The Minstrel's Path
by Kim McFarland
"This will be your first real test. Are you sure you want to go through with it?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
Tunesmith, to his credit, did not shrug, shake his head, or in any other way show his opinion of Jago, one of his pupils. The boy was gifted, but in dire need of discipline. He spent more time dreaming than practicing, and he never could settle on one instrument. If he could just learn to focus he could become a great musician. He was young; he had time to learn. But the earlier he began to take music seriously the better.
The two Fraggles walked from Tunesmith's cave and down one of the passages leading away from the colony. There were dangers out here; unstable caves and hungry creatures and territorial plants and, supposedly, a ghost. Tunesmith did not believe in ghosts, but so many Fraggles claimed to have heard a voice whispering out of nowhere that now everybody believed that these caves were haunted. Jago didn't seem worried. Either he didn't believe the rumors or, more likely, simply wasn't thinking about them.
The two Fraggles reached a small hole in the tunnel. A low moaning came from the darkness within. Tunesmith gestured toward the hole. Jago looked at him in surprise, then peered in. He turned his head, listening. Then he asked, "What should I do?"
"Spend the night here, in the Piping Cave. Tomorrow, tell me what you have learned."
"What am I supposed to learn here?"
"You tell me."
Jago looked into the cave again. All he could hear was the low moaning of wind passing through long tunnels. It blew against his face, ruffling his flower-colored hair. He stepped in. As his eyes adjusted he could see more of his surroundings. He was in a large room with many tunnels of various sizes leading out on the opposite side. Fresh air seemed to be blowing evenly from all of them, making the room breezy and pleasant. After listening for a minute, he began to sing along with it. He used no words, only the sounds that came to him.
The cave began to lighten in response to his song. Tunesmith smiled. Fraggle song brightened the caves, not only figuratively. Jago began wandering within the cave, his teacher forgotten. Tunesmith turned to go back to the colony.
Jago wandered within the Piping Cave. The wind blowing in through the tunnels—there were seven of them—was steady and gentle, and, he soon realized, each tunnel's sound was different. The smallest tunnel played a high, whishing sound. The largest one had a much lower tone, the moan he had heard first. The other tunnels made sounds in between. As he walked around the cave he noticed that he heard different tones depending on where he stood within it.
He paced and listened. He felt as if the wind was blowing through him. As if he was an instrument rather than the player of one. It was a pleasant, even exciting sensation. After he had walked around the cave long enough to understand its sounds and their sources, he began to sing softly.
"Music flows through the coves,
Wind and stone sing together as one.
Echoing as you sing,
Let me hear your song..."
Something was listening.
He sang, entreating the cave to share its secrets with him, until he felt he had said enough. Standing to one side, out of the main flow of air, he listened to the chord of the seven tunnels. It was pleasant, if a little monotonous. Looking around the cave, he realized that it was like the inside of a giant ocarina, with the tunnels acting as the holes...no. You blow in one side of a flute and change its single tone by covering the holes with your fingers. He put his pack down on the ground and began walking, stepping silently, aware of nothing but the sound of the wind. It would change if he stopped up a tunnel, he supposed. To test that he found the smallest tunnel within reach and leaned back against it, blocking the flow of air completely. Sure enough, the chord sounded different...incomplete. He stepped away, and the chord was complete again. Taking away wasn't any good, he thought.
Only one of the tunnels at ground level was large enough for him to enter without stopping it up. He walked a ways into it, then stopped and listened. Once again, the chord was changed. But this time it sounded good. By entering this tunnel he had raised its tone, which in turn changed the song of the cave.
He stood, looking into the cave, seeing little, straining for all he could hear.
Early the next day the Tunesmith returned to the Piping Cave, hoping that his pupil had fared well. Many found the eerie sounds of the lonely cave frightening. But Jago had not run back to the colony during the night—the Tunesmith had checked his family's cave before coming here—so at least the boy had toughed it out.
Tunesmith looked into the cave. Jago was there, asleep on top of his sleeping bag rather than in it. From the look of it he had simply bedded down without bothering to make a campfire. He shook his head, then patted Jago's shoulder. The boy's breathing caught, and he blinked and looked up. Tunesmith said, "Arise, sleepyhead. I hope sleeping isn't all you've done in here."
"No, not at all," Jago replied. He sat up and stretched hard, then wiggled his fingers to limber them.
"Well then, what have you learned?"
"Well... this cave, it's like the inside of a musical instrument."
"Like an ocarina," the Tunesmith said, nodding.
"No, not really. More like my reed flute, if all the reeds blew into one chamber. I've never seen an instrument like this. Each tunnel makes a different sound, and it changes depending on where you are."
"And what does that mean?"
"It means that what you hear depends on where you are, just like anywhere else. The music you make changes as you move. Let me show you." He took out a stringed instrument like a small balalaika and stood up. "Walk with me."
Jago began playing the instrument, singing softly and wordlessly. The wind provided the background chord, and as he moved through the cave he adjusted the song to harmonize with it. Tunesmith was impressed. This was the lesson the cave had to teach, but the boy had gone beyond understanding the mere principle and used it in his own music. And the tune was improvised; he would have recognized a prepared composition. When Jago finished the Tunesmith said, "Very good."
"Thank you. And, this tunnel—if you go into it, you change the sound it makes."
"Yes, like muting a wind instrument," the Tunesmith acknowledged.
Jago continued, becoming more animated, "Just as we hear different things by moving around in the world, we can change what is heard just by being in the right place. The song of the world continues, but we become a part of it rather than using it in our music."
If the Tunesmith had ever doubted that Jago was still a dreamer, this would have laid that question to rest. Trust Jago to turn a practical lesson on music principles into a philosophical matter. Still, there was nothing to say that musicians couldn't be dreamers too. "Have you learned anything else?"
Patting his student's shoulder approvingly, the Tunesmith said, "Well, you've passed the test. You've done very well, in fact. Let's return."
"I'd rather stay here."
Surprised, the Tunesmith asked, "Why? What do you want to do?"
"I think there's more to it. At the very least, I want to listen some more."
Tunesmith gave him an odd look. Then he said, "If that's what you want to do. Come back when you're ready."
Tunesmith left his odd pupil behind. He had the talent to be a master musician, but with his disposition, who knew what he would finally turn out to be.
Unseen, an entity watched the young Fraggle, and was pleased. It said in a voice so low that Jago believed he was hearing his own thoughts, "Listen."
Fraggle Rock and Jago (under his real name) are copyright © The Jim Henson Company and are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Tunesmith is copyright © Kim McFarland (negaduck9 at aol dot com), as is the overall story. Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.