Beware the mighty power of

The weave of Shimmer Songs

Won't cure disease or challenge love

Could right an evil wrong.

The song's returns from the ring above

Says, "You do not belong."

Chapter 3

I struggle to wait for Elder Simeon to collect his thoughts. Moments pass in uncomfortable silence. I ache to fill the silence with answers to the questions that I can only imagine. My mind twists Sibylla's words into knots trying to figure out how he would phrase a question to trip me up. I couldn't let that happen.

He wouldn't do that, would he? He'd want me to succeed. When in doubt, my second brother, Rock, told me to answer any generic question with "compassion" or "understanding" or "love". Every single one of those two hundred seventy-nine precepts boils down to one of those.

I don't think that will do.

What is Simeon waiting for?

He's really old. His cheeks sag like a toddler's pants. Maybe he's senile. Stop thinking like that, I berate myself. The precepts require respect for the elderly even as their body and mind falter.

Cheers erupt from the game of Struggle as somebody scored. A myakka carcass simmers in gravy and nutmeg in a below ground pit – a fanciful Shimmer's Eve gift from the Lord of South Mesmer. Last year it was just a huge, fatted pig. A myakka is much more valuable. We must have a tax increase coming.

"That smells sinful," I say with the realization of how hungry I am.

"What's that?" Simeon says. His head turning in my direction and I realize that the first comprehensible words that I've said to a living saint were about sin.

"The meal," I say. My cheeks are turning warm. "It smells delicious."

Simeon nods and his look turns distant again.

I finally work up the courage to ask, "Why are you the one testing me?"

"Hmm?" Simeon asks. He looks at me quizzically, as though he is seeing me for the first time.

"Solitar Kensit tested my brothers," I say gathering what little confidence I have remaining. I then realize that I'm standing on one foot, like a stork. It feels too informal for such company– a standing slouch. I try to even my weight out onto both feet, but to no avail. My right foot is worthless. "Why are you testing me?"

"Ah, yes. As to that …," Simeon says. He takes a sip of tea and I realize that I am not just hungry. I am thirsty, tired and cold. He has me at my worst. "One of us always waits for her return," Elder Simeon says.

Everyone knows that. It's why they call it Mount Solitary – at least one Solitar waits every moment for Sibylla's return.

"I love the solitude," he continues. "It's mystical. I see so much more on the top of that mountain than I ever do in the Abbey. Sometimes I selfishly remain up there for days on end."

He hasn't answered my question. I wonder if I should mention that to him.

"Other times, the world passes us by, while waiting for her return. Sibylla would never abide by our solitude. It is selfish. We serve the people. The people don't serve us." He pauses as if focusing on me for the first time. "It's quite a walk from the mountain. I don't find the trek as simple as when I was your age." He takes another long sip of his tea. Finally, he seems to remember my question. "I always make a point to test the Shimmer Children."

"You've anointed other Shimmers?" I ask. "There must be so many."

"Not so," Simeon says. "You're my fourth."

As a Shimmer Child, I've always felt unique. A niggling little voice of doubt tells me that every child feels unique in their own unique way. I've spent my first twelve years trying to hide every uncommon trait which makes me stand out. Even on my birthday, I can hide in plain sight because everyone is already at celebration.

When people hear that I am a Shimmer Child, they often tell me that they know someone who is almost one. I've met others born on the day of the Shimmer, but at night and some who were born in the Autumnal Shimmer. It doesn't count unless they were born between Shimmerise and Shimmerset on the Vernal Shimmer – the day that Zhaun led us out of the bowels of the earth – the day that Sibylla descended from the Shimmer. Even so, I'm surprised there are so few.

"What were the others like?" I ask wondering if they had green hair or were born crippled.

"Let me see … ." Simeon fingers his saggy jowls. "The first was … oh … maybe sixty years ago – do you know they Ashe family?" he asks. I shake my head. "Lina Ashe became a victim of the influenza epidemic of 962, two years after her Celot. A tragedy to die with all of that promise. A second was killed in a mine accident, and the most recent, Ry Burther from Spirit Cove, died during the frontal assault in the Battle of Ramyde. The fourth failed assault on the plateau."

"So, there was nothing special about them," I say. "They weren't blest."

