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Libby Singleton

 

A story of the Tandra Universe by Writer Libby Singleton

Krallyn’s Song


by Libby Singleton

Dhramer surveyed the work crews as he wiped his brow, then drank deeply from his water gourd. Progress moved slowly beneath the hot, bluish green Tandra sky. He chose not to scold the laborers, who worked diligently while singing a traditional work song. Only the massiveness of the task itself could be blamed for the delays. A gigantic building once stood on the site, housing the largest and most elaborate theatre ever to grace the planet. Long since silent, only a pile of weed-and-brush ridden rubble remained. Not even the tiniest bit of fine cloth or precious ornamentation remained to reveal a hint of the building's former grandeur. The workers’ eager, off-tune singing did little justice to the masterpieces which once sounded through the auditorium.

Grabbing the hysser’s harness, Dhramer caught a glimpse of a familiar carriage over the short-legged reptile’s back. He realized he hadn’t seen the carriage in the past few days. Normally, every morning at approximately the same time, he’d notice it parked in the same shady spot. He never saw anyone exit the unadorned, yet obviously expensive and well-make vehicle. The driver always remained in his seat, sitting in a dignified pose.

Although curious, Dhramer gave no further thought to the mysterious carriage. Being a practical man, or at least one who valued his job, he lead the hysser and cart to be loaded. “Pile it on heavy, Kamith,” he addressed the team leader. “This beast can handle more.”

“She’s the best we’ve got,” Kamith agreed, team-lifting a cracked, flat stone with another man. The team leader’s hysser snorted as if in agreement.

Dhramer patted his own animal’s dusty tan nose. “She should be a breeder. Perhaps with your stallion....Kamith, do you feel something?”

The ground started shaking. Not with the wave of an earthquake, but as if the ground had come alive, hungry and frantic to swallow. Dhramer felt his feet slipping as the dirt moved. Forcing himself not to look down, he urged his hysser to back up. She fought him, trying to break away from his grasp. “Back! Back! Back!” Dhramer shouted.

Behind him, Kamith screamed and his hysser yelped, their combined agony sounding over the chaos. Realizing he didn’t have much time, Dhramer gripped his animal’s harness, using his free hand to rip the shirt from his body. He wrapped the cloth around his hysser’s eyes. “Back! Back!” he ordered again. The animal balked. “I can’t do anything about the damn noise. Back!”

The animal shifted its body weight, then took a step backwards. Its rump impacted against the cart.

“Back! That’s it girl! Back!”

The hysser continued, obeying the command while tossing her head in distress at the cries of the injured stallion. When Dhramer realized the earth no longer moved, he shouted, “halt!”

Instinctively, he patted the wild-eyed animal. “Good girl! That a good girl!”

“Help me!” a voice cut into Dhramer’s momentary relief. “By the Wizards, help me!”

Dhramer signaled a worker to come take the hysser’s reins. As he turned in the direction of the panicked cries, Dhramer noticed the door to the mysterious carriage was opened. A tiny, elderly woman stood by the work site’s fence. Although a small crowd had formed, the other spectators were keeping their distance from the well-dressed woman. Dhramer could understand. Even with the distance that separated him from her, he could sense the noble aura which demanded nothing but respect. She seemed familiar to him and almost like a goddess he should know and worship. Yet he could not place her in his memories.

“Dhramer! It’s Kamith...” a worker said with a hint of hyperventilation in his voice. “A cart fell on top of him...In the hole!”

“What hole?” Dhramer asked, spinning. Surely he’d been imagining the ground slipping away beneath his feet. His eyes fell upon a sight which proved it’d been no hallucination. Just feet from where he’d originally been standing, a hole had opened. Moving toward it, he saw the sides had slid inward into darkness. Amongst the dirt and rubble, Dhramer spotted Kamith’s cart.

The team leader’s hysser raised its head, emitting a cry of pain and anguish equaling that of its master. Kamith’s body emerged from beneath the still loaded cart. Trapped from the waist down, the man screamed incoherently, seeming to focus first on the injured stallion, then upward at his potential rescuers.

Drawing in a deep breath, Dhramer said, “There is nothing to be done for the animal. As for Kamith, the slope is such that we should be able to reach him without much trouble.”

A workman, eyes wide with uncertainty, moved forward. “There is no way to know if the earth is stable. Someone could trigger an avalanche.”

