Seventh Son: Chapter 13

The clearing was practically empty that morning, in sharp contrast to the gathering of the night before – aside from the still-bickering twins, Caleb seemed to be the only member of the company still in camp.

The fire was still burning, though, and a large pot had been set over it, filled with bubbling porridge that smelled of honey and warm spices. A pile of bowls had been placed next to the whole arrangement, alongside a box full of wooden spoons and a basket containing what seemed to be small pots of dried fruit and preserves.

“Help yourself,” Ariane commented, walking into view from around the side of Talan’s wagon. She was carrying an oddly-shaped bundle in her arms, and her green dress was immaculate as always, shimmering in the morning sunlight.

“Thank you.” He did as he was told, ladelling out a bowlful of food and, after a moment’s hesitation, adding one of each type of dried fruit to the top of the porridge.

Ariane watched him, smiling. “You’ve never seen most of those before, have you?”

“No, ma’am.”

She sat down on the grass under a tree at the edge of the clearing, and patted the ground next to her in a companionable fashion. “You really don’t need to call me that, you know. If nothing else, it makes me feel about a hundred years old.” She raised a hand, cutting off his apology. “Though the respect is appreciated – there are a lot of people around here who wouldn’t think of calling a mage anything close to ‘ma’am’. I think they would rather use several other names for us.”

“I don’t have any problem with mages!” It came out too fast, and too defensive, and he saw her raise an eyebrow. “I mean… there’s nothing wrong with being a mage! Plenty of people I know know how to use magic! I can do magic! A bit. Sort of.”

She put a hand to her mouth, covering a laugh. “It’s alright, Caleb. I believe you. But, if we’re going to carry on having a conversation, please sit down rather than hopping from foot to foot like an agitated squirrel. You’re making me dizzy.”

He flushed, dropping down somewhat inelegantly onto the grass beside her. “Sorry, ma’am- I mean- What do I call you?”

“Ariane will be fine. Ari, if you really must.” She pulled a face. “That one you can blame quite squarely on Kala, who seems to think that names of more than two syllables must be purged with fire.”

“That does sound like her.” He took a tentative spoonful of porridge, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it tasted as good as it smelled, if not better. “Did you cook this? It’s wonderful.”

“Not mine, alas. Breakfast’s one of Rethan’s specialties.” She’d been unwrapping the bundle while she’d been talking, and now she pulled the last fold of fabric away, revealing an instrument that Caleb, much to his surprise, actually recognised.

“You play the lute?”

“A little.” She smiled, running her fingers over the strings. “It’s more for my magic than anything else.”

“You can do magic with music?”

“You can. And I do.” She ran her fingers over the strings again, settling the instrument properly on her knee. “As a matter of fact, I was planning on a scrying spell. I could do with your help, if you’d be so inclined.”

“I don’t know…” He’d never done anything close to actual magecraft and, although he didn’t share the general distrust for mages (how could he, with a mage in the family?) he wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of being part of a spell. But at the same time, it was an offer that felt like it should be taken up. Just… possibly not by him.

“All you’d need to do would be to sing a few bars. Nothing overly strenuous.”

“I can’t.” He’d got away with it last night, as far as he could tell. But people had been tired, and drunk, and everyone’d been singing, so they probably hadn’t even heard him properly. He wasn’t going to chance it again.

She frowned slightly, but didn’t argue. “That’s alright. If you want to join in when I’ve started, please, feel free.”

“Won’t that break the spell?”

“Don’t worry about that.” She plucked a string, humming the same note. “Just… do what feels right.”

He opened his mouth to ask what she meant – then shut it again as she began to play, and everything that he’d been thinking about suddenly fell away and left only the music behind.

It wasn’t a tune he knew – though it seemed to catch the edges of almost every tune he knew without ever actually coming close to being one of them –  but the pattern of the notes seemed easy enough to follow, and he found himself starting to hum along almost without realising, fingers beating out the rhythm on the grass.

Ariane looked over at him, winked, and began to sing. Her voice was lower than he’d expected, and quieter too, with a slight roughness around the edges that lent an almost smokey quality to it, and it blended perfectly with the melody her fingers picked out on the lute-strings.

Come, my dancer, stay ’til morning
Come, my starlight, stay ’til dawn
Douse the lamps and dim the embers
Let your brightness lead us on

The tune bucked on the last line, twisting and falling into a faster, wilder pattern as Ariane’s voice caught and lifted into a new song.

Bright star, shining one
Who would catch you if they dared to?
Bright star, shining one
You’re my heart’s desire

I am the flame that dances on the water
I am the song that sings in every heart
I am the leaf that’s carried on the wild wind
And yet without your light I fall apart

Bright star, shining one
Who would catch you, who would hold you?
Bright star, shining one
You’re my heart’s desire

Another twist in the tune, this one more familiar than ever, and a new song – and this time, Caleb knew it from the first word that left Ariane’s lips.

O fair Aveline, where are you going?
With your hair tied back and your gown in tatters
O fair Aveline, where do you hurry?
Will you dance with the players in the grove tonight?

He couldn’t stop himself – as she swung on into the next phrase he found himself catching her pitch, shifting his own to match hers and, quietly at first, joining her. And, as they sang, he slowly realised that they’d acquired an audience – Alak and Kala, squabble forgotten, sitting side by side in the doorway of their tent, eyes fixed on the two singers.

There was something strange happening in the grass between them and the twins – it seemed to be being moved by some breeze that wasn’t touching the trees, or the tents, or anything else around the clearing. He stared at it, eyes widening, and almost missed his cue as the music changed again, slipping into yet another song – but this time it was still Fair Aveline, just the older version with the longer story and the faster tune, and it was easy enough for him to catch it again, sending his voice twisting around Ariane’s in a blend of colour and sound that seemed to weave around the two of them, holding them in the midst of the music.

And then two more voices, from across the clearing, joining for the last verse, and he had a sudden flash of insight into why Kala might have suggested he sing that particular song more often:

O I’ll not be caged and I’ll not be held 
I’ll not be bound to some lordling O
But I’ll be free as the wildest of the winds
And I’ll dance with my flame-haired trouper O

Copyright © 2018 by Finn McLellan.  All rights reserved.

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