"Of course they were blest," Simeon says. "Their families and communities were blest by their presence. They all still remember them."

You could say the same thing with any child. As long as I can remember, people have told me how wonderfully blest I am to be a Shimmer Child. Thrice blest thrice.

"Blest isn't something you are given by birthright," I say. "It needs to be earned."

"Quite right," Simeon says. "And why don't you begin earning your blessings by telling me your favorite precept?"

So, the testing begins. My father stands up and walks over to the roasting myakka. The sounds of sport grow distant, as I focus on Simeon and Kensit.

His question is so simple that it feels like a trick question. I'm sure he expects me to give him an answer which sounds wiser than it is, something like "they are all equally important," but I'm not the type to take such an easy path. I'd rather say the one about Shimmer Cakes or one of the many that make little sense. I always thought they were funny. Simeon would most likely call me out for disrespect.

Yet, there are so many … how to choose just one.

Some precepts are commandments. Others guide us how to behave as a respected member of a community. More than any other idea, a number of precepts discuss knowledge or wisdom – how to recognize wisdom and how to use knowledge rather than abuse it. These precepts have always had the most appeal to me.

I clasp my hands together in front of me and answer before I can change my mind, "Faith without knowledge is childish."

Simeon nods as though it was no surprise. "And what does that one mean to you?" Simeon asks.

I shrug. I always thought it was self-explanatory. "It is not enough to have faith in the Most High. He has given us intelligence, tools, and abilities. We need to use them. For instance, when some people are sick, they pray for divine intervention. They seek a solitar instead of a doctor. In our ignorance, we dishonor Him. Other people believe that weather is completely random. Rather than preparing for a storm, they pray for it to pass them by."

"This is one interpretation," Simeon says, "but it sounds unduly harsh. I was a child when I met Sibylla. She treasures children, loves them. There is no shame in being like a child."

That seems an odd comment on my last day of childhood. "Then why do we have a Celot?"

Simeon grins. "I'm asking the questions today. Do you know the corollary?"

Some of the precepts are clear, moral commandments, like do not kill. Others are given to us in pairs. They have an opposite corollary. "Knowledge without faith is bankrupt."

"And what does that mean for you in your faith?"

"I think it means that we should not become captivated by learning." I shake my head. I thought I understood that precept. Now that I am challenged, my understanding seems shallow. There are 269 precepts. I can't know them all. "I don't know. I'm sorry."

While I am thinking, a wave of warm steam glances upon my cheeks. My third brother, Benjen hands me a mug of spice tea. I did not hear him at all. It gives me strength. I cradle the tea in my cold hands and say, "Thank you, Benjen. You are a life saver."

He grunts in return.

Benjen is simple. That's what people call him, but it's just a nice way to avoid the word 'stupid.' Stronger than my other brothers, Willen and Rock combined, at fourteen, his childish body is gone, but a child remains. During brightness he helps our father in his workshop or he finds menial jobs. During grayness, he earns a few coppers by risking frostbite and towing children on sleds. It's enough. Sometimes people give him a few coins out of pity … for the laughs he provides. I hate when it when they do that. Somehow, he always knows what I need.

He continues to stand next to me, giving me strength. He accepts the wisdom of Sibylla without question, just like that child. Yet, he communicates in a series of grunts that my brothers and I somehow understand.

Simeon seems happy to continue with his dissertation. "Pure knowledge is destructive unless tempered by faith," he says. "Imagine a tremendous weapon in the hands of the faithless. Gunpowder makes fireworks as easily as it makes weapons. One use restores our childlike wonder, the other is bankrupt. Faith keeps our destructiveness in check. Food, a necessity for all of us." Simeon sniffs at the air. "Withheld by tyrants, it becomes a weapon."

"Yet …," I stutter. I almost forget that I am not just discussing this with a friend or Kensit. This is Elder Simeon. "The Most High buried us underground. It makes him sound like such a tyrant."

Simeon nods, but looks disappointed. "Those long years underground were a consequence of our hubris."

"A consequence?" I say. Sometimes I wake at night, dreaming of those dark days. "You make it sound like we had to stand in a corner. Why would She punish all of us? Seven times seventy generations?" I ask almost unaware of the confused gender pronouns. "They say, billions of people entered the tunnels and thousands left."