“Then you do not have to go!” Dhramer snapped. He shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind, then rubbed his temple with one hand. “My apologies. You are right, of course. Gather rope. Preferably long lengths so we do not have to worry about knots slipping. I’ll need volunteers to tie the rope around their waists. The others will be anchors.”

Dhramer ordered the larger workers to stay above while the smaller men served as rescuers. He was the one exception. As foreman, his duty included the unpleasant task of ending the hysser’s pain.

Knife in hand, Dhramer carefully made his way down the slope then quickly slit the stallion’s throat without thought, or a glance in the team leader’s direction. Any other way and he might hesitate, might even find himself unable to complete the task. After weeks on the job, a worker became extremely attached to his animal partner, and Kamith was no exception. The stallion’s golden blood splattered cool against Dhramer’s hands as the animal gave a final sigh, causing him to drop his knife. The wood-handled blade feel downwards into the hole’s darkness.

Dhramer listened carefully but never heard the knife’s impact. Perhaps Kamith’s moans drowned out the sound, or maybe, he thought, the hole was extremely deep, even endless. A feeling more intense than mere curiosity coursed through his body; an unignorable urge to explore.

“Watch out!” a man cried.

Dhramer jerked out of his obsession when he looked in the voice’s direction. The wagon began sliding. Scrabbling sideways, he loosened rocks, soil, and other debris. He grabbed hold of a large, protruding root as the cart broke and shattered just feet from him, the pieces continuing downwards. Long seconds passed. This time, he heard the faintest of thuds as the cart’s remains hit bottom bit by bit. Looking upwards, he saw Kamith being lifted out of the cave-in. Although the man’s right leg seemed bent at an odd angle, Kamith was alert, even managing a weak wave in Dhramer’s direction.

• • • • • • • • • •

The rescue had taken more time than Dhramer realized. Darkness came before he even considered a midday meal. At least the physician assured him Kamith would heal in time, with little or no weakness expected to linger in the injured limb.

After accompanying the injured man to the physician’s office, Dhramer returned to the work site without bothering to obtain a new shirt. The area’s security took priority over his own comfort in the cooling air. The last thing he needed was curious bystanders climbing the fence in hopes of getting a closer glance at the hole only to be claimed as victims themselves. Dhramer held his torch out as he approached the site, but he could see no one. Although the site set off the normal path of most of the city’s inhabitants, news of the day’s accident should have spread quickly, making the area prime for onlookers. Even the mysterious carriage no longer rested in its usual spot.

After checking the gate’s lock, he began his trek home where his wife would have a hot dinner and warm bed ready to share. Only a few steps later, a sweet, musical sound caused him to turn. The noise sounded vaguely like the wind blended with a familiar song. A wispy movement caught his eyes. He squinted, trying in vain to focus. It was as if a sheet, caught in the wind, blew downward into the cave-in.

Filled with uncertainty as to whether or not he'd really seen something, Dhramer fumbled with the gate's lock and rushed to the hole. "Anyone there? Are you okay?" he shouted, his words echoing. “Are you okay?”

No one answered. Through the normal sounds of the night he continued to hear the song coming distantly from within the hole. He stared into the opening’s darkness trying to convince himself that his own fatigue was causing hallucinations. Surely anyone falling into the hole would scream, not sing. Still, he could take no chances.

Something moved within the hole, seemingly far from where his torch’s light flickered. “Hello?” he called. “Is someone there?”

Slowly, carefully, Dhramer began descending. The soil and rubble proved loose and slippery at first, difficult to navigate without an anchor rope. Once he’d reached an area unfamiliar from the day’s descent, he found his footing easier, with stones and protruding rocks acting as a rough stairway. Though he saw no further sign of movement, the sweet music lured him downward. He wondered not only about what he’d already seen, but what he’d find.

Most likely, he reasoned as he began to hum with the wind, the caved-in area was nothing more than a sort of old unrecorded landfill. Or perhaps the builders of the grand theatre had filled in this plot of land, after which erosion occurred below the surface due to an underground stream or river. If his employer wanted to build on this site, he’d no doubt ask Dhramer what was to be found underneath the intended foundation. Ancient refuse long forgotten? An underground reservoir of water suitable to tap for the new building’s use? A fault or volcanic tunnel waiting to cause havoc?

