Wherein C.F.Barrón does his thing...

from The Songster's Tale cont.

“Where in the seven hells are those girls?” The central market was a bustle of people preparing for the equinox festivities. Merchants hawked their wares, farmers sold the bounties of harvest; the city was buzzing. Merida plucked a couple of pears from a passing cart and tossed one to Deidra.

“Damien is gonna skin us both if we don’t catch up soon.”

“Mer, you worry too much. It’s not like he’ll catch us shirking rounds.”

Merida shook her head at her sister before finally shrugging off her worry.

“So about this dream you keep having?” Merida asked.

Deidra cut the purse of a passing man and continued walking.

“It's less of a dream and more of a sequence of images. They cycle through- blood and wolves and a snow covered forest and a woman…” She exhaled. “It’s so real when the rain begins to fall I can smell-" She paused, searching. "Smell...oh, what's the word?”

She stopped short as she felt herself spin, get scooped up, and thrown over a man's shoulder.

“Petrichor.” Damien said. “The word you’re looking for is petrichor.” He smiled.

Deidra squirmed in his grasp.

“Never catch you, eh little sister?”

Little?! I'm older than you, you twat!”

Damien jostled her, his shoulder nearly forcing the wind out her lungs.

“Don’t swear Deidra it’s unbecoming of a young woman.”

“Ow! Then don’t hit a lady, you shite stain, and for the love of all the Gods put me down.”

“Well if you would act like a lady I would treat you like one.”

Damien set Deidra back on her feet with a chuckle.

“By virtue of size you are my little sisters. Even if we share a birthday.”

Merida hid her smirk behind another pear she had snatched while her siblings quarreled.

“How did the meeting at the Boar’s Head go, your majesty?” Deidra asked sarcastically.

“Terribly.” Damien laughed and tucked his sisters under each arm. “Let us hope the rest of the day goes more smoothly.”

 

***

His awakening breath was neither sharp, nor sudden. It was, however, deep. With his lungs full of air, his eyes lazily opened themselves to the world around him. Immediately, his mind sprang to work. Where was he, was there danger, and what could he do about it? He couldn't tell, it was dark, it smelled dusty, and there was no feeling in his legs. The last thing he remem- CAVE IN. He was stuck underground. But he was awake, which meant he was alive. Not a bad start to a day, he thought. With a snap of his fingers, a glimmer of light manifested and steadily grew until he could clearly see the room. It was a grim scene. His entire lower body was buried under rock and dust. Then there was the matter of the room itself. Though there were pockets of space where pieces of stone had imperfectly landed on each other, most of the room was full of debris. Even without the obvious injuries, escaping would be next to impossible.

I've only ever done the impossible, he thought. It won't end like this, just think. How did you survive? His thoughts went to the red and gold cloth wrapped around his neck like a scarf. The Surazal Sash. Right. Ezra said it was powerful enough to anchor a fading spirit in its body. Timaeus touched the cloth and could feel the magic within it humming. If he didn't know better he would have said it was straining to keep his body functioning. Given the lack of feeling in his legs, this made him realize just how serious his injuries were. He noticed that his shoulder was still sore from where the aspect's tail had bitten him, and briefly wondered why the sash hadn't healed the wound. One problem at a time, he thought. Paralysis of the lower body either meant a spine injury or shock. Either could be healed with his songs and enough time, but he couldn't heal himself if he was still being crushed.

Very well, step one, remove the rock crushing my legs. He closed his eyes, inhaled slowly, and released a powerful gust of wind. His hands felt the vibration of the stone as his magic eroded it into a mound of sand. He then willed the tiny particulates to flow up and buttress other chunks of rock before solidifying the sand into basalt again. There was no use in removing one piece of rubble if it would cause the rest to fall on top of him. Step two, assess the damage. He sighed, at once thankful and horrified. He had somehow suffered a jagged piece of rock through his lower back. Ordinarily this would have been something to mourn, but the injury was why he wasn't able to feel the complete mangling his lower body had endured. Sitting in a puddle of blood and waste, he nearly expelled his stomach contents looking at bits of yellow bone protruding from his skin and the disgusting angles his legs were splayed out in. The Sash had stopped the bleeding but he must have lost a great deal of it for the puddle to have been so large. Okay, okay, he thought. Legs first then spine. Legs first- then spine. Oh, Gabriel let my magic be enough for this. He did not want to think about the lasting damage he would endure if he couldn't repair the injuries within the day. Step three, heal.

