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


Taraval made haste the following morning so as to arrive early at his uncle’s workshop. The squeak of the gate aroused Timotheus, the dormouse that lived beneath the garden wall. The handsome little creature, with a black stripe from eye to ear, ventured out for the tidbit he knew Taraval would have for him, then, chirping softly, scurried back to his next under the wall.

Taraval found Terwilliger seated at a workbench, polishing a dulcimer. The old man made room on the bench beside him. “Come in, Taraval. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Taraval could see that Terwilliger had been hard at work, for the tables were covered with fine wood dust and shavings, and the room was filled with the smell of his special lacquers.

“What are you working on, Uncle?”

“Why…” Terwilliger replied, stammering a little, “this dulcimer, of course.” He handed the instrument to Taraval to examine.

As he took the dulcimer, Taraval noticed that his uncle’s ands were bandaged in several places. “Uncle!” he exclaimed. “You’ve hurt yourself!”

Terwilliger held up one hand as if he too had just noticed the bandages, and as he did Taraval noticed another surprising thing. A pile of tools lay on the floor beneath the table – all of them broken.

“These tools, Uncle. I beg your pardon for asking, but what have you been doing with them?”

Terwilliger shrugged, the corners of his mouth twitching a little. Despite the great mess, Taraval thought, my uncle seems almost amused!

“I’m an old man, Taraval,” Terwilliger said. “I must be getting clumsy. But my hands will heal, and as for the tools, I’ll take them to the blacksmith today. He’ll salvage the ones that can be fixed.” He gave Taraval an odd smile, then added mysteriously, “I don’t think I’ll be breaking any more.”

Taraval looked at him in puzzlement, but before he could ask any more questions Terwilliger waved him toward the storeroom.
“Your lute, Taraval. It’s time to choose your lute. When you were here before, I don’t think you had time to look at the ones in there.”

Taraval needed no prodding, and with an eager grin he got up and went to the storeroom. It seemed dimmer than usual and he paused for a moment on the threshold to allow his eyes to get used to the darkness. Then, as he turned toward the wall where the instruments hung, he was startled by a soft musical waterfall, like wind chimes but more sweet and clear.

Strange. It was the same sound he had heard the last time he was in this room, and his intense curiosity was aroused anew. His uncle had reminded him then that nothing was more common in Ilahee than strains of music, but these had a haunting, ethereal quality unlike anything he knew.

Scanning the room for the music’s source, Taraval noticed that the lid of the carved leather chest where he’d found the tandaril trunk was propped open today. Crossing the room in two steps, he knelt in front of the chest and peered in. What he saw made him catch his breath in wonder. Resting inside on the bed of dried leaves, in place of the precious wood, was the most beautiful lute Taraval had ever seen. He gazed at it for a long moment, trembling with excitement, for there was something about it that seemed almost unreal. Its finish was so glossy that it caught and magnified the room’s dim light the way a gem would. Light rippled and played over the lute’s satiny finish like a live thing.

Half fearing a bolt of blue would leap from the chest and scorch his hands, Taraval reached inside cautiously, ever ready to jerk himself back. But the searing beam failed to come, so with both hands he lifted the lute out of its bed and held it up to the thin shaft of sunlight shining in from under the eaves. The instrument’s flat belly and its pear-shaped back were made of dark red wood swirled with black and brown markings, like shadows in water, making it look like translucent tortoise-shell. An intricate rose carving shaped the sound hole. The lute felt incredibly light in his hands, and Taraval quickly discovered the reason: The wood was carved extremely thin – scarcely thicker than an eggshell in some parts. Yet far from being fragile, the lute seemed tougher and stronger than any other he had ever held.

Could it be…? His scalp tingled and understanding slowly spread through him, warming him like the draft of mead he had drunk on Midsummer’s Eve. “Oh, my Saint Agnes,” he murmured.

“What do you think of it, Taraval?” Terwilliger stood smiling in the doorway, for even in the dim light he could see the brightness in his nephew’s eyes.

“Uncle, it’s tandaril wood! You made it from the tree trunk, didn’t you?”

Terwilliger nodded, smiling softly.

“But Uncle, you saved that wood for forty years because Ilahee might need something you could make from it. Why did you decide on a lute… for me?”

“Why a lute? Because I’m a lute maker,” Terwilliger said. “And why you? Well, I promised you a lute for your birthday, didn’t I?” Then his eyes grew very serious. “The truth is that I made it for you, Taraval, because Ilahee’s future lies in your hands.”

The import of his uncle’s words swept over Taraval and suddenly he felt very young and inexperienced, and was humbled. He thought of his poor mother and her desperate plan for him to marry Gretchen of Tarnower, a girl that she knew he disliked. He realized now that even in rejecting her plan he had accepted the challenge it represented. Ilahee’s fate did indeed rest on his shoulders, but how could a lute – even one made of tandaril wood – help him?

Terwilliger saw Taraval’s experession and guessed its meaning, and for an instant a shadow passed over the old mean’s face. Then he shook his head and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “This lute is my present to you, Nephew,” he said softly. “It has in it something of the magic of Ilahee’s lost glory, and perhaps, in a way neither of us understands yet, it may help you bring some of that glory back.”

Then Terwilliger walked to the doorway. “Come,” he said brightly, shaking off his solemn mood. “Bring it out into the light and play something for me.”

Taraval followed Terwilliger back into the workshop. He sat down on the edge of a workbench and began to play the lute, softly at first, letting his fingers drift aimlessly over the strings. The sound, though delicate as the little waterfall of notes he had heard in the storeroom, nevertheless filled the room with a shimmering resonance that wrapped itself around the listeners like a silken shawl. Even his random trills and glissandos wove an enchantment that enveloped the two of them

Then, one after another, he played half a dozen of his favorite melodies from among the hundred or more Terwilliger had taught him. With each one of the wonders of the lute astounded him more and more. Playing it was absolutely effortless, as if the music in his head were magically translated into sound, his fingers scarcely touching the strings. So this was what had brought the world to Ilahee’s doorstep before the blight had killed the trees and stolen the magic!

Now, more than ever, Taraval understood what Ilahee had lost.


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