“We were presided over by the village elder,” the memories were coming to Tammath more readily now. “His name was Father Crei and he was very old, indeed. Half the mutterings he said were too soft and unintelligible for us to understand, and he couldn’t walk, we would have to draw near to his bed in order to hear him. But all the parents had a love and devotion for Father Crei that spoke to me of what sort of man he had once been. All of them still abided under his precepts, even if he wasn’t able to speak them aloud anymore.
“And there was Bolbano, our porter. He was a silly and foppish man and did not fit in so well with the quiet gravity of the rest of our village. But he had found his place even so, carrying the rice and biscill from our farms to the magistrate’s storehouse. It was better for him, free to wander and be distracted between here and there, but he never failed to complete a task even so.
“And Nance was our teacher. She made all of us children to understand letters and told us stories of our ancestors long ago. We would walk to her hut hand-in-hand, and she would drone on to us for as long as we sat before her. Eventually we would be called away to our chores and depart in ones and twos, but she never was offended. She just let us drift away as easily as we had come and resumed where she had left off the next day.
“Morteo was our butcher. He would dress the fish my father caught and the meat that Bolbano brought back from the magistrate. He did his best, but when there is one man cooking for three dozen no one is ever perfectly content. For some his dinner had too much spice and for others it was too bland, but it gave us strength enough, and we ate it all anyway. And then, every year at the jubilee he would stay up through the night to make each person their own individual dish, just how they liked.
“Motuthay and Ailah were my family’s neighbors. Motuthay fished with my father, Ailah weaved with my mother, and their children did their chores and played with my brother and me. I honestly thought for a time that they were just another part of our family that happened to live in a different house. Of course, in a sense they were. All that village was one large family, and all the children ran together like one tremendous brood of siblings.
“Badu was the eldest and strongest of the youth, our unofficial leader, and Mayta was a second mother to us all. As a youth I always assumed they would marry when they were grown. Steeko and Vintir, the twins, were the most troublesome of the lot, they would tease the younger ones any chance they got. Setal was a kind girl, but she could never run with us, as she was always sick in bed with some malady or another…”
“What of Corvay?” King Taq’ii asked softly.
Tammath trembled all over as he tried to fight down the tears. Corvay was the one person whose memory had come effortlessly, but which he had tried to keep suppressed.
“Corvay was positively beautiful,” Tammath wept. “Though she was as young as I, she had such a mature grace about her. She was tender and kind, and she always showed such care and concern to me. Whenever I was upset, she would hold my hand. She wouldn’t say a word, she wouldn’t try to wish the trouble away, she would just be with me in that place so I wouldn’t be alone.”
“And you loved her.”
“Yes, I loved her with all of my heart, and I have forever mourned that we never knew a life together as husband in wife. Though I realize now we were but children, I am certain she would have grown into a remarkable woman, and that we would have had the most sublime of marriages.”
“It was a lovely hamlet,” King Taq’ii approved. “Perhaps they were not the most important of people in worldly matters, but they did live beautifully.”
“Yes!” Tammath gasped. “They certainly did!”
“And you have borne their loss all on your own. Borne it for many, many years.”
“And I must say, you have borne it well. In your grief you found a purpose, a noble purpose to pursue, and you have kept that cause through a great and consistent effort. Any man should be proud to have conducted himself so well.”
Tammath bowed his head to the floor.
“Tammath, I know that you desire to have this burden removed, to rest happily in the knowledge that those you lost have been returned to their rightful place. But there remains one factor of that desire that we must still consider. Have you considered that through this change you would be transferring your sorrow onto them instead?”
“How is that?”
“What do you think they will have assumed, to have woken up all those years ago, and not been slain by the raiders, but then found you missing?”
“I–I suppose they will assume that I came to some mischief. That some wild beast found me in the night.”
“Yes. And then your father would be racked with guilt for the punishment he had given you, and your mother would be torn by the loss of her son, and your brother would lose his carefree joy, and Corvay’s hand would forever long to have held yours in its time of greatest need. And all of them would wish that they could trade their own lives for yours.”
“I see,” Tammath nodded solemnly. “It is just as you said. To restore one loss, another must occur, and heartache must take the place of heartache. Truly, I never meant anything selfish in my request, but I never considered the pain that might follow this good deed.”
“And pain, in and of itself, is not necessarily wrong. But you know that you, at least, are able to bear their loss honorably. You have already borne it. The question is whether they could now bear your loss instead?”