Readers, if you want some songs to read by, I have a few playlists on Spotify. These are songs that have inspired be, and that speak to the nature of the story, the setting, and the characters. In the case of No Distance Greater than the Stars, a few of the songs are actually referred to in the book. They should make for some great music to read by. You can also see the bands I follow, and maybe discover someone new that way. Happy listening!
After a land has long since become enshrouded in legend, and the light of its glorious past is filtered by the dust of ages, it falls into danger of facing yet another peril. And while that peril should like to disprove the realm’s glory, often it is that a greater legend is born. In a world where history is no different from legend, and prophecies are promises from the gods, unyielding in their faithfulness, reverence and wonder shall never cease. The legends and prophecies written in holy text might not be fully understood, but they are true nonetheless. Even the most esoteric of tales cannot be dissolved by time; the future shall look back upon them to watch the warrior emerge from the flames and tears to prove the might of his spirit.
Legend, in all its richness of glory and tragedy, had birthed the most majestic kingdom known to Lorata. In the grassy plains that roll from the cliffs of Dragonridge Mountains to the waves of Blueshade Ocean, Onsira stood proud and deeply respected. Its rich soil brought verdant life to the plains, dotting it with woodlands cut by streams and ponds. Onsira had long been ruled by a monarchy, its bloodline tied to the greatest of all heroes: Loracaz, Champion of Jenh.
Generations had passed since the hero’s great feat, years that were ruled in peace under centuries-old traditions. Onsira was a kingdom governed by elves, but it welcomed fae-kind as friends. It had even found peace and mutual respect with the dragons, difficult though their history had been. It was a safe and honorable kingdom, said to be blessed by Goddess Jenh herself, and its people prospered.
Late in the fifth millennium of Lorata’s recorded history, that age-old peace came to its end. For those who believed that it would never leave the kingdom, it was a juncture of utmost tragedy, the desperate culmination of the actions of His Royal Majesty, King Z’Lé. For the elves who had put their trust into his dream of uniting the four realms of magic and the four races, he had become a figure of cruel betrayal. His people had feared him ever since the day that he invited ambassadors from Thiizav, the kingdom known for it devotion to Métius. The king’s people began to worry that their queen had made the wrong choice in taking Z’Lé as her beloved.
The Onsiran citizens protested the collection of taxes in order to support the construction of a temple for the one god who had no place in Onsira: Métius, ruler of the Abyss and all the demons who resided therein. Complaints about the taxes brought King Z’Lé’s wrath, and he did not hesitate in jailing those who tried to prevent supplies from arriving at the site of the temple. It had been an act of treason, the king decreed, to prevent the unification that he so desired to create. He had lost the mercy that Onsira had been known for, and cared not that he was feared and reviled.
All the while, Queen Arialla could do nothing to stop him. She did not agree with the harshness of Z’Lé’s punishments, but the goal of unification that Z’Lé sought was to important, and too well under way to get in the way of. She was as nervous as any of her citizens were about demon king, but if she let that fear guide her, how could she bring about unity? It was for that dream that she had chosen Z’Lé, and she could not give up on it.
This logic, however, denied something greater. If Arialla had wanted deny the nobles from Thiizav their embassy and keep Métius out of her kingdom, the king would have gone ahead without her blessing. King Z’Lé had begun to dominate the throne long before commissioning the Temple of Métius to be built. No decision was final without his word, and while the queen laid resting, he would decree many of the laws that would bring his goal of unification to completion. In the name of the alliance of the gods, he broke from one Onsiran tradition after another without even a thought.
Zarrek, the second son of the royal family, grew up as the dark temple was completed. King Z’Lé took the child with him to oversee the raising of its twisted spires, and though he was just a babe, Zarrek watched, transfixed, as each block of rich black stone was set into its place. It worried Arialla to know that her son was so close to that source of evil. He would not bend to her concerns, though. Although the queen did not want her sons to partake in the darker aspects of the unification, the king insisted upon it in the name of true unity.
With all that he had done, King Z’Lé had forever changed the face of Onsira. Its proud heritage was now hardly better than a memory, and the people were resentful that they could not contest what their king was doing. He expected them to forgive what Métius had done to Goddess Jenh centuries ago, and he decreed that devotion to her alone would harm Onsira’s chances for a unified future.
