DargonZine 12, Issue 11

Talisman Two Part 1



This entry is part 12 of 38 in the series Talisman

Author’s Note: This segment of the Talisman Saga takes place about three hundred and fifty years after Talisman One. The Fretheod Empire has fallen, torn apart by both internal strife and external invaders. Once conquered nations have become sovereign lands again under their own rule. Some returned to their former state, while others banded together to form new kingdoms. Talisman Two takes place in the newly-reformed Gerolevan Kingdom, which was once the north-western province of Geronlel on the continent of Duurom in the Fretheod Empire.

 

Melajoof was straightening up the counter in his shop. His mind whirled with plots and plans, deals both shady and straight, all methods of making a living in the busy city of Sengintol. His shop was called Klenjol’s Superior Trinkets. He wasn’t Klenjol, and the trinkets he sometimes sold were seldom superior, but the shop was more of a place where people could find him than a source of livelihood. Still, he gained an air of respectability in certain crowds by playing the merchant, and the shop wasn’t all that much of a liability to him.

Melajoof happened to glance up, and his scattered thoughts became very focused on the woman walking past the open shutter of his display window in the moment before she slammed open his door and shouted his name. The black-haired woman with the odd eyes who was storming into his shop was pure trouble. With a resigned, and quick, sigh, he acknowledged that his previous thought was only sometimes true. When irate former customers like the storming Tironvil needed to find him, it was actually quite a liability to have an easy method of being located.

 

He turned to run into the back room, but the crashing of his back door stopped him. He realized that the back door-crasher must be Tironvil’s twin, Maeanat; the two were seldom far apart, which meant that he was trapped.

 

He turned back around to find Tironvil advancing on him. Her sword was in her hand, and her face was twisted in anger. Fear flooded his body, but his mind began working frantically. He knew that there was only one reason that the twins would be invading his shop with murder in their eyes. Only the previous day he had sold them a bauble touted to be a foolproof means of disabling the traps on a local merchant’s storeroom. The trinket had been no such thing, and he had hoped that the pair of women would be caught by the merchant’s guards, if not more permanently dealt with by the traps they had been attempting to circumvent. It was obvious that his hopes had been ignored by the gods, and the twins were back for revenge.

 

Melajoof’s eyes darted around his shop, searching for a way out of his predicament. Plan after plan darted through his mind, until he saw the table he had set up especially for a client that was scheduled to arrive sometime that afternoon. At that moment of decision, he felt a hard point dig into his side and warm breath in his ear. A shiny length of sword blade flashed in front of his eyes, and a silky voice said, “Greetings, *Magister* Melajoof. So nice to find you in. We’ve come with a complaint about your wares.”

 

Tironvil reached the counter then and echoed her sister’s comment with, “Yeah, a complaint. It didn’t work, you rat-blooded faker! We was chased halfway across the city by Jeniseer’s guards, and when they eventually caught us, one nearly blinded my sister before we killed ‘em. We paid you good coin for that charm, and now we’re going to take our refund out of your innards!”

 

Melajoof looked into Tironvil’s mismatched eyes, one blue, one brown, and saw his death there. The woman poked at his stomach with her sword, which only caused him to flinch into Maeanat’s dagger in his side. He let out an undignified squeal, and then cleared his throat before starting up the sales pitch that would either earn him his freedom or get him killed.

 

“Wait, wait, wait! Please, ease up on the menace here! I’m a reputable business man, relatively speaking, and I stand behind my wares. I don’t know what could have happened with the charm you bought, but magic is a fragile thing you know. You didn’t get it wet did you? Or maybe it got too hot in your belt purse? You might even have walked past a negation charm on your way to Jeniseer’s vault. In any case, you can see that it wasn’t my fault that the charm didn’t work, can’t you?”

 

Melajoof held his breath and waited. This was the crucial moment. If the twins believed him, he was safe. If not … well, he probably wouldn’t even have time to regret that his flair for fast talking had failed him this time. He shuddered in anticipation of the blades of steel entering his body and ending his life in its prime. Why, he’d never get the chance to see the ocean if …

 

“You’ve got a point, I suppose,” said Maeanat. Melajoof felt the presence behind him step back, and the knife point withdrew from his side. Tironvil looked sullen, but she stepped back as well. “So, you maybe could have warned us how fragile the charm was, don’t you think?” Maeanat asked as she walked around the counter to stand next to her sister.

