Three stars, forged by wind and carried by riddles, were set into harp and blade and heart. Set into future history by whispers and the careful brush of destiny.
Three stars, erased by wizardry and hidden by lies, were buried in stone and sea and heart. Shrouded from future eyes by silence and the deceitful veil of darkness.
Three stars were awoken, by fate and trust and love. And three stars awakened the realm, through pain and rage and love. Three stars brought peace, with wind and song and love.
Three stars burn, three stars reign, three stars shall fade.
* * *
Morgon of Hed first mourned the High One’s harpist one autumn day just before the rebuilt harbour at Tol opened once more.
Teasing the fragments of a Ymris ballad from the strings of a simply carved harp, Morgon hardly noticed as the breath of the east wind lifted the melody, breathing new life into the old lament. No ships decorated the harbour, but the tide rose to lap at his feet, and in the sea foam he felt the stirrings of her name.
She came to him from the sea, drawing her shape out of the waves, shaking her hair out of the sunlight that burned across the water. Beneath his hands, at the touch of her eyes, the song shifted once again, weaving another strand through the melody that had so briefly adorned the harbour here, years ago.
“You made a harp,” she remarked. Then, after listening for a moment to what he was playing, she said, “The lament for Belu and Bilo. A song of Ymris, in Hed?”
“It was the first song he played for me,” Morgon said simply. At the widening of her eyes, he added, “Not – not there. Here. I was mangling it on one of Uon’s harps, and he…” his voice faded into the soft sound of the wind twisting its way through the melody, set against the incessant murmur of the sea. She sat beside him, listening in silence for a time as the air itself drew into stillness and the lament played on, telling its sad story of bindings and death.
“He wanted this,” Raederle said finally, at a breath in the middle of a haunting phrase. Morgon’s hands paused on the harp’s strings as he looked out over the sea that had been her domain this last season, before turning to see it reflected in her eyes.
“Har said the same thing,” he said, remembering that first new dawn, almost a year ago. He did not say anything more, and after a moment he could almost feel her mind settle on the answer.
“It’s not the High One you’re grieving for,” she said softly.
In response, he resumed his harping, feeling the lament change once more. He had wept for the High One, with his wizard’s mind and falcon’s eyes, his Earth-Master’s power. But it was the for harpist he had met here, with his ageless skill and his riddles and his love, that he played now, spilling his sorrow into the sea and the air through a melody no longer of Ymris nor of Hed, nor of any other land. Yet notes familiar to him as his name drifted into the air and were carried out of the harbour like ships.
* * *
“Have you forgiven him?” she asked gently into the silence that surrounded them at the top of one of Anuin’s towers, as Morgon set down the harp he had been playing into the soft spring evening. She caught a flash of surprise on his face.
“There’s nothing—” he stopped, staring at her with a look she knew well. It was the look of a riddle-master catching on an incongruity in a thread of thought. She could still feel the pain in him sometimes, when a memory or a breath of wind or a twist of thought caught him off-guard, or when a dream wove its way out of his mind and swirled into the night of the realm. She always found him, then, no matter how far away she had strayed in her own explorations of new power. He had named the harpist in the end, named him and known him, but there were still moments when she saw his hands tremble on the strings of the harp in the middle of a melody from Hed. There were still nights when she woke him from restless dreams and held him, watching him search desperately for light in what she knew to be remembered darkness.
“No,” he whispered finally, turning to her with a plea in his eyes. “How? He did what he had to; I know that as clearly as I know anything. He was so alone, and so desperate, and…how can I still be angry with him?”
“Because he hurt you,” Raederle said simply. “You loved him, and he hurt you.”
“I hurt him, too, though,” he said. “I snapped his harp strings…I no longer remember how many times. At least he had a reason for what he did to me. I only wanted him to hurt, wanted the harping to stop. So I took it from him.”
“It was not you who crippled his hands, Morgon,” she said quietly, remembering the broken harping that had followed them to Lungold, faltering yet still possessed of a strange aching beauty. As if pulled from her memory, a flutter of tentative notes lifted into the night air, and she had to quell a Shout of surprise as she realised they were coming from Morgon’s harp, his fingers moving with a hesitancy that belied their ordinarily deft skill.
For a measure or two, the melody itself seemed suffused with anger, discordant notes clashing sharply with the west wind that blew through the open window, and the room appeared to darken. Raederle reached for fire, then, and wove it into a soft light, illuminating the night around them, softening the darkness without ever touching it, without needing to push it away. It swirled about them to the rhythm of Morgon’s harping, but another rhythm grew beneath the first, smoothing the dissonant notes and tempering the melody, weaving into it something of that gentle glow.
The song still carried a faint echo of that journey, and a hint of buried fury, but that thread was now one among many, curling around harmonies that sang of this night, of other threads of thought. She thought she could hear a strand of the lament he had played by the sea in Hed, and a fragment of something she half-remembered from the harping that had pulled her to him in the Wastes.