I am almost in tears. Every time I think of those days, I suffocate. I want to believe it isn't real. A story intended to frighten us into submission. "Nobody even remembers what we did wrong. Thousands of dark years underground, and for what?" I continue in a whisper, Generation after generation - punished mercilessly for the actions of a few." Imagine that stale air … a thousand years of rotting corpses. "What did the grandchildren of grandchildren do to deserve that fate?"

Solitar Kensit answers quickly. "Who is to say that we were being punished?"

I realize that I've disappointed her. I can't stop now. "They weren't taking a vacation," I say. "We tried to reach for the heavens and were buried for our hubris. A tyrant is someone who punishes generations for the actions of first." Is that heresy?

"Free will," Simeon says. "That is what Kensit was trying to say. The Most High did not punish us. We chose to leave the surface rather than face Him for our folly. We hid from Him. We were ashamed."

"But … but," I stutter hoping to phrase my wonder. "He could have told them to come out. He should have called our forebears back to the surface."

Kensit draws away from me and scowls. "We were called back … by the Shimmer."

She has told me this before, but it makes no sense. Seven times seventy generations. Ten thousand years.

"It is not our place to question Her wisdom," Kensit continues. "The surface needed cleansed of its corruption. The entire surface of the planet was scrubbed clean and restored."

But Simeon smiles at my questions. "Her questions are perfect," Simeon says. "Faith without knowledge is childish. She is no longer a child." Simeon picks up his staff and stands. "Call everyone together. It is time."

Kensit walks over to my father and whispers something to him.

Simeon says, "These are not simple questions. They do not have such simple answers. These are questions that only the best of us consider for decades. The answers rests with Him. Never stop searching." Simeon leans in and whispers to me. "That is why the Shimmer is a blessing for all of us."

I become bold. "Which is your favorite?" I ask. "Which precept?"

He smiles and takes a sip of his tea. "The first, of course. In your thoughts, in your actions, and in your prayer, place nothing higher than the Most High."

I guess that is not much of a surprise. That must be true for all of the Solitars. Kensit has taught me for years, yet I realize that I've never asked her if she has a favorite. When she returns, I ask her.

"Oh, there's so many," she says. Her eyes twinkle. "My favorite since I was your age has always been the precept about sacrifice. True sacrifice is a state of giving of oneself for another. Such sacrifice, freely made, will be returned ten thousand-fold under the Shimmer. Not enough people heed that one."

"Why would we heed that one?" I say. I think I know why the precepts about knowledge and wisdom appeal to me more than sacrifice. "Life is hard enough. Haven't we had enough sacrifice?"

"How do you mean?" Kensit asks.

"Each long winter is a sacrifice and the wars with Sut and Umvaria. Then there is the time spent underground in caves."

"Those aren't sacrifices," Kensit says. "A sacrifice is more personal. It must come from within."

"I don't see a lot of that happening around here," I say. "It seems like everyone is always out for themselves."

"You miss the little sacrifices that people make every day," Kensit says.

I must look confused. The Solitars don't seem to make much of a sacrifice. They don't even work for a living. They spend so much of their time on that mountain. All of their food and clothing comes from the pockets of Southies who can barely afford their own supplies.

But that isn't true. Who knows what Kensit has given up? I always see her around the neighborhood, checking on people – finding the ones who may need some help. And she spends so much time teaching the children everything from how to prepare food to how to survive the brutal winter. It just never seems like much of a sacrifice. She has told me that she learns as much from children as we learn from her.

"Is it a sacrifice if you enjoy it?" I ask. Kensit never always seems to enjoy herself.

"Only you can be the judge of that," Simeon says. "Only you know the value of your sacrifice."

"Willen bought me shoes today," I say. It cost him more than just money. He sacrificed his pride. "I think he would do anything for me."

"You probably don't see it," Kensit says, "but your father has made tremendous sacrifices for you."

"My father?" I say. She's right, I don't see it at all. Agustin spends most of his time tinkering in his workshop making toys. "I'm raised by Willen more than my father."

