After a meal, a wash, and settling in to fresh sheets, Laila was certain that she would sleep quite soundly. It was not to be; she could hear the voice of Nine Trees, and no matter how she turned and laid her head to the pillow, she could not quite rest, and was lulled into listening to his song. She recognized it as an old lament, a song sung by many young men who had lost the gaze of their objects of affection.
My love is fair and fair again
in gaze and walk and smile, and though
her heart’s as hard as rough-hewn stone,
her face is fair and fair again.
She didn’t know the rest of it, however, and when Nine Trees kept singing, Laila found it hard to focus on the words, for dreaming had finally tried to settle round her, with soft hands and warm breath. Fighting sleep, she listened, and drifted away on dreaming, eventually, as Nine Tree’s voice wrapped round her and carried her there.
Gone away to fairy glen,
my love has spied a prince of thieves
among the green and golden leaves;
his face is fair and fair again.
Her heart is lost to Fairie, then,
and will not come my way again;
she pines not for the love of men
who’d find her fair and fair again.
The pale, rosy fingers of dawn peeled back the purpleblack of twilight, and let silvergold morning splash over the valley, thickening on the leaves of the trees and puddling in the dew on the ground where the barn cats were slinking back to find places to sleep away the day after a long night of mousing runs.
Nine Trees was only just waking when Laila was already up and making breakfast; the woman felt refreshed in a way she’d never known before. She was quiet and smiling, moving as though the whole of her life and existence were a perfectly timed and brilliantly moving dance.
She looked up in the midst of her working to find Nine Trees watching her the way he had last night, and when he opened his mouth to speak, she lifted a hand, shaking her head briefly. Not yet. Not now. “The morning meal is nearly ready. While we eat, you can tell me everything. For now, just set the table,” she told him, almost smiling.
For the first half-hour of it, he was still mostly silent, eating, and she didn’t push, but it vexed her, increasingly, his silence, and finally she all but tossed down her fork.
“Medowin, my teacher, is an ancient from before time,” he began, and watched her face for signs of disbelief, for signs of the sudden fear she’d displayed at the first of his explanations last night. “She keeps song-lore and all the tales that have come before now, to hold the memories of each age of mankind,” he explained. Finding no interruption in Laila’s attentiveness, he went on, “She sent me to walk the world in her stead, so that she could watch from her Tower, and I would bring back all the news of the world itself, to be able to help her find the person who would eventually be the one to usher in the newest age.”
“You’re speaking in riddles,” Laila said quietly.
“You will be the one, Laila,” Nine Trees said, setting down his napkin. “I have searched for over two-score years. I have found many who might have been what I was looking for, but those possibilities were turned to ash the moment I first saw you. You may think yourself simple, Laila, and the songs that will be sung of you will no doubt have their own way to sing your beginnings, but I promise you, you are the one I have sought.”
“How do you know? And this is absurd — Searched for two score? You’re no more than a lad yourself!” she yelped, exasperated, shoving her chair back and standing up.
“How do you know the sun will rise and set? How do you know to blink? How do you know how to sleep? How do you know to eat and breathe and move?” he wondered, shrugging. “I can offer you no proof, Laila, save for the surety of my thoughts and hopes.”
“But you sound as though Medowin will be surprised?” she asked.
“I believe Medowin would sooner bear a litter of kittens than have forseen this,” Nine Trees said with an almost mock-solemnity, and the moment of near-fear for Laila was broken, and she threw her hands up in surrender, shaking her head, laughing.
“I would meet this Medowin,” Laila said, finally, moving to clear the dishes.
“I’ll have it no other way, for perhaps she may set your heart at ease,” Nine Trees told her.
It was with that last bit of conversation that things were decided without being spoken further. Laila would journey to meet Medowin with Nine Trees, leaving behind what she knew to try and understand what was to come.