To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


Trembling, Taraval walked across the storeroom and knelt in front of the glowing chest. He started to touch it but then, without willing it, drew back his hand and stood up again. What was it that made him feel so strangely, as if something were drawing him to the chest and at the same time pushing him back?

He saw now that the lock, which he was sure had been fastened a moment ago, was hanging loose. So, he thought, he had not imagined the clicking sound he heard!

His heart racing now, Taraval went down on one knee and reached out again – slowly, cautiously – but the instant he touched the lock, a shower of blue sparks spurted from the keyhole, burning his fingers like hot coals. With a yelp of pain he jerked his hand away and scuttled backwards.

Anger surged in him but was quickly replaced by curiosity. What was happening here? He turned to the wall where the instruments hung and found a stout wooden pole. Then he knelt – two armlengths away from the chest this time – and used the pole to pry up the lid and carefully push it back against the wall.

Creeping closer now, he looked in, only to shake his head in puzzlement, for lying in the chest was nothing more than the trunk of a tree, nestled in a pile of dry leaves. Why should his uncle keep a tree trunk locked up in a beautiful carved-leather chest?

Careful not to touch it, Taraval examined the tree trunk closely. Even in the dim light he could see that its bark was similar to the bark of a ravenwood tree, yet it wasn’t the same. It was rougher, and the patterns on it were smaller and tighter.

Could it be… ? A sudden excitement gripped him, and heedless of the risk of being burned again he dropped down beside the chest, plunged his hand into the leaves, and pulled out a handful of them. He held one up to the light that streamed in from under the eaves and saw that it was fan-shaped – like ravenwood leaves – but much smaller and more delicate. Like the leaves of the tree in the tapestry!

Then he spied something blue among the dried leaves in his hand. Lifting it out, he saw it was a fragile, nearly transparent, dried five-petaled flower – a starflower!

At that moment, the storeroom door swung open and his uncle stepped in. “Well, Nephew, I wondered what was keeping you.”

Taraval leaped up, his eyes glowing. “Uncle! Why didn’t you tell me you saved the trunk of a tandaril tree?”

Before Terwilliger could reply, Taraval began to talk, the words tumbling out of him.
“Uncle, the chest was locked when I came in, and then something amazing happened.” He described to Terwilliger the golden light that opened the lock, how the light then turned blue, and how his hand had been burned by the shower of sparks. “And Uncle, I heard music, too, like wind chimes, before the light turned blue and then again afterward. It was like – magic!” He was breathing fast, his face flushed.

Terwilliger put a hand on Taraval’s shoulder. “Calm down, Nephew,” he said, his voice quiet and soothing. “Magic it may have seemed, but there are other explanations. When your eyes are dazzled by bright sun and then you look away, you can’t trust what you see. The blue light you saw might have been only a trick of your eyes, when a cloud dimmed the sunlight creeping under the eaves.”

“But the lock, Uncle, and the music!”

“Perhaps the chest was already unlocked. I’m not so sure I locked it tight after the last time I opened it. And in this village, you know, hearing music like wind chimes is nothing new.”

Taraval shook his head vigorously, still convinced that what he had experienced was real. “But the sparks burned me, Uncle. Look!”

He thrust out his hand and Terwilliger drew the boy nearer the door to examine it in stronger light. “But nephew, there’s no redness, nothing.”

Taraval saw that it was so. He remembered then that the pain had stopped the instant he jerked his hand away.

“But Uncle Terwilliger, a burn that leaves no mark? Wouldn’t that be all the more reason to call it magic? I’ve heard all the stories about the enchanted tandaril trees. And you told me yourself that the chest held the last of Ilahee’s magic. If the trees were full of magic while they were alive, why couldn’t this one still have some magic left in it?”

Terwilliger rubbed his jaw thoughtfully, then shrugged and nodded. “Perhaps it’s possible, Taraval. Perhaps.”

Suddenly another thought struck Taraval and he looked down again at the tree trunk. “Uncle, didn’t you say the blight ruined the wood as soon as it touched a tree? Surely you wouldn’t save ruined wood.”

“No, Taraval, it’s good. The blight struck just after the yearly tree harvest, and then we cut as many more as we could before the blight infected them. Ilahee lived for a long time on the wood we were able to salvage. This is the last of it.”

“But why did you save it all these years? Why didn’t you make something out of it?”

“Well, I knew this was the very last tandaril wood in Ilahee, probably the last in the world. So I didn’t want to make anything ordinary out of it – trinkets or instruments that would just be sold like all the others.” Terwilliger gave Taraval a meaningful look. “I thought Ilahee might someday have a need for something I could make from this last bit of tandaril wood, and I decided to wait til then. That’s why I’ve kept it locked in the chest for forty years.”

“But how will you know what to make, Uncle, and when to make it?”

“I’m not sure, Taraval, but when the time comes, I’ll know.”

Just then there came from the village an ear-piercing shriek, followed by a chorus of shouting and wailing. Taraval and Terwilliger rushed out of the workshop and down the path to the rock wall that bordered the road. In the village square at the bottom of the hill, a knot of people crowded around one peasant who was waving something in his hand.

“Taraval, run you down and find out what’s happening,” said Terwilliger.

Taraval vaulted the wall and sprinted the half-furlong into the village. By the time he reached the fringes of the crowd, the street was packed with people, but an ominous silence had settled over them. The crowd parted to make way for the king’s son, and Taraval saw that the man standing in their midst was Walter, a farmer who sometimes worked with Friar Biophilus in his nursery. He held in his hand what appeared to be the branch of a tree, but its leaves were withered and black.

Taraval walked forward. “What is it, Walter? What’s that you’re holding?”

Tears streamed down the man’s face, and when he spoke his voice cracked. “Young Prince Taraval!” he cried, holding up the shriveled branch. “It’s the ravenwood trees. The blight has struck again!”


Post a Comment

<< Home