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Amarynth is a spirit singer, gifted-or cursed, as she sometimes thinks-with the ability to lead the spirits of the dead from the Lower World through the Between World to the Gate of the Upper World and the Light that lies beyond it.
While she is still an apprentice her grandfather and tutor dies, slain by a mysterious creature in the Between World that is blocking access to the Upper World's Gate. Without a spirit singer her village cannot survive, so Amarynth embarks on a hazardous quest to find out what the creature is, how it can be defeated, and how she can become a full-fledged spirit singer - a quest that takes her not only from her tiny seacoast home to the soaring mountains of the south, but across the even more rugged terrain of her own soul.
|Publisher:||Tyche Books Ltd.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.37(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Something woke Amarynth in the small hours of the night.
It was dark as a cave inside her chamber, except for the faint bar of moonlight on the stones of the wall by the open door. For a moment she blinked at that pale oblong, feeling the cool breath of a breeze against her cheek, wondering what had roused her.
Then she heard it again -- a moan, from down the hallway. Her grandfather.
Amarynth threw aside the covers and reached for her long blue robe, donning it over the thin shift in which she slept. The moan came again as she stepped into the corridor, the smooth stone floor cold under her bare feet. She hurried along its length, passing through pools of moonlight collected under the open skylights like puddles of rain.
Her grandfather's room was at the far end of the corridor, past the library and the meditation chamber. Amarynth knocked gently. "Grandfather? Are you all right?"
For a moment there was no answer; then she heard him moan again, his voice rising suddenly to a shout. "No! No! Stay away! Stay away!"
Amarynth opened the door and rushed in. Her grandfather was sitting upright in bed, eyes wide and staring, face pale in the darkness. "Leave me alone!" he cried.
She seized his shoulders. "Grandfather, wake up! Wake up! It's me, Amarynth!"
A shudder ran through his gaunt body, and suddenly his eyes focused on her. "Amarynth...?"
She felt the tension go out of him and gently laid him back on his bed. "You were dreaming again," she said. "Shouting at someone to stay away."
"Not someone -- some thing." He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead with his gnarled hand. "The dreams aregetting worse. I'm afraid..." His voice trailed off.
"Of what, grandfather?"
His eyes snapped open. "I'm sorry I disturbed you," he said. "I'm all right now. Go back to bed."
"If only you'd tell me what you dream, maybe--"
"A dream is only a dream. It's not important. Now, go on. You need your sleep."
She sighed. "Yes, grandfather." With a backward glance she went out, closing the door behind her, then returned to her room. She draped her robe over the chair once more, but instead of going back to bed went to the window and looked down the hill to the darkened village of Covedrift, two-score huts strung along a curving shingle beach. The cool night air caressed her skin and brought to her the quiet, unceasing murmur of the ocean.
The dreams had been troubling her grandfather for weeks, but she had never heard him cry out like that before, as though trying to drive something away. What did he see in the night? He would never tell her. Nor would he explain why he wouldn't tell her, almost as if he were protecting her from something. But from what? "I'm not a child any more," she murmured to the night. "I don't have to be protected from bad dreams."
She crossed to the other window of her corner room and stared out over the ocean, almost calm this night, a gentle swell barely breaking against the rocks at the base of the cliff sixty feet below her. The moon silvered what waves there were, and gave a pale glow to a fine mist far out at sea, making the horizon indistinct, blending the ocean smoothly with the starry sky.
It would be good weather for the First Sailing, Amarynth thought. In just a few hours, as the sun rose over the distant inland mountains, the three young men who had turned seventeen in the past year would ascend to the tower, as their fathers had when they were seventeen, so that her grandfather could forge the Homelink that would draw their spirits back to Covedrift should they be lost at sea. Then they would set out in the boats they and their fathers had fashioned, to sail the deep alone for a day and a night. When they returned they would be considered men, and would take their place in the fishing fleet.
Her mind drifted from her grandfather's dreams to Davin, one of the boys who would be making that climb to the tower in the morning. She smiled a little. Walking in the village a week ago, she had seen him watching her, as she had seen other boys watch other girls, and when she had come back from the market, arms laden with seaweed-wrapped fish, he had contrived to be in the road.
He hadn't said much -- in fact, he'd seem tongue-tied by his own audacity -- but he had carried her fish up the hill to the tower for her, and when she'd smiled her thanks he'd turned as red as the seaweed before stammering, "You're welcome," and almost running back to the village.
