Little Jang Li-Li, eight years old, misting the orchids in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. A bright day, sunlight pouring through transparisteel panels, Li-Li making puffs of water with her mister and shrieking with laughter as every little cloud she made broke a sunbeam into colors, fugitive bars of red and violet and green. Master, Master, I’m making rainbows! Those colors hadn’t come to mean military signals, yet, or starship navigating lights, or lightsaber blades. Just a girl making rainbows.
They stood in the courtyard of Swangard Palace, too cold to be comfortable despite the sun, and they looked fully on one another, knowing that they were friends, and would always be.A lot of water under this bridge too, Mark thought, with something like awe. He was growing older. Old enough to feel the current of what had been flowing under him, leading to his future. Old enough to look back over his shoulder, and see his past behind him, and grieve for what was gone, and honour its memory.He felt, suddenly, how much it would hurt him if Val died; felt an echo of that pain, knowing that the Valerian he had known, fluffy and peering and hapless and altogether wonderful: this Valerian was already dying. Not physically, of course, but the man he remembered from that first night in Swangard Palace would be gone the next time they met, though his ghost would linger on in Val forever, and in their memories.Three cheers for ghosts, Mark thought. Three cheers for the dead.Of course Val would be much the same: better, even. As full of wonder and delight, with big pockets full of puzzles and fascinating stories about the lives of ants and ingenious designs for windmills that would do your washing. And they would still be friends, excellent friends. It could even be better next time.But it would never be the same.