Author's note on pronunciation:

yj - This is an independent letter in the Satht Da'yri language. It is pronounced more or less like a French "j",as in"j'ai", but with the tongue slightly further back in the mouth.

tht - This is also an individual letter. The "th" is soft, as in "think", and the "t" sound follows immediately afterwards.

e - When alone, this letter is pronounced "ay" (so Doresoth would be Door-ay-soth). When in front of another vowel, it becomes "ee" (so Kalean would be Kahl-ee-ahn).

a - Is pronounced "ah". When in front of another vowel, the second vowel is pronounced differently, leading on from the "ah".

i - Is pronounced "ih", unless preceded by a in which case it is "iy".

u - Is pronounced "uh", unless preceded by a in which case it is "uo".

y - Always sounds like the beginning of "yuh", unless it is seen in "yj". The sound "yr" sounds mostly like "yur", but the u is barely present.

I won't drive you insane with any moreā€¦ you can probably work the rest out for yourself.


Day 1

I can hear shouting.

My mother's voice is raised in anger, her shrill tones doing battle with those of our neighbour, Eyjani. Through the solid stone walls of our home, I can't hear the words, just the sound of their continuing row, but I know what it's about. Their rows are always about the same thing. In fact, almost every argument in the village has the same topic.


For the hundred thousandth time in my life, I stuff the blankets from my bed against the crack under the door. This makes me colder, but at least the sound of the screaming voices is now muffled. My room is deprived of the dim firelight that had been pouring in from the room beyond, so I go to the window and open the shutters. Outside, the night is calm and warm, a gentle breeze blowing down the street. I look into the sky, and see the stars far above. They twinkle brightly, points of silver inviting me to dance with them. I feel the urge to clamber over the sill and run, run as far as I can and never come back, but I suppress it. In two days, I will be eighteen, and the ceremony of choosing will set me free. If I leave now, I will not go with my own name, and that would bring me the worst kind of bad luck. I don't want that.

"Mes dai panitht, felenwas velyjan," I pray. Spirits of the world, give me patience. Two days is not long to wait, after eighteen years, but somehow as the day of my ceremony grows closer time stretches until every second lasts an age. I would suspect mesti tricks, if my friend Kalean had not told me of this happening to him when his ceremony drew near. It is just the waiting that distorts things so.

I realise that the wind has chilled my bare arms, drawing goosebumps from my coffee-shaded skin. I stroke my arm, smoothing warmth back into the flesh. Everyone in the village has skin that colour, as do the people in Athten, the nearest town. Kalean, whose father is a trader and knows such things, says it is the colour of all people in our warm, southern land. All I know is that everyone I have ever met has brown skin and black, shiny hair, as dark as the night sky which their large eyes also reflect. Only once in living memory has one come to our village who looked different. I did not meet him, but I know something of his looks. I see them when I am sent to collect water from the village well. I glance in the water bucket, and I see that the girl staring back at me has pale yellow hair, the colour of the sun on a bright day. Her eyes are green beneath their long lashes, and her face is rounder than the other people I see. Her nose is not so long, and it turns up at the end. She looks different; she does not belong.

This is what they say, Eyjani and Palaten and the others. They say that I am my mother's shame, that I'm less than nothing because my father came and went like a thief in the night. Mama tells them they are wrong. She defends me. Of the rest of the village, only Kalean does that. The rest are happy to agree that I should never have been born. I don't know who is right, or who is wrong. Sometimes, when I was younger, I would talk to my father in my head. I wove stories around him, to explain why he had left me, why he had left Mama, but that was a long time ago. Now I know that he probably never knew of my existence, and if he had it would likely have made him leave sooner. Still, I wonder. Do I have relatives elsewhere? Mama is all the family I've ever known. I think it would be nice to have more.

That is why, when I have my name, I'm going to leave. I plan to find my father, and discover whether I have any other family in this world. I've worked out exactly how I'm going to do it, too. Kalean's father has told the village of the circus which is currently in Athten, and will remain there for the rest of the week. I'm sure I can manage to get work with them, which will take me to many places. Since I don't know where my father is, I can start looking anywhere.

Reviewing my plans makes me feel more optimistic. I step back from the window, realising as I do so that the sounds from the other room have stopped. I close the shutters, then make my way out into the main room. Mama is sitting on the plain rug in front of the fire, crying. I go to her, and put my arms around her, my head resting on her shoulders. She smells soft and warm, the same comforting smell that has been a part of my life since before my birth. One of her strong, work-hardened hands comes up to stroke my long hair. For a minute we sit there in front of the fire, finding quiet comfort in each other's company. Suddenly, Mama speaks.

"You plan to leave, don't you?" she says abruptly. "After your ceremony."

I don't deny it.

"It's a big world, Yjadd," she tells me softly. "And I may not stop you, but I can warn you to be careful."

"I'll be careful," I promise. Mama smiles at me, her face creasing comfortably along old lines. I think about how beautiful she looks, without even trying. People think beauty fades as you age, but it doesn't. It gets written on your face, where everyone can see it.

"You've got your father's spirit," she sighs, surprising me with this rare reference. I ask what she means.

"I mean you'll do as you want, daughter, no matter what others say." Mama shakes her head tiredly. "But you'll be a woman when you leave, so all I can say is this: may all the spirits be on your side, for all the days of your life."

"And yours too," I reply automatically. For a moment, Mama looks at me, concern in her eyes. Then, abruptly, she gets to her feet.

"Time for bed," she declares, shooing me towards my room. I protest feebly as she sees me into bed, and shuts the door behind me, but in reality I'm glad of the attention. A time is coming when Mama won't be tucking me in, won't be there at all. The thought sends a thrill through me, excitement and fear mingled. I close my eyes, wrapped warm in the home-woven blankets, and think of travelling beneath sunny skies. Things will be better, I tell myself, and slowly I fall into a deep, relaxing sleep.

