The Hummingbird Air

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Image Credit: Desert Oasis Libya

The outlander sat cross-legged on the lip of the oasis at Nagba, a pure, infinitely deep turquoise well-pool set in the chalk-stone of the Drakat. His eyes were closed, or seemed to be, under the shadow of a plain broad hat circled by a shimmering band of feathers. One hand upward to the sun, one inverted to the earth, he meditated the Driftage rune of transience. Drone bees thirsting to drink at the pool gave voice to the heat of a Drakat noonday: fierce and constant, fierce and unwelcoming.

The old woman, elder of Nagba, cursed when she found the outlander there on the edge of the Water where no outlander had business to sit. She strode forward, steeled for a quarrel over the ground rules of the well-pool. She let her basket of laundry fall to the hard, blanched earth, seized the wooden wash-paddle, and gave the stranger a stiff, righteous spank on the shoulder.

“Do you not know a wash-stone when you see it, trespasser? Move off!”

The stranger remained motionless and silent.

Niin Drak’msapya ne?” she shouted, and answered herself with a puff of scorn, “Neh! Knows not Drak-tongue.” So she resorted to dumbshow, jabbed a finger at the pool and pointed with a grunt to the basket at her feet. “Wash-stone! Here women wash! You no stay! Vakyash! Go!”

The trespasser, a Drift adept at many tongues, finally replied, serenely in the speech of the Drakat. “I mark the pool at fifty-seven paces around. Is that not room enough for wayfarer and washer alike?”

Vah! Speak Drak, do you?” she snorted. “But no less outlander, and fool to idle where you do not belong! If wayfarer you are, then fare away. Go! Have you not the whole world else to squat upon when the washer has but here where the stone is smoothest? Vakyashim! Be gone now! Go!

She waved her paddle like a warrior’s mace, eager to join battle for the stone where generations of women pounding soil from wet wool had worn the chalk-stone smooth as ivory. But the outlander served her a great disappointment. True to his Driftage vow of impermanence—to live as a ripple riding upon water, a breeze of wind as soon here as gone, a passing fold in the fabric of being—he rose, wished the woman wah-ilsapyat, wisdom of silence, and went, ceding the place where she said he ought not to be.

Left feeling cheated of a good quarrel, the woman screamed after him, “Outlanders be damned!

The streets of Nagba radiated outward from the pool at the hub, narrow spokes fronted by houses built of chalk-stone whitewashed with lime-mortar that flaked like dried dough under the baking sun. The Drift came to a stop outside an inn where, the evening past, he had watched hard-minded folk of Nagba break stride and linger as the song of a solitary flute from the inn made them pause and listen.

Noon now, and the same street was empty but for a stray red dog that yapped from a cautious distance.

The Drift entered and took a corner table, alone in the small common hall where desert swallows nested in the open rafter. He signaled for drink. The girl brought him a jug. He took a mouthful of wild-honey mead, chilled from a cold cavern below, and felt at ease in the place where he was.

In a short while, a young man barely of age happened to enter the room, stopped when he saw the Drift, and wavered for a second before making up his mind. Shoulders set, he strode in, challenge in his voice.

You! You’re the one I saw back in Avocere. I know I did! And then on Grimswale Bridge, I saw you! In other places, too. Uncle sent you!” He pointed to the back of the traveler’s chair, where hung the plain hat sporting an iridescent band of small plumage. “Like a feather on the wind. Isn’t what you fellows say? You’re a Drift assassin.”

Without unlocking his eyes from the youth’s, the Drift took another long drink of cold mead. The boy seemed to grow uncertain under the transfixing gaze. He dabbed at the weeping blisters of sunburn above his eyes with the sleeve of a tunic whose once noble indigo had been paupered by days of sun, sweat, and gray dust of the road. He might have been taken for a beggar outfitted in a prince’s cast-offs, but the reddish hair worn loose in the manner of the Sadralis and carefully tended despite his ordeal suggested he was more than that.

“You are a Drift,” he insisted in an accusing voice, “I know you are!” But doubt crept through. “You are one of them . . . aren’t you?”

The Drift seemed amused.

“Lad, why do you voice your certainty so uncertainly? Your mind quarrels with itself. But, aye, it’s true. I walk the Driftage way.”

“I knew it! I knew it! Uncle sent you to kill me!” The boy flicked his fingers below his chin, a sign of contempt. “Do your worst! I’m not afraid to die! I’m not!”

“That may be. But why do you think I mean you harm?”