In truth, Jenh was the pillar of the kingdom, and Arialla was a direct descendant of her champion, the realm’s founding ruler: Loracaz I. Métius had captured the goddess ages ago, in an attempt to steal away her life and magic, and Loracaz had been the only one able to rescue her. Welcoming the lord of evil back, even in the name of unity, was an insult to the worshipers of the goddess.
Z’Lé overruled any concern for the threat of the demon lord by declaring that the legends and prophecies were too ancient to be trifled with. Jenh had forgiven the dragons, whose jealousy was the root of all acts committed against her. Even her promise that the great hero would return to Lorata, should Métius ever again threaten the world with his evil, seemed unnecessary. It was time for Onsira to grow into an empire of unity, rather than a simple kingdom devoted to a goddess.
When Zarrek was merely five years old, he was initiated into both the Temple of Jenh the Elemental Mother, and the Temple of Métius, Dark Destroyer and Lord of Demons. In the evening of that same day, the king announced that he would unite all of Manastaecies under his rule. He declared himself Emperor of Unified Onsira, and a new age was born. The old green banners were pulled down from the palace walls, and replaced with a new tapestry, one of Z’Lé’s own design. Instead of the traditional leaf, the imperial banner was a long, vertical tapestry that contained the symbols of all four deities, even the demon lord, sewn onto a background of pale grey.
Arialla, now forced to call herself empress, could now understand how he could go so far,
To Z’Lé, Onsira being ruled by an elvan family meant neglect for the dragons, and it was that neglect that had ignited anger in the hearts of the dragons of ages past. Being that he was from one of the mountain provinces, where dragons outnumbered the elves, he was the best authority on the current disposition of the flying creatures. Arialla had once trusted his conviction that the dragons should be welcome everywhere in Onsira. Nobody had ever suspected that it would come to this.
He who had begun as a charismatic, idea-laden man, able to win the heart of the princess, changed into an irascible, demanding, and vengeful beast of an emperor, more like a dragon than an elf. When Arialla had fallen in love with Z’Lé and made him her king, he had been a gentle ruler, his only request being that dragons and elves should learn to befriend one another. It had been a strange mixing at first, for most elves were frightened of such immense and powerful beasts, but Z’Lé had worked hard to create a peaceable relationship between the races.
It became apparent, however over the years that his initial success, and the subsequent trust placed upon him by the elves was only his method of preparing for the darker aspects of what he called unity. That unification seemed to lie primarily between Jenh and Métius, ignoring the other two faiths almost entirely. Though he’d allowed temples to the holy god of purity and the celestial goddess of the bards to be built, he took no interest in them, and not even Zarrek bothered to learn from the other two temples.
Z’Lé took no pains to insist that such sacred buildings be built, as he had for Métius. Where he had overseen the building of the black temple at every stage, he had appointed ministers to ensure that the other two were erected, and left them to make their own decisions. Even the funding for the Temple of Métius was far more generous than that budgeted for the Temples of Kearr and Aamh combined.
When the people of the land could no longer bear to live under Emperor Z’Lé’s cruelty, his unfair laws and extreme punishments, they began to beg of Arialla to make him cease his actions and restore the traditions and former laws of Onsira. To their dismay, she could do nothing, what with him dominating the throne. Even when she reminded Z’Lé that the elves were dying of hunger and sickness because of his demands, he asserted his power over her.
Matters only worsened after that. Z’Lé had amassed a powerful and innumerable following of loyal soldiers and noblemen over the years. Even the dragons were willing to follow his command. They believed in his dream, in the future that Z’Lé had promised them. His followers ignored what most called tyranny, insisting that it was part of the process of incorporating the four alignments; what good was a ruler with a pure heart in a kingdom that allowed Métius within its borders? Blindly, they supported him, defending him with their lives.
The hope of the people laid in the hands of Prince Loracaz II, Zarrek’s elder brother and the first child born to Arialla and Z’Lé. To finda way out from under the emperor’s tyranny, the citizens implored him instead of the empress. The prince was the first person to be named after Jenh’s champion in all the centuries since the hero’s daring feat. He had much in common with the legendary hero, greatest of which was his pure love and devotion for the goddess; he spent much of his time in the temple dedicated to Goddess Jenh, studying her magic and legends, and often left offerings for her on the royal altar.
