I stayed close to Evander as Jean-Marc showed me the rest of the manor house, and Chopin was never very far from him. There were a couple rooms for meeting with guests– tea rooms, I suppose they might be called– a sort of office, and a long, open dining hall adjacent to a kitchen that would make most nobles proud. There were servants’ quarters more at the back of the house, though I don’t know how many people he actually had working for him. There was also a sun room that led out to a garden replete with vegetables, topiaries, gazebos, and a small orchard.
“Your home is lovely,” I told Jean-Marc once I had seen nearly everything.
“Your kind words are much appreciated,” he replied with a slight bow. “I should, however, be forthright with you and speak the truth. The manor house is not my property. It was, and shall forever be, the property of Lord Morrigan Moss, he whose music sustained Tierney Ríocht for– well, to him, it would have seemed like decades.”
Now I had several questions for him; it was hard to choose the order in which to ask them.
“So… for you, time passes differently?”
“It does, Miss Moss,” Jean-Marc replied, “though I cannot give you a certain ratio. The decades in which he sustained our realm equated to one of our own centuries.”
“Okay…” I said. “And what do you mean by sustained? You keep talking about him like he’s nobility, but back on Earth, he wasn’t. At least, I don’t think he was… He was hiding it well, if he was.”
“I can see why it would be confusing,” Brom said. “May we discuss this over tea? Or perhaps dinner? We can sit down together and take our time explaining everything.”
“I’m more tired than hungry,” I told him. I paused as lightning flashed again, and thunder shook the house. “But don’t try rushing me off to bed; I won’t be able to sleep with all these questions in my head.”
Brom nodded. “Perhaps the salon, then?” He looked to Jean-Marc, who nodded.
“You are welcome anywhere in this house,” he told me. I am merely its caretaker, and your beloved great-uncle would surely want you to consider it more your own.”
Jean-Marc led the group of us to the salon, which had plenty of armchairs, couches, and the like. I relaxed onto a chaise lounge, which Chopin found a comfortable spot to perch on, and Evander moved an armchair close to me to sit on. While Jean-Marc struck a match and got a fire going in the fireplace, the others took seats where they pleased. Jean-Marc excused himself and stepped out of the room for a moment, and finally sat down once he was back.
“Tea shall arrive shortly,” he informed us. “Now, then, where to begin…”
“Perhaps you should explain the nature of our world,” Brom suggested.
Jean-Marc looked to him, his expression both thankful and hopeless. “You are so much better at explaining it.”
“Give yourself a chance,” Brom encouraged him.
Jean-Marc nodded. He turned to me, checking his posture but seeming nonetheless uncertain. “Perhaps I can begin with a question, Miss Moss,” he said, and paused. “How did your own world come to be?”
I blinked. “Earth… You mean… the planet? The solar system? The galaxy?” My mind was racing for where to begin. “I don’t know whether to start with the Big Bang or… or something about how stars and planets form, or…”
“That’s all right,” he replied. “The important thing is that all of those ideas are based in science.”
“Well… yeah, of course.” I gave him a dubious look. “I mean… isn’t how this planet was made?”
“Are you so certain that Tierney Ríocht is a planet?”
That question had me swallowing hard. I stared at him. “It’s not?”
“How are we to know?” Jean-Marc said in a wistful tone. “We have no Eratosthenes, no Pythagoras, no rockets, nor satellites.”
“But it’s simpler than you think,” I told him. “You just have to… the horizon…” I grumbled as my words failed me.
“You understand it when it is explained to you,” Brom said, “but it’s another thing to try explaining it to us. Don’t let that trouble you, though. The important thing is that you understand that your world is rooted in science. That is the source of what created it, and that is what sustains it.”
“Okay… but, science does that even without living things knowing about it. There can be science at work here even if you don’t have scientists,” I pointed out.
“In your world, yes,” Jean-Marc agreed, “but Tierney Ríocht is different. Science did not make the elves, and it did not make the fauns.” He gestured to Aubré and Evander as he spoke. “And though Brom and I appear human to you, science did not put us here.”
“Science didn’t… but… Then what did?” I asked. “What are you trying to tell me?”
Brom looked to Jean-Marc and nodded for him to proceed.
“Tierney Ríocht is a world created by music and magic,” Jean-Marc explained, “and it needs music and magic to sustain it, just as your world is sustained by science. The difference is that science by its very nature does not need to be called upon from outside your world.”
“And magic does?” I asked him, both overwhelmed and incredulous.
Jean-Marc thought for a moment, then said, “It is the music moreso that we need.”
“Magic is one of many expressions of the song that keeps our world alive,” Brom added. “I realize that this may all be difficult to comprehend, and for that I apologize. Simply think of it like this: you cannot explain the foundations of where science comes from, nor how and why your world obeys it. Neither can we say how music sustains us; we know only that it does, and that we cannot create that music on our own.”
“But… you play the viola,” I pointed out. “They let you play in the symphony, so you’re clearly good at it. And Brom’s harpsichord–”
“They are not native to our realm,” Aubré cut in, his tone firm. “The viola, the French horn, the harpsichord… the cello… None of these were made by the people of Tierney Ríocht.”
