Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 7
Stories
Silent As Dust
by James Maxey
Lost Soul
by Marie Brennan
The Price of Love
by Alan Schoolcraft
The Braiding
by Pat Esden
After This Life
by Janna Silverstein
The Smell of the Earth
by Joan L. Savage
From the Ender Saga
Ender's Homecoming
by Orson Scott Card
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
The Talk
by David Lubar
Split Decision
by David Lubar
Comics
A Plague of Butterflies
by Orson Scott Card
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Lost Soul
Artwork by Julie Dillon
Lost Soul
    by Marie Brennan

I first heard her fiddling on a corner at Taranabh Fair. There were plenty of buskers around; it was odd that she caught my ear so clearly. I stopped in front of a booth selling woven amulets and looked around, trying to spot the source of the music.

She'd perched herself on the edge of a well, legs crossed, fiddle tucked under her chin. The music she was playing was unusual; that's what drew my attention. I cocked my head to listen. It sounded for the life of me like a court waltz.

It was a court waltz. A simplified one, true, but the five-beat pattern was unmistakable. I snorted. Busking Taranabh Fair with music like that? Not exactly brilliant of her.

I drifted closer, still listening. The crowds passed by her without stopping. Technically she was very good; I'm enough of a musician to recognize skill when I hear it. Somewhere, some time, she had gotten training. She wouldn't last a season out here, though. Not playing music like that.

She wrapped the waltz up with an intricate flourish that was wasted on the passers-by. By then I was standing just a pace or two away, arms crossed over my chest, watching her.

She glanced up at me. I watched her expression closely; it's useful to monitor how people react to finding a gypsy man hanging around.

Her gaze didn't linger on me long, although I did notice a momentary widening of the eyes when she took in my appearance. I get that a lot. Nytere says I'm more creative about how I dye my hair than any three other Ieros, and about every third attempt succeeds at being something other than ugly. It took me a moment to remember what my hair looked like today. Mostly it was its natural blonde, but I'd tipped it with dark green. Not one of my best efforts.

The busker was rolling her head around to release neck tension. I stepped closer. "You taking requests?"

She flicked her red-gold hair out of her eyes with a little toss and eyed me. "Sure. What do you want?"

"How about 'Sword in Hand'?"

A momentary pause; then she shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't know that one -- at least under that name. Does it have another title?"

"Not that I'm aware of." She didn't know one of the most popular tavern songs in Tir Diamh. As I had suspected. "How about 'The Lady at Home,' then?"

Another shake of her head. "Sorry."

"'Drink to the Sky'? 'Stone the Crows'?"

She was still shaking her head, but now it came with a suspicious look. "Are you sure those are even Diamhair songs? Maybe you're thinking of a different country."

As if, because my people move around so much, we can't tell countries apart. "They're Diamhair, believe me."

"Well, I don't know them. Maybe they don't play those songs where I come from. Now, I'll thank you to stop wasting my time." She tucked the fiddle back under her chin with a determined look.

I had to laugh. The Diamhair were wonderful. Outspoken as blue jays, every last one of them. "Look, they're tavern songs. Do you know any tavern songs?"

After a wary moment, she put the fiddle down again. "I know 'Acha Bualach's Dance.'"

"That, girl, hardly qualifies as a tavern song. Have you even been in a tavern?"

Now I'd made her mad. "Of course I have."

"Uh-huh." I looked her over. Neat, unfrayed clothing, all in a very sober style; she couldn't have been on the road for more than a month or two. If that. She was neither tattered nor flamboyant enough to be more of a veteran. "Let me guess. You were a minstrel's apprentice, and your master tossed you out."

I found the end of her bow a scant inch from my nose. "He didn't 'toss me out,'" the busker snapped, punctuating it with a little jab of the bow. I jerked back. "I left. Of my own accord."

"Really."

My skeptical tone didn't help her mood. "It's true," she insisted, taking the bow back so she could glare at me without it getting in the way. "I disagreed with him, and chose to leave."

It sounded far-fetched -- but then I remembered the way she'd played the waltz. She was a very good musician, far better than the average minstrel. I could hardly imagine a master turning her out on the basis of ineptitude. That left the possibility of an argument, as she said. An argument in which she enraged her master to the point where he'd give up on her? That sounded more likely.

"How long have you been busking?" I asked, steering the conversation away from that topic.

She glanced away. "A while."

"A month?"

A wry smile touched the corner of her mouth. "Not yet."

