Chapter One

I am the Historian. I am immortal. I am ageless. I am nameless. I am carried by my own feet through times and worlds to witness great stories.

This is one such story.

I remember that it was a beautiful day. The magic of a blue sky and singing birds has still not lost its allure, even after all these years. It was the kind of day when walking is a pleasure, especially if you have nowhere in particular to go. The landscape spread out in front of me for endless miles, the long grass and wildflowers waving softly in a warm summer breeze. The ground felt soft under my bare feet. Not even so much as a rock disturbed the hypnotic rhythm of my steps.

The land I was walking in showed no signs of civilization. There were no farms or buildings to be seen anywhere. Given the lack of such markers, I was surprised when a wall appeared in the distance, unlike any I had seen before. It stretched as far as I could see in both directions. As I approached from afar, an old curiosity was starting to itch its way into my mind.

When I arrived at the wall, I was astounded by the magnitude of it.

Whether for keeping out or keeping in, the wall was well designed for its purpose. The stone it was made of was solid and the blocks were fit together so that no mortar was used. The rocks simply fit together. If it weren’t for the different types of stone used in the wall, I might have assumed that they had somehow used one enormous rock, conjured from the earth, and that it was cracked.

The sides were entirely smooth. A person couldn’t have fit the point of a knife into the seams between blocks, much less fingers for climbing. The wall was easily three times as high as my head. The top was lined with an ingenious network of sharpened stones and poles.

The poles were arranged like wheels, all of the spokes sharpened. They were set onto a long rod that ran the length of the wall, like so many spiked wheels on a single axle. Any person trying to get over the wall would be impaled. Then the wheels would rotate under his weight, throwing him back on whatever side he had come from.

The top of the wall was equally treacherous. Small, sharp stones bristled over it, worked into the structure of the wall itself. It was hard to tell from where I stood, but the stones looked like jagged obsidian, sharp enough to cut through flesh, ropes, or anything else that came in contact with them. With those stones covering the top of the wall like a porcupine, no one would even get close enough to try their luck with the poles.

Each defense complemented another, ensuring that nothing would come over the wall. I walked along it for hours, but never saw any gates. Whoever had built this wall had absolutely no intention of ever crossing to the other side. Maybe there was some secret method of passage. If there was one lesson to be learned from the ages, it was to never underestimate human cunning.

I had walked along the wall for most of the day before I saw any sign of civilization. The sun was already dipping onto the far mountains when my eyes finally caught a glimpse of a small settlement. They would have to know something. A wall like that would be visible for some distance.

As I neared the village, I noticed the same level of craftsmanship in their dwellings as that which built the wall. These people knew how to work with their hands, that was obvious.

When I entered the village, the women scattered, screaming as they ran from me. Others shouted warnings and urgent commands to their children, who needed no prompting in their flight.

It was human nature to be suspicious of strangers, and I had seldom entered any new place when I was not viewed with guarded glances. Still, this reaction was an extreme case. This was closer to a mindless panic. Most alarming was what they were yelling as they fled:


I stopped where I stood and held my hands out in what I hoped was a friendly gesture. I was beginning to think I had made a mistake.

My suspicions were confirmed when the men of the village appeared, holding various farm implements menacingly in their hands. I raised my hands higher to show that I was unarmed and peaceful. Most of the men only gripped their makeshift weapons tighter. Their fear was tangible in the air.

One man separated himself from the crowd. This man was truly one to be reckoned with. The first image that came to my head as I saw him was one of a mountain; massive, invulnerable, and completely calm. This one was not afraid like the others.

One of the men behind him, a man with small eyes and a deep scowl hissed a warning at the other man that I could not hear. The large man ignored him and continued to walk toward me, showing his own empty hands as a sign of peace.

I smiled inwardly. That man needed a weapon like a bear needed a knife. I had little doubt in my mind that he could have crushed me with one hand. His actions appeared sincere, however, and I tried to look as peaceful and harmless as I could in return.

