“I told everyone, but they are busy with the fields this time of year,” Credence said. “We are only a small village that doesn’t have much to offer after the king takes his taxes. We’ve been hit three times already the past year-”
“It’s fine, really,” Cade said holding up his hands to her, “he’s just dramatic at times. Don’t pay any mind to him.”
Neil watched the exchange and felt a bubble of annoyance begin to fill inside him.
“Who’s ready for some music?” Neil said pulling out his lyre. “Any requests?”
“Now we’re talking,” Tevarin boomed, “maybe some music will bring in some more people, Faleth.”
Neil walked to the stage feeling the eyes of the three travelers as well as Credence and her family on him. He sat slowly in the chair and checked the tuning on the strings.
Neil took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his fingers dance across the strings. The notes were perfect as he played some of the classic songs his mother had taught him. The Wandering Bard went over spectacularly in his opinion, with Cade joining him for each chorus. The halfling’s voice was surprisingly pleasant, and at the end of the song, where the Bard dies, he was almost certain he saw Tevarin’s hand wipe at the corner of her eye.
Neil played The Fighter’s Ballad specifically at the request of Tevarin, then The Hills of Glad Glen for Cade. Faleth was decidedly quiet, his eyes fixed on Neil as the firelight danced in his amber eyes.
Fiona danced as Jack slapped his thigh to the beat and Credence listened. Neil’s fingers moved with a life of their own, flitting from string to string. They danced as though possessed, and though he had played the songs hundreds of times previously, his melody became complex and unfamiliar as the songs poured out of him.
The world became a blur of movement and melody combining to instill a sense of energy in him that he had never felt before. He lost sight of the faces in the audience as sweat began to bead on his forehead. He closed his eyes to not feel overwhelmed by the increasing sense of dizziness that threatened to topple him. It was in the middle of Ogre’s Song that he stopped recognizing the music he was playing, it frightened and exhilarated him.
After nearly half an hour of playing tunes he didn’t recognize, Neil’s hands became still, and the sound echoed through the room. He felt drained of the energy he had felt previously as a shiver went through his body. The fire had gone out behind him leaving him drenched in sweat. He looked around the room and saw the stunned faces of his audience.
Credence, Jack, and Fiona all stared blankly, almost unseeing. Cade was smiling and swayed in his chair as though Neil were still playing, and Tevarin looked at him as he imagined a lion looks at its prey, but it was Faleth that truly caught him off guard. The elf was half standing with his eyes locked on Neil, a terrible look on his face that the minstrel didn’t recognize as any emotion in particular.
Neil stood before them awkwardly before he moved and wiped his brow free of a bead of sweat as it ran down his forehead. He felt an odd hum in the air, like music that he couldn’t hear still resonating through the room.
Suddenly the hum dissipated and there was a flurry of movement from everyone. Jack, Credence, and Fiona began clapping while Tevarin and Cade rubbed their eyes and necks. Faleth raised a hand as though he were trying to get Neil’s attention, but a foot above his head his hand vanished. Neil looked on dumbfounded as Faleth’s arm pulled down and reappeared with a book clasped in his hand.
“That was amazing!” Jack boomed as he rushed to the platform. “Where did you learn to play like that?”
“I didn’t-” Neil began.
“I think it’s getting late,” Faleth said, “I think it would be wise if everyone called it a night.”
“You are truly a talented musician,” Cade said as he walked up to Neil.
“And you’re not half bad looking either,” Tevarin said as she staggered up to the platform.
“Whoa now, Tevarin,” I think you may have had a bit too much ale,” Cade said, “I think you should just go lay down.”
“You don’t get to tell me what to do, Cade. We’ve talked about this. I don’t bed halflings,” Tevarin slurred.
“That’s our cue,” Jack said as he spun and grabbed Fiona’s elbow steering her out of the room.
“Tevarin, the last time I heard you say that to a man, you disappeared with him for the evening and beat him senseless in the morning for taking advantage of you,” Faleth said, “I need to speak with the boy, why don’t you go sober up a little before you make decisions like that?”
Cade nudged Neil and gave him a nod. Faleth’s hand was gripping Neil’s elbow as Cade began arguing with Tevarin. Faleth led him gently to the front door.
“You need to leave before she refocuses and brings you upstairs whether you want to or not,” Faleth said, “I’ve seen her like this before.”
“You needed to speak with me though,” Neil protested.