"As I thought. You're probably living off your savings." That got a tiny nod. She still wouldn't meet my eyes. Common sense told me to leave her alone, but common sense has never been much of an obstacle to me. I couldn't just walk away without trying to set her straight. "Look, girl -- let me give you some free advice."

That got her attention, although it was skeptical.

"You're a fine musician," I said, nodding toward her fiddle. "I'm betting you can sing, and play other instruments. Skill like that puts you ahead of most buskers. But you don't know the first thing about how to play to a crowd, and that puts you behind. The music you're playing isn't right for people at a fair." I gestured at the laughing, strolling crowd. "Spend the rest of the fair in taverns. Buy cheap drinks, so you don't spend too much coin, and listen. Listen to what the other street musicians are playing. You've got the training to learn pretty quick. Put together a set of popular music, and save the fancy stuff for fancy occasions."

Her eyes narrowed. "Why so generous?"

"With my advice?" I laughed. "It's worth what you paid for it. Lending you a hand costs me nothing. And whatever you may believe of my people, I'm not going to steal your purse."

"But I still see no reason for you to help me."

I shrugged. "Maybe I'm just sick of hearing untutored hacks butcher perfectly good songs. It's nice to find a musician who knows one string from another."

She stared at me for so long I had to fight the urge to fidget. Then, when I was about to give it up as a lost cause and walk away, she grinned. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

"Let me buy you a drink."

"Huh?"

Her grin spread. It put more life in her face, which had been as still as a statue's while she played. "A drink. You said your advice was worth what I paid for it. Maybe if I buy you a drink, it'll be worth more."

I snickered. "Girl, are you trying to be gypped?"

She hopped down from the edge of the well and stuck out one hand. "My name's Tirean."

I gripped her forearm in Ieric fashion, letting her feel there was no knife up my sleeve. On that arm, anyway. "Andris. Want me to pick a tavern, or do you know what one looks like?"

My sister says I flirt too much, and maybe it's true. But I'm hardly the worst in our skian; some of our fellow travelers aim for the rich and powerful, who are likely to cause trouble, and others will make eyes at any warm body of the appropriate sex. Tirean was neither the Duchess of Eremon nor a local con artist, which puts me ahead of some people in my skian.

I learned a lot about Tirean nes Bhiachar of Mol Alaic in the next hour -- a lot, and very little at all. I heard how she'd first gotten interested in music -- a broken leg at a young age left her bedridden and bored for a while -- and what instruments she knew how to play -- lots. I heard stories of the cat she'd had as a child, and how her mother had kept her away when an Ieric skian came to town, because in Tir Diamh they like to say we can turn into birds and fly off with curious children. But I heard nothing of her training, nor why she'd left. And it wasn't for lack of trying.

She steered the conversation away from these topics so artfully that it took me a while to realize she was doing it. When I did notice, my suspicions grew stronger. She was more than just a minstrel; she'd been trained as a bard. And in Tir Diamh, music's magic, like our storytellers are for us. Bards learn more than just how to play; they learn how to find the power behind the notes and words, to sway people's hearts with them. Or to manipulate people, if you want to put it that way. Our storytellers do the same thing, but for some reason I wasn't expecting it from Tirean. More fool me. Maybe a clean, starving minstrel wasn't that much safer than the Duchess of Eremon.

I should have just let it slide. What did it matter, how she'd come to be on the streets? But Tirean intrigued me; I'd never heard a musician with her skill, who still so obviously lacked something. I couldn't give up on my questions. I did, however, decide to be more subtle.

We got drinks at a nearby tavern; then, as the afternoon was still young, I convinced Tirean to wander around with me for a while. She tried to protest, saying that she needed to keep playing, to make money. I told her the wandering would be a lesson. We could listen to minstrels as we walked.

And we did listen -- some of the time, anyway. We also spent a lot of time chatting. I don't have my sister's skill, more's the pity, but I could and did try to make Tirean comfortable around me. If she was on the run from some angry master, I wanted to know, just in case he showed up while I was there. I also couldn't shake this niggling feeling that, underneath her vibrant smile and ready laugh, there was a woman who wasn't really happy.

I stopped later that afternoon to buy us skewers of meat from a roving seller. When I was done paying for them, I went looking for Tirean, and found her standing in the middle of the street, listening to another busker.

