The old master bard had a voice like mellowed wine. Deep and rich and sliding over the senses like so much priceless amber fluid. He could lull a crowd with his voice, enrapture them as if a spell were cast. Every eye was focused upon him, though a great many of them were languid with daydreams or relaxation. He took away tension and pain with his voice. Banished anxiety. There was no spell cast, but there was magic involved. A few months ago, Lily might not have believed it, or accepted it, but now, as she sat amongst the crowd appreciating the master bard's performance, she felt the smooth, undulating currents of power that laced through the baritone of his voice. She knew that music could hold magic, just not the kind that shattered armies or brought down mountains. She's seen that type too and found she preferred the gentler sort that drifted on the wings of a song.
Crayl said she had the potential. She didn't know whether she believed him. Power of any kind was not a concept she was comfortable with in context with herself. Swaying a crowd with her voice. Yes. Swaying a man with the whisper of her lips, and the touch of her hands. Oh, yes. Very much so. But power of an unnatural sort? That scared her. But not as much as it might have, once upon a time. Not since she had come to love certain things infused with unnatural powers.
The applause of the crowd signaled the end of the last song. The master bard put aside his dulcimer, gratefully accepting a mug of cold ale from a bright eyed tavern wench. Crayl, who she was sitting with, rose and beckoned her to follow him as he weeded his way through the crowded taproom towards the older minstrel. Neither she, nor Crayl had their own instruments with them, this had been an expedition to enjoy the talents of the competition more than anything else. When Crayl had heard the mellow tones of the bard from the street outside the tavern, his eyes had lit with excitement and he'd practically pulled Lily into the tavern.
"Well, was that a croak I heard in your voice? Is age making you creak, old man?" Crayl said, surprising Lily to no ends at the rudeness. Crayl was usually the epitome of genial good manners. The old minstrel looked up. His face split with a grin, causing creases and lines to spring up about his eyes and mouth. He had longish hair, sprinkled liberally with gray and balding on top, and skin browned and seasoned into a leather like hardness from many years walking the lands in the sun.
"You'll never hear a harsh note in my tones, boy. But the envious always hope for the worst, do they not?"
Crayl laughed. "As if I could ever be as good as you. Why bother wishing?" He held out his hand and the other man clasped it.
"Its been too long, Crayl. Are you headed for the fair?"
"Aye. That I am."
"With that lot of surly youngsters that you collected?"
"Them and more." Crayl turned his smile on Lily, urging her closer. "Lily, this is my master. Selephio, this is Lily, who is vastly talented, even more so than she fully realizes."
The older man looked her over, not quite the way a man sized up an attractive young woman, but with a deeper, more peculiar stare. As if he were looking at her insides instead of her out. She blushed, as she did not blush when men admired her more obvious traits.
"Oh, you are by far the most lovely of Crayl's misbegotten band of musicians, young Lily. And I think possessed of more gifts."
"Oh, no. Not really." She stammered in modesty.
Selephio smiled at her, shaking his head. "Oh yes. I can see these things. I saw it in the lad here, over a decade ago. Its a talent I have."
She didn't know what to say about that.
"Are you traveling alone?" Crayl asked, his brows knit in concern. There were more and more tails of pirates attacking the coast cities, spurred on by the upheaval of the ice storm that had devastated a good deal of the western coast some two months prior. They ventured further and further inland, pillaging towns, murdering, raping, taking women and children to sell as slaves. They had passed a small hamlet three days ago that had been shattered by such an attack. The survivors had numbly tried to pick up the pieces, and not even the songs of talented minstrels could lift the terror from their eyes. There had been a dozen or more fresh dug graves and a dozen more survivors who had lost children or wives or sisters to the seabound devils.
"I am. What is this look I see in your eyes? Do you think I'm so ancient and infirm, that I'll fall prey to the evils of the road?"
