Threshold

1

VILAND is a cold, brutal place, yet I grew there and loved it as much as it would allow. Cruel seas batter rocky harbours through winters that last a good nine months of the year, months when all crowd about fires amid the cheerful belchings of onion and ale fumes, and tell endless stories of adventure at the end of the harpoon. In the brief flowering of summer, the Vilanders hurriedly eke out their living from the whales that throng the icy coastal waters, selling the great fish’s meat, oil, hide and bones to any who care to pay for it. Not many, some years. Yet in those years when the whale sold well, my father gained enough in commissions to keep us through the leaner seasons.

But there wasn’t much to spare, as we came to discover to our sorrow.

Despite the ice and the ever-threatening poverty, my father and I were happy, content. Until the day my father’s thoughtlessness and poorly buried heartache matured into the sour fruit that destroyed us both.

Mam had died young, before I was two. Rather than hire a nursemaid, my father took me into his workshop, and my earliest memories are of the fascinating world encompassed by the shadowed spaces beneath my father’s work table. Here I played blithely all day amid the shavings of glass and globs of discarded enamel, scraping the bright shards into piles and sifting them through hands too small and fat to be of practical use to my father. The table protected me from the worst of the furnace heat and from most of the problems of the outside world, and when the workday was over my father lifted me into his strong arms and carried me back to our cold, motherless home.

Always I yearned for the morning, and the warmth of the workshop.

When I was five, and too curious to fit comfortably beneath the table, my father decided to teach me his craft. Along with the techniques of mixing, firing and working the glass, I had to learn the common trading tongue of nations, as well as several other languages. All craft workers needed to converse with those merchants who might bring them the one commission to keep starvation at bay for another month or two.

I was young and quick-witted, and I learned the languages and the craft easily. By the age of ten, my hands were slim and capable enough to take on some of the fine work my father increasingly found too difficult, and my tongue was sufficiently agile to chatter to the occasional merchant from Geshardi or Alaric who passed by the workshop. I did not mind spending my days at the work table, learning a trade, when I could have been imbibing the raucous street games of my contemporaries. My father and the glass formed the boundaries of the only world I needed, and if my father was more often silent than talkative, then I found all the conversation and company I desired in the shifting colours of the glass.

The glass told me many things.

When I was eighteen my father often left me working on the final engraving of a goblet or, more and more frequently, the finishing work for cage lace, while he wandered the streets in search of old friends with whom to pass an hour or two. At least, that’s what I thought until the bailiffs came. I did not know that my father’s long festering grief for my mother had found outlet in the quest for luck at fate. But luck deserted him as completely as my mother had. My thoughtless, loving