"Ren! Ren! She is here!"

Ren paused, his gnarled hands gripping the broom tightly. He turned and caught sight of Mara, running toward him down the street, her short legs working hard.

"Ren! Did you hear me? She is here!" Mara arrived at the front of the house, her arm grabbing hold of the porch railing for support, breath coming only with protest.

"Mara, calm." He reached out, took her hand, squeezed it tight. "Go tell anyone you see, tell them to go home and stay inside."

"And they are with her - yes, I will tell everyone." Mara took a deep breath and dashed off into the fading sunlight.

Ren watched as the young girl rounded the corner. Word had come that a strange woman was traveling through the region, and that she was not alone.

No, she wasnít - Ren could see that for himself. Dark creatures darted in and out of the street, chittering and clacketing. But for their noise, the town was quiet. Ren waited.

She soon came into view - slight, not tall, the creatures swarming around her. As she passed under a light, Ren could see markings on her face. Tension in her shoulders, stiffness in her hands - - he looked for her eyes, but she was now beyond the light. As she approached the porch, the creatures held back, the metallic noises fading. Now he could see. A chill set in.

"You are not afraid of them," she said. "My first time, I screamed - and they screamed back! My father was there, and he stood still. I learned much that day."

Ren watched, and his training took over. There was something deep inside that had to get out. When she said "father" - a flinch or shudder, some memory made her uncomfortable.

"Iíve been to the other towns," she said, "they said you were the healer."

Ren moved a step forward, cautiously, as the creatures stiffened. Her words were so dead, yet he knew the pain lay just below the surface. "Yes, I am a healer," he said. He closed his eyes and started singing. He could hear her muttering, wondering if she had wasted even more time. Then her breathing grew steady, in rhythm with the song, and finally she was ready. He opened his eyes.

"I cannot heal you," he said softly, his words keeping the rhythm. "The pain is yours, you must release it, I can only help." It was hard to keep his connection, the creatures pulsed with tension.

A soft moan came from her mouth. "Father."

"Yes," Ren sang, "your father, let your father speak."

She swayed to his rhythm, but said nothing. The time was now, and so his voice rose, the rhythm stepped up. He could see the pain rising to the surface as he moved forward again, to hold her face, to take her pain, to heal her wound.

Without warning, a creature moved to block his way and its claws wrapped around his throat. He stood still, the song cut short. A keening arose from the woman, and her pain emerged, raw, her own song of death. "Father! Mother!" she screamed, "Iím sorry, I didnít know, so young, your desert bird, an Age destroyed, I can't erase the words I've written, canít ever bring you back-"

The other creatures surrounded her, claws holding her, bodies swaddling her, while he was still held firmly in place, unable to move, unable to sing, unable to take her pain. Her lament became a wordless scream, rising in a crescendo, as the creatures crowded around her, nearer and tighter, until the cacophony stopped, and the only sound was Renís as he struggled for breath.

Her eyes snapped open. "ril kroemah!"(1) Her voice rang out. "prehnihv kehn tomeht!"(2)

The grip on Renís throat eased, and the creatures moved away as the woman stepped forward. Her eyes were cold and Ren knew he had failed.

"I was told you were a healer," she said. "Yet you bring pain. Is there no one in this Age who can help me."

Ren remained silent as the woman spoke, for he could see only deadness in her face, in her body, her pain now out of his reach.

"This Age has nothing for me," the woman said. She turned to face the creatures. "votahrteeah!"(3) As one, the creatures stood straight, raised their arms to each side, and uttered a loud cry. The woman stood for a moment, then walked away without a glance. "mahrehnteeah!"(4) she cried, and the creatures scampered after and around her, until they all passed out of sight.

Ren let out his breath, the tension ebbing from his arms and legs. He touched the rough marks on his throat and listened to the chittering and clacketing as it faded in the distance.

"Ren, Ren, Ren!" It was Mara, running toward him again. Her eyes sparkled with concern, her body bounded with life, she had a future. But that woman...

She has so much pain, Ren thought, she is unforgiven. He took Mara in his arms with a hug, and started singing his closing song. He sang, and sang, and sang. He knew he would sing for a long time.

(1)Do not move
(2)I have returned
(3)Praise (me)
(4)Follow (me)