Finally, the woman turned. At first, he could see her wide and pale blue eyes as clearly as he had seen Jan’s identical eyes before the light faded in the cave. His mother’s face looked sad and anxious, and then her expression changed. She appeared to struggle with a great effort to speak. Her lips formed an O, and Rabin was sure she said, “Go.” After that, her features blurred just as had the features of all of the others.
But now a robed man entered the bridge from the other side of what seemed like a grassy river bank. He wore a silk robe and had the bronze skin and copper hair of a purebred Moquel. As Rabin stared at him, the other’s sharp features didn’t blur but looked stern and sad.
He approached Rabin, and the boy asked, “Who are you?”
“The more important question would be about who you are, little halfling,” the man said. Rabin understood the Moquel’s speech, but he had never heard an accent like this before.
“I am Rabin Dranath Grandtree,” Rabin said simply. “Sir, could you please help me get to my mother? I don’t know where we are.”
“You and your mother are not exactly in the same place,” the Moquel said. “However, you are on a bridge too far. As your mother tried to tell you, you have to go.”
“I need help,” Rabin said.
“I know what you need,” the man said. “You won’t find it here. Let these poor souls depart in peace.”
“Who are you?” Rabin asked again.
“Who am I?” the man said sadly. “Maybe I am some shade of your grandfather’s grandfather. Maybe I am you. In words you seem to understand, I could be the Gatekeeper. It’s so hard to get a sense of who we really are here.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means you should ask better questions. If you want a bit of Moquel prophecy for your pain, you’ll only begin to understand who Rabin Grandtree is when you stand on the ramparts of a keep yet unbuilt and shout it at your mortal enemy. Of course, the world will know when you gain the courage to also shout it at your kin and friends. A brave man might face down his enemies, but it takes a hero to face down his own allies.”
“A keep yet unbuilt?” Rabin shook his head. “What enemy?”
“Ah, prophecies are confusing,” the man said. “However, you did travel far. I will let you ask me one more question.”
By now, Rabin had decided that he must have been dreaming. He had probably fallen asleep in the cave. Surely, Del Gerson had not been so foolish as to send a twelve-year-old boy out ranging. If this was a dream, he could ask what he liked. “Sure,” Rabin asked, “I have always hated the Prophecy of the Winter Rose. Am I really the second son, born to die by pride?”
“Eh, everybody dies,” the Moquel said casually. “You can be as proud or humble as you like.”