I didn’t want to stay in Tierney Ríocht very long after that event. Even though they explained a few more things for me, I was unnerved, and I needed to go home in order to calm down and think.
What I learned that visit started with a formal introduction to Nikolai Katsaros, who hails from a dwarven city in the mountains of the far north. He learned to play timpani from one of my ancestors about five centuries ago, and since then he and his people had embraced drums and rhythmic beats on many kinds. He’d been a skilled axe-warrior before meeting Brendan Moss, and even becoming a drummer couldn’t make him give up his weapon.
For a dwarf, he wasn’t so bad. He could be brusque, but I couldn’t claim that he was ever outride rude. Like most of the others, he seemed glad that I was there, even if the changing times on Earth allowed my personality to be very different from what he remembered about Terran women. Only two of my ancestors who’d been to the realm of magic and music had been female: Ashleen, who’d been the first, and Maili, the fourth. Nikolai hadn’t met Ashleen, but he had met Maili, who’d been reserved, and who thought carefully before sharing her words.
According to Nikolai, I was much more outspoken. Thee others agreed, of course. Not that it was altogether a bad thing, and not that I had much choice otherwise. None of my ancestors had needed to rescue any of the musicians from an unknown fate. All they’d needed to do was find the one they were to teach, and they had clues to help them with that. They were also much better with their instruments– all facts that I needed everyone to keep in mind.
Upon leaving the mountains, Nikolai had begun asking about Brielle and Sir Maël in almost every village he and his entourage passed through. He’d followed leads and listened to rumors, but there was only so much he could do to track either of them down. As the full moon drew nearer, he’d started to consider making the rest of the journey straight to the manor house and reporting to Jean-Marc that his efforts had all been for naught.
There was one last clue that started to link the others together: a kingdom far to the west, where visitors and new-comers were not welcome. They were even reluctant to let their own people venture out into the rest of the world. Sir Maël had ventured west in search of Brielle, and Nikolai worried that one of them might have gone too far for their own good.
Nikolai had passed through several western villages before finding anyone who remembered meeting Sir Maël. They said he’d made a sharp turn for the South, having heard a rumor that took him in that direction. Nikolai started heading south as well, and that was around the time he heard about the bandits who’d captured Sleipnir. They believed that catching the eight-legged horse could earn them a profit somehow, and they had it tightly bound in the stables at their fort. The thing was, Sleipnir usually didn’t show himself in the main areas of the kingdom of magic; he was usually impossible to find, let alone catch, so for him to have surfaced meant that there was something he was interested in– something that probably hadn’t been there before.
Nikolai had managed to free Sleipnir from his prison, but that had, of course, angered the bandits who’d captured him. Once they found out who’d robbed them of their prize, the bandits had sent a group of werewolves to chase him down and get Sleipnir back. It wasn’t yet clear what exactly they were going to do with the horse, but it couldn’t have been any good. Sleipnir could traverse the land faster than any other creature, and he could get into places that most other beings could not; the bandits no doubt wanted to exploit his talents. Once freed, the eight-legged stallion had stayed close to Nikolai and his centaur friends. He helped fight off the werewolves, no matter how many kept on coming, and he rode with them all the way to Jean-Marc’s manor house.
All in all, Nikolai hadn’t accomplished as much in his travels as he’d set out to. He had yet to find Sir Maël, and he wasn’t even certain that the rumors and clues about him were true. Additionally, Nikolai knew absolutely nothing about where Brielle was, or even if Maël had figured out where she’d gone. Bringing Sleipnir to the manor house was a good thing, as far as I was concerned, even though it had cost the lives of several werewolves and possibly some Bandits.
“Let me ask you this,” I told the group the next morning as we enjoyed breakfast together. “Can I find the musician you want me to teach even if Brielle and Sir Maël are still missing?”
“You might be able to,” Brom admitted, “but once you find him or her, it may not amount to much. There is still the matter of the song we would like to have you write.”