But at least he'd seen her as someone besides Spirit Singer Nikos's granddaughter, someday to be a Singer in her own right, as though that made her some kind of witch! Everyone else in Covedrift treated her with oh-so-careful respect.
When Davin and the others returned from their First Sailings, they would be full-fledged members of society.
When I make my solo journey, thought Amarynth, when I become a full-fledged Spirit Singer, I'll be cut off from society forever.
Suddenly chilled, she turned back to the warmth of her bed; but it was a long time before she slept.
She woke to the sound of trumpets. Outside her window the sky was graying with dawn, and looking out, she saw people already filling the streets of Covedrift, their laughter and shouting echoing up to the tower as they prepared to send off the three boys. The sight and sound of merriment brought back full-force the night's lonely thoughts.
"Are you up, Amarynth?" her grandfather called from down the hall.
"Yes, grandfather!" she shouted back. Putting away her black mood, she hurriedly grabbed her ceremonial clothes from the rough-carved wardrobe by the door, dropping the long, sleeveless white robe over her head and belting it around her waist with a scarlet sash. Around her neck she placed her Emblem, a tear-shaped black stone the size of her thumb, strung on a golden chain, and on each wrist she clasped three thin, silver bracelets that jingled like bells as she moved. Finally she slipped on her white sandals.
As she straightened the sky suddenly tinged with red, and the cheering died away. She looked out and saw three distant figures beginning the quarter-mile climb from the village to the tower.
Amarynth ran out of her room, not turning right down the hallway this time but instead going straight, down worn stone steps and through a blue velvet hanging into the Spirit Chamber, where her grandfather made ready for the Linking.
The long, narrow chamber had no windows; the only light came from the small fireplace to Amarynth's left and brass lamps hung on chains from the ceiling's smoke-stained beams. Blue-and-gold curtains covered the walls above heavy wooden benches. In the center of the room was an oblong dais of black stone, three feet high, between two simple chairs of dark wood. At the head of the dais stood a single bronze candlestick, its unlit white candle at eye level for her grandfather, who sat in one of the chairs, eyes closed and fingertips pressed together.
Amarynth was shocked by how old he looked; the lines in his face seemed deeper, the flesh of his chin more sagging. Even his shoulder-length hair seemed whiter. He wore a golden robe, and around his neck hung his own Emblem; but unlike Amarynth's, his glowed a deep purple, and at its centre was a spark of light.
She crossed to the dais and sat in the opposite chair. After a moment her grandfather's eyes opened and met hers.
"Good morning," he said.
"Good morning." Amarynth gestured at the candlestick. "I'm ready to help."
"I'm sorry, Amarynth. Not this time."
Amarynth stared at him. "But I've been studying for weeks. You said this is one of the most vital tasks of a Spirit Singer--"
"It is," said her grandfather. "And you will learn it, I promise. But not today. I will forge the Links alone."
"But grandfather, you promised last week--"
"I've changed my mind." He closed his eyes again.
Without looking at her, he said," Please don't argue, Amarynth. I must concentrate. I suggest you prepare for your class. The children will be here shortly."
Amarynth, her lips pressed tightly together, rose from her chair and strode out through the curtained arch. There she banged her hand against the wooden banister of the stairs so hard it hurt, and muttered a few words she had learned from the Covedrift fishermen.
Why? she thought angrily. Why had her grandfather changed his mind? She knew she could make the Link -- she had read everything in the library on the subject, and they had practiced over and over. Only four days ago her grandfather had told her she was far more prepared than he had been when he had first assisted with a Linking. Now he refused to let her help. What had changed?
The dreams, she realized suddenly. It has to be the dreams. Grandfather is afraid of something -- but what? And why should that make him mistrust me?
She had no answers, and at last she went to the classroom as her grandfather had suggested, going by way of the kitchen, where Marta, the village woman whose week it was to help at the Spirit Singer's tower, hummed as she kneaded dough. Amarynth snagged bread and cheese from the pantry and chewed on them as she crossed the Great Hall, the rising sun casting bars of golden light through the eastern windows, high above the rock-ribbed walls.
