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D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E || Volume 8
D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Number 1
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DargonZine Distributed: 04/01/1995
Volume 8, Number 1 Circulation: 623
Editorial Ornoth D.A. Liscomb
The Evening After ... Bill Erdley Yule 22, 1014
Storm Dancer Jon Evans Seber 11-12, 1014
The Scent of Balsam Bill Erdley Late Seber, 1014
DargonZine is the publication vehicle of the Dargon Project, a
collaborative group of aspiring fantasy writers on the Internet.
We welcome new readers and writers interested in joining the project.
Please address all correspondance to .
Back issues are available from ftp.etext.org in pub/Zines/DargonZine.
Issues and public discussion are posted to newsgroup rec.mag.dargon.
DargonZine 8-1, ISSN 1080-9910, (C) Copyright April, 1995 by
the Dargon Project. Editor: Ornoth D.A. Liscomb .
All rights reserved. All rights are reassigned to the individual
contributors. Stories may not be reproduced or redistributed without
the explicit permission of the author(s) involved, except in the case
of freely reproducing entire issues for further distribution.
Reproduction of issues or any portions thereof for profit is forbidden.
by Ornoth D.A. Liscomb
I hope you all enjoyed the special two-issue "Best of DargonZine"
reprints. I can tell you that our veteran writers definitely enjoyed the
respite from my constant appeals for submissions! And the writers who
recently joined us have used the time to get up to speed and prepare
their first submissions. But now it's time to get back to work!
The biggest news since our last editorial (early December), is that
you will now notice an ISSN number in our banner page. The primary
benefit of this is the legitimization of DargonZine as an
internationally recognized periodical. Major thanks to "Grim" Jon Evans
for singlehandedly making that happen.
The only other news is that DargonZine 8-2 will follow reasonably
closely on the heels of this issue, and will include the first stories
from the bumper crop of new writers who joined the project at the end of
1994. We have nearly 20 stories that are currently in the peer review
process, so we should have plenty of reading material for you very
Thanks for your continuing interest, and keep spreading the word!
This issue features stories by two of our veteran writers. In
contrast to his previous works (particularly his "Sons of Gateway"
series), Jon Evans' "Storm Dancer" is a light, humorous, well-written,
and delightful story that introduces us to a new protagonist -- a young
man named Thedos. We're all anxious to see followup stories.
"The Evening After" and "the Scent of Balsam" continue Bill
Erdley's exploration of Derrio, the deaf squire of Luthias Connall, the
Knight Captain of the Northern Marches. As the Beinison army continues
to pillage cities and countryside that once owed fealty to the kingdom
of Baranur, the Baranurian troops begin to realize that war isn't
anything like the songs the bards once sung ...
The Evening After ...
by Bill Erdley
Yule 22, 1014
Three times today I should have died.
I owe my life to three different men. Well, actually two, since the
third is dead.
Tired. I'm tired and I want to sleep. I can't.
There's no real memory of the battle. There are pictures in my
head, but they all run together like the blood in the rain.
I killed my first opponent today.
He screamed as he fell to the ground. There he sobbed once, gasped,
There is no honor in killing. There is no honor in dying. Honor
exists for its own sake.
I try to roll over, but my body refuses.
I got my first wounds today. Bruises on my legs and sides, a nasty
gash across my shoulder, and a lump on my head.
Three times today I should have died.
Apart from those who stood, and fell, before me, I remember Sir
Luthias and Michiya. Like two demonic reapers in the devil's own field,
they swung and chopped and cut, harvesting a macabre crop of souls to be
sent back to wherever those souls came from.
Why can't I fall asleep?
Sir Luthias saved me by knocking me to the ground while
simultaneously parrying the swing that would have separated my head from
The mud was already salty with blood. It splashed into my face as I
fell, and when I cleared it from my eyes and spat it from my mouth, my
assailant was dead on the ground and Sir Luthias was already on to his
My shoulder hurts; the deep, throbbing pain of a joint begging for
I fought beside Sir Luthias.
They didn't seem to know how to counter one of the tricks that Sir
Luthias taught me. Again and again I used it. Swing, counter, swing,
twist, thrust; and my sword would bite a shoulder or a neck. Once, my
sword caught as a man went down. As I reached for it, another man
stepped in and swung. I dodged, but I was open for his next strike.
Michiya, without changing his rhythm, caught my opponent with a backhand
slash to the head, then continued to fight his own battle. The dead man
almost landed on me as he fell...
Never have I heard so much pain. Screaming. Moaning. Sobbing. There
was a constant sound. It was the sound of the dying. I never knew death
had a voice.
During a lull, Sir Luthias complimented my ability and "tenacity",
a word which I had him explain. I didn't tell him that I was afraid;
that I fought for my life. He already knew.
I just want to sleep. I try to roll over again.
It is the eyes, most of all, that I see when I close my own. The
sightless, fixed stare of the dead. My mistake was to look into those
eyes. Just once. I saw death's face.
There is no honor in killing.
I was struck in the shoulder by a man that I didn't see. I fell, my
sword falling from my fingers as my arm screamed out in pain. I tried to
crawl back from the fighting, but he came at me, a terrible smile
spreading across his face. A man from the company that I had traveled
with stepped between us and swung. I rose from the mud and tried once
again take up my sword. My arm screamed again, so I switched hands. The
man who saved me fell. His killer moved on to another fight, perhaps
forgetting me. I looked at my shoulder, and saw the blood pouring forth.
I turned from the fighting to find a healer.
My head throbs to a slower rhythm now, but it still throbs. It
throbs with every beat of my heart. It throbs because I still live. For
that, I am grateful. Still, I wish I could sleep.
There is no honor in dying.
I tripped over a body while running back to the line. The Beinison
man lived, but his pain...
"Kill me." he cried. "Please, I beg you."
I shook my head. I showed him the sign for healer, then turned to
run and find one.
He cursed me. "I am defeated!" he cried. "To live with defeat is
worse than death. I will NOT live in dishonor!"
I fetched the healers, but he was dead when we returned.
The eyes. Those cursed eyes. How can I sleep when every time I
close my eyes I see theirs.
Honor exists for its own sake.
The tent flap moved and Sir Luthias entered, followed by Michiya
and a man in dirty white robes who I thought was a healer. Luthias
looked at me and asked "How are you doing?"
*I* *Live* I manage to keep my injured arm quiet.
He nodded. "You will fight again."
*Fight* *Yes* *Sleep* *No.*
Again, he nodded. I think that he understood. The healer moved to
me and handed me a small bottle. "Drink this."
I did, and almost instantly felt my eyes begin to close, as if they
were too heavy to hold open.
*Question* *I* *Dream.*
Sir Luthias' voice sounded distant and vaguely sorrowful.
"I hope not."
by Jon Evans
Seber 11-12, 1014
The brisk ocean breeze drifted off the water and worked its way
into the woods surrounding the bay. Slowed by the trees and scrub of a
northern wood, it traveled inland, becoming less than a draft, and
turned a warm Seber day into a comfortable day to work.