When he was within hearing distance, he spoke, his voice rolling like a low thunder.

“Who are you and what are your intentions here?”

“He’s a Destroyer! Get back here, Aric! We can deal with him.” The small-eyed man was looking even angrier. His tone was imperious and commanding, but it slid like rain off the mountain of a man that stood before me.

There was something different about the small-eyed man as well. He didn’t seem very afraid either; he appeared more confused than anything, covering his bewilderment with his angry ranting. I looked back to the large man and answered his question.

“I am simply a traveler. I wanted a drink of water, maybe to take a moment and wash the dust of the road from my feet,” I replied.

“He’s lying! Grab him, Aric!”

Aric turned his large head to answer, unperturbed by the other’s frantic tone. “You should not be so hasty. Saddhan, he carries no weapons. He’s not dressed like a Destroyer. He doesn’t even have a Stone.”

I took the opportunity while they were arguing to get a better look at the men facing me. They were of average height; I guessed that only Aric would be above six feet if they were to be measured. Most of them had blond or light brown hair that blended well with their tanned faces.

They had obviously just run in from the fields to defend their homes against me. Many were still panting hard from their sudden exertion. Dirt caked around their arms and feet and their faces wore the grime of a long day in the fields. Their clothes were the honest, rugged type you’d expect on farmers, though of the highest quality.

Above all, though, these were frightened men. Even though it was a crowd of men against one unarmed traveler, they didn’t seem confident that they would win should it come to fighting.

I wondered what he meant about the Stone I apparently didn’t have. It was then that I noticed that every man surrounding me wore a gem of sorts around his neck like an amulet. They were clear crystals and came in a variety of colors. The shapes were all identical, a perfect oval, almost like a robin’s egg. Aric’s Stone was a dark blue, not unlike deep water. I noted Saddhan’s red Stone as he started ranting again.

“It is more of their treachery, Aric! We should kill this one before others come, quickly, before he can say anything else.” He seemed especially insistent that I should not be allowed to speak.

“Is human life truly so cheap to you?” A look of fatigue crossed Aric’s eyes as if this was a battle that had been fought many times. “A traveler is requesting hospitality, and I intend to offer it. If he proves hostile in any way, I will take full responsibility.

“Besides,” Aric added as an afterthought. “If he is a Destroyer, he is alone and he might be able to tell us how they are getting over the wall.”

Saddhan looked angrier than ever, but he could feel his support draining away as most of the men around him started to lower their weapons. They looked all too happy to transfer this newcomer over to Aric. Great craftsmen these men might be, but there wasn’t a single warrior among them.

Saddhan fumed for a moment, studying my face and clothing intently; then his demeanor changed abruptly and he lowered his weapon to the ground, lifting his other hand in welcome.

“Of course! We should never let our hospitality be questioned. If this good man needs help on his road, our community will be glad to provide it and see him safely on his way.”

I nodded my thanks. I had seen his kind hundreds of times; he was a politician. Whatever the crowd wanted would be his newest brilliant idea.

Aric shifted his gaze from Saddhan back to me, extending his hand, “Welcome to Surac, stranger. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, but I’m sure you understand why we have to be careful.”

“I’m from a land very far away,” I responded as I took his hand. I was struck by the power of the man. I was sure that his hand only stopped in its grip because he chose to stop it there, not from any opposing pressure from my hand or the bones in it. “I don’t actually know of your troubles here, but I would be happy to hear more about them.”

“Really?” His eyes lit up like a child’s. The man who had stood like a bear against his fellow villagers now eagerly pressed for any kind of information with a wide-eyed innocence that was very disarming. “I have walked long distances, but I have never even seen any sign of anything beyond our own villages. What can you tell me about your land? Do you have a different language? How is it that you speak ours? Say something in your own language, please.”

I smiled. This man would have made a good historian. His curiosity was almost overwhelming.

“Well, if you have traveled far in your exploring, I’m sure you appreciate how badly I need to rest at the moment,” I hinted.

