Disclaimer: Believe it or not, all major characters in this story belong to Saban.
Author's Note: This story was inspired in part by a novel called, "The Tangle Box" by Terry
Brooks, who is a MUCH better author than me. This story takes place directly after C2D,
beginning on the planet of Eltar.
Saffron Golde and Hunter Greene
A man with no name, no home, no family, no past, and no memory woke up in a sunny and
cheerful hospital room in an Eltarian city. His rebirth into consciousness was a slow and painful
one, as births often are, but he finally managed to order his thoughts and convince himself to join
the living rather than the dead. Laboriously, he pulled himself into a sitting position and looked
The room was pleasant. His bed was near the one window leading to the outside, and sunlight
slid through the branches of a small potted plant on the windowsill before landing on his
dusty-colored blankets and making shadow-patterns. There was a table next to his bed, topped
with a lamp, pens and paper, and a couple of popular books intended for the entertainment of
bedridden patients. The man was not bedridden, he discovered; other than feeling a bit stiff and
sore, he didn't seem to be in bad shape. He wondered what had happened. A curious person by
nature, he decided to get out of bed and have a look around.
Shoving the blankets and sheets into an untidy heap at the foot of the bed, the man swung his
own feet onto the floor. They were encased in brown leather boots, he noticed, with shiny gold
buckles. He wondered briefly why he had been sleeping with his boots on. Further inspection
revealed that he had been sleeping fully clothed, as well. He wore a pair of dust-brown breeches, a
few shades darker than the bedspread, held in place by a brown belt that matched his boots and
was adorned with pouches for carrying things. His shirt was a brilliant goldenrod with a deep
V-neck, trimmed in white, and loose sleeves with cuffs at the wrists, also trimmed in white. He
wanted to see what his face looked like, but he could see no mirrors in the room. He wanted to
see what his hair was like, but it was too short for him to look at. He settled for looking at his
hands, noticing that he had pale skin and long, graceful fingers. They looked like good hands, he
thought. If they belonged to a musician, they would make beautiful music; if to a writer, they
would pen fine tales; if to a doctor, they would save lives. However, the palms bore callouses,
making him think that they were the hands of someone who worked hard, perhaps a farmer or
"Who do they belong to?" he said aloud.
"They belong to you, whoever you are," answered a voice.
Looking across the room, the man saw that he had company. The other side of the room did
not have a window, making it look dim to someone sitting in bright sunlight. There was a bed,
however, and another man occupying it. This one looked more awake, sitting upright and leaning
casually against the bed pillow with his arms folded lazily across his chest. The reason he had not
been seen at first was that he was so completely dark colored that he blended into the general
dimness. His clothing was in very much the same style as that of the first man, but the hues were
black and deep green instead of brown and gold. His skin was dark tan, and his hair was black and
glossy, falling in shoulder-length waves that partially concealed his face. The eyes peered out of
the darkness, seeming almost to glow, despite the fact that their color was the same dark green as
his shirt. Even with his loose clothing, it was easy to see that he was a man of great strength. The
man in yellow compared his own build to his roommate's and decided that he never wanted to
have to fight this person. The man in yellow was lean and well muscled, but he seemed to be built
for quickness and agility. He could never hope to match this dark stranger in raw power.
"They took our weapons," the man in green offered, after a moment of silence had passed.
"They, who?" asked the man in yellow.
"Doctors. Nurses. Something like that," came the laconic reply. "Don't want us hurting each
other while we're in the hospital."
"Hospital . . . were we injured?"
"I imagine so. I don't think I'm sick, and that's the only other excuse I can think of for being in
a hospital. I've never been sick a day in my life."
"Do you know who I am?" asked the man in yellow.
"I don't know. I can't remember who I am."
The man in green considered. "Nor can I. That explains why we're here."
"Amnesia," said the man in yellow thoughtfully. "Caused by a traumatic experience, either a
blow to the head or severe emotional shock that has to be repressed."
"Whatever you say," said the man in green. "You've been unconscious for most of the day. I've
been awake longer than you, and I've heard some of what's been going on. No one knows who we
are. For what it's worth, the nurses have been calling you Saffron Golde, I think because of your
"Saffron." The man in yellow tested the word's taste and feel. "It doesn't sound bad. It almost
sounds right for me."
"I think it sounds like a girl's name."
"Oh. Well, what do they call you?"
"You look like a Hunter," Saffron offered.
"And you look like a Saffron."
"I detect an insult in that."
"Detect all the insults you want," Hunter replied. "I don't particularly care how you feel about
me. I'll say what I think. All I want now is for someone to tell me where I came from and what
happened, and then to let me out of this hospital."
"I wouldn't mind some answers myself," said Saffron, trying to be agreeable.
Just then, the hospital door swung open, and a doctor paraded in with nurses in attendance,
looking like a royal procession.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said the doctor. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine, all things considered," Saffron replied.
"Ready to get out of here," said Hunter impatiently.
"All in good time," the doctor assured him. "First, a few questions. What are you names?"
"We don't know," said Saffron.
"I see. Do you remember what happened to you, or where you come from?"
"Not a thing," Saffron replied.
Hunter looked thoughtful. "I . . . I remember a battle. I was fighting someone over something.
I don't remember why. He beat me." There was some annoyance in the admission, and Saffron
wasn't surprised by it. For someone who was so obviously a great warrior, losing couldn't be a
common or pleasant event.
"It was a war," said Saffron softly. "I remember a war."
"There was indeed a war," the doctor agreed. "Though I can't be absolutely certain, I'd say
you both fought in it and were injured. You were found on the battlefield, unconscious, and
brought here. Your wounds have been tended, but your memories will have to heal or not heal on
"So you can't tell us who we are?" Hunter demanded. "You mean to tell me that we have no
homes, nowhere to go?"
The doctor looked a little flustered. "Not necessarily. War is a difficult thing, you understand,
and it leaves behind a lot of confusion in its wake. Things are being done for people like you.
Now, there are still many who are injured and need hospitalization, so you are going to have to
leave here. We-"
"You're going to throw us out," Hunter finished.
"We are going to provide you both with supplies, money, and new identities," said the doctor.
"There is a program being set up on one of the other planets for those who were displaced by the
war. They will give you homes there. You will have everything you need to start your lives over."
"Charity," muttered Hunter. "I don't want charity. I don't want pity. I want my real name and
my old life. I don't want to be someone that you and people like you made up."
"What if we have families?" asked Saffron. "If we leave this place, they might never find us
The doctor shook his head. "You must realize that armies have traveled across the universe
and back during this war. Your dress and accents are not Eltarian. It is entirely probable that you
came from some other world, and that you are already lost. If that is the case, your relatives will
be searching for you in the refugee camps, not here."
Saffron nodded at this. It seemed sensible enough to him. If nothing else, it offered some hope
that he could make things work out all right. Hunter, however, seemed determined to be
"Give me what you will, but I will not go to any refugee camps. I am not a beggar. I have
nothing left but my pride, and I will not sacrifice that."
"The choice is up to you," said the doctor. "I only wanted you to know what your options
"I need to think about it," said Saffron.
"Take your time," said the doctor. "It will take some mental adjusting for both of you, I'm
sure. You have until tomorrow afternoon to make up your minds. In the meantime, since you are
both in good physical shape, you are free to leave the hospital. You may pick up your belongings
in the front office."
"Thank you," said Saffron. Hunter muttered something unintelligible, but everyone ignored
"Have a pleasant evening, gentlemen," said the doctor. He and his attendant nurses marched
out the door again.
Once the door was shut, Hunter began a tirade.
"Would you listen to him!" he said. "That arrogant, patronizing do-gooder! 'Have a pleasant
evening!' Well, yes, HE can talk like that. He, at least, knows who he is and where he is and
where he's going, and he doesn't have to depend on the pity of strangers if he wants to eat when
he's hungry and not sleep in the rain tonight."
"It doesn't rain much on Eltar," said Saffron. The comment went unnoticed.
"He's treating us like little children. You and I, we're warriors! We can take care of ourselves.
We don't need his charity."
"Still, we should take advantage of what we've been offered," said Saffron. "It wouldn't make
sense to pass up perfectly good supplies just because it offends your pride."
For the first time, Hunter smiled a little. "I plan to take what they give me, but that doesn't
mean I can't enjoy complaining about it."
Saffron smiled back. "I think I want to come outside. Care to join me?"
"I think I will," Hunter replied.
They stepped out of their room and wandered through the hallways of the hospital. Through
open doors they could see the doctors and nurses hurrying around and working feverishly to save
their patients. Even from rooms with closed doors, they could make out the moans of those who
were injured the worst.
"War is a terrible thing," Saffron commented.
"If you feel that way, you shouldn't have become a warrior," said Hunter. "War happens. It's
part of life. The stronger prey on the weaker, and the weaker either find ways to defend
themselves or die."
"How do you know I chose to become a warrior?" asked Saffron, a little irritated. "How do
you know I wasn't forced into it? How do you know I'm a warrior at all? I don't even know who I
am, so how can you?"
"You were carrying weapons," Hunter replied. "I saw them. You had a vicious sword, I recall,
and a cross-bladed dagger. So did I, as a matter of fact. Now, unless your mind is damaged worse
than I think it is, you will know that only warriors and killers carry cross-bladed daggers. There is
no point in such things except to kill."
"Oh. Well, I didn't know that until you told me," said Saffron, subdued.
"I'll show you firsthand. The doctor did say that we could pick up our weapons," said Hunter.
"It's the only good thing he told us."
"Why is it so good that we can pick up our weapons?" Saffron persisted. "Do you love war so
"Love it? I don't know. It's what I do, that's all. I enjoy moving, fighting . . . I suppose I love
the competition, but I don't think I love war," said Hunter thoughtfully.
They reached the front office, where a pair of young ladies in blue nurse's uniforms were happy
enough to return the men's belongings. Saffron watched peripherally as his companion strapped a
scabbard to his belt, and with it, a deadly-looking curved sword. He also accepted the dagger he
had spoken of, complete with its peculiarly shaped knife case. Saffron took the various objects
that the nurses said were his and hid them away in his empty pouches, and he accepted the sword
without too much hesitation, but he balked at the dagger. The way Hunter had talked, carrying
that dagger would mark the difference between a man of peace and a man of battle.
*If I'm going to start all over again, I want to make it a GOOD start,* he thought. *I don't
want to be a warrior if I can help it.*
"Well?" asked Hunter. "What are you waiting for? It's a knife, not a snake. It's not going to
"I don't want it," said Saffron.
"Trying to deny your nature, hm?" Hunter asked, raising one eyebrow in an expression very
like amusement. "You can't be anything more than what you are. Just take it and don't worry
"You have to take it," one of the helpful nurses piped up. "It's a hospital rule, sir. Anything
you bring in, you have to take out, and we don't allow weapons to remain here. You don't have to
KEEP it, after all. Just, please, take it with you and save us some trouble."
"Take it," Hunter advised. "You never know when you might need to defend yourself."
"Defense?" Saffron repeated. The idea hadn't occurred to him before. "That's right. War isn't
all about killing, is it? War can be for defense, too."
Hunter nodded. "A weapon is only as good or evil as the one who wields it. Take it and use it
Saffron nodded. The dagger and its case were clipped to his belt, and he stepped out the front
door with the nurse's cheery exhortation to "Have a nice day!" ringing in his ears. Hunter followed
him, walking along by his side.
"Do you think this is where we live?" Saffron asked his companion, surveying the city. It was a
lovely day, warm and sunny, and the architecture of the buildings was friendly and attractive, but
there didn't seem to be many people around.
"No," Hunter replied. "The doctor said that we don't look like Eltarians. We're strangers
"That's what I thought. Too bad," said Saffron. "I suppose I'll have to make do with the
refugee camp until I can get some idea as to where I came from. Perhaps there will be others of
my kind there. What about you, Hunter? What will you do?"
"I'm going with you," said Hunter firmly.
Saffron was surprised. "I thought you didn't want to go to the camp."
"I don't," Hunter replied. "More than anything, I would like to stay away from it. However, I
don't really have any other viable options. I have no other home to go to and no other source of
basic necessities. Also, you are the only person in this entire universe that I know even a little at
the moment. I won't leave you just yet."
"Thank you, Hunter," said Saffron. "I'm touched."