Picking up his ax, he looked about the woods for previously felled
trees. This day, he cut wood for his mother, the blacksmith, who
insisted on old, dry wood. Walking through the light forests east of his
home town, he enjoyed the soft chill in the air. The leaves were
turning, their reds and oranges mingling with patches of blue sky now
visible through the trees.
The smell of the ocean carried through the air, and Thedos' blood
raced. Images of ships lurching forward in the water, waves and wind
carrying their precious cargos from lands south and west of Baranur. The
sea was where he wanted to be, not chopping wood for his mother, or
farming vegetables with his father. His father had spent two years on a
merchant ship, trading with Beinison port cities, before marrying
Thedos' mother. He was more his father's son than his mother's.
He would be seventeen years old, this Nober. And while he had no
ambition to become a blacksmith, he resented his mother's refusal to
teach him the trade. His mother's ancestors had always passed the trade
to their daughters, and she was not about to break tradition.
He wandered through the brush, following animal trails which he
knew would lead him toward his invariable destination. "It's too nice a
morning to spend chopping wood," he thought. "Besides, the storm which
had raged three nights past would just as likely have felled trees at
the water's edge as in the woods."
Thedos could hear the surf in the distance as he stepped through
the woodland brush. As he neared a thorny bush, he removed his shirt.
The last time he went home with a torn shirt, his mother had nearly
skinned him. And, when she found where he had spent his morning, rather
than chopping, farming, or trapping, he had been punished for a week.
Passing through the thicket, he topped a small, sandy hill and saw
his destination: the cove. It was only thirty five of his paces across,
and between twenty and forty paces from brush to shore, depending on the
No one, as far as he was able to tell, knew of this cove.
Occasionally, he'd seen animals or birds around the water. Once he even
glimpsed a small sea animal on the beach, but it hobbled back into the
water as soon as it noticed him. Someone, however, had found it now.
Beached inside the bay was a small, single-masted sailing ship. It
appeared to be grounded against a sand bar about fifty feet from the
shore. Approaching it cautiously, he noticed that no one was visibly on
"Halloooo," he called. "Ahoy the ship!"
As he neared the water's edge, he could see that the mast had been
cracked, and there was a hole about two feet above the water line.
Instantly, tales of ghost ships and pirates came to mind. He had
listened to Captain Kent tell of dangerous adventures on the open sea,
and far-away lands.
He looked about the beach to be certain no one was around, then
slipped his feet out of his sandals and removed the rest of his
clothing. He again checked the cove for people. He knew no one was ever
in the area, but still he imagined the embarrassment he would feel if
someone saw him standing completely naked by the water's edge.
The cold northern waters chilled his feet and legs as he waded out
to waist deep waters. He swam here often in mid summer, when the cool
waters offered refreshing contrast to the hot days. But now that it was
getting late in the season, he had less desire for the water's cool
comfort. When he dove into the water and began swimming toward the ship,
the cold water splashing against his body had an almost numbing affect.
As he reached the ship, he easily pulled himself up to the hole in
its side. With his eyes unaccustomed to the darkness, all he could see
was a few odd shapes and the shimmer of water on the floor. "The boat
may have been here for several days," he thought, "probably beached
during the recent storm."
As Thedos' eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he pulled himself
through the hole. It was just big enough for him to lift his body
through, being careful not to scrape his groin across the splintered
The interior of the boat was cramped and low, and he had to hunch
over to stand on his feet. He had seen fishing boats like this, the
insides of which were used to store nets, rope, food, and materials to
mend sails. This one, however, was bare but for a small box and the
water at his knees. The box was on the third step of a ladder leading up
to a hatch. Thedos walked to the ladder and reached for the box.
Pain stabbed through his left ankle, and he knocked the box off the
step. It splashed into the water and floated while Thedos examined his
ankle: a small sword had been left below the water line, which Thedos
had not seen in the darkness. A trickle of blood mingled with the water
at his feet -- it was only a small cut.
He lifted the sword from the floor, being careful not to cut
himself. Its previous owner had taken excellent care to keep it oiled
and sharpened because its edge was keen and its surface was not rusted,
even after being in the salt water. Its weight was unfamiliar in his
hands, balanced more toward the grip than the head. He was used to the
heaviness of an ax, which constantly tried to pull its head to the
He gripped the sword in his left hand and reached up with his
right, groping along the almost unseen ceiling for a latch above the
ladder. When he found it, he slid the latch open and pushed the hatch
upward. Sunshine spilled in from the outside. He grabbed the box and
brought it and the sword on deck.
When he stepped out into the sunshine, he could see the entire ship
before him. The boat was about 25 feet from fore to aft, and 10 feet
port to starboard, with one mast in the center. It was a well designed
ship. The railings had been damaged, somewhat, but the wood was sturdy
and nicely carved. The deck, for the most part, was undamaged. There
were no signs of inhabitants, but someone must have manned her before
she arrived: there was the remains of a make-shift scorpion on her
"Well, it doesn't matter," he thought. "For the moment, she's
mine!" Placing the box and sword on the deck, he stood at the opening
for the gangplank and looked down. Only a few feet to the water.
Stepping back a pace, he steadied himself, then leapt forward. He seemed
to float in the air for a moment, then landed in the water with a
When he surfaced, he had a smile as wide as the cove. "This is
going to be a good morning," he thought. He immediately swam back to the
hole, crawled into the ship, and worked his way back up to the deck.
Half a bell later, he was lying on the deck, sunning himself. It
had been a beautiful morning, and the sun was high overhead. Midday meal
would be served in one or two bells. "Wouldn't it be nice," he thought,
"if I could just sail into Dargon arbor, sign on a crew, and ship off to
Bichu, or the Caldo, or somewhere exotic. My own ship," he thought, and
looked around at the wreck.
"But it's not such a wreck," he mused. "It's in fair shape, aside
from the mast, the hole in the side, and some damage to the railing. The
sail could use some patching, and a good mast would need to be found,
but it could be repaired." If only he had the money. If only he had the
time. If only ...
He looked around again, contemplating the whole of the ship. Why
couldn't he? His mother and sister were blacksmiths in the duchy of
Dargon. Between the war and rebuilding the city, they always had plenty
of work. Duke Dargon had decreed that any wrecked ships found along the
coast of Dargon could be claimed by the finder. While most of the ships
either had been destroyed or carried into Dargon proper by the winds and
tide, this one was still unclaimed.
He thought for a moment. It was midday, now. If he skipped his
meal, he could make it to Dargon around second bell. If he brought the
fee of fifteen rounds, he could take a scribe out to the boat, file the
claim, and be the proud owner of a ship. Albeit a slightly used one.
But he would never get the money. His mother had been saving all
the silver for his older sister, Cara, who was practicing to be a
silversmith. She would not give up the money to invest in a ship,
particularly one which would cost more money to repair. He sighed. The
least he could do is ask. Perhaps his father could say something ...