“We can speak in the morning,” Faleth assured him. “I was trying to get you away from Tevarin. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to be here now that she’s of a mind to take you upstairs.”
“You should go, Neil,” Credence said, “I’ll see you in the morning with my milk delivery.”
Neil nodded and said goodbye quickly before he left. The night was cool with a slight breeze that carried itself lazily from the south. It felt good against his hot skin. The moon hung low in the sky on its way up, giving Neil a sense of security about the trip home. He carried his lyre off the porch and smiled as he rounded the corner thinking about how the night had gone.
“Where did you learn magic?” Faleth asked as he stepped out of a shadow.
Neil backpedaled, “What the-How?”
“Magic,” Faleth demanded, stepping close to him, “Where did you learn it? How did you learn it? Who was your teacher?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Neil protested, suddenly fearful of the passionate elf that bore down on him.
“Don’t you lie to me, Bard!” Faleth growled, his eyes lighting up slightly. Neil fell on his bottom. “I can see right through you.”
“I’m no bard,” Neil argued pushing himself backward further, “I am a simple minstrel. We don’t have a lot of magic out in these parts.”
Faleth paused for a moment as his face contorted and confusion washed over him. “I don’t believe it! You don’t even know…”
Neil was too overcome with fear of Faleth that he couldn’t speak. Faleth backed away and stared at him for a moment as though he were considering an art piece.
“Go home, Neil, and be back here at first light. We will have many things to talk about in the morning,” he said before a cloud of fog wrapped around him and he vanished.
Neil stared blankly at the place where Faleth had been standing. He felt as though he had stumbled into something that was better left alone. His hands shook as he pushed himself up from the grass and stumbled into the stable where his horse was waiting patiently.
“Time to go home, Hurricane,” Neil said as he pulled himself up on the saddle. He took the reins and held them close to himself as he cantered his way home. His mind was full of thoughts of Faleth’s intense look, the music he played that he hadn’t recognized, and the faces of Credence, Jack, and Fiona.
He arrived home just after midnight as the moon began to make its descent from the heavens. He removed the saddle from Hurricane after putting him in his stall and walked into the house weary and road sore.
“How did it go?” his mother’s voice called softly as he walked past the doorway to the common room.
Neil paused and walked into the room. It was small and quaint with sparse furniture. His mother sat in a chair with a blanket covering her lap as she knitted what appeared to be a sweater.
“I’m not sure,” Neil replied as the image of the upset wizard flashed in his mind for the hundredth time since leaving the inn. “Things were a little odd.”
“Sit down and talk to me about it,” she said, setting her needles and yarn in the basket next to her chair.
Neil told her of the events of the evening, including the music he played and the reaction of the wizard as he left. His mother sat through the entire story listening intently to his every word.
“It sounds like you may have tapped into something that our family hasn’t seen in a very long time,” she said. Her eyes were wide with wonder and excitement.
“What do you mean?” Neil asked.
“Your grandfather was more than a simple minstrel, Neil. He was a full-fledged bard. He didn’t just collect stories, he also lived them,” she said. “He was the last in our family to tap into the magic that only music can bring into the world. Until tonight, that is.”
“You think I was using magic?” Neil said, “Wouldn’t I know if I was? I mean, all the stories I’ve read about magic involve a lot of practice, which I don’t have.”
“Music is a fickle sort of magic,” she replied leaning forward, “for some, it comes when they call, for others it doesn’t. Only truly great musicians ever see or feel it.”
“I don’t understand,” Neil said.
“Do you remember last year when Willow hurt her leg?” she asked.
“Do you remember what you did?”
“I calmed her down while I rubbed her side,” he replied.
“You did more than that,” his mother said, “You hummed a tune while you were petting her. I didn’t say anything about it because I wasn’t sure, but your father was sure Willow had broken her leg. When he got back with the village healer, Willow was fine. Her leg had somehow been fixed.
“I had thought that perhaps your father had been mistaken, but now I see that you were the one that healed Willow. You used magic that day as well. Not because you studied it, but because you felt it.”
Neil’s mind reeled from the idea that he was capable of using magic in any fashion. He felt the room begin to spin as his mind disconnected from the room.
“You don’t look well,” his mother said. “You should go lie down. I expect your father is still going to expect you to be out for the morning deliveries.”
He nodded and stumbled up to his room. He fell forward onto the bed sleeping even before he felt the bed against his face.