"You shouldn't be," Hunter said. "Once I get myself organized and find enough supplies to
sustain me for a while, I'm going out looking."
"Looking for what?"
"My home. My family. My place. My identity," said Hunter. "I don't like not knowing who I
"Nor do I, but I don't think it's a good idea to try anything rash," Saffron replied. "The
universe is enormous beyond imagination. How do you expect to find your place by just randomly
wandering around? It would be safer just to stay in the place where you'll be expected to turn up,
and wait for your people to reclaim you."
"I don't want to be safe," Hunter muttered. "I never wanted that. I'll take danger over
inactivity any day."
"Don't be foolish," said Saffron. "Such action would be self-defeating. One chance in a
billion of finding what you're looking for would be putting the odds too much in your favor. The
camp is your only real hope."
"I . . . I suppose you could be right," said Hunter reluctantly. Then, so quietly that Saffron
barely heard him, he added, "I'm a little afraid."
"So am I," Saffron admitted.
Hunter shot him a fierce look. "You didn't hear me say that."
"No, of course not," Saffron agreed. "It was only my imagination, of course. Words on
"Right," said Hunter. "But you know how it feels, don't you?"
"I know. I feel so small. It's eerie, being disconnected like this. As far as I know, I could
have just come into being. I can't remember my past at all."
"Nor can I . . . except I know I have people somewhere. Friends or family, something like
that. I loved someone, sometime."
Something occurred to Saffron, an ugly thought that hadn't come to him before now.
"What if . . . what if they died in this war?" he asked haltingly. "What if we really are
"Don't even say it!" Hunter snapped. "Don't say it. That's our only hope, that someone
will come for us."
"I know, but we have to be realistic," said Saffron. "Terrible things happen in wars. They
could have been killed . . . or maybe they're like we are, unable to remember."
"What's the likelihood of that?" asked Hunter. "How many amnesia cases can there be?
For their sake, whoever they are, I'd wish them death rather than oblivion. I'd rather die than live
a non-life." He touched the small dagger-case that held the blade that was fashioned for only the
intent of killing. "I'd rather die."
Saffron shivered. "Don't talk like that. It won't be so bad."
"That's what you think," Hunter replied. "Or you're only trying to say that to convince
yourself of it. How can you live not knowing who you are?"
"I can build myself again. I can make a new life. I can only miss my old life but so much if
I can't remember it. It is a chance to start afresh, with no old prejudices to tie me down. There are
men who would give a lot for that."
"They can have it," growled Hunter. "I could get annoyed with you, Saffron, and your
naive optimism. Why can't you see things realistically?"
"I think you are fortunate that you've lost your memory," said Saffron, giving his
companion a thoughtful look. "Your life must have been very terrible to make you so grim."
Hunter opened his mouth to reply to that, and then reconsidered. He sighed.
"Maybe - just maybe - you're right," he said tiredly, "but it was all I had, and all I can
remember of it was love. I loved someone, and I feel that I was loved in return. Do you remember
anything like that?"
"Yes," said Saffron thoughtfully. "I think I do. There were people, many people. It's like
something out of a dream."
"It's a dream worth pursuing," said Hunter, "and I will, to the ends of the universe if I
"I've walked far enough," said Saffron. "Let's go back to the hospital and see about
getting our supplies."
"If we must, we must," Hunter replied. "I have a feeling inside that it's time for some meal
or another, anyway. Perhaps we can see about getting ourselves fed, if nothing else."
Saffron smiled a little. "That's the first thing you've said all day that I agree with
completely. I seem to recall that hospital food is not of the highest quality. Perhaps you might
allow me to buy you dinner at one of these establishments?"
"I don't take charity, remember?" asked Hunter. "I'll buy you dinner."
"Fine," said Saffron, "but I'm tipping the waiter."
Hunter gave a grunt that sounded suspiciously like suppressed laugher. "Saffron, you are
positively irrepressible. Still, I suppose I could do worse."
"You could do much worse," said Saffron. "You could be all alone, or stuck with . . . oh,
a monster or something."
"Monsters," said Hunter, as if it was a foreign word, or as if it had an unexpected flavor to
it. "Such strange creatures. But there aren't any more left, are there?" he asked in sudden
"No," said Saffron in the same puzzled tone, "there are no monsters." He brightened a
little. "Look, there's a restaurant. It looks pleasant enough. We can eat there."
"Fine. I'm all about famished. I can't remember the last time I had a good meal." He
caught the irony in that last remark and laughed at himself. "Well, let's hurry to that infernal
hospital and collect our gifts. I'd like to get the whole wretched business over with as soon as
"I'm right behind you," Saffron said.
He was, too, but he followed at a slow and thoughtful pace. The doctors and nurses had
informed him that his speech and dress were entirely unlike their own, and even he could hear the
difference in his accent, but something about this city felt strangely familiar to him . . .
Even with various charitable organizations working busily to organize everything, it took
two weeks by Eltar's calendar before Hunter and Saffron were finally able to set out on their own.
For the most part, they stayed together, less out of any genuine liking for each other than because
they depended on each other. It was as if they were stranded in a very cold and dark place, and
they had to huddle together for mutual warmth. It seemed that they were both loners by
temperament, anyway. Saffron spend most of his time reading or walking around or just sitting
and meditating quietly. Hunter, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to take out his frustration
and impatience by practicing ruthlessly with his sword and dagger. Sometimes Saffron would
observe from a distance as his comrade ducked and dodged in the courtyard of the hospital,
battling invisible enemies with impressive skill. He struck out with powerful kicks and punches,
but he was most formidable with his blades. They flashed in silver arcs in the brilliant sunlight,
gleaming like falling stars and singing as they sliced the wind. Sometimes Saffron would practice
with him, for he also discovered that he was fairly skilled with a sword, but he did not like the
single-minded intensity of the way Hunter fought. Even in a peaceful battle, it felt like Hunter was
still fighting to kill, and Saffron always suffered from a faint feeling that he would end up being
hurt, either intentionally or because Hunter simply couldn't deny his darker instincts any longer.
More often, he practiced alone after dark, as if he were frightened of being caught pursuing such
violent pastimes. He grew to enjoy the dancelike feel of swordfighting, but he avoided touching
the dagger, and usually left it hidden in a drawer beneath the spare clothing he had been given.
One day, some businesslike people came to their room and asked them some questions. It
seemed that part of the program for the war-lost was to provide them with new jobs, so that they
could find their way into a new life with some semblance of pride and honor still intact. Hunter
was rather pleased with that idea, and grumbled less than usual as the people invited themselves in
and started their interrogation. They wanted to know all about what Hunter and Saffron could do
and could not do and did not want to do, and what they knew and what they felt like learning, and
how well they got on with other people, and many other things besides. Saffron almost enjoyed
the inquisition, because it stirred up faint memories of things he hadn't known he'd known. He
found himself saying, yes, he had read this, that, or the other scholarly work, and yes, he did know
how to read and write and do arithmetic. As a matter of fact, it turned out that he read and wrote
in several languages, and could speak several of the most modern fluently. After that, it didn't
matter if he was a swordsman or not. He was hired then and there as a clerk for a shipping
company that would be based in the camp to provide some form of commerce for what they
hoped would someday become a flourishing city. Hunter, though reasonably well-educated, was
not so well-read or well-spoken as Saffron, and was considered more valuable for his strength
than his mind. Upon discovering that he had no real skills other than fighting and knew no art but
that of war, (and because of the fact that he seemed unable to talk to anyone without being surly
or downright rude), he was assigned as an apprentice to a blacksmith. Hunter did not care much
for that idea, but he certainly looked the part, with his broad shoulders, strong arms, and coal-
black hair. He muttered and grumbled and complained that it was a blow to his pride for a man of
his age to be forced to work as an apprentice like a young boy just loosed from his mother's
apron-strings. The interviewer apologized most humbly but said that was the best that could be
done for him if he didn't want to be put to work hauling crates or cutting stone, and promised that
he would be paid fairly and given loans to set up his own business as soon as he developed
enough skill to be freed from his master's supervision. He said little else after that, but he put on
an attitude that would have been called sulky on someone younger.
In the end, they were put in the company of a number of other people like themselves,
those who were lost and without homes or families to return to, and they were all sent off to the
camp on Triforia. All of them were provided with bundles of clothing designed to stand up to the
wear and tear of what might very well prove to be a difficult new life. They were also given
enough food and clean water and other basic necessities to last them for a month or more, if they
were not wasted, and gold coins to replenish the supply when it did finally run out. So Hunter and
Saffron were not that badly off when they arrived in their new location.
"Here we are," said Saffron, as he and his companion carried their heavy loads through the
front gates of the camp-town. Hunter, with all his strength, was having an awkward time dealing
with his cumbersome bundle, and the less athletically-inclined Saffron was having to drag his
heaviest bag across the ground. "Our new home."
"This isn't a home," said Hunter. "This is but a way-station. I'm not staying here any
longer than I must, and I certainly don't plan on staying here indefinitely."
"Well, I want to find my way back to my own place as much as you do," Saffron replied,
at the same time wondering if that was really true; he did want to know who he was and where he
came from, but not with the same desperate intensity that Hunter did. Still, Hunter was intense
about everything. "Still," he continued, "this is not such a bad place. I would like to think of it as a
home of sorts while I'm here. Bloom where you're planted, they say."
Hunter just snorted derisively. He had long ago given up trying to talk Saffron out of his
indomitable optimism, but he had yet to be won over by it.
On the whole, the town was a fairly good place to be. It was obvious that its founders
intended it to be fairly permanent, as the houses build of freshly-hewn stone could attest. It had
been designed according to the wishes of the Lord of Triforia himself, who was a good and wise
man in spite of his youth. It had been erected with remarkable speed, but there was no sign of
shoddy workmanship. Everything had a solid and dependable feel to it. There were many houses,
but also businesses and markets, and even a small temple tucked unobtrusively in one corner of
the town for those who wished to visit it. There was a well at the heart of the town, and also
many gardens that were being carefully nurtured by gardeners. There were already many people
there, milling around as they tried to get their affairs in order and get their work finished (or
started), and there were many more newcomers like Saffron and Hunter busy unpacking supplies
or getting extras from the shops. It had the feel of a summer camp that was just beginning, with
everyone bustling to get settled in before the events began.
"Do you know where your house is?" asked Saffron. "They told me that mine was number
one-eighteen in the Green Quadrant, whatever that means."
"I'm two-thirty-nine, Red Quadrant," Hunter replied, "for your future reference . . . not
that I expect you to visit me."
"I'm sure you'd prefer I didn't," Saffron said, "and I'm sure you won't stay there long
enough for me to try."
"Quite right," Hunter replied. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I want to go get this accursed
junk stowed away and start looking for this wretched blacksmith I'm supposed to be serving so I
can get to work on my savings."
"Savings?" asked Saffron.
"For supplies. I'll need money for when I leave."
"Right," Saffron agreed. "I'll see you around, then."
"Maybe," said Hunter, and he turned without even a parting goodbye and vanished almost
immediately into the crowds."
"Goodbye and farewell," said Saffron to the retreating warrior, though not very loudly,
and he wasn't sure if Hunter heard him. At any rate, he got no answer, so he shrugged and went
looking for his own house. He was in agreement with Hunter on one count, at least: he wanted to
unload his heavy packs and parcels. Until then, he wouldn't be able to feel at home in any
"Excuse me," he said to a man who stood at the corner, chatting with several other idlers,
"but do you know which way the Green Quadrant is?"
The man tipped up the brim of his hat to get a good look at the newcomer asking foolish
questions. "The Green Quadrant is to the south, of course," he replied, "and you can find the
south by looking up the hill for the witch's house." He held up his hands and made a sign, though
Saffron couldn't tell if it was a ward against evil or some sort of curse.
"Witch?" he asked curiously. He had thought that the witches and dark sorcerers and
whatnot had gone the way of the monsters - and that was to oblivion, not to refugee camps.
"The White Witch who lives on that hill yonder," the man replied, this time raising his
hand to point out the direction. "She's an odd one. Comes into town every once in a while and
causes a ruckus. Steer clear of her."