What the Onsiran people now held most dear was this: ages ago, after Goddess Jenh had been rescued from the clutches of Métius, she had made a promise to the elves of Onsira: should evil ever again threaten the land, her champion would return. Loracaz was the one man who could put a stop to tyranny and suffering and banish Métius back to the Abyss. Even if the emperor did not believe in the prophecy, the elves and their fae brethren did, and they prayed each day that their prince would soon awaken to his destiny and restore Onsira to its age-old glory.
“Actually,” Brom said, looking up from the scroll, “I think this would be a good time to play the song that Ashleen wrote for us.”
“That would be fantastic,” I agreed. It finally felt like we were getting somewhere — with both the ballad and the music written by… Well, it was written by my ancestors, wasn’t it? I was curious, in that moment, about the children Ashleen might have had, but I knew better than to derail the conversation by asking about such things.
It didn’t take too long for us to relocate to the music room. Stefan made sure to sit close to me again; he seemed less irritated with the situation when I was nearby, so I didn’t complain.
“Ashleen taught me good many songs for harpsichord,” Brom said as he took a seat at his. “I remember that she rather liked the work of a certain William Byrd.”
“I guess she would hae,” Killian said. “He was English, so he was from was just across the channel from Ireland.”
Brom nodded. “Those of us who’ve lived and worked closely with Terrans have maps of Earth. It may be that not all of them are accurate, but they have been enough for our needs at the time.”
“Wow, those are real pieces of history!” I noted.
“Well, not all of us can send debris into the sky and have it report back down what it sees.” Aubré got a cold look from Jean-Marc for the tone he’d used. He huffed. “Just wait till her descendants show up here and act as though paper is a relic.”
“I’m sure anyone as interested in fantasy as I am will still appreciate a good hand-made tome,” I said. “Even decades from now.”
Aubré gave me a doubtful look. “Even Your magical friend here seems to understand that your world is changing. He’s right to wonder how the future of your world’s science will affect music.”
He noticed that I was a little confused and tilted his head in Larsa’s direction. “Larsa? I asked. You think he’s magical?”
“Haven’t you noticed?” Tobias asked. “He’s delighted to be here. We got to talk a little earlier, you see, and I’d say the people and traditions he grew up with make him very special.”
I gave them both a wide-eyed look. Larsa just grinned at me.
“Well… He’s certainly been wonderful to know so far,” Tobias went on. “Now, how about that music, Brom?”
The song he played for us– well, how can I describe it? I may be a writer, but I’m used to telling stories about elves and dragons, not describing music. That’s supposed to speak for itself, isn’t it? Killian could have described it better; he uses musical terminology all the time. I’m too rusty to do it proper justice, but I’ll try.
It was a minuet, I can confirm that. But Ashleen had given it her own flair. I could hear the Irish influence in it; don’t ask me how. It was… not haunting, but there was a mysterious air to it, like trying to understand the Aos Sí in music form.
The song pranced and played like most other minuets, and would have been well-received in ballrooms across Europe, but there was something impish about it that made me smile. I wondered for a moment whether I’d ever heard its time before; had Ashleen played it for her own family?
“Well-played,” Jean-Marc said when Brom finished and the harpsichord feel silent.
Brom gave him a warm smile. “I’ve had a long time to practice,” he reminded him.
“Ye didnae e’en need sheet music tae play it,” Killian noted.
He nodded slowly. “The song is a part of me, as it is part of our world.”
“You know a bunch of other songs too, right?” Larsa asked.
“I’ve memorized most of the minuets written for our world by Leila’s ancestors. Morrigan’s is still new to us, and it’s been hard to practice without Brielle and Maël. Besides that, I know a good many other songs.”
“Wow,” Larsa replied. “I tried out a couple stringed instruments in school, but they said I was too rough with them. And the piano. And it was too much work to blow all that air into the other ones, so they gave me a drum. Killian says I have good rhythm.” He looked to his boyfriend. “Right, Killian?”
I noticed him wiggling his eyebrows, and Killian staring back at him in disbelief.
“He’s precious,” Tobias said with a laugh. “Listen, Killian, none of us are so young or reserved that we would be unhappy with your beloved showing you some affection.”
“Be careful calling that affection,” Stefan chuckled. “He’ll play around all day if you encourage him.”
“Not all day!” Larsa insisted.
“True,” Tobias said, hardly able to speak through his laughter.” A man has to eat, after all.”