“Drifts are assassins for hire. Everybody knows it!”

The Drift set his cup down. “Your mind is overwrought. It hops about like a wee Drakat mouse on hot stone.”

The boy jutted his chin. “Take care how you speak to Andwyn, Heir of Sadral and true Lord of Bhedawan—”

“I know your tale, Andwyn of Bhedawan. I know it well enough. Uncle Ervral holds the throne as regent since your father’s death and now that you’re of age he has no intention of ceding it—”

Is that a threat?” The boy clenched his fists till they whitened through the sunburn. “Uncle had Father killed. And maybe you’re the same cursed Drift that he hired to do that!”

Before answering, the Drift rapped the table three times for service.

“The inns of Nagba are notoriously uninviting,” he said by the way. “The hostlers seem to resent visitors. But the drink is cold. Now as to the death of your father, Driftage teaches that the deed of one is the deed of all, the name of one is the name of every, and the soul of each is the one soul. Therefore, if Drift had slain Lord Var, I would accept responsibility. But your father’s death, though rumor might have it otherwise, was no deed of Driftage.”

“That’s what somebody like you would say, true or not. Father was a scion of Sadral, and he wasn’t such a fool as to tumble out a window like they say he did! Uncle hired someone to make it look like an accident, and it’s the sort of underhanded thing a Drift would do—”

“Nay!” the man retorted with uncharacteristic force. “Driftage walks in shadow, true, and does not cry out its deeds, true, and slays with a whispered word, true. But the Drift does not disguise slaughter as happenstance. The Drift pays death no disrespect.”

“So you say,” the boy countered, though the Drift’s directness subdued him a little.

“So I do say . . . and it is true. Sit down.” It was a softly spoken command, but enigmatically firm, and the heir of Hero Sadral found himself dropping into a chair opposite. Still, he wasn’t ready to let go of his mistrust.

“Tell me this, then, Drift. Why are you following me if Uncle didn’t hire you? Why play cat and mouse? Be straight about it! If you mean to kill me, say it!”

The servant girl had come in. Overhearing, she hesitated at the boy’s words. The Drift gently crooked his finger, and she approached, warily. He asked for bread, sausage, cheese, more mead, and also a small bowl of marrow grease.

“Marrow grease, sir?”

“Marrow grease.”

The girl grimaced at the odd fancies of outlanders and went. Once she had left the room, the Drift told Andwyn to be silent until she returned.

“Why should I?” the boy snapped, angry to be spoken to like a schoolchild.

Without answering, the Drift took a slow deep breath and, one hand turned palm upward, the other down, he sank into contemplation, seeming to leave only a figment of himself behind.

Andwyn had every intention of getting up and walking away, but the moment of making the decision somehow never came. When the girl returned, the Drift raised his head and slipped her a coin of gratuity. Then, mixing a brown powder into the marrow grease, he urged the boy to smear it on his sunblisters. Andwyn hesitated, but eventually did as told. They ate and drank in silence for a time. The mead set Andwyn more at ease. And thanks to the Drift’s marrow concoction, his skin felt less tight, the nagging itch gone.

“I suppose if you were going to kill me, you wouldn’t bother to make me feel better, would you.” He drained his cup of mead, “Look . . . I want to know why you’re following me! I did see you, and not just once! I’ve got sharp eyes. All Sadralis do.”

“Don’t congratulate yourself on your eyesight, Andwyn. Crossing the Grimswale, you overlooked the beggar huddled at the summit of the bridge in the rain.”

“Beggar? Why would I notice a beggar?”

“You might learn something by it, Lord of Bhedawan. The world is greater than Clan Sadralis. This beggar, though, was no true beggar. As you passed him by, the fellow rose nimbly to his feet and produced a wickedly thin knife. I intervened, and the fellow slumped back dead into his sodden rags. The knife clattered from his hand.”

“Yes, I remember that. I heard the noise and turned and saw you through the rain—”

“You mouthed a curse and hurried away, under the impression that to be Drift is to be assassin. Yet the Drift usually serves as wayguide and bodyguard—seldom assassin.”

Andwyn frowned through his sunburn. His wariness was giving way to curiosity.

“If you did kill a man Uncle sent . . . How? You were back at the foot of the bridge, nowhere near. How did you do it? You don’t carry a bow. Did you throw a knife?”

“Waste of a good blade.”

“Then how?”

“A hummingbird.”

“Hummingbird? Is that another Drift riddle?”

“Perhaps.”