He was an older man, pattering away on a small drum tucked between his knees and singing. The song was familiar; it was a Diamhair one called "Flower Face" that's entered Ieric repertoire, although for the life of me I don't know why. It's a piece of tripe -- a children's nonsense song about talking flowers. The lyrics make no sense. I personally don't like the tune much either, but other people must, because it's always a crowd-pleaser. Which is, of course, why our own singers have picked it up. We play what people want to hear.

Tirean had a wistful look on her face. "Favorite of yours?" I asked, holding out a skewer.

She took the meat with a laugh. "Hardly. The tune's annoying, and whoever thought up the lyrics must have been drunk."

"Then why the expression? You looked like your head was in the clouds."

"I don't know." Tirean shrugged and tore off a piece of meat. "Just made me think back to when I was a kid, I guess. Can we move on? I'd rather not have this stuck in my head for the rest of the day."

We moved on, and on, and on. By the end of the afternoon we'd covered a good chunk of Taranabh Fair. Some areas we avoided: the animal pens, the seedier areas where men and women peddle their bodies, and the field where my skian was camped.

I thought about taking her there. Ennike was probably hanging around, and I suspected my sister would get along very well with Tirean. She might even be able to wheedle the story of Tirean's training out of her. But I didn't just want answers; I wanted to get them myself. I wanted Tirean to tell me, not my sister.

So we avoided the caravan, until the afternoon began to wane. Then I made an apologetic face to the minstrel. "I've got to head off, I'm afraid. I'm in an acting troupe, and we're going to be doing a couple of performances tonight." I gave her a sly smile. "Want to come watch?"

Tirean frowned. "I'd love to, but really, I do need to busk some more. My savings won't hold out forever."

I decided not to press it. "Mind if I find you afterward?"

"Sure. I'll probably be back at the well."

"Sounds good." I gave her shoulder a little pat -- nothing too familiar. I know better than to drive a woman off that way. "I'll come by some time after full dark, then."

Taranabh Fair changed with the setting of the sun. A lot of the sellers retired early; they had to get up the next morning. But for those adventurous souls who had fewer responsibilities or needed less sleep, the night had just begun.

The troupe's run went well. I was glad for that; we'd been having some rough patches lately, with people botching the oddest things, and if we'd had another bad night Ennike probably would have made us go back to the wagons and practice. But we made a good amount of coin, and my sister was satisfied, so I was free to go find Tirean.

Moonrise found us on the bank of the nearby river, some distance south of the fair. We'd both had a fair amount to drink -- Tirean more than me. It hadn't been my plan to get her drunk and hear her story that way, but it worked.

"I just couldn't take it any more," she said, unbridled frustration in her voice. Bardic training stood her in good stead; even with mead in her, she still enunciated clearly. "It was so suffocating. And it was all the worse because Decebhin's supposed to be this big name, a Great God of bards. He performed at the satire festival, more than once, and won an award."

"Satire festival?" I repeated. It wasn't the drink clouding my mind; she said the words as though they ought to mean something to me.

Tirean flopped back in the grass. "Yeah. You have to have heard of it. Bards go to Seamháir and satirize the king -- sing songs about what he's doing wrong. But with protections, of course, so the satires don't actually have the power to hurt him. It's an old tradition. They give you an award if you do well."

"As Decebhin did."

"Oh yeah. He's won two awards there -- the festival's held every five years. Anyway, he's this amazing bard, and for a long time I felt like there must be something wrong with me, for me to disagree with him like that."

"Like what?"

She waved her long-fingered hands through the air, as if trying to describe her frustration with motion. "For a while I wanted to be like Decebhin. When I was fourteen I begged him to let me to go to the festival. I was nowhere near good enough, of course, but I wanted to go." She sighed, and her hands fell limply to the grass. "That was how I used to feel. But as I got older, it started to seem kind of empty. Not the festival -- it's a good tradition to have. But the music started to seem dead, when it had always been so alive."

Like I've said, I'm not that much of a musician. But I compared it to the performances our troupe gave, and understood what Tirean meant. How horrible would it feel, if suddenly Ennike's words didn't bring the story to life anymore? If my own movements began to feel empty? If the power of the stories went away?

Tirean had continued on without looking at me. "Decebhin works at a different level than most bards. Some of the music he plays is really bizarre; most people don't like it." She snorted. "Most people don't get it. I was learning to understand some of it, but it's work. There's a very limited number of people who are well-enough educated in music to understand those pieces, much less enjoy them."

"Sounds to me like that defeats the purpose," I said.

