Authors: Elizabeth Haydon
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To my family
into which I was born,
you who have given me all the music I ever needed
to be able to sing this rhapsody
with abiding love and thanks
Tom Doherty, Impresario
James Minz, Midwife
Susan Chang, Shepherd
Jynne Dilling and Kathleen Fogarty, Beacons
for making this series happen
with gratitude and fond appreciation
Time, it is a tapestry
Threads that weave it number three
These be known, from first to last,
Future, Present, and the Past
Present, Future, weft-thread be
Fleeting in inconstancy
Yet the colors they do add
Serve to make the heart be glad
Past, the warp-thread that it be
Sets the path of history
Every moment 'neath the sun
Every battle, lost or won
Finds its place within the lee
Of Time's enduring memory
Fate, the weaver of the bands
Holds these threads within Her hands
Plaits a rope that in its use
Can be a lifeline, netâor noose.
THE AMULET OF TSOLTAN, SYMBOL OF THE F'DOR
THE YEAR 1008, SIXTH AGE THE CITY-STATE OF HACKET
In the inconstant torchlight flickering around the dark glade, it seemed that the grave would never be deep enough.
The soldiers, exhausted after the hauling of the thickset body from where it had been found in the hut, the stench of rot and decay, and the shifts of digging, were sweating profusely in the warm night air. They glanced every now and then over their shoulders, keeping their reconnaissance brief, then turned back to the task at hand.
Their leader alone stood watch, lending no aid.
“Make quick work of it, boys,” he muttered, refusing to observe their undertaking.
Finally, after far longer than any of them wanted, the task was considered complete enough.
The exhausted Firbolg soldiers paused, awaiting approval.
Their leader finally looked back at the massive mound of displaced earth, then down into the hole in the rocky ground, and nodded reluctantly.
The unit scrambled. While the Sergeant-Major looked away again, they hurried into the trees of the glade and dragged forth the large body, carefully wrapped in strips of cloth that had been soaked in brine and pungent herbs to help combat the odiferous state to which it had devolved.
Then, with newfound energy, they hoisted it high enough to carry as a group to the grave and, using the ropes that had been attached to haul it, lowered it carefully into the hole, slipping only once before righting it again.
After a few moments, the most senior of the Bolg soldiers cleared his throat politely.
The broad-shouldered Sergeant, an even more massive man than the one they were burying, did not seem to hear him.
The soldiers exchanged a glance in the dimming torchlight.
After another long moment, the senior soldier tried again.
This time, the Sergeant turned and looked over his shoulder. “Eh?”
The Sergeant finally came around. “One moment, please,” he instructed, his voice stronger than it had been earlier in the night.
He reached into his weapons bandolier and pulled out a sword, a jagged weapon smelted with points up the blade, known affectionately as the Old Bitch, named after a hairy-legged harlot he had known long ago in the old world. It was actually a replica of several such swords that had seen combat with him over the centuries, but its age hardly mattered.
He crouched down at the grave's edge, near the corpse's feet, and held the sword, point down, in front of him for a moment, thinking.
“'Bye, then, Trom,” he said quietly. “Sleep well, an' Oi'll see you on the other side o' the Gate.”
He rose and tossed the weapon into the open grave, then signaled to the troops.
“Fill 'er in,” he said.
When the task was accomplished, he pressed his foot into the new mound of earth in a few places, then looked at his bone-weary troops again.
“Know you lads're tired, but it seems like a good time to go out an' have a lit'le fun,” he said. “Just to deliver our respecks to the ones what put 'im in the ground. Whaddaya say, boys?”
At first there was no answer.
Then, one by one, the soldiers shook off their exhaustion and let loose a war cry, from deep in the throat, aimed at the stars.
The Sergeant smiled for the first time in a week.
“Well, then,” he said, making his way back to his horse, “let's 'ave at it.”
The Three shall come, leaving early, arriving late
The lifestages of all men:
Child of Blood, Child of Earth, Child of the Sky
Each man, formed in blood and born in it,
Walks the Earth and sustained by it,
Reaching the sky and sheltered beneath it,
He ascends there only in his ending, becoming part of the stars.
Blood gives new beginning
Earth gives sustenance
The Sky gives dreams in lifeâeternity in death
Thus shall the Three be, one to the other.
EASTERN BORDER OF THE FOREST OF TYRIAN
At the crossing of the trans-Orlandan thoroughfare and the eastern forest road, Achmed the Snake thought he had caught the faintest trace of woodsmoke in the air.
He reined his horse to a stop and inclined his head to the west, seeking to confirm what his nose had hinted at, but sensed nothing further.
The Bolg king wearily loosed the reins and rubbed his face vigorously, then ran his thin-gloved fingers through his hair, damp with sweat. He took another breath, only to be greeted with the warmth and heavy perfume of late summer, wafting over him on a brittle wind. Nothing more.
Achmed glanced around for a place to water his mount and located a nearby quick-running stream winding its way out of the forest in the distance. He nudged the horse toward it and dismounted, allowing the animal some rest with its refreshment and himself the whimsy of memory.
It had been just short of a thousand years since he had been in this place, owing largely to its status as a backdoor route into the eastern edge of the forest of Tyrian. There had been no reason to brave the hidden defenders that were invisibly guarding this part of the Lirin kingdom when he could just as easily enter Tyrian via any of its public entrances, as he had done whenever the spirit had moved him to do so in the past. There had been relatively few times that the spirit had so moved him; Achmed disliked forests in general and the Great Forest of the western part of the continent in particular. He preferred to do his visiting with the other two people in the world who, with him, made up what had been known long ago as the Three in the quiet solidity of his mountainous kingdom of Ylorc, where the ancient stone hallways and cavernous rooms were immune to prying eyes and free of the tattletale wind.