He got home just as the vegetables and bread were lain on the
table. His father, Braewen, looked up and smiled, "Hi, Thedos. How'd the
wood hunting go?"
Thedos smiled back, creating a near-perfect image of his father's
face. Only his hair was different, being longer than that of his
father's, and his father's shoulders were broader. Both had hazel eyes,
light complexions reddened by the past summer, and a strong jaw.
"Actually, I found a lot of wood. But I didn't cut any." He could not
wait any longer. "Could I skip midday meal?"
Braewen looked at the boy. His brown hair was a little damp around
the neck, and his skin looked slightly burned. He noticed the sand
sticking to the boy's feet. Braewen smiled. "Gave up the wood cutting to
go swimming, and now you want to skip the meal? Don't worry, Thedos --
and don't tell your mother I said this -- but there's enough wood
stacked up at the smithy to last us through tomorrow. Cut some after
midday, and stack it here. You can bring it to the smithy tomorrow."
"Well, I wasn't going to cut any wood, this even'." Thedos began
Braewen's eyes squinted as he sized up his son, trying to determine
what he was up to. "What, exactly, *were* you thinking of doing, then,
"I need fifteen rounds, and I have to go into Dargon."
"You know your mother's saving silver. And we don't have that much
copper, and we sure as Stevene's Word don't have any gold. And you can't
just ask for money to go into Dargon with. What are you thinking?"
Braewen frowned. Thedos gulped. It was going to be harder than he
"I- I found ... a boat."
"So, you were out on your boat all morning? Were you at least
fishing? This was a beautiful day to work, and what were you doing?
Suddenly, his father looked more imposing than Thedos had
remembered. And if his father was against it, his mother would never
allow it. "I was swimming, like you said. But I found this boat -- it's
more of a ship, really -- and I want to claim it in Dargon. We could
sell it, or fix it, or ..."
"It needs fixing? Do you know how much that costs? *And* you need
the fifteen rounds--"
"But it's not that bad!"
Thedos looked like a hurt puppy. He gave up trying to convince his
father, and sat down on a stool. Picking up some fresh beans, he began
eating his midday meal.
After a short time, his mother entered, covered in soot and dirt,
and sweating from the heat of the kiln. Her leather smock was black,
with small burn marks in it, and her thick shirt stretched across a
large back. Her sleeves were rolled up, revealing unusually large arms.
Her blond hair was cropped short, like her husband's, revealing bright
blue eyes. But her face was soft, if determined.
"Good day, Brae ... how's this side running?", she asked. She took
a seat next to her son and noticed his melancholy expression. "What's
wrong with you, Ted?"
"Thedos spent the morning swimming, instead of cutting wood."
"Ah ..." she nodded, looking at her son. "And?" she asked Thedos.
"I need fifteen rounds to claim a ship I found."
"Fifteen rounds! You know Cara needs the silver to apprentice, and
we don't have that much money to throw around! A ship! Where is this
ship? What's it look like?"
"In ..." he hesitated. He didn't want anyone to know where his cove
was, not even his parents. But if he did not tell them, they would never
give him the money. "Never mind."
"I'll find some other way of getting fifteen rounds," he thought as
he walked back into the forest. There had to be something he could do.
"How much did wood sell for, at the market? Not enough," he wagered. And
he had no other skills to sell, thanks to his mother's refusal to teach
him to smith. He had no savings of his own. His mother and father had
simply given him money when he needed it. But never for an expense like
Slowly, as all avenues to his desire seemed to close, a small
thought bubbled in his brain: "I could steal it."
No. He clamped that thought down immediately. He was not a thief.
And he did not know anyone who could afford to lose any money, let alone
fifteen rounds. His was the wealthiest family in the small village, and
only because the war had placed so much demand on smiths.
But he could go into Dargon, where gold and silver were as common
as the people walking the streets.
No! He was not going into Dargon to steal gold or silver. He wasn't
going anywhere. He was going to chop wood, and stack it at his house. He
was going to work away his thoughts of stealing and gold and Dargon. But
not the ship. Somehow, he'd find a way to get fifteen rounds.
He came across a tree that had been felled during the storm, three
days before. And, while the wood was still slightly damp, the branches
were not so dense as to hinder his swing. This would be fine work for
He planted his feet firmly in the ground, about shoulder- length
apart, and faced his target squarely. With his right hand at the base of
the head and his left hand on the bottom of the handle, he lifted the
ax. As he swung the ax down, his right hand glided across the wooden
handle, meeting his left hand just as the ax head bit into the wood. "A
good swing," he thought.
Braewen sat at his kitchen table, cleaning vegetables and fruit.
"The fruit will be rotten, soon," he thought. "I'll make up some juice,
add some nuts and berries, and heat it with some wine over the fire. If
I store it in a barrel for a month, it should take the bite out of a
He thought, then, about Thedos. The boy wanted to own a ship. He
remembered his own days on the _Sea_Cutter_, with dreams of travelling
to far away lands and great adventures on the open sea. Well, the only
far away land he'd ever been to was Beinison, which did not require much
travel on the open sea. Most of the time, the ship had been within sight
of the continent. After a year of returning to the same, dirty, port
towns time and time again, he had regretted signing on.
"Perhaps," he thought, "if I'd owned his own ship. Maybe that would
have made the difference. Sailing to Bichu or the Fire Sea might have
been exciting, and the open sea would certainly have been less boring --
and more dangerous -- than staying along the coastline. The rewards
would have been better, too," he mused.
He stood up, leaving the vegetables and fruit on the kitchen table,
and walked to his room. "There were rewards," he thought. Such as being
able to establish his wife in her own smithy. She was skilled, when he
met her, and the way she commanded herself and others sparked his
interest. Certainly, she was not everyone's idea of a classic beauty.
But there was a way she held herself. She did not require his presence,
the way a common village woman might. She *wanted* his presence. He
But Thedos probably felt less than wanted, with two sisters in the
house. Both were apprenticing smiths, receiving most of the attention
from their mother. The girls were being given more opportunities for
their future than he. Lianna's family apprenticed trades through their
daughters so the girls would not have to depend on others for their
livelihood. Aside from farming a small field for seasonal vegetables and
chopping wood, Braewen had no skills to pass on to his son.
He lifted the straw mattress he and his wife shared and slid it to
the side. Beneath the floorboards of the room was a steel box, unlocked.
He and his wife kept the family's savings there. He opened the box and
removed a leather pouch, which contained seventeen rounds. It was the
last of the "rewards" which he'd gathered in his sailing endeavors. The
other money -- silver and copper -- amounted to about 35 rounds. It was
enough to last most of the families in this village for several years.
He could afford to give fifteen of his last seventeen rounds to his
son, to register the ship. The rounds had been in the pouch for six
years, since he had last spent twelve rounds on a dress for his wife.
