9.) “Why are you really doing this?” Marston asked. “Favory has been pestering me for an answer, and I must admit I am equally curious.”
The lady in question was riding in the pilgrim’s cart just ahead of us, her red stallion tied to the back. Laughter filtered back to us, and I could almost gauge the progression of the seduction by the sound.
Marston sat next to me on the apple cart. The contraption groaned under the weight of two men, even though Marston was not a large man. Hobson the carpenter had done his best, but the wood wasn’t sturdy and threatened to collapse every time it went over a bump in the road. I did not know then that it would, imbued with the spirit of Seed, outlast every other conveyance.
“Remind me to never let Toug ride with me,” I said, as the cart let out an alarming creak.
“What is this thing?” Marston asked, reaching over and peeling a large sprinter from the dash. “It looks ill-prepared for a long journey. Is this crabapple wood?”
“It is symbolic,” I said. “Honoring Moregone’s proudest creation.”
“You are not the symbolic nor the honoring type,” Marston said. “So what are you really intending?” His emerald green eyes bore into me, seeming to strip away all pretenses.
Marston could not help being honest, despite his profession as a thief. Once, as I stood watch outside a depository while he broke into the safe, the Prince’s constabulary braced me. I was in the midst of an elaborate explanation when Marston emerged, carrying a suspiciously clanky bag over his shoulder.
“What do you have there?”
“I believe these are your wages for the month,” Marston said with a flat voice.
The fight that ensued was equally honest and blunt. Fortunately, we were the victors, but I made sure that I had Marston’s promise of muteness every job thereafter.
“Marston…have you ever wondered where I came from? You were but a boy when I first met you. Do I appear to have changed in the slightest?”
“I’ve always known you are witchy,” Marston said, shrugging his shoulders.
“But you have never asked for the particulars. Don’t you find that strange?”
“Not really. If I asked everyone for the particulars of their past it would never end?”
I snorted in exasperation. “You are just like every other citizen of the Thirteen Principalities.”
He shook his head. “Not in the slightest.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do not.”
“I shall prove it to you with a single question. What lies beyond the Shield Mountains?”
“It a reasonable question. The mountains are not overly tall, and even from here I can see gaps in them. They shouldn’t be hard to cross. So why has no one in living memory done so?”
“I…I don’t know,” Marston said. It was more of an answer than I usually got. Most often the person would simply change the subject as if the question had never been asked.
I took a long breath. I’d probably told Marston this story before. Eventually I told everyone I knew, and eventually everyone forgot I’d told them. “I know the mountains are not impassible because long ago I crossed over them.”
Marston looked ready to challenge me, but then his innate honesty took hold. He kept his silence, and even more impressive, he still looked me in the eye
“I was not born in the Thirteen Principalities, Marston. I am a stranger here, even after all the centuries I’ve been here. Three times I have seen the Mirror God erase the past; three times this land has started over. It wasn’t always the Thirteen Principalities. Once it was called Stronghold, ruled by a single king. Before that it was what was called a democracy, with each province, down to the smallest hamlet, ruling themselves.
“But the citizens of this land just went on, unaware that anything had changed.”
Marston absorbed this information, shaking his head as if he didn’t believe it. But again he surprised me.
“But you remember?”
“So I thought—so I congratulated myself each time, and yet… I’ve begun to realize there are gaps in my memory. There are things I should remember that slip away when I reach for them. The Mirror God is slowly erasing everything I was.”
“They who forget, shall also remember,” Marston intoned. For a thief, he was strangely devout; perhaps the root of his honesty. “The Mirror God is forgiving,”
“The Mirror God is a son of a bitch.”
Surprisingly, Marston laughed. I don’t think I’d ever heard him laugh before. It was like gravel grinding.
“I have almost forgotten my homeland, but I have vague memories of things that seem like magic to me now. Carriages without horses, light that doesn’t burn, even conveyances that fly through the air. While the Mirror God keeps this land in childhood the world outside progresses. The Mirror God has hidden us in reflections, in the shadows and corners of mirrors, so that we have been forgotten even as we forget.”
“Why have you not tried to leave before?” Marston asked.
“I believe…I suspect I have. I think perhaps on my way to doing so, I got distracted.”
Again Marston laughed. “Why will this time be different?”
Of course, Marston asked the honest question, the one I’d been avoiding.
“I think the Mirror God forgot about Moregone—or perhaps more importantly, Moregone has forgotten the Mirror God--and that is why is has disappeared. Moregone was always the most practical and least romantic of the principalities. Also the least devout. It is what attracted me to it in the first place. While the rest of the principalities vie for supremacy, Moregone gets on with the practicalities of living. They can’t be bothered with “magic,” which they consider to be unreliable. The last time I was there they had built a machine that picked crabapples and another that cultivated their fields of artichokes.
“In other words, Moregone has progressed and is now in a state of limbo, neither part of the Thirteen Principalities nor of the outside world…. If left alone long enough, I believe the Eleventh Principality will be forgotten completely, and the inhabitants of this land will believe there are Twelve Principalities and always have been.”
“If that is what the Mirror God wants then…” Marston began.
I interrupted him. “Quite the opposite. My sudden inspiration to investigate was not my own. When I told Prince Cambral that I intended to detour around the Shield Mountains, he didn’t blink an eye. Nor have any of the rest of you questioned it. The Mirror God wants us to look, to remind the people of Moregone that it is one of the principalities, and to pull it back.”
Marston was silent for a long time. “This must all be true. Because how else could I be thinking it? What is your intention, Evard?”
“To find Moregone and to help its people to forget the Thirteen Principalities ever existed.”