Too wrapped up in his pathway and the music to notice the passage of time, Dhramer also tried to ignore his body’s pain. The muscles in his calves pulled against he knees and angles. His thighs throbbed with such ferocity it felt as though his hips would be pulled from their sockets. When he could no longer keep his footing, he sat and began to slide. Despite his agony, he couldn’t help smiling at the thought of his wife’s expression when asked to mend the seat of his pants as he told her of his adventure.

The air gradually became damp and somewhat dank. He could hear the dripping of water against water which added a percussion beat to the music. Something crawled across Dhramer’s hand. He leaped up in panic, the torch illuminating a glimpse of some sort of lizard at least a foot long and apparently eyeless. His stance already unsteady, his foot slipped as he tried to put as much distance between himself and the creature as possible.

The torch flew from Dhramer’s hand as he pitched forward, sounding as though it landed on rock. Dhramer, however, found himself in water. Never a strong swimmer, he flailed his arms and kicked frantically trying to find either his footing or the water’s surface. He felt something, fish or serpent, swarming around him, stinging whenever the slimy things brushed against the bare skin of his back, hands or face. When his lungs began to throb for lack of air, the thought of a lonely death surged through his mind. Most likely no one would find him here beneath the ground. His wife would wonder and never truly be able to mourn. He knew his wife, loved her as deeply as a man could love a woman, and his heart ached not at his own death, but with the possibility he’d leave her forever searching on a hunt that could never end.

Wanting to give in and end the pain, the mental picture of his wife’s grief combined with the music he still heard, causing Dhramer to fight with one last surge of energy. His hand smacked against rock. He forced his body against the rough, sharp stone. Ignoring the cutting pain as ragged edges sliced lightly into his hands, he blindly explored the embankment until he determined - or guessed - which way was up.

Someone grasped his shoulders. Dhramer fought at first, until the song seemed to become louder, almost as if the wind formed words. Feeling redeemed from a lonely death, he relaxed; gasping, sputtering, and coughing as soon as his head emerged from the water. Feeling himself being rested upon the bank, he immediately emptied his stomach of the rancid water he’d swallowed. Collapsing, he lay there listening to the music, stretched out for what seemed like hours but in reality was only a fraction of one. Dhramer opened his eyes, expecting to see the face of his rescuer. Instead, he saw only his torch. Still lit, the flame seemed to be drawn toward a smooth, reddish stone about a foot in diameter embedded in the surface directly in front of him.

Dhramer recognized the stone as a Light-Holder. Slowly standing until assured of his balance, he moved toward the torch. “Hello?” he shouted, unable to see more than a foot or so in front of him. “Is anyone here? I want to thank you!”

He picked up the torch, its flame veering downwards as the stone tried to draw the fire within. He touched the torch to the stone until it captured a portion of the fire, holding it inside itself. This illuminated the area well enough that Dhramer could see another Light-Holder a few strides away, then another. He went from stone to stone lighting each, wet boots squishing with each step. When finished, he’d managed to light eighteen in all. He’d found two others, but cracks prevented them from holding light.

Turning to take in as much of his surroundings as possible, Dhramer realized he stood not on a cave floor, but on a very large rock. This rock was not, however, a naturally formed one. Smoothed down to what appeared to be a perfectly level state, someone had skillfully created a small stage surrounded by a moat. The Light-Holders lit the entire area. Though not as bright and practical as torches for a normal theatre, the stones were an ingenious way to safely light a stage in a small space where the use of fire might eat away precious oxygen or at least pollute the air with thick, rancid smoke.

“Bring me love back from the skies.” Dhramer sang enthusiastically, if a bit off key, to the music, joyous in the discovery the song had words. “Riding in a Wizard’s grasp...” He broke the tune off quickly when he realized he could hear all-too-well what he really sounded like. Although he knew next to nothing about theatres and other entertainments, even he recognized the stage held remarkable acoustics despite the cave-in.

Puzzling over the stage’s existence, Dhramer began stepping off its size. Before he’d started the job of clearing up the theatre’s lot, he’d researched the building as thoroughly as possible. Although no building plans existed, plenty of other documentation did. Nothing mentioned anything underground except a small storage area not half the size of this stage. Perhaps when the theatre had first been build generations before, this had been a rehearsal area, now long forgotten.

The discovery of a wooden door in the stone wall interrupted Dhramer’s ponderings. The wood was damp and rotted. When he tried to push it open, it creaked loudly then fell, revealing a tall but narrow passageway carved through the rock. Stepping through the opening and past the debris into a tunnel, Dhramer caught another glimpse of the form he’d seen above ground. Taking a few running steps, he attempted to follow the figure which dissipated into nothingness. “Damn, “ he muttered to himself. Only the increasing sound of music calmed his aggravation as he continued his trek.