“Yeah, about that…” I sighed. “That might be a big problem. Like I said before, I really don’t have what it takes to write music. But even if we put aside that detail, why do the other two musicians need to be here in order for me to write you a new song?”
“It’s a matter of harmony, Aubré explained. “When you hear the songs that have been composed so far–“
“Wait, am I adding to a song you already have? That’s a completely different task!”
“Not exactly,” Brom said. “Imagine when it was just me; I was the first musician. Lady Ashleen wrote me a song for harpsichord. It was a solo, and it was the first minuet of our world.”
“Then Lord Brendan came,” Nikolai added. “The song he wrote was meant for my drums, but it harmonized with what Brom would be playing. That duet was the second minuet.”
And the explanation went on like that. The third minuet was a trio, and the fourth minuet was a quartet. The fifth minuet was a quintet, and then there was the six minuet and the seventh minuet.
“Your great-uncle Morrigan wrote the seventh minuet right here in this house,” Jean-Marc told me. “Well, he may have written a few small parts in what is now your house, but this manor house is still considered to be the house of the seventh minuet.”
“Much like mine is considered the house of the first minuet,” Brom added.
“And you want me to write the eighth one?” I asked. Well I knew they did, but it helped me sort things out to basically play it back to them. “And you want me to find the house of the eighth minuet– not to mention the eighth musician so that you can form an octet. Oh, and the song I write has to be harmonious for eight specific instruments.”
“I’m sorry that we must ask so much of you,” Jean-Marc said. He did kind of seem like he meant it- like he was starting to understand the weight of his requests.
“But Milady, I assure you that we believe in you, and we are here to assist you in every way we can,” Evander added.
I gave him a grateful yet weary half-smile, then looked back to Brom. “Somewhere in all that, I think I missed the reason I can’t perform all of those feats without Brielle and Sir Maël.”
“Because you need to hear every song in succession,” Aubré explained. “You need to hear the first song, first, and then the second song. They aren’t the same tune, but you’ll understand when you hear the harmony. Once you’ve heard all seven minuets, you’ll have much more of an idea for how the eight should sound.”
I gave the elf a wary look. “I feel that I should point something out,” I told him, the exhaustion evident in my voice. “Evander told me that there will be eighteen of us in all. I don’t know all of what the ballad says, but the lot of you seem content with doing this over and over again until you’ve basically got us Terrans writing you a small symphony.”
“The effort is but a small price to pay for the music,” Tobias told me. He did not speak much, but I think it’s more because he’s introspective, not that he’s unhappy to be there.
I could have argued with him on several points, but I found it best not to. I was more worried about how they expected me to help them find Brielle if even Sir Maël had yet to do so. It was going to be a rough awakening for them if they thought I would be able to stay in their world. My plan was to head home that afternoon and debate whether I would be back at all. There was only one thing keeping me from leaving immediately.
After breakfast, I had Evander show me the way to the stables. Sleipnir was there, taking up a lot of the stable boy’s attention with his insistence to being brushed and spoken to. He whinnied and nickered when he saw me, and looked eager to squeeze out of the stall.
“You’re looking handsome this morning,” I told him. I stepped close to pet his neck, and he closed the distance to press his forehead to mine. “Oh, that’s sweet of you,” I murmured.
Sleipnir sighed contentedly and let me place my hands on his cheeks. He seemed to crave having me nuzzle and pet him, and I was happy to oblige. Then he sniffed my pockets and tried nuzzling my hips.
“You don’t waste any time, do you?” I laughed. I pulled the carrot I’d brought out of my pocket and offered it to him. “Here you go. I brought you some things to thank you for helping us last night.”
We spoke for a little while, Evander watching as I pet and held the massive horse. It felt comforting to be around him, much like I felt when I was with Stefan. I understood that no matter how wild Sleipnir was around others, with me he was content.
“You should take him out for a ride,” a voice suggested from the other side of the stable.
I looked over to see Nikolai in the wide doorway, one of the centaurs at his side.