She had traded it for a leather smock and hammer for Cara's
apprenticeship. He sighed. But what guarantee had he that Thedos would
be able to repair the ship? Continue with his boyhood desire? If it was
just a phase Thedos was going through, it would be a waste of money. And
without seeing the ship, Braewen had no way of telling if his money
would be put to any good use.
The door to his house was nearly ripped off its hinges as his wife
burst in. "Brae! Come quick!" she called, looking about the kitchen, the
fruits and vegetables still sitting on the table. "Where are you?"
Braewen entered from the hall that led towards their room. "What is
"It's Cara," Lianna said. There was a gleam of pride in her eyes,
and a smile beamed from her face. "Mr. Gordon, a silversmith in Dargon,
agreed to apprentice her for the next year! And only twenty-five rounds!
Quick -- run and get the money. I'll meet you back at the smithy."
As his wife bolted back through the doorway, heading to the smithy,
Braewen ran to the bedroom. Leaving the box and his pouch on their
mattress, he gathered twenty-five rounds from the larger pile and ran
back out the door.
Two bells after midday, Thedos entered the wood shed behind his
family's house, carrying an armload of logs. He had forgotten the rope
he used to tie bundles together and to his back, and had to leave his ax
by the tree. "As soon as I get the rope," he thought, "I'll run back to
"Father," he called as he walked into the house. No answer. There
was fresh food sitting on the kitchen table, in various stages of
preparation, but his father was nowhere to be found. He knew the rope
was in the closet by his parents' room, and he went to fetch it.
As he passed by his parents' room, he stopped. On their mattress
was a pile of silver and copper coins. He hesitated. Mentally, he
counted the money from where he stood. His pulse quickened as his mind
refused to believe what he was contemplating. If there was one family in
the village that could afford to have fifteen rounds stolen, it was his.
His breathing was heavy and his throat dry.
He glanced around the room and down the hall. No one was in the
house. Again, his eyes found the silver. It looked as if the fifteen
rounds on the right side of the pile had been separated from the rest.
How easy it would be to grab the coins and run. He could be in Dargon by
the fourth bell, and home in time for the evening meal. No one was home,
the money was left on the bed. Anyone could have stumbled into their
home and taken it. And he'd have his ship.
Braewen, Lianna, and their eldest daughter, Cara, entered the
house. A trunk would need to be packed, with sufficient clothes and
equipment to last her the year. She would only be a few hours away; but
she would be apprenticing six days a week, and there wouldn't be much
time to transport her belongings between towns.
Braewen went down the hall while Lianna and Cara went directly to
the room where Cara and Lysande slept. It was much smaller than the room
in which Braewen and his wife slept, but there was less need for space.
There was no mirror, for one, and fewer clothes hung on pegs in the
wall. On the trunk at the foot of the bed sat a wooden doll and a book.
The wooden doll had been given to Cara when she was seven, and the book,
_Fretheod_Romances_, belonged to Lysande. Inside the trunk were the
clothes Cara and Lysande would wear to church, one day a week.
Braewen appeared at the entrance to the room. "Leah," he softly
called. Lianna looked at her husband's anguished expression and the
sadness in his eyes. She stepped out in the hall to talk with him.
It was just fourth bell when Thedos had arrived at the edge of
Dargon, slightly sweaty but still breathing well. He'd removed his shirt
to wrap the silver, not wanting passing strangers to see him with a
handful of coins. By the time he'd made it to the Ducal Buildings, it
was half way to fifth bell, and the sun was low in the sky. He didn't
have much time.
"Excuse me," he said as he entered the building. It was a large
room, with three desks separating it into smaller areas. The man in the
office wore a dark brown robe with a silvery sash across his waist, and
leather sandals. There were two women, also in robes, at the other
desks, carefully applying quill to paper. A city guard in chain mail and
holding a spear stood at the edge of the doorway. "Is this the building
where official records are kept?"
The robed man looked up. His face was grey and wrinkled, and his
eyebrows reminded Thedos of thick bushes found at the edge of ponds.
"What does it say on the door, son?" His gravely voice was harsh and
Thedos paused, and looked at the door. "I don't know ... I can't
The man nodded and approached Thedos. "My name is Galwyn. What can
I do for you?"
"I found a ship. I want to claim it."
"Did you?" Galwyn eyed Thedos. "And where is this ship?"
"It's ... I can't tell you."
"Then I can't help you."
"I'm not sure the name of the place. It's in a cove, east of here."
"What kind of ship is it?"
"I think it's a small bireme. I'm not sure."
"What's its name?"
"It doesn't have one. I think it was Beinisonian, but I couldn't
find a name plate."
"And you can't read."
"I read a little!" Thedos protested. "Just not very well."
"There is not a great deal you *do* know about this ship, is
Galwyn spoke slowly, "Do you know there's a fee to register a
"Yes," Thedos stepped forward. "I have it here." He lifted the
bundle in his hands and shook it lightly. The silver clinked softly.
"And where did *you* get fifteen rounds?" the guardsman asked,
taking a close look at Thedos.
Thedos' voice cracked. "My father gave it to me ..." His lie was
unconvincing. He looked at himself. His pants were dirty from the road,
mud was caked on his feet, and the dust of the city clung to his sweaty
chest. His hair was unkempt, having gone swimming that morning, and his
face was covered with a light fuzz of which, until now, he had been
proud. Entering the building with the coins rolled up in his shirt, he
looked like a common street rat who had stumbled across an unlucky
citizen. "My mother is a blacksmith in-"
"Your *mother*?" the guard interrupted. Galwyn snickered. The guard
guffawed. Thedos turned and sprinted out the door.
When Thedos returned home, it was past seven bells. Once he had
left Dargon city, he had slowed his sprint to a walk. Now, shirtless,
dirty, and without either his ax or wood in the shed, he would have to
explain his whereabouts for the past two hours. Of course, there was
also the silver.
About a hundred feet from his doorstep, he stopped and looked at
the bundle in his hands. He couldn't claim to have lost it, or used it
already. He had stolen from his parents; he didn't want to avoid it by
lying to them. But, he did not think they had been fair to him. They had
not seriously considered his asking for the money. They had brushed it
off as if it were some foolish notion of a young boy living a wild
dream. He supposed it was possible they were right. Perhaps he did not
wish to be a sailor. But to be *something* ... Something other than the
wood-cutting, vegetable-farming son of a woman blacksmith.
His father had mentioned how easy life had been, sailing between
ports. Fighting the ocean storms, and the occasional skirmish with
pirates ... it all sounded like such fun. And he had enjoyed spending
the time with his shipmates, a group comprised entirely of men. Growing
up with two sisters, Thedos thought the idea of being part of a crew
made entirely of men sounded appealing. It would be nice just to get
away from his sisters for a little while. And some day, if he was rich
enough, he could pull his ship back into the cove, drop anchor, and just
lay in the sun -- no crew, no sisters, no one.
