Greetings, dear Reader! The month of February draws to a close, and perhaps where you are promises of Spring swirl through the air. Here it is still chilly and snowy for a few more weeks, at least, but I like it that way.
For my part in the Short Story Challenge (which will be open until February 28th if you are still interested in participating: Details HERE and make sure you peruse the other short stories that have been written as part of this challenge!) I thought I would share this little excerpt from an abandoned first attempt at the final book in the Minstrel’s Song. I wrote nearly 45,000 words before I realized I was going in the wrong direction with the story – but what I had written made a fantastic and detailed time-line for me to refer back to as I wrote Minstrel’s Call. Perhaps someday I will polish and release these attempts into the wilds as some sort of appendices or history to the world of Tellurae Aquaous, or perhaps even a series of short stories… but for now, I will give you this little short story that sprang out of those writings: a snippet from a period of one of the character’s lives long before you meet him in King’s Warrior…
Aiden hummed cheerfully to himself as he cleaned his mentor’s workroom. It had been a long day of learning and he was glad to receive a free evening. Any time to himself was rare and unexpected. Morathi often liked to work late into the night, keeping Aiden up to watch and learn and sometimes help, and only sending him to bed when he was too exhausted to keep his eyes open.
“Concentrate, boy! A tired wizard can be a truly dangerous thing.” Morathi was fond of saying.
Aiden was still considered to be simply a pupil, a very new apprentice. He had only been learning with Morathi for two years and thus was not yet considered to be a true apprentice yet. True apprenticeship was something that must be worked at for at least five years; and longer if Morathi did not think he was ready. When Morathi did deem him ready, Aiden would begin to learn how to use the heritage he had been born into.
Aiden finished his chores and sighed to himself. It was hard deciding what to do when he received these unexpected holidays. He wandered outside and found himself walking reluctantly down the road leading from his mentor’s workroom into town. A band of musicians and entertainers was supposed to be arriving in town today and Aiden did want to see them, despite the chill in the air and his desire to avoid town.
His feet crunched through the thin layer of snow on the road, his thoughts whirling. It had been hard, moving to a new town at the age of ten, especially as a wizard’s apprentice. Even after two years he still felt sorely out of place. Aiden often wondered if he had made the right choice in accepting Morathi’s offer. He missed his family and his home. He was often lonely. Morathi had few visitors, the occasional injury that the local physician had declared beyond his ability, the woman or man seeking potions to make someone fall in love with them; Morathi would help the first, and send the latter packing with an earful of lectures on what was and was not possible. He discouraged visitors of that kind with an intense amount of scorn. As a result, visitors from town were few and far between. Visitors from anywhere else were non-existent.
“Perhaps the lad so deep in thought would care for a song?”
Aiden was startled by the interruption. He had been thinking so hard as he walked that he had almost gone right past the carts and horses that signified the musicians and entertainers he had hoped to see. He heard laughter and his face flushed as he realized that he was the source of entertainment to a small crowd of people who had gathered to watch the performers set up their small stage. He looked up and saw the man who had spoken. It was one of the musicians, a tall, thin man with a long face. He had very blond hair and bright blue eyes that sparkled with laughter. The man turned a somersault and ended up on his hands, grinning at Aiden from his upside-down perspective and drawing even more attention from the crowd.
Wishing he could draw a cloak of invisibility around his shoulders and disappear as he had once seen Morathi do, Aiden pasted on his best grin, and addressed the performer who had startled him, “I would like to hear a song, musician, and I’m sure that everyone here would enjoy a preview of the show tonight as well, but do you play better than you laugh? For if you don’t, you’ll get no coin from me.”
The audience laughed again and Aiden breathed a sigh of relief that he was no longer the focus of their attention. A boy next to him about his age slapped him on the shoulder.
“Maybe that’ll get them to set up faster,” the boy said excitedly, “good job!”
“Thanks,” Aiden’s false smile turned into a real one.
The musician grinned good-naturedly and climbed up onto one of the wagons, “The lad has given me a challenge,” he announced to the crowd, “and I dearly love a challenge. It’s a vice of mine, I can’t turn them down. So how about I give you folks a song while my companions set up our stage for tonight? That way they can get their work done and you still get some before-the-show entertainment?”