"It had crossed my mind." The Fair was in Silvercroft Glen. It was the largest summer fair on the continent. A magnet for artisans of all flavor. Harpers were drawn to it like flies to a corpse -- as Dell liked to say with a wry glint in his eyes.
"Would you like a little company on the road?" It was a week's journey away.
"What? With the lot of your shiftless vagabonds?"
Crayl smiled wanly. "We've gained a little respectability, Master Selephio. Why, we entertain great lords on a constant basis."
Selephio snorted incredulously. Lily's lips curved up in an insidious little smile. Crayl's boast was quite accurate. They did entertain great lords -- or lord -- when the lord in question chose to loiter about when they were performing. More often than not, the clamor of the places they found the greatest profit in, taverns, ale houses and the like, drove him away fairly quickly. He was not a social creature. He despised crowds. He was solitary by nature, her lord, where Lily was gregarious, which surprisingly enough inspired no conflict. It was a harmonious blending, those traits. There were a great many things they did harmoniously.
"I suppose for the honor of your company," Selephio was saying. "You expect me to give the girl a few pointers."
"Oh, master Selephio, I would never think to impose on your vast and benevolent nature. But, if you were so inclined, I believe she would benefit greatly."
"She is better to look at than you were."
"Oh, wonderful. The others will be thrilled."
The old harper snorted. "I'm sure they will, lad. I'm sure they will."
The village was called Oborhurst or some such thing. The names of all the feckless little glens and hamlets, road side shanties and sprawling towns he had passed through were meaningless trivia that slipped through Kall-Su's mind as quickly as they entered. He did not despise the peasant folk who lived in them, or look down his nose at them -- well, not all of them -- they were useful, they performed vital tasks for their liege lords that kept the economy of all the lands robust, but he could summon little interest in them. There were to many other things that pulled at his attention. Internal things that he worried at endlessly, despite the fact that he had been told in no uncertain terms to leave be. Scabs and scars that were as insubstantial as air, but more worrisome than the crusted stump of a severed limb would have been.
The wounds left in the gaping holes where his magic had been. Some things had come back. His arcane perceptions had been almost unscathed. He could feel the tremors of a great spell, or a powerful icon, or the passing of a wild elemental as well as he had ever been able to. Better even, with the lack of the other things making arcane awareness more sensitive. He could influence the minds of lesser animals, horses, dogs and the like. A minor skill at best, one even most hedge witches could claim. With effort he could perform small -- very small -- ice spells. But they left him reeling and sweating afterwards. A few other meaningless trifles. The rest was locked away behind burned power channels that might or might not ever heal properly on their own.
Yoko had been deceivingly optimistic. She had done what she could, which was damned little. Schneider, who could bring the dead back to life was completely at a loss when it came to the delicate variances of the mental planes that channeled power and magic. His black scowls had gone a good ways to negate Yoko's carefully thought out words of encouragement.
What it came down to was that he was crippled. Powerless compared to what he had been and likely to remain that way. One had to hate the Prophet, even though it was useless to waste time and energy repudiating the dead.
"Oh, sweet gods, look at this."
He half glanced to the side as the young harper who seemed determined to attach himself to his every footstep, held up a carved fertility charm fashioned in the shape of four intertwined male and female forms in the throes of a very exaggerated sexual act. Breasts and penises were of mythical proportion in relation to the bodies. Kall-Su lifted a brow at Thizura, who was grinning idiotically, waving the thing about as if he were the high priest on some sex oriented cult.
"Do you think it would make me irresistible if I bought it?"
"I believe it is designed to attract the opposite sex." Kall said wanly, turning his back on the harper's wicked grin. The young man was an incurable flirt. He slept regularly with Allun, one of his fellow harpers, as well as picking up young men in a fair number of the villages they stayed for more than a day in. He was disconcertingly single minded in his admiration of Kall-Su. Not overt enough to get in trouble over it -- he was wary enough of Kall's reputation not to pester him -- but he tended to stare a lot and sigh, and make wistfully suggestive comments to everyone but Kall, but not generally out of Kall's hearing.