When he got closer to his house, the door opened. Instantly, his
stomach seemed to drop to his knees, and his chest felt very heavy. His
father's silhouette framed the doorway. Thedos hoped his father
understood why he did it. Perhaps if he could explain it to him ...
After all, his father also had to live in the house with three women.
But then his mother seemed to appear. Thedos heard her speak, and his
father retreated, taking Thedos' hopes with him. His mother would never
understand his need to get away.
One sentence was all she needed. Four simple words spoke volumes to
Thedos. They meant there was no hiding. She knew exactly who had taken
the silver, and why. She knew he was going to be punished. She had
probably already determined what the punishment was going to be. "Give
me the silver," she said.
Thedos offered her his rolled up shirt containing the fifteen
rounds. She did not take it. She only looked at him. There was no humor
in her face. Her lips had not the slightest curve of a smile. Her
eyebrows were heavy and closely knit, overshadowing her eyes.
Thedos unrolled his shirt, carefully removing and counting each of
the fifteen pieces of silver, before handing her the coins. This time,
she took them. Thedos felt very tired. He wanted to sleep. He did not
want to be in his cove, diving off his ship, and swimming in his water.
He did not want to be here, now, in front of his mother. He wanted
nothingness; blackness; isolation from everything. She was willing to
give him that much.
"There'll be no evening meal for you, tonight."
"Yes, ma'am." Thedos could not even lift his eyes to hers. He
slouched where he stood, not daring to look up.
"Your clothes are a mess, and your father is not going to wash
"There's barely any wood in the shed, and less at the smithy."
"You'd best get some sleep. You can be up early in the morning, if
It was not a matter of his liking. In sixteen years, it had never
been a matter of his liking. It was a matter of preferring one form of
punishment over another. And it was she who was given preference. It was
more effective. She would say little or nothing to him over the next few
days until he could not stand it any longer. Then, crying, he would
apologize profusely, embarrassing himself in front of his family. She
would accept it, pat him on the head and patronize him. And make him
perform some rigorous task to placate her. He hated her for it, but he
loved her too much not to seek forgiveness.
"Yes, ma'am." Thedos retired to his room.
It was very early in the morning when Thedos awoke. He had little
love for that time of day. It was brisk, with a cold breeze, and no sun
to warm the body. Still, he stepped out of his bed, walked to where his
clothes hung on pegs in the wall, and quickly dressed.
Thedos ate his breakfast while walking through the woods almost a
full bell before sunrise. He had to find the tree where he had been
cutting wood, the previous day, and hope his ax was still there. There
weren't too many people who would steal a woodsman's ax, in these parts,
but there were all sorts of curious critters that believed anything they
could move was rightfully theirs. Apparently, one of them had decided it
was too much trouble. After searching about the broken and chopped
portions of the tree, he spotted his ax a few feet from where he
remembered leaving it. This early in the morning, the woods were too
dark to see what type of creature had tried to take it, but Thedos could
see the small tracks around the ax.
He lifted the ax and took his stance in front of the felled tree.
Swing. Chop. Swing. Chop. Swing. Crack!
"STEVENE'S BLOODY NECK!" he screamed. "Can anything else *possibly*
He looked down at the ax. The handle had split at the base of the
head. Now he would have to get the head fixed to another handle. He
thought for a moment. He knew his mother did not have any handles at her
smithy -- she dealt exclusively in iron and brass. And there wasn't a
woodsmith this side of Dargon, anyway. He looked at the handle again.
Could he carve a new handle in less time than it would take him to go
back and forth to Dargon? Not likely. And he would still have to attach
the head and pound some nails in to keep it from slipping off.
"Of course," he said to no one in particular, "this is going to
cost money. And OBVIOUSLY it's MY fault!"
His father was not pleased to give Thedos the money to repair the
ax. However, Thedos had shown him the tool, and it should only cost a
round. Thedos had been given two, just in case. Braewen had nothing else
to say to Thedos.
As he waited for the ax to be repaired, however, Thedos had an
idea. Simon Salamugundi, the soup seller, knew a lot of shipwrights.
Perhaps Thedos could convince one to look at his ship, and estimate the
damage and cost of repairs. Simon had given him several names, with
various recommendations. Thedos ultimately decided on the cheapest.
"Hello," Thedos greeted a woman as he knocked on a door. "I'm
looking for Skar Jansen."
"You've found her," the woman replied. Her voice nearly cackled
Simon had said Skar would give Thedos the best price in town.
Thedos, not realizing "Skar" was the woman's given name, had expected to
see a gruesomely deformed man whose face had been ravaged in some heroic
sea battle. Instead, he was greeted by an unattractive woman who looked
to be in her early forties. She was dressed as Thedos had seen many
ships' mates: a loose, warm shirt which could be tucked in and tied up
tight for a cold day covered her torso; long pants made for working ran
down to the top of functional leather boots; and her greying brown hair
was kept out of her eyes with a brown leather thong tied behind her
"Oh, I- I'm sorry," he stammered. "It's just ... I ... uh ..."
Her expression became less cheerful. "You were expecting a man."
"Sorry to disappoint you."
"No! No disappointment. I just ... I'm looking for someone to take
a look at my ship. It needs repair, and I'm not certain how much."
"*Your* ship?" She looked doubtful. She knew there were young
captains who had made their name during the war, fighting for Baranur in
the navy or in mercenary fleets, but this one did not have the look of a
captain. He looked like a page.
"Yes, sort of. I'm claiming it. I haven't given it a name, yet, but
I know where it is. It's slightly damaged, and needs repairs. I was
wondering ... I don't know how much work it needs, or how much it will
"How did you come to me?" she inquired. This boy seemed to fairly
intelligent to her. "He must be less than 20 years old," she thought,
"yet he's already out to get his own ship. I wonder if he knows what
"Simon Salamagundi said you were cheap. I mean," he quickly added,
slightly embarrassed, "that your prices are cheap. That you won't charge
a lot. I don't have a lot of money ... I'm sort of just looking for a
price." His voice trailed off with his last sentence. He did not know if
she would take the time to close up her shop and look at the ship.
"The reason *my prices* are cheap," she said, "is that I often
invest in what I'm repairing. Would that be a problem?"
"I'm not certain what you mean."
"I mean, if I repair your ship for a small price, I'll want a
percentage of your profits on every trip you make with the vessel. Or,
if you sell the vessel and I haven't realized a certain level of income,
a portion of the final sale will be allocated for myself, up to one
hundred percent of the ship's full value, depending on the sale price of
the ship and the extent of the repairs necessary."
Thedos looked quizzically at her. "I'm not sure ..."
"Forget it. Let's just take a look at the ship, shall we?"
"Okay. It's a bit of a walk from here."
"How far is 'a bit'?" she asked.
"Why don't we take my horse."
