Some of the younger stoneworkers in the guild
called him Janal the Stonemage, but he knew there was no magic in his work. It
was merely the skills he’d learned over nearly fifty years of carving that
allowed him to turn rough-hewn stone into delicate beauty. His wrinkled hands
were no longer as strong as they had been, and his pace had slowed, but when
the townsfolk of Capeton wanted stonework of the highest quality, they always
asked the guildmaster to assign Janal.
Word of his work had spread far enough that
several times he had been offered a commission in one of the nearer cities,
especially in the fifteen years since woodcarving had been outlawed by Imperial
decree. But Janal always turned them down. Capeton was his home, he would tell them,
and he never wanted to leave it.
Fifty years he’d lived in Capeton, and the
townsfolk considered him one of their own. After fifty years, few even
remembered he had not been born there. Janal himself rarely thought of his life
And then he started dreaming of the trees
He had thought the dreams were a young man’s
burden, that he had outgrown them. But now they returned to plague his sleep.
Tonight when he’d awakened with the screams
of the trees in his ears, it had taken him several minutes to realize that he
was not back in the forest of the Treefolk, not back in the land of his birth.
It was only in dream that the trees cried out accusingly, revealing him before
his people as the Betrayer of Trees. It was not real. It was not real.
Except that he knew he really was the
Betrayer of Trees.
* * *
The next morning Janal was
assigned to carve a decorative frieze of a horse above the doorframe of one of
the wealthier merchants in town. The horse was the symbol of the Emperor Tilu,
and over the past twenty years it had become a popular symbol for peace and
good fortune, so Janal had carved hundreds of them.
He hardly thought as he worked;
the hammer and chisel moved almost of their own accord. It was not until he was
almost done he realized that instead of a smooth and gentle form, it was
sharply angled. The horse’s teeth were bared in anger and its sharp hooves
raised to strike.
Why had he done that? It was the
dreams, he realized. They were taking him back to his youth, back to the time
he had first seen horses. The horses of the armies of the Warlord Tilu had
looked like this as they thundered across the countryside destroying all who
stood before them.
“Janal, what are you doing?”
Guildmaster Lintoko interrupted his thoughts.
“I don’t know. I guess I was
distracted. I’ll fix it.”
“Forget it. I’ll have
someone else take care of it. Something more important has come up.”
There was a sadness in his old
friend’s voice that made Janal apprehensive. Carefully laying down his hammer
and chisel, he turned to face the other. “Yes?”
“I have to send you north,
to the Imperial city.”
Janal shook his head.
“Please, not me. Send one of the youngsters — they long to leave our city
and see the world.”
“I can’t send one of them.
There’s too much work to do. And face it, Janal, you just aren’t able to work
as fast as you used to. If it weren’t
for the fact that we have more work than we can handle, I’d have let you retire
a couple of years ago.”
The Imperial decree disbanding
the Carpenters Guild and outlawing the carving of wood had not had much direct
impact in Capeton, for few trees grew in the sandy soil and those that did were
mostly unsuitable for carving anything of lasting value. But the increased
demand for stoneworkers in cities suddenly forced to abandon the use of wood
had led some of Capeton’s younger stoneworkers to leave in search of higher
wages. Even after fifteen years the effects still lingered.
Janal had often wondered why the
Emperor had outlawed woodcarving. It was the tree magic of lifebinding that had
extended the Emperor’s life, so was it out of respect that the Emperor
protected all trees? Or was it merely fear, the fear that someone might find
the tree to which his life was bound and cut it down, thereby bringing his
unnaturally long reign to an end?
Janal shook his head. He had
started working in stone long before the Imperial decree. It did not affect
him. What mattered now was that he dared not go anywhere near the Emperor.
Janal had betrayed the trees, betrayed his family and abandoned the faith of
his people to give Tilu what he demanded. And after all that, the Emperor Tilu
had sentenced him to death.
“If you need me, why are you sending me
away?” said Janal.
Lintoko gave an exasperate -- [End of Preview.]