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


The little group broke camp before sunup and set off on their final hour’s trek. Taraval had wakened with a headache, his mind heavy with images of blackened ravenwood groves and his mother’s face, taut with worry about the coming winter. But as they neared Trent and the road became clogged with other fairgoers, his spirits began to lighten. The artisans and merchants walking and riding the narrow road were dressed in their most festive clothing, and seeing them whetted Taraval’s anticipation of the pleasures of the fair.

Upon reaching Trent, Terwilliger sent Taraval off to find them lodging for the night while he paid the toll required of merchants from out of town. Taraval found rooms at an inn near the end of the street of carpenters, then hastily made his way through the crowds to the site of the fair, a broad field outside town that nestled up against and extended into a grove of great oak trees. Terwilliger, as brother to the queen of Ilahee, had been given a choice spot in the shade at the edge of the grove, and he and the other Ilaheeans were already setting up their display of wares on the drop-down shelves at the sides of the carts.

All around them sellers of various kinds of merchandise were setting up booths of wood or canvas. Farmers’ wives brought stools to sit on and surrounded themselves with baskets of their produce – eggs and cabbages, garlic and onions, pears and crabapples, plums and gooseberries. Across the way, a large woman wearing a purple dress pinned up over yellow and green underskirts laid out bales of wool and linen cloth, and a bald, pot-bellied man with a bulbous red nose arranged trays of buttons made of wood, bone, copper, and silver. As the clearing and the grove filled with people, Taraval’s excitement grew.

“Uncle, may I?”

Terwilliger nodded, smiling. It was his habit to take care of selling for the first hour or so to give Taraval a chance to explore, since it was not often the young prince had an opportunity to feast on the sights and sounds and smells of a fair. “Here, Taraval,” he said, dropping some coins into the boy’s hand.

“But uncle,” Taraval protested, “we can’t afford…”

“Now, Taraval, you have to eat. Bring back something for me, too.”

Taraval grinned. “I will, Uncle. Thank you.” Pocketing the coins, he secured his lute inside Terwilliger’s wagon and began his tour of the fair, his eyes and nose and ears taking in everything as if for the first time – red and purple banners rippling in the breeze; the acrid aroma of molten metal from the blacksmith’s stall mixed with the savory smell of meat pies from brick ovens; the brisk voices of tradesmen hawking their wares and strains of music as musicians tuned their instruments.

Pausing at a blacksmith’s booth, Taraval picked out snatches of a nearby conversation from amidst the tumult of sound. Two men were discussing their likely purchases.

“Did you see the instruments from Ilahee? Best I’ve seen…”

“Yes, but I hear a blight has ruined their ravenwood trees. Hold off awhile and the prices will drop; they know they’ve got to sell…”

“I don’t know… If it’s the last of the ravenwoods maybe we’d better buy the instruments while we’ve got the chance…”

Taraval squelched the temptation to enter the conversation and defend his kingdom's honor. He was determined to enjoy a few hours’ respite from his cares. The speakers meandered on, and with the hot breath of the forge on his face, Taraval examined the blacksmith’s gleaming swords, their hilts inlaid with designs in copper and silver.

He picked up a particularly fanciful one, the hilt carved in the shape of a dragon, but found its weight was not well balanced. Then another caught his eye – a simple design, beautifully crafted and polished – and he felt a rush when he lifted it, for it seemed to have been molded for his hand. Oh, what he would give for a sword such as that, so much lighter and finer than his old one. Then he saw the blacksmith eyeing him and, embarrassed that he had no money for a purchase, he put down the sword and quickly walked on.

But he continued to have the curious feeling that someone was watching him. Surely, he thought, the blacksmith could not think he had stolen something! He turned back and saw that the smith had returned to tending the glowing forge, so he continued on his way, but still couldn’t shake the strange tingling sensation between his shoulder blades, as if eyes were fastened on his back.


Taraval spun around, certain that the call had been intended for him, but the blacksmith was busy hammering a horseshoe, and there was no one else nearby except a gypsy woman in a glittery dress who stood in the shade of an oak tree, combing her long black hair. The voice he had heard sent rippling echoes through his mind, as if someone were calling him still.

After a moment, he shrugged off these peculiar sensations and walked on. I’m certainly not the only “m’lord” at the fair, he thought. But as he continued his circuit of the peddler’s stalls, he couldn’t help looking over his shoulder now and then for – he knew not what.

He passed the cobblers’ booths, with their rows of soft leather boots in all colors of the rainbow; the spinning stalls where women carded and spun fluffs of creamy wool into yarn; and the dyers’ booths, where women dipped spindles of yarn into dye baths of ochre, brick red, purple and indigo.

As he walked by, one of the dyers straightened up from stirring her steaming vat and caught Taraval’s eye. He felt an unpleasant jolt, for her lank, mouse-brown hair reminded him of Gretchen of Tarnower; the mustard yellow of her dress was even a color Gretchen was fond of wearing. Wiping her dye-stained hands on her apron, the girl gave Taraval an unattractive gap-toothed smile, and he shuddered involuntarily as he went on to the next booth. Though he tried to push it away, a nagging worry about Ilahee’s fate as well as his own crept between him and the sights around him.

Taraval looked at the wealthy women buying dyed feather powder puffs and fans made of peacock plumes. Thinking of his mother and sister, he felt a page of envy as he watched a young noblemen purchase several mirrors, their silver backs inlaid with flower designs or iridescent shell. The youth wore clothing far newer and richer than his own, but Taraval noted with pride that the lute slung over his shoulder was not so fine as the ones his uncle Terwilliger made and the horse he led was no match for Tressiter.

He would take his reassurance where he could.


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