Riding back from Dargon saved Thedos almost two bells' time in
getting the ax finished. The ride, however, made him uncomfortable. Skar
sat in the saddle with Thedos behind her on the horse's rump. Each step
jarred him to the left or right, and he had no stirrups to balance
himself. Furthermore, he had to use one hand to hold onto the ax,
keeping it away from the horse's flanks. With only one arm to secure
himself, he had to hold on to Skar's ample waist for dear life. He had
the feeling she enjoyed the ride more than he did. He could almost
picture her like some ghoul from Hell, cackling wildly in the wind as
she galloped down the road, her few remaining teeth dotting her mouth
like a group of islands lost in a vast ocean. By the time they came
within walking distance to his cove, he was glad to remove himself from
the horse's back.
"That's her," he said, pointing to the ship. It had been only a day
since he'd seen her, but he felt as though he missed her already. The
ship did not seem to have changed position at all, and was not lying any
deeper in the water, save for the tide's change. The water was now
lapping at the hole in her forecastle, and little bits of debris could
be seen floating just inside the ship.
"Hmmnn ... interesting. Beinison, I'd say." Skar began. She pulled
an eyeglass from a pouch at her side and slid it open. Studying the ship
through the glass, she began her assessment.
"Main mast is broken ... secondary mast seems missing. See the iron
rings on her foredeck where it would be tied down?" She pointed while
she looked through the glass, but Thedos could not see what she meant.
"Main beam seems right enough, above the water. She's taking it in
through the forecastle, though. Won't stand the open sea. I can patch
that up before moving her into dock. Rails need repairs, flooring inside
is going to be useless wherever there's leaking."
She pulled the glass away from her eye and slid it shut. "That's
the best I can give you from here," she said, "and it may be worse. My
hope is that she didn't damage the main beam when she bellied into that
sand bar. If there were any rocks, she might have cracked it a bit. And
you can just about kiss her goodbye, if that's the case."
"So ... How much are we talking?"
"If it's not that bad ... a few marks for the hole in her side.
Rounds for the railing. Marks if you want to keep to the style. Masts
will run you standard pricing, you can't go through me for that. Plus
floor boards, drying her out, coating her. Pre-launch bath. Time in the
dock. Anyone else would cost you seven to ten marks, plus masts, which
will run you another two or three marks."
"Stevene's Word!" Thedos muttered.
Skar smiled. "It's not that bad, really. I could charge you five
marks, plus a percentage. If you plan on using her."
"Yes!" Thedos added, quickly. "I want to take her to Bichu and
Duparyn and the Valenfaer Ocean, and trade clothes and spices and
things. My father used to sail with a crew, and he still knows a lot of
men. I can have her manned in less than a bell, if I can repair her."
Thedos was not entirely certain how much of what he had said was true.
He knew his father still had friends who sailed and traded, but whether
or not they would sail with him ... It seemed to work.
"Another option, Thedos," Skar almost whispered. There was a hint
of conspiracy in her voice, and she leaned over as if she were telling
him a secret. "Is to sell *me* the ship. I can repair her for less than
I'd charge you, and you could be her captain." She put her right arm
around his shoulders and drew him into a huddle while she spoke, as if
anyone might overhear what she was suggesting. "What would you say to an
offer of ..." She seemed to be gauging the ship's worth. "... nine
The gold was very tempting. With the nine marks, he could ... why,
he could do anything! Of course he had not yet registered the ship. But,
he was sure he could sell her the ship just as soon as he registered it.
It was only fair. He had found it, and it was in his cove.
"Uh ..." he stammered. "It's not really registered, yet. I don't
"You haven't registered it, yet?" she asked.
This time, her voice was less louder, less conspiratorial. "No. I'm
in the process. I have to raise the fifteen rounds ..."
"Oh," she replied. Her smile was perfectly even as she pulled away
from him, but something seemed to be missing. "Well, I tell you what. As
soon as you register the ship, come see me." She winked. "We'll talk
about it." With that, she stepped back through the brush. In a moment,
Thedos heard her horse neigh, and she galloped off.
That was odd, he thought, but he dismissed it. While he was in the
cove, he decided to swim out to the boat one more time. He wanted to
take the box and the sword back home with him. Seeing as he was still
about a bell ahead of schedule getting back from repairing his ax, he
had the time to dry off before bringing them home. Maybe he'd even take
a jump or two off the side ...
The large fireplace in the kitchen was double-sided and, therefore,
served two purposes. It afforded his father a means of cooking food in
the kitchen, and provided warmth and light for the main room during the
evening, when the steel doors were opened. The doors were Lianna's
construction and idea. She wanted neither the house to burn down nor
grease to be splattered on the rug in the main room. Regardless, from
the occasional times Thedos and his sisters were allowed to eat or drink
in the main room, the rug was less than spotless.
While sitting in his chair, Braewen thought about his son, and the
fact that he had stolen the silver. True, he rationalized, he was going
to give it to Thedos, anyway. That did not remove the fact that Thedos
had committed a crime and, worse yet, a sin in the eyes of Stevene.
"Well," he thought lightly, "I don't know how much I hold onto the
ideas of the Stevene. God knows I've done some rotten things in my days.
Being a sailor, you learn to curse, and fight, and drink, and even go
whoring. But it also teaches you to respect other people's belongings."
Thedos wanted the ship, that much was certain. And while it would
cost quite a lot to have it repaired, Thedos could at least own it.
Maybe sign on as a hand for another ship, and use his earnings to pay
for the repairs. Maybe just sell it, if he could find a buyer interested
Thedos entered the room with a box in his hand. His father looked
at him. Braewen did not smile, but he was not frowning, either. Thedos
"Do we have a file or something I can force this lock with?"
Braewen instantly looked scornfully at his son. Had he stolen
something else? This was beginning to be a habit!
"Where'd you get the box?" he asked, tentatively.
"It was on the ship."
"When did you have time to get it?" Braewen prodded further. If
there was a lie, Thedos probably would slip up. "On the other hand," he
thought, "I'm already suspecting my son of having stolen it."
"Today. When I was in town, I convinced a shipwright to come out to
the ship and look at it with me. We took her horse, so I saved almost a
bell's time and was still able to have her look at it."
"Ah," Braewen smiled. "That's how you still got all that wood
chopped, even though the ax had broken. For a moment there, I thought
you had learned to fly!"
"Not yet," Thedos smiled, thinking of the second jump he had taken
off the ship's bow. "But I figure if I can open this box, maybe there's
something in it that will help me pay for the registration fee. It's
heavy enough, and I can hear something in there."
"What did he say?"
"The shipwright you had look at the ship."
"Oh. That was kind of funny, but then, she's a woman."
"You had a female shipwright look at it?" his father asked. He
"Yes. Skar Jansen." Thedos' eyebrows knitted thoughtfully. "Very
"Yes, right, go on."
"Oh, well, she said it would cost me around ten marks to repair,
unless I sold her the ship and settled for being the captain."
