He sits at the bottom of the stairs that lead down from the Storm Hall to the lake, close to the water.
The sun is a sullen bruise in a sky the color of iron. The air is warm and humid, tinged with the smell of damp stone, and the heavy but strangely pleasing odor of things decaying in the water. Now and then, a mournful bird call travels across the lake from somewhere.
He sets the plate on which Avina brought his breakfast down on the stone beside him and closes his eyes, and lets the sun warm his face.
There is peace here.
Since Hargis took him down the stairs beneath the Storm Hall, to the crystal pillar in the place she calls the Light in the Dark, the sadness he felt has spiraled away from him, and the faces of his loved ones with it, so far this time that he can no longer pick them out in the vast crowd that mills about on the horizons of his memory.
At the same time, none of that distant multitude seem strangers to him, as though he would recognize and remember all of their faces, were they to come so close enough that he could see them clearly.
But how could that be?
Back home, he only knew—whom? But where, exactly, was or is home? Perhaps it is here, now, on the banks of this lake. That would please him well enough.
Now and then, a face detaches from the faraway throng, and seems on the brink of moving toward him to reveal itself. Names, too, linger at times just beyond the tip of his tongue.
Yet there they remain.
He can no longer recite them, nor does he feel the need.
In time, they will come closer again. So Hargis tells him. You have forgotten nothing, but you are not ready. This is only a step along the way, only the beginning. Much of it depends on the flesh, the body, the blood. In time, you will see them all, remember them all. Some more than others.
He doesn’t really understand what any of that means, but the last prediction troubles him. He’s not sure if he wants to remember what it is like to cherish some faces more than others, to be attached to them. There was joy in that, but also much pain, much sadness. It seems too high a price.
Or is it important to feel sadness, and pain?
Would the sadness help him know who he is? Because he is no longer sure about that, either. Has he forgotten or not yet remembered?
Both, she tells him.
It seems that the more she promises to explain, the less he understands. Like when he told her that he needed a name.
It will come to you, she said. You are fated to remember.
Something with a T, that’s all that’s come back to him so far. It is the strangest thing of all, not to have a name anymore. Or not yet.
But there is peace here.
For the past few days, he has spent his time watching the lake, smelling the air, listening to the water and the animals, cherishing the meals Avina of the fiery hair and emerald eyes brings to him, and looking at the books and scrolls in Hargis’s shelves. But how many days? He’s lost count.
He could just go on like this, on and on and on and on.
But Hargis is waiting for something. He can feel it. Something that will mark the end of his peace.
This is only a step.
She is coming down the stairs. He can feel her presence behind him. He can always sense her now, or thinks he can. There are times when she veils herself, and he has no idea where she may be, near or far. But today, she lets him know her approach.
She sits down next to him. He opens his eyes.
She is dressed in a simple black robe, the kind she usually wears under her cloak. But she is not wearing the broad belt today, nor her boots. Her feet are bare, and her hair flows openly over her shoulders. She looks pretty, and relaxed, as though she was just a girl coming to the lakeside on a mild morning to refresh herself.
He knows better now, of course. Knew all along, but had forgotten.
“I feel like I am no one,” he says. “I wish it could always be like this.”
Hargis dips her feet into the water. “You know it cannot. You have a task before you still.”
He sighs, and nods. The task he has begun to understand, and his role in it. A dreadful thing. He may be at peace, for the moment. But free, that he is not, and will not be, for a terribly long time to come. And even that may no longer be certain.
“How long will it be?”
“One of the faces you remember will come to you,” Hargis says. “When it does, your duty resumes.”
“Which face is it?” he asks. “And why is it so important?”
Hargis closes her eyes, and lifts her head toward the sun. A breeze stirs the rushes that grow to the right and left of the stairs, and a sigh rises from them, so that he is not sure if it is she that whispers the answer to him, or the wind.
“Because it will be yours.”