NOTE TO NEW VISITORS:
To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.

One

Taraval awoke with the first cock-crow from the village. Swinging back the heavy draperies that hung round his bed, he leaped up and crossed the cold stone floor barefoot. He flung open the shutters and looked from his high window across the valley of Ilahee to the rocky peaks in the east.

The late summer sun had already cleared the horizon, and a shaft of golden light cut through the gloom of his bedroom, enriching the reds and earth tones of the threadbare bed damasks. The morning light brought out the gold in his shoulder-length hair and intensified the clear green of his eyes. His face was untroubled and eager -- the face of a boy on the verge of manhood.

Today was the day his Uncle Terwilliger was to give him his birthday gift, and although there was no doubt that the gift would be a lute -- Taraval being a lute player and his uncle being a maker of lutes and other musical instruments -- the choice of the lute was a matter of special concern and great excitement to Taraval.

Terwilliger had asked him to come to his shop early so they could breakfast together. Taraval dressed rapidly, but even in his haste he remembered to place two hazelnuts on the windowsill for Treb, the squirrel who lived in the oak tree growing in the couryard below his window. Then he left his room in a fine mood and set out on the day's adventure.

As he strode across the stone courtyard toward the castle's Great Hall, Taraval was greeted by Rowena, one of the cooks, who was on her way to the kitchen.

"A tandaril morning to you, Lord Taraval," she said.

"A tandaril morning it is," Taraval replied, grinning as he helped himself to a plum tart from the tray she carried. "Have you seen my mother this morning?"

"Aye, lad, she's mending the tapestry again," said Rowena, nodding toward the Great Hall.

Taraval sighed as he strode off, thoughtfully munching the tart. The tapestry had become almost an obsession with his mother lately, for it was beginning to fray and show signs of its great age. She worked on it tirelessly, as if by preserving this last vestige of Ilahee's golden years, she could keep alive some hope for the kingdom's future.

As he always did, Taraval stopped still at the entrance to the Great Hall and admired the tapestry, which hung on the wall opposite the door. As high as two tall men and nearly the same in width, it depicted a woman in a flowing green dress beneath a gnarled tree that bore delicate, fan-shaped leaves. The woman, tall and stately, stood within a fairy ring of golden-capped mushrooms, amidst a sprnkling of blue, star-shaped flowers growing in clusteres of three. At her feet lay a lute made of tandaril wood.

On the trestle table in front of the tapestry, a skein of blue wool wrapped around her arm, stood Taraval's mother, Queen Juliana, a slim woman with a youthful face and only a few wisps of grey in her auburn hair. She was studying the tapestry closely.

"Where do you think she went, Mother?"

The queen turned, a bit startled. "Oh, Taraval. I was so intent on my work I didn't hear you come in." She looked back at the tapestry. "You mean Orchis? I wish I knew. Every morning when I come in to the Great Hall, I see her image and wonder what became of her. Her life was so sad, and yet there is something so strong and regal about her that looking at her makes me feel strong, too."

"I can't help thinking that things would have been different for Ilahee if King Galen had treated her better," Taraval said.

"Well, there's no way we can ever know that," she said, her voice resigned. Then she smiled at her handsome, square-jawed son. "Now, where are you off to so early?"

"To have breakfast with Uncle Terwilliger. He's letting me choose my lute today."

"Of course, your gift. But why today? Your birthday is next week."

"Because I couldn't wait, Mother," Taraval laughed, "and Uncle is tired of my pestering. Can I help you down?"

"Please do. I need to look at the colors from farther off."

With his hands round her waist, Taraval easily lifted her down from the table. "How is the mending going?" he asked.

"Very well, I think, but slowly." She stood back to survey the beautiful hanging with its muted shades of blue, green, and brown. "In two hundred years the colors have faded a great deal, and it's hard to match the yarns so the mends don't show. But this blue that Felicity dyed for me is very near the color of the starflowers, don't you think?"

Taraval squinted at the tapestry for a moment before replying. "Yes, it's a good match for the shade they are now. Of course, I don't know how blue the real ones were."

"Even I can't remember," the queen said wistfully as she stepped back toward the tapesty. "I was so young then. All I recall seeing are dried ones that were already faded." She snipped a loose yarn end with the scissors that hung from a ribbon at her waist. "It's so strange that all the starflowers died in the same blight that killed the tandaril trees," she said. "Only those two things."

"Uncle Terwilliger says the starflowers were part of the magic," Taraval said, "so they died when the magic died."

His mother nodded, her blue eyes sad. "All my life I've wished I'd been born earlier, when the magic was still here and merchants came from the world around to buy lutes and dulcimers made of our tandaril wood." Swept up in her vision of Ilahee's glorious past, she held out her skirts and spun around. "Oh, the great balls my mother told me about, with all the women wearing silk and velvet dressed, and jeweled leather slippers. And the exhilarating talks -- about music, and painting, and cities halfway across the world! What a grand place Ilahee must have been in those days."

She laughed as Taraval bowed and held out his hand to her, and together they went through the steps of a stately gaillard, mimicking the gestures they though ladies and lords of the great courts must use. Taraval ended their dance by turning her under his arm and gallantly kissing the back of her hand. As he did so he was reminded anew of Ilahee's poverty, for the edge of his mother's sleeve was as frayed and worn as the tapestry she worked on so diligently.

He felt a rush of affection for her and said in a determined voice, "A dress of blue silk, Mother -- starflower blue to match your eyes. With pearls embroidered on the sleeves. That's what you should wear. Some day I'll get you a blue silk dress like that."

Queen Juliana smiled at her son, but he could see the glisten of tears in her eyes. She would love such a dress, he knew, for she had been a young woman before the last of the instruments and jewelry and comfit boxes of tandaril wood had been sold, so she could recall some of the glory of that time. But he could never give her the part of the past she truly longed for -- the excitement of living in a world of art and learning, and of meeting visitors from around the world who traveled often to the famed kingdom of Ilahee. These had been the greatest things about the enchanted Tandaril Age, and she had had just enough taste of that life to miss it all the rest of her days.

Those times were long gone now, for the tandarils had been dead for more than forty years. The tales that had been fresh and new when his mother was growing up now held an aura of legend and were sung in the evenings in the only inn left in the village. Taraval never tired of hearing about how the sorceress Orchis, more than two centures before, had enchanted a ravenwood tree as a love gift to Ilahee's King Galen, and how its seeds had grown into the first tandaril trees. But he scarcely knew where history left off and myth began. There were tales about tandaril wood lutes so resonant that even the vibration of a whisper could set them a-trembling, and tandaril dulcimers that sang all by themselves.

How much was truth, he had always wondered, and how much pure fancy? Then he set his curiosity aside. Since the tandarils were dead and weren't coming back, what was the point in wondering at all?

Queen Juliana turned to her son. "If you're breakfasting with Terwilliger, you'd better be on your way. He likes to eat early." Then a cloud of worry crossed her face and she added, "Taraval, when you go to your lessons this afternoon, remember to ask Friar Biophilus about the ravenwoods."

"I'm sure if he'd had any luck he'd tell us right away, Mother," Taraval said gently.

"He might wait, though, until he knew for certain that he had a seedling or a graft that would survive. But I want to know if anything shows even a possibility. You know how important it is. So ask him -- please."

"Very well, Mother. I'll ask him."

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Min,

I don't have time to read this today, you know why, but I emailed the link to a certain someone we both love.

ciao

c

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Your,niece,cl said...

Wow!!!I wish I could read it on the way to Disneyland.

7:40 PM  

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