The crowd roared their approval and the musician pulled out a stringed instrument. After a few moments of making sure it was in tune, the musician smiled and began to play. His fingers danced over the strings, pulling the melody from them with effortless skill. The music made Aiden think of wide open prairies and lying beside a stream staring up at a perfectly blue sky. It made him feel content, as though he were on a long journey, but in no hurry to get to where he was going. He closed his eyes, at ease simply listening. The instrument was not loud, but at the same time one did not have to strain to hear it. The music changed and now it was a faster song and the musician sang about a prisoner who had been set free and was discovering for the first time what it meant to be alive. His voice was a clear, strong tenor. One of the other performers, a dark haired lady in a long green dress got up on the wagon and began to twirl about, dancing to the music. The crowd cheered as she danced, balancing precariously at times on the edges of the cart as though she had not a care in the world. Aiden clapped and cheered along with the crowd, wishing he could stay and watch forever.
Aiden turned at his mentor’s voice, slightly startled. “Yes, Morathi?”
“Come boy, several of these good performers will be staying with us for a few nights. We must get the guest quarters ready to accommodate them. I will need you to help me if they are to have a place to stay when they are finished with their show tonight.”
Aiden followed his mentor quietly, glad he had seen at least some of the show, even if it wasn’t quite the real thing. Then he realized what Morathi had said.
“You mean… the musicians! They’re staying with us?” Aiden could barely contain his excitement.
Morathi nodded curtly. “Yes, boy, we have the room for them. We can’t let them sleep outside, not with the weather the way it is. Looks like more snow is coming this evening.”
When Morathi used that tone it usually meant that he was in a bad mood and wished to be left alone, so Aiden said no more. He trotted happily at his mentor’s side thinking about the great honor it was to have the musicians stay under the same roof. Perhaps, he thought, they would even play a little just for him. He did not wonder why Morathi was cross, the wizard had been exceedingly absorbed in his own work of late, and almost constantly irritable, but he never neglected Aiden’s teaching.
It was late before the musicians began to arrive, but Aiden did not want to go to bed before they came.
“Please, Morathi, please let me stay up, just until the musicians arrive?”
“Very well, you may stay up,” Morathi relented. “But make yourself useful and get some tea ready. Perhaps set the table and put out some food for them as well. And, Aiden? You must promise me that you will not let this late night interfere with your studies tomorrow.”
“Yes, Morathi.” Aiden would have promised anything for this honor.
A knock at the door made Aiden hurry about. He heard Morathi open the door and he took a deep breath to calm himself. Butterflies still danced in his stomach though, musicians were staying here! Imagine!
“Right this way, good sirs, we have food and drink ready for you.”
Five men stepped into the room. They smiled at Aiden and thanked Morathi for his hospitality, but all Aiden saw was the musician who had made fun of him in town. The man saw Aiden’s look and he smiled and took a knee in front of the boy, his blue eyes dancing.
“Well? You left before I could find out the answer. Do I play better than I laugh, boy?”
Aiden sighed and dug a coin out of his pocket. “Yes, sir.” He held out the coin, one of his precious few, to the man. “What is the name of the instrument you play?”
The man grinned and took Aiden’s other hand — giving it a hearty shake — ignoring the proffered coin. “The name’s Kiernan Kane, and my most excellent instrument is called a mandolin. You have a quick wit and a good sense of humor, what’s your name boy?”
“Aiden of Stormrock, you play and sing very well, sir.”
Kiernan Kane grinned and stood up, touseling Aiden’s brown hair. “Thank you lad. I thank you and your mentor for letting us spend the night, and for feeding us.”
Aiden bowed his head. “You are most welcome for as long as you are in town.”
Kiernan Kane turned and looked at his companions, “Well lads, shall we play a little for our supper?”
The other musicians, weary though they must have been, grinned and nodded and began unpacking their instruments. They played and danced and sang far into the night. Aiden feared at first that Morathi would make them stop, but the old wizard laughed and clapped every bit as much as the boy and Aiden found himself feeling at home for the first time in two years. Kiernan Kane even juggled with Morathi’s kitchen knives, and though he made it look as though he was always just on the brink of hurting himself, he never dropped or fumbled a single one. Aiden clapped and cheered wildly as the entertainers performed for their tiny audience. At long last, the musicians seemed to grow tired and Aiden felt himself being shaken awake.
“Time for bed, young one,” Morathi was telling him. Aiden yawned and stretched and shuffled wearily up to the little room that was his and fell asleep. As he slept his dreams were filled with music and the laughter of the minstrel who called himself Kiernan Kane.