 

Melajoof looked at the twins standing next to each other and once again marveled at how unalike they looked. Maeanat was shorter than her sister, and very blonde. Her eyes were both the same color, a startling grass green, and she had a beak of a nose. A fresh, livid red wound, which had not been there the day before, trailed down her left cheek from very close to her eye. He wondered whether they were really twins, or even had the same father. Then he put aside such irrelevant questions and set to work turning his breathing room into an actual reprieve.

 

“You’re right, Maeanat, I should have warned you two about the delicacy of the charm. I just forgot that you aren’t as well versed as I am in the arcane lore of charms and talismans and the like.” Both women brightened a little at being mistaken for having more knowledge than they actually did. Melajoof laughed to himself as he noticed the change. He shouldn’t have any problems getting out of this particular trouble. The twins were formidable troublemakers, but thinkers they were not.

 

“To make up for your trouble, I’ll be happy to give you back double your money,” Melajoof said in his best sales-pitch voice. “It was my fault in a sense, after all. Or …”

 

He paused as if thinking and as expected, Tironvil rather quickly said, “What, what? Or what?”

 

“Or … I could maybe let you have this other item I’ve recently come across.”

 

Tironvil opened her mouth to say something, an eager expression on her face, but Maeanat elbowed her in the side, and said, “What is it, and why would we be interested?”

 

“If you’ll follow me over here, I’ll tell you,” Melajoof said as he came out from behind his counter and led the women over to the table in the corner. Everything had been prepared for his afternoon appointment, but he wasn’t terribly worried about disappointing his prospective client. His immediate peril was more important by far.

 

The table was covered with a richly embroidered cloth. Set around the perimeter of the table were two candles in ornate brass holders, as well as a half-dozen short slats of polished wood, each standing upright in its own carved holder. The upper tip of each of these slats was coated with a clear substance that was just barely visible in the sunlight coming through the front display window.

 

All of these objects surrounded the centerpiece of the table, which was an odd object indeed. It was a wedge of some odd type of stone that was about a foot and a half long, less than a foot wide, and about nine inches thick at its pointed end. The side of the wedge that lay face up was intricately carved and inlaid with precious metals, common metals, and even glass. The inlay formed Gerolevan knot-work, the kind of interlaced work that had been popular in this land since even before the days of the Fretheod conquerors. The carving was of a cat, stylized in Gerolevan fashion, and one of the strands of common-metal inlays originated in the center of the cat-carving. The other face of the stone, Melajoof knew, was smooth, polished, obviously finished that way. The edges, however, were jagged and uneven, as if whatever sculpture the fragment had come from had been smashed apart roughly. Each of the interlaced bands was also jagged where they reached the edge of the piece, revealing the fact that the metal bands were hollow. And even though the glass band was segmented and held to the piece by wooden wedges, none of those segments was even the slightest bit loose — nothing could persuade the fragment to be further fragmented. Melajoof knew this because he had tried to dismantle it when he had first acquired it from a traveling trader.

 

He took up his position behind the table, leaving the twins standing opposite him. He snapped his fingers and muttered a word, and with a faint *pop,* each candle was suddenly alight. The sisters’ eyes bulged a little, and Melajoof smiled confidently.

 

“This is the item I’m offering you,” he said as he gestured with a practiced movement of his hands at the stone fragment. He noted with satisfaction that both women started when he spoke, their attention diverted from the mysteriously-aflame candles. He continued his rehearsed speech, prepared to alter it as he went to fit his current customers instead of the one it had been written for.

 

“As you can see, this fragment of stone has been intricately decorated with Gerolevan figures: the cat and the woven bands. It is part of a much larger sculpture that once crowned the gatehouse of an ancient Gerolevan castle, where it served to protect the castle and its occupants for a thousand years, until treachery from within broke the sculpture and ended the castle’s protection.

 

“But, the stone retains its magics, as you can see.” He pulled one of the slats from its holder and touched the stone with it. The clear substance on the tip ignited, flared with a deep blue light for a moment, and then died out. Melajoof looked at the sisters slyly, but neither had noticed the nearly silent word that had triggered the paste. Things were going well.