Remains of once grand tapestries draped over the tunnel’s sides. Mold and mildew obscured what had once been beautiful. Enough of the faint imagery remained so that Dhramer could see it told a tale of the Wizards. He reached out, wanting to wipe away the filth in order to better see the story. The cloth disintegrated in his hand, leaving nothing but wet pulp.

Dhramer continue his exploration, feeling as though he’d committed some sort of sacrilege against the Wizards. The six-legged, colorless salamander-like creatures clinging to the clothless spots on the walls made matters even more uncomfortable. Though he could see no eyes on the animals, they seem to stare at him, watching his every move and motive. When is accidentally brushed against one, it let out an infant-like cry of terror which echoed long after the creature scurried away.

As Dhramer walked, the air gradually became warmer, perhaps even less damp. At first he attributed this to his trousers drying. Then he noticed the dim light streaming around the corner. Just on the other side, Dhramer saw a Light-Holder the size of a hysser. So large that the stone gave off heat, once he recharged it to full glow with his torch, it lit a corridor which led to another door.

Slightly ajar, this door’s wood was cobweb, yet otherwise in good condition. Dhramer pushed it open gently, lest it fall, and stepped into a large room where the music filled the air. He paused, squeezing his eyes shut against the euphony. Still blurred between the wind and true music, the song sent chills through his muscles as it increased in familiarity. Knowing he could easily stand there forever trying to remember where he first heard the tune, Dhramer forced himself to explore his surroundings.

The room, shaped in such a way the torch and Light-Holder together illuminated the entire space, appeared to be an apartment. Into one side, shelves were carved. Filled with rusted, dusty and web covered cooking utensils, there was also a spot for a small fire. Across the room fresh, clear water flowed into a small pool, perfect for bathing.

Dhramer moved over to a corner where various string instruments rested. Beginning to rot and obviously long neglected, their wood still showed the decorative splendor of great craftsmanship. He reached out, giving a tentative pluck to a string. It snapped in two. He spun to avoid being slapped in the face by it.

Dhramer barely noticed the string hitting the back of his neck, distracted by a large canopy bed to the left of the entranceway. The canopy’s cloth showed signs of luster despite tears and a layer of dust and debris. Brushing aside the curtain, Dhramer’s heart skipped a beat as he peered inside.

A skeleton, partially covered by a thick blanket, lay on plain sheets. Instinctively, Dhramer stepped back until morbid curiosity caused him to look closer. The bones were clean of flesh and gore, except for a tuft of grayish dark hair on the skull. The hands rested on top of the blanket. An elaborate ring encircled the middle finger of the hand.

The wind-song reached a crescendo as Dhramer leaned over, grasping the ring to slip it off the skeleton’s finger. Though he knew little of such things, Dhramer recognized the piece of jewelry as being made from a precious metal. Beautiful musical notation surrounded the entire length of the ring, making it even more valuable.

Unable to resist, Dhramer slipped it on his own right hand. A perfect fit. While admiring how natural it looked on his finger, the music ceased.

• • • • • • • • • •

The man came out shortly after dawn to be greeted by a puzzled crowd of workers. I gathered from the conversations carried through my carriage’s open window that no one knew he’d spent the night below. His wife thought him with the injured man at the hospital. The workers thought him home with his wife. In any case, he brushed aside the men and started out the site's gate after ordering his workers to stay away from the hole for safety’s sake.

As instructed, my driver bid him over. When the carriage door opened, for the first time I was able to study the man closely. Tall and stocky, his face showed the sunburned lines of much time spent outdoors. His eyes, though tired and a bit bewildered, betrayed a man of honest character. Hoping to calm his exhausted nerves, I smiled. ”Come on. Sit for a while. My driver will bring you water. Your name is Dhramer, is it not?”

“I must be on my way,” he said, obviously startled at my familiarity. “My wife will be expecting me.”

“Surely you can spare a few moments for an elderly lady,” I replied, smiling to reassure him. “That ring. I will pay you a small fortune for it.”

“The ring?” He raised his hand, looking uncertainly at the jewelry.

“Yes. You did find it below, did you not? Was there a body?”

He drew in a deep breath. “How do you know?”

“That isn’t important.” I shook my head slightly to emphasize the fact. “I’m willing to let you set the price. I have more than enough wealth to last a dozen lifetimes, much less the few seasons I have left.”

