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[Lanen Kaelar 01] - Song in the Silence

Elizabeth Kerner

  Scanned by DragonAshe; Proofed by DragonAshe and Beauty_Karova

  * * *

  To the glory of God

  and to

  Alan Bridger

  heart’s-friend and support

  and survivor of many years of rewriting

  Deborah Turner Harris

  treasured friend, longstanding and patient mentor,

  terrific writer ans top-notch kicker-in-the-pants

  (bare in the back without a brother)


  Margaret Lynn Harshbarger

  dragon-souled friend, moral support,

  ace plotter and desperately needed teacher

  of the realities of being an artist

  I dedicace this work

  * * *



























  * * *



  The powers of order and chaos are in all things, and in the life of all races there comes a time when they must learn there is a Choice to be made. When Kolmar was young there were four shakrim, four peoples, who lived there: the Trelli, the Rakshi, the Kantri and the Gedri. They all possessed the powers of speech and reason by the time the Powers were revealed to them.

  This is what the Four Peoples made of that Choice.

  The Kantri were first. It seemed to their EIders that although chaos is the beginning and end of creation, it is order which decrees this. Thus they decided to serve order, indeed to become the representatives of order in the world. For this, they were granted long lives and a way to remember all that had gone before.

  The Trelli chose not to choose. They did not wish to be governed by such Powers. They had only the merest beginnings of speech, but managed to convey their denial of both chaos and order. In that decision was the seed of their ending, for to deny the great Powers is to deny existence.

  The Rakshi were already of two kinds,the Rakshasa and the smaller less powerful Rikti. Both unhesitatingly chose to embrace chaos. In this they balanced the Kantri; but chaos cannot exist in a world of order without the two destroying the world between them. The Kantri were eldest, so the Raksi for their choice were gifted with length of life to rival the Kantri, and a world within the world for their own, with which they were never content.

  The youngest race, the Gedri, discovered after great turmoil that they could not reach a single decision, but unlike the Trelli they did make a choice. They desired Choice itself, giving each soul the chance to decide which to serve in its own time. Thus they had the ability to reach out to either Power and bend it to their own wishes; and although both the Kantri and the Rakshi were creatures of greater power, it was the Gedri who inherited the world.

  A prose rendering of the opening

  verses of the Tale of Beginnings,

  as transcribed by Irian ta-Varien.




  And the Dragons’ song, so wild and strong,

  fell from the sky like rain

  upon my soul; which, watered well

  bloomed with a joy no words can tell

  where once was a dusty plain.

  My name is Lanen Kaelar, and I am older than I care to remember.

  I have heard the bards call me Queen Lanen in their tales, and that I fear is the least of their excesses. I cannot stop the songs they sing or the stories they tell, but at least I can write with my own hand a record of those times, in the slim hope that anyone might be interested in the truth.

  Now I put my hand to it, I would I knew how the trick is turned. Where should I begin? Wherever they start the tale seems the only possible place, no matter how much has gone before. I suppose the only sensible beginning would be at Hadron’ s farm.

  I was born at Hadronsstead, a horse farm in the northwest of the Kingdom of Ilsa, which was the farthest west of the Four Kingdoms of Kolmar. The stead and the village nearby were a few hours’ ride from the Méar Hills to the north, and two weeks to the south and east lay Illara, the King’s Seat. Farther south yet the fertile plains of Ilsa began, a land full of farmers and crops and little else, and west over field and mountain lay the Great Sea.

  Ilsa does not encourage women to go beyond the narrow boundaries of home, but from my earliest memories that was all I ever wanted to do. As a child I lived for those times when I managed to escape for a few hours, taking my little mare north to the Méar Hills, walking among the great trees that marked the southern edge of the Trollingwood, the vast forest that covers all the north of Kolmar. But always I was fetched back to the farm, and a closer watch kept on me.

  Hadron was a good man, I do not say otherwise—he simply did not care for me. My mother had left him soon after I was born, and for some reason I decided that his close hold on me was because he feared I would do the same. When I came of age the summer I turned twelve, I asked to go with him to Illara, to the Great Fair in the autumn. By then I was grown nearly to my full height, and since I was clearly no longer a child—I stood nearly as tall as Hadron even then—I thought I was due some of the privileges of being of age. Instead, Hadron brought my older cousin Walther, his sister’s son, to live with us. When autumn came; Hadron calmly announced that he and Jamie would go to the Great Fair, and that Walther would look after me until they returned. Hadron never understood why I yelled and fought with him over that decision; to him it was obvious that I needed a keeper, and Walther was enough older than I to make sure Hadron’s words were obeyed. Needless to say, I hated Walther from that moment.