Aric’s eyes dropped and his hands snuck behind his back.

“I’m sorry, I’m forgetting myself. You must be hungry and exhausted.” Aric suddenly looked confused, studying my empty shoulders, then my feet. “Don’t you have a pack or something? You aren’t even wearing shoes.”

I laughed lightly, “You are indeed observant. That is one of the reasons I decided to come in. Someone has robbed me. I was hoping to maybe stay here a short while and work for some new provisions. I’m afraid I have no money.”

“Not another word!” Aric bellowed. “I understand completely. You follow me, and don’t worry about paying. I’ll give you all the provisions you need to hear some of the stories from your land.” Aric had turned and started to lumber away before he even finished speaking. I found myself nearly jogging to keep up with his quick, long strides.

“Very well,” I replied with a well-worn lie, “but I’m really not much of a story-teller.”

Aric looked a little sad at the comment, but his enthusiasm was relentless. “Don’t worry about that. I just want to hear what is beyond where the sun sets. Lauria always laughs at me, but I still get restless here. I want to see the far side of a mountain, even knowing that it will look like the side we see. Sorry, I’m talking crazy. What will you think?”

I smiled again. “Don’t worry. I understand all too well. Why else would I be in your lands instead of my own?”

Aric smiled gratefully, happy to have found someone who shared in his interest.

“Most people in our villages aren’t curious at all. They are happy to live out their lives in whatever manner their Stone leads them. Oh, here we are.”

We had walked outside the cluster of houses that made up the village. Aric’s house stood alone, a ways off from the others. It was as well-crafted as the others. One difference was the presence of a couple of smaller buildings next to his house, workshops of some kind, I guessed.

“I’m a blacksmith,” he started to explain. “Although they are very grateful for my services, nobody is very happy to have a blacksmith as a neighbor. Too much smoke and noise.”

Aric pushed his way into the modestly sized house, made out of the same stone as the wall. A very pretty, and very pregnant, woman rose up out of her chair as quickly as a woman in her condition can. She hurried across the floor to embrace her husband.

I was impressed by the gentleness that Aric displayed as he placed his massive hands softly on her small back, returning her embrace. They made an interesting couple. His size and bulk contrasted sharply against her slim form. She still looked strong, however, and her feminine hands bore traces of calluses. Aric straightened and waved me over.

“This is my wife, Lauria. Lauria, this is…” Suddenly Aric looked lost. “Odd, I don’t remember your name, friend.”

“Don’t worry, your memory still serves you well. I never told it to you. It is a hard name to pronounce, even in my own language, and I have never cared for it much. You can give me whatever name you wish. I’ll answer to that.”

Aric frowned slightly. “A man should never be ashamed of his own name, but I will respect your wishes, as you are a guest in our house.”

Turning to his wife, he winked, “Well, my dear, what shall we name our new arrival?”

Lauria thought for a moment, then spoke, “How about Amar? My father always planned to name his first son Amar, but his wife only bore him daughters. You can be Amar, my brother.”

I bobbed my head in a polite bow, “I would be most honored, thank you.”

“So, Amar,” Aric began, trying out the new name like one would taste a pie. “If you would like to follow me, we can wash the dust from our hands and have some dinner. May I just say that you are in for a treat? Lauria is the best cook in the village.”

“My husband likes to exaggerate, Amar. You’ll have to get used to him,” Lauria said, but she could not suppress a pleased smile that spread across her face at his compliment.

I followed Aric to a well in the back of his house. A bucket sat by the well, but it looked old and untouched, grass growing around its edges. Rather than reach for the bucket and rope, Aric turned a hand crank vigorously and water came flowing from a spout into a trough. Aric stood back, looking proud of himself.

“Very nice,” I probed, not sure yet what I was complimenting.

“Thank you. I invented it myself. The others in the village haven’t started using it yet; they are still stuck in their old ways. They still choose to use a bucket for the wells in the village rather than my pump. I’m glad you appreciate it.”