"That's true," Kensit says, "but your father also used to be quite the restless spirit. He never stayed in one spot for more than a few seasons. Even after the boys were born, he did not stop traveling until he brought you home."

"What do you mean he brought me home?" I ask.

"He was devastated by his wife's death in Benjen's childbirth," Kensit says. "We choose the mountain, while he chose the solitude of the wilderness. He left the children with your uncle and went on his last trip ever. I was young, but I remember when he returned with a ton of new stories and a Shimmer Child."

That surprises me. I had thought that I had always been born in the city.

"Wait a second," I say. "How do you know that I am a Shimmer Child?"

"He told us," Kensit says. "Why would he lie about something like that?"

I've never known my father to lie, but I can imagine a lot of reasons why somebody would lie about their birth date.

I notice the game in the muddied green has come to an end. Jostling each other and tormenting the losers with raucous bluster, the muddied players return from their game.

Before I know it, I'm surrounded by dozens of muddy brawlers and families and neighbors. Willen whacks Stuman Bort on the back and says, "That was a great play."

"Who won?" Solitar Kensit asks.

"I think it was a tie," my second brother Rock says. "Four broken bones to four." His full name is Sidrocken, but everyone calls him Rock. He is easy to distinguish from the others with his nose which has been shifted askew from vertical. When he's in a playful mood, he calls me pin-nose and I return with myakka-nose because he's the spitting image of those mighty yaks.

Stuman Bort holds up his left hand with his middle finger bent awkwardly. "Tie breaker goes to the dislocation. Chanter, would you like to help me out here?" he asks. He looks at me and barely grunts when Willen pulls his finger back in place.

Struggle is a good game for Southies - so few rules, many of which are optional.

One by one, townspeople collect in a large group around me. Boisterously jockeying for space near friends. I hear whispers, "Is that him? Is that Simeon?" Elder Simeon had been donning more complex vestments and laying his materials out on a small table.

Cady Bort, Stuman's sixteen year-old cousin, and gives me a hug in congratulations. I'm not even sure that I've earned it.

Solitar Kensit asked everyone to settle down. Fresh from a muddy conflict and having , they don't. Elder Simeon begins with an opening prayer. I know it well. It is about the time we were forced to live underground. Rote prayers become background noise after a thousand repetitions. This time I listen. It was not a punishment, but a sacrifice to cleanse our world of hubris. If so, then we failed. Northies are filled to the brim with hubris. I expect we will be returning to the underground sometime soon. I better find me some caves.

I feel my hat rising off my head and If feel my hairs cracking with static. I turn and see Stuman with a mile wide grin, lifting it away from my head. "Shmegas! Give that back."

"You're a shmegas," Stuman says back to me.

"You don't even know what a shmegas is." They are goofy, flightless sea birds on the southeast coast of the kingdom of Sut. Agustin says they are clumsy and stupid. They are the exception that disproves evolution.

I can't believe he removed my hat in front of Simeon … on my Celot. I backhand him in the chest with a gloved hand. It doesn't hurt, but he relaxes his grip on my hat, and I can grab it back.

Elder Simeon removes a small ceramic jar from his pocket. He holds it high above his head looking right at me. There is supposed to be a prayer, but he is staring at me. Of course he is. I'm a freak.

Humiliated, I shove my hat back on my head and try to sink back into the crowd and disappear. Willen steadies me from behind, keeping me exposed.

Simeon recovers his astonishment. Lifting the ceramic jar he says, "I was given this by Sibylla herself. The recipe for this unction has been handed down to us from her."

Willen gives me a gentle push in the direction of Simeon.

"You remind me of her." Simeon winks.

"How?" I say. I wonder if everyone reminds Simeon of Sibylla. I've noticed that about the elderly. Everybody reminds them of somebody from their youth.

"You have her spark. An untamed restlessness and fire."

I choke back a laugh. "They say she was graceful." I bet she could walk without limping.

It was Simeon's turn to chuckle. "I was only five years old when she appeared, yet the memory is so vivid. She graced me with my Celot-minor when I turned six." His eyes are watering, as though he would give anything to see her one more time. "She glided through the air. On some days, we had to hold her down to keep her from floating away. Her feet barely touched the ground. Other times, she could barely walk without stumbling. We carried her and fought for the honor. The bridges weren't around then, so all five of us ferried her across the river. Until the Autumnal Shimmer, when she asked us to release her. She disappeared into Shimmer, the same way that she arrived.