  I wasn’t overfond of Hadron, either, but then I never had been. He always kept his distance while I was a small child, and when I grew so tall so young he seemed appalled. From the moment I came of age he despised me, though I never knew why. I could do nothing right in his eyes. Sometimes I gave in to despair, knowing I was an evil creature who had no heart, since my mother had left me and my father did not love me. The worst of it to me, the true darkness in my heart that frightened me most and that I whispered to no one, was that I did not love him either.

  But there was one bright light in my world, one beacon of hope and love and caring in all the desert of indifference I saw around me.


  For me, any words of Hadronsstead must begin and end with him. He was there from my earliest memory, Hadron’s steward and his right hand on the farm. Jamie managed the crops and the other livestock while Hadron ignored his child and made a name for himself as a breeder of horses. But to me, Jamie was ever love and kindness.

  When as a child I needed comfort, it was always his small, dark, wiry figure I looked for, not the cold tree-height of Hadron. It was Jamie who made sure I was always looked after when Hadron forgot, Jamie who was a quiet friend when I so desperately needed one, Jamie who later taught me to see my strength and man-height as an advantag
e instead of a curse. When at fourteen I began to walk stooped over, trying to lessen my (I thought unnatural) height, which I feared made Hadron hate me, Jamie it was who took me aside and told me kindly that I reminded Hadron of my mother, it was nothing I had done, and he persuaded me to stand tall. Against Hadron’s wishes Jamie taught me to read and write, and when I begged him he also taught me in secret how to fight without weapons; and how to use a sword and a bow. He was always there, never complained through all my needing him that I can remember, had a soft word for me even when my temper lashed him instead of its true target. He loved me as a daughter, as Hadron could not, and in return was given all the love I could not lavish on a heedless father.

  I can hear the young girls wondering why I did not think of marriage. The true answer is that I did, sometimes, late at night as I lay in my too short bed and dreamed. But there is a good reason I did not escape by marriage. I have seen some of the paintings the young ones have done of me in my youth, and they do make me laugh! I am now and always have been no more than plain. Hadron told me so all my young life, and I learned to believe him. Men were the same then as now; the young ones want a beauty, the old ones want a young one, and after being trapped so long on the farm I had the heart of an old woman and no beauty ta speak of. The best that can be said is that I was tall as a man, strong as a woman well can be, brown as a nut from years of farm work in the sun and rain, and had a temper I only occasionally managed to keep in check.

  Most nights, to be truthful, I thought more of love than of marriage, and more of going away than of love.

  That is the real deep truth of me, now and as a girl. I longed to see the world, to go to those places that rang on the edge of stories like sweet distant bells. Even the sight of the Mear Hills to the north pierced my heart every time I saw them. Autumn was the worst, when they put on their patchwork winter coats and beckoned like so many red-and-gold giants. Lying on my bed in the dark I wandered through those trees a thousand times, laughing—sometimes aloud—as I watched the sun through the stained-glass leaves, breathing in their spicy scent and soaking in their colour until I could hold no more.

  But my real desires lay beyond the Mear Hills. All of Kolmar was mine the dark, covered with a quilt, weary from the day’s needs but with mine still unfulfilled. In thought I roamed east and north, through the dark and threatening Trollingwood to the fastness of Eynhallow at the edge of the mountains, or into the mountains themselves, into the mines where jewels sparkled from the walls in the light of a lantern held high. Sometimes, though not often, I would venture south to the green kingdom of the silkweavers of Elimar—the north always called to my heart with the stronger voice.

  But those times I most resented what I was forced to do, when despite the duty I owed him I would have cursed my father for making me stay, when even Jamie could not console me and the bleakness of my future came near to breaking me—then I would let loose the deep dream of my heart.

  ln it I stood at the bow of one of the great Merchant ships, sailing for the Dragon Isle at the turn of the year. The sea was rough, for the Storms that lay between Kolmar and the fabled land of the Dragons might abate but they never ceased. The ship swayed and groaned beneath my feet, spray blew keen and salt in my face but I laughed and welcomed it. For all I knew I would find naught on the island but lansip trees, and the long and dangerous trip there and back all for no more than my pay for harvesting the leaves more precious than silver. But perhaps—

  Perhaps the Merchants’ tales spoke true. It might be that I should be chosen to approach the Guardian of the trees, and perhaps as we spoke I would see him, and he would not be some giant of a warrior as everyone but the Merchants said.

  I would feel no fear. I would step towards him and bow, greeting him in the name of my people, and he would come to me on four feet, his great wings folded, his fire held in check. In my dreams I spoke with the Dragon who guarded the trees.

  Now, everyone knows that there are dragons, poor solitary creatures no bigger than a horse who live quietly in the Trollingwood away to the north. They pass their lives in deep forests or in rocky caverns, and almost always alone, and generally dragons and men do not trouble one another. Sometimes, though, a dragon will acquire a taste for forbidden food—a village’s cattle, or sheep, or human flesh. Then great hunts are gathered from all the villages round and the creature is slain as quickly as possible, or at the least chased away. These little dragons have only faint similarities to the True Dragons of the ballads. They have fiery breath, though it is soon exhausted; they have armoured scales, but their size tells against them, and they seem no brighter than cattle. Unless they fly away—and they do not fly well—they may be killed without too great difficulty.

