15 Shawwal 1279 Higira
(April 4, 1863 Anno Domini)
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the Prophets.
Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you; and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.
THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
SPRING'S FIRST DAY WAS A WARM SWEET SONG, a time of companionable silences and comfortably shared labor in Mahon O'Dere's coracle. The boat's round woven sides bobbed gently in the Lady's arms. Aidan O'Dere, eleven years old and the crannog's best swimmer, leaned against the coracle's side, reveling in the river's timeless flow. He studied the dark darting shadows of the fish as if they held the secrets of the universe, his mind alternately racing and utterly still.
Just now, his thoughts were of his father, Mahon, a lean, strong man weathered brown by sun and wind. He pulled the nets all day without tiring, best fisherman and fighter in the village bearing Aidan's great-grandfather's name. Father and son were sculpted from the same clay: blazing golden hair, crystal blue eyes, clean angled profiles. His father stood a head and a half taller and twice as broad across the shoulders, all of it good useful muscle and well-proportioned bone.
The sun was a molten eye, gazing down from the heavens without malice or mercy, unfettered by clouds. It baked against Aidan's skin. In a few minutes he would dip beneath the Lady's waves again, seeking the shelter of her embrace.
Mahon lifted his flute to his lips and coaxed it softly, gently, as if afraid of scaring away the fish. His eyes glowed with humor.
"What have you, boyo?" his father asked, taking his pipe from his lips. Aidan leaned farther out, pressing his thin arms against the coracle's rim. He peered more carefully now, straining to see through the chop. "Something shining in the water, Da."
The Lute River, usually referred to as the Lady, was clear as glass here. Upstream a bit, clouds of silt from an inland mudslide darkened her depths. Here, fed by a thousand eastern tributaries, the waters had healed themselves, as if loathing the idea of gifting the distant ocean with less than her best. The Lady's blue ribbon had fed and nurtured the O'Deres for three hundred years.
Mahon gazed up at the sky, shielding his eyes with one broad hand. "Well, it's a hot one. Maybe time for another dip?" Aidan needed no further encouragement. He slipped off his rough wool shirt and clambered over the side, careful not to tip the boat.
The water parted to receive him then closed over his head, sealing away the music of air and bird and flute, replacing them with the Lady's eternal rushing murmur. She was cool and bracing.
Aidan was a strong swimmerhalf eel and half boy, his mother claimedand oriented himself quickly in the water. Avoiding the nets was easy if you kept your eyes open. It would be humiliating to be caught in them; his father might be forced to draw him up and free him by knife, possibly endangering the day's catch.
This didn't happen. It was the work of moments to locate the source of the glittering he had glimpsed from above.
Aidan's heart quickened as his hands closed around his prize. For a moment he floated there, suspended like some strange river creature, the Lady's strong arms tugging at him, his bare feet clinging to a rock for ballast.
The object that had caught his attention was a knife. Not just any knife, though. Not some fisherman's blade tumbled overboard, but something wholly alien to his experience.
It was gold, wreathed with gems about its handle, its two-hand length of blade as gently curved as a shark's tooth. Young Aidan found it so beautiful that he almost forgot the need for breath.
Copyright 2002 by Steven Barnes
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