Saffron looked off in the direction that the man was pointing. Sure enough, there was a
hill covered in stone and dust, and the town lapped around its edges like ocean waters around a
large stone. Partway up the hill, separated from the rest of the buildings, was a white house. It
was larger than the others, and built in a different style and from different materials. In the setting
sun, it looked rather desolate, despite the fact that it seemed to be new and well-constructed.
"Is she an evil witch, then?" asked Saffron. "Why would you call her a White Witch if she
is of darkness?"
"Don't pay any attention to this babbler," said one of his friends. "He's just spinning wild
tales. There's a woman who lives up there. Some call her the White Witch, but most of us just call
her Queenie. When the town was first built, she came here and set up that house. She doesn't mix
with anyone, though there have been a few brave ones who've tried to win favors from her, if you
follow my drift. She's beautiful enough, but she's got a temper hot enough you could forge steel
with it. No one knows where she came from. She's not a real refugee like the rest of us, just
someone who decided to show up one day and stayed. You'll hear plenty of farfetched stories
about her, but who knows if they're true? I think they call her the White Witch just because she's
strange, and because she's always dressed in white."
"Go see her someday," the first man said, "just to say you have. Don't go to her house,
though - they say she's got enchantments up there that would strike a man dead, and even if she
hasn't, she'd do some damage to you herself if you were fool enough to try it - but she comes
down to the Singing Dragon three times a week so regular you could set your watch by her."
"Enough gossip," said his friend. "Our break is nearly over, and you know the boss will
tan our hides if we're late. Sorry to rush away, sir," he said to Saffron, "but we have work to do."
"No apologies necessary," Saffron replied, "and thank you for your help."
As Saffron set out again, he considered what he had just heard about this so-called White
Witch. It was possible that she really did have magic of some sort, but it was just as likely that she
was as ordinary as he was. Perhaps her old home had been leveled by the war, and she had come
here on her own initiative for the same reason that he had been sent. Perhaps she was an outcast,
or even a deserter from the armies of darkness who had fled here because she feared to ask for
help from her enemies. That would explain why she chose not to socialize with the general
populace. Whatever the reason, the fact remained that she was different, and people distrusted
anything different. No doubt, the common people had made up some wild stories trying to explain
her presence there, most of them without a grain of truth, but enough to make her remain an
outsider. Saffron felt a little sorry for her, but he decided not to try anything so foolhardy as going
to talk to her or anything like that, not after what he had heard about her temper and the fact that
she seemed to "cause a ruckus" on a regular basis.
After a few minutes of walking, Saffron finally found his house. It was just like all the
others, just a little boxy building with a bit of a lawn in front and a small porch in back,
distinguishable from the others only by a small plaque set over the front door with the number
"118" printed on it. Saffron went in and found it to be a small, four-room affair, with a kitchen, a
bedroom, bathroom, and one other room that might be used for just about anything. Saffron
looked it over and thought longingly of bookshelves and books, and perhaps a small desk. He
wondered what kind of wages a clerk would make, and whether or not it would be hard to get
what he wanted. He dropped the food supplies he had been given on the kitchen table but put off
storing them away until he had taken the chance to explore his new dwelling-place more
thoroughly. In the bedroom, he found a small wardrobe and put his bundle of clothes inside. He
tested the bed and found it comfortable enough, but though it was getting late in the evening, he
had no desire to sleep just yet. There was a dresser of some sort standing against one wall, but,
surprisingly, no mirror. It seemed like an odd oversight, but Saffron didn't particularly care about
that. He had gotten used to doing without mirrors during his stay in the hospital, and his hair was
too short to ever look really disheveled, anyway. By the time it had grown long enough to bother
with, he would probably have enough saved up to buy himself a mirror and several other things
besides. After he had lain there and thought for a while, he got up again and went to work putting
all his things in their proper places. By the time he had everything organized the way he wanted it,
night had fallen heavily over the town, and the little house was dark. Saffron tried to remember
where he had put the lanterns and the fire-starters, but as he was searching, weariness suddenly
fell over him. He went back to his bedroom, took off his boots and belt, crawled beneath his soft
blanket, and thought of nothing else until morning.
The very next day, he set out in search of his new job. Along the way, he cut through the
marketplace, partly to see what was for sale and partly to check the prices of everything. Saffron
was a man of good sense, no matter what Hunter might think of him, and he wanted to see what
his living expenses would be before he agreed to any wages. Things still seemed to be in a state of
semi-disorganization; many of the stalls were still empty. Basic necessities like food and clothing
were available, but even such "luxuries" as books and tablecloths were scarce and expensive.
Saffron sighed, staring longingly at the things he would have liked to have for his home but
couldn't afford, but he brightened after a moment. He would, after all, be working for the
shipping company. Perhaps his employer would be kind enough to let him order a few things for
himself if he proved to be a good worker. He made up his mind to do the best job he possibly
The site of the company was in a place at the far side of town, where there was room
enough for its impressive warehouse and space for cargo ships to land. Saffron paused and
inspected his appearance as he stood by the front door, and brushed the dust from his clothes and
boots, so as to make the best possible impression on his new employer. Then he went inside, and
his entrance triggered the ringing of a small brass bell above the door.
"I'll be right there!" shouted a voice.
There was the sound of an approaching commotion, and then a door leading from the
office to the warehouse opened, and a remarkable person came in. Hopped in might be a better
phrase; he seemed to have caught his foot on a small empty box and was trying to walk and pull it
off at the same time. As he wobbled across the floor, he reached out one hand to steady himself
against the wall and inadvertently knocked a broom on to the floor. He immediately tripped over
it and fell headlong against a shelf, causing a cascade of papers and packages to fall on top of him.
Saffron watched with some concern as the man floundered around, trying desperately to pull
himself to his feet.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"No problem," the man assured him from beneath the papers. "Everything's under control.
I've just gotten a little tangled up here. You don't suppose you could gimme a hand here,
Saffron went to release the stranger from beneath the avalanche, and was surprised to
unearth a smiling face. It seemed that the man was not at all bothered by having taken such a trip.
He was an awkward, bony looking fellow, seemingly all knees and elbows and shaggy blond hair
that fell in his face. His hazel-green eyes sparkled with good humor even as he and Saffron
engaged in a ridiculous tug-o'-war as they attempted to remove the box from his foot. They
finally managed to accomplish that undignified task and began trying to reorganize the fallen
objects as best they could.
"Thanks, buddy. I owe you one," said the smiling man. "My name's Pete. Who are you?"
"Saffron Golde," Saffron replied. "I was told I would be working here as a clerk."
"Pleased to meetcha," said Pete agreeably, taking Saffron's hand and pumping it
vigorously. "The boss ain't here yet - overslept again," he added, grinning broadly.
"You work here, too, then?" asked Saffron.
"You bet! The boss made me vice-president in charge of material management," he said
"What does that mean?" Saffron wondered, trying to imagine this bumbling young man as
vice-president of anything.
"That means I get to unpack the crates," Pete replied.
"A difficult task, no doubt."
"Yup! We've got some real doozies back there, but I get 'em all moved."
This enlightened exchange was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell, and the door
opened to admit a middle-aged man that Saffron guessed to be the "boss" of which Pete had
spoken. He looked friendly enough, but there was a certain shrewdness that showed in his dark
eyes that suggested that he was also a hard businessman.
"What is going on here?" he demanded, eyeing the half-cleaned mess and the stranger on
the floor. "Pete, what are you doing? I told you to stay out of my office unless I called for you!"
"Well, y'see, boss, I was just, um . . . well, you see, there was this . . ."
"Some papers fell off of the shelf, and he was helping me clean them up," said Saffron
quickly. It was the whitest lie he could come up with under the circumstances.
"I see," the boss replied, with a note of skepticism that implied that he guessed that
Saffron wasn't telling the whole truth. "And who might you be?"
"This is Saffron," said Pete, eager to be helpful. "He said he's going to be working here
with us. Isn't that swell?"
"Ah, yes. You must be the new clerk. You can call me Mr. Edwards," his employer replied.
"As long as you're shuffling papers, you might as well go ahead and start filing them.
They need to be arranged so I can find them when I need them, and I have too much to do
without trying to bother with all that, too. I'll show you how I want it done."
"Thank you, sir. I'm sure that won't be any problem," said Saffron agreeably. "Can you give
me some idea of what my wages will be?"
"Well, since you'll be doing intellectual work, and since good intellectual workers are hard
to find . . . I'd say two hundred coins a month to start out with, plus fringe benefits. We'll see
later on if you're worth more than that."
"That sounds more than fair," said Saffron. "I accept."
"Hey!" Pete protested. "I'm the vice-president, and I'm only making fifty a month! What
The boss leveled his vice-president a hard look. "I'm giving you free room and board.
What else do you want?"
"I want to know why he's making more than me when I'm shoving crates around and all
he'll be pushing is papers and pens."
"Because," the boss replied. "He's the president in charge of financial affairs, and
presidents always make more money than vice-presidents."
"Oh! Okay. Why didn't you say so?" Pete replied.
"I just did. Now, get back to pushing crates!"
"Okey-dokey, Mr. E," said Pete. Humming cheerfully, Pete retreated to the warehouse,
stumbling on the doorstop as he went.
"He's an idiot," the boss said to Saffron, "but at lest he's agreeable. Now, let me show
you what you're going to be doing. First, there is all this paperwork that needs to be organized
sensibly, and then I'll need someone to inspect the shipments to make sure everything is
accounted for, and then . . ."
Saffron listened intently as his duties were outlined for him, taking in every word. Finally,
when everything had been explained to him and he was sure he knew what he was doing, Saffron
was left at the front desk to look after things. It was still early in the morning, and many of the
traders were still asleep or just opening their doors, and very little happened. Saffron managed to
arrange all the papers alphabetically and chronologically and file them all away for future
reference, and then found himself with nothing to do. He sat for a while, listening to Pete bump
around in the back room and occasionally yelping as he tripped or something fell on him. Just to
kill time, Saffron dug out a graphite stick and a piece of blank paper and began scribbling his
thoughts on it. He was about halfway through describing to himself what it had felt like when he
had first awakened in the hospital and realized that he had no idea who or where he was when
suddenly, who should appear but . . .
"Hunter!" he exclaimed, sounding pleased. "What brings you here?"
"I'm placing an order. This is the shipping company, after all, and blacksmiths need supplies
just like everyone else. And since I'm just a lowly apprentice instead of a master," Hunter added,
in his usual complaining tone, "it falls to me to do such menial things as go and fill out forms to
order coal and iron."
"Is it that bad?" asked Saffron sympathetically.
"Bad? I suppose that wouldn't be the right word. I could have done worse, I suppose,"
Hunter replied. "Actually, the smith isn't a bad man. Nobody told me he was a master swordsmith
as well as an ironmonger. He's done some work that would impress even a pacifist like you. He's
promised to teach me how to make them. He's even promised me one of the better ones as part of
Saffron smiled, catching the unmistakable look of wistfulness in the warrior's eyes.
"You see? I told you it wouldn't be all that dreadful," he said.
"Humph," muttered Hunter. "All right, maybe you were right about that one thing. So
what? It won't hurt to have learned a trade before I leave, or to be properly armed. And," he
added, almost smiling, "when I'm gone, you can have my job."
"I'd never make even a halfway-decent smith," Saffron said.
"Of course you would," Hunter replied. "You'd be very good at bending swords into
Saffron laughed. "Hunter, I knew you would say something like that. Here, let me get you
a form . . . or would you rather I filled it out, being the pencil-pusher I am?"
"Give that here and let me do what I was sent to do," said Hunter, taking the paper from
Saffron's hand. "You are a tiresome creature, Saffron. It's amazing that I even bother talking to
Saffron waited while Hunter shoved his pen across the paper in rough strokes, filling in the
blanks with broad black marks. When he was done, he pushed the paper back to Saffron, who put
it away in a folder marked "Things to Do." With the business transaction over, Hunter grunted
something that might have been a goodbye, and walked out again. Saffron smiled a little. Hunter,
he decided, was all right, even if he was an old grouch.
A few more customers came in later, and Saffron found himself being kept busy. Finally,
lunchtime came, and Mr. Edwards emerged from his office to hang an "OUT TO LUNCH" sign
on the door.
"You're on break now," he informed Saffron. "You've got an hour to do whatever it is
you want to do. However, I'd advise you find yourself something to eat."