Lily thought it was vastly amusing. Kall fluctuated between annoyance and acute embarrassment. But one could hardly order the boy away. One was not presently in the role as ruling lord of the north. One was presently enjoying a stretch of no responsibility at all. It was not a bad thing, to have no world shattering events taking place around him. To have no barbarians screaming at his gates, no city to maintain, no facade to employ, no all powerful enemies to make his life miserable.
That was one thing he liked about his present situation. He loved being with Lily. A happy, carefree Lily who had no qualms about letting anyone know they shared a bed. Who proclaimed nightly her love -- with words and actions. Who he did not think he could quite live without.
What he did not care for were the bug infested beds -- when there were beds -- that they were forced to sleep in. The foul smell of sweat and worse things in the sheets and the old straw of the mattresses. The disparaging, sometimes mockingly cruel treatment the harpers sometimes received by town bullyboys or drunken patrons of the taverns they performed. He did not like the lust in the eyes of men when they watched Lily sing, or perform the blatantly sexual dances designed to bring a crowd to the frothing point and thus separate it from its coin.
He wore his sword -- not the Ice Falchion, in no way would he have that blade with him when he had not the resources to contain it -- when he knew she would dance. He sat as far from the press of the crowd as he could get, watching over her, a silent protector. Dell sneered at him, saying airily that harpers knew the way to control crowds. He hardly ever responded to the tall harper's sarcasm, save with a ice stare. He often thought it was good he did not have his magics, for Dell would have probably ceased to exist some time back. But, Dell was right, no one ever attacked her, beyond a grope and a leering suggestion.
He browsed around the market square a while longer. Not much of a market, just a small section of street where a few venders had set up tents to hawk their wares. Nothing of real interest, merely a way to pass time. It was getting on towards night. The mosquitoes were out in force. He kept them away with a slight stab of coercion. Their tiny, single minded intellects were easy to control, but it was a subtle draw on his limited energies that disheartened him. He despised the feeling of stretching his limits with such inconsequential things. So he headed back to the inn they were staying at. Veering to the stables instead of going inside. Seeing that he was intent on seeing to his horse, Thizura gave up on him and retreated inside where the sounds of music could be heard.
The stable smelled of hay and horse, good clean smells that appealed to him. His horse was by far the finest animal in the stable. Probably the finest ever to cross its threshold. A young bay stallion from his own line. Light enough to be dexterous and quick, strong enough to carry a man in armor for long distances without tiring. Sturdy enough to survive the harsh northern winters.
The stallion stuck his nose over the sagging stall door at the sound and smell of his master. The soft muzzle inspected Kall's tunic for hidden apples.
"I'm sorry, Brawaith, I didn't think to bring you a treat." Kall apologized solemnly, scratching under the heavy forelock. Brawaith was not amused, ears momentarily twitching back, until Kall found the right spot to itch, and the sleight was forgotten. He spent time currying the animal, until the stallion's coat was glossy. He would just pick up mud from the road tomorrow, but Kall had little enough to take pride in now that he would let his mount go unkempt.
He gave Brawaith a measure of grain to compensate for the apple, and left the stallion happily munching when he went inside. A few of the minstrels were playing. Allun and Dell. Thizura sat drinking, talking to a young man, probably a traveler by the look of his clothing. Of Crayl and Lily there was no sign. They had been out plying the other local drinking establishments. The fact that he accepted such a thing without blinking an eye, frankly amazed him. He would not ever have imagined himself so blithely unconcerned about a woman he loved traipsing around taverns. But, Lily had proved she was capable of taking care for herself. And he trusted Crayl. Of all of the harpers, he liked Crayl the most. There was a calm, reasoning intelligence about the man that was soothing. He never got agitated or excited. Never got angry. When he sang, the crowd was trapped by his voice. When he and Lily sang together -- sometimes even Kall-Su found himself drifting along with the melody, mindless of everything else.