“I really hadn’t planned to sell it.” he admitted. “I need to talk to my boss since it was found on his property, but it should be passed on to the deceased’s family.”

“You are most unlikely to find anyone.” I explained.

“No one?” The man’s brow wrinkled. “How can you be so certain?”

“One as old as I am finds contentment in certainty since the only certainty in life is death, and our own past experiences. Much better to be content in remembrance of the past than content in the alternative.”

He tilted his head slightly, giving his face a charming, almost boyish quality despite his leathery skin. “I think you know a story,” he insisted. “A tale about the caverns. This ring, too. Please, tell me.”

My private life has always been my private life. When one is well known, the secrecy is as precious as the most valuable jewel. Like an eccentric collector, I loathed the thought of giving up what I held most dear.

“Please,” he begged again in response to my silence. “There is a great mystery here, of which I unknowingly became part. Curiosity gnaws at me.”

I glanced at the ring. What good would secrets do now? I slid over, patting the seat beside me.

“I’m filthy. I will soil the seat covering.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “Which can be cleaned. Come and sit beside me. Since you insist on hearing, there is a story to be told.”

As Dhramer settled next to me, my coachman handed him a glass of water which he gulped thirstily. The glass refilled, he seemed happy to sip. Only then did I begin my story.

I was born after the fall of Tandra’s great civilization. Although the culture seemed to be recovering nicely, as a female my place in society was in the home. While my brothers took advantage of free classes in both education and the farming arts, I stayed at the cottage to help my mother, learning from her all that men thought I should know. All men, that is, except my grandfather. He came for an extended visit one summer.

Delighted by the songs I loved to sing while completing my chores, Grandfather taught me old tunes dating from long before his childhood. When I’d learned all that he could teach, he decided to take me to Tandra’s largest and most celebrated theatre. He didn’t tell me of his plans. One day he simply asked me to dress in my finest garment and pack enough food for at least two picnic meals. He hooked our draft animal to a borrowed surrey and we began the long trip into the city.

Oh, how my heart beat with excitement when we approached the theatre and I realized what Grandfather had in store! I’d heard stories, of course, about the place, but never did I dream that I’d one day sit in the audience. Tickets, you see, though not expensive for the public seats, were still a fortune for a poor farm family. Thinking back, the old man with dirt beneath his nails and me in a too-short, stained dress must have stood out even among the masses. Not that I cared, for a new world opened to me that night.

I’d never heard such music! Not just the orchestra of well-trained musicians on well-make instruments - the singers, solo and otherwise, sent chills up my spine as my grandfather put his arms around me and drew me close. “You have the talent to do that too, child, if only you have the determination to find out how to go about it.” The music was so wonderful I wet myself, without shame, rather than to be excused and miss a moment of the grandeur.

We camped not far from the theatre that night before returning home. Although my days were once again filled with tending animals, the garden, and housekeeping, I never let the wonder of that special night leave my dreams. I sang whenever I could, often stealing away into the pastures where I could practice and train my voice without arousing the suspicions of my parents.

Do not misunderstand me. My mother and father were kindly people. However, they were too realistic when it came to my future. They encouraged me to sing, as they enjoyed hearing my voice, but did not want me developing grandiose ideas of whom and what I’d become as an adult. In fact, they were rather relieved when I accepted a position as a maid with a wealthy family who owned a farm near us. Although very young for such a demanding job, I knew this family often traveled to the city for prolonged stays while the husband attended to business. I worked extremely hard so that they chose me to accompany them on their next journey.

Once in the city, I spent every free moment at the theatre watching the various performances or just observing and soaking up the atmosphere. The possibilities of whom and what I could be controlled my day and night dreams, though naturally I did not neglect my duties with my employers. In fact, they complemented me on my diligence and attention to detail never realizing I merely wished to make sure my duties were completed correctly so I would not have to waste time redoing monotonous household chores. Once my tasks were complete, I made the long walk to the theatre.

I never missed an audition. Oh, my first attempts were pathetic, or so I know now. Overwhelmed with nervousness, my voice squeaked and crept off tune. Yet, at the time, I thought myself the best of the best. Time and time again I stood before the directors, gradually winning a bit part here, a chorus part there. When not on stage, I volunteered to usher. Soon, I made enough to meek out a satisfactory, if meager, life, enabling me to resign as a maid.

