Hope's Child.

By Rose Williams.

Prologue.

I can tell this story now because the characters in it are far away, if not long dead. It is not my story, although I do have a small place in it. It is the story of many people, one of whom told me part of it along time ago, and others who wrote the tales that complete it.

As I said, I heard this long ago, and what I can tell is only my rememberings. I first heard this story sitting in front of a campfire in Usum forest. I have heard it since then in many forms, but this I hold the truest.

It was Majethrim Alanar who first told me his story, in front of his fire. It was his pile of wood we burnt, in his forest, it was then called Usumum. I arrived at his campsite at dusk. The sky was turning from deep red in the west to the dark from the east. I rode most of the day through Usumum trying to find Majethrim's camp or traces of his horse. He knew the forest well and he was trying to hide from me. But I wanted to find him more desperately, and I did.

In the heart of the forest there is a hill, or was. The middle did not exist; instead there was a steep ridge into a hollow that was basically invisible. You cannot see it from any path, but I knew it was there. I saw his smoke. Majethrim wanted to found, but only by someone who was prepared to search so far for him. I rode down the ridge slowly and appeared, as it turned, on the other side of Majethrim Alanar's fire.

He looked up slowly from the stick he was burning, unsurprised at my approach. He glowered at me over the flames and almost growled. I dismounted quietly but stayed where I was.

He had a young face then; so did I for that matter. He was not yet 30, but life, his life, had etched deep lines around his eyes, which were dark with pain and unshed sorrow. He was wearing a dark green travelling cloak, so dark it was almost black and an ivory pendant shaped liked a clenched fist. It was red in the firelight.

"We must talk," I said in the Wisards tongue, "You know much."

"As long as you do not need healing," he said angrily.

"You could, you can, heal anything," I reminded him. I was angry too now at his lack of hope. Couldn't he see that things were getting better? "You ought to teach the Wisards," I said, catching my breath at my rashness.

He merely grunted, "The Wisards are dead."

I was silent.

"You know something too," he said, he grinned as if he were amused, but it was too cynical. He gestured abruptly for me to sit and asked equally tersely, what it was I wanted to know.

I was not put off, "begin at the beginning," I said.

He grinned again.