I leaned in to take a closer look at the pumping device. If he truly had invented it, then he was a clever craftsman indeed. The design was quite remarkable. A rod descended down into the murky depths of the well. Wound around the rod was a tube with a series of valves placed strategically so that the water would not flow back down into the well whenever someone stopped turning the hand crank.

When the crank was turned, a series of gears would spin the tube extremely fast and the water would be forced up through the tube from the reservoir below. At the top of the rod, the water would be flung out and caught in a small box that surrounded the top part of the tube and channeled the water through the spout.

“Do they use buckets where you come from?” Aric asked.

“Yes, a lot like here.”

He looked torn between being flattered at truly being the first at something, and being disappointed that I had not brought news of a more advanced and free-thinking civilization.

When we went back into the house, hands washed, Lauria already had the table set with dinner. The fare was truly well made, though nothing fancy. To hear Aric talk about it after the meal, however, one would have thought that he had gained access to paradise and had feasted on ambrosia.

Lauria scolded him for his obvious exaggeration, smiling the whole time. Their banter quieted and I took the opportunity to start learning about their situation.

“So,” I began, “that wall must have taken an incredibly long time to build. I have never seen anything quite like it.”

Aric nodded solemnly, “It was indeed a great project. We spend our youth hearing stories about it. I helped repair a small portion of it when I was an apprentice. My father spent most of his youth working on the southern portion when an earthquake shook down a section of the wall. Destroyers had never been seen that far south, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful. It’s still not enough, though.”

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opening.

“Oh? The Destroyers can still get through that wall?” I still didn’t know who the Destroyers were, but this was a good way to start learning.

“Yes, they are quite cunning. They come to attack and to steal our food and tools, leaving us with nothing to eat and nothing with which to work the land.” Aric’s troubled expression turned into a weary smile as he reached across the table to hold his wife’s hand and continued.

“But, we are the Creators, so we can rebuild faster than they can steal from us.”

“The tragedy is when they take something from us that we cannot replace,” Lauria added, her head bowed. Aric nodded, his countenance falling.

“There is scarcely anyone in the border villages who hasn’t lost someone close to them to the Destroyer raids. I lost a good friend, and Lauria’s father was killed by a Destroyer.” Aric’s gaze was sad. “We are not warriors. Even one Destroyer is capable of inflicting great harm on us before we can muster sufficient numbers to defeat them or scare them off.”

“Why haven’t any of you trained to fight better?” I asked, digging deeper.

“That is exactly what I have been suggesting for years, but it seems that what our people lack in skill, they make up for in cowardice.

“If a man knows how to fight, he is expected to, even before others. Every one of our villagers would rather be an unskilled member of a mob than a warrior standing alone. That is the real reason.

“When asked about it, however, they will piously talk about how that is not our way and we would lose something of ourselves if we fought.”

I could hear the contempt and frustration in his voice as he continued, “I’m not saying that it isn’t a good reason; I only wish it were true. The truth of the matter is that we fight anyway. We just fight badly. As I said, we are not warriors.”

Lauria looked anxious to change the subject. I wondered if it was more to keep Aric’s mood from turning sour or to keep his slowly tightening hand from crushing hers. Her eyes raced for something to take note of. They landed on my feet.

“Don’t they wear shoes where you come from?”

“Oh they do,” I responded. “I like to feel the land under me.”

“You told me you were robbed,” Aric interrupted.

“So I was, but I wasn’t wearing shoes before that. They just took my pack and provisions.” I wouldn’t have been much of a Historian if I couldn’t keep my lies straight.

Lauria pressed on, keeping the focus on me. “So, tell me about your land, what are your people like?”

Aric sat up straighter in his seat, anxious to listen. He was relaxed again; Lauria’s small hand was safe.

“Oh, I’m afraid there really isn’t much to tell. My people are truly a lot like you, only we don’t have Stones like yours. But then, we also don’t have Destroyers or a great wall to keep them out.”

