I LEFT THE BAR smiling, unmindful of the fact that I was still Dockside and in danger. I felt buoyant knowing I would have the chance to hear another story soon. It had been a long time since I had looked forward to anything. I went back to my street corner and proceeded to waste three hours begging, not gaining so much as a thin shim for my efforts. Even this failed to dampen my spirits. Tomorrow was Mourning, but the day after there would be stories! But as I sat there, I felt a vague unease creep over me. A feeling that I was forgetting something impinged on my too-rare happiness. I tried to ignore it, but it stayed with me all day and into the next, like a mosquito I couldn’t see, let alone swat. By the end of the day, I was certain I had forgotten something.
Something about the story Skarpi had told.
It is easy for you to see, no doubt, hearing the story like this, conveniently arranged and narrated. Keep in mind that I had been living like an animal in Tarbean for nearly three years. Pieces of my mind were still asleep, and my painful memories had been gathering dust behind the door of forgetfulness. I had grown used to avoiding them, the same way a cripple keeps weight off an injured leg.
Luck smiled on me the next day, and I managed to steal a bundle of rags off the back of a wagon and sell them to a ragman for four iron pennies. Too hungry to worry about tomorrow, I bought a thick slice of cheese and a warm sausage, then a whole loaf of fresh bread and a warm apple tart. Finally, on a whim, I went to the back door of the nearby inn and spent my final penny on a mug of strong beer.
I sat on the steps of a bakery across the street from the inn and watched people coming and going as I enjoyed my best meal in months. Soon twilight faded into darkness and my head began to spin pleasantly from the beer. But as the food settled in my belly, the nagging sensation returned, stronger than before. I frowned, irritated that something would spoil an otherwise perfect day.
Night deepened until the inn across the street stood in a pool of light. A few women hovered near the doorway to the inn. They murmured in low voices and gave knowing looks to the men who walked past.
I drank off the last of the beer and was about to cross the street and return the mug when I saw a flicker of torchlight approaching. Looking down the street, I saw the distinctive grey of a Tehlin priest and decided to wait until he had passed. Drunk on Mourning and just recently a thief, I guessed the less contact I had with the clergy the better off I’d be.
He was hooded, and the torch he carried was between us, so I couldn’t see his face. He approached the group of nearby women and there was a low murmur of discussion. I heard the distinctive chink of coins and sunk further into the shadow of the doorway.
The Tehlin turned and headed back the way he had come. I remained still, not wanting to draw his attention, not wanting to have to run for safety while my head was spinning. This time, however, the torch was not between us. When he turned to look in my direction, I could see nothing of his face, only darkness under the cowl of his hood, only shadow.
He continued on his way, unaware of my presence, or uncaring. But I stayed where I was, unable to move. The image of the hooded man, his face hidden in shadow, had thrown open a door in my mind and memories were spilling out. I was remembering a man with empty eyes and a smile from a nightmare, remembering the blood on his sword. Cinder, his voice like a chill wind: “Is this your parent’s fire?”
Not him, the man behind him. The quiet one who had sat beside the fire. The man whose face was hidden in shadow. Haliax. This had been the half-remembered thing hovering on the edge of my awareness since I had heard Skarpi’s story.
I ran to the rooftops and wrapped myself in my rag blanket. Pieces of story and memory slowly fit together. I began to admit impossible truths to myself. The Chandrian were real. Haliax was real. If the story Skarpi had told was true, then Lanre and Haliax were the same person. The Chandrian had killed my parents, my whole troupe. Why?
Other memories bubbled to the surface of my mind. I saw the man with black eyes, Cinder, kneeling in front of me. His face expressionless, his voice sharp and cold. “Someone’s parents,” he had said, “have been singing entirely the wrong sort of songs.”
They had killed my parents for gathering stories about them. They had killed my whole troupe over a song. I sat awake all night with little more than these thoughts running through my head. Slowly I came to realize them as the truth.
What did I do then? Did I swear I would find them, kill them all for what they had done? Perhaps. But even if I did, I knew in my heart it was impossible. Tarbean had taught me hard practicality. Kill the Chandrian? Kill Lanre? How could I even begin? I would have more luck trying to steal the moon. At least I knew where to look for the moon at night.
But there was one thing I could do. Tomorrow I would ask Skarpi for the real truth behind his stories. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had. Revenge might be beyond me, at least for now. But I still had a hope of knowing the truth.
I held tight to that hope through the dark hours of night, until the sun rose and I fell asleep.