Day 2

I sit by the small stream that meanders through the grassland just north of the village. The day is cool, the breeze light. As summer approaches, the breeze will begin to die, and the heat will become oppressive, but for now it is early spring and the stream cascades joyfully past my bare feet. Planted firmly on the soft green bank, I dip the first of the wooden bowls I have brought into the rushing water. The stream flows south, and its source is known to be only a few miles away, so I can be sure that it is clean enough for dish-washing. Others wash their things in the village square, using water drawn from the well, but I have only ever done that a twice. Both times, it was made clear to me that I was unwelcome, and I left in a hurry. Most of the people in our village would rather not even see me, unless they have to, and I have the same opinion of them.
"Yjadd!" a voice calls, and I look around to see Kalean approaching from the village, his customary blue tunic glowing in the bright morning light. As usual, he looks happy, his dark eyes lit with more than the sun. He approaches quickly, and flops down onto the grass beside me, lying back to stare up at the sky. Suddenly, I realise that I've let go of the wooden bowl, and it is floating away. I leap up and splash into the stream after it, making the last foot of my long green-and-brown skirt sopping wet. Kalean lounges on the bank, laughing at my misfortune. I flick water at him, and he splutters.
"Serves you right!" I tell him firmly, and he looks at me with wide puppy-eyes. I sigh, and settle back down to my washing, unable to continue my teasing. The sun is warm. My skirt will soon dry.
"I can't believe you'll be eighteen tomorrow!" Kalean sighed, eventually. "Soon we'll all know who you are, onyjla."
I scowl, pretending to be annoyed. "Who are you calling little? I'm only a few moons younger than you, onyjyi!"
Kalean shoves me, seeing straight through my pretence but playing along nonetheless. "Ah, but I've had my ceremony," he points out, triumphant. "When you have yours, then I'll call you grown."
I stick my tongue out at him, then grin. He grins back, the teasing a part of our friendship. My mind drifts back to the first time I met Kal. The two of us were both around five years old, and both semi-outcast, me for my father's leaving and him for his father's travels. The two of us had met whilst at play, both coming to the same spot at the edge of the forest road to pretend we travelled with our fathers away from the place that rejected us. The friendship that was planted then blossomed over the years, becoming a firm rock in both our lives.
My thoughts are pulled back to the present by Kalean's hands, taking the bowls off me and dipping them into the stream. He has helped me with the chore many times, and we know how to work together at it. The pile of clean bowls rapidly grows, until none are left to wash. We say nothing so each other, working in companionable silence. After so long, there is little left to say for either of us. Looking at the clean bowls, I wonder whether to head straight home, but decide not to. In the village, Mama will find more chores for me to do, and I will be exposed to the clear disapproval of the neighbours. By staying where I am, I will get to spend time with Kal in this peaceful place. I lie back, my head next to my friend's, staring up at the sky. The wind puffs at the clouds, sending them skidding across the wide blue expanse above.
"What do you think your name will be?" Kalean asks, suddenly. I turn my head to look at him, and see him gazing back. I consider the question.
"I don't know," I muse, eventually. "A travelling name, I hope." A travelling name would be a good omen, with my plans.
"But what sort?" Kal wanted to know. "Sathtai? Asterai?"
I snort with laughter. "Onyjai, knowing my luck."
"Onyjai isn't so bad," Kal protests. "Not if it goes with a dark omen, anyway."
I frown at him, not in jest this time, and he immediately flushes red and apologises. I accept it, somewhat huffily, since he is my friend, but his comment has set me thinking. What sort of name will I have?
I have heard that in different lands the naming customs are different. Sometimes, I wonder about my father's people, and what they would have called me. However, I am of the Satht Da'yri people, from Paniyj dai Tikte, and we have our own way of naming. It's a good way. Until the age of eighteen, a child is named for their mother, making me Yjadd Aleensa, just as Kalean was Kal Ralensa. At eighteen, a priest holds the naming ceremony, and a person is given their life name. Because our village is so small, a priest will have to come especially for me, all the way from Athten town. I don't know what the ceremony holds. It's kept a secret, probably to make it more mystical, but although Kal can't tell me what happens he swears it's not in the least frightening. I wasn't actually scared until he said that, but I'm still more excited than anything else. One thing I do know about the ceremony is that you get your true name, the one that best sums you up, the one that tells you what your life is going to be like. The name can be almost anything (there is one word that is forbidden... only priests are allowed to speak it, and even then it must be only to warn others away). There are, however, four kinds of name.
The first is Onyjai, the small names. These mean that whoever has them is not overly influenced by anything, but may be touched by the meaning of their name in small ways frequently. So Onyjseya, small stone, might be a person who takes many responsibilities.
The second is Asterai, the greater names. These mean that a heavy influence of the name's meaning will be present. This is the most common kind of name. Mama's name is Aleen Astyjer, great sorrow. Sorrow is considered a bad omen when it is given as a name, and is rarely heard of stronger than Asterai. When Mama was named Astyjer, people gave her gifts and blessings to try and avert her coming grief. I suppose it's ironic, in a way, that once I was born they were the ones who gave it to her with their constant taunting.
The third kind of name, Sathtai, is rare. Kal is Sathtdil, faith-child, and that automatically means that he is suited to the priesthood. I remember that when he found this out he was delighted. Kal always wanted to be a priest, or a mage, or a scholar.
The final kind, Doreyjai, is so rare that I've never met anyone carrying it. A Doreyjai name is deep, practically destiny, and its meaning cannot be fought because the bearer never wants to fight. Naming finds the deepest part of your soul, and if what is written there is Doreyjai, you'll never escape it.
I spend some time discussing names with Kal. He thinks I'll be Asterai, at least, probably even Sathtai. I ask him to predict the other part of my name, and he surprises me by saying that he can't tell.
"I thought you'd know for sure," I say, surprised. My friend shrugs.
"I thought I'd be Astdoron," he admits. "So I'm probably not the one to ask." He glances up, and his eyes widen. "Tikte kam tisoa! It's getting late!"
I follow his gaze, and see that he is right. The sun has climbed to the peak of its arch, and I am well overdue at home. Hurriedly, I scramble to pick up the clean dishes and get to my feet, tangling with Kal as I do so and ending up in a twisted heap back on the grass. We both laugh, and get to our feet more slowly. Kal manages to pick up the bowls before I can, and brushes a speck of dirt off my loose shirt sleeve as he hands them back to me. I thank him solemnly, my eyes glittering, and we walk back to the village side-by-side. A few villagers cast glares in our direction as we pass. I throw them right back. I know what they're thinking, and I know they're wrong. Kal and I are good friends, but that is all. Still, people are always ready to think the worst of us.
We pass into the village, the dusty central street clustered with chickens and the sun reflecting off the sides of the sturdy, white-painted, one-story houses in which we all live. My house is nearer than Kal's, so we say goodbye on my doorstep, and I watch him continue up the street, my heart warm with friendship.
"Feltela!" a voice shouts, and I look up to see old Nia from across the road scowling at me. She sees me looking, and spits on the road. Suddenly my good mood is spoiled. Why do the people of this place hate me so much?
I can't wait to leave.

Day 3

The villagers stand on either side of the road, their solemn faces lining the way. I stand outside the door of my home, and shiver. The sun is overcast, and the wind is cold. I hope that the weather isn't a bad omen for my Naming Ceremony.

Suddenly, the clouds part, and for a moment the sun blazes out, a line of light in front of my feet lighting the way. I smile wryly, and tell myself that if that's not an omen, I don't know what is. Confidently, I stride out from the doorway and through the line of waiting villagers. None of them smile or offer encouragement, not even Kal, standing like a pillar outside his own door. I assume that this is a part of the ceremony; I've seen it before, when others were named. I respond in kind, paying no note to those around me, walking proudly forwards until I reach the end of the main street. There are no more houses, now, no more villagers to show me the way. I think back, and recall Mama's instructions.

"You go to the shrine, and the priest will be waiting for you there," she had said, brushing my hair straight and shiny before plaiting it and coiling it atop my head. I am wearing my best clothes, a long blue skirt and a yellow tunic, both soft and swirling but far too thin for the weather. When I leave, I will have to remember to take warm clothes with me.

I turn left, and begin to head for the shrine. It's not far, about half-way between the south end of the village and the forest, but today the walk seems longer than usual. I try to calm myself by focusing on the world around me. The clouds have returned to cover the sun, and everything seems greyer than usual, but the wind brings life to the landscape. Even the grass dances, its long fronds brushing my legs as I pass. The trees whisper, and I wonder idly what they're saying.