“Hmm, that must be so wonderful, so peaceful,” Lauria commented wistfully.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I smiled, “I think you would find that if your people didn’t have the Destroyers to fight, they would soon find another battle, possibly amongst themselves. People can unite through many trials, but not for peace.”

Aric sighed, “I suppose that you are right, Amar. I certainly have seen rifts among our own people that would erupt if we didn’t have the threat of the Destroyers hanging over our heads. Has there been trouble among your people? Is that perhaps one of the reasons you left?”

“No, no, I left merely because of my itching feet. I can’t seem to be satisfied with what’s right in front of me,” I replied.

Aric opened his mouth to ask more questions, but Lauria stopped him.

“Aric, our guest must be weary from the road; perhaps we should all get some sleep.”

Again, Aric bobbed his head in shame. “Oh yes, I’m so sorry! I have again forgotten my manners. I hope that you will forgive me.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll set up a place for you out in my old shed. It might be a little small, but it is warm and it is private. I have built myself a new workshop, so I no longer have any need of the old one. You’re free to stay as long as you’d like.”

I replied that that would be fine and Aric led the way out the back of the house to a shed.

Lauria followed in due time and soon the shed was furnished with a makeshift bed, blankets, and even a pitcher of cool water, should I become thirsty. I doubted that I would have received this sort of hospitality at any other home in the village. They wished me goodnight and headed back to the house.

When their lights turned off, I quietly rose from my bed and went for a walk through the village. Each house, each corner, seemed a work of art crafted by caring hands. A few people were still on the streets, mostly heading home.

When they saw me, they crossed to the far side of the street and scuttled home as fast as they could. They knew I was under Aric’s protection and guard, but they weren’t about to take any unnecessary risks.

Part of me said that I should leave this place; it was like the many other towns I had traveled through. The people would be the same, the problems the same. There was nothing to see here. However, I still felt a curiosity about the wall, the Stones, and the Destroyers.

More than that, an ancient instinct suggested that there might be a story here after all. Resolving to stay, I turned back towards Aric’s shed and waited until morning.


Chapter Two

I can imagine no greater heroism than motherhood.

– Musings of the Historian

When Aric came out to wake me for breakfast, he had lines creasing his face and dark bags under his eyes; it didn’t seem like he had slept much. His smile was as broad as ever as he greeted me, however.

“Obviously an early riser, Amar. Good for you. However, you still haven’t beat Lauria. Breakfast is ready and on the table, so you had better come in quickly.”

The breakfast was simple, a far cry from the great cooking that I had eaten the night before, mostly cheese and bread. Lauria was nowhere to be seen. Aric was clearly distracted by something.

On the one hand, I was glad that he wasn’t asking me more questions about my past. On the other hand, I wondered if his distraction had anything to do with Lauria.

When I asked about her, Aric shrugged his massive shoulders. “She had some errands to run; she said that she would see you later, though. Go ahead and eat up.”

After countless years of talking with people, it wasn’t hard to tell when someone wasn’t giving me the whole truth. Beyond that, Aric was a horrible liar. I wondered if Lauria was all right.

“Tell me, Aric, when is Lauria expected to have her baby?” I tested. It was a shot in the dark, but it hit dead center.

Aric smiled through his bloodshot eyes, “You are a sly one. She is going to have it very soon. In fact, she may be having it right now. I only tell you this because you are my guest, but it is considered bad luck in our culture to speak of such things as they are happening.” Aric paused and smiled again, “In fact, the men are basically forbidden to interfere at all, or even take notice.”

He paused, lowering his voice and leaning in closer as if sharing a secret.

“Between you and me, I think it is one of the dumbest superstitions we have. How am I supposed to not worry about my wife?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but he answered his own question before I could get anything out, slamming his hand down on the table with a thundering clap.

“I work! That’s how. Come with me. It’s time to occupy my hands. You can help with the bellows.” His chair almost fell over as he stood up quickly, knocking it backward. I hurried to keep up as he walked out to his workshop in quick strides.