"I thought so. And that was where it started -- me wondering what the point of that kind of music was. It spread from there. A lot of the stuff I played started to sound like all the life had drained out of it. Whatever magic was in it, went away. I could have satirized the king to his face and it wouldn't have mattered, because it was just notes."

"So you quit?"

Tirean hesitated. I found myself praying that she wouldn't clam up now. I sensed I was coming close to whatever was plaguing her still.

When she spoke, the words came reluctantly. "Yeah. I told Decebhin I didn't want to do his kind of music anymore. I wanted to play out here."

Among the common folk of Tir Diamh. "Why?"

She didn't answer. I glanced sideways, trying to be subtle, and found tears glimmering on her cheeks in the moonlight. "I thought I might find it here," she whispered. "The power my music had lost."

My mind could still hear her, playing that court waltz, perched on the side of a well. Technical skill to put nine out of ten buskers to shame: she played the music to perfection. But it was, as she had said, lifeless. There was no soul to it. And the crowds could hear that.

I searched for words that might help Tirean, and found none. Now I began to wish I had introduced her to my eloquent sister; surely Ennike could have found something to say.

"I'm beginning to doubt myself," Tirean murmured, her voice hardly carrying to my ears. "I've been out on the roads for a month and I haven't found it."

"Did you get anything useful from the other buskers?" I asked. "The ones we listened to today?"

She shook her head, brushing the tears away with one hand. "Nothing. The stuff they play -- useless. Like that nonsense song this afternoon. What power is there in music like that? It's worthless."

My head came up sharply. "Worthless?"

"Yeah. The tunes are simplistic; half of them sound alike. The lyrics aren't anything special. If I can't find magic in Decebhin's music, or in the country junk these people play, then where is it?" Despite Tirean's efforts to keep her voice steady, it wavered, and new tears spilled down her cheeks, leaving silver tracks behind. "Maybe I'm chasing something that's not real."

Country junk. My throat had closed up; I opened and shut my mouth, trying to put together some kind of response. Too many possibilities warred in my head.

I finally managed to voice an answer, and once it was spoken I wished I'd stayed silent. "Maybe it's you."

Tirean froze, staring at me. I stared back. She sat up slowly, until she could face me properly. "What?" she asked, eyes trembling full of tears.

I winced. Andris, the Prince of Tact. How could I explain what I'd meant? "Tirean, you're evaluating minstrel music the way you would Decebhin's stuff." She tried to protest; I held up one hand to stop her. "Listen. More free advice for you. Stop thinking with your head."

"What else am I supposed to think with?"

"Your heart," I said. "Think about that nonsense song, 'Flower Face.' Yes, from a technical standpoint it's a piece of tripe. And an annoying one at that. But for a moment there it stopped you, got your attention, took you back to your childhood days. Is that worthless?"

"I --" Tirean began, but she stopped, as though she didn't know what to say.

"That stuff you dismiss as 'country junk' has plenty of power. As does the bardic stuff, from what I've heard of it. Oh, sure, not all of it is good; there's always going to be badly-written crud. But I think a lot of it depends on the player, and her opinion of it. A musician who really believes in her music, who finds the part of it that speaks to her, and that speaks to her audience -- she can make damn near anything worthwhile." I glanced down at my hands. "That's what I meant when I said it might be you. Maybe you just need a new perspective on things."

Tirean got up, a little unsteadily, and walked a few steps away. I watched her back and hoped I'd made some kind of sense. Late at night, with my blood full of mead, is not the best time for me to be making speeches.

"I don't know how to fix it," Tirean said at last, her finely-trained voice clogged with tears.

A smile spread slowly across my face as an idea came to me. "I do."

Tirean protested the whole way. I admit I was being cryptic; I hadn't told her a damn thing about my idea since I came up with it the previous night. But I was afraid that if I told her what we were doing she'd put her foot down and refuse.

The idea was simple, really. I couldn't match Tirean's skill, and neither could any of my friends. But we all knew how to play one or more instruments, and what we lacked in technique we made up for in enthusiasm.

That was why I was dragging her through the fields toward our encampment. I'll never have Tirean's skill; it just isn't in me. But it seemed I could hear things in the music that she'd become deaf to. And that was what I couldn't stand: she could be so brilliant, if only she understood. I could never be that good. But maybe I could help her be that good.

Tirean wasn't blind, and she wasn't stupid. She slammed to a halt on the dirt path in the fading light and looked at me accusingly. "We're going to the caravan."