"But you can't sell the ship until you register it." Braewen
"Right, that's what I told her. Then she said goodbye. She wants me
to talk to her after I register the ship."
"What time was this?" Braewen asked.
"Just before midday."
Braewen sighed. His son had been taken. Probably. Skar Jansen,
according to friends of his, was a ruthless business person who made
opportunities for herself in shipping. She preyed on less fortunate
owners of ships, repairing them for half the cost and collecting
percentages of the profits for years. A fairly nice means of doing
business, it seemed, but she was known to lock captains into deals that
lasted longer than the ships they had repaired. She was also the full
owner of at least three ships that he knew of, and she had never sailed
a day in her life. He didn't like her.
"Did you give her the name of the ship?"
"It doesn't have one. None that I could find, anyway."
Braewen smiled. "Then she can't register the ship, either," he
said. "Unless she has friends in the Ducal offices," he added.
"Why would *she* register the ship?" Thedos asked.
"Because, Ted ... she's really not a nice person. She's a good
craftsman, but what her craft *is* ..."
"She seemed pretty nice to me."
Braewen laughed. "Yes, I'm certain she did! But listen to me on
this one, Ted. Don't go to her for anything. She can't be trusted."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"Get up early, tomorrow morning. Very early. There should be pitch
somewhere in the ship's cargo hold-"
"There were no cargo holds, just a lot of hammocks. I think it was
used to transport men before the attack on Dargon."
"Well, there should be pitch, there, somewhere. No ship travels
without it. Find a stick or something and write a name on the side of
the ship. Did she see the whole ship?"
"No, we just stood on the shore."
"Good. Write it on the side that she didn't see."
"Father ... I'm not real good with words. Writing and reading, and
His father sighed. Something else he didn't know about his own son.
He really should have spent more time with him. His daughters had always
gotten Leah's attention. "I'll go with you."
"What should I name it?"
Braewen thought about it. "I don't know. She's yours. Or she will
be. You think of one. It doesn't matter. Just give her a name, then get
to Dargon as quick as you can. As soon as the Ducal offices open --
that'll be about a bell past sunrise -- register the ship. If she's
already pulled something, maybe we can contest it."
Thedos hesitated. "I'll need fifteen rounds."
Braewen noticed that his son's entire spirit depleted with that
statement. It was partly his fault, Braewen thought. "What am I going to
do, crucify you for fifteen pieces of silver?" He smiled a half-hearted
smile. "You'll have it. I'll talk to your mother tonight. In fact," he
added. "I'd better start getting the evening meal ready. Your mother
will be back, soon. She took Cara to a village on the other side of
Dargon, today. Cara begins her apprenticeship as a silversmith tomorrow
Thedos was dumbstruck. "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye,"
"Well, worry about it tomorrow. Maybe after your visit to Dargon,
you'll have some good news for her."
The Scent of Balsam
by Bill Erdley
Late Seber, 1014
A breeze, and with it the scent of balsam, caressed him as he stood
in the doorway of the ballroom. The large chamber was decorated like a
hall of the harvest, sprinkled with festive trappings and garlands of
fall flowers. To the left, several musicians prepared for the night's
revelry, arranging their chairs and tuning their instruments; playing
lively little tunes to the empty hall and the flowers. A group of tables
stood clustered to the right; empty now, but the evening would find them
overflowing with food and drink. At the far end of the hall, a fountain
murmured. Water flowed from the pitchers of three maidens, each as
lovely of face and figure as had ever been captured by artist's brush or
sculptor's chisel. And within its basin, more flowers floated.
The flowers of the harvest.
The flowers of life.
Life; that was what would be celebrated here tonight. Life in all
of its glory, all of its wonder, all of its beauty. Music would play,
dancers would whirl, people would laugh and love and live. It was what
these decorations were all about. Life.
The man turned from the doorway, misty eyes cast downward. "'Life,"
he thought, "a celebration of beauty and joy; a gift given us by the
gods.'" He remembered the words that he had been taught as a child, not
so many years ago.
And the memory made him sad.
Later, as the musicians played and the dancers spun, the man stood
alone, expressionless, in his small room. From there he could hear the
music drifting on the evening breeze. In his mind's eye he could see the
dancers in their graceful movements. He could hear them and he could see
them, but he could not feel with them. The celebration of life was lost
to him; as though life itself had been lost to him. In one of his hands
he held a small piece of parchment, badly creased and tattered; in the
other, a small circlet of braided hair. These two pieces of his past
were more precious to him than any other possession, yet at this moment,
his aching heart wished that these gifts, and the accompanying memories,
would vanish. He brought the circlet to his face, and with it he
caressed his cheek. Through the smell of leather and smoke and sweat, he
could still smell a hint of balsam, her favorite scent. Or did he just
imagine it? He closed his eyes and a tear fell onto the ring of
His mind drifted to his experience with, in the opinion of several
of the stable boys, the wisest man in Magnus. He had gone to ask if
there were any way to forget the past. Instead of an answer, the sage
made several strange requests. One was that he was to visit often with
slate and chalk. It was obvious that the sage wished to teach, though
the subject was a mystery. Also, the sage requested that the youth
attend the victory celebration tonight. That was one request that would
have to go unfulfilled.
He thought back to the day when the army had ridden into the city.
He felt grand, proud and dignified. He rode just behind his knight, Sir
Luthias, but in his mind he imagined that the cheers were for him alone.
The people cheered for the return of the men, and for the ending of the
war as well. It had been bitter and costly affair, and many of the men
who had ridden from the gates of this city in the past months would
never return. He looked into the faces of the people in the crowd. Those
drawn and haggard faces belonged to people who had been starved and
beaten and besieged. Yet he saw only their looks of appreciation and
awe. To him, this was a glorious time; to them, a time of relief, of
weary thanksgiving for the end to the madness. Looking back on it now,
he remembered what he hadn't noticed before; and he understood.
He drifted back even further. He thought of the battles, the death,
the pain that he had seen. He had witnessed the best and the worst of
mankind; the honor and courage on one side, and the cruelty and the
savagery on the other. He remembered with sickening vividness his first
melee, seeing his enemy fall before him with a cry. He remembered his
first wounds; the pain, the fear, the bitter disappointment with
himself. It seemed that he could remember much about the war, but very
little of it was pleasant.
Except for the letter and the braid.
He carefully unfolded the parchment, creased and worn from many
months of handling. He had taught himself to read all of the words, so
he wouldn't need someone else to read it for him. Now, he re-read the
words that he could have spoken from memory.
'Please forgive my mother for saying those terrible
things. We have spoken long about this, and I understand her
fear. My father was a member of the militia. He died at Oron's
"Yes. The battle at Oron's Crossroads was a bloody rout from which
very few of the Baranurian soldiers escaped with their lives. It was one
of the worst defeats of the war -- and one which would not soon be
forgotten by the many wives and children who lost husbands and fathers
in that massacre."
