101. Stars Like Luminous Birds

Frithil extends his goblet across the table for another serving of the aromatic liquor.

“Once I had regained my senses,” he says after a sip, “I gathered up the brush and resumed my task of shining Till’s boots. I was deeply puzzled, now that the strange beatitude of namelessness had passed, and concerned that my health might be failing in some way, though physically I felt no different than I had before my curious lapse. I was nearly finished with the boots when there was a knock on the door, and one of Lord Osdath’s retainers relayed to me that the Guardian wished the boy to be readied for immediate departure. Still deeply in thought and trying very hard to remember what might have happened to me, I gathered the clothes I had prepared for him. I was about to step out of the chamber, when an image formed in my mind, so sudden and so startling that I nearly dropped everything I was carrying.”

“The stars,” Stellia says.

Frithil nods. “I saw a great darkness, vaster than the night sky it seemed to me, extending in all directions, above and below. And everywhere in this boundless void, there were stars! But unlike the stars we see in the sky, these formed no constellations, and they were all in flux, some alone, but most in great swarms, like luminous birds wheeling far away. Overwhelming as the vision was, it lasted only the briefest of instants. I thought it merely an aftermath to the peculiar swoon I had experienced. You can imagine my bewilderment when the boy told me he had seen the very same thing!”

“And so you believe the boy is right,” Garroth says, “and that the Guardian somehow caused these visions?”

“Does a connection not seem likely?”

“Then it is true,” Stellia bursts out. “She did something to him!” She is vaguely aware of Nevynne taking her hand in hers under the table. It is a surprisingly tender gesture, and provides some comfort, but it cannot stop the tears that sting her eyes. “Did Till go through all this, too? He must have been so frightened!”

“He was bewildered, but not in terror.” Frithil tries a reassuring smile, but fails. “Nor did he collapse on the floor, as I did.”

“This is dreadful,” Stellia mutters.

“I told you, child, I had no sense of dread, quite the opposite, in truth.”

But Stellia can hardly listen. Her Till, her little brother, whom she sang back to sleep so many nights when bad dreams frightened him, at the mercy of—of what?

“You speak of a shared vision.” Garroth frowns long and thoughtfully at the goblet he turns in his fingers. “It would be a strange thing, indeed. Did anyone else here mention something similar?”

“If they did, they have not come forth,” Frithil says. “It may be that none were near enough, me having been right underneath the refectory at the time, or perhaps they are ashamed to admit they suffered such a lapse, for fear they might be thought infirm, or mad.”

“A likely judgment, from an unsympathetic listener. But let us say that you saw what you saw, and that the boy did, as well. I couldn’t begin to imagine what that might mean.”

“I can,” Frithil says. “I’ve seen my fair share of ill or injured visitors come to our Sundrance seeking aid. And I attended not a few who in the end succumbed to their wounds or sickness. In their final moments, many muttered of stars and strange lights.”

“That is true,” Nevynne says. “My grandfather’s last words on his deathbed were of a myriad lights he saw about him.”

“I’ve heard such tales, as well,” Garroth says. “But Frithil did not die while he was polishing Till’s boots. Nor did the boy.”

“It would seem so. But what if the Guardian—” Frithil leans across the table and lowers his voice to a near whisper. “What if she showed to the boy, and inadvertently to me, near as I was, a glimpse of the threshold people cross when they pass from life into the Beyond?”

Instinctively, Stellia holds on more firmly to Nevynne’s hand. Never was she so glad to have the young noblewoman’s company as in this moment.

Garroth reaches once more for the jug of liquor. “Would you not agree that we are moving from the realm of the merely implausible into that of the outright fantastical?”

“I would,” Frithil replies. “If I had never heard of anyone besides the dying describing the kind of vision the boy and I shared.”

Garroth raises an eyebrow. “I thought you said that no one else experienced what you did?”

“Not here at the Sundrance.” Frithil pushes back his chair and walks to the overladen bookshelf. “But in the case I am about to cite, the number of those affected was, quite literally, legion.”

NEXT: A Very Old Book


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