“I’m going to stop you before you get too far,” Stefan said. He’d noticed the wily look on Larsa’s face. “Unless his insatiability has anything to do the music, perhaps we should focus on the ballad and the other songs. “
“Killian and I make–” Larsa stopped and pouted when Stefan gave him a cold look.
Tobias laughed and patted his back. “It’s all right, lad. I know it’s all out of love.”
“Now then,” Brom said, “I will tell you the next part of the ballad.”
The Ballad of the Kingdom of Music – Bailéad Ríocht Ceoil [ re-ochtcoe-ill] – Part III
At the outer reaches of Tierney Ríocht, music ceased to flow. Without it, magic began to fade, and its leaving meant the undoing of the realm. The edges crumbled. and the beings that called it home were forced to flee or be long to eternal silence and unending darkness. Creatures of both light and shadow retreated from the crumbling areas, and neither side was without its losses.
The people of the inner regions took notice of the migrations of the fauns and the fae, the elves and the satyrs, and even of the mysterious beasts that once resided in the depths of the earth and the water. The descendants of Moss ventured out to learn what had so many different creatures fleeing, and trembled at the sight of their world crumbling. They turned around and made haste to seek out the wisest members of every race that could be found.
There was one being with the greatest wisdom of all, one who had lived since more the Tree of Life had made Moss. Only one of Moss’s descendants had the strength and resolve to find her, though many sought her out in hopes of hearing her counsel. That one man stepped into the temple of the Fae Oracle and knelt before her. She heard him speak of what he had seen, and she understood the peril that had befallen Tierney Ríocht.
Whatever had first broken the harmony of the realm had been made worse by Moss’s death. The cracks in the world had opened wide, and magic flowed out faster than it could be remade. The Fae Oracle explained that magic had made Tierney Ríocht, and that magic came from music, from song and rhythm, and that only the creation of new music could heal the cracks in the world.
Just as Moss had found his beloved Ciara on Earth, so too would the beings of Tierney Ríocht find new instruments and learn new songs. Every music found would help repair the world, but none alone could fully heal it. Not until eighteen new instruments came to the world, and eighteen new musicians taught, each helping to create a song to bring hope and glory, would Tierney Ríocht become whole again.
“The Oracle…” I whispered as I listened. “Brom, that was you who found her, wasn’t it? I remember you mentioning an Oracle during one of my other visits.”
He nodded. “That was indeed me. Her divinations led me in the direction of where I would find my new home. As I mentioned before, it was different for me than it was for everyone who followed. The house I found looked old and worn, so covered in vines that I could hardly see it. But there was a lot more magic around the house, and that got me to explore the area. When I got to the front door and pulled aside the vines, a sigil on the door began to glow, and then I heard the click of the door unlocking. Light flowed out in lines from there, until it eventually surrounded the house.”
“It pretty much announced to anyone else nearby that you were there,” I noted.
“Right you are. The house stands at the top of a hill, overlooking a village. I don’t know how many of the villagers were paying attention, but if they were looking at the hill, they probably would have noticed something happening to the house. I wasn’t thinking about that, though. I went inside, and the vines began to pull away from the windows and other doors, as though they’d been trimmed that way over the years. The dust retreated a little as I explored. I should add, my home isn’t as large as Jean-Marc’s, seeing as how it was the first and never meant to house all eighteen of the musicians.”
“It’s still a lovely house,” Tobias reminded him.
“It is. I never intended to find a home of my own when I set out to find the Oracle and help our world. Before then, I’d been living on my father’s estate and helping him run things.”
“The difference,” Aubré said, “was that your father’s estate didn’t have a gateway to Earth anywhere on it. Your manor does.”
“So… you didn’t have to find the key to get into your house?” I asked. “Jean-Marc says the keys are really important.”
“I don’t know what it was about me that the house recognized or detected,” Brom replied, “but I myself was the key to getting into my house. As far as the gateway to Earth, the key was waiting for me in the music room, along with the next part of the ballad.”
“Oh, so it wasn’t all written at once,” Larsa noted.
“That would have been impossible,” Brom replied. “The magic by which it is written can predict a good many things, but not enough to predict all eighteen Terrans hundreds of years ahead of time.”
“If we could do that,” Aubré added, “it would also know the fate of our world, and whether they would be successful in repairing the damage that was done when Moss was killed.”
“And the damage before that,” Nikolai said, his voice weighed down by the gravity of his words, “which caused the Tree of Life to create Moss.”