He removed the lid and swirled his thumb through the unction. "Remove your hat," he says.

Without thinking, I do as he says. Simeon stares long and hard at my hair. I'm worried that he is going to diagnose me with some rare disease. "Her hair was green, too."

"Sibylla's hair was brown," I say. The descriptions of her hair are legendary. It wasn't an ordinary brown, but it glowed with a mystical sheen, especially during magnetic storms.

"It was brown," Simeon says, "most of the time." He whispers so quietly that I can barely hear him. "A few times, after a rain, it turned green. She combed an oil through her hair which restored it."

Simeon holds his breath. He picks up a few strands of my hair and rubbed his thumb on it. "Brown," he says. "You are so much like her." A tear runs down his cheek. "Child, who is your mother?"

"I don't know." I fight back my own tears in defiance. "I want to find her, tomorrow." On top of that mountain. I know it.

He makes a circle pattern on my forehead with the oil. He repeats the anointing on my cheeks. "You are no longer a child," Simeon says. He holds the jar up for the gathering. "We welcome a new member to our community. Nelissan Chanter."

I glance around. For a moment, I believe that I am the center of the universe. My townspeople are the ring and I am the spindle. Most are clapping for me. Benjen holds his hands across his chest and is bobbing back and forth like one of Agustin's toys. My father hands Kensit a ring made of steel and she presses it on my finger. Just like everything in our culture, from the annulus that the solitars wear around their necks to the donut shaped shimmer cakes, the Celot ring is a continuous, inerrant symbol of the Most High.

My triumph is fleeting. The ceremony is over. Hunger knows no rank or station. Those in the back peel off for the meal almost as soon as the announcement is made. Everyone feels that sense of being special on their Celot. A child believes that they are unique or special. An adult knows better. I find a place in the myakka line.

Dral, the Lord of South Mesmer and owner of our tenement buildings, dishes up a generous portion for each of us along with his oldest son, Morth. This is the one day of the year when he gets to play the part of a benevolent overlord. Miss one rent payment and we learn the extent of his charity.

A troupe of players from the north country set up and tune their shimmer instruments for our entertainment. The shimmer songs are amazing. Each has their own set of steel ribbons that vibrate under our planet's magnetic fields. There are two alto shoulder lutes and a bass shoulder lute, played by changing the angle with the magnetic field and holding a lodestone above the ribbons. The shimmer flute holds metal ribbons inside the housing, vibrated by the musician's breath. But the centerpiece is the massive four-person shimmer harp. The twelve-foot long ribbons begin at a keyboard and end in soundboxes of various sizes. The keyboard vibrates the ribbons while two players run a magnetized bow across the entire ensemble. The fourth musician strikes the sound boxes like a drum.

Little Lordling Morth, two years shy of his own Celot, gives me a bowl of myakka stew. I take it and sit next to Benjen on a stump. He is rocking back and forth, letting out a deep-throated moan as a prayer.

A few minutes later Cady Bort joins me on the stump. "Congratulations," she said. "What was he like?"

She means Simeon, of course. "Old," I say. Cady chuckles. "Still sharp, though." She doesn't seem satisfied. "I think he sees a little bit of Sibylla in everyone."

"Can you imagine what it would have been like to meet her?" Cady asks. "She was here only six months and gained over a thousand followers. He was there from the first moment."

"He was a little kid," I say. "I'm sure his memory is colored by that age. When I was six, I thought Stuman was a great guy."

When I finish my bowl of stew, Cady asks to see my Celot Ring. Plain, made from low grade steel, it is nothing special. Agustin probably made it in his shop. Northies will have Celot rings made out of much nicer materials like nickel, gold or silver. It's sad that the royal family has gems embedded in their rings.

The musical troupe tune their instruments and I'm growing excited. They say that the closer we get to the shimmer, the stronger the magnetic fields. The music becomes ethereal. Many years ago, I asked Kensit why these instruments were allowed under the shimmer with the prohibitions against the frivolous use of magnetism. Kensit answered, "Music is not frivolous," which ended the discussion.