The Drift seemed unlikely to say more. In any case, Andwyn had been struck by a different thought.

“How did you even know? Verner! Someone did send you and it was Verner, wasn’t it? The chancellor. He’s the one that hired you to bodyguard me. That’s it, isn’t it? Only Verner would bother. The other grandees are all toads and cowards.”

The Drift nodded.

While Andwyn was grateful for being saved from the knife, he resented the fact that he was seen as unable to protect himself.

“Now you can go back to Bhedawan. Tell Verner I owe him a favor, even if I’ll never be able to repay because I’m never going back there. I’m headed for Ellorsith on the Brine Sea. I can sail to anywhere from there, anywhere else so long as it’s not Bhedawan! And I didn’t run away because I was afraid!” he insisted, answering a question that hadn’t been asked. “I had a reason!”

The Drift looked at him long with eyes of silence. To Andwyn it was a gaze of profound rebuke.

I had a reason!” the boy shouted angrily. “I’m never going back—I can’t!”

“Chancellor Verner fled not to avoid his shearing.”

“So, Uncle went through with it. Verner of all men—”

“Verner lost his beard, true, but the shearing failed to shame him. His worth endures even without the trappings of a beard.”

Andwyn impulsively snapped up a bone knife that lay on the table and stabbed the block of hard cheese.

“Devil shit on Uncle’s head, damn him! If it weren’t for the griffins guarding the throne, he’d be dead!” He pulled the knife out of the cheese and pointed it at the Drift, as if daring him to say otherwise. “I’d kill him myself! Don’t think I wouldn’t!”

The Drift sat back and gazed musingly at a rafter corner of the inn hall where quarrelsome swallows were mobbing a lizard that had settled there to snap up passing flies.

“Your uncle struck me as the sort of man that, were the griffin to fly away, folk would trip over themselves to be first in line to kill.”

“I’d pull rank on the lot of them!” Andwyn declared, and gave the knife a gouging twist in the air.

“Much ado about a beard,” the Drift remarked.

“Maybe you think it’s jolly gags to cut off a man’s beard! In Bhedawan, the beard’s a badge of honor and manhood! Sadral had a mighty one that was never cut! Uncle’s done it to others, too, forced them to get their beards shaved. Just a prank, he says. Now Verner, who’s the best and most noble person in Bhedawan! And Uncle wanted me to play tunes on Sadral’s feadog while they were shaving Verner. A merry caper it would be, he said. I told him I wouldn’t, never, and the wretch told me if I didn’t he’d crush the feadog himself—Hero Sadral’s own feadog!

“Much ado about music.”

It’s not!“Andwyn shouted, brandishing the knife. “The feadog’s not one of those cheap fipple pipes you can buy in the market for half a shilly. Sadral himself played it. And Uncle promised to destroy it. That’s why I left Bhedawan.”

The squabble by the rafter nests had turned into a furious stalemate of chatter and hiss.

“Has it not occurred to you, Andwyn, that your uncle concocted the quandary knowing it would force you to flee Bhedawan, thereby betraying the blood of Sadralis? The assassin on Grimswale Bridge was additional assurance that you would not return.”

Andwyn reddened through his sunburn at the thought that he had let himself be tricked. He stabbed the bone knife so fiercely on the table that the blade snapped. “I’ll stick the bastard so far up Baalzebub’s ass—griffins or no griffins, I’ll kill the wretch. I’m going back!”

The Drift interrupted mildly.

“Your mind is slave to a commotion of noise. And yet . . . Yesterday evening, Andwyn, I stood outside the inn to hear music in the falling dusk. I was not alone there on the street. Nagba folk are a hard-minded lot full of purposeful haste and not accustomed to loiter. Yet I tell you they stood enthralled on the paving stones to listen to your airs and tunes. It takes a fine player, Andwyn, and a noble instrument to beguile Nagbaim. I doubt the sirens of the Shoal Isles could do as much.”

Andwyn opened his mouth to speak but found his mind roiled with such a confusion of thoughts and feelings that no words came to him.

The Drift seemed to smile.

“Your soul, as I said, is thrall to commotion and noise. Silence alone can break the shackles. Song, after all, is not reckless noise but silence given voice. You will follow me.”

“Do all you Driftmen talk like blighty oracles?” Andwyn retorted. “And just because Verner made you my bodyguard doesn’t mean you can tell me what I can or can’t do.”