“Wow, Leila,” Larsa said, looking to me in amazement, “there are supposed to be eighteen, and you’re only the eighth? And this has been going on for hundreds of years? Do you know what that means?”
“Well I’m sure it means a good many things lad,” Killian told him, “but which o’ those things are ye tryin’ tae point out for us right now?”
Larsa grinned at him. “Well, that means that there are ten more musicians, and if they’re really spread out, it could take a thousand years to find all of them, and then– well, that’s the future!”
“Your mind is racing again,” Stefan noted.
“Isn’t yours?” Larsa asked him.
Stefan smirked. “I guess I can’t deny it. You’re just way more excited about it.”
“Of course I’m excited”! Larsa replied. “Some of the instruments that they’re going to bring here haven’t even been invented yet!”
Stefan looked doubtful. “There are plenty of instruments on Earth already that they could learn.”
Larsa thought for a moment, then looked to Tobias and Aubré. “Do you think your people will learn only traditional instruments, or can they learn something new, too? Something that uses technology?”
“We can’t be certain,” Tobias admitted. “The technology that you know was a new thing when Morrigan was old. The advances you’ve made have been so rapid in recent years.”
“The technology you’re referring to is heavily the work of science,” Aubré added. “Our world is a magical one, so we have yet to determine how much it can tolerate instruments that rely on science. For now, you’re better off focusing on the parts of the ballad that discuss the eight of us.”
“Eight?” Stefan asked with narrowed eyes. “You mean Leila’s in the ballad, too?”
“Non,” Jean-Marc said. “Not by name. But there is a great deal it has to say about the eighth Terran to visit Tierney Ríocht.”
The Ballad of the Kingdom of Music – Bailéad Ríocht Ceoil [re-ochtcoe-ill] – Part II
The beings of Tierney Ríocht sought to name Moss as their king, but he declined. Instead, he chose one of his great-granddaughters to be queen, mother of the realm of magic in music. Her voice uplifted the people, and for her they wrote poetry and sang songs. In time, Moss taught her how to visit the world of Earth, and she took as her king a man who believed just as much in magic and music as Moss did. They forged a new lineage together, one that would forever reign over the realm.
Other descendants of Moss found those who believed in creatures of magic and myth, and in legends and song, and brought them to Tierney Ríocht to start other human lineages. They were all of them allies of the other creatures of the world; they were friends to elves and fae, comrades to centaurs and dwarves, and they welcome the fauns and all other creatures of the world into their lives.
The humans strove also to befriend the beings of shadows. They had an uneasy alliance with the dragons, but try as they might to befriend the devils, they were betrayed time and again. The satyrs sought to control them, to take advantage of what they had to offer. The humans worked as hard as they could to teach these beings to be kind and generous and patient, but only rarely did they succeed. Still, the fact that they had at all was enough to make them believe that they could teach everyone, no matter how dark. They were intent on spreading goodness throughout this world.
There were those who did not share in the joy that Moss brought to Tierney Ríocht: beings who lived in shadow, unable to uplift themselves, burdened by greed and jealousy. Unseen and unstoppable, one such being met with Moss at the base of the sacred tree. Moss faced them ready to put his heart into helping this tarnished being. In the end. their dark blade pierced his heart, and as they fled, Moss’s blood soaked the earth.
Creatures and family from all across Tierney Ríocht came to mourn him. The roots of the tree wrapped around his body, cocooning him, holding onto the remains of what it had made. It could not heal him, could not remake his body; there was no way to bring him back from such a fatal wound.
The creatures of the shadows blamed one another for having ended Moss’s life. None would admit to it, and each accused the other of the most vile of sins. Resentment reared it’s ugly head. Even some of the beings of light searched for whom to blame.
There were other beings, however, who sought to transform what they could into a final, lasting expression of beauty in Moss’s memory. The tree could not make another being like Moss, and instead it called upon the spirits of the world. Fire spirits, water spirits, spirits of wind and earth and flowers– and so many more. Together, they made the land where Moss had fallen bloom. flowers sprouted, bright and bold, their scent, unlike anything else before known to the realm, filling the air. Their layers of petals were like the countless flames of a fire, but their stems pricked, just as Moss have been pierced by the blade of one of the dark beings.