Cady places my ring in her pouch and grabs my hand. Our tradition is that the metal ring is not the true symbol of our Celot. Cady has an inking kit to make a more permanent tattoo around my finger. The first prick stings, but the music relaxes me. It is slow going. She makes an ornate pattern of intersecting curves.

The shimmer songs distract me from any pain. When I watch them play, I imagine waves of sound rippling the air above. When the waves of music from the shoulder lutes reach those of the flutes, they blend into a visual harmony. The shimmer harp draws the sounds to it. Melodies resonate with ethereal serenity. I find myself humming along with Benjen's chant.

"Stay still," Cady says. "This is tougher than it looks."

When she's finished. I hold my finger up and say, "It's beautiful." Waves circle my finger in an eternal ring just. The pattern is familiar. "It's a song," I realize. I'm not sure how I know, but it looks just like the waves rising from the shimmer lutes. "I wonder what it sounds like."

"Some day you'll play it for me," Cady says. While putting away her gear, Cady says, "You know Stuman is not really such a bad guy..."

As soon as she said it, one of the lute strings broke in a colliding cacophony of sound. "He's the worst," I say.

Cady chuckles. "He may not be the best, but he's far from being the worst. He is comfortable around you."

"I can do without comfort," I say. "I would think you would understand. You aren't betrothed."

"That's why I know that Prince Charming isn't out there waiting for any of us. Besides …," she pauses to fold up the inking kit and place it in her rucksack. "I'm thinking of applying to the solitary."

"Truly?" I say. "You're family must be proud."

"They don't know, yet. Please keep this between you and me"

The musicians finish playing their first set. The base lute player stops to change out the ribbon and tune his instrument while the rest of them find a bite to eat. I want to leap up and investigate those instruments. Instead, I stand and wipe off the back of my trousers. "That is an elegant solution to the betrothal problem," I say. "I may have to consider that for myself."

I walk over to the abandoned musical instruments and find an alto lute. It's just the right size. The bass lute player glances at me, and smiles outside of one side of his mouth. Then he returns to tuning his strings.

I place the lute on my shoulder and weave my body around, mimicking the musicians. When I turn to East-West, the tune is clear and sharp. When I position the lute north and south, the tonal quality becomes more diffuse and flat. In between there are an infinite range of notes. I understand why the musicians love it. It's addictive.

The bass lute player says nothing. I am not going to look at him. If he told me to stop playing, I would listen to him.

With one hand on the instrument's neck, I can press on each ribbon and deaden the sound. Pressing several ribbons tight to the neck allows me to play chords. With the lodestone in the other hand, I test it's function. When I move it closer to my neck the pitch rises. I prefer the deeper notes that use the entire ribbon. Angling the lodestone gives a dissonant sound that has its own style of musicality.

I start out with trying to play a song that they had played. The music distorts the air in front of me. Seeing the notes this way makes it easy to copy their sound. The waves from each ribbon weave together in optical harmony. I then tease the music in a different direction from the songs they played, testing chord progressions. The musical weave blends with the deep rumble of Benjen's chant.

I imagine that the music is beautiful, even though I know it is childish exaggeration. It's a simple instrument to play poorly.

It's a song about the beauty of the underground. Phosphorescent veins of turquoise and sienna light the way through underground caverns leading to a cabbage-shaped crystal altar. They have what they need – warmth, shelter, and food. They are safe and secure … content. There is no reason to leave, so they stay.

The song feels familiar, even though I've never heard it before. It's all a series of groans and chants. I add my tenor-pitch to Benjen's deep base. His voice supports mine and raises it higher.

After a few minutes, I stop playing. The bass lute player stares at me. "I'm sorry," I say. "I wanted to try it."

His troupe members return to the cleared area which doubles as a stage. "Who's your teacher?" He asks in a thick, mid-country twang. I have to replay the words over in my head before I can respond.

"I don't have a teacher," I say thankful that I don't have someone to blame for that noise. "It was fun." I hand the alto-lute back to the troubadour. I suddenly realize that this instrument is more than fun to him – it's his livelihood. "I'd love to hear you play again."

