Part 1 • Part 2
Galbron lowered his wine glass and continued.
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“What are you doing here?” Jakrom gasped.
Even in his distress, the man smiled. “I will ask you the same thing, but not just now. I am Perin. Do you have water?” he whispered.
“Of course, of course.” Jakrom found a place to wedge the handle of the broken pickaxe, tied his rope to it, and slid down. He found a man covered head to foot in furs, resting on a pack. He gave the man a waterskin, and the newcomer sipped at it.
“Ah. Better.” Perin still had more croak than voice, but he sipped again. “To answer your question, on the Edge of the World a foot placed wrong can kill. Two days ago, I slipped on loose stone up above and fell here. It is warm enough in this sheltered spot, and food I have, but lost what little water I carried in the fall. And my leg is broken. But what of you? What brings you to the Edge?”
“This is how I shall prove myself worthy of marrying the daughter of a merchant,” said Jakrom. “I have been sent to stand on the Great Nothing, and bring back a fragment as proof.”
“If the bride-price for all daughters is so great,” Perin chuckled, “I am surprised there are folk left in the world!”
“Larbam offered me his older daughter with no bride-price, but I know her not.”
“Then she is a prize indeed. But do not chip at the Great Nothing. I have a fragment that I can give you instead.” Perin reached into his furs, and withdrew a large chip of black stone.
Jakrom took it and stared into it wide-eyed. It was the deepest black he’d ever seen, darker than any windowless closet. In its flat side, he thought he could see sparks of distant lights. He felt as if he could fall into it. Finally, he looked away. “I thank you, sir. But if I need not chip away a piece on my own, I must still stand on the Great Nothing. I will not deceive the father of the woman I wish to marry.”
“And to have come this far?” He nodded. “Of course. You are nearly there. Go have your look. But take your rope, that you may find your way back. Those not accustomed to the Great Nothing find it confusing. And when you feel lost, look up.”
“It is said that you lose your way, and then your mind, in the Great Nothing,” said Jakrom. “Your counsel is wise. But first, let me splint your leg. When I return, I can help you further.”
Jakrom left his waterskin and the rest of his pack behind, taking with him only his rope and the pickaxe. So close to his goal, and free of his pack, he felt light as a feather. He quickly scrambled up the steep slope, nearly bounding. But remembering what Perin had said, he kept a close watch on his footing. As he climbed, the sky before him turned a deep shade of blue, then almost black.
At last, he reached the peak. He stood watching, one with the stone, for how long he could not say. Before him, sunlight scattered over the Edge and marked a way down into a blackness as black as the fragment that now rested in his own pocket. To either side, a yellow-white line stretched away as far as he could see: the mountains that formed the Edge of the World. Above him… pinpricks of light, the “stars” of epic poems, hidden by Thurun’s eternal day. Finally, he focused on the slope before him and found his way down.
By some magic—or perhaps only his eyes craving what little light there was—he found that he could see better as he went. As the slope began to level out, to a pool of utter black, he again found a place to wedge his pickaxe and tied his rope to it. And thus Jakrom stepped onto, and stood on, the Great Nothing.
No poem, no story, can prepare a creature of endless Day for endless Night. A frigid wind cut through Jakrom’s jacket and thick clothing, but he felt nothing. Each breath he took made a little puff of fog. The vast plain of black obsidian was filled with the stars that twinkled above, and he thought he might float away to dance forever with those tiny sparks.
“I must go back!” he cried, but his words were swallowed in the Great Nothing. Then he remembered Perin’s advice: look up. As he raised his eyes to the stars, wondering what good the injured man had thought this would do, he saw a line of yellow-white stretching away. There was the Edge of the World, and perspective snapped into place. In his numb hand, he remembered the rope that anchored him—and his sanity—to the world he knew.
“When I heard Ethtar tell his tale,” Chelinn mused, “I did not see how the ‘Great Nothing’ would be so terrible. It would be little more than a clear winter night in the Northern Reach, or perhaps the Icebound Islands. I did not consider the thought that those who grow up in eternal daylight would not know how to cope with night.”
“Indeed,” said Galbron. “And the change we heralded, that morning we winded the Seventh Trumpet, will leave many unable to cope as well.” He looked to their host. “Protector Ethtar, have you thought about how sorcerers will fare in a world that increasingly has less need of them?”
Ethtar gave him a sour look. “I have. But as yet, I have no answer.” He shrugged and forced a smile. “You should finish your story, though.”
“That I should.” Galbron drained his wineglass once again, and continued.