These were the roses, the flowers that would be sung about and shared and loved by all. These were the flowers given more meaning than any other by the beings of this world. Where his blood had been shed, they grew a deep, dark crimson, and high up in the mountains, they bloomed white as snow. In the valleys, they were pink and yellow, and on the hills, bright vermilion. In countless other colors they grew, and in countless other places. It was even rumored that in the darkest places in the realm, they grew black as midnight.
Larsa had tears in his eyes when Nikolai finished reading that section of the ballad. “He was… was slain?” he whimpered.
Actually, Killian’s eyes glistened as well.
“Murdered, really,” Stefan said. Then he looked to Nikolai. “And they still don’t know who did it? Or if they’re even alive to face the consequences of their crime?”
Nikolai shook his head. “There are some who hope that Moss’s killer was destroyed along with the part of our world that crumbled. Others worry that someone with the tenacity and will to kill him would also have the skill to escape such dangers. We may never know.”
Stefan glanced down at me. I knew he could tell that I was deep in though; I think that’s why he laid his hand on mine. “Leila?” he asked softly.
I looked up at him. “Moss was created because something else in Tierney Ríocht years before…”
“Centuries before,” Brom said. “Our world’s harmony was broken, and the Tree of Life created Moss to help keep everything from falling apart.”
“He would still be alive today if he hadn’t been killed,” Aubré added.
“And you have no idea who it was…” I breathed, trying to process it all, “or what happened in the final hour of his life…”
Aubré shook his head. “The most likely scenario was that he was snuck up on while he was mourning his beloved.”
“His wife?” I asked. “You mean… he was able to live longer, but she couldn’t?”
“She lived longer than most humans of her time,” Tobias replied, “but Moss couldn’t give Ciara the gift of life that he had. It passed to his children, and to their children, but those who joined us from Earth could only expect a good life, not one as long as ours.”
“Ciara Moss…” I whispered. I didn’t know much about my family’s history or genealogy, but the name was as Irish as I could have expected. It also occurred to me that she probably had a different family name before she joined with Moss, and there was no way for me to know her family’s perspective on her going off with him. “So… Tierney Ríocht has humans only because of Moss. He was the first human here, and he and his descendants brought more from Earth.”
Brom nodded. “Some of them lived lived a Terran lifespan,” he explained, “but those born from the union of Terran humans and those descended from Moss have a lifespan more like the elves, fae, and other beings of Tierney Ríocht.”
“Ye’re human yerself,” Killian pointed out. “And ye’ve lived for a good many centuries if ye met with a member of our family from the fifteenth century.”
“Right you are,” he agreed. “I was already… Oh, I’d day forty years old when Moss was killed. That was what started my quest for how to keep our world from falling apart.”
“Wow, you’ve been around for so long!” Larsa enthused. “Hey, if you’re related to Moss, and some of his family stayed on Earth, is everyone with that surname also related to him?”
Brom gave him a warm smile. “You’re right about that. Some of his descendants took other family names when they married, so there are more than you realize.”
“Oh, like Killian’s mom!” Larsa grinned. “So you’re related to the Moss the Tree of Life made!”
“Distantly, lad,” Killian reminded him.
“Then so is Leila,” Stefan added. “But what about the longer lifespans? Did that gift fade away over the generations?”
“I’m afraid it doesn’t work on Earth,” Jean-Marc said. “Even the earliest descendants of Moss lived a normal Terran lifespan if they stayed there.”
“Well then… if you’re human here, you’re descended from Moss,” Stefan went on, “but you’ve also added other family names to the mix. Some diverse ones, I’ve noticed, too.”
“People all over your world believe in magic,” Nikolai pointed out. “Anyhow, no matter how far out the family had branched, every human here has a link back to Moss.”
“We’re related, then,” I said, looking between Brom, Jean-Marc, and Maël. “and Brielle, too.”
“Heh…” Stefan scoffed. “Pretty distantly.”
“Oh, stop that, mister ‘my ancestors are Vikings!'”
I knew he didn’t hold any ill will, though. It was all just banter and playful semantics. He smirked, then gave me a fond smile. Then he had some more questions. “Do the humans not mate with the elves or dwarves?”
Nikolai chuckled at that. “Oh, there have been some intermarriages here and there, but they rarely produce any children.”
The Ballad of the Kingdom of Music – Bailéad Ríocht Ceoil [ re-ochtcoe-ill] – Part I
Before there was music there was only silence, and before there was magic there was only metal and stone.