Although I naturally dreamed of a starring role and thought such parts would be mine with patience. Thus I begrudgingly waited, attempting to force myself into contentment. That is until the audition announcement for “The Star Anthem.”

Ah, good! I can tell by your expression you know the story! I simply had to earn the role of the woman whose voice inspires the Wizards’ journey! I already knew the part by heart. I rushed to the theatre manager’s office to sign up. Imagine my disappointment when he informed me the directors had already selected those among the theatre’s repertory who were to audition. Tears threatened to well up in my eyes. I refused to let them flow.

I fell to my knees, begging the manager to talk with the directors. At first he refused, explaining although talented, my voice was not trained well enough for such a difficult role. I reminded him of all I’d done for the theatre, the hours I’d toiled away in an often voluntary way though my stomach growled with hunger because I hadn’t the money for food. With a sigh, he promised me he’d see what could be done.

The day of the tryouts, I’d still not heard from the manager. I went to the audition hall anyway, my heart pounding not at the thought of singing before the directors, but with the knowledge they’d probably never agree to see me. As the last singer left, I slumped onto a bench, oblivious to all around me. A firm grip on my shoulder startled me. I stood to find myself peering up into the manager’s face.

“Hurry!” he urged me. “They will see you now. Be quick about it! They have plans to dine shortly.”

I rushed into the hall, literally thrusting my music into the hands of the string player. As the directors whispered amongst themselves, I stood on the stage and announced my name. When no one responded, I nodded to the musician who began to play.

One would think the rather rude reception would test my nerves. Quite the contrary, I felt totally at home before the men. Suddenly, I was the only singer on this world. In fact, I became the woman who sang the Wizards to the stars. I know it sounds fanciful, and perhaps there’s truth to that. I can state with certainty my performance far surpassed any I’d given previously. At least until a dozen bars into the music when the men stood, leaving without even acknowledging my existence.

Correct or not in their behavior, such is the right of powerful men in theatre. They abide by no rules except those within themselves. The manager shrugged in my direction, saying a soft “I’ll see you later” as he followed the directors’ path out the door. I stood along in the hall, just another small speck of dust on the aging stage. “Foolish men!” I shouted, my voice echoing in the empty room. “You do not know talent!”

At least I could return to my old life, I reminded myself. When I’d resigned as a maid, the family urged me to come back if I ever needed work. Certainly not the life I imagined, at least my employers and co-workers were pleasant, even loving.

Without bothering to give one last look to the grand theatre’s passages, I returned to my small chorus member’s bunk to pack my clothing. Fortunately, my three roommates were not there to see my disgrace for no doubt they’d beg me to stay. After all, had I not been given a room in the theatre? Did I not appear in most productions requiring a chorus? Was not bringing pleasure to people through music much more worthy work than the dusting of furniture?

Just a few days before, I would have been willing to hear, even heed, such arguments. Now, though, I realized I could still sing even when the songs were only for my own pleasure. The fact the world would miss out on such beauty did not concern me. My mind could produce no option say that of leaving.

Before departing from the building, I peeked into the auditorium to find it empty. No performer should end her career without realizing her dream role, so I placed my bag in a front row seat and positioned myself center stage.

Bereft of orchestra, lights, and even an audience, I began to sing. What fortune had failed to provide me, my own imagination conjured. I could hear the sweet yet dramatic chords of the musicians complementing, never overpowering, my voice. The audience sat enraptured as I hit the high notes perfectly in pitch. I even heard one poor soul try to stifle a coughing fit.

When I’d finished, the audience stood in a wild ovation. I bowed again and again before the people faded from existence, leaving nothing but emptiness and silence.

Hoisting my bag over my shoulder, I started to leave. Stooped by the weight of clothing, I nearly ran into a figure who stepped from the shadows. Fearful, for I had heard stories of women being raped in these isolated rooms when alone, I grabbed to open the auditorium door.

He reached out, stopping the door with a long fingered, ageless hand. “You wish to sing?”

I tried to see his face, hoping to judge by its features the character and nature of the man. His dark brown hooded cloak cast such a shadow across his countenance I could not even judge his age or eye-color.

“Who are you?” I asked, forcing my voice to be steady and firm. Well, at least as much as I was able! For who could not show some small amount of fear when faced with such an intimidating individual.

He opened the door and stepped through. Without hesitation or pause, he started down the dark hallway.