Crayl talked about a magic that resided in music. Not to Kall, but to Lily he talked a great deal of it and she spoke of it at night to Kall. He didn't believe it. He had never seen a wizard who used music as his weapon and he had researched magics extensively. Perhaps, Lily had suggested, they keep it among themselves, only handing it down to other harpers.
He still didn't put much credence in it, other than the allure of a vastly talented minstrel on a listener, but he didn't say it to Lily, because she was beginning to believe. He went up to the room on the top floor that he and Lily shared. He bought the best accommodations available, and insisted whenever possible on fresh straw in the mattress and clean sheets. The Harpers, more often than not, declined his generosity and slept in the common room, or the stables, or four to a bed in one of the cheaper rooms. It was their life and they enjoyed it. Kall had no intention of enduring any indignities he did not have to. Lily never complained.
He took off his boots, cleaned the mud from them, and neatly laid his overtunic over a chair back. He sat in loose linen shirt and trousers with his back against the wall on the relatively clean bed and probed the extent of his injuries. He shut his eyes, using the arcane senses he did still have to investigate the progress of healing. He checked every night, vainly hoping to find some miraculous change in the state of his ethereal self. He generally found very little. He tested his limits gingerly, but not in the mood for a raging headache tonight, he ceased in short order. Yoko had told him not to stretch the healing channels. That in doing so he might tear them and make more of a mess than Angelo had in the initial wounding. Like an itch that had to be scratched, he could not quite leave it alone.
He worried at it a little longer, something to while away the time until Lily returned. She kept late hours, being what she was.
He drifted off eventually, came awake a little disoriented when she slipped into the bed next to him, curling herself around him like a contented cat. He blinked at her sleepily. She kissed him, a languid, thorough kiss that left him quite dazzled and quite roused out of drowsiness. She tasted of sweet wine and excitement. There was about her the fervor of the dance. The sensual power that she always exuded after she had driven a roomful of men to distraction by the power of her voice and her body and the aura of sensuality that she exuded so strongly. Heady with that power she was aggressive and more often than not he was generally left breathless and amazed when they had done.
"Did you dance tonight?" he asked.
"No." She responded, nuzzling his neck, her warm lips and tongue against his pulse. The beat picked up dramatically. She pulled back a little, looking up at him, her dark eyes sparkling.
"I felt it tonight, Kall. Crayl was right. There is something. There is a -- power -- to be found in music."
"We met Crayl's master. He has it. Oh, gods, you can feel it in the air when he sings. Its so powerful. He says only the barest few have it. And most hardly realize they do. I never really believed -- until he showed me how to feel it."
Her hands twined around his neck, fingers in his hair. Her body was taught with thrill. "I felt it in myself and --- ooohh, it was so good."
"Did you?" he was a little wary now at the talk of power and the fervor in her voice.
"Just a little, but Selephio says I've got potential."
"Potential for what? If no one's ever heard of this -- music magic -- then what good is it? What has it ever accomplished?"
She beetled her brows. "Well -- well, I'm not quite certain. We didn't get around to talking about that. But, he'll be traveling with us to the fair an you can ask him then."
"If you don't know what this thing does, why are you so eager to have it?" It seemed a reasonable question.
"Would it upset you?"
"No. I don't -- know." He found himself actually wondering if it would. If he were crippled to power and she suddenly found herself the recipient of it, could he tolerate it? He stared at her stricken at the uncertainty he found in himself.
She sighed and pressed her lips lightly against his. "I think I understand, my love. I forget sometimes what you've lost."
He never did. He shut his eyes to avoid her look of pity. She stroked his hair, whispering. "We'll see what comes. The sun rises and new possibilities come with it, no?"
He was not that optimistic. He did not reply. She let her lips and her fingers coax him out of his mood. Her talents were boundless. Even with all his powers intact he could not have resisted her for long.