A fire was roaring in no time and Aric was soon pounding, almost recklessly, on a helpless piece of metal. He would hammer for a while, then stick it back into the furnace as I worked the bellows, then pull it out and pound at it some more.

I was fascinated to watch as he worked the metal. His fluid movements demonstrated great experience, but the part that truly caught my eye was the Stone he wore around his neck. As he worked the metal, the Stone would glow with its own light from within as the glare from the furnace danced on its surface.

It grew brighter as Aric made more and more specific modifications, sharpening edges and adding decorations to what now appeared to be a trowel head of some sort. I blinked to clear my eyes as I saw the Stone glow even brighter when Aric worked in some intricate detail.

The decoration was obviously unnecessary, as it was only a simple farm tool, but Aric worked at it with a burning intensity. He apparently didn’t have a complex job to do that day, so he would make a complex job out of a simple one.

I wondered more and more about the Stone around Aric’s neck as it continued to throb and glow brighter as the metal was shaped under Aric’s expert hand.

This would explain the great workmanship that I had seen along the wall and in the town. If Aric could create this sort of workmanship with his Stone, certainly there were others equally as skilled in working wood, stone, or anything else. I yelled over the clanging and the furnace to Aric.

“Does the color of your Stone determine your expertise?”

Aric looked confused for a moment, then nodded, sweat dripping from his forehead, still focused on adding needless decoration to the trowel.

“The blues have always been metal workers. That is our gift from the Stones. Others have different gifts.” Aric spoke without breaking from his task, his steady strokes falling in rhythm. The hammer was like an extension of his forearm, the power flowing smoothly from his shoulders, down his arm, through the hammer, and into the metal.

“Greens, for instance, have always had a special gift with plants, trees, and other such living things. You may have noticed Lauria’s stone.”

I nodded. “Light blue.”

“Light blues have always been the stone cutters and shapers. I make enough with my shop so that she does not have to work, but she carved most of the plates and other dishes in our home.”

The pride in his voice was obvious and for good reason. I had noticed the plates the night before and at breakfast. At first, I had thought that they had brought out special dishes in my honor. However, a quick glance around the house showed that every other dish displayed the same intricacy in its design.

“What about the red Stones?” I asked. “I noticed that the man who wanted me dead wore one.”

Aric nodded grimly and pounded a bit harder at the glowing metal. “Yes, Saddhan, he is a cruel man. As near as we can tell, the red Stones give their owners special skills with fire. Unfortunately, there is no great craft in fires, so they spend most of their time as merchants. Some, like Saddhan, set themselves up as leaders over the people. He owns a shop in town, but he doesn’t spend much time there.”

“How does he make money, then?” I asked.

“Well, there’s a tax that’s collected from all of the people. It was originally Saddhan’s idea. The wall kept the Destroyers away for a very long time. When they started finding ways to get over the wall, he insisted that we needed to post lookouts and guards.”

Aric spat. “Guards. A fat lot of good they do. They are supported by our money, but they are spread thin and lazy. You notice that we knew nothing of your coming until you were practically walking down our street.”

I nodded, for I had seen no guards, and I had walked for a long time.

“So,” Aric continued, “Saddhan has declared himself captain of the guards and guardian of our safety.”

Contempt dripped from every syllable as Aric spoke about the man.

“Near as I can tell, all that he does is take long walks; patrols, he calls them, and gets fat off of the money he takes from…”

Aric’s head suddenly shot up, his hands trembling. He dropped both his hammer and the piece he was working on and tore out of the workshop. I ran after him. In a few moments, I also heard what he had been listening for: cheering.


Chapter Three

There are few things more powerful than a name. A single phrase that somehow becomes a symbol for an entire existence. What can it mean that mine is gone?

– Musings of the Historian

A young boy had obviously been sent running to get Aric, because he met us halfway, breathless.

“Boy!” the lad managed to yell out breathlessly as Aric drew near, “It’s a boy.”

Aric was to him in seconds, grabbing the youth by the shoulders and lifting him off the ground to eye level.