Only a fool would follow a stranger into darkness. I was young, and thus a fool by that fact alone, so I followed. His steps were so long and quick, all my concentration focused on keeping up. I’d thought I knew the theatre’s passageways well until the man came to a rusty, locked door in a musty area I didn’t recall. Producing a key from within his cloak, he opened the door and bid me step through first. Afterwards, he shut the door and squeezed past me.

Small Light-Holders lit the path, and I recall being rather glad I couldn’t see my surroundings any better. The faint stench of sewage filled my nose at first, dissipating as we made our way down the path. Insect webs brushed against my face continuously, and the taste of stale dust coated my tongue. At one point I felt something run across my feet. I cried out, stopping in my tracks. I heard a thud, then a sickening animalistic scream before I felt the man pull me forward.

Shortly afterwards, we entered a cave-like room featuring a stage well lit by Light-Holders. The man gestured slightly, indicating the stairs.

After I’d stepped on stage, I turned to find the man, who I’d never know as anything other than “Teacher,” sitting behind an organ. He played a few phrases of my audition song despite having no written music to follow.

I joined in. The room’s acoustics were nearly perfect. It was a though I heard myself as I truly sounded for the very first time. I stopped in mid-note, appalled by the noise I called singing. How had I earned any roles at all, I wondered as tears threatened to well up in my eyes. There’s no wonder the directors ignored my audition.

The Teacher slammed his hand on his instrument, startling me out of my shock. He immediately continued playing. After a few bars of music, I rejoined.

I quickly learned to listen to myself. I sang. Constantly. I lost all tract of night or day, and the passage of the weeks meant nothing. At times, I would beg to sleep. Once, my voice broke totally. I could not sing another note. The Teacher pounded his fist down with such ferocity, I thought I heard the organ’s wood crack. Opening my mouth in an attempt to obey, I collapsed from exhaustion. Yet the Teacher kept playing, luring the strength back into me to continue.

Oh, his ways may sound cruel to you, but to me, in retrospect, they were merely stern. He knew what I would not admit to - that though I wanted to sing, to demonstrate my greatness, I did not want the work which goes with such glory. He had his moments of kindness too. I’d often awake to find a warm drink or porridge by my sleeping mat. Such beverages soothed my throat and vocal chords.

The time came when the sound of my voice finally sent my spirit flying. The Teacher’s demands eased so that the lessons became a joy, not a burden. One day - or night, perhaps - three men rushed into the room, coming to a stop at the moat surrounding the stage, applauding my just finished song. I recognized them as the three directors of “The Star Anthem.” I stood there, staring at the men as I waited for the teacher to greet them. When he did not, I glanced in the direction of the organ, only to find his seat empty. I’d been left alone.

Not knowing what else to do, I bowed.

“We must have you!” one demanded.

“For what?” I asked.

“The Star Anthem,” another explained.

Feeling rather smug, I tilted my head. “That role is taken, or so I was told as you walked out of my audition.”

“We did no such thing.” a director protested.

“You did,” I insisted.

The first stepped up the stairs and on stage to stand beside me. He took my hand and cupped it between his own. I stared up into panicked, begging brown eyes. “If so, then I apologize. We all do,” he said. “The opera has been a disaster. Although the star has a beautiful voice, she does not match yours in talent nor is she capable of carrying the stage presence needed to attract crowds. Attendance has been mediocre at best. The very financial existence of this theatre is at risk now. As we paced the halls, trying to decide what to do, we heard your voice coming from a vent and followed it into a little used corridor. At the end of the hall was a door ajar, and from it we heard your song as though it was calling us along with the Wizards to the stars....So you understand, we need you. The theatre needs you. Do I dare even insist that the people need you?”

“Then I’ll do it,” I decided aloud. “Not for you, though, nor your companions. I’ll do it for the people in hopes I’ll reawaken Tandra with my songs.”

“Thank you,” the man signed. “What is your name?”

“Krallyn.”

• • • • • • • • • •

Krallyn?” Dhramer repeated. “I...I saw you sing when I was a boy! My entire school went. I remember the instructor telling us you were about to retire.”

The old lady smiled. “When I went on stage in my first starring role, I was a triumph, or so the directors and critics agreed. Overnight I obtained glory. I tried to find my teacher again many times afterwards. He apparently did not want to be found and I never saw him again, though I’m sure he knew what had become of me. The years went by and it is said I single handedly brought music back as an art for all of Tandra.” Pausing, Krallyn laughed softly.

