Ah yes, by grace, it is a beautiful day.
What could be better than sitting here in my own courtyard under the limbs of this wide-spread chestnut tree, just watching as the shadow of the tree moves from the left side of the courtyard to the right? But my chair is in the perfect place, because the shade never abandons me, never.
Watching the shadows move is not all I do, of course. My chair faces the corner of the courtyard where the gateway leads out onto the village square. Well, it wants to be a square, the center meeting place of the community. But it really isn’t one, not yet. It is still just a crossroads, though more built up now than it used to be. Why, I remember stopping at Pyinalt’s inn, the Buzzard’s Roost, more than two hundred years ago.
Buzzard’s Roost, ha! It was supposed to be a joke, a way to keep the bad luck off. Too bad it was more accurate than old Pyinalt wanted it to be. Should have been a good place to set up an inn, at a busy crossroads like that. Problem was that the crossroads was badly placed: it wasn’t a convenient stopping place. Pyinalt would have gone out of business if the entire village of Terapha hadn’t been destroyed by a mysterious fire.
But any like, things are better these days. The Buzzard’s Roost is still there, right across from me. Of course, Pyinalt doesn’t still own it; it’s not even in his family any longer. And there are shops to either side: a bakery, and a leather-goods store. Good thing the tannery is leagues away! And across the square, there’s my place, the only blacksmith’s for scores of leagues. I’d say, we’re well on our way to becoming a village, you bet! Even if we’re so small we have to borrow our rats from the next town over, as my da used to say.
I wonder, every now and then, whether Pyinalt even has any family left. And if he does, what do they think of no longer owning the Buzzard’s Roost? I wonder what the family of the person who built this smithy thinks of no longer owning it? My da bought this place from the previous owner who just didn’t have the knack for being a frontier smith. They probably think they’re better off, but I know that my da found his purpose when he bought this place.
The previous owner must really have been inept, too; how hard can it be to run the only blacksmith’s shop at a trade crossroads when there isn’t any competition for leagues around? Business just comes to you naturally. All you have to do is do the work. Da had his hands full with that until he got his apprentices. Then he had enough time to court a wife and have a child.
Then again, if da hadn’t come here and bought this place, and then brought me into the world in this place and tried to teach me the family business when there just weren’t any other options around, then maybe I wouldn’t have had the accident …
I’ve wondered for a long time whether I should change the sign that hangs over the gateway. After all, it has my da’s name on it, and he’s been dead for nine years. Even though I run the smithy now, it is still, for truth, his business. I’m no blacksmith, but I’m good at running the business end. Between ma and me, we were able to keep the apprentices’ lessons going. With the help of passing tinkers, and one down-on-his-luck smith, we stayed in business until those apprentices were capable of working fully on their own. Several stayed with us — are still with us — and under my management, the business is growing and prospering. Not that it was all my doing. Ma treated those apprentices more like her own children than simple students, and the ones who stayed are as much my family as da and ma. Now that ma’s dead too, these past three years, our full smiths call me ‘papa’, and the new apprentices call me ‘uncle’.
I suppose that I would have changed the sign years ago if I could have done it myself, but I can’t read or write. Da hired someone to paint the sign that bears his name. ‘Mayander’s Blacksmithing’ it is supposed to say, and I suppose it does. I’ve certainly never heard anyone laugh on reading it as they might if it said ‘Mayander is a jackass’. Nor has anyone run away upon reading it, so it probably don’t say ‘Mayander is a lousy blacksmith’ either. Of course, most of the people who come in here do so because of the large horseshoe that hangs from the corner of the gate; most can’t read any better than I can.
Maybe another reason I haven’t changed the sign is because I don’t feel like a replacement for my da. He was a large man, swarthy, with lots of dark hair on his arms and chest, and on his head and face. Ma was large, too, and would have made a good smith with more training. Me, I’m tall but not as tall as either of them, and not large in any other way. I have chestnut-colored hair, and pale grey eyes, and my skin is fairer than either of theirs as well. Before the accident, I thought that my arms and chest would thicken like da’s from swinging the hammer. But that wasn’t how it was to be.
