by M. R. R. Arcega
They were nowhere like the Black Flower kin, these kind and quiet savages. Their skin was thick like bark, and leafy like the wood in which they lived. The children like to surprise us by jumping up from the green and winding round our bodies.
And they were all fascinated by the Singer, whose limbs would not twist and unfurl… and they found me amusing, because I was small and covered with hair and my limbs were only as short as the bone pipes their elders smoked.
They had never seen one like the Singer, and no man with hair the color of rulgit leaves had passed through.
The Singer decided to stay for many days in that village, learning the songs of the savages. I was free to leave as I pleased, but I had no wish to leave.
I learned the songs of the savages as well; I learned that their name for themselves was Gomergin, and that they were slaves of the Black Flower people.
They showed us the holes on their hands as they sang: the Black Flower folk came every year and gathered the children who reached a certain age. They marked the children by boring into their hands and bringing home a piece of each of their bodies. Then they kept those pieces as proof that they were owned and could be taken away at any time.
Sometimes they took the children away. Sometimes the children died from the marking. The Singer was angered to hear this.
When she was done hearing she started to sing, “I shall tell you a secret.” Then she sang of a better life, of freedom and peace and living well unto old age – of places where children who had no holes on their hands sang as if there was no consequence.
The Gomergin heard her, for she sang in their language in an otherworldly voice, of change. Like the Harun, change was not a familiar thing to the Gomergin. But the Singer sang on and on and it seemed the leaves froze and the wind hushed and the whole world – even the cold and cruel Black Flower nobles asleep in their high chambers – sat still and listened.
In a few days, the Singer was ready to leave for the Black Flower lands. The Gomergin warriors took up their swords and spears. “They will follow us,” I said to her.
“I know,” she answered.
“They will follow us to their deaths,” I said.
She said nothing back.
In the long while that followed, I was with the Singer. We witnessed worse things than the gruesome death of a handful of Gomergin warriors – we saw cities burn, temples crumble, gods weep and demons cry out in fear.
But we saw births. We saw new kingdoms built. We saw change.
I knew this was why the Singer was feared, sometimes even hunted. Her singing changed the world, even if she claimed that in this world, her singing had no power.
Long before she was sought by the Black Flower people for singing songs of freedom to their slaves, who were scattered across the continent, she was wanted by the Inbred of the South, a fallen tyranny that was not without its machineries, or its madness. Their mercenaries had caught up to us once, but we were hidden by the Northern Kildrin, who had heard of us – of a high, thin creature that walked on two legs, and the small hair-covered companion always at her heels.
The Singer wept, often and long – for her sibling, for the Gomergin, for the Einyu and the Dallarel and the many other races who heard her songs and sought her out and wanted to know…
What else is there, besides this world? What could they look forward to? What secrets did she have for them?
I once came across a man who boasted that the Singer was not long for this earth. The Black Flower Wizard was searching for her, he said. And the Black Flower Wizard was responsible for all the clan’s victories. I chose not to challenge those words then, for we were among untrustworthy folk and I could not have revealed myself.
For I was the Singer’s Man, her ears and eyes. I was her protector; I braved places we should not have been able to enter; I gathered things and knowledge that were helpful to us. When she was in danger, I rescued her or sent for help. I found food for her and kept her safe and watched her while she slept.
Soon only she called me by my infant-name, Derezn. The rest of the world knew me only as the Singer’s Man.
One day she asked me why I had not gone home.
I answered, “I wish to learn your songs. All of them.”
She smiled at me. “There isn’t a way to learn all of anyone’s songs. Not unless that person is the sibling of your heart.”
She had said once, that if someone was a sibling of your heart, you would know if that someone was still dead or alive, and while that person was alive, you would have songs to sing.
I did not wish to come home. Though I wanted very much to see family and friends and familiar things, I knew that if I came home then, I would be a stranger to my own people. I would talk in song, in different tongues and in strange music. The way I counted time, the way I walked and the way I could meet the gaze of strangers, were different. I would crave the open road. I would wonder what had become of the Singer.
The Harun would never take kindly to that. Change is not part of the old way, and I had changed.
And for so many years, there was no one like her, tall and slender, with hair the color of rulgit leaves.
Before my eyes she grew older and wearier and less strong. Because of a lasting illness her sight became weak, and she needed to hold my hand when we walked while the sun was not in the sky.
She had long stopped counting time, and were it not for me she would not know that we had been abroad for four Gandaran years. “So long,” she sang to herself.
We were sought by the Black Flower Wizard, we knew, so we hid and fled from the clan’s dark-clad hunters as if we were nowhere near the end of the world. When we reached the Mistlands at the border of the Black Flower territory, she said she wanted to go in, though she knew there was nothing beyond it.
The sun did not live in the skies over the Mistlands, so it never left, but still she held my hand. Strange sounds and shadows flew by us at every turn, but while we were together, nothing happened to us.
We seemed to walk on and on for many, many days. I began to be afraid. I said we might not be able to return home if we continued walking – for I remembered the way out of the Mists, but my memory could only go so far. She said she would understand if I left, but she could not follow me back.
I did not leave.
One day while she slept I heard someone approaching from within the Mists. She woke, and we faced the footsteps, until they turned into a shadow, then into a shape.