"Not quite to it. To a place near it. We should be able to see the fire once we top that hill." I pointed. The grass was edged with the slightest hint of a glow.

"And what's going to happen there?"

"We're going to play. Hence me asking you to bring instruments." She was carrying damn near as much as my whole troupe put together -- fiddle, lute, pipes, and drum. She had a small harp, too, but had left it behind.

"I can't do it. I don't know your music."

"It'll all be Diamhair music."

"I don't know that, either. Not the popular stuff."

She stood as though prepared to bolt back to the fair. I put one hand on her shoulder. She stiffened. "Were you a bardic apprentice, or just some kid banging around on a drum?" That called up anger, instead of wariness. "Improvise, Tirean. I know you're good enough."

She shook her head. "I never improvised much."

"Let me guess. Decebhin didn't encourage it." I flicked my hair out of my eyes with a toss of my head. "Whatever. You can tell one key from another. You can pick it up. Believe me." I tugged on her arm; she came forward one reluctant step at a time, like a recalcitrant mule. "For crying out loud -- we don't bite."

Then we crested the hill, and glad shouts greeted us. Not the whole troupe was there; Tomikles and Allaneter had both begged off, as tonight was the last night of the fair. It was just as well; Tirean looked overwhelmed enough by the raucous greeting of the three who were waiting for us.

Ennike took control of the situation, as I knew she would. She gave Tirean a welcoming smile and said, "Don't mind the madness. We're just thrilled to see someone who can tell notes apart -- unlike my brother."

She earned herself a sudden grin from Tirean. I blessed my sister and her ability to put the skittish minstrel at ease. Ennike introduced Ilmis and Thenion, throwing in just enough wisecracks to keep a grin on Tirean's face. Before long we'd settled ourselves around the fire, and people were tuning up their instruments. I had, after serious consideration, chosen my fiddle for tonight. It was an Ieric fiddle, and styled differently from a Diamhair one; I hoped it would be just familiar enough to comfort Tirean, without making her feel threatened. Ilmis had her usual menagerie of drum-type things; she got Tirean to show the drum she'd brought while Thenion twirled his flute around his fingers and Ennike tuned her mandolin.

"We ready?" my sister asked after a few minutes of this. "I thought we could start with --"

"Oh, no you don't," I said while Thenion groaned. "Ennike, dear, you've a lovely voice, but you can't pick songs to save your soul. There's this concept of key changes that escapes you. 'North Wind' does not segue well into 'A Seed of Oak.'" Ennike looked insulted; Tirean was grinning. Victory on both counts. "I'll pick the songs, at least for now." Hopefully we'd get to the stage of passing the lead around the circle, and Tirean would get a chance to direct the show. "'Kitten in the Sun,' 'Turn and Fall,' and 'Tale of the Drunken Sailor,' at least to begin with." I'd had the songs lined up before I went after Tirean. Start with something cheerful, go to something complicated, and then on to one of my favorite pieces, with more life than I know what to do with.

I gave the count, and we were off.

Tirean listened to the first few bars, lute cradled in her hands. I tried not to glare at her; hopefully she'd start to play soon. And she did; her fingers began to pick out the chord progression. She had a good enough ear to do that easily, even if she put no confidence into it.

Confidence would come, or so I hoped. We bridged smoothly into "Turn and Fall," and the tempo picked up of its own accord. Tirean stuck with chords, but they were getting more complicated. By the time we got to "Tale of the Drunken Sailor," her ornamentation was turning into a definite counter-melody. She dropped out again for a few beats, until she caught the key change, then started up again. I gave her an encouraging smile. Her face was a mask of concentration.

"Your call, Thenion," I said, as the song drew to a close.

He took us into "The Wedding of the Iron Rose," as I had known he would. Normally that piece doesn't have a soprano counterpoint, but he'd devised one that he absolutely adored. His flute line soared above the melody that Ennike and I shared, while Tirean created some elegant ornamentation.

But that song gave Ilmis very little to do. She retaliated by calling "Tear the Houses Down" and going mad on the drums. It wasn't quite as fun without Tomikles to share her antics, but she did her best.

I met my sister's gaze across the fire. The eye contact was almost unnecessary; we both knew I was going to skip her.

"Tirean," I said.

The minstrel gave me a startled look. I gave her a bland one. Tirean's lips pressed together; then she stilled her hands on her lute. The rest of us played on. "'Acha Bualach's Dance,'" she said, and picked up her fiddle.

