Broken Branch: Chapter 6

Now the time has come for me to write my own account, which is a reflection of Karidha’s, I think. “Story must reflect story.” But this, I am sure, is the account that you will be most eager to read, hoping for me to provide new insight into Thereus’s last days. You will not be disappointed in that, though you may be disappointed for other reasons.

There is little need for me to provide a bridge between the two stories, I hope. Centuries passed before Thereus returned to lead us to the great ships, the ships that brought us here to our new home in the island of Avazin. He was honored and respected by all, but in his later years he grew distant from the affairs of the island.

The matter began with the king’s last dream. It had been clear for some time that he would soon depart for the gray waters, though he lingered longer than anyone had expected. His doctors give the following transcription of the words he spoke on one of his last mornings.

“The child of aged parents sits in the heart of the forest, holding the toy in his hands. He waits for those who come to find him. The flies bite their heads, but if they do not find the child they will perish. Heaven winnows those it has chosen, but the road to salvation is a hard one. The travelers climb the hills to see the fool who stole fire from another world, then descend into the valley where they must die. The forest itself will fight against them until they enter the clearing, but the child will make them well again and deliver them from flies and foes.”

He told them he had described a dream he had been having just before he woke. As for what it meant, he had little more idea than they themselves. A few days later, Zosai II, seer, king of Karei and Avazin, and archon of the children of the sun, died, at the impressive age of eighty-seven. His body was burned on the field of ashes and his grandson Laranzut wore the phoenix crown after him.

Some weeks later, Thereus came to visit my father and mother, which was unusual. After the Moon’s Death took his wife, Thereus had withdrawn to his home, and although he continued to see those who came to him for guidance, he hardly ever left. “Bitter grief weighed him down.” He had attended Zosai’s funeral, but said nothing during it.

Now, however, he spoke to my parents of the old days in the eastern islands which I have never seen. “I returned to the islands in secrecy, hidden from the world,” he said. “I would have been content to live with Niviem in peace forever if your uncle hadn’t called me to my task. And then the islands would have perished. I owed him more than I can say.”

My father mentioned Zosai’s last vision and asked him if he had known about it.

“No. No, I hadn’t,” Thereus said, leaning forward as he did. I remember that his eyes were filled with a new light, and I don’t write this as a tired metaphor, but as a sincere description of how he appeared to me then. It was not uncommon for some of the younger townsmen to call Thereus a dead man who hadn’t yet found his pyre, “worthless scoffers mocking what is too high for them,” but whatever gloom had been upon Thereus was falling away at that moment. “Now that is something interesting. It would be a pity if we left his last mission to us unfulfilled.”

“You think you understand it, then?” my father asked.

“I certainly don’t. At least not in specifics. But tell me what you think it means.”

Father turned his eyes to me. “What do you think, Luma? I’m certain you have your opinion.”

“Well,” I said, “I think it has to describe a journey someone must take to find this child. That is what seems clear to me, though there are certainly pieces of it I could make guesses about. All three of you know the danger of making guesses about prophecy.” I referred of course to the various men who had falsely claimed to be Thereus in the last days of the old islands.

Mother spoke up for the first time. Usually she was more gregarious than this, but I think she felt Father’s loss even more strongly than he did. “Luma has the right idea, doesn’t she?”

“She does,” said Thereus, smiling at me. “And we are perishing from the Moon’s Death. It may be that Zosai is sending me out again to do one last task for the islands.”

“Not your last, surely,” said Father, sounding alarmed. There are varying accounts of Thereus’s birth year, but not counting the centuries he spent in the courts of Heaven, he was far closer to my parents’ ages than to Zosai’s. Yet his seclusion after his wife’s death had not been an encouraging sign. Perhaps we all had an inkling of what was to come.

“One last task for him, I should rather say. Whether it is mine or not, only Heaven knows. And fortunately, I believe I know the fool who stole fire from the heavens. You may have seen him once or twice, but he is not too fond of people, and left town not long after we came to this island. His name is Baurin.”

“How did he steal fire?” asked Mother.

“I won’t betray his confidence by telling you. Maybe if you ever meet him he will choose to inform you himself.”

“You’re planning on going, then?” Father asked.

“I am. What else do I have to do? Indeed, I’ve always thought I should go see the inner lands for myself. The way of the sun does not end here, but continues on into the west.”

“Then I’ll go with you too. It would be a shame if no one wrote about your journey.”

Thereus shook his head, but he was smiling. “I think I have quite enough glory. Too much, rather. But I would be pleased if you accompanied me.” His eyes fell on me and pierced me to my heart, or so it seemed. “And your family?”

“I’ll come along,” said Mother. “It’s been too long since we’ve gone on an expedition, Alad. But Luma will stay here and look after the house.”

“I will not!” I said. “I want to see how the vision is fulfilled with my own eyes!” Here let me explain that since early childhood I had been fascinated with the various seers who had appeared during our history, and pored over their surviving writings: Naimetl, Salomoh, Kirkiv, Sanum, Krasoa, and the all rest, down to Zosai himself. I had made a pasttime of comparing their visions to the canonical interpretations and to the histories, to “sift fact from error.” So it was only natural for me to insist on coming along.

Father and Mother were not enthusiastic about this, but Thereus persuaded them to allow me to come. “I can tell you, though I hope it won’t go to her head, that Luma is the keenest interpreter of prophecy in Avazin today. I think we will find her assistance to be invaluable.”

Despite his warning, I was pleased beyond measure by his praise. I fear I did briefly envision myself leading him and my parents through the wilderness, reading clue after clue from the vision. But this was an absurd enough image that it was gone quickly from my mind.

So it was settled that the four of us would go inwards from the coast, to find the fool who stole fire from the heavens. “And yet more, more than the islands could imagine.”

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