Wow! Paul’s writing his memoirs, and he didn’t even tell me? I’m so disappointed! Not really surprised, though. That’s so like him. He’s a great guy, but he’s always had a tendency to think of everything in terms of himself. I bet it never even occurred to him to ask me.
Oh well. I’ll just sneak a few contributions into the manuscript and see if he notices. He probably will, but really, what’s he going to do? Deny an old woman a bit of fun?
It’s so weird how he’s writing this all in English. It’s not like there’s anyone on this world but him and me who can read it, and he doesn’t need to write the stories for me; I lived through most of it with him! So I’m really not sure what it’s for. Maybe he’s going to send them to the Shadow Queen, so she can know what’s been going on over here? If so, hi Shadow Queen! Thanks for all the books! They were so much more useful than Paul at helping me learn English!
It’s kind of weird, reading the stuff he’s writing about me. I never really knew he thought about me that much. And there, when he got married to Aylwyn, he thought I would be hurt? Wow. That really takes me back. I haven’t thought about those days in a long time, and it’s a bit surprising to be reminded of how he really didn’t know me all that well back then.
And it’s a bit painful to be reminded of Gerald. I miss him!
But anyway, there they were, going off on their voyage to Ìludar together. I wonder if he had any idea just how long he’d be gone for, or that I’d have found a true love of my own by the time he got back?
And that makes me sad again. I miss him too! Being long-lived is awesome, except when it isn’t. Mom warned me about that, but nothing can really prepare you.
I never told Paul, but spending the night with him that one time changed my life. I never told him, because hearing something like that can give a guy a big head at first, and then hearing the actual explanation would have hurt him, and neither would have really been good for him.
The bards talk about how it changes a person. They call it “losing your innocence.” I suppose that’s kind of true for me, though it wasn’t the sex that did it so much as his reaction the next day. What I lost was my idealistic view of Paul Twister the hero of song and story, who I had grown far too infatuated with. In return, I gained a much more real understanding of the flesh-and-blood man, and found he was a person like anyone else.
A person whose trust I had violated. A person I had hurt, by acting without thinking and letting the emotions that came with the new form overwhelm me. And I realized that no matter what I did to make things right, I never really would. In one of those great moments of clarity that come upon you a few times in your life if you’re lucky, I realized that I could keep trying to pursue him, but it would never really accomplish much of anything besides hurting and frustrating both of us.
So I stopped trying. As Paul would say, screw that! (What do screws have to do with defiance and rejection anyway? English has lots of weird metaphors!) Instead, I focused on being the best friend to him that I could, and on improving myself and my skills. And poor Paul never had a clue, from what he’s written here. It looks like he actually thought Aylwyn and I were rivals all along!
Wow! Sometimes it seems like all men’s brains are broken. Even someone as smart as him gets incredibly dumb when trying to think about women. I’m so glad we don’t have that problem!
Well, not very much at least. Not nearly as bad as they do!
Anyway, while they were off having their adventures… so was I. Once they left, I went back to Amber String Camp to meet with Amber. I had finally gotten the latest verse of her song down, and I was pretty sure that there could only be one more left.
Of course she made me perform the whole thing thing for her, from beginning to end. The song started like a simple ballad, but it got more and more complex as it went on, with the melody, lyrics and rhythm changing at unpredictable times and places.
Well, mostly unpredictable. If I was right, there was a key to it all. So when I finished the last stanza she had taught me, instead of playing the ending on my flute, I played a simple transition and began to sing again.
With her basket filled with captured moonlight,
Laura caught her Richard’s gaze at last,
He looked upon her as with new eyes,
Weary yet finally comprehending,
Seeing the love he had long sought,
Patiently awaiting his return.
They came together without words,
Hands met, lips met, held each other tight,
He told her of his travels and his travails,
She recounted all he had missed from his home.
The ever-changing moon looked down upon them,
Smiled to herself and said, ‘my work is done here,’
She set, and left the happy couple to themselves,
‘Till the dawn, when the sun would rise upon their love.”
I raised my flute and carefully played the ending, long and intricate and haunting. I watched Amber carefully for any hint that I had it right, or even that I had it wrong, but she just watched me back until I finished and set down the flute.
“You did not learn that verse from me,” she remarked.
“No, but that is how it ends, isn’t it?”
“Why do you ask me that?” Typical Amber, answering questions with questions and mysteries.
“Because you know the answer,” I said. “It’s your song.”
“And yet, you did not learn that verse from me. How so, if as you say it is my song?”
So she was testing me? I guess she didn’t want to just admit it. “You’ve been merciless while teaching me this song. You’ve demanded absolute perfection. At every recitation, if I miss a single note or stumble over a word, I don’t get to learn a new verse. No other bard I’ve known is anywhere close to that strict. Songs get changed and adapted from one person to another, and we all share in that work, all but you.
“I got the first clue from Peter. He once mentioned the way you speak, that there is a cadence to it, but he can never quite catch the pattern. He hasn’t figured it out, but I have: the pattern is that the pattern changes, with each new thing you say.” I nodded at her. “Amber Ever-Changing, one might call you. The last time I was in Keliar, I decided to stay the night at the nicest, most luxurious inn in the city. Do you know what that is?”
I saw a brief smile of approval flicker over her lips for just a tiny moment. “The Amber Moon.”
“The Amber Moon. And the innkeeper there is a Rel with green eyes, who looks to be of about the same age as you. If I had to guess, I would say a brother, or perhaps a close cousin. It made me think. Many of the decorations in the common room, and the paintings on the walls throughout the inn, correspond in some way to scenes from the song, and the lengths of the floorboards relative to one another, in the way that they’re arranged, almost seem to be a pattern that fits the changes in key for the melody.
“Once I had matched up everything you taught me, I found a few scenes left over, so I followed the same pattern and came up with this last verse.” She was nodding slowly by this point. “So tell me, is that the ending?”
Amber smiled slyly at me. “That is quite the intriguing idea you’ve found. I will say, that is an ending, yes.”
I frowned at her. “What do you mean?”
She just sighed. “It is the tale of women, men, in love, a song of love, of life, of loss, of trials and hardships plenty, no? Why should there be one single way that it can end? You found an ending, but there are still more. Throughout the kingdom many more clues lie, each one as valid as the one you found.”
I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “I thought I had finished,” I said. “That that was the end, that I would gain some clue from it.” I had spent two years struggling to memorize that song, with the expectation of finding a clue to a new String at the end of it, and here she was saying that I had just barely begun to learn the ending?
Paul told me once that the bit in his song about Paul Twister trying to save the princess from a dragon, only to find that she was actually in another castle, came from one of the great hero-tales of his home. I felt somewhat like the hero of that tale at this point, having come all this long way on a strenuous adventure, only to find that the object of my quest was somewhere else in the kingdom and I would have to go questing for it again!
“A clue?” Her eyes twinkled with mirth and she leaned in, whispering conspiratorially in my ear, “Find another of the endings, and sing it to that innkeeper. That is your clue.”
So I went out again, looking for new songs to learn. With my parents gone, the world had lost a great wizard and a great bard. If some calamity was coming like Paul and Gerald thought, I would need to be able to replace both of them, and that meant training, increasing my skills further.
And one thing that’s always amused me. Paul tried to learn Amber’s song too, but he never did figure out any of the endings. He got as far as the last verse Amber taught, but he could never get her to teach him the ending. No matter how well he performed, she always said he made a mistake, and he needed to figure it out, and he never did.
I always felt a little bit inadequate around him, because I was never going to be smart enough to be an engineer, until I realized that he was never going to be smart enough to be a Master Bard.