Suddenly, I find that I'm at the shrine. It's not much, a circular patch of stone set into the grass at the roadside, a plinth of polished stone rising from its centre. Today, a wooden wand as long as my forearm lies on the plinth, and behind it stands a middle-aged man in the shining white robe of a priest. My heart flutters. Suddenly, I'm more nervous than I've ever been. Somehow, I manage to approach the shrine and offer a formal curtsey to the man behind it. He nods, and gives me the priest's bow, which is not as low as a normal one would be. Priests use it because, although polite, it is a sign of their higher station as representatives of the gods. For anyone else to use a priest's bow is highly impolite, though, so sometimes the phrase is used to describe an insult or slight that has been given.

"Welcome, child," the priest says, smiling kindly at me. I can see curiosity in his eyes, and realise that he hasn't been told about my parentage. Well, I'm not going to enlighten him. Anything the gods don't tell priests is private business, to be discussed only if I feel about it, and I'd rather not discuss my father with a stranger.

"I am honoured to meet you, Asteryi," I reply politely, inclining my head. The priest chuckles.

"Please, be seated," he says, pointing to the ground. I do as he suggests, continuing to watch him closely. He has black hair, of course, cut short and neatly brushed to frame his friendly face. He asks me for my first name.

"Yjaddetht," I tell him, my voice faint with excitement and worry. What is going to happen?

The priest lifts the wand from the plinth, and holds it out to me.

"Take it," he orders, and I do so. As my fingers close over the smooth, creamy wood I feel a tingle run up my arm and through my body. There is some strange magic in the wood. I watch, wide-eyed, as the wand begins to glow with a pale yellowish light. The light grows stronger, and the tingling sensation increases, until suddenly there is a flash of gold and the glow vanishes. I am holding a simple stick of wood, but I can sense that something is locked inside it.

"Now pass it back," the priest explains, and I do so, glad to be rid of the thing. There is something oddly disturbing about the way the magic poured into me. I watch, curious, as the priest replaces the wand on the plinth and begins to whisper words in a strange tongue. I notice that his hand is still touching the wand, and that the butter-yellow glow is once again beginning to appear in the air above the stick.

The priest's chants grow louder, more insistent, and the glow responds. Suddenly the wind picks up; I can feel it roaring, pushing against my side. The clouds in the sky are blown apart, and the sun looks down on us, warm light bathing the shrine as the glow around the wand becomes brighter than ever before. The wind is practically a gale now, but the sun makes it warm. Strangely, I can see the tree line, and it does not seem to be affected by the blowing. The wind is around the shrine only, avoiding other places. My hair begins to pull loose from its braid, whipping around my face as my light clothing slides against my skin.

The priest has stopped chanting now, and his eyes are closed tight. Light and movement throw themselves together, twirling around us with unbridled ferocity. The wind spins the light, pulls it into a single bright thread, and then whirls it into a ball. I watch the ball of bright gold, see it tugged this way and that, then gasp as it suddenly shoots forwards into the priest. His eyes shoot open, golden light crackling around their lids, and a single word is torn from his lips.


Abruptly, as if the word is a signal, the wind dies away. The light fades, and the clouds return to the sun. The magic that had wound its way around us leaves, fleeing like water from a spilled bucket. The word the priest has spoken hovers in my mind, an unvoiced, unthought hope crystallising into certainty as the man blinks and turns to me.

"The gods have spoken," he whispers softly. "You are now and always Yjaddetht Doresoth. May the spirits be with you, Windsoul."

Astonished, I get to my feet and curtsey. The priest seems almost as shaken as I am, and barely manages to bow correctly. Still stunned, I turn and head back towards the village, my head buzzing. The landscape around me seems somehow different, although I can't say exactly how. Nothing has changed since my walk to the shrine, mere minutes before, and yet everything is different.

Windsoul. The word echoes in my heart. My name is Doresoth, Windsoul, the strongest travelling name possible. With such a name, I can leave to search for my father in the safe knowledge that I will be perfectly suited to the adventure. I can go anywhere, do anything. I am Doresoth!

I am back in the village. All the people are still there, still standing in solemn rows. Belatedly, I recall Mama's last words to me before I left. When you return, speak to no-one. Go straight home. Stand on the doorstep, then announce your name. To do anything else would be the worst of luck.

For the second time that day, I walk past Kal as if I cannot see him, and he stares as if he cannot see me. Never matter. He'll know, soon enough. They'll all know, in a moment. I have to fight the urge to run, to hurry to my doorstep and shout my name to the world. Instead, I walk slowly, my careful pace reflecting the forced calm on my face. I have to appear impassive. I have to give no clues, no signs as to what I have heard.

Finally I reach the doorstep. I climb up and open the door, then turn, making sure that both my feet are on the stone. I look down the road, and for a moment I can sense the bated breath of all the people. They may not like me, but they are as anxious to know who I am as I had been. For a moment I pause, savouring their impatience, then suddenly I spread my arms wide and, in a loud voice, proclaim:

"My name is Yjaddetht Doresoth!"

A pause, and then a murmur, followed by a growing wave of noise as the whole village gasp and exclaim.

"Doreyjai! Yjaddetht is Doreyjai!"

Kal runs down the street to my door and hugs me enthusiastically.

"Doresoth!" he laughs, delightedly. "It couldn't have been better!"
No, it couldn't, I realise, my smile every bit as wide as his. Warmth fills me, delight spreading to my toes. I am eighteen, an adult with my own name. I am a born traveller, and a true Satht Da'yri, and tomorrow I am going to find my father.

I am Yjaddetht Doresoth, and nothing can stop me now.

Day 4

I sit facing east on the rim of the village well, a small sack of food and clothing at my feet. I'm watching the sun rise.

The sky is still dark, the moon and the stars lingering in the velvet blue depths above, but over the round shapes of the houses a pale light is beginning to seep into the world. Rich golden light, thick as honey, pours over the houses and lights their thatched roofs with liquid fire. Deep shadows stretch in the other direction, concealing the colour that is seeping slowly into the world around. A puff of life is in the air, hope rising with the sun. A tune comes to my lips, and I start to hum. The song is Nel Tikte Imle, The Sun is Born. It's about the first dawn, at the creation of the world, and how everyday the sun is reborn. The song is a simple one, with an easy tune, and yet somehow as I sing it I feel sad.

Hearing footsteps, I turn to see Kalean walking over. He's carrying a travel-sack, too, and is wearing clothes very similar to my tough brown skirt and travelling tunic. He smiles at me as he throws his sack down next to mine, and joins me on the fountain.

"Have you said goodbye to Aleen?" he asks. I nod, remembering with a pang of pain the farewell I gave to Mama mere minutes before. I recall how, when we hugged, we both clung as if we would never let go.

I'm coming back, I remind myself. Just because my name is Doresoth, it doesn't mean I'm forbidden from returning to see Mama. But I've never been away from the village before, never been more than a short run away from her. She's all the family I know I have, and I'm her only child. Suddenly, I'm not sure if I want to leave.

Only now Kal's standing up, and offering me his hand. I don't know the way to Athten, but Kal's been before so he's volunteered to show me. He says it's a two-day journey, with an overnight stop at a wayside inn.