 

“Now, I know that you will be wondering how a piece of broken magic is going to be of any use to you, right?” The twins looked startled, as if the thought hadn’t yet occurred to them. They quickly nodded, and Melajoof continued, “Of course you are. As you can see, there is still quite a bit of defensive magic in this stone, yes?” He took another slat, touched it to the fragment, muttered the trigger word, and the tip of the stick flared green. “Right. Even beyond that indication, there’s the representation on the face. See the way the silver band starts from within the cat-figure and curves up over it? Obviously representing protection, right? Good.” The sisters were hanging on his every word, following where he led whether it made any sense or not. Perfect.

 

“And the magic is very strong. See?” Another stick, another word, another flash. Melajoof placed one hand on the table and leaned forward slightly, switching his gaze from sister to sister and trying to communicate sincerity as he gazed into each pair of eyes. He didn’t even notice that his hand had come into contact with the stone fragment. “Yes, those who enchanted the stone really knew their business. All that magic still inside this sliver of stone, going to waste.

 

“But it doesn’t have to be. At great cost to myself, I have worried the stone’s secrets from out of the depths of the ages. And I know how to make it function again. Three things need be done — only three — and you will be able to claim the protection of the stone for yourselves.” Melajoof wondered as he spoke where these words were coming from. Three things? What three things? But he was still speaking, even as he wondered at the words he was uttering. Where were these words coming from?

 

“First, you must find another fragment. Then, according to the legends, you must find the place where the original sculpture was enchanted. Fear not, for I have discovered that for you: the Veneletri Stones. Take the pieces to the center of the rings, close by the Peace Stone, and then recite the proper incantation. The magic in the stone fragment is so strong that even one without the arts of magic will be able to work this spell.

 

“Let me demonstrate. Tironvil, take these sticks like this and hold them against the stone.” He picked up the last of the prepared sticks and held them near their bases in a fan shape. He handed them to Tironvil, who touched their ends against the fragment. Melajoof started his made up incantation. One by one, at appropriate points in the nonsense verse, the slats flared up brightly in different colors, and went out.

 

“There, you see? Anyone can do it. So, is this an acceptable recompense for your trouble, sisters? I admit that a little more work is required to actually make use of it, but just think: when you have keyed and activated the magic, you will be totally protected by the stone! Invulnerable! How about it?” Melajoof waited once again to see whether his fast talking would get him out of this jam.

 

He noticed that while Tironvil was looking a little skeptical, Maeanat was grinning widely and staring at the fragment. This worried him, as of the two, Tironvil was the more gullible. The odd-eyed twin opened her mouth as if to ask more questions, but Maeanat dragged her sister a step away and whispered at her for a few moments. Finally, they both nodded, and returned to the table.

 

Maeanat said, “The item will be acceptable. We’ll spare your life in exchange for it. Ah, the chant … you have that in writing?”

 

Melajoof had to fight to keep from grinning in relief. He said, “I can write it down right now. Ah … you can read Gerolevanic, right?”

 

Being as dignified as possible, Maeanat said, “I think that Frethevan trade-talk would be preferable.”

 

Melajoof simply nodded, and returned to his counter. He produced a piece of parchment, and a quill and ink, and scribbled down the incantation. He had actually written it out already in Gerolevanic, but had no problem translating the syllables into Frethevan letters.

 

After blotting the parchment with sand, he rolled it up and put it into a scroll tube. Then, he took the tube back to the table and picked up the fragment. He handed both to the twins, and said, “Well, I wish you luck finding another piece of the sculpture. I have been asking around about another one, but no one has seen one. However, if I hear anything, I’ll be sure to let you know. I’ll send a message to your quarters in the duke’s residence, or you can stop back here if you want.”

 

“Yes, yes, thank you,” said Maeanat. The twins clutched their new belongings to themselves and hurried out of the shop.

 

Melajoof walked casually over to the display window, and slowly closed the shutter over it. He puttered around the shop for a while, making sure that the twins weren’t going to return and put him to the sword just on general principles. When it was clear that they weren’t coming back anytime soon, he started moving with more purpose. He fetched a satchel from the back room and started to pull selected trinkets off of the sparse shelves in the main room of his shop. Then, he retrieved the money box from under the counter, looted the back room in a similar selective way, and hurried out the back door.

 

As he left, he wondered how long it would be before someone noticed that Klenjol’s Superior Trinkets was out of business. It was a shame to give up his shop, but Sengintol was no longer safe for him. Eventually, the twins would realize that he had put one over on them again. That fragment was no more magic than his grandmother’s grave, and he couldn’t trust that Tironvil and Maeanat would die finding that out.