Halfway through the piece I started to feel what I'd been hoping for. There's a tension that develops when a group is really slick, when everyone knows exactly what their part of the whole is and does it perfectly. It isn't that no one screws up; we just don't let mistakes slow us down. The energy makes my body vibrate. I'm always terrified that we can't keep it up, that it's got to fall apart on the next note, but if I trust the music and my fellow players, the tension holds, and the tune flies on.

I looked at Tirean out of the corner of my eye. She was more confident on fiddle than on lute; her improvisation was getting bolder. But her face was still that mask. She was doing her part, but she wasn't a part of it. She wasn't letting the energy touch her.

Ennike called the next one -- "To Seamháir and Back." I took the opportunity to give my hands a rest; I only came in on the choruses, overlaying everything with a descant. Then I started back in on Ilmis' second choice, "Three Mugs of Mead," and prayed to the skies to help me survive my plan.

"'Stone the Crows,'" I called.

It was the first minor piece of the night. Ennike and Thenion put together a brilliant transition between keys. Tirean's brow furrowed; she hadn't known this song when I requested it at the fair.

She didn't know the potential it held for competition.

Ennike did. She sank into a background line, repetitive and capable of holding the piece together. Thenion punctuated that with sharp flute retorts. As for me, I ripped out with a complicated solo burst, and aimed it right at Tirean.

She almost missed her cue. When her bow finally moved, it was half-hearted and simplistic, just barely filling in the hole I'd left for her. Not much of a solo.

I responded with a variant on what I'd played before.

This time she was ready. Tirean replied in kind, continuing my improvisation. I sent it right back at her, this time in more complicated form.

Something sparked in Tirean's eyes. She got the idea, now.

Like a flower opening up, the skill I knew she had in her suddenly blossomed. I gritted my teeth and matched it. Already I was playing beyond my usual limits; I needed Tirean to do the same. Unfortunately, there was no one here who could actually outmatch her. I'd just have to try my best, and pray.

This time I took twice as long for my solo. It gave me more space to work with. Tirean did the same, again upping the stakes a notch. Ilmis was thundering away on her drums, sounding like three people at once. The tempo was picking up speed; my fingers flew to keep up. Tirean's bow hand almost blurred. She wasn't just good; she was bloody amazing, enough to put most bards to shame. Gods above -- I couldn't hope to match her.

By myself.

My turn came, but I didn't go in alone. Thenion played full-out with me, making me sound like two. Tirean matched us. Next round we had Ennike as well, the three of us against the bard, while Ilmis' beat kept us all together. It was beautiful and fierce. Tirean's hair was slipping from its confines. The mask was gone from her face; her eyes blazed and sweat poured down her cheeks as she leaned her entire body into the music. On the second half of her solo we all joined her, and the sound was like filigreed fire.

The transition happened so smoothly, so spontaneously, that I've never been able to remember just how it came about. One minute we were screaming along at a breakneck pace, roaring out "Stone the Crows;" the next, we modulated back into a major key, and we were playing the world's most complicated version of "Flower Face."

Put five demented musicians behind anything and it will sound good. That damn nonsense song took on a life of its own; we came flying out of "Stone the Crows" into it, and the fury of the previous piece melted away. Ilmis' drumming brought the song to a close; the four of us indulged in a final bit of competition, adding on ridiculous flourishes and trills, until we were laughing so hard we couldn't play any more.

And Tirean . . . whatever had bound her heart tight was gone. Too much training, maybe. Too much thinking. But that night all the bindings went away, and she found what she had lost.

That's my image of Tirean. I still remember the minstrel on the well, with her perfect, lifeless music, but it seems like a different person. When I think of Tirean, I think of her that night, with her hair in her face and her eyes burning sapphire, at the moment when she realized the only soul in your music is what you put there.

She's a bard. A real one. Not many people are. To her, music isn't a way to make money, or something for an educated elite. It's her life and her breath, and that means it's magic. The power to sway hearts, light imaginations, speak to your audience's very soul -- it's in music, just as it's in stories, and once you tap into that, they become much more than notes and words. Ennike can do it. So can Tirean, now.

She's still on the roads, still traveling. She needs to eat, after all, and she doesn't want to go back to Decebhin. I see her at fairs sometimes. We usually take an afternoon or an evening and play together.

She plays me into the ground every time.


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