“The chancellor sent me not only as bodyguard but wayguide as well. You owe Verner a favor, you said. Let it be this. Accept me as your guide on your journey into silence.” He rose to his feet. “Rest today, for this evening we continue on the road to Ellorsith, traveling by the cool of the night, for you’ve been roasted to a ginger already. I will hire ponies for the journey.”

Before Andwyn could find words to respond, the Drift had taken his hat and pack and slipped from the room.

It was a long journey to Ellorsith through the barren Drakat. The road ran straight, seeming endless in the nebula-lighted night. The moon in that season was haunting day. Andwyn was often left with little to do but to think thoughts of grievance, hope, anger, despondency, eagerness. In the long, silent nights of riding, his mind roiled with a storm of thought and his temper careened from pole to pole. There were spells of despair when he lagged far behind the wayguide, cursing himself as coward for having abandoned Bhedawan. There were nights when a racing impatience to get as far as possible from his past made him spur his pony ahead to exhaustion. The Drift, however, never altered his pace.

Yet, as night followed night and the road went ever on toward Ellorsith and the banks of the Brine Sea, the noises of the mind seemed increasingly pointless in the all-embracing vastness of the Drakat, and gradually abated. Andwyn found himself ever more often falling in step with his wayguide. Under the milky swirl of heaven, he let go the reins, let the pony pace itself, and played the feadog from the saddle, his fingers effortlessly racing over the stop holes. The airs spread across the empty barrens unheard, but Andwyn grew to sense a harmony of spirit forged between his music and the Drift’s meditative silences.

Another dusty roadside hostel, another meal of dried goat meat stewed with red beans and purslane. The table stood at a window overlooking the long road east. Andwyn broke the silence.

“On and on and on—is this what Driftage life is like? Endless journey, eternal silence. But I’m beginning not to mind it. Still, Uncle sits in the Chair of Sadral, guarded by eagle-eyed griffins.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“Because the throne belongs to you?”

“Because the throne is the Chair of Sadral and he offends it. Bhedawan suffers under his rule. He shames the ghost of Hero Sadral.”

“Have you decided what you’ll do?”

“I’ll decide when I reach the Brine Sea. Then, I’ll know. Assuming this road ever ends and we get to Ellorsith.”

Done with his meal, the Drift fixed his hat firmly on his grizzled head. “This is the last night of travel. At dawn you’ll look down upon Ellorsith on the banks of the Brine Sea.”

And so, in the first glimmer of the next morning, colder than any other so far, they paused at the summit of a sand hill capped in gorse and blue heather. The road ahead descended by steep turns to a city on the shore of a misty expanse of sea, at the far edge of which the crescent moon piloted the sun up over the horizon. Pale breakers parted from the dark green waters to roll against the shore and lap against the long wharves.

“That’s Ellorsith?” Andwyn asked. “It doesn’t look anything like it should. It’s so . . . ordinary and familiar. Like Bhedawan, except with docks. And only two ships, and they don’t look very promising. It’s not like I imagined at all.”

“What did you expect, lad?”

“I thought . . . You know: sleek ships, bright pennants, billowing sails—” He spread his arms and laughed. “Childhood fancies gone up in smoke. I’ve decided, Drift. I’m returning to Bhedawan, and on the way you’ll teach me your secret.”

“And what secret might that be?”

Andwyn laughed.

“As if you didn’t know. The assassin beggar on Grimswale Bridge! You killed him from a distance thanks to a hummingbird, you said. If that’s not a secret, I don’t know what is. Can this hummingbird get past a ring of griffins?”

“As well as any other air played on a pipe.” The Drift drew from his old way-pack a dented but well-polished silver canister in the form of a long tube.

Andwyn gawped at him. His first thought was that the Drift played the feadog. “What do you mean? The Hummingbird is a tune?”

“A simple air that frees the soul. Regent Ervral cares not for Sadral’s feadog. In that case, you’ll play my pipe for him.”

Bhedawan had a mighty wall, raised in a more glorious age, impressive seen from the surrounding heath, but the city within was little more than a meager town spread large: acres of timber houses, unpromising shops, and dusty market spaces, with few structures of any prominence left standing. The most imposing was the citadel that occupied the center of the city, unyielding as a fist punched up through the stony earth.

The sentry at the gate blew his nose as he read half-aloud the document that the Drift showed him through the iron bars.

“Aye,” he sniffled. “Driftman, are ye? And here’s the chancellor’s own seal letting ye in.” He grimaced toward Andwyn. “And the scruff that’s with ye. Yer apprentice, as it says here.”