  The Merchants, however, have the word of those who have been there, and they say that the Dragon Isle is the home of the True Dragons ‘of legend. They are as big as a cottage with wings to match, teeth and claws as long as a man’s forearm and a huge jewel shining from each forehead. Of course the Harvesters who returned were asked about them; but the last ship to return from the journey to the Dragon Isle came home to Corli more than a century ago, and there are none living who can swear that the True Dragons exist. It is said that within certain boundaries it is safe to visit that land, but some old tales whispered of those who dared to cross over seeking dragon gold and paid the price. If you believe the tales, not one of those venturous souls ever returned.

  The bards, of course, have made songs of the True Dragons for hundreds of years. Usually the tale is of some brave fighter attacking one of them against terrible odds, defeating it but dying in the process. All very noble but more than a little absurd, if the Merchants recall truly their size and power. Still, there are some lovely lays about such things.

  Every now and then, however, you come across a story with a different tum. The Song of the Winged Ones is a song of celebration, written as though the singer were standing on the Dragon Isle watching the dragons flying in the sun. The words are full of wonder at the beauty of the creatures; and there is a curious pause in the middle of one of the stanzas near the end, where the singer waits a full four measures in silence for those who listen to hear the music of distant dragon wings. It seldom fails to bring echoes of something beyond the silence, and is almost never performed because many bards fear it.

  I love it.

  I heard it first when I was seven. The snows were bad that year, and a bard travelling south from Aris (some four days’ journey north of us) on his way to Kaibar for midwinter got stuck at Hadronsstead for the festival. He was well treated, given new clothes in honour of the season, and in return he performed for the household for the three nights of the celebration. The last piece he sang on the last night was the Song of the Winged Ones, and I fell in love. I was just warm and sleepy enough to listen with my eyes closed, and when the pause came I heard music still, wilder and deeper than the bard’s but far softer. I never forgot the sound. It spoke to something deep within me and I resolved to hear it again if ever I could. When I mentioned it to the singer later he paled slightly, told me that people often imagined that they heard things in the pause, and swore to himself (when he thought I had gone) never to sing the wretched thing again.

  I spent the next seventeen years waiting to hear that sound, and dreamed of meeting a True Dragon, a Dragon out of the ballads, huge, wild and fierce, yet possessed of the powers of speech and reason. And he would not kill me for daring to speak to him. He would respond in courtesy, we would learn of each other and exchange tales of our lives, and together the two of us would change all of Kolmar. Humans would have someone new to talk to, a new way of seeing life and truth, and it would happen because I had dared to do what few had even dreamed about.

  And they would grant me the name I had chosen in the old speech, those who came after and knew what I had done. They would call me Kaelar, Lanen Kaelar, the Far-Traveller, the Long Wanderer.

  And there the sweet dream would end, and I would cry myself to

  My world changed in my twenty-fourth year. Hadron, rest his soul, finally had enough of raising horses and a daughter with no prospects. He died at midsummer, and Jamie and I laid him in the ground high on the hill overlooking the north fields.

  After Hadron’ s death his lands and goods came to me, which shocked me to the bone. I had always thought Jamie or Walther would be his heir, but in death Hadron was more gracious than ever he had been in life. I was amazed by the extent of his lands, many of which I had never seen, and by the wealth he had gained. l knew well enough how to run the place—I had been Jamie’s right hand for years—but the sheer size of it all took me by surprise. I still thought of Jamie as my master, and he still taught and helped me in those first months, but to my chagrin I found that I was blessed as well with a valuable steward in my cousin Walther.

  Walther had for many years now made his peace with me, though I could never forgive him for siding with Hadron in keeping me caged. It did not help that even as a child I found him dull and a little slow. All his thoughts were of the farm; his one fond wish had ever been to become as good a breeder and trainer of horses as his uncle. He had not known what his place would be when Hadron died, but since working for me did not seem to concern him I never mentioned it.

  Hadron’s death came just as he was starting to prepare for the Great Fair, and with him gone there was more to do than hands to do it. There were a good dozen of the horses old enough, broken in and ready to be sold this year. Hadron and Jamie had always gone to Illara, but Hadron’s part now fell to me as the heir. If I had been a little less tired I would have been delighted at the prospect of finally seeing the King’s Seat of Ilsa. As it was, grief and weariness outweighed all else. I did not pretend to mourn Hadron greatly, but I felt his loss, and grieved quietly to myself that I had cared so little for my own father. In great part, though, I must admit that I felt a weary weight lifted from my shoulders.