A pair of guards escorted him past the onion-shaped building and into a tower-like edifice that reminded Seymour of an inverted—and very lopsided—toadstool. From there, they ascended a steep, spiraling staircase to grand hall at the top of the structure. The room was lit with a combination of torches and crude candelabras, hanging precariously from the uneven ceiling, and the walls were adorned with frescos, shadowy and indistinct in the poor lighting. Seymour, however, was able to infer that the murals represented events of import to the goblins’ religion. The scenes contained recurring depictions of a black stag and a white ram, sometimes standing side by side, sometimes with their respective cranial adornments locked in battle. A realization stirred, half formed, in Seymour’s consciousness, but it scarcely registered as a thought before his eyes fell upon the table. He jumped in surprise.
The two antlered figures turned at the sound of his voice, and the Uarla rose from his seat, smiling. “You are acquainted with our Great Protector, I see?”
“We’ve met,” Seymour replied gruffly.
The Ancient, his glowing red eyes fixed upon Seymour, stood up slowly and stepped forward. “It seems only yesterday,” Elnias said in his deep, resonant voice, “that you were in my hall with that lanky mage lord. How swiftly circumstances change.”
“What are you doing here?” Seymour demanded, half in jest. “Don’t you have shepherding duties to attend to? Rezyn forbid your little lamb should escape and try again to kill any friends of mine.”
Elnias gestured to both him and the Uarla, signaling that they should sit down. “My dear Seymour, Lord Henry Thomas Mantoux Edmund of Carvil is not your friend and never will be. But I see your concern. Rest at ease: Aita grows weaker as the nights grow longer. I, meanwhile, will strengthen until midwinter, at which point the balance shall reverse. My power shall outmatch his until the vernal equinox—you have no need to fear Aita as long as the night reigns supreme.”
“Then the Six are safe until springtime?”
“Safe from Aita,” Elnias responded. “But there are other beings that draw their powers from the darkness, and from those others I cannot protect you. You walk a dangerous road, Seymour de Winter. My partner’s death wish will be the least of your troubles.” He took a step backward and bowed his antlered head. “Now forgive me, I must be on my way. As you said, Seymour, I ought to tend to my sheep—he grows lonely in my absence.”