Andwyn loosened the scarf he wore over his mouth and nose as protection against the blowing dust. The burn was gone, as well as the rosy pallor of the boy who had fled Bhedawan. The journey had weathered his face. The silence had weathered his eyes.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked the guard.

The man shrugged, throwing an indifferent backward nod at the tower behind him. “Ye look like ye might be one of them. But they don’t much show their faces to the likes of poor souls like meself, so who’s to say?” He poked a massive key into the gate and turned it.

The two, Andwyn leading, strode into a dismal stone-girt courtyard that smelled of stables and dead bonfires. The half a dozen grooms throwing dice on a barrel by the wall paid no attention.

“So . . . I’m your apprentice, am I?” Andwyn said to the Drift.

“My more than worthy apprentice,” he answered. “It was Verner that put you down as such on the passport, no doubt for fear that the scion of Sadral might regard ‘servant’ or ‘slave’ as an insult to his majesty.”

“I suppose ‘apprentice’ is more true than not,” Andwyn remarked, as much to himself as to the Drift. “I ran away as a child. I return to stand before my uncle and take the throne he dishonors.” He raised the silver canister, which glinted in the sun like a scepter. “Uncle says he’s fond of japes. The Hummingbird ought to be a fine one.”

The Chair of Sadral: a massive throne hewn, according to legend, by the Hero from a single giant block of oak. It was arrayed with the pelts of the Five Dire Bears, which the hunter warlord slew by his own hand. Ervral slouched among the mighty skins, a small, scruffy man in a throne several sizes of majesty too big for him. A dozen griffins ringed the dais, facing outward, descendants of beasts captured and trained by Sadral himself in the Tors Vahr. They might have passed for statues, so motionless they were, their silver-scale wings folded back over gold haunches, and their heads, maned and eagle-beaked, held high and vigilant. Only the slow blink of their sharp eyes betrayed their feral alertness.

Outside the dread ring, ministers and grandees stood gathered for the day’s chapter. A few beards among them, shaven in the near past, were in various stages of regrowth, among them Old Verner’s. His gaunt cheeks were gray with emerging stubble. The shearing meant to shame him had instead laid bare his unassailable soul.

The court had fallen speechless at Andwyn’s return. After a moment, Ervral stirred in the shadow of the throne and pierced the silence with a voice infused with irony.

“I would leap up in a joy of welcome, dear nephew, but alas you return a day late. You will recall that when Sadral’s eldest son left Bhedawan to dwell among the tree-dreamers of Nahl, the Hero declared him—his own son—traitor for forsaking his duty to the clan. Who can supersede such a precedent? This very morning the Iron Chamber passed judgment on your desertion: traitor to Sadralis!”

Ervral paused, waiting for a reaction of some kind: fear, supplication, bluster. But Andwyn stood expressionless and silent.

“Such a difference . . .” the regent hissed in spite after a moment. “Such a great difference a few hours make in a man’s prospects. But for a few short hours you would not be facing the fate of the gibbet. Ah, destiny’s a jester and life’s his jest, and there’s naught we can do about it. Who’s the gaunt knave there?”

“One that walks the way of Driftage,” the gaunt knave answered.

“A Drift! Yes, I thought as much. And what do you hope to accomplish, Nephew, by hiring—what is he?—your bodyguard?—this Knave of Drifts!” He couldn’t help but smirk at the witticism that came to mind. “Not a valueless card, the Knave of Drifts, but I, you see, hold trumps.” He flared his hands to show the circle of motionless beasts surrounding him. “All the trumps. The whole suit of griffin!” He giggled at his own cleverness, and the sycophant toads tittered in echo. But the silence that had gripped the hall at Andwyn’s return seemed to choke the noise of it in their throats.

Andwyn spoke in a voice of plain fact. “My knave is not so powerless as you think, Uncle. Already he’s trumped your assassin on Grimswale Bridge.”

Ervral visibly started, but recovered at once.

“Instead of foolish accusations, boy, you should reflect on your own treasonous behavior.”

“The true traitor here is the man that killed my father, his own brother, and would kill me to hold the throne that he dishonors.”

“Too late, boy!” Ervral exclaimed. “You won’t save yourself with lies and accusations. Your father . . . stumbled at a window. Too drunk to stand steady. Too great a fool, your father. And you, son of the father!”

Andwyn resisted the urge to rage at the provocation. He spoke quietly.”You desecrate the Chair of Sadral.”