I've never stopped at an inn before.

The thought sends a rush of excitement through me. I'm really going to do it! I'm really going to see the whole wide world!

I stand by myself, ignoring Kal's proffered hand. I want to do things for myself, now. I'm going to get to Athten, and I'm going to get a job with the circus, and I'll go everywhere there is to go, and then I'll come home to see Mama.

Even so, my head turns as we leave, and I catch a glimpse of her slight figure standing at the door of our- of her- house. Suddenly I want to run back, want to throw myself into her arms and stay forever. As if she senses what I am thinking, the figure of my mother shakes her head and holds up a single hand. A farewell gesture. Slowly, I lift my own hand, and wait until the distant figure lowers hers before turning to leave. Kal is a few paces ahead, his sack over his shoulder, waiting for me. I smile bravely, and stride past him. We are on our way.

But, when I look back, I see Mama still standing on the doorstep.

The sun makes its way above the houses as Kal and I set a brisk pace southwards. Few people are up yet, but those who are wave farewell as we go. Their friendliness surprises me. I suppose they're glad to see me go. Nevertheless, I wave back, and somehow this lightens my heart.

The south road out of the village doesn't pass through any fields. The crops are all grown on the west side, where the land is flatter and small streams provide irrigation. So before long, Kal and I are striding through grasslands, the forest in sight. The weather is warm, with not a cloud in sight, but a strong wind blows and that seems to give our walk momentum. Despite our pace, we still speak, Kal telling me of how he has spoken to the priest who had performed my naming ceremony.

"He says I have the potential to be a priest," my friend declares proudly. "He's taking my name to his Doriamyji Aster, and with the spirit's blessing I'll be training as a priest by next season!"

Delighted, I throw my arms around him. I know how much my friend wants to join the priesthood; I'm glad he'll have the chance.

Laughing, he pushes me off, and we continue on our way, excitedly discussing our respective futures. Before I know it, we've reached the tree line, and then we're walking beneath a green canopy of leaves, the light falling in dappled patches to create an otherworldly feel. The ground is soft and moist from leaf-litter, the thin road all but obscured. Kal begins to run his hand along the trees that we pass, and I ask him why.

"There are notches," he tells me. "They've been cut into the trees along the path, look." He glances around. "People get lost in forests," he tells me solemnly. "It's easy to go off on a false path. These notches tell me that we're still on the right course, and no mischievous mestiyr have led us astray."

Looking around, I can see that he's right. The deep foliage of the forest is the ideal hiding-ground for earth-spirits, and like all of their kind they would think misleading mortals a great joke. I start to copy Kal, running my fingers along the trees we pass, searching for the marks. I'll have to learn things like this, if I want to make my way in the world alone someday, but then I always knew that. That's why I plan to join the circus, to get experience I'll need later and to ensure I have travelling companions for my own safety.

As we pass through the enchanted world of the forest, Kal talks constantly, telling me about Athten and what it's like. Every word he speaks makes me all the more eager to arrive. I can scarcely imagine the images he describes, the vast network of streets and the thousands of people who use them. I don't think I've ever met a thousand people before, and I say so. Kal laughs.

"You won't now," he tells me gently. "In a town, you know hardly anybody. If anything, you know fewer people than in a village."

More people, knowing less of each other? It seems strange to me. Maybe Kal is wrong.

The sun climbs in the heavens, and the light shifts beneath the trees. As the shadows reach their shortest, and the rich light reaches its brightest, Kal declares that it's lunch time. We aren't making good time, so we eat on the move, pulling small rounds of bread from our sacks and munching as we go. A trail of crumbs falls behind me; I see a tiny bird, cobalt blue and scarlet, hop out from beneath a tangled bush to peck at what I've dropped. I wonder what it's called, and ask Kal, but he doesn't know and when he turns to look, the bird takes fright and flies away. We continue on our journey, but now I'm taking care to listen. I hear the sounds of several birds calling, their distinctive voices singing different tunes and words.

"Peep-chip! Peep-chip!" calls one, off to my left.

"Di-di-di-di," another replies. The growth around me rustles, and I realise that the forest is alive with more than just spirits.

Despite the fine day and the beautiful surroundings, I'm not used to walking, and my legs are beginning to tire as the afternoon wears on. Kal, too, seems to be moving more and more slowly, but we doggedly keep on going. We have to reach the inn, preferably by nightfall, and we can't afford to rest. As I grow weary, my surroundings seem to fade and become unpleasant. The soft ground now feels hard and damp beneath my feet. The gracefully swaying branches keep catching in my hair, and I trip over my skirt more than once. A twig scratches my face. The beautiful birdsong becomes meaningless chatter, and I long for a real house, a bed, hot food. The sun sinks, and the columns of light reaching Kal and I shade into orange, our shadows becoming the silhouettes of giants. My fingers are growing clumsy, taking longer and longer to find the marks on each tree, but I determinedly continue onwards. We have to reach our destination.

The sun sets, and the forest becomes a place of shadows and false trails. Kal and I both keep stumbling, trying to avoid roots that aren't there and obstacles that, when touched, prove to be nothing more than tricks of the silver light that turns the world black and grey. I've been awake too long; my eyelids are beginning to stick together when I blink. Somewhere above the leaves, stars are shining, but I can't see them.

Suddenly, Kal cries out triumphantly. I look up, follow his pointing finger, and with immense relief see the clearing ahead, the warm light streaming through the windows of the inn. My first thought is one of utter joy to have finally found the place. My second is one of wonder. I have never in my whole life seen a building as large as the inn. It's as wide as two of the houses in our village, and as long as four. There are two stories, and I think that a sizeable attic must reside beneath that steeply pointed thatch. Next to the rough stone structure of the inn there is a wooden lean-to, as big as my home. I can see horses in there, more horses than I have ever imagined, and I realise that it must be the stables. Kal gently takes my hand, and leads me across the clearing towards the inn door. I gaze about in awed wonder.

As Kal pushes the door open, a burst of sound and warmth and smell rolls out from within. I can hear a babble of voices, predominantly male, and smell alcohol. Inside, the inn is sparkling clean and shines with a home-like feeling. Sturdy wooden tables and chairs are filled with travellers, and I can tell from their clothes and accents that they're all local. Probably traders, like Kal's father, going to exchange their village's produce for other essentials and luxuries in Athten. Kal and I are largely ignored as we enter, although a few people glance curiously at me. For one of them, I return the gaze. He isn't like the other patrons of the inn. To begin with, his clothes are brighter, more colourful, almost gaudy. He is older, his short hair and trimmed beard silvering. But what interests me most is the fact that his skin is pink and pale by comparison to those around him, and his eyes are grey-blue. We exchange glances, then he nods respectfully to me before turning back to his drink. I go to ask Kal who he thinks the man is, but I find my friend talking to the woman behind the bar. She is a few years older than me, and seems to be fully in charge. I see her nod, and take some money from Kal, before waving a hand to a small door set into one wall. Kal smiles at her and comes back over to me.

"I've hired us a bed each for the night," he tells me, yawning. "So let's go upstairs and get some sleep."

Suddenly aware of how tired I am, I can barely manage to nod agreement. My feet weigh more than ten buckets of water, but I manage to drag them upstairs, and it is with great relief that I fall face-first into the welcoming warmth of my bed.

