Image credit: Darek Zabrocki
On the snow-covered street leading to the market, Azara sang. It was the only song she knew, a song no one else had heard before. For a span of time, she hadn’t even noticed the coins tossed in front of her by passersby. She focused on the song, her voice filled the afternoon with shades of sadness and nostalgia, and then notes of joy carried the song through the cold morning air. Azara sang the Song of the North, without a hint of magic in her voice, and yet it radiated like waves of sunlight. It told of the proud north and all of its rich history, the unlikely heroes and the tragedies that befell on them, of invasions and invaders, and a great deal unspoken. The man who wrote the song, Uvar Sepeldar, worked tirelessly on the song, and with his magic he wished to make any listener fall in love with the singer. She hoped never to see him again.
The song reminded her of the Iceborn Isles, but when she sang, it didn’t hurt to remember. She wondered if her parents ever bothered to find her after she was taken. Were they proud she was an Iceborn, part of the few protectors of the north? Or were they heartbroken to have their daughter taken away to the coldest islands of Darros, and forced to go through the most brutal physical and mental upbringing?
“You have a lovely voice.”
Azara stopped. A chubby man with red cheeks held something wrapped in jute cloth. Only then had she noticed the few small copper coins near her. The sum of coins was already better than her usual begging routine.
“Thank you,” she said quietly, and looked away. The man’s compliment felt real.
“Here, have this.” He unwrapped his cloth and took out a small, smoked icefish, and gave it to Azara. “If you’re going to be singing like this every day, then working in the North Market just might be bearable,’ he smiled and headed down the street.
With that, pure happiness soaked into her singing for the rest of the day. The world didn’t exist when she sang; it was just her and her voice. Singing the Song felt like warm gold flowed through her body. Her stomach didn’t rumble from hunger, and she had enough coins for something tasty, like freshly baked cheese bread in the West Market. Once the sun had set, Azara left for her new favorite sleeping place, a tight grouping of homes where she could rest on a rooftop next to a chimney. Even a deeply cold night posed no danger to her Iceborn blood, but it was still nice to be warm.
The next day started like the last, with Azara coming down to sing near the North market. Another street girl closer to the entrance of the market played pots and pans like drums with twigs in her hands. Azara named her Drum Girl and from time to time she would play in the morning, and her drumming became a tad better and livelier each time.
Other than Drum Girl, she also noticed the faces of people passing by. Their smiles. The way they moved. People actually loved to hear her sing, and the coins followed. There was only one problem—it was still early morning, and she could only sing one song, over and over. It helped that it wasn’t short, but she couldn’t keep singing the same song every day. Today, she would go to the Crossroad tavern, listen closely, and memorise the other songs in the capital city. She could even afford to eat there. She planned to sing for an hour or two more and then go.
Azara stopped singing.
“Your voice is even better than when I last heard it.”
A chill ran through her blood. She could feel his presence in front of her, but she refused to look up.
“And this is where you sing? On the cold streets of Oro? You could have lived like royalty with me.” It was unmistakable. She looked up at Uvar Sepeldar.
He stepped in closer and stretched out his arm in front of her. His hand suddenly tensed up, as if imitating a cat’s claw, but it remained motionless in front of her. Uvar seemed to concentrate on something. His hand quickly closed into a fist, and Azara felt something was being pulled out of her. As Uvar slowly pulled back his hand, Azara’s eyes widened and her throat felt empty. Not physically empty, but as if something was being taken away. A single silent breath escaped her parted lips.
Uvar smiled, “That’s all I wanted,” his voice was confident, and his posture now relaxed. “You can have your pitiful life on the streets. I’ll just keep your voice so you don’t go around singing my song,” Uvar’s teeth clenched at the last two words. He glared at Azara, turned his back and walked away. People went in and out of the market as usual, as if nothing happened—so went on the usual jolly chatter, the boots pattering on the stone street, and carts rolling in and out with goods clanking and horses pulling. But Azara just sat there, her mouth open and staring into empty space. She went through the motions of making a sound, any sound with her voice. She tried screaming.
Only silence came out. Tears ran down her cheeks as she sobbed mutely, completely ignored by the bustling people around her. For the first time in her life, she felt cold. The world around her felt stranger, lonelier than it had been just a few moments ago. The feeling brought back memories of her first day in the Iceborn isles, separated from her parents, so little and so alone. It was there she discovered her capacity for unusual magic. Azara looked ahead and saw an empty alleyway. She stood up, her legs weak, and numbly walked across the street. As she entered the partly shaded alley, she pulled the darkness over her like a thin blanket, disappearing from sight. She spent the rest of the day and night curled up and covered by the dark.
In the morning, hunger struck her and Azara went to eat and drink some of her provisions atop her rooftop. She looked out at the city of Oro, and in the east the top of the walls and towers of the Frost Palace were just visible. The numbness of yesterday was gone, and her body burned with anger. Confronting Uvar would be suicide, but she knew Uvar had one particular envious enemy. She hopped of the rooftops and quickly made her way to East Market. A familiar house stood in front of her, a bit taller and wider than homes around it, and Azara stared at it for a while before deciding what to do. She took a big breath, and knocked on the door.
A short, skinny man opened the door with a surprised smile on his face. His eyes gleamed as if they found treasure.
“Azara! Believe it or not, I was starting to worry about you,” he said. The man was Kintoren Dori, the sorcerer who told her to steal the Song of the North several seasons ago.
Azara frowned. She hated herself for starting all of this. If only she hadn’t stolen from the sorcerer’s home, she wouldn’t be in the mess she was. At least, she wouldn’t be if she had gotten away with it. She was also surprised at Kintoren’s tone, and she remembered well how unpleasant her first encounters with him were.
