It was called the King’s House; it was twice two thousand years old. Its original builder was long-dead, buried in the eastern wing. He had been buried standing: his tombstone alike with the squat, tapering pillars that ran in long double rows down the spine of the building, and half-lost among them.
Each part of the house branched off that low-ceilinged gallery, opened up into it. The shape of the house formed an eight-pointed star, its rays of unequal size. The feasting-hall was one of the more prominent ones. The elf-ambassador stood by the arched doorway, so still that, with his hood up and his head bowed, in the candlelight, he was little more than a thin gray image among the tall gray stones. He leaned on one long hand against the columns, and looked down on the dark and empty hall.
“I remember when this place was bright with feasting. A company met and made merry, one hour before the cold winds came.” He spoke their names, then, softly: the names of the living great houses, and the fallen heroes. “Morath. Drakonysches. Nishtar. Brandu. You know their names, you have heard them. They were young. They were strong. They laughed, they drank, and they boasted. And they rode into the north, into cold and to death, knowing they were heroes. That men would remember their names. That they would not see their wives or their children, or their homes, or this place, again.
“Perhaps–” and now he pushed back the shadowing hood. Elves did not age as humans: but he, who had seen this place before the walls crumbled and were remade; before the grinding ice had crawled out of the north and torn the world as it had once existed, was old. “–Perhaps it is fitting, then, that now young men ride out of the north. They will come here! A time of heroes again….”
“We are Whole Men. We are civilized. We have no need of heroes.”
The ambassador half-smiled and now made to fade away, shadow into shadow; but his half-murmur drifted back. “Have you no enemies?”