Prologue

A Silence of Three Parts

A NEW DAY WAS RISING. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

The most obvious part was an immense, echoing quiet, made by the things that were lacking. If there had been a hurricane, winds and rain would have beaten upon the wooden slats of the inn, marching through the hollow spaces within. If there had been refugees huddled within the walls, the air would have been heavy with shrill laughter, of feet shuffling nervously upon the heavy planks which made up the floor, of the calm, reassuring tones of the innkeeper. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact, there were none of those things, so the silence remained.

Inside the Waystone a man stood before the large hearth, staring into the unlit logs piled within. His contemplation was still, the only movement the slight rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, and the occasional blink of an eye. Each flicker made the barest shick as the eyelashes briefly collided. In doing this he added his small, dismal silence to the larger echoing one. They made a composite of sorts, a counterpoint.

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened hard enough you might feel it in the cold of the barren fireplace and the shutters drawn across the windows. It was in the panel of iron-black wood hanging above the bar, and the sword which was mounted to it. And it was in the hands of the man who stood before the soot-stained bricks, motionless, hands balled into tight fists.

The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he stood with the determined air of one who has recently reconciled with difficult truths.

The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, ensnaring the others within itself. It was deep and wide as autumn's ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who was waiting to die.