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


Taraval felt as dizzy as if he had been spinning and there was a sour taste in his mouth. It was the first time he had ever defied his parents or had sharp words with his mother, and he felt both anger at their plans for him and shame at his own behavior.

When he passed the kitchen courtyard, Felicity noted the storm in his eyes and the hard set of his mouth. She silently handed him a nut loaf and he stuffed it into the leather pouch at his waist without his usual thanks or teasing.

The sun was well up now and he knew he would be late for his lessons, so Taraval set off at a rapid pace toward the friar’s, haunted by the memory of the harried look in his mother’s eyes. He could understand his parents’ concern, but surely, he thought, they were worrying too soon. The woodcutters were still bringing in ravenwoods untouched by the blight.

If his mother had asked him what course he thought they should take, he would have suggested that they wait a while longer to see how much wood could be saved. For all they knew, they might wind up with enough to keep the carvers and instrument makers busy for years, and in that time they could search for some other way to support the kingdom.

The friar lived several furlongs beyond his Uncle Terwilliger’s house, and as Taraval walked along the road he tried hard to convince himself that his mother’s desperation was premature. But the farther he walked, the more evidence he saw of the blight’s devastation. The trees in the small roadside groves, which had looked healthy just yesterday, seemed this morning to droop, their leaves dull.

Halfway to the friar’s, he encountered a group of peasants trudging slowly back toward the village, their axes not swung jauntily over their shoulders but hanging loosely at their sides. He greeted their leader, one of the village woodcutters.
“A tandaril morning to you, James. Why are you back so early? Have you worn yourselves out already?”

“Worn ourselves out, my lord? I only wish it were so. We’ve been out since first light looking for trees untouched by this canker, and the only thing we’ve worn out so far is our eyes in the looking.”

“You mean you’ve found no trees that are still healthy?”

“Nay, m’lord, goddess help us, not a one.”

A sense of suffocation closed over Taraval’s heart and mind. From where he stood he could see the neat pile of ravenwood logs the villagers had saved from the ravages of the blight. A scant six months’ supply, if that much, he estimated. If he and his uncle were lucky enough to get fair prices for their goods in Trent, they might be able to buy enough food and supplies for another six months. A year’s worth of time they could buy, but what would happen then? The soil in this mountainous valley was so rocky and poor that the peasants, with constant toil, could scarcely grow enough food to last half a year. Since the death of the tandarils, only the ravenwood trees had kept them all from the jaws of famine.

So his mother was right – the ravenwoods were gone. And unless he could find some other way to save Ilahee from starvation, he would be forced to marry a girl he detested, and would give up his own and his father’s birthright in the bargain.
His mind reeled with these miserable thoughts as he walked on toward the friar’s, hearing echoes of Gretchen’s taunting voice: “Rag-Tag, Prince of Patches.”

But by the time he reached the friar’s small house, nestled amidst the neat rows of plants that formed his nursery, Taraval’s drooping shoulders had straightened again and his jaw was set firmly. He stopped at the entrance to the long shed where the friar worked with his plants and taught his lessons on warm days, and took a deep breath.

“If I’m going to save the crown of Ilahee,” he thought, “I’ll first have to prove myself worthy of wearing it.”

By the time he greeted his tutor, the look of despair in his eyes had been replaced by one of resolve.


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