"Did I hear someone say something about eating?" piped up a voice from the warehouse.
"It's time for lunch, Pete," Saffron informed him.
"All right!" he cheered. He barged out of the warehouse and tripped over the threshold
again, narrowly avoiding hitting Saffron's desk and undoing all his hard work. Mr. Edwards
stared at the ceiling in exasperation.
"Go get your lunch, Saffron, and take him with you," he said. "I'm going home. If I'm late
getting back, hold the fort for me. I trust you will be punctual in your return."
"Yes, sir," said Saffron. After Mr. Edwards had gone, he said to Pete, "Is there anywhere
nearby we could get a meal? I don't feel like walking all the way home again."
"Yeah, I know just the place," said Pete, brimming with enthusiasm as always. "C'mon,
I'll show you!"
"Lead the way," said Saffron. "Would you like me to pay for lunch? I think I can manage
it just this once."
"Gee, thanks! You're the nicest guy I know," Pete replied.
Saffron was feeling fairly cheerful as he left the office. Things were going to be all right,
just like he had thought.
Things stayed that way for a while. A few weeks went by, and Saffron's life fell into a
comfortable pattern of work and rest. He got to know his co-workers well. Pete was not
particularly bright, but he made up for his lack of intelligence with his eternal good cheer, always
grinning no matter how difficult his work was or how often his boss scolded him, and Saffron
came to like him. Mr. Edwards kept a businesslike distance from his employees and kept his eye
on the bottom line, but he was a fair employer and treated Saffron with due regard for his skills.
They were never friendly, but they respected each other. Also, Hunter seemed to find reasons to
drop in every few days, and Saffron came to look forward to trading barbed comments and
bantering insults with the surly swordsmith. It was a good life, and he felt that he should have
been content with it, and yet he felt an underlying sense of unease. It didn't come clear until one
evening, when his after-dinner dishwashing was interrupted by an impatient pounding on his door.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
"Now, who could that be?" he wondered. He set aside the plate he had been rinsing and
went to answer the door.
Upon investigation, it turned out to be Hunter. He was standing impatiently on the
doorstep, glaring at Saffron with those fiery green eyes of his. He seemed to have come directly
from work; his dark skin was further darkened by smoke and coal dust, and his black hair looked
"What a surprise," said Saffron. "What brings you here?"
"Long day," Hunter replied. "Its been one idiot after another coming in an placing orders
for things that have to be done NOW. I need someone to take my frustrations out on that knows
which end of a sword to hold. Interested?"
Saffron considered. Sparring with Hunter had never been one of his favorite pastimes,
even back at the hospital where there had been nothing else to do. Besides, he had gotten out of
practice these last few days, busy as he'd been with his job and its increasing responsibilities. On
the other hand, he hated to begrudge Hunter such a favor. He must be feeling very bad if he was
actually seeking out another's company.
"I suppose that would be all right," he said at length. "I have nothing better to do. I just
hope you'll go easy on me. I'm sure I'm getting a bit rusty by now."
"The words 'go easy' aren't in my vocabulary," Hunter replied. "If you've let yourself go
soft, that's your fault."
"Come on inside, Hunter," said Saffron. "No point in you standing out here like a beggar.
I'm not equipped for a fight at the moment, so I'll need to dig out my weapon. Anyway, it
wouldn't do to be fighting out in the street."
"Before you get your old sword, try this." Hunter unslung a gleaming weapon from his
belt and handed it to Saffron, who obediently took it and inspected it. He felt a little embarrassed
at not having noticed it right off - what kind of warrior neglected to see if his companions were
armed? - and he covered up his sheepishness by giving the blade a few practice swings.
"It's good," he said. "Very well made. Is this the sword your master promised you?"
Hunter looked smug. "I made it. The master says I'm a natural. He says he's going to turn
over most of the weapon-forging to me by the end of the month."
"I take it you've decided to stay a while longer than you intended?" asked Saffron
"I might have," Hunter replied, "and I might not have. I haven't made up my mind yet."
They went to the backyard, such as there was, and went through the motions of a battle.
Saffron was pleased to see that he could still hold his own against his old rival - at least in this
peaceful match. Still, he didn't suffer from any illusions as to who the victor would be if there was
a real battle between the two. Hunter was more used to real fighting than simple tests of skill, and
Saffron knew he was purposely holding himself back to avoid hurting his opponent. Saffron's
instincts were geared more for defense than destruction, which made him naturally more adept in
this game. Hunter was the stronger of the two, and Saffron never forgot it. Even in the evening, it
was still warm on this planet, and Hunter had cast off his shirt, showing off his powerful muscles.
Even though he was much more heavily built than his companion, he still moved with remarkable
grace. It was not surprising that Saffron was feeling winded by the time Hunter was ready to call
off the battle.
"You need to get more exercise," Hunter said. "You're turning into a feeble bookworm."
"I like to look at it like this," Saffron replied. "You know how to fight. I know how to
fight, and have a brain besides."
Hunter laughed a little in reluctant admission that he'd been one-upped. "Keep the sword.
I can make another, and you need the practice. I may be back again, and you'll need to be ready."
After Hunter was gone, Saffron went back inside to wash up. After several hours of strike
and dodge and retaliate, he felt as dirty as Hunter had looked. He filled a tub with warm water
and was just beginning to get undressed when a thought occurred to him. He knew for a fact that
every swordsman, no matter how skilled, would be injured sometime, and probably would receive
at least one severe blow. He and Hunter were both fighters; therefore, it stood to reason that they,
too, had suffered wounds on the field of battle. Yet, strangely enough, Saffron had never noticed
any trace of scarring on himself, nothing that would indicate that he had ever been dealt so much
as a scratch. Every inch of his own skin was flawless, and judging by what he had seen this
evening, Hunter was in similar shape. How could this be? Even powerful healers had difficulty
mending such scars, and getting such operations done costed a great deal of money. It didn't
stand to reason that both he and hunter had managed to have every wound they had ever received
That train of though led to another idea. The doctors in the hospital had told him that he
had been injured in the war, which was the reason for why his memory was still so full of blanks.
The question was, how had this supposed injury healed so quickly? There had been many others
around him severely injured, so it was to be assumed that he had not been out for very long, yet
he had felt no pain at all when he had awakened. An interesting question! What could the answer
be? Could it be that they were lying to him? Had he ever really been injured, or was that some
kind of cover-up for a darker truth? He seemed to remember from some distant part of his mind
that there were ways of magically stripping people's minds and filling the blanks with anything . . .
or nothing. Was that what they had done to him? To Hunter? To all the others who had come
with them? The thoughts left him feeling shaky and chilled despite the heat, and he welcomed the
warmth of the hot bath. After he felt clean again, though no more comfortable in his mind, he put
on some fresh clothing and crawled into bed. He tossed and turned for quite some time before he
was finally able to fall asleep, even though he felt physically exhausted. In his dreams, he found
himself trapped somewhere in a cold blue haze, and no matter how much he searched, he could
find no escape.
After that, Saffron just couldn't feel completely content with his lifestyle. He was
impatient with his job and restless in his spare time, and the eternal optimism that had always
annoyed Hunter so much began to flag. Hunter never even got a chance to gloat over that,
because he was so wrapped up in his swordsmithing that after a while, he never got a chance to
drop by the company and annoy his comrade. This irritated Saffron still further, because in the
entire village, Hunter was the only one that he felt he could really trust. His suspicions were like
an itch in a place that couldn't be reached, and he began to feel as if eyes were constantly peering
over his shoulder and watching what he was doing. He felt that he could have taken some solace
in Hunter's rock-solid presence, but Hunter would not come, and so he fidgeted. Surprisingly,
Pete was the first person to actually realize that something was wrong with his co-worker.
It was late afternoon, bordering on evening. The day had been a long and busy one, and
Saffron's nerves had been wearing thinner and thinner throughout the day until he was jumping at
every noise and every perceived flit of motion he caught out of the corner of his eye.
Unfortunately, a new shipment had arrived that day, and Pete was busily (and noisily) unpacking
the crates and sorting the orders, tripping over things, dropping things, and talking to himself. The
door was open to admit a little of the fresher air in the office into the stuffy warehouse, and every
noise was clearly audible.
"Would you quit making all that racket?" Saffron demanded irritably. "How am I
supposed to concentrate with you making a sound like an avalanche?"
"Gee, I'm sorry, Saffron," he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. "It never bothered you
"Well, it bothers me now, all right? Saffron snapped.
"Sheesh! What's your problem? You've been cranky all week long," said Pete. "What did
you do, get in a fight or something? When Mr. E argues with his wife, he gets REAL grumpy," he
Saffron sighed. "No, I'm all right. I'm just . . . I don't know what's the matter with me.
Pete, do you remember where it is you came from?"
Saffron was so surprised at the seriousness contained in that single syllable that he turned
around to look in Pete's direction. The young man was standing in the doorway, and for once, he
was not smiling.
"I don't know where I came from, either," Saffron said.
"Nobody knows. That's why we're here. Didn't you know that?" asked Pete. "We're the
lost ones. The only one here who has a past is Queenie."
The name sparked a memory. "You mean the woman they call the White Witch?" asked
"Yeah, she's the one," Pete agreed. "She knows everything about everybody. Up in that
creepy house of hers, she's got a magic mirror that can tell the Truth about anything she asks.
That's what makes her a witch."
"A magic mirror?" Saffron repeated.
"Yup. That's what some people say, anyway. Other folks say she stole it from a sorceress
and tried to use it, but she couldn't handle it. She blew a gasket, and now she goes down to the
tavern all the time and tries to forget whatever she saw."
"Hm," said Saffron thoughtfully. It occurred to him that even after all the time he had
spent here in the camp, he had yet to pay a visit to the tavern to see the notorious White Witch.
"That's very interesting, Pete. Thank you for telling me. You know, its been a hard day for me. I
think I'd like to head on home. Do you have any idea where Mr. Edwards is?"
Pete's grin was roguish. "He took off early today. Went home to his wife. Heard him say
he had something special planned."
"Oh," said Saffron. "Well, then I suppose he can't blame me too much for wanting to take
off a little early myself. And since both of us are gone, there won't be much point in keeping the
office open, so whenever you're ready to clock off . . . as far as I know, you quit on time."
"Thanks a lot, Saffron! You're a pal," Pete replied. "You go on. I'll just get the last of
these boxes unboxed, and then I'll close up."
Saffron left the office and stepped out into the quiet, shadowy streets. Dusk was falling
swiftly, and he could hear night birds calling, and also the sound of merrymakers celebrating the
end of the workday. Saffron followed the sounds deeper into the camp until he found the building
where the sign of the Singing Dragon swung in the gentle evening breeze. Its picture showed a
scaly winged reptile holding a half-empty mug, with its head thrown back and its eyes closed as it
happily bellowed out whatever song a dragon might find to sing. The noises coming from inside
were the sounds of laughter, happy conversation, and a quieter rattling of glasses and utensils as
people prepared or enjoyed evening meals. Saffron checked his pockets and decided that he had
enough coins with him to let someone else do the cooking tonight, so he went in. After perusing
the menu that was chalked onto a slate board behind the counter, he placed and order and went to
sit at one of the booths. There were places available at the bar as well, but the more boisterous
customers seemed to have situated themselves up there, and he still felt too much like a newcomer
here to trust that he would be welcomed by them, so he tucked himself away in a corner and
waited hopefully to see if this would be one of the nights when the infamous White Witch would
decide to make an appearance.
He was not disappointed. He had been served his meal and found it to be of good quality
(better than he would have had at home; it seemed that he had either never learned to cook very
well or had lost all knowledge of it in his amnesia), and no sooner had he finished eating when
some shouts began to ring out from the front of the tavern.
"Here she comes!" someone called.
"Let's hear it for Queenie! Long live the queen!"
"Ha! Hail to her majesty, the White Witch!"
"Three cheers for Queenie!"
The exclamations were accompanied by much loud laughter. Saffron immediately felt a
little sorry for the woman they were mocking. He turned around to face the front door and see
how she was taking it.