“Are you saying you can’t make instruments?”
“Not the kind that your people can,” he replied.
“Your world,” Jean-Marc added, “has found a way to use science to enhance music. Simple pipe flutes have proliferated into countless instruments with complicated controls and mechanisms. There are more types of drums and bells than I can name, and the strings… well, your people have done amazing things with strings.”
“It’s just a matter of shape and size–”
“And air and temperature and material,” he added for me. “Those are things of science, Miss Moss.”
“Your world was created by science,” Aubré said, repeating what the others had already explained. “Then your world discovered music, and your people developed it just as they developed better shelters, better ways of getting food. And with music came stories, told around the fire, and later shared across space and time.”
“Wait… Are you saying that our music and stories of magic created Tierney Ríocht?”
“We’d have no way of knowing,” Brom said. “What matters is that we need music to sustain us.”
“I… Okay…” I thought for a moment. “So you got Morrigan to play viola for you? And he taught Jean-Marc?”
“He did,” Jean-Marc agreed, “and we are eternally grateful for his contribution.”
I looked to Brom. “And the harpsichord? Who taught you that?”
Brom smiled at me. “You have a keen mind, Miss Moss, to ask such questions. I learned it ages ago… centuries, I should say.”
My eyes widened. “You can’t be centuries old!”
He gave me a long, thoughtful look before saying anything to me. “Time works differently here,” he reminded me. “I cannot explain it, but it does.”
“My people are grateful that Brom was able to learn what he did,” Aubré said, his voice weighed down with the unspoken meaning behind his words. “Had he not sought out the oracle, had he not learned that our world needs music as much as it needs magic…” He shook his head.
“What would have happened?” I asked him, trying not to sound too demanding.
“What would happen if the laws of science stop working in your world?” he countered.
“We don’t even know all the laws of science,” I told him. “Dark matter, anti-matter, string theory, black holes… There’s a lot we don’t understand, and probably some things we’ve never even noticed or thought of.”
“Yet it functions all the same,” Aubré said. “What if it didn’t?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. Wasn’t there an episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who that touched on it? “It can’t be good, though. Maybe everything would fall apart and scatter… or the opposite of the big ba–”
“It’s the same for us,” he said, sterner this time. “There are unknowns here, but they are no less worrisome. If what sustains us leaves us, the results are un imaginable. Your philosophers can hardly even speak to such events.
He had a point. Even science fiction writers could only speculate. Was it even possible for science to fail? Maybe it was self-sustaining. Or maybe that was besides the point and nothing would change at all, because the foundation was already in place. Or everything could blink out of existence and we wouldn’t be there anymore to even realize it. What if it had already happened and our consciousness was just dreaming that things went on? Or maybe the chaos we lived in…
My head was dizzy with all the ideas, and the others were starting to look worried.
“So…” I began, looking away as I thought of how to proceed. “Brom, I got side-tracked earlier. Go ahead, tell me about how you learned harpsichord.”
Brom nodded, slow and graceful. “The oracle sent me out– I suppose you might call it a quest– to find the key that would open the way. It seemed like a metaphor at the time, but as I followed the path on which she’d set me, I learned that the key really was quite literal.”
“The key,” I repeated. “The one I needed to bring with me?”
“Well… Not precisely. Your key is different, but its purpose less so.” Brom slipped his fingers just under his collar and came back with a wide ribbon with a key hanging from it like a pendant. It wasn’t a modern key, but an older style, something from an age long past. “With this key, I was able to unlock the villa where I met our dearest Lady Ashleen Moss.”
“Moss…” I whispered. “Another Moss?” I could feel the worry that was no doubt evident on my face.
Brom nodded. “Not even the oracle knows why your bloodline is the one to bring music to us, but that is the fact.”
“My– my bloodline?” I choked out. “Brom, Jean-Marc, were there others who came here? Other Moss family members besides Ashleen and Morrigan– and– and me?”
Evander reached over and laid his hand on mine. “Breathe, my dear lady,” he soothed, his voice low and soft. “Slow down and breathe. They will explain everything.”
I looked to him, meeting his kind eyes. He looked back, sympathetic yet hopeful. “You know the story, too, don’t you?”
“I do, milady,” he said with a slow nod. He we speaking calmly for my sake, I noticed.
“His father served Ashleen,” Aubré said.
“He did indeed,” Evander said. “I am proud to know that my father was there for not only Lady Ashleen, but also Lord Brendan, Lord Caelan, Lord Finnegan, and Lady Maili.”
“And they were all from the Moss family?” I asked.
“They were, milady,” he agreed.
“How… how many Mosses have been to Tierney Ríocht?” I asked. “How long has this been going on?”
“I believe Lady Ashleen lived in…” Brom thought for a moment. “It may have been fourteen seventy-nine in your world when she passed away. We met no more than three decades prior to that.”
“F– fourteen seventy-nine?! You– my family– How is this not talked about throughout my family if it’s been going on for that long?”
“Let me explain,” Jean-Marc said. “That key you have; it has a number on it, does it not?”
“That number seven has meaning,” he told me. “Your great uncle Morrigan Moss used that key before you, and he was only the seventh member of your family to ever visit us.”