‘Eldirhan’s Blacksmithing’ would be a good sign to hang over my gate. I would feel strange, though, having my name replace my da’s. Though maybe I would have to ask the traveling scribe to letter it as ‘Eldirhan’s Blacksmithy’ since I’m not and never will be an actual smith. Not now, anyway.
But it is my smithy. I arrange for the supplies of charcoal and iron. I arrange contracts beyond the business that walks or is led into my courtyard each day, and I make the deals for the apprentices that keep the smithy going. But it isn’t my hammer crashing down on the anvils every day, filling the yard with the music of metal on metal, not my hands that shape that metal into new and useful shapes. Not my blacksmithing, but certainly my blacksmithy.
Actually, I never really wanted to be a smith. When I was young, I wanted to ride with a caravan. I didn’t care what job I had, I just wanted to travel. There was — there still is, sadly — something about that kind of life that drew me like a man dying of thirst to a spring. I wanted to roam; I wanted to travel and explore; I needed to be free to find whatever it was that was drawing me.
But I needed to stay home, to learn to be a smith. I was going to continue the dynasty of blacksmiths my da wanted to start. I was fourteen when I first stepped up to the anvil with a hammer in my hand. I had worked in the forge for longer than that, stoking the fires, pumping the bellows, hauling coal and iron, even gentling the horses that were come in to get shod. And I had watched da and the other, older apprentices all the while, trying to learn the craft because I had to. But you can’t learn smithing by watching. You have to get the feel of the hammer and the metal; you have to teach your hands what to do when by the doin’ of it, not by watching someone else do it.
I still don’t know what went wrong. One hammer-blow is all I got to swing, and then something exploded. The fire, the metal, the hammer itself, I just don’t know. But whatever it was, that accident changed my life more radically than I could ever have imagined …
Now I know things. I remember things that people say are impossible. I remember riding through the crossroads out there, even staying at the Buzzard’s Roost, two hundred or so years ago, but as a woman named Eleerand. I remember other lives as other people, far back in time, in places I never even dreamed existed before the accident.
I remember being a woman named Eldinan who was the captain of a ship called the _Typhoon Dancer_. I remember her last voyage, to a place called Wudamund. I remember her meeting two passengers on her ship and falling deeply in love with them.
I remember her taking part in the creation of an object, a talisman, that bound her and her two lovers together. And I remember that, just as that talisman was destroyed by lightning, she learned that another had bound himself to the original three.
I also remember being someone different, standing on a castle wall with the light of two moons shining down on me. I remember looking at the face of the one I loved, Nikorah, outshining both of those moons. I was Bralidan, the son of Bralevant who was duke of that place where the moons shone down.
I remember Nikorah and I discovering that these two strange fragments of stone that we each possessed fit together and actually became one larger stone fragment. Looking back, as I sit beneath the shade of my chestnut tree, I know that those fragments were part of that talisman that got destroyed by lightning. And I remember spending a life of joy out on the grassy plains with Nikorah, living in a strange, round kind of tent that had no poles holding it up.
I remember being Eilonvil, living in a manor keep in a different kind of kingdom. I remember losing a dear love, and having my mourning broken by a bard named Bonavec. I remember how I responded to him, almost forgetting my dear lost Derokein. And I remember how I caught the treacherous bard stealing the family heirloom — another of the talisman fragments — from the manor’s mantelpiece, and killing me for that discovery.
I remember being Elianijit, the stage manager of a traveling group of actors known as Torenda’s Troupe. I remember being diverted in a very strange manner and finding one of those talisman fragments. I remember the arrival of a young woman who was looking for aid against a threat happening at her philosophical sanctuary. She also told us of another talisman fragment at that school.
I recall that we managed to scare off the person attacking the school with illusions and stage craft, and were rewarded by being gifted with that second talisman fragment. It joined itself to the one we had found, completing a half-circle fragment. I remember more of that troupe’s travels, but none that were so exciting.
I remember other lives between and since, but the ship captain, Eldinan, is the first one I recall. I remember being poor and rich, common and royal. I remember staying in one place for a lifetime, and I remember traveling constantly. I remember being, doing, living so many different things that it is sometimes almost enough to drive me mad. And I remember that none of the people I have been in the past knew about their previous selves: I am alone in remembering everything.