What he saw was not quite what he expected. Queenie lived up to her name. She was tall,
regal, and fierce-eyed, and Saffron found himself thinking, *No wonder they think she has
magic!* Those dark eyes of hers did indeed look like they could pierce men's souls. She wore a
white gown and white slippers, but her long fingernails were painted blood red. He long, curly
brown hair was tied back elegantly with a golden clasp, and she wore a golden necklace. Though
her figure was attractive enough, her face seemed cold and stern, almost angry.
"All right, fellas, quiet down already," she shouted over the hubbub. The decibel level
went down a fraction, but the shouts and laughter continued. Undaunted, Queenie sauntered
across the floor and took a seat at the bar with practiced grace. The bartender came to her
immediately, ignoring all other customers for the moment.
"Will it be the usual, madam?" he asked with surprising politeness.
"Isn't it always?" she replied tiredly. From some hidden pocket of her dress, she produced
a small white leather bag, which she shoved across the counter-top to the bartender. He picked it
up, but it seemed that the drawstrings were loose, because part of its contents spilled across the
counter. The bartender gathered them up immediately, but not before Saffron had time to catch a
glimpse of what had been spilled: not gold coins, but red rubies! No wonder the bartender treated
her with such respect! He spirited his treasure away quickly, as if afraid that someone might steal
it, and began distributing drinks to the customers. That explained the enthusiasm that her arrival
had caused. While the other patrons were collecting their drinks, the bartender brought her a
crystal goblet, and she set about emptying it. Seeing that everyone was ignoring her for the
moment, concentrating on her generous gift instead, Saffron decided that this would be a good
time to try to approach the mysterious White Witch. Steeling himself, he got up and walked over
to the empty stool next to her.
"Hello," he said. "Are you the one they call Queenie?"
She gave him a look of mild amusement mixed with annoyance, as if it had been a while
since she had encountered such an idiot and she was wondering whether he would provide any
"You must be new around here," she said. "Everybody knows who I am."
"That, I don't believe, because I've heard at least three different tales about who you are
and where you come from," Saffron replied.
"Who I am and where I'm from is none of your business," she said. "Whatever you want
from me, you might as well give up now, because I'm not going to give it to you."
"It won't cost you anything," Saffron persisted. "It's just that I've heard one thing in
particular about you, and I want to know if it's true. I heard someone say that . . . you know the
truth about all of us - who we are. I need to know."
She gave a sigh of exasperation.
"Oh, one of those," she said. She drained her glass as if it contained nothing more than
water and scowled at it. "Nobody around here has anything worth drinking. This stuff is
worthless." She turned back to Saffron. "Look, maybe you think you want to know, but you
don't. You look like a nice kid, and I don't want you to get in trouble, so why don't you just go
on home and forget about all that nonsense about the Truth. Or, if you won't go home, you can
buy me another drink and talk about something else."
Saffron shrugged and called the bartender. After a quick exchange of words and coins,
Queenie's glass had been refilled, but Saffron was not about to give up on his mission.
"I don't care what you say," he replied. "I've just got to know. I've been thinking about it
for weeks, and it's driving me crazy. I'll never be content until I know where I came from, and
whether or not I have a home to go back to."
Queenie stopped in the middle of raising her glass and set it back on the counter untasted.
"Look," she said. "You see those people over there?"
She pointed, and Saffron looked. Sitting in one of the more secluded booths, a man and a
woman were sharing a bottle of wine and gazing amorously into each other's eyes. Saffron
quickly looked away again as he recognized the man as his employer.
"What about them?" asked Saffron. "They look happy to me."
"They are," Queenie replied, sounding almost wistful. "Happier than they've ever been,
but if they knew the way things really are . . . it would destroy everything for them, the way it
destroyed me. Just look at me! Slowly killing myself in a stupid barroom." She ruefully tossed off
her second drink.
"Is it that bad?" asked Saffron. "What happened to you, anyway?"
"You just don't give up, do you?" she asked. "You don't want the Truth. You can't
handle it. Be content with what you have and don't worry about it."
"I'm far past that stage. I can't be content. I have a friend, Hunter, who is so discontent
that he plans to run away from here with only what he can carry and set out to find his people or
die trying. Don't you think he deserves to know the Truth?"
Queenie sighed. "All right. I'll tell you a little bit, anyway, if it will get you off my case.
Something to start with. Just don't say I didn't warn you if what you find gets you into trouble."
She paused as the bartender returned to refill her glass. She indicated that Saffron was to pay for
it, and then drank it down quickly before turning back to Saffron and giving him a long, serious
look. At last, she asked him, "What color are your eyes?"
Saffron gave her a look of his own, this one of speculation, wondering if whatever she was
drinking wasn't as "worthless" as she said it was.
"What kind of a question is that?" he asked. "I can't see my own eyes. You tell me what
color they are."
"Don't talk so superior to me," snapped Queenie. "Just answer the question: what color?"
"I don't know," Saffron admitted. "I haven't had a chance to buy a mirror. I've never seen
them . . . at least, I can't remember seeing them."
"That's right. You can't remember what color they are, and you aren't going to get a
chance to buy a mirror, not if you stay here for centuries and get richer than Midas. Nobody here
in this entire camp has ever seen their own eyes. No one but me, because I've got the only mirror,
and it's only a piece of one. I have to keep it hidden. Don't tell anyone."
"But . . . why?" asked Saffron, amazed. He realized that she was right; in his entire stay on
that world, he had never once encountered a mirror.
"Because," Queenie replied, "mirrors are one of the oldest magical charms there are. They
always reveal the truth, and nobody wants us to know the truth about ourselves. That's why
we're here. They've put us all together in one place and cut us off from the rest of the universe,
because they don't trust us. They think that if they let us know who we really are, we'll rise up
against them . . . but they're wrong." Saffron thought he saw a glint of tears in her eyes, but he
couldn't be sure, because it was gone in an instant.
"So I was right," he said softly, as his nameless fears suddenly found words to put
themselves into, "and Hunter was right. This isn't a real place. All of us are just made up . . .
"Maybe, maybe not," Queenie replied. "I'm starting to fall apart myself. I'll be gone
soon." She raised one hand to beckon for the bartender, but Saffron caught it and pulled it back
"You shouldn't do that," he said. "This isn't good for you."
"Don't you think I know that?" she replied. "I don't care. Nobody cares about me. I don't
care about me. I want to get all of this over with as soon as possible."
"I could care about you," said Saffron.
"No," Queenie replied. "I don't want to be cared about anymore. Anyway, you deserve
better than me. You're too good for someone like me. You're clean, innocent, and I'm . . ." she
trailed off and shrugged helplessly.
"I think you're being too hard on yourself," said Saffron.
"I think you're getting on my nerves," Queenie replied. "Go on, get out of here. You
aren't going to like what's coming next, anyway."
Saffron looked into her fierce eyes and decided that the conversation was definitely
drawing to a close. However, as he slid off the barstool and prepared to walk away, he couldn't
resist asking one last question.
"Someone I talked to said you know who all of us are," he said. "Do you know who I am?
I'm not asking you to tell me. I just need to be sure I came from somewhere."
"There's a grain of truth in what you heard," she said. "I can recognize a lot of you. I
don't know who you are, though."
Saffron sighed and walked out of the tavern. As the door closed behind him, he heard
Queenie's voice shouting at the bartender for yet another refill, and he was saddened.
*I don't like what she's doing,* he thought. *It's not true what she thinks, that no one
could care for her. I could. I think I do. I don't want her to die, not like that. If only I knew how
to help her . . .*
Life went on, as it always did, but Saffron had started to see things in a new light, and so
his life was not unchanged. He watched the people around him and wondered about them. Did
they feel the way Hunter did, filled with the kind of restless yearning for roots that might
eventually drive them out of the camp into who-knew-where? Or did it really matter to them all
that much? Were they happy enough in this new life that they could forget they'd ever had any
other one? Saffron wondered about himself, too, torn between worlds. He wasn't sure which of
them he might prefer. Sometimes he thought about Queenie and wished he knew just what had
happened to her that would send her into such despair. She had said that knowing the truth would
cause the same catastrophic result in anyone. If that was the case, Saffron thought it might be
better not knowing, but sometimes his curious nature would resurface and make him wonder
anew, just who was he, anyway?
One evening, Saffron was out in his backyard, practicing with his sword. It had been a few
days since Hunter had last come to see him, and he thought it wouldn't be long before he'd be
back again, looking for a fight. Well, he would surprise him! He had been practicing, not just with
the sword, but with that odd little dagger. He had been keeping it in its accustomed place, in the
drawer with his clean clothes, and seeing it every morning of every day had made him slowly
more accustomed to its presence. He was beginning to believe what Hunter had told him that first
day, about how a weapon was only as bad as the man who wielded it. As he had come to trust
himself more, Saffron also began to find the dagger less threatening. He was surprised how much
skill he had with it, even after not having used it for so long. He tossed it from hand to hand with
practiced ease, like a juggler at a festival juggling knives.
His thoughts were interrupted by a distant pounding on the front door. Saffron smiled,
thinking to himself that he'd judged the timing perfectly. He was warmed up but not yet winded,
ready for anything. He'd show Hunter a thing or two!
However, he was rather surprised when he got to the door. Hunter was there waiting for
him, but his expression was surprisingly grim, even for him.
"Hunter," said Saffron, a little concerned. "What brings you here?"
"I'm leaving," Hunter replied.
"Leaving?" asked Saffron, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. Haven't I been talking about it since the day I got here? I'm
leaving the camp. Tonight. Now. I just came to let you know I wouldn't be here anymore."
"But, Hunter . . ." Saffron protested. This came as something of a shock. Even after
everything Hunter had said, he still had never quite believed that Hunter would actually go
through with this.
"Don't try to talk me out of this, Saffron," said Hunter. "My mind is made up. Everything
is prepared. I've already sold my house and everything I'm not taking with me. I couldn't stay
now, even if I wanted to."
"What about your work?" asked Saffron.
"But you can't do that, Hunter. You're the best swordsmith in the city, maybe even
beyond it. I heard Mr. Edwards asking your trainer if he would consider exporting some of your
"Did you?" asked Hunter, with a flicker of interest. For a moment, it looked like he might
change his mind, but then he sighed and shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Let him export
something else. I have to leave."
"Why?" asked Saffron.
"You know why. Stop asking crazy questions."
"If you go out there, you'll die. You can't survive just wandering around in the universe.
You'll run out of supplies and starve, or die of exposure, or get attacked by bandits or
"Don't you think I'm capable of defending myself?" asked Hunter. He was starting to
sound angry. The words were true enough, and he knew it, and he didn't like it. "You'd better
stop talking. You're wasting you're breath."
"I won't let you go, Hunter," said Saffron firmly. "You're one of the few friends I have. I
won't let you go out and be killed for no good reason."
"Then let's see you stop me from going," Hunter replied, drawing his sword. "I'll fight
you if that's what it will take to convince you I'm serious."
"I'll do the same if that's what you want," Saffron replied.
For a moment, Hunter stared at Saffron to see if he was serious. Saffron never started
fights, and yet here he was with his sword at his side and his hand on the hilt. He honestly did
look like he was ready to do battle with Hunter if that's what it would take to make him stay.
Hunter felt his resolve falter slightly, but he was too stubborn to give up.
"Have it your way," he said. He unsheathed his sword and slid into a fighting stance, waiting
for Saffron to make his move.
Saffron made a quick strike - not one that aimed to do any real damage, but enough drive
Hunter back a pace or two and give Saffron some room to maneuver. Slowly, they edged their
battle out into the yard, and Saffron thought, *What am I doing?* He knew there was no way he
could actually beat Hunter in a fight like this, and he knew also that Hunter was fully capable and
probably not unwilling to actually hurt him. He didn't like to think that Hunter would kill him, but
he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't. The combatants circled around the yard in a deadly dance,
ducking and striking out at each other. The sun was setting, turning both blades blood red.
Neither of them spoke. Suddenly, Hunter swung his sword at Saffron, slicing through the air like
a bolt of lightning, and the weapon's blade bit ruthlessly into Saffron's upper arm. Saffron was
shocked - at no point in his patchy memory could he remember anything that painful. He dropped
his sword and stared at the place where his own red blood was staining his yellow shirt.
"Give up yet?" asked Hunter.
"You're underestimating me," Saffron replied.
To Hunter's amazement, Saffron reached for his dagger and held it ready, looking grim.
