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The brown-haired child clung to the long shadow cast by the ancient house as he edged toward the south end of the tailings pile. His eyes led him toward the barely shimmering oblong of light reflected from somewhere in the tailings against the rough planks of the doorless shed, a shed that had once held mining tools. His bare feet made no sound as he slipped from the shade into the late afternoon sunlight and over the rocky ground to the gray and reddish brown heap of stone and slag.
After he went to one knee, his fingers brushed away the thin coating of dust that had half-concealed the fragment of mirror, perhaps half the size of his palm. He teased it out of the dirt and laid it flat on half of a broken yellow brick. He turned his head toward the house, but the door was closed and the front stoop vacant. He glanced past the next closest tailings pile to the south, checking the other piles of earth and stone and slag, and the abandoned mineheads, but the only movement was that of scattered summer-browned grass waving in the hot afternoon breeze.
A lizard scuttled from where he had lifted the broken brick. The boy tensed until he saw the large brown stripe down its tan back. Then he smiled, watching as the lizard vanished behind a fist-sized chunk of slag. His eyes went back to the lizard hole, but no other lizards emerged.
The hot wind ruffled his clean but armless and ragged shirt as he squatted on the lower slope of the waste pile and gazed intently at the fragment of mirror. His pale gray eyes narrowed. The oblong of light cast against the toolshed winked out. Silver mists swirled across the glass, thickening into nearly a misty white. A faint smile crossed his lips, vanishing as he tightened them, concentrating on the irregular mirror.
"Cerryl! Stay away from that glass!" A heavy set woman, broom in hand, appeared on the clay-and-rock stoop of the house behind the boy.
Cerryl did not move, intent as he was on the image forming in the glass. His mouth formed a silent O, and his eyes widened at the sparkling white tower looming over a green park.
Abruptly, at the sound of heavy steps crunching across the ground, he looked up, his eyes flicking to the squat figure in clean but mottled gray trousers and tunic.
"How you found that…suppose it doesn't matter." The woman's big hand seized his shoulder, and she lifted him to his feet and twisted him away from the shard of mirror. Her booted right foot came down on the glass with a crunch. All that remained of the window that had shown Cerryl an impossibly beautiful white stone tower was a heap of sparkling dust. His eyes burned with unshed tears.
"Glasses, mirrors, they be tools of chaos and evil! Have I not told you that, boy?" Nall's free hand brushed a wisp of iron gray hair off her forehead, but her gaze remained fixed on him.
Cerryl's thin shoulders drooped, but his gray eyes met hers, looking up to a woman more than half-again as tall as he was, and far burlier than even most of the sheepmen and peasants around Hrisbarg. "It was only a little shard, Aunt Nall."
"A little shard. Like saying a little night lizard--one bite, one shard--that's enough to kill you, boy." Nall took a deep breath, then another. "How many times been that I told you to stay away from mirrors and shiny things?"
"Enough," Cerryl admitted in a low voice, his eyes still meeting his aunt's.
"You be the death of us yet."
"I wanted to help," Cerryl said. "They find things with the shimmer glasses. You told me that Da said so."
"Always yer da." Nall shook her head. "Poor I may be, child, but poor be not evil, and evil be the shimmer glasses. Even you know where that took yer da." She glanced toward the door of the house, swinging half-open in the light wind. "You come with me 'fore the soup boils over."
"Yes, Aunt Nall." Cerryl's voice was polite, level, neither apologetic nor begging.
"Child…" Nall sighed again. "Back to the house."
Cerryl walked across the dry and dusty ground, a pace to her left and a pace back. He glanced toward another tailing pile, farther eastward. If there had been a mirror in one pile, what about the others?
"No lagging, child."
Cerryl followed Nall to the stoop, where she reclaimed the broom. She gestured with it, as if to sweep him into the house. Cerryl stepped inside. At the end of the main room of the two-room house was the hearth, with the cook table to the right, the narrow trestle table with its two short benches before the hearth, and a weathered gold oak cabinet with cracked drawer fronts to the left.
"Not even enough sense to fool around where no one could see you," snapped the woman, closing the door behind the boy. "Your poor mother, no wonder she died young. Not a scrap of sense in you or in your worthless father. A white mage, he was going to be." Nall shook her head sadly. "Poor fool…thinking he was that them mighty types in Fairhaven would welcome him. Him a peasant boy from Howlett… "
Cerryl lowered his eyes to the spotless stone floor.
"How did you spy that glass?"
"I saw its reflection on the side of the toolshed. I had to look. I just looked."
"Aye, and that was because yer aunt was there afore you could do more, I'd wager, young fellow."
Cerryl remained silent.
"You men, even young. Syodor…even he…" Nall broke off the words abruptly and looked at Cerryl. "No sense in that. What be done be done." She pointed to the stool by her kitchen table. "Well, leastwise you can help. You're careful enough with the roots."
Cerryl climbed onto the stool and looked at the handful of bedraggled golden turnips. His eyes flicked to the open shutters of the single window and the other tailing piles, then back to the turnips.
Copyright © 1998 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.