But then the first note rang out, and as it resounded, light filled the air. The vibrations sparkled, and when the next note followed, everything glowed.
And the first stone to split gave way to a vine, and it gave a second note in answer to the first. It grew in the light, until the stone split again, and another vine emerged. Then more followed, each singing a note that sought to harmonize with the last.
On and on it went until the land was changed at every corner. There were mountains that reached up to the expanse and valleys blanketed in green. There were rivers and lakes and waterfalls, and oceans of aquamarine.
At the heart of it all, with a song that called out across the world, was the tree of life. It was green and vibrant, pulsing with magic and music. It stood taller than any other tree, taller even than the mountains, and it watched over all.
The land bloomed with life, every sprout and flower brimming with magic. The tree at the core breathed new beings into the world, ones that flew on the wind, and others that swam in the seas. There were dragons who ruled over fire, and devils who danced in the flames, but above all, the greatest number of creatures were those who shared the earth with the great tree,
The creatures of the world shared in its magic. They sparkled and sang, and they spread wonder wherever they went. They carried on the song and tune of the world, eon after eon, until all knew the song of the world.
Harmony prevailed for ages uncounted. How it broke is as lost to shadows as the furthest reaches of the land. Some blame demons for disrupting the song, others say it is why the vampires were cursed with the need to seek blood. Whatever the cause, the world created by music and magic came to need more in order to be sustained.
To that end, the Tree of Life brought forth a new life: a human baby, different from any other it had yet to make. He was named Moss, and he was nurtured by all that is good in Tierney Ríocht, from the fauns and Centaurs to the elves and fae. He was loved well, and welcomed wherever he journeyed, but he was the only one of his kind.
There came a day when Moss’s wanderings took him to a crystal cave hidden deep beneath the magic tree. He journeyed deeper and deeper inside, until he passed through the veil into another world. For many years, he was neither seen nor heard from. When at last he re-emerged, he was not alone. He had a woman with him, and several grown children, some of whom had babes of their own. The other creatures of the world rejoiced for his return, and his family was loved and welcomed.
They brought music with them, simple flutes and horns, and a harp and lute, and drums of many sizes. They sang the tunes of the world Moss had journeyed to, and Tierney Ríocht was sustained for another age.
Generations passed, and Moss’s descendants spread across the realm as much as any other creature. It was whispered that a branch of Moss’s family had remained on earth, and they, too, would have many progeny.
From these events it is hereby foretold that there would forever be a link, a bond between Tierney Ríocht and Earth. The harmony that had been broken long ago was not yet healed, and it would take many more new songs and sounds before it could fully sustain itself.
We had gathered in one of the larger lounge rooms, taking seats on various couches and armchairs. Evander read the ballad to us from the beginning so that even Stefan, Larsa, and Killian would be able to learn all of it.
“Wow…” Larsa breathed as he listened. “There’s so much magic here! And the world really loves music! I wish more people on Earth loved it just as much.”
“At least our world won’t crumble apart without it,” Stefan told him.
Larsa looked somewhat hurt by his comment. “You make incredible music, Stefan, so I know you love it.”
“Doesn’t mean I’d be okay with all of existence relying on it. Imagine if atoms fell apart if there was a certain task we didn’t keep up with.”
“Yeah,” Larsa replied, “we’d probably need help from another world, too.”
“He has such a lovely outlook on life, doesn’t he?” Tobias noted, sharing a fond look with Evander.
“He was just as charming the night of the symphony,” Evander replied. Then he smiled at Larsa. “It’s so wonderful that you’ve come here with Leila.”
“It’s grand that all o’ ye like him,” Killian said. He and Larsa had snuggled together on one of the couches, and he held Larsa a little tighter than usual. I think he felt pulled between sharing in his and excitement and protecting him from diving head-first into this unfamiliar world. “I have questions, though. The ballad talks about Moss…”
“As I thought you would,” Brom said. “Moss was known by that name alone. For Leila and your ancestors, tough, it became a family name.”
“You’re serious then?” Killian asked. “The Moss in yer ballad is related to us somehow?”
Brom nodded. “Surely you’ve already suspected it by now: he is the progenitor of your family line.”
I heard a gasp from Stefan. When I looked up at him, he was staring wide-eyed at Brom. “You’re telling us that one of Leila’s ancestors is from your world? This human created by your sacred tree?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Moss went to Earth and started a family, His name became a surname for them,” Brom explained, “and it’s been passed down through the generations.”