Hunter hesitated. He had never actually seen him holding the blade like that, never even seen him
really touch it. He had to be crazy, thinking he could defend himself against a man with a sword
with only such a small weapon. Still, if he really wanted to try . . .
Hunter struck out again, but Saffron was ready for him. By this point, he knew his
opponent well enough to predict with some accuracy what he was going to do. Saffron dove,
tumbled, and sprang to his feet. He leaped forward like a pouncing cat, and Hunter suddenly
found himself on the defensive. He parried the blow and tried to attack, but they were too close
together for him to use his sword properly. He made a clumsy attempt anyway, hoping to at least
drive Saffron backwards a little. However, instead of being driven off, Saffron moved in and
struck. Hunter gasped and staggered backwards in pain and surprise, clutching at his shoulder
with blood welling through his fingers. He stared at Saffron for a moment, weighing his options.
Then he threw down his sword and ran.
Saffron sprinted after him. The two tore down the streets of town, stirring up clouds of
dust as their feet struck the sandy road. Hunter had strength and endurance on his side, but
Saffron was built for speed. He quickly caught up to Hunter and began running alongside him.
Hunter sped up. So did Saffron. Hunter slowed down again, and Saffron matched him stride for
stride. The two of them continued running, whether towards something or away from something
they did not know, until they had left the city limits far behind and they were both sweating and
gasping for breath. Hunter took a few last exhausted steps before finally stopping to lean against a
tree. Saffron came and stood next to him, trying to catch his breath enough to speak again.
"Why are you doing this, anyway?" asked Hunter at last.
"Because," Saffron replied, "you're my friend, maybe the best one I've got. Maybe it's
selfish of me, but I depend on you. I don't want anything to happen to you, but even more, I
don't want to be left alone."
"I don't want to be alone, either," said Hunter. "That's why I have to leave. I want to find
my family, friends, whatever it was I had."
"They might not let you out," Saffron answered slowly. "I talked to Queenie once, the one
they call the White Witch. She told me a few things."
"I wouldn't put much faith in the words of that barfly," Hunter replied.
Saffron turned to look at his friend seriously. "Hunter, what color are your eyes?"
"They're . . . I don't know," said Hunter in puzzlement. "Strange. I never thought about it
"That's right. None of us here know the answer to that question. There are no mirrors in
the whole city," Saffron replied.
"Mirrors show the truth," said Hunter. "I remember that. It's an old charm. You can
change your appearance by magic, but it won't fool a mirror."
"Right. Something has been done to us all, and someone doesn't want us to find out about
it," said Saffron. "Has it ever occurred to you, Hunter, that its strange that there would be a
whole city full of people with no pasts? A handful of cases like this is to be expected in a war, but
this many? And notice, not everyone here is a fighter. Why should all of these people, men and
women, young and old, be stricken with amnesia? It makes no sense."
"You're right," said Hunter. "There is something wrong about this. But what can we do?"
"At the moment, nothing. Perhaps later, when I've learned more, I can give you a better
answer. But someone out there doesn't like us, and I think you would be in grave danger if you
were to leave."
"But . . . what am I going to do?" asked Hunter. "I have nowhere at all to go now. My
home and all my possessions have been sold."
"For now, stay with me," Saffron replied. "I have a spare room where you can stay . . .
and I think I have some medicines that would help your shoulder. I didn't hurt you too badly, did
"No. Did I hurt you?"
"Not much," Saffron replied. "My shirt will never be the same, but I think I'll survive."
Hunter looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, solemnly, he took one hand and gently
touched the wound on Saffron's arm. Then, he took one of Saffron's hands and pressed it to his
own injury. Finally, he pressed his bloodied hand to Saffron's, locking the fingers together.
"That's another old charm, one that I think anyone would find difficult to break," he said.
"Until I find my real home, you can be my family, a blood brother."
Saffron smiled. "Thank you, Hunter. I'm honored."
Hunter smiled back, the first truly happy smile Saffron had ever seen him wear. "You
"Come on," said Saffron, laughing. "Let's go home and get ourselves cleaned up. I hate to
think what people must have thought, seeing the two of us all cut apart and running like an army
of monsters were after us."
"Let them wonder. It will give them something to think about," Hunter replied. He was
silent for a time, as the two of them made their way back into camp. At length, he asked, "What
color are my eyes, anyway?"
"Green," Saffron replied. "What about mine?"
"Blue," Hunter replied. "Just like that patch of sky over there."
Saffron looked where Hunter was pointing, seeing where the sky was darkening with the
coming of evening. The sky was deep blue, sprinkled with a few stars. The moon had also risen, a
cool slice of light that was slowly coming closer to being full. After a time of darkness, light was
finally taking over.
Saffron was awakened the next morning by what smelled pleasantly like breakfast being
prepared. Hoping his guess was correct, he dressed and washed quickly and wandered into the
kitchen. Sure enough, Hunter was already there, frying eggs and bacon over the stove.
"I never would have imagined you as a chef, Hunter," said Saffron.
"Why not? I spend all day heating things over a fire at work, and you think I can't cook,"
Hunter replied. "If you don't like it, cook your own breakfast."
"Oh, I'm not complaining. Anything I cooked wouldn't taste much better than one of your
swords," Saffron replied.
"In that case, we're better off with me doing the cooking," said Hunter. "We both got a
taste of steel last night, anyway. How's your arm this morning?"
"It's been better, but I'll manage. Is your shoulder giving you any trouble?"
"I can deal with it. It's uncomfortable, but you were considerate enough to aim for a spot
where it wouldn't be too serious. I might have to go easy on swinging the hammer today,
"I'm sorry," said Saffron. "I guess I just got a little carried away."
"Don't apologize. I was glad to see you finally showing some nerve."
"Did you sleep all right last night? I was afraid you might be uncomfortable sleeping on
the floor." Saffron said.
"I slept fine," he said, sounding a little distant. "I had . . . a very strange dream."
Saffron was surprised. "So did I, come to think of it. I can't remember exactly how it
went. I saw people, young men and women. They were my students, and I was teaching them."
"I saw my daughter," said Hunter softly. "She's the one I'm looking for, Saffron. I wish
you could have seen her. She was so beautiful . . ."
"Someday," said Saffron. "I'll help you find her."
"How are you going to do that?" asked Hunter skeptically.
"Well, I can start by bothering Queenie for more information. She told me more than she
intended to last time, and it shouldn't be too hard to loosen her tongue." He felt a little bad about
even thinking that, but this was important. If she was bent on destroying herself, some good
should at least come of it."
"Well . . ." said Hunter, "I suppose it couldn't hurt. But remember, you don't know what
she can do. If you make her angry and she decides to obliterate you with some spell, don't blame
me for it."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Saffron replied.
The day crawled by. Saffron was eager to get away from his job so he could go pay
another visit to the White Witch, but there was no getting out of his duties. Fate seemed
determined that he would not get what he wanted easily today. A new shipment of goods arrived
just at closing time, and Saffron was forced to stay extra hours to take inventory and help Pete get
everything moved. It seemed like forever before Mr. Edwards finally gave his helpers permission
to leave. Though Saffron ordinarily enjoyed his work, he was sighing with relief when he finally
left the office and locked the door behind him.
Upon approaching the Singing Dragon, Saffron was reassured by the sounds of loud
hilarity issuing from inside the tavern. He assumed that the noise meant that Queenie had
distributed her usual gift and everyone was enjoying her disinterested generosity. However, the
scene inside was not what he had expected.
Queenie was there, all right, leaning against the counter-top in an attitude that suggested
she was having some difficulty standing up, and she was recklessly waving an empty glass around
as if it was a weapon to threaten someone with. Her formerly cold expression had been replaced
by one of blazing anger.
"How dare you take that tone of voice with me!" she was shouting at someone. "I am
royalty! I ought to have you skinned alive for your insolence!"
"Yeah, you do that, Queenie," one of the men encouraged, laughing. "Show 'em who's
boss, your highness."
"Shut your miserable mouth, peasant!" she shouted, turning to him. "That's no way to
address a queen! You ought to be bowing down before me!"
*So this is why they call her Queenie,* thought Saffron. He winced, thinking of how
casually he had used the name, never knowing what a cruel epithet it was. Watching the tavern
patrons as they laughed at her and seeing her eyes flashing in impotent anger, Saffron said to
himself, *This has gone far enough.*
Striding boldly into the room, he crossed the floor to pause before Queenie herself. In a
motion he had forgotten he knew until now, he made a graceful, sweeping bow that ended with
him down on one knee before her with his head bowed in a courtly gesture of humility. The room
became instantly silent, and he could feel all of their eyes resting on him. Quietly and with perfect
dignity, he said, "Your Majesty, would you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you home?"
For a moment, there was dead silence, and Saffron wondered if he had offended her.
Risking a look up, he saw in her eyes only an expression of faint puzzlement.
"Rise," she said, and Saffron stood up, gallantly offering his arm. After a slit-second of
hesitation spent deciding if he was serious or not, Queenie rested her hand on his arm, and he led
her out into the night. The silence remained unbroken for some time after they were gone.
Outside, Saffron was surprised to find that she was not depending on him for support
nearly as much as he thought she would be. Only her fingertips were resting on him, light as a
butterfly, and yet she was moving with surprising grace.
"I'm not as drunk as you think I am," she said, as if reading his thoughts.
"Then what was that all about in there?" Saffron asked.
"That? Just an act," she replied. "The first few weeks I was here, I went in and drowned
my sorrows till I didn't know which way was up, and they got to expect to see me perform. I told
you you wouldn't like it."
"Why do you do it?" asked Saffron. "What could possibly have happened to you to make
you punish yourself like that?"
Queenie sighed. "You just don't give up. Well, I admire your tenacity, anyway. What's
your name? What do you call yourself?"
"Golde. Well, it just figures, doesn't it?" she said, more to herself than Saffron. "Well, Mr.
Saffron Golde, why should I tell you anything? What does it matter to you if I want to make a
fool of myself?"
"Because I want to help you," he said. "No one deserves to suffer the way you're
suffering. Don't worry. You can trust me."
"Trust," she repeated thoughtfully. "I hardly know the meaning of the word. All I know is
lies and betrayal. Why should you be any different?"
"I never laughed at you, did I? I've never treated disrespectfully, have I?"
"Well, no . . ." she said. She appeared to be thinking hard. "But I don't know. I don't
think I want any help."
"Why not? What have you got to lose?" Saffron persisted. "At the rate you're going,
you'll destroy yourself soon, anyway. Give me a chance, and maybe I can help you."
Queenie gave a sigh of resignation. "Okay. You win. I'll tell you the whole ugly story.
Come up to my house where we can talk privately . . . and don't worry. No matter what anyone
tells you, I don't have any killer spells set up there. Any magic I had was lost a long time ago."
They left the town and ascended the hill to the lonely white house. She didn't offer to let
him in, and he didn't ask. Instead, he sat down on the front steps, and was surprised when she sat
down next to him. For someone who seemed so cold and distant, it was remarkable that she
should stay so close to him . . . but, he realized, her life must be terribly lonely. As much as she
distrusted people, she would still be aching for companionship. Also, being at his side kept her
from having to look him in the eye.
For a while, they were both perfectly silent, just watching the stars peek out of the folds of
night one by one. Queenie seemed reluctant to begin speaking, and Saffron didn't want to make
her angry by putting any pressure on her, so he waited patiently. At last, she took a deep breath
and began to speak.
"It started right after the war. Like everyone else, my memory was lost. I was just so
happy to be alive that I didn't care. Everything seemed so perfect that I barely realized that
anything was wrong, or even could be wrong. Some scouts found me wandering around in the
jungle. I remember them whispering to each other, arguing about what to do with me. Finally,
they told me that I had gotten lost somehow, and that they were sending me back home to live
with my sister.
"I liked my new home, at first. It was so beautiful, and everyone there was so nice to me.
They called me Diana there - you know how I got the name I use now. But as nice as everything
was, I still felt like something was wrong. I think you know the feeling. People talked a lot about
my sister, idle things about how they remembered when she did this-that-or-the-other. There were
pictures of her on the walls. I listened to them talking, but I never heard them say anything about
me, and I never saw any pictures. I started wondering if they had ever really known me,
wondering what had happened in all those years I couldn't remember.