 

He chuckled. Maeanat had called him ‘magister’. The title was just as much of a joke as she had meant it to be. Then again, he had certainly managed to turn his single reliable spell into something worthwhile. The ability to ignite something that was primed and ready to light wasn’t much of a spell by anyone’s reckoning, but with a little imagination and some preparation, he had certainly made it go a long way.

 

That, and a gift for storytelling worthy of a bard had kept him alive all these years. His latest story had certainly been a good one; he almost believed it himself. The part about the ancient castle he had prepared in advance, and he had decided to add the bit about finding another fragment at the last moment to make sure that the sisters took some time before finding out about his falsehoods. But that part about the Veneletri Stones — where had that idea come from? All in all, it was a good idea, he reflected. If the twins actually did travel all the way to the standing stone site, it would take them even more time to find out the lie, which could only be good for him, right?

 

He walked down the street toward his home, already planning on how much he would be taking from there and wondering where he might end up. He was going to travel light this time, he decided. As for a destination, all he had to do was choose which coast. There was an ocean to the west, and another to the north. Heading for one or the other coast would serve two purposes: he would be far away from Sengintol, and he would finally get to see the ocean. Now all he had to do was choose which one.

 

***

 

Tironvil was silent as she and her sister crossed the Middle Market Square away from Klenjol’s Superior Trinkets. Maeanat, her twin sister, clutched the fragment that Melajoof, the proprietor of Klenjol’s, had given to them.

 

Her first impression of the stone as junk hadn’t changed much, even after the demonstration of its supposed magical properties. Melajoof’s magical mummery hadn’t overly impressed her, possibly because she hadn’t been paying all that much attention to it. She had been ready to ask more questions about the supposed enchantment on the stone at the end of the demonstration, but Maeanat had drawn her aside first.

 

Her sister had been very excited about the stone and its magical properties and had said, “What do you think? I think we should take it. I know Melajoof is probably trying to sell us another tin chicken, but I know something he doesn’t: I am certain that I’ve seen one of these fragments before, and it’s right near the Veneletri Stones! So I think we should take it, because we will be able to make use of it. Sound good, sister?”

 

It hadn’t sounded good to Tironvil, but she had gone along with it anyway, since Maeanat had seemed to really want the stone. It had almost seemed inevitable somehow, like they were meant to have the fragment. And she wasn’t sure how much she liked that feeling.

 

The two of them had left the Middle Market Square and traversed the commercial streets beyond it as Tironvil ruminated on the stone and its meaning. She shook off her introspection and looked around, noticing that they had arrived on Parade Avenue, the main street that led through the city of Sengintol from Victory Gate to Fashanol Place, the duke’s residence. It was a huge road, made larger by the swath of monument-dotted grassy area in the center and the setbacks between the outer curbs and the front walls of the nobles’ estates that lined the prestigious avenue. Each half of the roadway was wide enough that a full company of soldiers could march in formation comfortably in the center of it, leaving plenty of space between the curbs.

 

Tironvil and her sister were walking along the avenue toward Fashanol Place. That edifice, set at the top of an artificial hill, didn’t quite fit in with the scale of the avenue leading up to it, but that was an intended effect. Parade Avenue was a tribute to the people of the city and kingdom, whereas the palace was a representation of the office of duke. The builder had wisely decided to minimize the impact of that palace, at least in comparison to the avenue. Tironvil thought it was a good trick.

 

She and her sister lived at the palace — actually, in the vast array of administrative buildings behind the palace, but within its perimeter walls. Tironvil was one of the court’s junior accountants — she had a gift with numbers — and her sister was with the palace guards. Neither job paid all that well, which had led them to continue their less-than-legal ways, even after being gainfully employed. And having the palace to hide in was a great boon to their escapades.

 

Tironvil decided to try to coax some details out of her sister, so she said, “Hey, Nati, slow down. I want to talk to you about this stone and all. So, you’re sure you’ve seen another fragment? Where?”

 

Maeanat fell back beside Tironvil and said, “Absolutely. I remember it well, very well. Think back two years, when the duke’s summer procession went south. Remember? Sure you do, Ahnev. That was the time when the head ostler vanished, and everyone thought that he had run away with the duke’s travel purse, but in the end they found him in a barn with a tavern maid. Right, right. And it wasn’t *my* fault if the fellow was just bragging to me over his cups, blowing wind about might-bes. I’m just glad no one remembered who started that rumor.

