Nupa Maidement, a young artisan from the Far East of the land of Winafore, re-traces the journey taken by those who brought about the liberation of her people. At the heart of it all, an ancient fable of an unlikely partnership between an insane child-god and a grieving heiress, and how that heiress taught the god to love and live in a land choked into silence by its rulers. One-shot
Muscle shifting between her thighs, long and lean and wild. The bitter tang of the leather in her hands, guiding them both onwards through the sagging trees and the heaped, ruined castles formed by the rotting mounds of autumnal foliage.
Turning south into the brilliant midday sun, eyes shuttering against the glare of it off of the twisting silvery ribbon that is the river Coll. At her back the city of Coll's extravagent spires twist and arch, resplendant - hideously so, in a land so poor, so cracked and broken that the earth is riddled like the face of on old, old man. Marked, scoured by the years until nothing can repair it.
Frha'cha tosses her head and skitters on her hooves, bringing Nupa's attention sharply back into the present. She clicks her tongue, soothing; steadying the horse with heels and reigns both. When she stands at ease, docile and still with it, Nupa urges her on once more. South, south - with every mile that wheels beneath Frha'cha's hooves, Coll grows smaller, weaker behind her until it is nothing more than a dark blemish upon the northern horizon line, brilliantly silhouetted against the flashing sea that roils beyond.
* * *
They travel onwards like this, turning slowly westwards. Navigating the great plains, the twisting mountain paths, the eerie marshlands, the rolling green hills. Re-tracing a journey taken many years ago - a journey that had led to the freeing of her people.
Nothing much is known of that time that is fact. It is too fantastical a tale to be stripped like that - no, it lives on in the firelight and the wonder in listening children's eyes, in the tang of woodsmoke and the birds' morning chorus. In the sigh of the wind and the rustle of the waves. In the earth. In the light.
She had been one of those children, once; huddled with her siblings as her father fed logs into the fireplace and her mother spoke to them of beautiful things, wondrous things.
"There was a world before ours, you know," she had begun, her face growing younger as she herself recalled the tale that had warmed her heart in her own youth. "A world of love and laughter, hate and tears - just like our own. It was created from the Song of a beautiful god called the Composer." A smile, then. "The Composer, she wrote the music that is the essence of all things - but she was so busy writing this music that she herself could not sing it, so she wrote into being a god that could Sing for her. But the god could not Sing it, for her Songs speak of the dark and light, the good and the bad. So she divided the god, created two beings who shared a mind, a soul. The Song gods, of the Lower Score and Higher Score."
"They sound very important," Nupa's younger self had said.
Mheryl had laughed, then; bright, clarion-clear. "They were very important indeed!" A huffy murmur from one her brothers, and Mheryl had sighed. "Now, I must continue lest we will never finish. Right. Well, eventually that world ended as all things must, and the Composer created a new one - ours.
"The Composer grew complacent in her skill, until she went to write and accidentally wrote a discord. When the Singers Sang the discord, their Song broke and they destroyed each other. One of them was cast into Death, while the other - always balancing one another - was cast into Life, into our world." Her eyes had looked sad, then. Soft, heavy with sorrow. "That god that came into our world wandered the lands for centuries upon centuries, mind and soul broken in half. Until, one day, he came upon a funeral.
"It was the funeral of a Noble's son, the brother to the family's heiress. Her parents stood over the grave and wept, but the sister stood stern and still until she was alone beside his grave except for her childhood sweetheart. The Singer saw this, saw her, and understood for the first time that he was not alone - for she felt as he did; raw and grieving and lost. He followed her, learnt of her, learnt to love her as she learnt to love him. Together they brought love back to the world, saving us from the cruelty of the Royals' rule."
"What happened then?" asked younger-Nupa, wide-eyed and naive with youth.
Mheryl's sad, sad eyes grew so mournful Nupa could not hold her gaze. "The heiress died, and the Singer lived on."
Alone, went unspoken.
* * *
Now, stood in the belfry of an ancient clocktower, Nupa looks out over the town that that same heiress had called home, Miringnell, and weeps for her.
Because it is not a story, not a fireside tale - it is true, true, so horribly true. The heiress lies behind her, wrapped in delicately carved stone and crystal with her name bright upon the masonry.
Ashe Tsiabel Rynn,
2nd Winter Yeare of 1349 - 79th Winter Yeare of 1403
Heiress to the Rynn Estates,
Beloved mother, Bringer of Light,
May you live forever.
Sprawled atop her grave is a tiny, frail child with hair like starlight and eyes the colour of snow-shadow. White; unnatural, eerie white, with the vaguest hint of blue.
From him drifts the most haunting sound Nupa has ever heard - moaning, throbbing, aching like a broken heart.
It is a broken heart, though - his heart, for he is the Singer that survived the Composer's one terrible mistake.
Once he could see, could touch everything.
Now, he lies at the graveside of the one person who dared to understand him, to love him, and grieves.
She is Nupa Maidemant. It is mid-summer, and the year is 1867. Still, he grieves - as she suspects he will do for all of eternity.