Na’an came to me in a dream this night. It was early. I had not been in bed long and the night was newly dark.
“It is time,” she said, “time to fix The MoonQuest on parchment.”
I was gladdened to see her after so many seasons, but I was not cheered by the message she bore. I tried to engage her in other discourse, but she was single-minded as only a Tikkan dreamwalker can be.
“It is not for me to boast of my exploits,” I argued. “Others have sung them. Let them continue.”
“No,” she said, and her silver tresses shimmered as she shook her head. “It is your story to tell. It is for you to fix it in ink, to set the truth down for all to read.”
I tried to resist, to shut Na’an’s words from my heart, to return to the dreamless sleep that preceded her appearance. But Tikkan speak only what we know in our hearts to be true, and my heart would not close to her even as my mind longed to. Only by forcing my eyes open and my body to this table was I able to banish her milk-white face from my mind’s eye. Only by letting my quill rasp across the blank parchment have I stilled her voice.
But my quill hovers over oceans of emptiness. I don’t know what to write, where to begin. The story has so many beginnings and no clear ending. As a bard, as Elderbard, I am trained to know how to weave disparate elements into a tapestry of word and song that brings light and meaning to life. When recounting others’ stories, I have no difficulty. The tales unfurl from my tongue as if by magic, as if M’nor herself were singing through me.
Na’an says it is my story. Perhaps she is right. Is that why the words come so reluctantly? So many seasons of storytelling and still I hesitate. Of all the stories to stick in my throat, how ironic that it should be The MoonQuest, a tale of the freeing of story itself.
You see how confused I am? I have not even introduced myself. My truth name is Toshar and I am old, so old that most who knew me by that name have passed on to other worlds.
Toshar... Even I have forgotten the boy who was Toshar, the youth who embarked on The MoonQuest all those seasons ago.
They call me Ko’lar now, the ancient word for Elderbard. It is a sign of honor and respect, but it separates me from the youth I was.
Perhaps Na’an is right. Perhaps it is time to bring back Toshar, to allow the boy I was to touch the man I have become, the man I will soon cease to be. Soon it will be time to release the ageless spirit from this aged body and move on to other realms, set off on other journeys. I have seen it and I welcome it. But it cannot be mine until I have told this story. Na’an insists.
She speaks, even as I sit here in full wakefulness, staring at the shadows cast by my flickering taper. Now, they loom, large and menacing. Now, they flit and flutter in delicate dance. I see it all now, in the leap of light against dark. The shadows will tell me the story and I will write what I see. I will write until my fingers and beard are black with ink. I will write until the story is told.
Only then will I be free to continue my journey. Only then will my daughter, Q’nta, be free to continue hers. She is nearly ready. Ryolan Ò Garan taught her well, taught her the lessons of The MoonQuest. Soon she will live them through my words and will be free to assume the mantle of her birthright, according to the ancient orders of succession:
From father to daughter, mother to son
The mantle passes, the Balance is done
I was an exception to the Law of Balance, a law as old as the land itself. But those were exceptional times, the darkest of ages, in a land where “once upon a time” was a forbidden phrase and fact the only legal tender.
That was the land I was born into, a land of slaughtered bards, a land dulled and divided by fear. That was Q’ntana, and this is its story, and mine...a story that begins once upon a time.
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