“You believe in Yggdrasil,” I reminded Stefan. “Please don’t deny that Tiernery Ríocht has a tree with just as much magic and power.”
Stefan nodded, then pulled me closer. “You’re right,” he said, his voice weak. He pulled in a long, shaky breath. “I can’t deny any of this. If we’d been called upon to protect Yggdrasil, I wouldn’t hesitate. But that means…”
“Ooohhh,” Larsa said as he realized what Stefan must have been thinking. “That means Killian and Leila have an ancestor from Tierney Ríocht! Where does Moss live now? Is he still alive?”
“I’m afraid not, young sir,” Evander said. “As you’ll hear in the next part of the ballad, he was taken from us.”
“Scowl as much as you want to,” Aubré told Stefan, his expression just as disdainful, “but Tobias wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Lady Ashleen and Brom. He knew what was happening to faerie-kind back when he began his quest, and he knew that it would eventually happen to my people as well. Additionally, there were creatures native to the shadows being harmed by the loss of magic.”
“My great-great-grandparents scarcely made it out of the former Fae lands before they crumbled.” Tobias had a sad look on his face as he spoke. “Each time parts of the world cracked and crumbled, the beings living there had to take refuge in other parts of Tierney Ríocht.”
“It was much the same for my family,” Evander added. “Fauns and satyrs alike were endangered by what was happening to our world. The fauns did what they could to make a peaceful escape, and they helped those they could, even if they were satyrs. In the end, they were betrayed, and many fauns who would have otherwise escaped were slaughtered.”
“That’s so mean!” Larsa cried. His eyes where welling up.
“Satyrs are vile bastards,” Stefan said. “Duly noted.”
“Don’t speak so lightly of it!” Aubré snarled. “The fauns were very nearly wiped out, and even after all these centuries, their populations haven’t recovered. They are inherently good– so good that they couldn’t even kill the ones who were willing to kill without a second thought.”
“And you would?” Stefan countered. I don’t know what he was trying to prove; he was usually above being so adversarial.
Aubré glowered at him. “My people will do what they must in order to defend themselves. We cannot all be gentle and timid.”
“Hey,” I interjected, “we really need to refocus here. Stefan, let’s just assume that their world is threatened, okay?”
He scoffed. “You want me to have faith in them?”
“Is there truly nothing that you believe in?” Aubré asked. “Do you want to see what happens when you deny the existence of magic? Do we need to take you to the edges of Tierney Ríocht so that you can stand at the precipice and watch it crumble?”
I wove my fingers with Stefan’s and squeezed his hand. “Please,” I begged him, looking up into his eyes. “I know you believe, Stefan. Don’t say you don’t. I… I can’t do this without you and my side, Stefan. I…”
“Evander,” Brom said, his voice heavy with grief and disappointment, “I think it might be best that you gather the energy to open a gateway back to Earth.”
“You’re sending him home?!” Jean-Marc gasped. “But– Brom, the shields! We need–”
Brom held up a hand and shook his head. “He’ll do more damage denying the mysteries of our world than anything else. He can go home, and Leila can use the same gateway to get her key and her instrument.”
“No!” I cried. “I– I can’t… Stefan, you know I can’t play–”
“He’s not leaving,” Larsa declared. “Stefan practices Ásatrú; he might act like a skeptic, but he believes in spirits and the gods and magic just like I do!”
Stefan glared at him.
Larsa glared back. “You’re just scared. You act brave and tough, but when there’s real danger, everything changes.”
“Should I stumble head-first into danger like you do?”
“Maybe you should! You’re mad at Leila for not telling you about this place, but–“
“Fine!” Stefan snapped. “You want me to stay? I will! I already told Leila that I’d do anything for her, and I plan on keeping my word. I just need to know that she’s not being taken advantage of.”
While they bantered, I looked down the table at Evander. He look worried. More than that; he looked sad, maybe even scared. No wonder he was so perfectly willing to serve and assist me. His people had been betrayed, their population… I didn’t know to what extent they’d been wiped out, and I wasn’t about to ask. Like Stefan, he would do anything for me– just for a different reason.
“We need to read the ballad,” I announce, my tone firm and imperative. “It has a lot of the information we need, right? It’s about time we stop putting it off and get started on reading it. Right after breakfast. No more delays.”
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