550 A.S.E. • Ten miles from the village of Roresh, on the highland plateau of Pontay
When Yad woke that morning—a fine fresh spring day—the family's peasant farmhouse was already empty. Yad stretched his young frame and bounded downstairs to the common room. On the table lay leftovers from breakfast: yesterday's bread, and some cold stew. Yad made a meal of it, pulled on his jacket, and headed outside.
Clouds fringed the distant eastern hills, hiding the morning sun, and a dry breeze wafted across the plateau. The farmhouse stood in the midst of half an acre of vegetable gardens; to the north stood his grandfather's little cabin, with smoke writhing from the chimney. Yad thought about looking in on Grandfather, but decided instead that his mother must already want his help with the foaling, which was coming early this year.
Yad struck out on foot on the south path to the meadows. Soon he saw his mother tending a mare, while Maffor and Mally, his young brother & sister, twins only six years old, stood wishing they could help. Yad jogged up as his mother cleared the foal.
"A stallion!" said Yad—then he noted his mother's bleak expression. "Mum?"
She looked at him. Her cheeks were haggard, her eyes dull. She brushed hair from her face, and her hand left a streak of foal blood.
"Mum, what's wrong. The mare's still breathing ... the foal—"
She said, "Your grandfather is taking the silver to the city."
Yad stood in silence for a moment. Then: "Why—"
"First your father died!" his mother blurted, almost sobbing. "You and your grandfather have been my only help for five years. And now he's leaving. And you—"
"I'm not going anywhere, Mum."
She bit her lip.
Yad added, "We're better off without that silver, anyway."
She said, "Maybe. Yes. It's a curse."
Yad made an angry face. "He should just destroy it. I would!"
"He thinks it has value."
"Not to us."
She went back to tending the new foal. "He's made his decision. You and I will have to work harder this spring, until he comes back."
Maffor and Mally began bouncing in place. "We'll help! We'll help!"
Yad said, "I guess this is my last chance to change his mind." And without another word, he spun on his heel and marched back toward the homestead.
As he approached his grandfather's cabin, he noticed the smoke had stopped. A sudden chill writhed in his gut, and he lurched into a run. The cabin's front door stood open. Yad charged into the little single room. A sickening smell of char struck his nose—the bizarre sight of a pair of legs stretching out from the fireplace rattled his mind. Without thinking, Yad leaped forward and pulled his grandfather from the fireplace. Black flakes covered the top half of his body, and smoke curled from whatever was left of his clothes and skin—enough remained that Yad could see his grandfather's throat had been cut, almost severing his head.
Yad staggered back and collapsed to the floor. The reality of this scene refused to sink in; Yad stared, desperately trying to understand what had happened here.
—the silver—the silver—
Where was it? Yad's gaze flashed through the cabin; but the silver was gone, that dog-sized artifact of mystery, that shiny, beautiful, horrible, terrifying thing that his grandfather had dug out of a ditch at the north end of the homestead a week ago, that awful thing that Yad wished now he had destroyed when he had the chance—
Someone—who!?—had cut Grandfather's throat, shoved his body into the fireplace, and taken the silver.
Yad stood, staring at the dreadful corpse. Then he stepped outside and took a deep breath, willing his heart to stop its panicked pounding, willing his hands to stop shaking.
—Mum! Maffor, Mally! Yad broke into a terrified run, down the path to the meadows. From a hundred yards, Yad could see: there stood the new foal, already on his legs, trembling—there lay his mother and his brother and his sister, limp, still, lifeless in the morning breeze. How had the killer—or killers—passed Yad on the path? He looked north, west, east, again south—the plateau stretched away for miles & miles, with no one in sight.
Yad's mind trembled in his skull. Was this all a dream? if only he could wake from it ... but the cool breeze, the rustling grass of the meadow, the sun just peeking over the low clouds in the east ... all these things were real.
Yad stood for minutes, thinking that the invisible killer would strike him down, but no blow came. Then he thought, Mum will stand up—it's all a joke, a terrible joke. But she did not stand up. And his grandfather's body, his slashed throat and half-burned corpse, that was no joke. Then he thought ... but he wasn't thinking. He was just standing.
His family was gone. His whole family was dead.
The reality began to seep in: and with it, this one fact: the silver, it was the fault of the silver.
Fear and terror turned to rage. Someone—because of the silver, that thing, that arcane cursed thing —someone had killed his family ... for the silver.
That someone must pay.