Day 5

I wake slowly, dreams slipping away as my mind surfaces from sleep. Gradually, I become aware of the fact that I am not in my familiar room at home, but in a long, wooden-floored room lined with beds. Suddenly, my memory of the previous day returns, and I sit bolt upright in shock. I've left home!
A new interest in my surroundings causes me to scrutinise the room. I see that there are around ten beds in the room, all with the same brown blankets and single pillow. Only three of those beds are occupied, including mine, and I note that my two roommates are also female. Realising that this room is for women only, I clamber out of bed and start to pull on my clothes, which are in a small heap beside my bed. Remembering that thieves sometimes strike in wayside inns, I check my belongings carefully, but find nothing missing. Next, I turn to the closed shutters of the window at one of the short ends of the room. Light seeps in through the small gap between them, and with this confirmation of the time I walk to the door in the centre of the long side opposite my bed. Going through, I find myself in a dark and narrow hallway, leading past more doors identical to the one I just came through. I can see the stairs I came up the night before, and I can hear a commotion below. Curious, I make my way down into the main room of the inn.

The space is crowded with men, all busy gathering things together and talking in loud voices. I watch the chaos in fascination, watching the strange patterns that emerge from it. A youth, not much older than me, hurries past. I snag his arm and ask him what is happening.

He looks at me as if I have gone mad. "It's market-day in Athten tomorrow," he tells me. "Everybody's going to leave together."

I release him, and he continues on his way. My mind is buzzing. I'm ready to leave. If I can find Kal in time, we can go to Athten with the crowd. I turn and hurry back up the stairs, trying to remember which door my friend entered. I can't do it, so I take a guess that it'll be close to my room, and enter the one opposite the dormitory where I slept.

I find myself in an identical room, with only one difference. All the inhabitants are men. There are around five of them in the room, playing a game with some dice, and they all goggle as I enter. I fight the impulse to turn and run, instead lifting my chin and asking if they know where I might find Kalean.

"Um... he said something about going to get some air, miss," one of them stammers. Politely, I thank him, and hurriedly back out of the room, letting out a sigh of relief as the door closes. Going to get some air? I head back down the stairs, and fight my way through the madding crowd in the main room. I accidentally step on a few toes, but nobody notices me as I exit to the clearing outside.

In daylight, I can clearly make out the wide road leading southwards towards Athten. I can also see the various carts and wagons the merchants have been using to carry their trade goods. I hear the sound of voices from behind the carts, and walk over to find Kal sitting on the ground next to them. He is talking to the man I noticed the night before, the stranger in the bright clothes. They notice my approach, and the stranger bows politely. I incline my head in return, and take a seat on the ground next to them.

"Yjadd, meet Ralun," Kal says, introducing us. "He's a travelling bard, from the far north. Ralun, this is my friend Yjaddetht."

"Ah, the young lady who wishes to join the circus," the man smiles, his voice surprisingly deep and rich. His accent is blunt and heavy, but I can still understand every word he says. "So tell me, why would such a lovely creature as yourself wish to do such a thing?"

I blush a little at his flattery. "I am Doresoth," I tell him proudly. "Travel is in my soul."

Ralun chuckles. "The name. I should have guessed." He glances around. "I find this land a fascinating place. Your people have a poetry to them, I find." His eyes turn back to me. "Doresoth is, I believe, an unusual name?"

I nod eagerly, surprised that the man knows so much. "Highly rare," I tell him. "But I'm glad to have it."

"Beautiful and bold," the old bard declares. "If only there were more women like you."

I shake my head. "I'm not beautiful," I tell him. I'm not really all that bold, either.

I sense Kal looking at me, and turn to see him frowning thoughtfully. "He's right, you know," my friend says slowly. "I never really saw it before, maybe because I know you so well. But you are pretty."

"Pretty!" Ralun exclaims. "Why, where I come from, men would fall at the feet of one so lovely to behold. And with that colouring and accent, too... you are an exotic beauty, my dear, wherever you may go."
I am stunned. All my life, I've been the outcast, the unwanted one. And now I'm beautiful? My fingers reach up, trace the lines of my face. They haven't changed overnight. Maybe it's just because Ralun is from the north. But then Kal just agreed with him, didn't he?

"Yjadd, I was thinking, maybe we should leave with the merchants." Kal's voice breaks into my thoughts, and I remember why I came outside in the first place.

"I had the same thought," I inform him, getting to my feet. "We should go and get our things."

"As should I," Ralun agrees. "I intend to do likewise."

The two men get up, and together we make our way back inside. The chaos is subsiding, and I realise that the party will soon leave. Hurriedly, I dash to the room and grab my sack. Out in the corridor I almost bump into Kal, and together we make our way back down. Moments later, Ralun follows, wearing a heavy pack. He gives us a friendly smile, and I wave to him. The merchants have organised themselves now, and the three of us follow as they begin to move out of the door.

Outside, horses and oxen have been harnessed to carts, and everything is ready to move. Side by side with Kal and Ralun, I move back under the shelter of the trees, this time on a wide dirt road worn by hundreds of such processions over many years.

The pace is slower than the day before, but it is still faster than I'm used to. Kal and I pant and puff to keep up, Ralun watching us pityingly. Eventually, he decides to do something about it.

"You're never going to keep up like that," he tells us firmly. "Stop trying to jog all the way. You have to start walking, then forget that's what you're doing. Just start putting one foot in front of the other, and then we'll talk about something else."

I stop my half-run, and try doing as Ralun suggests. Immediately the train begins to pull ahead, but Ralun puts a hand on my shoulder and I force myself to keep going at a steady pace.

"I'll tell you about my homeland," Ralun declares, and immediately launches into a description of that far-off place. I listen in wonder as he speaks of the small mountain kingdom of Baenpas in which he was born. His father, he says, worked in a quarry, like most of the men of that land. They dug great blocks of stone from the mountainside, and sold them to others for building houses and carving statues.

"The houses there were all square," he tells us. Square like the stone blocks, and half-underground to protect them from the cold snow.

"What's snow?" I ask, and shiver as I hear about the white flakes of frozen water that fall from the sky for half the year. My mind paints a picture of the small mountain villages, high in the passes, half-buried in whiteness that is colder than winter water. As Ralun speaks, I can see the quarry-workers, venturing outside wrapped in layer after layer of furs and woollen cloaks, only their eyes visible in the biting wind. Women, he tells us, rarely venture outside. Why enter the cold snow, when the warm hearth is nearby?

Suddenly I realise that, caught up in the tale, we have easily kept up with the caravan. Delighted, I point this out to Kal, and he solemnly thanks Ralun for his help.

"It's nothing," the bard replies, smiling. Caught up in the joyful moment, I begin to sing, a simple travelling song to placate the mestiyr I pass on the way. However, before I have even finished the first verse, I notice that Ralun is staring at me in wonder. Suddenly uncertain, I stop and return his gaze. He has stopped walking. His mouth opens and closes like the fish I sometimes saw in the stream at home. Finally, he manages to get his voice working once more.

"Your voice..." he breathes."Like... like an angel..."

I frown at the strange word. "Ainyjel? What's that?" I ask.