 

“So, right, that was the trip. Now, can you remember the holdings of Mordairi and Granavil? Yep, Mordairi was that place that even I could tell was built with an eye to excess and with no taste at all. Well, you remember how Mordairi was feuding, more or less, with their neighbors at Granavil, even though Granavil had no troubles with Mordairi? That was why only a small party representing the duke actually went over to the Granavil manor with official greetings and all. Well, I invited myself along with them, and let me tell you that Granavil was just a delight to behold. Everywhere Mordairi showed bad taste and excess, Granavil did just right. It was like the one was the model for the other, and it wouldn’t be any meaner than the truth to say that Mordairi got it all wrong, whichever was copying the other.

 

“Yes, yes, you wanted the details, Ahnev. Okay, okay, long story just a little bit less long. I saw another fragment on the mantelpiece in Granavil Keep’s main room. It was just like this one here, but with a different animal on it; I think it was a fox. I do know that I was very tempted to just take it right then and there, so I asked a servant about it. Seems that the Granavil folk believe that it has been in their family for over five hundred years, and it is a good luck talisman for them.

 

“I never got the opportunity on that visit to take the sculpture, so it has to still be there. They wouldn’t have sold it or anything, with it being their luck and all. So, it’s right there for the taking!”

 

Tironvil trusted her sister’s memory; if Maeanat had seen a fragment at the Granavil manor house, then it had been there, and probably still was. But they weren’t exactly free to travel the hundred miles between here and there, were they? “So, how do we get there to take it, Nati?”

 

“It couldn’t be simpler, sister. This is a procession year, yes? Normally, the duke wouldn’t take his procession out past the same holdings so soon: you know how the lordlings howl behind his back at the expense of hosting him and his entourage when he doesn’t get back to them outside of a decade. But Mordairi has just hired a new songster, an apprentice bard I think. Since the Mordairi are on the edge of the westward loop Duke Arvinsosh’s procession made two years ago, they can make it an eastward loop this year and still deliver the bard to the holding with all the proper pomp that Mordairi is insisting on. I know that the duke is less than happy to be returning to that travesty of a holding, but Mordairi has the influence — and what’s more, the inclination to *use* it — to make sure that their new bard has a proper investing .

 

“And that, sister, is how we get close enough again to Granavil to grab that fragment.”

 

Tironvil had a twinge of doubt. This was all very convenient, wasn’t it? And she had the feeling that there was something more, something she should be remembering …

 

“And if you recall, Ahnev,” Maeanat continued, “the Veneletri Stones are just to the south of the Granavil holding. It’s perfect, no? By the end of the summer festival, we’ll have the other fragment and we’ll be chanting away in the center of the Veneletri Stones. And then, we’ll be perfectly protected forever. I can’t wait!”

 

Tironvil’s doubt was more than a twinge now. As she and her sister passed under the guard post and into the palace’s grounds, she wondered whether buying that charm from Melajoof the day before had really been a good idea. Trying to break into Jeniseer’s vaults seemed to be a walk down Parade Avenue compared to the feeling she was getting from this whole stone-fragments thing. She only hoped that she and Maeanat would emerge with nothing worse than her sister’s cut cheek by the end of the summer festival.

 

***

 

Eilonvil was in the graveyard when the stranger rode up. Even though it was the beginning of the summer festival, and almost everyone else from the holding was gathered around the horse field for the summering ceremonies, she still couldn’t bring herself to leave the graveside of her love, her life, Derokein.

 

Eilonvil had come to the Granavil holding just less than two years earlier, and had almost immediately fallen in love with the second son of the Granavil family, Derokein. Even though she was just a servant, albeit an elevated one — she had been hired to be an artist in residence — and he was of the landed gentry, Derokein had not only returned her love but had proposed to her with the full approval of his family. The hunting accident that had taken Derokein — her beloved Kend — from her had happened more than four months ago, in the middle of the spring. A charging boar had spooked his horse, and his hunting party had brought Kend home draped across that horse with a broken neck.

 

At first, the family had taken time out of their own grief to try to help console her. Even though the marriage hadn’t happened yet, they had still considered her part of the family, and had treated her as such. Their efforts had been unsuccessful, and eventually they had decided to leave her alone at the graveside, where she took her meals and sometimes even slept when the summer weather was warm enough. And her thoughts never left that grave even when her body did. Until the stranger rode up.

