Taliesin stood silently in the doorway of his study to watch his little raven-haired child, deep in concentration with his hands resting against the strings of a harp that dwarfed him in height. Taliesin resisted his immediate impulse to intercede, as Adaon was doing no harm. Larger than any strolling bard's instrument, this particular harp had thrice the range, from deep round tones like the tolling of great bells to high notes like a sweet voiced nightingale. Taliesin had designed it and commissioned its construction from his most trusted craftsmen. They had proudly presented the Chief Bard with the finished, breathtakingly beautiful harp only a matter of weeks ago - explaining, perhaps, his flicker of anxiety. He had never explicitly forbidden Adaon to touch any of his instruments. He only instructed him to take care, which the little lad always did. Adaon loved to sit in his father's lap when he was playing any harp. He would wait until Taliesin lowered his hands and nodded approvingly, and then eagerly run his little fingertips over the strings, making ripples of sound. Taliesin expected that Adaon just wanted to hear the long ripples that such a big harp with so many strings would produce.
It surprised him, then, to hear Adaon singing wordlessly to himself, and then haltingly picking out a stumbling tune. It surprised him more when he recognized a tune that he'd only finished composing yesterday. Variations of it had been echoing through the room all the previous day, and must have lodged themselves firmly into the boy's keen young mind. Taliesin would have been more pleased with the effect of the theme if he hadn't been so busy bursting with pride at the efforts of his small offspring. With each repetition of the melody, Adaon made fewer mistakes, until only a few brief pauses prevented it from being the flowing tune Taliesin had intended.
Adaon gave a short, frustrated sigh, and looked up when his father made his way into the room.
"I can't get to the notes in time," he explained, scowling at the strings. "My fingers aren't fast enough."
"Show me," Taliesin instructed, kneeling down beside the harp to watch his little son through the strings.
Adaon arranged his small features into the very image of concentration as he carefully plucked at the strings with his thumb and index finger. He stumbled a little, probably from nerves, but recovered quickly.
"It doesn't sound right," he observed unhappily. "Even when I play it perfect," he clarified, acknowledging his small mistakes.
"Can I tell you why?" Taliesin asked carefully.
Adaon sighed. "I wish you would."
Taliesin carefully concealed a smile. "You're only using two fingers."
Adaon looked at his hands. "Oh."
Taliesin plucked the melody swiftly with his nimble fingers. "If I try to do it with just these two," he held up his thumb and forefinger, "I would do no better than you are." He demonstrated, with the same breaks in the melody as he forced himself to make the awkward jumps between the strings.
Adaon cocked his head. "You mean I have to learn it all over again?"
"Certainly you don't have to," Taliesin pointed out. "Would you rather go outside and play?"
"I am playing," Adaon pointed out with a little smile, wrapping his small fingers around the harpstrings. Taliesin grinned back. Adaon tried to mimic how his father had positioned his hand against the strings. With his little fingers splayed so widely, it would be difficult to pluck properly.
"Why don't we try a harp more your size?" Taliesin proposed, standing up, and reaching for his son's hand.
Adaon's round grey eyes widened. "A harp for me?"
It was practically unheard of to start formal training for such a young child. Taliesin himself had been nearly twice Adaon's age, a boy of eight when he began his lessons. But evidently if he didn't teach Adaon properly now, Adaon would just keep teaching himself, and then have more to relearn than one little tune.
"Are you sure I'm big enough?" Adaon asked skeptically.
Taliesin fought back another laugh. "Why do you ask that?"
"I'm not usually big enough," Adaon replied dubiously. He paused. "What if I break it?" he inquired quietly.
"Well," his father replied contemplatively, "until you're more comfortable with it, we'll keep your harp here in the study, with mine, and you can practice when we're together."
This seemed to satisfy the boy, as he nodded sagely. "That sounds all right," he agreed.
Taliesin led Adaon over to a large cabinet on the opposite wall, and then let go of his hand to open the doors. "In the meantime," he said, opening a drawer and letting his hands skim along the rows of flutes, "we'll find something for you to carry around with you."
He passed over wooden flutes carved with patterns of vines and flowers, silver flutes etched with runes, and glittering crystal flutes wrought by the Fair Folk, before letting his hand rest on a set of reed panpipes. Small at 13 tubes, it still looked enormous in Adaon's little hands as Taliesin gave it to him. Adaon blew experimentally over the top of the lowest reed and smiled, pleased with the soft, warm tone produced. Then he gave his father a perplexed look.
"It's good practice for learning songs," Taliesin assured him.
Adaon blew a long gust of air across all the tubes, from lowest to highest. "Big tubes are like long strings, little tubes are like short strings," he concluded.
Not for the first time, Taliesin made a mental note to not let his son's quick grasp of music affect his expectations of the other children he taught. "It's also," he pointed out with a small smile, "very good for playing."
Adaon grinned at him, took a deep breath, and let loose a wild deluge of notes – up, down, back again, trilling between two, skipping along between them in sheer exuberance.
Taliesin grinned back, and considered trying to talk Adaon into taking his new toy outside. Otherwise, by tomorrow everyone in Caer Dathyl would be ready to smash those poor little panpipes to pieces.
[I just found out that Lloyd Alexander died recently. His books have meant so much to me since I first discovered them, and helped me to hear the echoes of the Fair Folk's music. I guess this humble little offering is my way of mourning? I wrote it the day that I heard the news.
Special thanks to Adaon45, for proof-reading and generally for getting me thinking about Prydain again with her lovely stories.
Apologies as always for the use of people, Adaon and Taliesin (though the latter is from mythology so I don't know if that counts) and places, Prydain, that don't belong to me.