“I...I remember now!” Dhramer exclaimed. Memories formed in his mind almost as spiritual visions. He grinned. “In fact, I’m surprised I ever forgot. Before your final performance, there were playbills posted everywhere announcing the concert. Everyone seemed to be speaking of it. My...my older sisters camped for days outside the theatre to obtain tickets. I think - no, I’m sure - I recall them returning home in tears because the tickets were all sold long before they reached the front of the line. You were...you are... worthy of the Wizards.”

“I don’t know about that, but I did find that being a legend is very hard work,” Krallyn said, patting Dhramer’s knee. “At last the day came when I wanted to sing for myself again, not an audience. So one evening after a performance of my greatest songs, I’d prearranged with the orchestra leader to immediately begin playing the score for “The Star Anthem.”

Krallyn paused, her eyes unfocused. Her head moved slightly, as if to music. “What fortune had provided me, I returned to all who had come to listen. Sweet yet dramatic chords of the musicians complemented, yet never overpowered my voice. The audience sat enraptured as I hit the high notes perfectly in pitch. When I’d finished, the audience stood in a wild ovation. I bowed again and again. Much like my very first performance, only this time the musicians and audience were very real. Strangely, though, in my imagination I was alone on that stage, with only my Teacher watching from the wings.”

Dhramer sat in silence for a moment, remembering Krallyn as a younger woman. He’d been a restless child, wanting to work with his father instead of wasting time with a musical. Her performance had changed his opinion completely. Although he never pursued song as even so much as a hobby, he’d left the theatre with an appreciation and understanding of what music could mean to Tandra. “This ring,” Dhramer finally said, “it belonged to your teacher, didn’t it?”

Krallyn nodded. “Yes. I never did know what he looked like. He always kept to the shadows, with a hooded cloak hiding his face. The only features I remember seeing were his hands. His fingers were long and did not betray his age. He did, however, wear a beautiful ring. You found it in the cave-in, I presume.”

“On the hand of a ... skeleton,” Dhramer admitted, slipping it from his finger. “You must have been the person who led me to it.”

“Me?” she asked in amusement. “My joints do not bend willingly these days. Adventures belong to the young, or at least the more able bodied.”

“But...but I saw a figure. Dressed as you dressed when I saw you perform,” Dhramer explained. “You even moved the same! So graceful. It stands out in my mind. It was your voice I heard beckoning me below. I’m sure of it. You pulled me from the water when I fell.”

“Then believe what you will,” she said softly, as a mother speaking to an overly imaginative child. “If it pleases you.”

Dhramer could not tell if she teased, mocked or perhaps even hid the truth. He did get the impression he shouldn’t argue so, instead, he diverted to the real matter at hand. “I suppose...I guess this ring rightly belongs to his family...”

“There is no family, as I told you earlier,” Krallyn said. “At least none that I know of. We spoke only of music and of what could be my future.

“Then you should have it.” Dhramer slipped the ring from his finger. Holding out his hand, the ring on his palm, he offered it to Krallyn.

“No,” she said, gently folding his fingers around the ring. “I realize now the memories are keepsakes enough for me. You keep it, or sell it to provide for your family. The ring is only a thing, you see. The Teacher gave me so much more. There is only one favor I ask. Bury him.”

“Of course,” Dhramer agreed. “I will arrange for his remains to be removed...”

“No!” Krallyn snapped sharply. “No,” she repeated more calmly. “Bury it all. Fill in the hole so that he may rest as he chose to live.”

“I will check with my boss.”

“You truly don’t understand.” Krallyn reached out, brushing Dhramer’s unshaven face gently. “Do it now. Before the curious insist on disturbing his rest.”

Dhramer nodded once, hesitantly. “I must go. My wife...”

“Is no doubt very worried,” Krallyn said. “I must return home as well. When you are old, you will learn the pleasure of slumbering in dreams of days gone by and will no longer worry so much about what the mind thinks your eyes see.”

The old woman leaned forward, kissing Dhramer lightly on the cheek. He grinned, feeling the blush warm his cheeks, then bowed his head in farewell as he stepped from the carriage. His men looked at him curiously as he crossed the street to join them.

“Fill the hole in,” he ordered. “There is nothing for our eyes to see below.”

--END--

If you enjoyed Krallyn's Song, you will be delighted to discover there are more stories by Ms Singleton on the Tandra CD-ROM. Click here to learn more about the Tandra CD and order your copy from our on-line store today.