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A Measure of Solace

Chapter One

His broken world was darkness and silence, though the latter was punctuated at times by papery leaves fluttering, a bitter crow arguing with its kin, or the odd rock tumbling down the nearby cliff.

Sensing nothing else familiar, he fought to stay alert, yearning to keep his consciousness from slipping into dormancy. But after their bond had been broken so violently, it was inevitable. Now, without a master, he had no compass, no purpose, no reason to be.

I will forget, he lamented. But perhaps it would be better to relent, to speed through the ages unknowing, when there is nothing left for me here but the unbearable emptiness of loss.

 

Echoes of the clifftop confrontation were already fading, and he strained to hold on to those memories, to recall the steady grip of his master’s hand, the harmony with which they had fought together.

 

He lay among a layer of old leaves at the base of the cliff, damp and cold in the final remnants of autumn, the trees around him already asleep. As the crow complained once more, he railed against the inevitable, wishing with all his essence to return to what was. But even one such as he could not control the flow of time.

 

Eventually, he subsided.

 

When the air above him had grown warmer than the cold dirt below, his consciousness stirred. She was close before he became aware of her presence, her small hand reaching down toward him, gentle fingers brushing the leaves away from his body.

 

“Oh,” she said, her voice the barest breath of sound. “Look at you.”

 

He was still in the murky shadows of half awareness, unable to reply, but he pushed his senses out, trying to feel the essence of her.

Human, female, little more than a decade in the world.

 

When the girl touched him, his consciousness jolted as if he had been struck by lightning. Her fingers gave the slightest twitch, but still she wrapped them around his body and pulled him up from the forest floor, peeling the rest of the clinging leaves away.

 

“I’ve never seen the likes of you down here,” the girl continued, as if she knew he could hear her. “Old axes and rusty knives aplenty. Even a sword or two. But never such a gorgeous bow.”

Gorgeous bow, he thought, pleased at the compliment.

He had many names, had been called many things by many masters, the most recent of which was only an indistinct notion buzzing through his weakened consciousness.

Solace.

 

That was it, was it not? Had that been the name his most recent wielder had used?

 

I am Solace, he told the girl.

 

She dropped him with a gasp, stepping back as he fell to the forest floor.

 

“Did … did you just talk to me?”

 

If Solace had possessed lungs, he would have sighed. Indeed.

 

Humans were always surprised to find that anything other than humans could communicate.

 

She leaned down over him once more, though she kept her fingers back this time.

 

“You’re a talking bow,” she said, her tone one of disbelief.

 

I do more than talk, child. Raise me once more, and if you would be so kind, give me your name.

 

The girl did as he asked, bringing him up with both hands this time, and held him out horizontally before her as though she had never held a bow in her life. Perhaps she hadn’t.

 

“I am Zeera,” she said.

 

The wood of his body felt gritty and worn after lying for months in a tomb of damp, rotting leaves. His string was still taut, though, pulling pleasantly at the tip of each limb.

 

Greetings, Zeera. I would be grateful for your attention.

 

As her small hands warmed him in the spots she held, Solace brought forth his true nature, his spirit. Emotion welled up within him, the sorrow he had felt at the loss of his master, the despair of losing not only the company of another but the bond they had shared.

 

The girl made a noise, something close to a cry, and though she didn’t drop him again, she stepped back, as if she herself had to rail against such powerfully negative feelings.

“What happened to you?” she asked. “Why are you so sad?”

Solace took a moment to gather his awareness, to recall what had actually happened atop the cliff, but he found the memory was as fuzzy and indistinct as a distant mountain.

There was a great confrontation—a battle, I believe. I lost my master.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I lost my mama two winters past. I was really sad, too.”

Solace withdrew his sorrow from the girl, drawing it close and wrapping it up in his core as if bundling it up in a cloth. He tried to summon forth a more pleasant emotion, but nothing came. The lack of melancholy left only a void.

“I’ll take you home and look after you,” Zeera said, shifting him into one hand and slinging his body across her back. “My papa has a tanning shed with cloths and oils. I’ll polish you up like new.”

With determination in her steps, Zeera turned and walked away from the base of the cliff.

Solace reached out, trying to feel for any sign of his master’s essence in the shadows and the leaves and the dirt. But nothing was there. He allowed his awareness to subside once more as the girl carried him away from everything he knew.

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