“And Lauria? Is she all right?” Aric asked frantically.

The boy nodded, “She’s fine. She’s with the midwife now.”

Aric dropped the boy unceremoniously on the ground and ran on through the town. I glanced back at the boy who had been dropped. He didn’t look at all surprised by Aric’s conduct. He mostly seemed glad to be able to rest and rub his shoulders where Aric had gripped them.

We ran into a group of people who were gathered around a building that I guessed was the midwife’s house. Several people slapped Aric on the back and repeated the news that the breathless lad had already delivered; a son had been born and Lauria was doing fine. Aric, after catching his breath, asked.

“What color of Stone was he born with?”

Some of the people started to look confused, as if they hadn’t thought of that before. One woman spoke up.

“That’s odd, Aric, the midwife didn’t say, she only yelled that it was a boy.”

Murmurs spread through the crowd. I gathered that the color of a child’s Stone was usually announced with the birth. Aric’s joy couldn’t be dimmed, however, he just shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

“That would be my son, all right, even distracted the midwife, cute little devil.”

Everyone laughed at Aric’s lightheaded wit.

A stern-looking woman poked her head out the window and ordered Aric into the house. He quickly complied.

I was shocked to see Aric emerge a few minutes later with the baby cradled in one arm. Lauria, looking exhausted but still smiling by his side, leaned heavily on his other broad arm. I had seen a great many births, and it was usually a long time, sometimes even days, before the woman was allowed to walk about or the baby was strong enough to be taken home.

In this case, both mother and child seemed healthy, though completely exhausted. I wondered if it had anything to do with the Stones that the people wore. Maybe there was one that helped the midwife to speed recovery, or perhaps these women were naturally very hardy. I wasn’t excluding any possibilities until I learned more.

Aric pushed his way through the cheering crowd. Some asked what color the baby’s Stone was, but Aric seemed not to hear them, entirely engrossed in his new child. The mass of people slowly dissipated, respecting the couple’s privacy and the sacred moment of taking the child home. I followed at a distance.

Only one man followed closely: Saddhan. He wore a look of deep suspicion and seemed intent on satisfying his curiosity at any cost. I was shocked at his audacity as he entered the house after them and closed the door behind him. I waited outside the door and listened to the voices within.

“What color is the baby’s Stone, Aric? What are you trying to hide?” Saddhan’s tone was accusing.

“One moment, you old woman. Let me put my wife to bed first, then I will listen to your cackling.” Aric’s voice, which had been so gleeful only minutes before on the street, had developed a bitter edge.

There was a long silence as Saddhan waited in the living room and I waited outside the door for Aric to put Lauria to bed with the baby. His heavy footsteps again sounded on the floor and Saddhan’s high-pitched voice again demanded.


“You want to see my baby’s Stone, Saddhan, then you will, but know that it means nothing.”

I heard a gasp from within and I knew that something was wrong. It only took a couple of seconds before Saddhan’s screeches broke the awkward silence.

“It is one of the Destroyers! No light passes through the Stone!” His loud ravings reached the entire village and people were already starting to filter back onto the streets to see what was going on.

“The child must be killed, Aric! You know the law! We can’t have that… that THING living among us! Hey now, you just stay back. Why are you protecting it anyway? Think of what this child means.” Saddhan’s voice lowered slightly. I had to lean closer to the door to hear.

“Maybe your precious little Lauria isn’t the woman you thought she was.”

I stepped quickly to the side. My hunch paid off as Saddhan was thrown through the door, the wood splintering as his weight crashed through it. He landed hard and rolled in the dust.

Aric stalked out after him, looking like a titan ready to pull the heavens down on top of the quivering man. His face was red and the veins in his arms bulged as he pointed at Saddhan and bellowed in a voice that reverberated through the watching crowd.

“If you ever speak another word like that I will rip your head from your shoulders, Saddhan! I will not allow your bitterness to taint my home. The boy is my son and he will be raised as such.”