In the beginning, once I had recovered as much as I was going to from the accident, I tried to tell my family and anyone else who would listen about the things I remembered. Some thought me a good storyteller. Some thought me possessed or mad or both. After I was threatened with being sent away to the madhouse in Magnus, I learned to keep my stories, my memories, to myself.
The memories weren’t all, though. I knew other things as well. Not just who I had been in past lives, but things about myself in this life. I have a sense of three other people out there in the world, moving around like they are searching for something. Perhaps the same something that I wish I was out there searching for: the fragments of that lost talisman.
And I know, in general, where those three remaining fragments are. One is to the north, one is far to the southwest, and the last one is to the east. None are in the possession of any of the searchers. From the general pattern and direction of their movements, I don’t think that the searchers are going to find any of the fragments any time soon. If only I were free to leave and travel like I’ve always wanted to, I could bring this endless search to a close in my lifetime …
One of the three people I can sense, one of the other three people that has been bound up with the talisman we created all those years ago, is walking across the crossroads square right now. She arrived last night and is staying in the Buzzard’s Roost. I could feel her over there all morning, moving around once she got up. And now she’s crossing the square, probably coming in here.
I’ll bet she wants me to come with her, to help her find the other fragments and the rest of us as well. And if not for the accident, I would be off like a rock out of a trebuchet, business or not. But I can’t go, I can’t help her, and I can’t let her know how much help she is losing.
The woman led her horse through the gate of the smithy, and approached the man sitting under the tree at the back of the courtyard. Her horse needed new shoes, and so it was convenient that there was a blacksmith’s right across from the inn, but there was some other reason she found herself drawn to this place. There was something special about this smithy; something special was waiting to happen when she walked through that gate.
She looked at the man sitting under the tree. He was on the good looking side of plain, with regular features in his rather pale face. His hair was brown, and his eyes, when she got close enough, were grey. There was something about him that tugged at her, like she should know him from somewhere maybe. But there was something else, too. Something … wrong, maybe? Something strange, anyway.
She decided to take care of her horse, and then see if she could find out anything else about the man. “Excuse me, sir?” the woman began.
Ah, it’s Nikkeus. Even as a female, I recognize him. He’s as handsome as ever, even in a woman’s body. That blonde hair, those amazingly green eyes, and, of course, that nose! I wonder what instrument she plays. She doesn’t look like a minstrel or bard, but then Nikkeus *was* a warrior too. She looks so good in that leather jerkin and those riding breeches. Oh, grace, if only …
“I’m sorry, Nikkeus, or Nikorah, or whatever you’re called this time, but all I can do for you is shoe your horse. Forget about anything else; it isn’t going to happen in this lifetime. Even if I could give up my business, I am in no fit state to travel, as you can see. Maybe next lifetime, straight?
“Fentrisk! Business! There’s a lady out here what needs a shoer!
“Horthol, Bhiss, it’s time to come in!”
Nikoren could only stare as the seated man delivered his strange speech. Then, when she wanted to ask him what he meant, he turned his head and hollered out some names toward one side of the courtyard.
Two doors opened in that side of the courtyard, and three people came out of them, all brawny and strong looking, even the woman. One man came toward her, and the other two went to the seated man. While the one who had come to her started asking how she wanted her horse shod, the other two picked up some poles lying on the ground behind the grey-eyed man and slipped them into rings on the sides of his chair. As they positioned themselves in front of and behind him, between the poles, Nikoren realized that they had just created a sedan chair.
Her supposition was borne out when the two of them bent forward, grabbed the poles, and straightened, lifting the man and his chair off of the ground. She could now clearly see that the man’s left arm was missing, as were both of his legs below the knee.
She stared after the entourage as they walked into the house. Indeed, she thought, he was in no shape to travel, what with those disabilities. But why had he felt it necessary to tell her so abruptly? She hadn’t been considering asking him along on her travels. Why had he assumed she would?
Strange man, she summarized, and tried to put thoughts of him out of her head. She looked back at the man in front of her — Fentrisk? — and said, “I’m sorry, but I was … distracted there for a moment. Could we begin again? I’m Nikoren, and my horse …”
She got her horse his shoes, but she wasn’t quite as successful at keeping her thoughts away from the strange legless man at the smithy. Not for a very, very long time.