The old man blinks, and stammers. "I think... I think you would call them mesean dai panisoa. But the point is, they have voices as wondrous as... as... as yours!"

My eyes widen. Not only does the northern bard think I'm beautiful to look at, he thinks I sing well! Suddenly, a small seed of a thought takes root in me, a mere whisper of an idea.

"I suppose you've seen a lot of places," I say, casually. Ralun takes the bait, and nods. I ask him to tell me about them; he launches into a tale of his many exploits. As I listen, I become more and more excited, my earlier thought taking shape and substance. I barely notice the time pass, until a cry goes up from the head of the column.


Ralun breaks off his story, and my eyes turn to the front. We are just emerging from the forest, and ahead I can see something that takes my breath away.

It's a wall.

But this isn't just any wall. It's four times the height of a man and built from solid stone. There is a single opening, wide enough for thirty men walking abreast, and through that opening I can see buildings, all as big as the inn or bigger and with the same design. My eyes widen as I take in the stones on the streets, and they all but pop out when I see the people.

Even from my position at the back of the line, I can see hundreds and hundreds of people, more than I ever thought existed. I wonder how there is enough food, enough water, enough air for them all. I suddenly feel very small and scared, and my hand reaches out to grasp Kal's. He squeezes it tightly, and I am comforted enough to continue on my way.

The presence of Ralun and Kal gives me enough courage to approach the imposing wall, which looms over my head as we grow near. I keep wanting to shrink away from it, and although I give no outward sign of my emotion I'm quaking in my boots. I feel dowdy, a real country buffin, and Ralun seems to sense this. He bends down, and whispers in my ear;

"Remember, you're Yjaddetht Doresoth. You are meant to be here."

He's right. I am Doresoth, and I will not be scared by a town. Nevertheless, I am still nervous as the three of us approach the opening. As we draw near, I see that a strand of liveried guards block our way.

I've never seen armed guards before. I goggle as one of them steps in front of us and asks our business.

"Ralun Hawkwind, professional bard," the old man replies instantly. "Here to play at the Sunspirit tavern for three nights."

The guard nods. "And these two?"

"Yjadd wants to join the circus," Kal explains. The guard looks at me, and snorts in disbelief. This makes me angry.

"My name is Doresoth!" I snap angrily, and sudden understanding dawns on his face. I'm relieved to find that even in the town, different as it is, people still understand the ways of the Gods.

"You may pass," the guard says. "Oh, and the circus is in the central park, miss." He waves us through, and then we are standing on the streets of the city, the bustle of a thousand people flowing past us. I look around, more than a little dazed.

"Do you want to find the circus now?" a voice asks. I turn to see Kal watching me intently. I consider the question. That morning, I would have said yes, but now... I glance at the sky, and see a red tint beginning to flow through it. I shake my head.

"Does the Sunspirit tavern have beds?" I ask Ralun. He nods.

"Let's go there, then," I decide. Kal smiles, and I realise that he must want nothing more than to go to bed now. Ralun takes the lead, and we follow him through the vast labyrinth that is the city, taking twists and turns that I will never remember. Finally, we find ourselves standing outside a large, well lit tavern whose good humour spills out onto the street.

"Are you sure about this?" Kal asks, and I nod. Then, with a smile of encouragement from Ralun, we enter the Sunspirit tavern.

Day 6

Even at this early hour, the streets are bustling with traffic. People hurry to and fro along the sides of the paved roads, the centres dominated by the carts and carriages that seem to be so common in the town. Kal walks beside me, occasionally touching my arm to guide me down another road or away from a street vendor. I try not to stare at the things we pass; there is so much here that is new and different, I can't help wanting to know more.

Early morning in Athten feels different to early morning at home. There, I can feel a sense of peace as everyone begins to go about their daily business. Here, I got the sense of a runaway cart rolling down a hill. Everything was just warming up. Soon, there would be near-chaos all around. I'm scared and excited in equal parts, eagerly anticipating the day ahead.

After I went to bed the night before, Kal and Ralun had spoken, and the old bard had told my friend how to reach the central park and the circus. Now Kal was following those directions precisely, his accurate memory guiding us both to where I wanted to go. I wonder how the circus people would react to me. Ralun said I was beautiful, with a good voice, but having seen Athten for myself I'm sure that I look every inch the village girl.

They have to offer me a job, I think firmly, but doubts assail my mind. There are no guarantees, no absolute certainties. I will need complete confidence, if I'm going to have a chance. Trying to summon it, I straighten my back and level my gaze.

"We're here," Kal tells me, and I see a low stone wall separating the grassed area beyond from the street in which we now stand. A large canvas structure stands in the middle, striped in bright rainbow colours. Behind it, I can see smaller, less colourful tents and painted wagons. Next to me, Kalean is staring, and I nudge him viciously.

"You're looking like an idiot!" I hiss, and he straightens. Even so, he turns to me with hope glittering in his eyes.

"Can we go and see the show?" he asks, eagerly, and I nod easily. It would be good for me to see the circus in action, and Kal clearly wants to go and see. Together, we walk over to where a large man guards the entrance to the great canopy. I ask him when the next show is.

"About half an hour," he tells me. "And it costs ten inral per person. But for such a lovely lady, I'll lower the cost to seven, and you can go in now." He smiles flirtatiously.

Taken aback, I hand over the fourteen inral for Kal and I, and we step inside.

The sun shining through the canvas casts a coloured light over everything. As Kal and I walk over to our chosen seats, our skin changes from purple to red to blue and back again. We start to laugh and play about, dancing between the different stripes, until we draw the attention of the plainly-dressed men and women in the centre who are setting up several pieces of large, complicated-seeming equipment. At their annoyed glares, my friend and I slip quietly into our seats and wait silently for the show to begin.

Slowly, more people begin to file in, and the seats begin to fill up. The people in the central ring finish and leave, while all around the babble of anticipation reaches a crescendo. Kal and I sit quietly, our eyes fixed centre stage.

Suddenly, the sound of voices dies away. A single man steps out into the ring, his clothes every bit as bright and gaudy as Ralun's, his black hair brushed smoothly back.

"Welcome to the greatest circus under the sun!" the man shouts, and a huge cheer goes up. After that, things begin to happen one after another. I watch, enraptured, as hilarious clowns follow a man who shows us his performing animals. A man comes and juggles wit fire and knives, to the delight of the audience, then swallows the fire whole! A mage then arrives, and astounds us all with his cunning illusions. I ooh and aah with those around me as he produces the elegant curves of a dragon, and my eyes boggle at the image of our entire world.

However, what really steals my heart are the trapeze artists.

They seem to be flying, their agile bodies as easy in the air as any bird. As I watch them, a deep longing grows within me, and I promise myself that one day, I'll be able to do that.

All too soon, the show is over, and the crowd is shown out. Remembering why we came, I tug Kal's arm, and we slip to one side away from the massed river of people exiting the immense tent. We make our way around the side, into the camp where the circus people are staying. There, we find ourselves passing numerous small campfires, from beside which people give us suspicious glares. Some of them look normal; grandmothers, children, and men and women in between. Others still wear the fantastic costumes from the ring. The place has a sense of unreality to it. I love it.

