Long, long ago, during the time when the Ekelli still walked
on Tyranaël, a great joy came to the abode of Karaïd
Tsaludar, in Hleitzer, which was then the capital of the Paalani
on Hebu. For a long time, the king and his wife Mirnaë had
expected a child, and three times already their hopes had been
dashed. Then, during the night of the summer eclipse, when the
moon married the sun, a son was born to them. The child had the
violet eyes of his ancestor Ktulhudar, and all the mages declared
that through him would surely come to pass the prediction of
the Man-God for the Paalani, at the time of their ultimate defeat:
"You will again be great, not through arms and in war, but
through love and peace."
This great joy, however, would soon give way to great sorrow.
At first there were only whisperings in the corridors of the
palace, then muttering from mouth to ear, but finally the news
spread like wildfire through the appalled royal city: The gaze
of the sacred sun did not fall on the heir to the throne! The
son of the king, the descendant of the Man-God Ktulhudar, Oghim
Karaïdar, had no shadow!
Karaïd Tsaludar was a just and good king, loved by all his
people, and all his people grieved with him. Not only did the
child have no shadow, but he had no reflection either. Neither
water nor metal showed his image to him! Everything was tried
to cure him - but this was not an illness. Everything was tried
to free him from any evil spells - but if it was a curse, where
did it come from? All the healers, all the mages, all the sages
summoned to the palace were powerless to explain the little prince's
But he was the only child of Karaïd Tsaludar, heir to the
throne, and his father decided that, as much as possible, he
would be raised in accordance with his station.
The years passed, and the child without a shadow grew in strength
and beauty. By order of the king, all mirrors were banished from
the palace, and the young prince was only permitted to go out
into the enclosed palace gardens during the hours of darkness
when no night stars shone in the sky. In the daytime, he slept
in a wing of the palace where all the windows had been walled
up, which was lit only with the light of the golden stone, which
makes no shadows. Thus the prince lived until his fifteenth season
without ever suspecting that he was not like others. He had weapons
training and studied the whole glorious history of his ancestors.
He learned to play musical instruments that were suitable for
a young prince of the Paalani. He learned all the graces of court,
and all the intricacies of combat. He also learned, under the
echoing arches of the courts and gardens that had been especially
built for him alone, to ride small aski; they had not dared to
introduce him to the tovik that lived in Hleitzer, and they were
carefully to keep them away from the wing of the palace where
the prince lived. He knew nothing of them and therefore could
not be distressed by their absence, but he would have no companion
tovker when he became king: how could the great unicorns choose
him, without a shadow?
He never doubted, however, that one day he would become king.
His father treated him as the heir to the throne, as did his
mother, and all the tutors and companions that had been chosen
for him too. He had learned this with every breath and believed
it without question. Just as he believed that the huge palace
where he lived was without limit, that is was the whole world.
But towards the middle of a night of studies, games and combat
(for him it was daytime), it happened that all Oghim's companions
fell asleep, overcome with fatigue. Only Oghim could not find
sleep. He decided to go for a walk in the palace. His companions,
who were his guardians, had always been there to steer him away
from places where he was not supposed to go. But since they were
sound asleep - and since everyone else in the palace was also
sleeping at that hour, even the guards, who knew how to sleep
with their eyes open - Oghim soon found himself in a part of
the palace that was unknown to him. There were tapestries and
paintings the likes of which he had never seen, depicting vast
expanses of trees and water like those in the enclosed gardens
of the palace, but without walls surrounding them. And above
these great spaces, there was an expanse of sky such as he had
never seen, pale blue, with tufts of white cotton floating in
Bewildered but curious, Oghim continued walking. And after going
up and down stairways and along corridors, through courtyards
and gardens, he came without knowing it to the limits of the
palace, on the old parapet walk. Above him was the dome of the
night sky, teeming with stars, but this was a familiar spectacle
for Oghim. What was less familiar was the vastness of the sky.
And what was even less familiar, what took his breath away with
a mixture of stupefaction and slightly tremulous excitement,
was seeing below him, when he leaned over the parapet, an apparently
infinite space spangled with lights, and which wasn't the sky,
but was in fact where the earth normally was! Oghim could hear
snatches of music and laughter coming from down there, and voices,
calling to one another. There were people down there! And yet,
the palace seemed to end where Oghim was standing.
Oghim descended the stairway leading to the main courtyard of
the palace, slipped out through a small postern, sneaking past
a guard, who was leaning on his lance, snoring, and walked down
the long road that led to the great city of Hleitzer...
© 1997 Éditions
Alire & Élisabeth Vonarburg
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