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


When he finished his songs, Taraval caressed the lute for a moment, then set it down reverently, as if it were a sacred object. “Dear Uncle,” he said in awe, turning to Terwilliger, “it sounds like the music of angels!”

A rapturous look transformed Terwilliger’s face. “Ah, Taraval, how many years it’s been since last I heard the magical sound of a tandaril lute. Just hearing you play those songs has made it worth all the pain and trouble.”

Taraal looked again at the bandages on Terwilliger’s hands. “Was it the tandaril wood that hurt you, Uncle? I don’t understand.”

“I’m not sure, either, Taraval. Tandaril wood was always much harder to work with than ravenwood, and polishing it required special techniques that took the craftsmen of Ilahee many years to devise. But cutting and shaping and shining this piece was far more difficult than anything I remember. The tools would break as I used them, or go blunt right after I sharpened them. And such dust! I had to wipe it away constantly. It’s so fine that merely breathing on it stirred up a cloud that choked me. It was almost as if something in that wood was trying to keep me away.”

The older man reached out, picked up the lute, and ran a bandaged finger over its glossy surface. “But in the end I prevailed,” he said, a wistful but triumphant smile on his lips. “And it was worth it. I believe the tone of this lute is the best I’ve ever heard.” He closed his eyes and moved his hands slowly over the entire lute, a sequence of expressions flitting over his face as he remembered the special challenge each part of it had presented him.

Then, noting the wide-eyed look on his nephew’s face, he laughed. “No, no, I don’t really believe that some mystical power was trying to keep me from harming the wood. For forty years it’s been getting drier and harder, and for those same forty years I’ve been getting older and weaker.”

He flicked the belly of the lute with his fingernail, and nodded on hearing the rich, resonant sound that rippled from it in a series of echoes. “Actually, Taraval, I’ms ure it’s that forty years of aging that’s the secret of this lute,” he explained. “The wood is so dry, it took the finished oils beautifully, and I didn’t have to allow curing time between each step. If I had, I’d never have finished it in a week. It’s so hard it was near impossible to work with, but that’s why I could cut the wood so thin, and that’s what makes the sound of it so beautiful.” Terwilliger handed the lute back to his nephew almost reluctantly.

Taraval nodded, but in his heart he knew there was some deeper reason for the instrument’s magical sound. Again he had heard that tinkle of bells emanating from the chest in the storeroom, and though he had not seen the blue light this time, the memory of it burned in him.

He wanted to ask his uncle more questions, but Terwilliger stood up stiffly and stretched. “Now, Taraval,” he said, “I hope you will forgive me, but I promised Friar Biophilus I would meet with him and the village craftsmen this morning. We’re going to plan the best strategy for using our remaining ravenwood and load the wagons for our trip to Trent tomorrow. You’ll meet us in the village at sunup?”

“Yes, Uncle,” Taraval replied, tenderly cradling his new lute.

Terwilliger laughed. “I think I can guess how you’ll be spending the rest of the day,” he said. “Just see you get enough sleep. I’m counting on you to be my right hand at the fair.”

So Taraval took his treasure home and, as his uncle predicted, spent the afternoon and evening playing on it, rejoicing in the beauty of its tone and the lovely, satiny luster of the tandaril wood.

That night, after the household had gone to bed, he sat on his window ledge in his nightshirt, listening to the sweet trills of the woodlark that often sang near the oak tree. He was too excited to sleep. He knew his uncle was skeptical about magic, but Taraval’s mind was filled with memories of the carved leather chest glowing in blue light and the tremulous cascade of notes he had heard twice in Terwilliger’s storeroom.

Just then a cool breeze ruffled his hair and clothing. The lute was lying on the window ledge beside him and the sudden faint sound he heard made him jump. Is it true, he wondered, that even a gentle wind could cause a tandaril lute to vibrate and sing?

But not, it wasn’t music he had heard. He strained his ears, and when the sound came again he recognized it – the faint ripple of a horse’s whinny punctuated by the rhythm of galloping hooves. He jumped up onto the window ledge, training his eyes into the darkness over the castle wall, for this wasn’t just any horse’s whinny – it was Tressiter’s!

Thieves! He thought, and fear jolted him into action. He yanked on his boots, swung himself by the oak tree limb onto the high courtyard wall that adjoined the castle at right angles, and skittered down, using the hand- and foot-holds he had chiseled there as a boy.

He ran the whole distance to the stable, his white nightshirt whipping in the wind. But when he got there, the stable door was closed and all was quiet. He tore open the door and inside found Tressiter in his stall, calmly munching on oats. The stable boy was curled up in a corner, snoring softly, only a few wisps of reddish hair visible above the blanket’s edge. It must be the new boy, Damien’s cousin, Segway.

Taraval shrugged. Maybe Uncle Terwilliger is right, he thought. Maybe I am hearing things. He closed the door quietly and trudged back to the castle, returning to his room the way he had left it, by clambering along the courtyard wall.

I must be imagining things, Taraval thought as he climbed the old oak. I best get a good night’s sleep.

But when he swung himself back through the window, what he saw made him cry out in dismay. His new lute still lay on the ledge where he had left it – but now every string was broken.


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