Kal is nervous. Hesitantly, he mutters that we have no idea where we're going. Undeterred, I grab hold of the nearest person, a woman dressed in sparkling blue, and ask her where we can find whoever is in charge.

She gives me a dirty look, then directs us towards a small, yellowish tent off to one side. Thanking her politely, I tug a reluctant Kal over to the place and pull back the flap.

The man in the tent is middle-aged, with orange hair and a workman's air. He looks up as we enter, and frowns distractedly.

"Who are you?" he asks, his tone curious. "How did you get in here?"
Kal is tongue-tied with acute embarrassment, so I speak for myself. "I was wondering..." my mouth is dry. I hesitate, then continue. "...if I could get a job with your circus."

The man's eyebrows shoot up, and he looks me up and down as if to say "you?". Slowly, he sits down behind the wobbly table that seems to serve him as a desk. I can see a cot in one corner, and realise that he lives and works in this tent.

"You'd better tell me the whole story," he says slowly, indicating that I should take a seat on the small stool opposite his. "We get a lot of young people saying they want to join the circus, and it generally comes to nothing."

I sit down, and taking a deep breath, I begin my story.

"My name is Yjaddetht, and I'm from a small village two days north of here. My whole life, I've known that my father was a stranger, a man from the far north, and for a long time now I've planned to go and find him. I couldn't leave when I thought of it, of course. I had to wait for my naming ceremony, so that the Gods would recognise me as an adult. Three days ago, I was named Doresoth."

The man holds up a hand, telling me to pause. "That's a rare name, isn't it?" he asks. "Doresoth?"

I shake my head in disbelief. "Doresoth means Windsoul!" I exclaim. "It's the strongest traveller's name there is!"

The man nods. "I see. So, you want to join this circus so that you can find your father and live up to your name?"

"I don't think you fully understand," says a voice behind me. I turn to see that Kal is glowering at the man. "Names here are not something to live up to. They are a description of who you are. You don't have to try and live up to your name. Your name lives up to you. Yjadd wants to join this circus because she knows she hasn't the experience to travel or search alone, but you should have no doubt that she'll prove a natural to this way of life."

I watch the man's face. He is thinking, I can tell. I begin to pray. Please, please, let me come with you. The trapeze artists fly through my mind again. I have to learn how to do that. The man looks up, and I can see that he has come to a decision. I wait eagerly for him to say yes.

"No," he says, and suddenly my heart sinks into my boots. My world begins to fall apart. He's explaining his decision. I force myself to listen.

"Perhaps, if I was from this land, the reasons you've given would be enough," he tells us. "But I don't know about your people, or your traditions. I see a country girl wanting to leave home for an impossible task, and I simply can't take the risk of hiring you. I'm sorry."

Dully, I thank him, and with Kal by my side I leave the tent. My friend's hand finds its way into mine, and squeezes tight, but it gives me little comfort.

"Come on," he tells me softly. "Let's go back to the Sunspirit. We can listen to Ralun playing. That should cheer you up."

I nod, barely listening, and let Kal guide me back through the maze of streets. The town seems too big now, utterly uncaring. I can't understand how this happened. I am Doresoth. Everyone knows what that means! Everyone!

We arrive back at the Sunspirit. Inside, the tavern is all but empty, the interior brightly lit and clean. The few customers who sit at the round tables all have their eyes fixed on the small, semicircular stage at one end. On that stage, Ralun is playing.

At first, I don't pay much attention, focusing instead on the ale that Kal buys for me. I've drunk ale before, on spirit-days and Gods-days, but I was surprised to learn that everyone drinks it in a town. The water isn't clean enough to trust, apparently.

Slowly, the sound of Ralun's song breaks into my concentration. What first reaches me is the sound of his voice; it is rich and mellow, warm and brown, carrying without being loud. Then I become aware of how the small lap-harp he carries makes his voice all the more fascinating, and then the words break into my consciousness. He's singing the ballad of Sarier's Love, a tragedy that every child of the Satht Da'yri learns in childhood. Yet somehow, as he sings it, I seem to be hearing it anew, his voice calling tears into my eyes.

Suddenly I remember the thought I had the day before, on the road. The wonders of the circus had driven it from my mind, but now it returns with force. I refuse to get my hopes up. I couldn't bear to have them crushed again.

But even so, I can't help regarding Ralun with a thoughtful eye.

Day 7

Kal and Ralun stare at me with incredulous eyes. I can't help thinking how funny they look, especially since Ralun's hand is tipping and his ale is about to spill. We are sitting at the bar in the Sunspirit tavern, and I've just told them my brilliant idea.

"So, what do you think?" I ask, licking my lips nervously. If they disagree, then I have no idea what I'm going to do.

"You want to travel with me?" Ralun squeaks, his voice made high by surprise. I nod, trying to project a confidence I don't feel.

"I already know you a little," I explain. "And you say I have a good voice. I don't see why I can't be your apprentice."

"Yjadd!" Kal objects, shocked disbelief clearly audible in his voice. "You can't travel alone with him! People will talk!"

I shrug. "People have always talked about me, Kal. I'm used to it."

"As am I, sadly," Ralun adds. "But still..."

I scowl at him. "You said I was pretty and had a good voice. You know I'm Doresoth, and you know what that means. Now, are you going to take me into your care where you know I'll be safe, or let me wander off on my own in a hostile world?" I stick my chin up defiantly, and the old man sighs.

"Emotional blackmail. I must be going soft." He glares at me. "All right. We'll try it."

Delighted beyond words, I throw my arms around his neck. Kal snorts.

"That's really going to keep the rumours down," he points out. I stick my tongue out at him, too excited to care about his teasing.

"You'll have to do some shopping," Ralun tells me. "Now that you're officially my apprentice, you have to keep to my timetable, and I'm leaving tomorrow, so you'd best take Kalean and visit the local markets."

"What am I looking for?" I ask. Ralun sighs, and waves a hand vaguely in the air.

"What have I just gotten myself into?" he asks the air. "Really, girl, do you expect to go tromping across hill and dale in that getup?"

I look down at my plain, comfortable skirt and tunic. They seem perfectly sensible to me, and I say so. Ralun scowls.

"I'm sure they are fine for a farmer's wife, out in a village somewhere, but they will never do for a travelling bard. You need trousers, girl, and good solid boots. A cloak wouldn't go amiss, either. Your tunic will do for now, but I should get a belt to go with it, and naturally you'll need a pack to carry your things in. You can't haul your possessions over the known world in a sack."

My mind is reeling. I had never thought of half the things on Ralun's list, but now he has said them they are blindingly obvious. I experience a moment of doubt over the breeches, but then I remember the difficulty I had with my skirt in the forest, the numerous times it snagged on twigs and branches. Every decent instinct installed in me by my mother rebels against the very idea, but the explorer within me feels the urge to try something new.

"Is there anything else I need?" I ask Ralun. He shakes his head.

"You could pick up some food, but other than that just the things I've mentioned. If there's anything missing, we can get it later."

I turn to Kalean, who resignedly stands.

"Let's go," he agrees. We start to move, but then Ralun calls out behind us. I turn, and he throws me a small leather pouch.

"You're my apprentice, remember?" he points out. I check the purse; it holds a mixture of copper and silver coins, of varying sizes and countries of origin. Thanking Ralun, I hurry out with Kal by my side.

