“It is necessary to create constraints, in order to invent freely… In fiction, the surrounding world provides the constraint. This has nothing to do with realism… A completely unreal world can be constructed, in which asses fly and princesses are restored to life by a kiss; but that world, purely possible and unrealistic, must exist according to structures defined at the outset (we have to know whether it is a world where a princess can be restored to life only by the kiss of a prince, or also by that of a witch, and whether the princess’s kiss transforms only frogs into princes or also, for example, armadillos).”— Umberto Eco, postscript to The Name of the Rose.
On the other side of the fire pit, seated on a fallen tree trunk, his back to her, Gamba remained engrossed in his work. Moonbeams outlined his form against the smoldering embers, his closely cropped hair sparkling like a snowy crown, his bald pate shining in the silver light. Hunched over the gnarled root of the bracklenut shaft, her grandfather continued to whittle away. Save for his scraping and paring, he had hardly moved and made no sound for hours.When the moon reached its apex, he pulled a dark cloth from his haversack. He unwrapped an object in his lap, regarded it for a moment, then held it up to the light. A multifaceted crystal the size of a toddling child’s fist flickered with a milky glow. He mumbled something in an ancient tongue and slipped the jewel into the roots of his bracklenut rod, which closed one-by-one, like fingers, around it.
She sat, hugging her knees to her chest. “Gamba,” she said quietly.After a moment, her grandfather turned, his features masked by the night. He set down the knife and raised his staff to peer through the swath of murky light it cut through the darkness. “I thought you were asleep.”She shielded her eyes with a hand against the unexpected brightness. “Is that a corrath?”“I have not had a suitable staff for it since before you were born.” She sensed his smile in the soft tone of his voice.Elthwen scrambled to her feet, and barely suppressing her eagerness, entered the pool of soft light spilling around him.“Bracklenut…not too green, not too dry.” He let out a short, muffled laugh. “This was an auspicious find.”She dropped beside him on the log. Enveloped by the crystal’s light, she basked in its warmth spreading through her aching bones. Like a weight, her head defied all attempts to keep it upright. She rested it on his shoulder and fixed her gaze on the stone’s radiance growing in intensity. “How does it do that?”As he slowly rotated the staff between his palms, the crystal changed from opaque white to pink and back to white again. “I am a ghalthrach,” he said simply. “The staff is but a conduit. It connects us—the corrath and me—and the two of us to the earth. By the grace of Nirmanath, we are now one with the current of life.” The light sputtered, nearly going out. “Ach! Perhaps I should have said, ‘We soon shall be one….’ We are both old and woefully out of practice. It will take us a bit of time to…. ” Focusing full attention on his task, he rolled the staff between his hands until the stone flickered back into luminescence.