He knew that it was not simply a matter of singing his songs, he had to ensure that his body was primed for the songs to have maximum effect. This meant setting the bones, cleaning wounds of sand and sediment, making sure ligaments were not left hanging outside the body etc. But unable to move his legs, and unwilling to shift around for fear of further damaging himself, he had to maintain a telekinetic spell to tend to the wounds. This became more and more challenging as he began holding chunks of bone in place and had to conjure water to rinse away dirt. His toes were by far the most difficult to hold still as the process continued. More than once, he lost concentration and one or all of them would slough away and dangle off his foot by a thin piece of flesh or ligament. But slowly, piece by piece, he made himself whole again. When he was done, he keeled over and fell into a dreamless sleep. He was not alone when he next awoke.

“Gabriel.” He said. “Or do you still prefer Ezra?”

The barkeep smiled.

“I see you healed up nicely.”

“I could have used your help with that.”

“Nah, you managed, didn't you?”

“I struggled.”

“And yet, persisted. Like always.”

The Songster sighed.

“What choice do I have?”

The barkeep smiled again.

“One day, you'll chuckle about the irony of that statement.”

“What?”

“Never mind.” Gabriel said with a wave of his hand. “Look, Timaeus, I came to give you this." He produced a pair of bronze keys on a blackened ring and handed them to the minstrel.

"Something I'll need soon?"

"Exactly."

"Is that all?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"No. I also came to warn you about the wound on your shoulder. The venom is magical in nature, and it's already reached your heart. The only thing keeping you alive is the sash. As long as it's wrapped around your person, you're healthy but you'll die within moments once you remove it."

The words fell like hammers. Dying on any other plane but his own meant entering that plane's afterlife, forever barring him from returning home, from seeing...

"Aside from that, are you ready for your next journey?”

“No.” Timaeus answered, still trying to digest the news of his new vulnerability. “I need my sword. I dropped it somewhere.”

Gabriel shook his head.

“The fuel cell was damaged during the cave in. It's not a part that can be replicated with alchemy or magic, I would have to send you back to Earth to get a new one and you don't have time for that.”

Timaeus let out another sigh.

“I need a sword, Gabriel. A good one. My spells shatter them otherwise and nothing else works as a focus for my magic, you know this.”

“You'll have to make do without one for a while, or see about procuring one on site.”

It was exactly what he didn't want to hear. Nothing but ill tidings this time around. Granted, if Gabriel couldn't, or wouldn't, conjure up a blade for him, it was for a good reason. Timaeus knew this, but he didn't have to like it. He had learned not to question his otherworldly patron, learned to accept the challenges placed in front of him, but for all of his acceptance, it wore on him, and now that he was constantly threatened by a magical venom...It was enough to make him wonder if he could honestly continue. 

“So be it. ” he said. "Where am I going?"

"To a place where life is precious but disregarded. To a place where hope survives, but without enough people willing to fight for it.  A place-"

"That needs a hero." Timaeus finished. "Send me."

***

The innkeep was distracted as he hurried about, lighting candles and sputtering apologies to the guests he inadvertently bumped or jostled. There was too much to be done. Now, more than ever, he regretted his lack of man power. The inn was full and he was absolutely needed amongst the tables, especially with the guests as restless as they were. How could he possibly meet all of that man’s requests? He was so lost in contemplating the answer, it almost did not register when he heard the bartender calling him.

“Oi! Borris! They need you in the kitchens.”

“What fer?!”

“ You’d be best to ask them that.”

Muttering a few choice words, the pudgy little man pushed past a few more patrons and through the doors of the kitchen. Fresh baked bread and a mound of cheese was sitting on the center island. If nothing else, there was more than enough of the essentials. A pair of his workers were busy feeding more wood into the ovens while another pretended to have been stirring the large pot of stew.  

“Whachya need?!”

“ We need more meat, you balding louse.”

He briefly glared at the portly woman slinging insults so freely. Natalia, his loving wife, always addressed him so when he had failed to meet her expectations.

“I told ya the butcher tried t’ make a fool of me.”

“And I told you that everyone is struggling thanks to the blight and to go back and pay the man!”

“The price gouging git wont see an extra copper ‘less the quality o’ his cattle’s increased!”

“Then what do you expect us to serve?! Cheese sandwiches?”

“Damnit woman, put whatever meat we got left into some pies and be done with it!”