“After all this time,” Morgon said, dropping his hands once more from the harp’s strings, “he still manages to trouble me. And I cannot help thinking...”
"You never could," Raederle quipped, and a smile touched the corners of Morgon's mouth, but faded before reaching eyes full of wind and night.
"One day I may have to do the same," Morgon said quietly, speaking the beginnings of a riddle into the space between thought and melody. Then his hands found the next chord and she felt a shift as the earth or the sea or perhaps the night itself breathed, stretching like shadows in listening, seeking. Only for an instant, then the moment passed, leaving nothing but silence waiting for a song.
* * *
As spring faded to summer, his travels brought him into the City of Circles. He had hardly set foot on its stones before Lyra threw herself at him in a whirl of dark hair and a familiar smile, and Morgon laughed as he caught her in a warm embrace. She led him towards the Morgol’s hall, and he smiled as they fell into easy conversation, the strength and simplicity of her friendship already threading its way into part of a song in his mind. As he stepped inside and met the Morgol's golden eyes, though, that song faded into silence, supplanted by the memory of another song that filled the air between them, binding them in its memory.
They passed many hours in conversation about the new school at Lungold, about Caithnard’s reopening, about new riddles asked and answered, about everything except a single name. Sometimes he saw the shape of it in her eyes, felt it on a quiet undercurrent of thought, but he let those thoughts drift out of his awareness, holding himself away from her own private grief.
He drew out his harp as the evening faded to night, sensing a waiting in the quiet murmurs of the hall, an unshaped song. El looked at it a long while, reaching out once to trace the simple carvings of vines and leaves that wound across the wood. Her fingers hesitated for only an instant, brushing the place where three stars had been set into a harp strung with wind, a harp that had played its last song here in this hall.
“This harp suits you,” she said finally, breaking the silence and giving him permission to do the same.
Morgon nodded, and began with a simple song he had heard in the outskirts of Herun, an almost playful melody that seemed to dance its way across the marshes. As it drew to a close, he shifted to a complex tune out of Osterland, then to one that seemed to echo out of Isig mountain. He wove together songs from across the realm, adding in his own currents and harmonies: Lyra’s laughter, the Morgol’s smile, memories of a day long ago when a Prince of Hed first set foot in Herun, memories of…
He did not realise the direction his fingers had taken on the strings until something that felt almost like a sob brushed across his mind. He stopped suddenly, the last note he played hanging in the air like an unspoken name. Caught in memory, he had shifted unthinkingly to the remembered notes of a song whose echo had lingered here far longer than any sound could.
“El, I’m sorry,” Morgon whispered, looking into the Morgol’s frozen face. “I should have thought—”
“No,” El said,“it was…I have often wished I could hear that song again. You play it beautifully.” She blinked, and any trace of tears was gone from her golden eyes. “But...”
There was nothing of accusation in her voice, and in the current of awareness that flowed constantly through his mind, Morgon picked up the meaning of the words that lingered unspoken in the air. He paused before setting his hands once more on the harp's strings. The song that flowed from the harp this time was no longer the one that had once held another harpist's love for the Morgol, but followed its patterns like a new answer set to and old riddle. He played for El, but the song rang with Raederle's name. Phrase by phrase, he wove in other names: Eliard and Tristan, Astrin and Har, Hugin and Bere and Danan and Deth. As the song grew it began to shimmer with power, and once more the Morgol's hall echoed with a song of love.
“He would be proud,” El said quietly, and a gentle breeze sighing through the windows brushed through his hair, leaving the stars on his forehead to catch the light of the nodding candle flames.
* * *
Flying to Lungold in the shape of a crow, Raederle thought she caught her name in the sound of a distant harping that echoed across the realm, and for a moment, the song seemed to come from the very land itself, to sing in tune with the earth. The next wingbeat, the harping faded back into ordinary melody, but she remembered that instant, that flicker of pure love and understanding and mastery that had touched everything, fixing itself into the earth and sea and sky.
She drifted down into Lungold on the last strains of the song, wrapping the sketch of a shape around herself, cloaking herself in anonymity. Then she saw the city she had landed in, and her breath caught at its beauty. Morgon had already been here, she knew. She could feel traces in the air of the song of peace and hope he had laid into the broken stones that had once held the promise of power and learning, and had begun to do so again. Her power was something far wilder and older than a wizard’s power, but still something in this half-renewed city seemed to know her name, and called to her. In answer, she held out a hand and began to shape the flame that burned in her mind with the life of the city, with the joy and astonishment of those just coming to discover their own power.
“So you have learned to trust yourself,” Iff said, approaching. Raederle nodded, though it had not carried the ring of a question. “Will you stay?”
She hesitated, and in a flicker of movement she caught sight of a young face watching, holding a tangled piece of string. “For a time,” she said.