“Did you get the Song? Come in, I’m eager to hear what you’ve got to say,” Kintoren ushered her in with his hand, and gave a sweeping look at the streets before closing the door.
What the living room lacked in color it made up with furniture. The chairs had plain sky blue cushions, and the walls were oyster white, yet a quick glance at the room would give the impression that Kintoren was a simple man. Yet, upon closer inspection, one could see the elegant woodwork on the chairs and table, with masterful curves and carved with spirals and smooth lines. Various musical instruments, from pipes to drums to small folk harps were neatly arranged against the walls. A small teapot was on the table, made from an interesting metal, and had a subdued lustre to it. Azara believed it was entirely of silver, but couldn’t say for sure.
Kintoren noticed, “What sort of tea would you like?” he asked, “I’ve recently had the pleasure of trying imported Kaldeshi leaf, would you like to try it?”
Azara nodded, and sat down.
The sorcerer stopped in his boots and gave Azara a long look. “You haven’t spoken a word. Why are you silent?” All cheeriness was gone from his voice.
Azara tightened her lips and shook her head. She opened her mouth to try to say something, but nothing came out. She tried to explain with gestures, but saw on Kintoren’s face that he already connected the dots before she even tried to speak. The man gave a heavy sigh, as if he was preparing to teach a child common sense.
“I told you Uvar was dangerous. His sound magic is something else, far better than my own. But maybe I can still help you,” Kintoren rubbed his eyes, as if trying to wipe away fatigue, “I assume you didn’t manage steal the Song, with all of its magical notations?”
Raising her arms up in the air, Azara shook her head lightly. She tried to smile, but it fell flat.
“Oh gods be damned, what did you do there for three seasons? Twiddle your thumbs and sing campfire songs?”
She wanted to say she was only there for one season, that she burned the only copy to ashes, and that she didn’t want to be involved with Kintoren or Uvar or any other sorcerer ever again. All she could do was sit in silence. Kintoren poured them both a small cup of tea, and sat down in the chair opposite to Azara.
“Did you at least, oh I don’t know, memorize the song?” he asked, and put his cup down after a generous sip. “I don’t know how it would help, but it would be better than nothing.”
To this Azara nodded enthusiastically. The smell of the tea brought up thoughts of warmer lands, of fields of grass instead of snow, of rain and sun all distilled in that small cup. She brought it to her lips, and never having tasted tea before, the new flavors danced on her tongue and warmth radiated in her body.
Kintoren rubbed his chin, “This is a long shot,” he paused to think for a moment, “but it’s worth a try. Do you remember what Uvar did to take your voice?”
She explained as best she could with gestures, using that claw-like grip at first, and then pulling through the air with a clenched fist.
“I remember our encounters were a bit tense. I’ve never seen anyone on Darros use dark magic before, I’ve only heard stories of Ersidoni mages do such a thing, but it’s unlikely you’ve ever been so far west. Perhaps you have the capacity to learn how to get your voice back using the same technique Uvar did to you.” He finished his tea, but frowned as he put down his cup. “Then again, confronting Uvar will get you killed. The things he can do with sound,” he shook his head slowly. “If not your voice, maybe you’ll be able to own another voice. Either way, I believe I can teach you. Are you willing to learn a bit of sound magic?”
Azara agreed. She was made a guest and stayed in Kintoren’s home while he read his books and studied what Uvar did. He already had a good idea of what the technique was, and after several days, the sorcerer managed to silence a crow atop his neighbor’s house. He taught Azara the basics of sound magic, and all the hand movements that didn’t require a voice. When she learned and reproduced the basics almost immediately, Kintoren was stunned. Here was a girl who had no experience in such a domain of magic, and yet learned as quickly as if she were a scholar. One morning he woke up to the sound a cat meowing in his home, only to find it was Azara with a new voice she had stolen. A mute street cat tried to meow in vain in front of her.
Kintoren had never seen anything like it before. What other magic can she learn? Perhaps she was even more valuable than the Song itself. He made a small note in his study and tucked it away in a dreary book.
The next day, Kintoren believed she was ready.
“Go find a street girl, take her voice, and come back to me. There’s something peculiar about you. I want to see how far your learning of magic can go, and with dark magic, you’re halfway there to something remarkable.” He was already visibly excited just thinking about it. “Go on; come back with a new voice. Remember, I have your name, so don’t try and run off on me, Azara.” She felt her name fill the room, the sound of it shook her a bit and it took a moment to regain her composure. At that moment, all she wanted was to take Kintoren’s voice away. She clenched her fists and walked out of his home, knowing even the attempt to do against a sorcerer of his level will only end badly for her.
At night, she arrived in the familiar North Market part of Oro. She climbed up to a different set of rooftops, and saw Drum Girl covered in a thick blanket, curled up with her pots and pans. As Azara approached closer, she could hear the gentle whistling exhale of the sleeping girl, and see a calm smile that came with good dreams. Azara’s footsteps were silent, a trick she learned from Kintoren, and as soon as she was close enough, she held out her hand in a claw-like fashion, just as she did with the cat. But she paused. Her hand didn’t seem like hers at all; it reminded her of Uvar’s. The more she looked at the girl’s sleeping face, the more it seemed similar to her own. A gust of wind made the pans clank against each other, but not enough to wake the girl. Azara closed her eyes, lowered her hand, and clenched her teeth. She couldn’t do what Uvar did to her, and anger filled her bones in that she even considered it.
She took a copper coin from her pocket and placed atop one of the pots. The moon was almost full that night, and she looked to the east towards the Frost palace. Azara climbed down from the rooftop, and headed towards it. She wanted her own voice back, and Uvar was the one who had it. All she needed to do now was to take it back.