She had listened quietly while I told her my story. Then she asked me what my training as a storyteller had been like. I thought about that for a bit.

"I had a teacher called Agromas. My parents told me that he came to our village for the first time when I was five, going directly to our house and demanding that he be allowed to start teaching me when I was twelve. My parents agreed. Then he left, and we never saw him again until after my twelfth birthday. He would show up in the autumn and move in with us, and only leave again in the spring. He'd teach me for a couple of hours each week, giving me assignments to work on until the next session. He kept that up for the next thirteen years."

"What happened then?"

"Rhiana and I had grown up together, and our parents kind of decided that for us to marry would be a good thing. We agreed and I guess we were both happy to start a household of our own, so I asked her to marry me and she accepted. That left the problem of Agromas to deal with. Rhiana made it very clear that she didn't want him staying with us each winter, and I agreed. So, I talked to him."

"How did he take it?"

"As well as could be expected, I guess."

Lowanda kept silent.

"Well, not really. When I was a kid the old man terrified me, and though that got less as I grew up I never felt at ease around him. Our last meeting was ugly. I yelled at him how much I hated him and how much I hated what his training was doing to me. He yelled at me that I wasn't worthy to be his apprentice but that he hadn't been able to find anyone more suitable, and that I should be grateful. I ended up throwing him out of the house. We never saw him again. When people started to ask questions I told them that he had just gone away without telling anyone and that seemed to satisfy them, though I think my parents and Rhiana had their suspicions. I'm not proud of myself. Agromas wasn't getting any younger, and I'm not sure how he survived without having a place to stay for the winter."

I wondered why I was telling her all this.

"Did you ever meet any other storytellers, apart from Agromas?"

"No", I said.

Stirring the ashes of a bonfire, finding some still recognisable fragments of a storyteller's cloak. Seeing a claw-like hand sticking out from a pile of burned corpses, the blackened remains of a storyteller's cloak still covering the arm.

I was shaking, and Lowanda looked at me with concern.

"I'm fine. Just tired."

"Of course."

We were silent for a while.

She stood up and began to pace the room. Still with her back to me she said: "There's a bit of a mystery here, and I wonder whether you could clear it up."

She turned towards me. "We know that, before the war, there were quite a number of storytellers and healers in the western provinces. The gifts seemed to be getting rarer and there weren't as many as - I don't know - one or two centuries ago, but still in every five villages or so you would still find at least one healer and one storyteller. And yet, except you none of them seem to have survived the war. I'd really like to know why."

I didn't know what to say to that, and neither did she. She opened the door and asked a men in black who had been waiting outside to escort me to my room. Another trek trough torch-lit corridors followed. My room turned out to be a bare cell with a bunk in it and nothing else. I put down my bag, lied down and slept.

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