 

It was early afternoon, and no one was expected, so she was surprised when she heard hooves on the walkway that led around the manor house and down the hill to the graveyard. She looked up and watched the man ride up to the low stone fence around the graveyard, and for the first time in four months forgot about her departed Kend.

 

The man riding the horse was handsome in a pretty way, with dark brown hair, green eyes, and a huge beak of a nose. He wore foppish clothes — a puffed and slashed tunic with long droopy sleeves ending in dags, tights, and tall riding boots — which were nothing fit to work in. He carried a lute on his back and had a harp strapped to his saddle, so maybe he was dressed to work, if that work was singing.

 

He swung himself out of the saddle with ease, and stood facing her from the other side of the wall. He doffed his floppy hat, complete with a huge plumed feather, and bowed to her without losing the lute. “Pardon me, mi’lady,” he said in a most musical voice. “I knocked at the door, but got no answer. Is no one at all home? Have I not arrived at the Granavil manor?”

 

Eilonvil stood up and started walking toward the man. She said, “You have indeed reached the Granavil manor, but your arrival has coincided with the ceremonies of the summering festival, and the household is down in the horse fields celebrating. Ah, except for myself, of course. And who might you be?” She stopped just the other side of the wall from the stranger and watched the light sparkle in his large green eyes as he spoke.

 

“I am the new bard of the Mordairi holding. I arrived with Duke Arvinsosh’s procession two days ago, but decided to go visiting while the duke and Mordairi do their own summer celebrating. I had heard much of the Granavil holding and wanted to see it, but there was little free time to be allotted to me in Dame Mordairi’s plans until fall at the earliest. Except for these first few days of the summer festival, which I thought I would use to my advantage. I am called Bonavec.”

 

The dashing young man bowed again, this time catching up Eilonvil’s hand and touching warm, soft lips to the back of it as he did so. Eilonvil felt herself almost fall into those green eyes as he straightened back up, and she marveled that her own lips were curved up in a smile as they had not for four months.

 

That thought, that remembrance, caused her to take a step back from the dazzling man, and the smile faded swiftly from her lips. How could she be so taken with someone so soon after Kend’s death? It wasn’t right, it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t fair!

 

Bonavec said, “My pardon, fair lady, if I have done aught to disturb you. I see that you have forsaken the delights of the summering ceremonies for solitary time in a yard of memory. For whom do you grieve?”

 

“My love, Derokein,” she replied almost automatically. Even her answer couldn’t keep her from hanging on Bonavec’s flowery speech. “He d … died in the spring. Four months ago.”

 

Bonavec’s smile was dazzling as he said, “Your love must have been one that the great bards, those who I can only wish to palely imitate, write of, for you to still be grieving after so long. But surely your Derokein would not want to see you alone at the summer festival? This is a time of rejoicing, of celebration. Surely you owe it to his memory to enjoy at least this brief festival time. And maybe if you can undertake to give up your grief for this short time, you will come to see the waste of spending the only life the two of you still have alone in a graveyard.”

 

“I … I …” Eilonvil could think of no proper reply. She thought she should probably be furious with this Bonavec for such blasphemy of her Kend, but she felt nothing of the kind. She knew that she had heard his words before, that her employers — nay, her new family — had used them, or similar, to try to rouse her from her grief. But not until she heard them from the lips of this bard did she really understand them.

 

That did not mean that she was quite ready to just abandon Kend to be forgotten in the graveyard, while she went and enjoyed the summering ceremonies. Did it?

 

“Say yes, lovely lady who has not yet given me her name,” said Bonavec, with a teasing, almost musical lilt to his voice.

 

“Eilonvil,” she said.

 

“That’s not ‘yes’, Eilonvil. Say yes.”

 

After a moment, she said, “Yes.”

 

“Good, good. Now, give me your hand, and let me help you over this wall. Good. Now, should we go join the household, or perhaps have our own summering ceremonies?”

 

***

 

As Eilonvil and Bonavec returned to the manor house late in the afternoon, she reflected that she had not been so happy since before Derokein’s death. And even the thought of that tragic day, the day Kend had left her, was no longer debilitating. Perhaps they had been right all along, the Granavils and Bonavec — her daily grieving had not been helping her, and nothing could help Kend any more.

 

She and Bonavec had spent the afternoon together, first participating in an improvised summering ceremony, and then just walking around the holding and talking. Even though she had felt an attraction to the young man, she had tried to keep her distance from him emotionally, and he had been the perfect gentleman as well. Their time together had been enjoyable, a day of friendship and companionship, and she felt infinitely better for it than she had upon waking up that morning.