“I’m not so sure tha–”
But Sleipnir was whinnying with excitement and pawing at the ground.
“You want to go out for a ride, don’t you?”
He made more excited sounds and nudged me again.
“Well, are you going to accept a bridle?” I asked him. “I’m not even sure there’s a saddle big enough for you.
Sleipnir shook his head and stepped backwards a bit.
“I doubt he’d accept it even if there were,” Nikolai said.
I looked up at Sleipnir and pet his snout. “Ooohh, I’m sorry, sweet boy. Maybe we can ride another–”
Sleipnir reared up slightly, snorting and shaking his head. Nikolai seemed to think that was funny, given the way he laughed when I backed away.
“Oh, you’re the type to have more admirers than you realize, aren’t you?” he said with a chuckle. “He’s not going to let you go without a ride. Come on, bring him outside and we’ll help you up.”
But he’d already stepped away. I looked over at Evander.
“Have you ever ridden bareback, milady?”
I shook my head nervously. “I don’t get many chances to ride horses at all, really.”
“If you’d like to give it a try, milady,” he said as he let Sleipnir smell his hand and then caressed his snout, “I will be right there with you to ensure your safety.”
I sighed and pet Sleipnir’s snout slowly. “I’ll take you out for a little while, if you’ll behave for me. But I have to go home before too long.”
I opened the stall door and led him out of the stable to the fenced-in area just outside. Nikolai was waiting out there with the centaur, whom Sleipnir seemed very interested in sniffing and nudging.
“That’s enough, Sleipnir,” I told him as I chuckled.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” the centaur said. “I think he’s just glad I helped him get out of all those ropes the bandits had used to tie him down.”
I frowned when I heard that. “What a cruel way to keep any animal– or anyone– let alone this magnificent creature. Thank you– I should have said so sooner, but I’m grateful that you you went to such lengths for him.”
“You have a special bond with Sleipnir, don’t you?” the centaur noted.
“Well, I… umm, that is…” I looped down sheepishly. “It’s hard to say, really. Until last night, I’d only ever met him in my dreams.”
“That definitely counts as special.”
“By the way,” Nikolai said, “I don’t think you’ve been properly introduced to my friend. Miss Leila, this sturdy fellow here is Argos. When I’m not down inside the mountain, we ride everywhere together. Argos, this young Terran is Miss Leila Moss.”
“A pleasure, milady,” the centaur said, bending his front legs in a sort of kneel or bow.
I nodded back to him. I was grinning pretty widely, actually. “Same here. It’s incredible to meet so many of the beings that the people back home just consider myths. Thank you again for helping Sleipnir get away from those bandits.”
Argos grinned widely. “We couldn’t possibly have left him there like that.”
“I hope the werewolves didn’t hurt you too badly…”
“I’ve been in worse scrapes, milady, I assure you.”
“Yeah, you say that now,” Nikolai commented as he patted Argos’s flank, “but you kept fussing over your wounds and needed extra tending to.”
“Aww, he likes your attention,” I teased.
Nikolai gave me a look, partly of disbelief, and partly of playfulness. “I’d say it’s high time you get on that horse, young lady,” he said in a gravely voice. “Come on, we’ll make sure you make it up there safely.”
It took them a few tries, but once Evander and Nikolai better understood my skill level– or rather, my lack thereof– with horses, they were able to teach me a couple things and get me onto Sleipnir’s back. The eight-legged horse seemed very glad to have me up there, judging by the sounds he made and the way he trotted around the yard with a little extra pep. He eventually came back over to the others and nudged Evander.
“He either smells an apple in your pocket, or he wants you to join us,” I told him.
Evander smiled, and after a few moments, Nikolai helped him onto Sleipnir’s back, where he sat close behind me. His scent of the woods and iron surrounded me, and he felt warm, a comforting contrast to the autumn air. Then Nikolai mounted Argos, and we rode out of the yard and along a path worn into the grass, over plains of flowers, the air whooshing past me as we journeyed.