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


Taraval began playing and singing the first peaceful song that came to mind, a lullaby his mother had crooned to him when he was a baby. At first the lute seemed resistant to his touch, but gradually it began to soften – the way a baby relaxes after it’s been fed – and soon the strings were responding to his touch as if they knew the notes before he did.

As the sweet strains of music filled the room, something happened as strange as the spell the lute had cast that afternoon, but different. The notes seemed to hang in the air and flow together, surging and swelling until the room was saturated with sound. The lullaby became a musical tapestry composed of all the notes combined, yet somehow still separate. It seems as if both time and the music stood still, with present and past co-existing in one all-encompassing moment.

Within the magical aura of sound, the words and music brought to Taraval’s mind pungent memories of all the times he had heard the lullaby before – memories as sharp and clear as if time had been turned back, but heightened to far greater intensity. He could see the look of tenderness on his mother’s face as she bent over his cradle, feel her gentle touch on his forehead, smell the scent of cinnamon and rosewater on her hands. He felt the rocking motion of the cradle, heard the soft, cooing sounds of his own infant babble.

The lute had conjured a scene so totally engrossing that he was no longer aware it was he who played it. The music seemed to come from somewhere across the room, wrapping him in a warm down coverlet of memories, and it was not until he felt Segway’s hand on his arm that he came out of his reverie.

“Master Taraval, look!”

Taraval’s mouth dropped open at the sight of fifteen ghostly-white figures seated in the middle of the floor, rocking and swaying, some of them babbling and cooing like infants. Bruno and Stephen, smiling blissfully, sat in their midst, their arms around each other’s shoulders, the pig curled up beside them.

Around the room the rest of the patrons sat or sprawled with dazed expressions on their faces. The one by one they slowly stood, stretching and yawning as if awakening from long slumber.

The cobbler slapped the blacksmith good-naturedly on the shoulder. “Gregory, do you remember the day, when were barely toddling, that your mother took us to the fair? My mind’s eye just saw her, who’s an old woman now, as fresh and young and dewy-cheeked as she must have been then, and I could fairly taste the strawberry tarts she gave us.”

The blacksmith laughed. “I saw her, too – only I never imagined my mother once looked that young. Now, Jonathan, aren’t you glad you didn’t leave without giving the young minstrel another chance to work his spell?”

All eyes were on Taraval now. “We came for magic, and magic this minstrel gave us,” the carpenter announced. “He’s earned more than I can give, but I’ll gladly give what I can.” He pulled some coins from his pocket, dropped then into his hat, and passed the hat to the man nearest him.

There was a murmur of agreement from the rest of the patrons, who dug into their pockets as the hat came around. Stephen, after dropping in a generous handful of coins, handed the hat to Bruno, who shook his head and passed it on, but with the same benign smile on his face.

When the hat came back to Taraval he saw at a glance that it held a good half the amount he and Segway needed. He thanked the crowd humbly, scooped the coins into his leather pouch, and returned the hat to the carpenter.

Mistress Witherspoon bustled out of her safe retreat in the kitchen, shaking her head over the mess of ale and flour and the remains of the shattered chair.

“I’d half a mind to take the cost of the chair out of your earnings tonight, minstrel,” she said to Taraval. Then she looked at him with merry eyes. “But for truth’s sake, I confess this is the most business – and enjoyment – I’ve had since the last fair.”

It was then that the sound of Lisa’s voice caught Taraval’s attention. He scanned the room and saw her standing at the door of the inn with a dark, burly man who had his hand on her arm.

“Twice I’ve told you no,” she said, her voice sharp.

Tarval started toward her, but she jerked her arm from the man’s grasp and stalked off, her chin high. She paused in front of Taraval for an instant, the expression on her face like a plea for help, then hastened toward the kitchen. Taraval followed her with his eyes, and when he glanced back he saw that the man at the door was not a stranger. It was Philip Carbold, and his dark eyes fixed on Taraval with a look of pure venom.


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