When Closti the Clam married Anoreth the Undying, two lines were united. This is truth; and much came of it. Not clear—not at the time they were wed, nor to their children (not until much later)—was the consequence of the union of mortal and immortal, for Anoreth was the daughter of the One and likewise Undying, while Closti was as much of the dying as anyone in Shelling: old Uncle Kestrel; or Zwitt the headman; or the parents of Closti and Zara, who died long before any of their grandchildren were old enough to know them.
It took years before any of us truly understood what it meant to have Closti as father and Anoreth as mother. The war took both of them. Closti was pressed into service as one of the King’s soldiers, and died in battle. Our mother returned to us briefly, only to fade under Kankredin’s magic. The Undying do not age; but they are not immune to death, though it takes much to kill them.
In childhood, I worshiped the Undying, though I knew them only as three small statues in niches. I know better now, of course. Whatever else they may be, the Undying are people, in their own way.
The Undying can love; and Mother loved Father. Still, she could not stay with us—not just because of the anger of her father, the One, whose permission to wed she did not bother to get, but also because a sprinkle of grey appeared in his beard. The merest few hairs, at first; but her own hair stayed gold and her skin unwrinkled. So she left; or died, as we children thought (though our father knew better). She left; but she remained close, as the Lady in the niche by the hearth. In this way, though we children did not know it till later, she was able to keep us under her eye.
I say ‘us’; but this is not entirely true. Eventually, the world turned; and we set our feet on different paths. Still, long before then, Gull was not with the rest of us. This has been told before; but it is worth saying again. He was older than Hern—which did not matter to us, since we knew each other’s worth; but the world sees things differently. Gull had been bespelled during the war; but he was freed, and the elder. It was, however, Hern who was credited with leadership of both the Riverfolk and Heathens during the great battle with Kankredin; Hern who became King, united the land, and founded a city. The Heathen from the north called his name ‘Kern’, and the new capital took that name. A year into his reign he married the daughter of one of the chief lords of our old King. I do not think he loved her particularly; but there was respect between them. Also, she was dark and he fair; so, even though our family were not Heathen, for all we looked similar, to everyone else the marriage seemed to join the two peoples.
Robin married Tanamil, of course. After a year or so (for Hern insisted that the newly wed couple deserved their privacy), Duck went to stay with them so that he might learn the strength and breadth of his magic. Their home was at the watersmeet—though never the one where we had first met him, for those two great Rivers no longer ran by the red cliffs. Whenever I visited, my feet took me along the right route. I am sure, though, that anyone not of our family would never have found the path. I say ‘visited’, because I stayed some months of each year in Kernsburgh. There were many marriages between the Riverfolk and the Heathen; and I was kept busy weaving rugcoats.
It was some ten years after the battle, when the valley was truly starting to look like a city, that minstrels began to wander north to view the making of history. Thus we first heard word of Gull—or Gann, as they say in the dialects of the south. These were most unlikely tales, I have to say. Still, I remembered how he had looked when he was restored from Kankredin’s spells: fierce and sturdy and tall. So perhaps his fate is not so strange. At any rate, I followed those tales south in search of him; but our paths only crossed once.
When I returned to Kernsburgh, I saw lines in the face of my brother the King. A few years later, his hair started to fade. Those around him commented on my own persistent youth: they took me to be far the youngest of Closti’s children and Hern the oldest. Thus it was that I left again. How he felt about my departure, I do not know. I can only say that, until that time, I had not truly understood the irony of our dual heritage. When Closti the Clam married Anoreth the Undying, two lines were united. This is truth; but one family had been mortal for generations, the connection to the One buried in the beliefs we were taught as children.
Mother must have known that she would lose Father; yet she wed him anyway. Love conquers all, even grief. Did she believe that we, her children, would inherit her immortality? Or did she leave us, fearing that we, like her husband, would age and die while she stayed young?
When Closti married Anoreth, two lines were mixed: that too is truth. Of their children, some aged and died; others did not. Nor did she or we know which of us would share which parent’s fate until … well, until we learned each our own truth, for good or ill.
Whether Gull was Undying I cannot say. Hero he became; and thus he died and passed into legend.
Duck—or Mallard, as I should properly call him, for none but we used the old nickname—became renowned in both music and magic, as he well might, having centuries to perfect both skills. A minstrel needs an audience; so he took other names from time to time; and some are remembered. (Oh, some have been long remembered!)
Hern died, of course. I do not know whether he regretted his mortality at the end. I do know that, if he had proved Undying, he could never have achieved all he did; and the history of Dalemark would have been far different.
Robin died too. Given the strength of her Undying soul, I do not think it ever occurred to her or Tanamil that she would prove mortal. She seldom left their home; and visits from family were infrequent, though Mallard always dropped in when his wanderings took him that way. So, at first, hearing nothing to the contrary, I did not know that Robin aged. Indeed, Tanamil was able to keep the truth from her for a while. Mirrors, of course, were uncommon in those days and poor in quality. Her hair was fair (as is true of all of us); and, though it faded, I suppose she did not notice that white mingled with gold as she brushed her hair. Or perhaps Tanamil substituted some of his own long strands. Or perhaps she did know, and kept the knowledge secret for his sake.