"You've probably heard the stories about me and the mirror. Some of them are truer than
others. My sister really was a great sorceress and a powerful healer. Sometimes I would see her
use her magic, especially right after the war when people started bringing the injured to her. She
would let me see that, but the room where she kept her most powerful magic was off-limits. After
a while, I began thinking that I could find the truth I was looking for if I could just sneak in there.
"It wasn't that hard to get in. The door was never locked, but I think it would have been if
they knew I was trying to get inside. Well, I did get in, and that was where I saw the mirror.
There was a lot of other stuff in there, too, but the mirror was all I saw, hanging off to one side
and covered by a cloth. I went over and pulled the curtain away and looked in."
She was quiet for a moment, her expression distant and almost frightened. At last, she said
softly, "I saw myself. I'll never forget it. I saw who I was in truth. Do you know what I saw,
Saffron? I saw what an evil creature I used to be, a ruthless killer ruled by greed and hate, and I
learned my name. I am a queen, the one they called Divatox." She sighed. "I couldn't stand it. I
smashed the mirror to pieces, trying to stop what I was seeing, but I couldn't leave everything
behind. I ran away from it all, but I took a piece of the mirror with me."
"I don't understand," said Saffron.
"Let me tell you about the people here. We are monsters in human guise," she said. "We
took a step too far and tried to destroy the greatest champion of Good in the universe. He
wouldn't allow it, so he spent out his life energy to transform us. If we couldn't be healed, we
were burned to ash and rebuilt into what he thought we should be. I think . . . I think he wanted
us to be happy this way. He was never intentionally cruel. But other men are not as good as he
was. They don't trust us, so they've locked us all away here so we'll never have a chance to be
what we once were. They can't forgive us, and they won't accept us. They only fear us. They
don't understand. None of us have the heart to be evil anymore. That's what's killing me. When I
think of everything I've done . . . I just can't stand it. I can't stand living with this kind of guilt. I
wish he had just killed me and been done with it. Maybe this isn't what Zordon wanted, but this is
more cruel than anything I ever did to anyone, and I'll never forgive him for this! Any chance I
had to be happy is gone, and I'll hate him for it forever!"
And suddenly, she was leaning on Saffron's shoulder and crying as if her heart would
break, or had already broken. Saffron gently put his arm around her and tried to comfort her.
"Don't talk like that," he said gently. "It will be all right, you'll see. Everything that
happened before, that's all in the past. You're a different person now. Forget what's already been
done. That can't be changed, but you can still control your future. At least try to make a start at
making up for what you did when you didn't know what you were doing."
"I shouldn't have told you," she said. "Now you have to deal with it, too."
"True, but now neither of us have to be alone in this. I'm not going to abandon you. Like I
said, you can trust me."
She took a deep breath, trying to get her crying under control, and said, "Maybe you're
right. But what will I do? Where do I start?"
"You can start by staying out of that tavern," said Saffron. "Find something productive to
"I don't know yet, but we'll think of something." He paused for a moment, considering.
He almost laughed as he said, "Can you cook?"
"No, not really."
"Neither can I. Perhaps we should learn."
She shook her head and almost smiled. "You're crazy, you know that?"
"It's quite possible. Hunter tells me that at least once a day," Saffron replied. "And
speaking of Hunter, I really should be getting home before he starts wondering where I am. Will
you be all right alone?"
"I think so," she said. "Saffron?"
Saffron smiled. "You're very welcome . . . By the way, what should I call you now?"
"Queenie's good enough," she replied. "It's the name I've earned."
"Very well, then. Good night, Queenie. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Saffron."
As she watched him go, she was amazed to discover that, for the first time since she had
arrived on that world, some of her dark misery was beginning to lift. Perhaps Saffron was right.
Perhaps she did need someone to depend on, a friend. She'd never had any friends before, but she
couldn't have asked for a better one than Saffron. Maybe there was some hope after all.
Saffron's dreams that night were strange and disturbing. In his dream, he was watching
himself, seeing something that had happened a long time ago. It seemed that all the people around
him were celebrating something. His dream-self seemed to be happy, too, and greatly relieved
about something, even though his real self was conscious of a feeling that something awful was
about to happen. He watched helplessly while his dream-self went about his everyday business,
never realizing that a calamity was about to fall. Suddenly, there was an explosion! Horrors,
monsters, dreadful things were appearing! His dream-self called up magic (magic? Since when did
Saffron know any magic?) to defend himself, but it was already too late. A spell of dark magic
wrapped around him and pulled him away, and the dream dissolved into blue fog . . .
In the morning, Saffron woke up in a puzzled mood, unable to comprehend what he had
been seeing in his dream. Was it a just a pointless vision, some phantasm his restless mind had
woven from strands of his conversation of the former night? Or was it a true memory? He debated
with himself as he walked to work. The dream had felt so real, in a strange way. He had been
seeing double, in a way, detached from the person in his dream and yet able to experience
everything he was feeling and seeing. He could still clearly recall the touch of the clothing on his
skin, good clothing of the kind he couldn't afford at them moment, something more befitting a
nobleman than a clerk. Logical as always, Saffron thought that there must be at least some kind of
memory involved there, because he had never been so lucky as to encounter a silk shirt in this life.
And yet, if what Queenie had told him was true, then in his past life, he had been . . . he didn't like
to finish that thought. Just thinking the word "monster" made him feel a little queasy inside, as if
the earth beneath his feet were falling away. Well, all right, so it just didn't make sense that the
monsters in his dream would be attacking him - unless Queenie and her magic mirror were wrong,
but he rather doubted that. The memories the mirror's magic must have been very real to her to
plunge her into such grief and guilt. Thinking harder, Saffron decided that there must be some
alternate possibility. He knew, in a vague sort of way, that monsters enjoyed fighting as much
among themselves as with their enemies. Perhaps some of his fellows had seen some advantage in
attacking him and doing . . . what? The dream hadn't told him that. Another possibility, one he
found more appealing, was that he had betrayed them, changed sides, and they had come after him
for revenge. He recalled how the people in his dream had been celebrating. Celebrating what? The
answer came to him instantly: the end of a war. The war was over, and the side that wasn't
monsters had won, and he had been celebrating with them. That was evidence to support his
theory, and it made him feel better. He would have liked to believe that there had been some shred
of goodness in him before Zordon had gotten to him and done whatever it was he did. Zordon,
ugh. That was another name that made him feel a bit shaky. He decided that he didn't want to
think any more about monsters or wars or Zordon, so he didn't get around to finding the flaw in
his reasoning. If he had, in truth, been helping the people on the side of good, why was he now in
the place where those who were deemed untrustworthy were to be kept?
Work was slow that day, and even Pete managed to keep his noise to a minimum, so
Saffron had plenty of time to toy with some of the odd notions that had been planted in his mind.
Just to give himself something to do, he began trying to imagine what some of his friends and
neighbors must have been like in their previous lives. Some of them were difficult to imagine as
having ever been monsters, Pete being one of the foremost of those. It was difficult to imagine the
smiling, bumbling young man as being a terror of cities. Mr. Edwards was easier - something in
the cool glint of his dark eyes suggested that he could have commanded armies or ordered
executions easily with just a slight change in mind-set. Hunter, of course, was already a soldier, so
it didn't take much of a leap of imagination to picture him on the battlefield. If you took away his
good heart and perhaps his sense of humor, he would certainly make a formidable opponent. As
for Saffron himself, well . . . he was finally starting to think that there was some truth in Queenie's
insistence that he couldn't handle the truth. He really didn't want to know what he had been or
what he had done. He was content to leave the magic mirror in whatever dark place it was hidden.
He was learning to love this life, and he didn't want it to change. Already, a wish was growing in
his heart that things might always go on this way. He had no idea that the day when he might
finally have to face his true self was drawing closer with every rising and setting of the moon . . .
The patron's of the Singing Dragon were disappointed when their accustomed benefactor
did not make an appearance that night. As a matter of fact, Queenie did not appear the next night,
or the night after that, or for the rest of the week. When a second week went by and she still did
not appear, the customers were beginning to wonder if they would ever get any more free drinks
from her and the bartender was lamenting the loss of the treasures that had been making him a
wealthy man. By the third week, however, they had found something new to laugh about, at least:
the woman who had formerly inspired fear and hilarity in equal amounts had been seen taking
moonlight strolls with the quiet young clerk from the shipping company. The gossipers had a field
day with that article of news, but neither Queenie nor Saffron paid any attention to what people
said about them.
It was late one night when Queenie closed the door on her vista of the full moon shining
down on the peaceful city, smiling with contentment. It was a feeling she had never known in her
former life, but one that was becoming increasingly more common in this one. For once in her life,
she had real friends, and Saffron was still the foremost of these. He had given her something she
had never known she wanted: a sense of peace, a feeling that she needed nothing more than what
she had to be safe and content. Saffron never seemed to care if she had made mistakes. For waht
it was worth, he was perfectly comfortable with making mistakes himself. Tonight, for example,
they had decided that instead of having the talented Hunter prepare their evening meal, and since
the tavern had been declared off-limits, they would take a chance at trying to fix dinner
themselves. The results had actually been halfway edible, and she couldn't remember the last time
she had really laughed so much at anything.
*I'm really starting to believe he cares about me, after all,* she said. She smiled,
remembering his clumsy attempts at cracking eggs into a bowl. *I think I care for him, too.*
Irresistibly, he thoughts went back to the little piece of glass, carefully hidden away from
sight. It was a Mirror of Truth, and would show her whatever she wanted to know, not just about
herself, but anyone she asked to see. She had used it sometimes to identify others, but she had
never tried to find out who Saffron had been.
*I think it's time I knew,* she thought.
From the darkest and most distant room in her house, she went and found a small wooden
box. It was locked, but the key lay nearby. It was less as if she was trying to keep someone from
getting in and more as if she was afraid the contents of the box might escape. With some
difficulty, she managed to get the key to turn in the stiff lock and carefully raised the lid. There
inside was the shard of the mirror, a bit of broken glass just a little larger than her palm, carefully
wrapped in black velvet. She carried it to a nearby table, pulled up a chair, and sat down. The
dark cloth was undone and allowed to fall on the tabletop while she lifted the treasure out of its
folds, cutting her fingers a bit on its sharp edges. She carefully cradled the glass in her hands,
peering into the depths of the mirror. It tried to show her the images of her past life, but she
waved them away impatiently, as if they were so many small flies. Instead, she called up a new set
"Show me Saffron," she commanded.
The mirror obliged. Scene after scene danced across its shiny surface, and she watched
them as they replayed the man's life. At first, the pictures were unfamiliar, and she watched them
with nothing more than mild curiosity. Then, slowly, realization dawned on her. She felt her
breathing constrict, and her blood went cold. The mirror slid from her nervous fingers to fall
silently onto the velvet-coated tabletop. As it continued to relentlessly show its images, Queenie
pressed her face into her hands in a gesture of horror and defeat.
"No," she whispered. "Please, no . . ."
Saffron was jolted awake by a sudden premonition and opened his eyes to see the moon
peering through the window, a perfect circle of cold light. Something bad was happening. He
knew it instinctively. Hurriedly, he dressed himself and ran out into the street, dashing at top
speed toward Queenie's home.
As he stepped through the front door, his suspicions were confirmed. From somewhere in
the deeper parts of the house, he could hear the sound of someone crying - not just the kind of
sobs used for venting sorrow or frustration, the kind that could heal, but the wailing of pure
hopelessness. He hurried urgently toward the sound and found her in a lightless room, shaking
with tears and her face hidden in her arms folded on the table. There was a bit of glass on the
table, glinting like a fallen star.
"Queenie? What's wrong?" he asked her.
"Go away," she said mournfully. "This is all wrong. You shouldn't be here."
"I'm not leaving until I know what's the matter," he said. "Why are you crying?"
"Because," she said, "I love you, and I'm afraid you love me, too, and that can't be."
"What do you mean? Is it so terrible that I should love you?"
"I looked in the mirror," she said. "I found out who you really are. I should have let you
see it the first time you asked for the truth, and then both of us could have gotten what we
deserved. You could have found a great destiny, and I could have died and saved us both some
"What are you talking about?" he asked, a little fearfully.
"See for yourself. You deserve to know," she replied. "There's still hope for you, but for
me . . . all is lost."