The Hall's main doors of intricately carved black wood stood open, and she passed through them into an antechamber, into which even larger iron-bound doors opened from outside. Those doors, too, stood wide, letting in light -- and wind, Amarynth noticed, hearing it howl around the tower's high walls. The First Sailing won't be so smooth after all, she thought, and felt perversely pleased that someone else would also have problems this day.
Besides the doors into the Great Hall and outside, there were two other exits from the antechamber, one a curtained arch into the Spirit Chamber and the other a narrow door into a small, square room where Amarynth daily taught the village children reading and writing, history and, most importantly, the teachings of the Master. Marta had already lit the fire and opened the shutters, Amarynth discovered when she looked in; there was really nothing for her to do there until the children arrived, and despite what her grandfather had said, she did not expect that to be for an hour, at least.
She went outside and leaned against the tower wall to finish her bread and cheese, and as she took her last bite the three village boys came over the crown of the hill, Davin lagging behind the other two. Their festival clothing of red, green and blue wool and shining fish leather only emphasized the paleness of their faces. Amarynth straightened quickly and nodded gravely as the first two passed her, bowing slightly and touching their fingers to their chests, then gave Davin a wink that brought a rush of blood to his cheeks but earned her a tentative smile in return.
When the boys had entered the Spirit Chamber she crossed the Great Hall again, went through the kitchen back into the stairwell, and finally peered into the Spirit Chamber through a narrow opening in the curtain covering the arch.
Her grandfather was praying, Emblem clenched in his right hand, his face white and strained. Then he sat in his chair and motioned the three forward, having them sit on the dais in front of him.
Shifting the Emblem to his left hand, he reached out and touched each boy's forehead. At once their eyes closed. Amarynth's grandfather took a deep breath and closed his own eyes.
It appeared nothing was happening, but Amarynth knew better. Her grandfather had sent the boys' spirits to the edge of the Between World, where all souls went at death until guided by a Spirit Singer to the Gate of the Upper World. Then, as was the Gift of Spirit Singers, he had gone fully into the Between World and was binding their spirits to him, taking minute sparks of their beings into his own, sparks that would draw the whole like a lodestone drawing iron when they died. Otherwise, Amarynth knew, the natural ties of spirits to bodies would keep their souls trapped where their bodies lay; and if that were at sea, they would be forced to haunt the empty deep until the End.
Amarynth, too, had the Gift, and many times her grandfather had taken her into the Between World. She had seen the phantom image the Lower World cast into the Between World, had learned the patterns of thought that would allow her to take that precious spark from another living soul and imbed it in her own. She knew how to do it -- but she wasn't being allowed to.
She clenched her fists unconsciously as she watched her grandfather and the three boys sit in silence. Her Gift cut her off from the ordinary world of people, but despite her earlier dark thoughts, she could not wish she did not have it; it was too rare and wonderful a thing to be able to serve the One as her grandfather did -- and as she could, if given the chance. But now her grandfather was shutting her out of that service. And without it--
Suddenly her grandfather's hand tightened on his Emblem, his knuckles whitening. He moaned. Sweat erupted on his furrowed brow and his lips moved silently, and the tear-shaped stone on its golden chain glowed brighter and brighter, until it seemed his whole hand was aflame.
Finally he gasped and his eyes snapped open. "Amarynth, quickly!" he cried hoarsely.
Without wondering how he knew she was there, she rushed into the room. "Bring them out!" he whispered, and then his eyes flickered up behind his lids and he slipped down in his chair, unconscious.
Quickly Amarynth touched each boy on the forehead, exerting the slight mental pressure necessary to return their spirits fully to their bodies. They each gasped in turn, then sat up straighter, blinking and rubbing their eyes.
"The Link is forged," she said formally, standing stiffly before them. "May the One favor your journeys this day."
Their faces registered surprise at seeing her, then concern as they looked past her to her grandfather. "The Spirit Singer..." Davin began.
"Go in peace," said Amarynth, in a tone that forestalled questioning. The youths rose quickly, bowed and touched their fingers to their hearts, and filed out of the Spirit Chamber. Davin lingered a moment, but this time received no encouragement from Amarynth, who stared at him stonily until he followed the others.
Only then did Amarynth turn and drop to her knees beside her grandfather, taking his wrist, feeling the thin pulse racing beneath her fingers. "Oh, Grandfather, what's happening to you?" she whispered. "What's gone wrong?"
Copyright © 2002 by Edward Willett