It was Mallard who found me, in the end: he said he had been searching for some time. I was not living in a village: a young—or apparently young—woman can have problems as an incomer; so I had found myself a place in an out-of-the-way valley, guarding it with my own growing skills.
When he told me about Robin, I walked alone up into the hills. He let me go, knowing that it would have to have been hard hearing. Oh, Gull had died by then, but in battle with a monstrous giant beast—a fair fate for a hero, though sad for us. Hern was still alive, for he had a long life for a mortal man; and I had by then had time to come to terms with his lot, the more so as rumour spread of Kernsburgh’s prosperity. Robin, though … Robin had married Tanamil! I had assumed her one of us: I think we all had. (I’m sure Mallard had.)
Perhaps Tanamil had known the risk: he had, after all, lived centuries as an Undying before being bound; he must have loved, and must have lost. Or perhaps, until Robin, he had not dared.
I came down from the hills and returned to my cottage in the valley, and found that Mallard still waited for me. We went north together.
Now, this all must sound as though Robin were on her deathbed; and my brother come in haste to call me to say goodbye. However, when our feet travelled the secret route to the watersmeet, I found that this was far from true … yet.
Robin was dying only in the sense that all mortal beings are set on the path to death from the moment of their birth. Mallard had been seeking me for a few years; but his quest had begun in the shock of his own discovery that Robin was aging. So I found my sister with silver-gilt hair, wrinkles creasing her eyes and forehead, hands crippled by the stiffness of the old. She was still very much herself, and greeted me cheerfully without commenting on my youthful appearance. Nor did I say anything of the changes in her. Still, I could not help but silently contrast her appearance with that of Tanamil, who was quite unchanged: his ruddy skin still smooth; his hair still long and wildly curling, richly gold.
No, in saying this I mislead you. He was changed. I should say that he grieved Robin already, knowing time to be short. Oh, he tried to act as usual (and, having visited them often in her prime, I knew what ‘usual’ meant). Behind her back, though, his eyes clung to her as she moved around the room. He caught and held her hand like a courting lover. He laughed … less.
I stayed only a few weeks; but I did not then return south to my valley. Instead, I used my visit to borrow Robin’s loom and weave myself a new rugcoat that laid years on my appearance. Thus disguised, I settled in a nearby town, where I purchased a loom and began my weaving once again. Styles of dress were changing, and the young preferred new-fangled fashion. Still, the fancier sort of rugcoat was still the custom for weddings; so I sold enough to make my keep. Now and then my courage rose enough for me to visit Robin for a day or two. Once I ventured to travel to Kernsburgh for the summer fair and caught distant sight of King Hern, silver-haired and accompanied by his heir.
Thus passed a number of years, which I did not bother to count.
One day, as I sat at my loom, I heard Tanamil’s voice and knew it was time to make one last visit. His pipes eased Robin’s passing; and we buried her in the best of my rugcoats.
I knew even as I left the watersmeet that I would not see him again—not till centuries had eased his grief. (Indeed, I have not seen him yet.)
My steps were heavy as I returned to the village. I had no intention of staying any longer. I would go south again, I thought. To my valley? Perhaps; but I was not decided. With the magic in my rugcoat, I could, if I chose, live in any village or town. However, I decided that, whatever else, I would now dispose of the loom and sell the few rugcoats I had at hand. As a girl, I had been proud of my skill with the shuttle; but I was no longer innocent of the power that lay in the threads. This robbed me of pride in the common sort of rugcoat; yet it had been years since I had worked magic into my weaving. In truth, once I had completed the spellcoats that freed the One, my great work was done. All else was postscript: I had been a weaver long enough.
I began to dismantle the loom. It was late in the day; and, when the sunset dimmed, I stoked up the fire and swung the pot over it. Then I closed the shutters. The light from the fireplace was sufficient for me to continue until I had packed and tied several bundles. These occupied odd places in the room, casting unfamiliar shadows. When I was done, I ladled out a bowl of stew, took some bread and a spoon, and laid them on the table. As I went to sit down, though, I saw a looming shape out of the corner of my eye. I shifted, and saw more clearly the shadow of a bent head, and a large nose that was neither hooked nor straight.
I knew who had to be behind me, occluding the light of the fire; but I could not turn around to see him. None of us had ever been able to bring ourselves to turn and look. It was no different now.
“Grandfather?” I whispered.
“The path of a life has its turns,” I heard him say. The sound of his voice was distant, as if he stood behind a rushing waterfall; still, I could understand his words, even if their meaning was obscure.
“Robin is dead,” I said, though he had to know.
“Sadly, not all my grandchildren are Undying.”
“Some are,” I said bitterly. I shifted my feet; I almost turned. (I found I could not.) “Will I have children? And will they die?”
“That I do not know,” said the One. “It lies in your future; and that time is not yet.”
I turned to look at the fireplace; but, if anyone had stood between its light and myself, he was not there now.
“Granddaughter,” I heard faintly, “what turn will your life take, now that you pack to leave this place?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“You are a weaver,” said the One.
“I wove the spellcoats,” I said heavily. “I told your story; I set you free. You and Tanamil.”
“You are a weaver,” he repeated. “There are more stories, Granddaughter.”
This is true. There are always more stories.
I went South again for a while after that. There are legends of me—of all the Undying there come eventually to be legends. I weave, as the One asked.
After all, I am the Weaver.