He waved her off before charging back through the kitchen doors. Having not expected for anyone to be standing in his path, he was as surprised as the man he crashed into when they both tripped and landed on the floor in a tangle of limbs. Borris had heard something heavy clatter on the wooden slats of his inn, and prayed it was not something of his before his temper quickly flared up and he found himself swearing at the man he had stumbled into. Upon standing and getting a good look at the stranger, he immediately decided to never let his anger run his mouth again. The bearded man was more than head and shoulders taller than him. Taller than Damien even, though only by a small margin. His manner of dress was unremarkable, save for a worn gold locket around his neck, but the way this man carried himself seemed to say that it was not the corded muscles on his body that made him powerful…

“I am sorry,” the stranger said, “ I did not think I was in anyone’s way.”

Well aware of the man’s size, and taking notice of some interesting scars along his arms and on his face, Borris too set about apologizing, but the bearded man seemed distracted.

“E’rthing okay, sir?”

“Do you see a small black carrying case anywhere? I think I dropped it.”

Borris’ eyes darted to and fro before finally catching a bright reflection underneath one of the nearby stools. His gaze caressed the polished silver inside the open, faded, carrying case. Though it was of an exotic design, it could only have been one thing...

With an altogether lack of grace, the innkeep hunched over and picked up the case, admiring the odd quality of the instrument within.

“Yer a musician.”

It was not a question.

The stranger looked a little nonplussed at the innkeep’s statement before nodding.

“Yes, I am a travelling… er- minstrel.”

“Do ya have a room, sir?” Borris asked, baiting his trap. The inn was full, and there was little chance any of the others had room either.

“I do, actually.” the minstrel produced a pair of bronze keys on a blackened ring. They were keys to one of Borris’ rooms, undoubtedly. He did not recall ever giving this man a room, but he would not be abated in his quest.

“Well, sir, would ya prefer a bett’r one?”

“In exchange for a performance, I presume.”

“We’d be hon’rd, if ya put on a show fer the other patrons, ya see. We’d even feed ya fer the trouble.”

The overgrown musician seemed to contemplate the offer, idly playing with the gold locket he was wearing.

“Very well. It is a time for celebration, I suppose, and no minstrel worth his instrument can deny such a request.”

“Excellent sir! Stand anywhir ya like, and d’ya need an intra-duction?”

“No, no. I can handle that myself.”

“Thank ya sir, thank ya.”

The innkeep went about his rounds in quick fashion. The musician would keep the guests preoccupied enough that he could get to work on Damien’s list and he silently thanked the gods for his good fortune. Before leaving the commons he stole another look at the odd musician and his strange instrument. He had never before seen such a fiddle. It was thin, with sharp angles, and a chin rest seemingly made of hammered silver. But the strangest bit had to have been the color of the wood. How was it possible to achieve a teal stain? It must have been stained after all the grain was still visible. He shrugged, resigning himself to never knowing the ways of strange lands as he walked toward the stables. That was when he heard it. A note so pure it might as well have been made of crystal.

Borris remained just outside the door of his inn, statue- like, waiting for the rest of the song. No other notes came. Had that been a warm up? His chest was throbbing with anticipation and the hair on his arms was standing on end despite the mild autumn night. The explanation was simple. A single note from that strange fiddle had sent a chill through him. Should he stay and hear the performance? How much of Damien’s wrath could he weather?

The old innkeep did not have much time to answer his own questions as the music began to play in earnest. The first note was of a higher pitch this time and was played with such an intensity, Borris could have sworn he felt the music in his blood. It was an airy song, vibrant and energetic so that it called to mind images of vast mountain ranges blanketed in winter’s chilling embrace. It was sunrise in this icy domain, and every beam of warmth cast its rainbow about him. It was adventure pounding in his chest, the thrill of new places and new people curling his lips into a smile. He was now leaning against the door frame, taking in the wonderful vibrations of the song, delighting in the emotions it evoked in him. There were frosty caverns to explore, relics to uncover and matters of life and death careening through his fanciful daydream. The visions in his imagination faded eventually faded with the song, and Borris snapped out of his reverie, finally remembering where he really was. How long had he been leaning against the door like this, and why was the inn so quiet? Then a mortifying thought struck him. What if he was the only one who had enjoyed the tune? He craned his neck, hoping to hear the usual chatter of the inn's patrons. Nothing. Would he have to compensate the patrons for his mistake in hiring the minstrel? How was he going to kick the man out? An explosive applause burst into his senses and he breathed a sigh of relief. How could anyone have disliked that perfor-

Borris stared into the moonlit night, making sure he was not still dreaming. Sticking out his hand, he became acutely aware of how awake he was. The tiny pinprick melted immediately as it struck his palm, but there could be no doubt about it… it was snowing.

***

Author's Note.

Still hammering away at the rest of this story! I know some of this might seem familiar, and that's because I posted a small piece of it a while back.  There's a long build up, but it's worth it in the end (hopefully)