 

The Granavil family, employees and servants, had returned from their own ceremonies by the time Eilonvil arrived back at the manor house, so she introduced Bonavec to them as Mordairi’s new bard. As she introduced him to them, she noticed that something about Bonavec’s face had changed. She looked closely, and then spotted it. He had a scar on his left cheek, running from just under his eye to just below the cheek bone. It had been covered by makeup of some kind, which had run in the heat of the day. She wondered why he had covered it up, but figured that he was probably self-conscious about it. So she didn’t mention it, not wanting to embarrass him and not knowing if he had any of that makeup with him to fix it.

 

As Eilonvil had expected, the Granavils had made Bonavec feel welcome immediately. They asked him about his training in Sengintol, and how he liked the Mordairi holding so far. They invited him to dinner, and continued to question him, but were gracious when he started to question them back. Eilonvil listened as her new friend asked about the Granavil’s history, and even managed to keep her composure when her employers told Bonavec about the fox-stone on the mantel. That strange piece of stone, carved with a fox and inlaid with bands of silver, gold, and glass, had been a favorite of Derokein’s, and she knew it would always remind her of him. But that memory was no longer too heavy to bear, and she knew that she would continue her life here in Granavil hold as part of their family, made better by her experience of Kend.

 

As the evening wore on, Bonavec, of his own volition, got up and performed a few musical pieces. Eilonvil thought that his voice could have used some more training, but his playing was flawless and clearly made up for whatever deficiencies his singing possessed. She was struck by one of his melodies, and as he played it over and over, she began to see a dance start to form out of it. She got a charcoal and parchment and started sketching out the steps in a shorthand common to dance masters where she had grown up. She could see segments of the dance like mosaic stones in her head. Common steps arranged into verses, less common steps becoming the choruses, all interlocking with each other and with the music and forming a separate whole that was more than the sum of its parts. By the end of the song, she knew that the dance would be a good one. She resolved to spend some time the next day with Bonavec to work out the nua nces of the steps. She wondered whether to call the dance the Granavil Paces, or Derokein’s Memory. Maybe she should leave those details up to her patrons.

 

As the ride back to Mordairi was at least half a day, Bonavec was offered the bed of the youngest Granavil, which he accepted with humility and reluctance. The family retired as the servants cleaned up the evening’s mess. Eilonvil retired to her own pallet in the servants’ room, a bed she hadn’t slept in for quite a few weeks. Even though her straw-and-quilt bedding was far more comfortable than Kend’s graveside, she found herself unable to sleep; the dance kept running through her head and she found herself eager to plot it out to the very last step. She decided to go see if Bonavec was still awake — she wanted to get each and every nuance of his tune and match the dance to it perfectly. And if something else ended up transpiring … well, Kend had been mourned long enough.

 

Her way to the family’s quarters led through the main room of the manor. As she approached it, she was surprised to see a faint light within. She wondered who else had found sleep difficult to achieve and what they might be doing in the main room. She strode boldly through the door, her candle in front of her, and was shocked to see Bonavec standing in front of the fireplace, his back to her. A candle rested on the mantelpiece, and the bard was lifting the fox-stone from its place of honor there.

 

“What are you doing, Bonavec?” she asked.

 

The bard turned, clutching the stone to his chest. His handsome face now wore a sneer that made the scar seem fitting. “Just getting my due, lovely Aelon. I’m sorry you had to catch me at it.”

 

She was completely unprepared for the way Bonavec’s manner had changed, and the way he used Kend’s nickname for her, which she had told him that afternoon, made it even worse. When the young man drew his dagger and started striding across the room toward her, fox-stone still clutched in his other arm, she just stood staring stupidly. Just as he drew close enough to use the dagger, she managed to collect her wits enough to stumble backward a step and whimper, “What … ?” Her cry when the dagger entered her chest sounded faint even to her.

 

She crumpled to the ground, barely even feeling the pain of the dagger in her heart. Everything was growing dim, and not just because her candle had fallen from her hand and gone out. The last thing she knew was Bonavec’s voice saying, “I regret having to do that, dear Aelon. You were an unexpectedly pleasing diversion, but I guess one I’ll have to leave behind. Farewell, Eilonvil … I hope you are reunited with your Derokein.”

 

And then, she knew nothing more.

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