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


Terwilliger led the way into his large, cool shop. Displayed on the walls were many finished instruments – lutes, lyres, harps, and dulcimers – and laid out on several tables were others in various stages of assembly.

Taraval loved his uncle’s workshop and had spent countless hours here as a child, playing with the lutes and harps. He had always loved to watch his uncle’s careful crafting of the instruments from the dark red ravenwood, and then his patient sanding and buffing and polishing until the wood shone with the luster of satin. He loved the sweet-sharp scent of resin that hung in the air. He loved the feel of the lutes, the fine balance of them in his hands, and the soft mellow tones he plucked from them with the skill his uncle had taught him.

Now he watched eagerly as Terwilliger reached down four of his best lutes and placed them one by one on a white-clothed table. Taraval picked up the first one breathlessly, for it was the most beautiful, its soundhole cut in an intricate scroll shape and a mother-of-pearl inlay in the neck. He plucked a favorite tune on it and listened carefully, his face intent. Then a slight pursing of his lips revealed a trace of disappointment: the sound was sweet, he thought, but not as resonant as he would like. The second lute had the resonance he dreamed of, but its tone was not as lyrical as the first. One by one, he turned the four lutes over in his hands and played a few melodies on each in turn, admiring its special qualities. Any one of them would be a prize to own, he thought – yet none of them had the perfect combination of beautiful design and exquisite tone he longed for.

Terwilliger looked on with an air of mild amusement, making no comment until Taraval laid down the last lute. “Well,” said the elder expectantly. “What is your choice?”

Taraval’s face showed his uncertainty about the lutes, combined with concern for his uncle’s feelings. “Perhaps you would rather wait until I finish the new one,” Terwilliger said, a smile playing about his lips. “Or perhaps you’d like to see the three more finished ones hanging in the storeroom.”

The boy’s eyes brightened. “Thank you, Uncle,” he said. “I should like that.” And Taraval walked quickly to the storeroom door in the far corner of the workshop, leaving Terwilliger chuckling as he began the day’s tasks.

This storeroom had always held a special fascination for Taraval. It was a small, cool room, twilight dim, for it had no window and was lit only by what little light crept through the space under the eaves. It had a pleasant smell, a blend of the deep-chested aroma of the woods and oils stored there, the raw odor of leather, and the dry, tickling scent of straw from the storage baskets lined up neatly on shelves along the walls. When he was a child this room had been his hideaway, a place to conceal himself when he was feeling sad or pensive or cross. From scraps of wood left over from his uncle’s work, he had built castles and towns far grander than the whole kingdom of Ilahee – at least in his imagination. He also had tried his hand at carving boats to sail down the stream behind the castle, and other toys to amuse himself with, though he recognized early that he had none of his uncle’s talent for carving.

But though everything else in the room had been his to explore, one chest among the half dozen kept there always remained locked, and so, more than all the rest, it had intrigued him. It was a large chest, half again as long as the others, and covered with dark, burnished leather deeply carved with pictures that seemed to tell a story. Taraval had always felt that such a beautiful chest must surely hold osme kind of treasure, and his curiosity intensified the one time he had asked his uncle what was in it. Terwilliger had said only, “The last of Ilahee’s magic.”

And so a mystery had grown up about the chest. Taraval had invented all manner of strange and even terrible stories about what it might hold. But he never again mentioned it to his uncle, for he had decided that whatever the chest’s secret, it could nto be nearly so tantalizing as his fantasies about it. Today, the thought of seeing the mysterious chest again and the delicious possibility of finding just the right lute in the storeroom made his heart flutter a little as he swung open the heavy door.

He stood in the doorway a moment, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the dim light. On the wall to his left he could make out the shapes of half a dozen instruments, among them the rounded bellies of three lutes. But for a moment they were forgotten as his eyes sought out the carved leather chest. It sat in a special niche against the wall to his right, a large black bulk in the greyness. He could make out the hasp of the lock just enough to see that, as always, it was firmly fastened.
But at that very instant, as Taraval hovered on the threshold, the sun shifted just enough to send a thin beam of light under the eaves. Like a golden arrow it shot across the room and found the chest, its shaft piercing the keyhole of the lock. What happened next, Taraval could never exactly remember. He heard a noise – the click of a key turning in a lock? – followed by a faint music, like the silken rustle of wind chimes from afar.

Then, as he gazed in amazement at the chest, the spear of light changed direction, so that it seemed no longer to be going into the keyhole, but shining out from it instead, and it was no longer golden like the sun, but suddenly – blue!
Taraval stood very still as the light grew more and more intense, until finally the entire chest emitted a pale blue glow. The hairs on his arms prickled and he held his breath, waiting for – he knew not what. This blue light kindles in his mind the vague memory of another one – an image from a dream, perhaps? He shook his head in confusion. Could this be only a waking dream?


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