"What shall we get first?" my friend asks, doubt in his voice. I can tell that he's still uncertain.

"The breeches," I reply instantly. I can't wait to make that change. It feels as if somehow, it will make me into Yjaddetht Doresoth, rather than the slightly bemused village girl I feel like.

Kal mutters grumpily, but as he stops off straight away I presume he's leading me in the right direction, and I follow. It is midmorning, and most of the people I can see are women, housewives out shopping. I see some men, though, behind stalls or hurrying purposefully to some unknown place. We pass a small cluster of youths, around Kal's age, and they whistle raucously as I go past. Kal turns, his face red with fury, but I lay a calming hand on his arm.

"Let's find the market," I suggest gently, and he reluctantly turns to show me the way. We continue in silence for a while, before he suddenly speaks.

"I'm scared, Yjadd," he tells me. "I'm scared that if I'm not there to help you, you're going to get into trouble, too much to get yourself out of."

"That's why I'm sticking with Ralun," I reply. "You know that."

Kal shakes his head. "But one day, you'll leave him behind, and then what? Besides, you being with Ralun isn't the same as you being with..." he breaks off, too late. I've already guessed what he's going to say.

"You?" I finish. There is a moment's pause, then I fill it. "You're really going to miss me, aren't you?"

Kal nods slowly, and looks at me with a moistness in his dark eyes. "You're the best friend I've ever had. I don't know how I'm going to get along without you."

On an impulse, I throw my arms around him, burying my head in his shoulder. "I'm going to miss you too, Kal," I say, my voice quivering with sadness. "All my life, you've been there for me. I'm so scared of doing this without you."

Kal returns my embrace for a full minute or more before pushing me away and looking down at me. "You'll come and visit me?" he asks hopefully. I nod straight away.

"As often as I can," I reply.

"Promise?" my friend asks.

"On the spirit of my name," I assure him. Smiling slowly, he takes my hand, and together we walk off to find me some breeches.

Finding a market that sold clothes was easy. Finding a stall that sold breeches to a girl was harder. In the end, we have to pretend that the breeches are for Kal, and I fret over the height difference. Kal holds up pair after pair, and I keep shaking my head. No. They are all too dull or too bright, too rough or too fancy, too loose or too tight.

As we search for the breeches, we manage to find the other things on Ralun's list. First is the cloak; I find one on a second-hand clothing stall, its green-grey cloth still thick and warm.

"Owner turned it in because he was getting married," the woman running the stall tells me. "Beautiful workmanship. Should last a lifetime."

I check the stitching, and decide I agree with her assessment. I ask her to prove that it is waterproof, and after some grumbling she produces a small wooden beaker and tips the contents over the heavy hood. The water runs off beautifully, with only a slight glint of blue light telling me that a mage has worked the waterproofing.

Kal spots our next bargain a quarter-hour later, a sturdy pack slung down on a small stall near the edge of the market. The seller is good at bartering, but Kal proves to be better, and we walk away with me triumphantly trying on my new possession.

Next is the belt, which comes from a leather-worker's shop we pass. A pair of small pouches are already built into the elegant green-dyed leather, and I feel it is worth the extra cost for the beautiful vine patterns that crawl along it, making up the extra expense from my own meagre purse. The boots, we buy from the cobbler next door. They just cover my ankles, their soft brown tops waterproofed in the same way as my cloak and bound with care. I walk out of that shop feeling like a princess in all my new clothes. Kal looks at me, and laughs.

"What?" I demand, and he sighs.

"You look fabulous," he tells me. I roll my eyes. Boys.

At midday, we buy some flaking pastries, and sit on the pavement to eat them. As my hot, fruity meal cools slowly, I study the people passing by. They all seem preoccupied, busy. I wonder if any of them have ever noticed how amazing their surroundings really are.

"I think I'll be a priest in a town like this," Kal says, and I smile cheerily.

"Yup, and then I'll visit you and you can walk pompously over and say..."

"Move along, you useless vagrant!" my friend finishes, howling with laughter. I join in. We have both experienced the pompousness of some priests, but the very idea of Kal becoming one of those overfed fools is hilarious. I begin to tease him, pretending that when I came to visit him he will be fat and brainless. In turn, he starts telling me that he'll have me thrown off temple property as a public nuisance if I try to come within a hundred yards of him.

We finish our pastries, and resume the search in good temper. However, this starts to fade as the day wears on. I still can't find any breeches I'd be happy to wear. Afternoon wears into evening, and Kal is starting to get annoyed.

"Can't you just buy some breeches!" he snaps. I retort angrily to this, and we argue. Still sulking, we continue our search, Kal's face growing more and more sullen with every item I reject.

"But what was wrong with it?" he wails. I can't answer. I don't know. But I have to keep searching.

Then, finally, I find them. At first, I only see the side of one leg. It is a rich brown, a design picked out down the leg in the same colour. Slowly, as Kal debates with the vendor, I pull the breeches out. They are sturdy, I can tell, but they're soft too. I hold them to my side, and to my delight they are the right length. The legs are fairly wide, so I shan't feel embarrassed wearing them, but they aren't so loose as to make the whole thing pointless. A smile on my face at this discovery, I go and tap Kal on the shoulder. He whirls angrily, then sees what I'm holding.

"Those?" he asks, relief in his voice. I nod.

The bargaining is swift. Evening is drawing in, and the vendor wants to pack up and leave as much as we do. I watch eagerly as the money changes hands, twenty coppers in all, a good price. Kal stuffs the breeches hurriedly into my new pack, and I lift it onto my back, amazed at having completed my task. Wearily, my friend and I head back to our beds at the Sunspirit tavern. Night draws its veil over the world, and stars are beginning to peek at us from the sky by the time we arrive. Before entering, I take one last look at the twinkling points of light far above. With a shock, I realise that I was looking at those same stars only a week before. It seems a lifetime longer. I remember my prayer to the spirits that night, and silently thank them for bringing me to this place and time.

"Yjadd!" calls Kal, and I enter the tavern. Ralun is playing on stage, but he glances my way as I enter. I wave, then head straight upstairs to my room. It is a single room, not like the barracks-style bed I slept in at the forest inn. I close the door, then reach under the bed and pull out my sack of possessions. Tipping them out onto the bed, I examine what I have brought with me from the village.

I see two skirts, one plain and cream, the other bright yellow with multicoloured wooden beads hanging from the waistband. I have a tunic to match that skirt, beads at the arms, throat and hem, and another two plain for everyday wear. There is a necklace, a simple black thread with a cluster of feathers held in a red bead. My mother had given it to me as a naming present, as is customary with mothers and daughters. I have some carved wooden spirit-tokens, collected over the years for protection, and a small amount of money and food. Beyond that, I have nothing of my old life to take with me.

After some thought, I carefully fold these possessions and put them into my new pack, removing my new clothes as I did so. I look at the breeches, and feel a thrill of nervousness pass though me. I put them on one side. I will wear them tomorrow.

My things organised, I stand to go back downstairs. If I am going to be a bard, I should really listen to Ralun playing as much as possible.

Kal is waiting outside my door. We smile at each other and, without a word, make our way to the bar room of the inn.