Aric raised his eyes to the crowd who stood with jaws gaping wide in surprise.

“This is my child’s Stone!” he yelled and lifted his hand high to show the people its contents. The Stone, unlike the clear Stones of the villagers, was opaque. Beyond that, it was of no color at all, but of the deepest black. It almost seemed to draw light from around it, making its surroundings appear darker.

The people drew back in fear as if they expected the Stone itself to attack them. In a single instant, the observant crowd of about thirty people had become a mob, a creature of impulse and rage.

“It is the Stone of a Destroyer!”

“It’s evil!”

“The child should be destroyed!”

“The law must be obeyed!”

The shouts from the mob turned from confusion to anger in a moment. These were frightened people, and frightened people are dangerous.

Saddhan had crawled to the back of the crowd, gasping and holding his arm, and soon his voice added to the angry din. Aric stood his ground and roared back at them like a lion defending his cub.

“He will not be killed!”

The crowd didn’t lose a second in answering.

“It’s the law!”

“Then it will be disobeyed!” came the thundering response. The mob would not be dissuaded, however.

“Then what will you do with him?”

“He will stay with us.”

“No! He can’t!” The tone of the crowd had already turned desperate and dangerous.

“Why not?” Aric questioned, but his voice had already taken on the tone of one who knew that words weren’t going to do any good. Standing to the side, I could see his fist clench, the thick cords of muscle in his arm tightening. His words were only meant to delay what was surely coming.

Out of the crowd stepped an older man, this one with a far calmer look on his face. His graying hair and sad eyes spoke of wisdom. A red Stone hung about his neck. Judging by the way he held himself and how the people deferred to him, I guessed that he was a leader among this people. Speaking softly, his voice cut through the yelling.

“Aric, we understand that you don’t want to get rid of your child. Any of us would feel the same. You must remember that these things have happened before. We must not shrink away from our responsibility. Besides, how will your son fit in among us? What will he do without a craft? Maybe it would be better if we turned him over to the Destroyers when he is old enough to be away from his mother.”

Aric started to object but was beaten to it by the wild protests of the villagers.

“To what end, Boran? He will only grow to come back over here and kill us and steal our food.”

Boran, the older man, tried to quiet the crowd, but with little success. Aric, in the meantime, had become very thoughtful. Suddenly his head rose.

“He will fight for us!” he yelled decisively. The crowd quieted, awaiting further explanation.

“We all know that one Destroyer is worth five of our best men in a fight, and we all have lost loved ones to their raids. I will raise my boy to be a fighter. He will stand against them and protect us. He will be a warrior; that will be his craft!”

The mob shifted, mulling amongst themselves. The idea had merit. Their cowardice and the appeal of having someone else fight their battles for them was being weighed against their hatred and suspicion.

Aric moved to tip the scales. He eased open the door and ducked inside it for just a moment before reappearing with one of his blacksmith hammers held in his meaty fist. The hammer bore the scars of thousands of strokes. The head was large and heavy, but Aric held it lightly as if it weighed no more than a stick.

“That is what will happen. I will say no more. If any of you persist in wanting to harm my family, I will consider you worse than the Destroyers and I will be waiting inside for you. I bid you all a good day.”

Aric raised the hammer in a parting salute, turned and started to walk back into the house. Almost as an afterthought, he turned and said: “His name will be Sadavir.”

With that, he turned and walked back inside. I would have said that the door wouldn’t close with its damaged hinges, having nearly been knocked into the street by Saddhan’s thrown body, but a strong pull by Aric’s arm shifted the heavy piece of wood into its place. A momentary silence fell on the street.

“Let’s get him! He can’t fight all of us!” The high-pitched scream was unmistakable. Saddhan’s demand, however, only served to solidify the reality of Aric’s threat in the minds of the mob. They shifted slightly, then scattered like dry leaves tossed by an autumn wind. With the mob dissolved, Saddhan skulked away, limping and holding his arm.

The cowardice that Aric had mocked the night before had, at last, served a useful purpose.


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