'My mother didn't want me to know the same pain that she
"How well I can understand her sentiments. My father also died in
this war; as did my sister. Yes, I think I know something of the pain
that she spoke of."
'She said "I will not have my daughter marry a warrior",
but I asked her if she would keep her daughter from marrying a
"Oh young and innocent child! There is only one difference between
the two. The knight must fight bound by rules and codes as well as armor
and shield, while the warrior has only his weapon and his courage. They
both fight with anger and fury and terror and pain. They both hear the
sounds and smell the smells and taste the tastes of fear and horror.
They both bleed. And they both die."
'You will be a knight someday, Derrio. This I know in my
heart. When you return, I will marry you, with or without my
"Would you still wish to marry me now, dear girl? I have changed. I
have become sad and cold. I have become a killer of men whose only fault
was to be born on the wrong side of some imaginary line which divides
two nations. They fought because they were told to fight, and they died
because I knew that, if they did not, I would. Sometimes, when I think
about it, I loathe myself."
'I wait for thee, my knight to be. Be safe and be well.'
"But you didn't wait. I did as you asked -- I stayed as safe as I
could, although there were many days when I faced the wrong end of a
sword. I stayed as well as I was able, although I was sickened by the
sights and sounds and smells of death and battle. But you didn't wait. I
came back to you, for you, but you didn't wait for me. Why!? WHY DIDN'T
YOU WAIT FOR ME!? WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DIE BEFORE I GOT BACK?!!
The sounds of his wracking sobs carried to the window, where they
mingled with the music from the banquet hall.
Tired and weak from crying, he staggered from the room and into the
street. He ran from the happy music, which haunted him like a spectre.
He fled blindly, not knowing or caring where he went. He slowed as he
approached the docks. Few ships were docked there, for most of the piers
were charred or smashed. One ship which was docked there, the GANNESS
PRIDE, was missing an entire mast and a spar. Its railing was missing in
places, and, near the back, a gaping hole was torn in her side. The war
had touched the docks. He walked on.
He came to a section of the city which had been the scene of
intense fighting. Men had fought from house to house. Alleys were won
and held and lost again. Buildings became objectives to reach, prizes to
be won, goals to be paid for in blood. Here, a broken shield lay
discarded in an alleyway; there, part of a mail shirt colored by the
brown stain of dried blood. He stopped before a building which was
familiar. Once upon a time, children had met here at night and told dark
stories by candlelight. Now the door had been torn from its hinges, and
in several places, sword nicks and blood patches marked the passing of
recent events. The war had touched here, too. He moved on.
Suddenly, he knew where his feet were taking him. Turning the
corner, he saw the doorway from which a woman had once called to him,
telling him not to be afraid. Within the walls of that house, he had
eaten a meal, spoken of himself to a stranger, and proposed marriage to
the woman that he loved. Now the doorway, the walls, all of it was
charred and blackened. For blocks, from here to the edge of the city, a
great fire had swept. It was said that magic had moved the fire along;
and that the Benisonians had hoped to use the fire, and the chaos that
it caused, to sweep deeper into the city. The city had been miraculously
spared total destruction by a freakish rain squall, but not until an
entire quarter of the city had been ravaged. Not many people were in
their houses, they had fled to the keep for safety; but many more were
lost to the inferno.
And she was one of them.
He walked slowly toward the doorway, its blackened frame beckoning
to him like a succubus. His heart rebelled, screaming in terror to flee,
to stop, to do anything but walk through that portal. His mind, however,
had to see, had to know for certain that his eyes saw the truth. He
hesitated at the threshold, then stepped inside. A hole in the roof
allowed moonlight to enter, casting strange shadows in the gloom. The
destruction was complete. The walls were shattered and broken, the
furniture was ashes. With his foot, he toyed with a pile of ash in a
room where meals had once been served. A small cloud of dust rose, then
settled quickly, or disappeared into the unlit corners of the room.
Another room, and more piles of ash and broken memories. He walked to
the back of the small house. Here the entire roof had collapsed, leaving
ghostly half-walls pointing jagged fingers at the moon. It was
impossible to tell what this room had held. Perhaps it had been a
bedroom. What dreams had been dreamt here? What plans had been made,
then remade, then discarded. Had this been her room? Had she slept here?
Did she die here?
He sat down and leaned his tired body against an unsteady wall. He
had been angry, but that had passed. He had cried the bitter tears of
mourning, but they, too, had dried and disappeared. He looked with
sadness at the moon, shining its light on the desolate scene. He found
that he was holding her braid of hair in his hands, caressing it. He
held it to his face, trying to once again smell the smell that reminded
him of her. Was it there?
After their entrance into the city, he had found her mother among
the throngs. He looked at her face, into her eyes, and at once knew that
his love was gone. For what he saw in that sad woman's eyes was the same
vile emptiness that he felt when he held his sister's broken body in his
arms. "She is missing." she had said, "I haven't seen her since the
fire. I've looked and looked, but she just isn't here." He didn't
believe her then, and had searched for her himself, for days on end. He
neglected his duties as a squire, but Luthias didn't need him much these
days, busy as he was with other things. Finally, Luthias had confronted
him and made him face the truth. "Death is a part of life that we cannot
avoid." Luthias was obviously speaking from experience, since deep
within his voice was a compassion and a sympathy born only of intense,
consuming sorrow. "You must face it now as you faced it in battle, with
courage and strength." His courage had lasted until he had reached his
room, then he fell upon his bed and wept in agony.
That had been days ago. He rose and wiped the ash from his
"It is time to walk from the past into the future. I must let you
go, my love. I must accept the truth and walk on."
He turned and walked from the house, a final tear wetting his
cheek. He gently placed the braided circlet back in the pouch where he
had carried it for so many months. And he walked; past the house where
they had listened to stories, past the streets where they had walked in
the moonlight, past the docks where they had met. Again he could hear
faint strains of music, the celebration was still going on. He entered
the keep and strode quickly to his room. He changed his clothes, brushed
his hair, and pulled on his good boots. Then he turned and left again,
only this time he walked toward the music.
He entered the hall and was almost overwhelmed by the crush of
people. He could see that the dancers were occupying most of the floor,
and what was left was taken up by people eating and drinking and talking
and laughing. He searched carefully, and finally found Sir Luthias
standing near the fountain. He worked his way onto the dance floor,
which was only slightly less crowded than the rest of the hall. Sir
Luthias saw him coming, and smiled.
"I am pleased that you decided to join us." The knight's voice was
soft and gentle, and in his eyes was the light of understanding.
He said nothing, but walked instead to the fountain, whose quiet
mutterings were barely audible above the music and revelry behind him.
He gazed into the water, breathing deeply of the mingled scents of the
flowers that floated within. Behind the fountain hung boughs of balsam.
He breathed, and for the first time in days, felt a peace which had
He turned back to Luthias and bowed slightly. He gently drew the
circlet from his pouch and showed it to Luthias.
*I* *Say* *Goodbye*