We are masters of our own will, and no power is higher.”
I stared up at him in surprise and sudden fear. His eyes blazed under a tangle of white hair. His mouth was set in a firm frown, much the way my father’s looks when there is a singular point that he wishes to make. I said nothing and nodded vigorously that I suddenly and without question agreed with him.
He released his grip on my arms but did not let me go. Again I was crushed to the light plate armor he wore, a symbol of his heritage, like his fine features and the ugly sword that murmured from his slight waist. His sudden displays of emotion always made me anxious after watching him go through our adventures as the picture of insouciance. Aware that I was not breathing, Elric relaxed and knelt before me in the grass.
“Good-bye then, my lady,” he said softly, “Time and space mean very little to adventurers such as ourselves. So long as you live, I will be here.”
I stared at him for a long moment, unhappy but not crying. I could not cry. There is no crying in Melniboné, I knew, and there was no reason to cry. I smiled and bent to kiss the Prince of Ruins on his bony cheek. I received something like one in return.
I turned to Moonglum and embraced him again, “And you, sir?”
“And I? I shall always be here,” he said. He returned my hug with vigor, and when we parted, Elric had already mounted his horse.
“Farewell, Prince Elric,” I said, waving.
“Fare thee well, my lady,” Elric said.
Moonglum put his heels to his horse’s flanks and charged off across the plain. Elric, the Prince of Ruins, lingered only a second, but no more. Howling a Melnibonéan battle cry, his horse leapt after Moonglum, and suddenly they were gone again, a splash of Elwher Red in the sunset and a screaming outcast, his white hair streaming behind him in the wind…