I skip over to Benjen before the musician has a chance to get angry for borrowing his lute. The troupe tests their instruments, adjusts the tune and start playing a lively dance tune. Many of the townsfolk and start dancing which only serves to remind how separated I am from the rest of them. Cady dances with Rock. Stuman dances in the middle of a group of eight. I'm not sure who is his partner. Willen watches the rest of them have fun as though he is already an old man. I like to think Willen is not dancing because of me, but really he's just born old. I sit next to Benjen, watching the troupe, rocking back and forth with him.

"Well if it isn't hobble and bobble," Stuman says from behind my shoulder. I guess I know which one of those I am.

"Stuman, why are you so mean?" I scowl at him, just to show how irritated I am.

He looks away and rubs the back of his neck. "I'm just kidding around," he says. "Hobble and bobble – it's kind of funny, don't you think?"

"No," I say. "Benjen is chanting. That's our name … it's what we do."

"You know it's your Celot?" Stuman says, continuing with the obvious.

"Did you get something?"

"No," he says, staring at the ground. I keep chanting along with Benjen. "I thought I would speak to your father."

"Don't bother," I say. Benjen's chant changes to a staccato grunt, like a laugh. Even Stuman seems to understand him.

"You always make this sort of thing so difficult," he says.

I make it difficult?

"I've lived next to you practically my whole life," Stuman continues.

I should get some sort of medal for that. "Stuman, just don't," I say. "Stop before you embarrass both of us."

"I don't understand," he says. Then before he can change his mind, he rushes with, "We'd be good together. I could help you walk and stuff … ."

"So, this is some sort of pity thing," I say. Loud voices are rising up from the edge of the green. An argument brewing. "You think I'm just waiting for someone to lean on?"

"Well, yeah," Stuman says. "It's like someone short marrying someone tall."

The argument is getting worse. Eustace Tallow and Warwick Stannasmith are pushing Lord Y'Ustem from Umvaria. That's why we're having myakka stew. Lord Morth invited the new tenants in the lowlands. Lord Morth and Solitar Kensit are intervening for peace.

After the peace, Umvarians emigrated to our little island searching for work. Eying a new source of wealth, Lord Morth built an entire neighborhood of low quality tenements next to the river and charged those new immigrants from Umvaria a standard rent. They were happy that they could find homes at least until the spring flooding when the first floors submerged every year.

"So, what you're saying," I stand on my seat to try to get a better view of what is happening. I lean on Stuman to keep my balance while I try to remember our conversation. "What you're saying is that I'm so pathetic, that you think I'm the only one who would actually think you were tall."

"What?" Stuman said.

"You didn't even buy me a gift for my Celot," I say. I'm just the one person he knows. He thinks I won't be any trouble at all.

Stuman's uncle limped into the fray with his walking stick compensating for a missing leg. "You're not welcome here." He balanced on one foot and whacked Y'Ustem with his walking stick.

"We all lost loved ones at Ramyde," Y'Ustem says. His beautiful green cloak is spattered with mud.

"I'll get you something next payday," Stuman says, gaining confidence. "I'm not going to always be poor. I got plans."

Kensit wedges herself between Dankym Bort. "Please," she says. "It's Shimmer's Eve."

"What kind of plans?" I say. I'm trying to ignore Stuman now, focusing on the greater struggle.

"I'm still working on it," Stuman says. "In your circumstances, with your leg and all, I figured you wouldn't have a lot of suitors."

I look at Stuman. "I wouldn't have a lot of suitors? What do you mean by that?"

"You know what I mean. Nobody wants to marry a cripple."

"Stuman, you are the biggest dyngus on the face of the earth," I say. "Don't bother me with your charity."

"I'm not a Dyngus," he says all hurt.

While Stuman is busy with verbal stupidity, his uncle knocks Solitar Kensit over.

I stretch up on my one set of toes and yell. "Stop!" Using Benjen's vocal techniques, my voice carries across the green. "This is my Celot. Quit spoiling it."

I suddenly realize that I've done the worst thing ever – I've made myself the center of attention. "This is your fault," I say to Stuman. Then I start running toward the bridge with my clumsy stutter step. If any of them wanted to catch me, they could. I have my papers. I have my ring. I don't need anyone of them anymore.