“Fool boy! Tell that to my suit of griffins!”

“Not good enough, Uncle. I hold a higher trump.”

“Oh, yes . . . your Knave of Drifts . . .”

“I don’t mean the Drift, Uncle.” Andwyn held up the silver tube. “The pipe is my trump.”

Ervral stared in disbelief before throwing up his arms and laughing. “Ah . . . of course! How could I not have guessed? Tunes and airs! The power of music to make all things well.” He turned to the gathered court, smirking. “The boy himself stands as proof that music is thin beer for weak-minded fools. The poor child has it in his mind that his foolish pipe is inspirited with the might of Sadral himself. No doubt he’s under the illusion that a tootle or two will unleash the untold power of the Hero upon us all and save his skin!”

The tension in the hall had grown so ominous that only a few of the most determined sycophants tittered in response.

Ervral hissed viciously, “What’s the name of the tune you mean to play us, Nephew? The Fool’s Errand?”

The Hummingbird.”

Hummingbird? Then I do tremble in dread. Hummingbird! Why not Swan? For it’s to be your swan song. And when the swan is done singing then Magpie will feast on your carrion flesh!”

Andwyn had quietly uncapped the silver tube and withdrawn a pipe—a little wider than his thumb, a little longer than his forearm, and fashioned of smooth oiled wood. It lacked stop-holes and was larger than the feadog, but near enough to deceive.

When he put the pipe to his lips, the room set into a silence so concrete that it seemed only a thundering shock could shatter it. But it was a gentle puff they heard, no louder than breath, a ripple of silence as sound is a ripple of air. To those who heard it, it seemed Death had been whispered.

Ervral jerked to his feet as if Sadral’s Chair had forcibly spat him out. There was manic astonishment in his eyes when he looked down at the ruby-red feathered wee bird that had lodged its needle beak in his breastbone. He felt no pain, just a seething narcosis, not unpleasant. So odd. A spasm of laughter shook him. Such a jest that a hummingbird should come to drink nectar from a man’s heart. His hands moved awkwardly about the fixed dart.

“Shoo,” he muttered idiotically. “Shoo. Shoo. Shoo!”

His legs failed and he sank toward the abyss, his ears deafened by a thunderous hammering that sounded: Trump! Trump! Trump!

Stamping the floor with his staff of office, Chancellor Verner raised a voice of stern authority.

“The Chair of Sadral stands vacant. If any dare ascend it by right of Hero’s blood, let him ever remember that heavy is the yoke and grave the burden of power.”

The Drift whispered to Andwyn, “Trust no one, friend, that says otherwise.”

Returning the weapon, Andwyn told him, “I’m grateful, Drift. Now it’s Sadral who must be my wayguide. When I ran away to be free of this place, I never thought . . .”

His voice failed as he stared up at the vacant throne, which had never loomed so massive as it did at that moment. He had rid Bhedawan of a tyrant and avenged his father’s death, but now the reality of the deed and the daunting consequence of it overwhelmed him. On his own shoulders now lay the burden of Sadral’s legacy, and that was no jest of destiny. Andwyn dreaded the way forward, the step that would take him into the forbidding ring of griffin and to the throne where the ghost of Sadral seemed to wait in fearsome silence.

It was a nearly unnoticed nod of encouragement from Verner, who stood otherwise expressionless, that finally gave Andwyn the strength to overcome his reluctance and take the fateful first step.

Hardly breathing, he crossed into the ring of dire guardians and turned about at the foot of the throne. The Drift was no longer present, having gone in silence, unnoticed—as Driftage taught. His disappearance seemed like a final lesson. The erstwhile runaway now fully accepted the legacy that was his and took the throne, lowering himself among the bearskins on the Hero’s chair.

At that moment—tantamount to a coronation—the assembled court erupted in a storm of thunderous hurrahs, led by Verner, surprisingly animated for once, and echoed by well-wisher and toady alike. The enfolding roar of congratulation was heartening, but, thanks to the man he had once scoffed as a blighty oracle, Andwyn knew better than to let a passing squall of noise deafen him to the music of silence. There, he understood, and only there, could the wisdom of Hero Sadral’s voice be heard.

end article

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Paul Roberge

About Paul Roberge

Paul Roberge writes speculative fiction in southeastern New Hampshire. He and his wife live in a house that’s ancient even by New England standards. One would expect it to be haunted by something more sinister than orange-colored ladybugs that appear out of nowhere at the change of season, but no such luck apparently.