“That is all we could ask.” Iff gestured then, to the girl who held the string. She was followed by other students young and old, from all across the realm. They stepped forward hesitantly, but in them she could feel both eagerness and the stirrings of power. Raederle pulled a thread from the fraying hem of her tunic, and began explaining the bindings and twistings of illusion the pig-woman had taught her. Once, she thought she saw Nun standing in a doorway, watching with a faint smile.
Another day, she looked across the square to see the half-familiar face of a student who had once met her in Caithnard, wearing the Blue of Partial Beginning and a mask of illusion. Their eyes met for a moment, and he smiled, but they did not name each other here, as they each shared what knowledge they could with these children who would never have to be tormented into their power.
It was thoughts of children, heirs to power, that finally turned Raederle's eyes north and pulled her into the shape of a crow, a falcon, a being of fire and wings. Pulled her to Isig Mountain, to the ruined tomb of the children of her ancestors. The children were gone and her ancestors were bound, but she carried their freedom in her unbound power the way she carried their fire in her hair and their sea in her eyes.
She gathered that flame once more from memory, illuminating walls of shattered stone glittering with forgotten hues, echoing softly with a final farewell.
He found her there, a whisper of wind joining her silent vigil in the mountain's heart. Their future held no children, but their past was haunted by many, by heirs to power whose inheritance had instead been destruction, and only a dream of peace that had flickered like flame on broken stone until the wind had come to bring them rest at last.
A quiet string of notes fluttered out of the darkness behind her, and she turned to see Morgon's face bent low beside his harp. From its strings flowed a lullaby.
Morgon played on by the light of her fire, drawing into the song as many threads as there were colours in the stone. And as the mountain stirred, listening, she let her thoughts flow along the melody, where they were lost in a tangle of sea and fire and time, until they brushed suddenly and unexpectedly against the strange glimmer of foreknowledge: a child's mind filled with a song of power, and the fading glow of three stars.
The song did not end, but instead seemed to settle into the stone around it, and once more destiny was forged in the heart of Isig Mountain.
* * *
Seasons passed as Morgon wandered slowly, unharried by riddles or nameless powers. He stopped at the homes of the land-rulers, harping in their halls and drifting across their lands, maintaining bindings of land-law and bindings of love.
Raederle came and went, but with her name in each flicker of flame and breath of ocean air, in every song he played, they were never truly apart.
And as he crossed the realm, the song continued to grow, absorbing the sounds of every nation, the voices of every hearth and hall. He tuned the strings of his harp to the winds; the winds, tuned to the world itself, twined through and across the bindings that brushed from his mind to every land, every snowdrift, every tear and every peal of laughter. He tuned the harp, the world’s harp, not to sorrow or to joy, but to his tremulous newfound peace. It swirled out from him through the songs that lifted into air and sea and flame, weaving across the world and settling into the stones, the air, into sea and fire.
The winds of a melting winter drew him north, beyond the wilds of Osterland and Isig, until he found himself on the edge of a pass he had quietly avoided these past years. But sunlight glittered on the high peak of Erlenstar Mountain ahead, and he would not run from it again. Holding the winds lightly, he played from them a quiet song from Hed, a quiet song of peace and remembrance that he wrapped around himself as he took his own shape to walk slowly towards the mountain.
Days later, he sat at the foot of the mountain, beneath the scar where he had first shaped the wind. The binding he had placed still held fast, but it was not the binding that held his attention. Throughout day and night, he harped, his hands dancing across the strings and his mind tugging at the winds. He played as he had in the Wastes, unthinking and instinctive, harping to the wind and letting it guide his hands, letting it lift his thoughts away from him and leave peace in their place. He played nameless songs of the mountains and the distant sea. He played songs known to nearly every child in the realm. He played songs that seemed to spin themselves from his fingers, revealing themselves phrase by intricate phrase.
One day, he found himself playing songs that had never been heard on the outside of the mountain, but that had echoed inside for a year. He almost stopped, then, but a swirl of wind added a gentle harmony that coaxed forgiveness from his hands and his mind, and he played on, drawing the melody out of its mountain prison, drawing out its pain, and releasing it to the winds and the open air. And as he freed the song, he felt something inside him loosen as well.
His fingers slowed on the strings as he drew near the end of what he could remember, and he realised that the tears on his cheeks were no longer tears of anger or anguish but of sorrow that he would never know the melody’s final form. Then he looked up to see Raederle standing beside him, silent as snow, and even sorrow faded.
For a moment he hesitated, and the entire world seemed to take a breath, waiting. Then the song changed once more, and he relinquished it to the winds.
* * *
A melody, woven by love and carried by wind, is set into stone and sea and time. Set into future history by hope and the careful brush of destiny.
A song, thrumming with the rhythm of the earth’s heartbeat, rippling through the sighing of the air, will thread its way through land and heart and time, and call to future voices across a sea of years.
A melody is released, by forgiveness and trust and love. The realm absorbs a song, through acceptance and life and love.
Three stars reign, three stars shall fade. A melody waits to be awoken.