"I don't believe that," Saffron replied. "Show me."
Blinking back tears, Queenie took the mirror and handed it to him, and he held it up and
looked. At first, the mirror seemed confused, as if it were so used to having its owner use it that it
was having trouble being used by someone else. However, in a few seconds, it managed to shift
its blurry image and show Saffron . . . his own face.
Saffron looked curiously, and saw his own features crease in puzzlement. So, this was
what he looked like. It looked like a good face to him, open and honest, kind and intelligent. His
hair was short and sandy-blonde, and his eyes were exactly as Hunter had said they were, blue as
the evening sky after sunset.
Suddenly, the picture shifted, showing him a new picture. He saw himself sitting under a
tree - his mother's tree, the one she had loved so much, the one that she had allowed to dominate
her garden even while her husband had complained about it and nagged her to plant vegetables
instead. Saffron was sitting in the shade, reading one of the old histories that his teacher had
loaned him. Those were such good days for him, studying history and science and magic, and then
teaching what he knew to his sister, who longed to be a scholar like him, but their father would
not allow it. He remembered - and saw, as the mirror's image changed again - how he had argued
with his father and run away. He had eventually joined the army, and from there, he had worked
his way through the ranks from a lowly soldier to a high general. In the mirror, he saw his face
age and change with the passing of years and the loss of good friends and comrades as they fell in
battle. He remembered the joy he had felt when the war was finally over . . .
Then he saw his dream play itself out again, but now he understood what had happened.
He had made a deal with the dark side, making them promise to leave his people in peace, but
they had betrayed him. They had returned and attacked him, and they had imprisoned him
eternally inside a time warp, even as his magic had cast them into the Dumpster.
Oh, no. So that was why Zordon's name struck such fear in his heart. Is was his.
Dismayed though he was, he could not tear his eyes away from the magic mirror, and it
continued to let his life flash before his eyes. Long years of waiting and planning went by in an
instant, and then he was seeing himself initiating his first team of Power Rangers. He had been so
proud of them. He had loved them all as if they were his own children, and it had hurt him to send
them into battle again and again, always knowing that the next battle might be the one they didn't
return from. But they survived, and so they battled enemy after enemy under his guidance, right
up to the enemy that was now watching him fearfully, the one who had been heartbroken to
realize that, no matter what the past might have been, hate had given way to its opposite. Saffron
- Zordon continued to watch the pictures flashing by, right up until the point that everything
seemed to dissolve into a golden flash . . . and then everything changed.
"Did you watch the mirror right up until the end?" he asked. He was surprised at how
calm he sounded . . . but then, he had always been so good at staying calm, even when facing
"Well, no," she faltered.
"Then look at this."
The mirror was showing some different pictures now. They showed a young man dressed
in tan and gold waking up in a hospital, and they followed him as he worked his way into the new
society that he had been so instrumental in creating. They showed him working at his desk and
laughing at Pete's nonsense, and the night where he had battled someone who had fought him like
an enemy and made peace as a brother. They also showed a softly lit picture of a happy young
man walking hand in hand with a beautiful woman in the moonlight.
"You see?" he said. "These images are no less true than anything else you saw. Whatever I
used to be, I'm now just Saffron Golde, a person who has found a good friend in you. I've lost
enough friends in my lifetime already. I will not lose another. I had already forgiven you for what
you had done. Can you forgive me for what I did to you?"
"Yes," she said.
"Then there is nothing to worry about," said Saffron. "But . . . this has given me a lot to
think about? Will you be all right if I leave you here for a little while? I promise I'll be back."
"You don't have to promise," she said. "Saffron Golde is probably the only one I trust."
"Then wait for me. This shouldn't take very long." So saying, Saffron picked up the bit of
broken glass that had caused all the trouble. "I'll get rid of this for you. I don't think we'll be
needing it any more."
Queenie nodded silently. As Saffron left, he stopped to kiss her cheek, the first time he had
ever done such a thing. She smiled a little, and he smiled back.
"It will be all right, you'll see," he said. And then he was gone.
There was a tree in Saffron's back yard. It seemed like a good place to sit and think for a
while, and that was exactly what Saffron needed to do. There was a tangle of thoughts and
emotions that needed to be dealt with. Now that he knew who he was, where he had come from,
it was also beginning to come clear to him who his companions were as well. Pete was an obvious
one. Just thinking about the bony, clumsy, eternally amiable man would eventually suggest to
anyone who knew him a none-too-clever skeleton monster with his face fixed in a permanent grin.
As for Mr. Edwards, didn't the name give it away? Someone had finally found an underhanded
way to get Ed to accept his nickname. And then there was Hunter, the noble warrior who loved
his daughter above all else . . .
*We were not so different, really,* Saffron thought. *We were teachers and warriors who
loved our adopted children. Ecliptor was admirable, even as a monster, a person of dignity and
strength. The only real difference lay in who we were fighting for.*
Thinking of that led him to remember the last battle they had both been in. Just as they had
been together in the beginning of this life, they had been together at the end of the old one.
Saffron could remember seeing how Ecliptor had spent his last few moments trying to return to
the side of his princess, defending her to the very last.
*I meant for him to live. If only the two of them had not been so poisoned with evil, I
could have healed them there without having to die. I was supposed to die. By everything I knew,
I should have died. Why am I still alive?*
After thinking about it for a long time, he came to a conclusion. He had been spared the
fate he had chosen for himself because his work wasn't done yet. He had meant for the healed
monsters to be part of the rest of the universe, not hidden away and isolated like this. It wasn't
right that they should be kept apart from everyone else because of a past they no longer
remembered and didn't have the heart to return to.
And then again . . . maybe he needed a second chance as much as they did. All he had ever
wanted was a chance to live in peace. He hadn't wanted to be a war leader and send good men
and women off to die, but circumstances had gotten in his way. He liked to think he had made the
best of his situation, but if he had been given the choice, he would have preferred a life much like
the one he was living now. He had lost much of his knowledge and all but a the tiniest fraction of
his former power, but that had ceased to matter. He could have asked no better reward for his
service to the cause of goodness than this, to live simply and be surrounded by good friends. But
before he was ready to do that, he had one last thing he wanted to do.
Moments later, Hunter felt himself being shaken awake. He opened one eye and stared
balefully up at Saffron.
"You maniac," he muttered. "What are you doing up at this time of night."
Saffron almost smiled. "I'm just letting you know I'm leaving."
"What?" Hunter came fully awake and sat up. "What do you mean, leaving?"
"I'm just going somewhere for a little while," Saffron replied, "and I want you to come
"Going? After everything you went through to convince me to stay?"
"Well, if you don't want to see your daughter again . . ."
Hunter stared at Saffron as if he'd seen a ghost . . . or as if he was a ghost, which wasn't
too far from the truth.
"You know where she is?" he whispered.
Saffron nodded solemnly. "Queenie let me borrow her magic mirror. It's shown me quite a
few things of interest."
"Wait a moment, then, and let me get some decent clothes on. I'm coming."
Saffron waited patiently. He wasn't in nearly as much of a hurry as Hunter was to leave.
He needed time to organize his thoughts and get ready for what was coming next. Also, he was
only partially sure he knew what he was doing. He was going to have to trust his intuition on this
matter. Finally, Hunter was ready to leave. Saffron took a breath to steady his trembling nerves.
"I think I still can do this," he muttered to himself. "Just let me do this one last time."
"What are you whispering about?" demanded Hunter, as much out of anxiety as
"This," said Saffron, and they were suddenly gone.
The world they reappeared on was also covered in nighttime darkness, but it was not the
stifling darkness of midnight. It was the cool, restful darkness of early evening that called those
with troubled minds to come out and find peace. Saffron knew, though he could no longer say
how he knew, that this was the time and place he needed to find. Hunter looked all around at the
unfamiliar trees and grass in vague puzzlement.
"Where are we? How did we get here?" he asked.
"I moved us," Saffron replied. "Don't ask me to explain how - I hardly know myself.
We're on KO-35. Does that name sound familiar?"
"Yes," said Hunter slowly. "I think it does. Is this . . . ?"
"Shh! Someone is coming."
Hunter became instantly silent and still. Somewhere close by, he could now make out the
soft steps of someone, or perhaps more than one, walking in the soft grass. Saffron beckoned for
him to get out of sight, and he obeyed, ducking behind a nearby tree. It wasn't much shelter, but
in the dark, it was all that was needed. Protected from intruding eyes, the pair watched to see who
was coming. Gradually, the light of the stars and a thin moon revealed a pair of people, a young
man and woman, strolling together and talking quietly. Saffron watched his friend's expression
and saw it go slowly from confusion to astounded recognition. After a moment or two, the young
man left his companion's side and drifted away from her, but she remained where she was, staring
up at the stars.
"You remember them, don't you?" asked Saffron.
"I . . ." Hunter seemed to be having trouble finding words. "Yes! I remember now. That's
the Red Ranger . . . and Astronema . . ."
"Only as much as you are Ecliptor," Saffron answered gently. "They've both changed, just
as we have, only it isn't so much a change you can see. I did think you would want to see her
again, though, one last time."
"Yes. Thank you."
"Is there anything you want to say to her?"
Hunter shook his head. "No, not now, but . . . I watched over her for many years. I think I
would just like to watch her a little while longer."
"Probably a wise decision," Saffron replied. "But I want to have a few words with her
brother, if you don't mind."
Hunter didn't offer any objections, so Saffron wandered away to speak to his former
He found Andros sitting on a large rock at the edge of the ocean, watching the waves roll
in and out. Saffron picked out a second stone and took a seat nearby.
"Could you stand some company?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Andros glanced up, distracted. "Oh. Go ahead."
"Thank you," Saffron replied. "It's a beautiful night, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess so." The former Ranger's tone confirmed Saffron's suspicions.
"Something is bothering you, isn't it?"
"I don't really want to talk about it," Andros replied.
"I think it might do you some good," Saffron persisted. "You're thinking about Zordon,
Andros looked up in shock. "How did you know?"
Saffron shrugged. "You are a good-hearted person, Andros. You could never harm
anyone, especially someone you cared about, and not feel some sense of guilt and loss."
"Yeah, you're right," Andros agreed sadly. "I keep thinking there should have been some
other way. I should have been able to do something to keep it from happening."
"But you have to remember, it was his choice, in the end. He was ready to end it all. His
life was never an easy one, you know."
"How do you know do you know so much?" asked Andros suspiciously.
Saffron turned and so that he could look Andros in the eye. There was a long pause as the
young man stared in surprise.
"Zordon?" he whispered.
Saffron smiled sadly. "What's left of him, anyway. I gave up a lot in that last battle, if not
as much as I thought I was going to lose. Nearly all of my power is gone, and I've forgotten much
of what I used to know. Now . . . now I'm just an ordinary man."
"Don't be. I'm perfectly happy this way. All I ever really wanted was to live a peaceful life
with people I cared about, and now I'm finally going to get my wish. I am grateful to you,
Andros, for being brave enough to help me. The reason I wanted to come back and speak to you
tonight was mostly to let you know that you made the right decision, and that all is well with me,
but I also wanted to let you know how proud I've always been of you. You've always been a
good man and a brave leader." Saffron smiled a little. "You remind me a lot of myself when I was
Andros managed to smile back. "That's probably the highest compliment I've ever
"I am sorry to have to say goodbye," said Saffron, "but we both have our lives to get on
with. Take care of yourself, Andros."
Saffron nodded . . . and then he was suddenly gone in a swirl of pale gold lights.
He returned to the tree and found Hunter still standing, just the way Saffron had left him,
lost in his thoughts. When his friend arrived, he sighed and turned around.
"Are you ready to go?" Saffron asked.
Hunter almost smiled. "You mean, back to the camp? Yes, I think so." He turned and
took a final look in the direction of the girl he had raised. "She will be safe and happy here. She
won't be needing me anymore."
"But I will," Saffron replied. "After all, you're the only one I know who can cook."
"Saffron, you never cease to amaze me," said Hunter.
"Come on. We need to be leaving. It's late, and I have some unfinished business to attend
to," said Saffron. There was a lot that needed to be done if he was going to finish the job he had
started, but he wouldn't be alone in it this time. He would have his brother to help him this time . .
. and Queenie.
"You're right," Hunter replied. "Let's go home."