The House of the Seventh Minuet LXIII

Xhosa: Indlu yoMzuzu weSixhenxe

The air in Tierney Ríocht was fresh and pure, and I breathed it in thankfully as Sleipnir cantered over the grass alongside Argos. It was rich and earthy and crisp, as the autumn cooled things down. I had thought for weeks how refreshing the air on Silver Star Mountain was, but this realm hadn’t even been touched by industrial pollution; it was easy to understand why Great Uncle Morrigan liked it here so much.

Evander was warm. No matter how fast we rode, I felt safe and comfortable with him surrounding me. Not only that, but Sleipnir was graceful, and he avoided hazards as smoothly as though the roads were smooth and straight. I could feel his muscles moving under me as he ran and wondered how old he really was. Hundreds of years? Thousands? It had to have taken a long time for an eight-legged horse to become this graceful.

Argos eventually led Sleipnir up to the top of a hill, and there Nikolai dismounted and let the centaur lie in the grass to rest. He helped me down from Sleipnir, and once Evander was down too, he trotted around in search of herbs and flowers to eat. We decided to sit in the grass and talk as we relaxed, and before long we were lying down and watching the clouds roll by. The sky was bright and clear, and one of the most beautiful shades of blue I’d seen for a long time.

“The sky must be amazing at night,” I eventually mused. “I bet it’s a blanket of stars.”

Nikolai glanced my way and gave a slight harrumph.

“Do you not get to see the night sky often?” I asked, remembering that he lived inside the mountain.

“I see it often enough,” he replied.

“Perhaps, milady,” Evander said, “he was thinking more of the difference between your stars and ours.”

I looked between them both. “You mean the constellations? It would make sense that they’re different.”

“Not just in their arrangement,” Evander replied. “I remind you again that yours is a world of science. What do you consider a star to be?”

“They’re basically immense fusion reactors,” I told him. “Hydrogen atoms fuse together into helium, and then–”

“And what did the ancient people of your world believe?” Nikolai cut in.

I blinked. “Oh… you mean like when they thought the souls of the dead rose up to the heavens to light the firmament?”

“Among other beliefs, I’m sure,” he replied.

“You take that more literally, then?” I asked him.

Nikolai sat up and gave me a firm look. “I have seen it happen, young lady. I have watched the lights of the fallen rise up and soar into the sky.”

The way he stared into my eyes, I knew better than to question him.

“As have I, milady,” Evander added. “My father is among the stars, as well as my mother.”

“You must miss them terribly.”

“There are times when I might have benefited greatly from hearing their voices,” he replied, then looked up to the sky, “but they are not so far away. We do not feel such a wall between us and those who have passed on as your people do.”

“Oh… I see.”

He gave me a brief smile. “Lady Moss, do not let it trouble you. There is still plenty of life here worthy of being safeguarded.”

I nodded. “Do you think… Evander, was Earth once just like Tierney Ríocht? Were the myths real a long time ago?”

“That’s quite a question, Miss Moss,” he said. “I’m not sure that I have the answer, I’m afraid.” He looked to Nikolai, who shrugged.

“I’m going to give you time to think things over,” he said, lying back down. “Your world’s history, your ancestors and the musicians here…”

“I see… Yeah, I’ll mull it over,” I replied. “Oh, by the way, Jean-Marc and Brom said you were bringing an older copy of the ballad with you…”

“I did,” he confirmed. “It’s back at the manor house.”

“I could read it while I’m at home,” I suggested, “and come back to you with questions.”

“You’re asking to take it back to to Earth?!” Nikolai all but growled and he sat up again. “That scroll is irreplaceable!”

“Well… I could scan it and have it back to you in a few hours.”

“You’re suggesting something relating to technology now, aren’t you?” Nikolai was somewhere between angry, annoyed, and disappointed. “We cannot risk it being damaged.”

I watched him for a moment, then sighed. “Okay… I guess I have no choice, then.”

“Are you really going back to Earth today?” he went on.

I nodded, then looked away. He didn’t seem to like that idea at all.

“Are you going to run back home every time things get difficult or you get scared?”

“Nikolai!” Evander exclaimed, admonishing the way he’d spoken to me.

Nikolai gave him a serious look. “It is your duty to indulge her, faun, but not mine.”

“She’s come ba–“

“Then why leave at all?” Nikolai snapped. Then he looked to me. “This world has all manner of beings, Miss Moss. You can trust us to protect you from those with ill will; we ask only that you do not let fear control you.”

“Sure…” I told him. “But… Nikolai, what happens if I can’t do what you need me to do?” If he took this as seriously as his words told me he did, surely he’d have an answer for that.

“It’s in the ballad,” he told me, “which is why you should stay with us longer than just the night.”

I looked down at the bandages wrapped around my wounds, then over at Evander. I let out a slow sigh. “I can make arrangements to be here longer, but I need time to plan for it.”

“That sounds reasonable, milady,” he replied.

I nodded. “I need to ask you for a favor, though,” I told him. “I have a lot of work to finish early so that I can clear my schedule. And I have friends coming to visit; I can’t cancel on them. Once they head back home, I can come here and spend a lot more time with you. I just… I want to start reading this ballad everyone is talking about. Can you find out if there’s any other copy I can read at home?”

“I will make it my duty whilst you are away, Lady Moss,” Evander said, his voice solemn. He ignored the way Nikolai scoffed at the prospect.

We only stayed on the hill for a little longer after that. Sleipnir and Argos carried us back to Jean-Marc’s manor house, where I let the others know my plan for getting things in order so that I could come back for a longer stay. They seemed glad that I was– what could I call it? Making more of an effort? I just hoped I wouldn’t regret going along with their wishes.

Once I had my backpack on and all my things accounted for, Evander walked the halls with me.

“Lady Moss,” he began, halting before saying anything else.

I glanced up at him a little bit. “What is it?” I asked.

“I hope,” he went on, “I hope only that you are not upset with us.”

“Do you really think I am?” I replied. I sighed. “I hardly even know how to feel about this whole situation. But since you’ve brought it up, do I really have reason to be upset with anyone in particular?”

“Well…” he murmured. “No, not truly. I merely worried that you were upset, whether it be at Jean-Marc for how awkward he was when you first met, or at me for encouraging you to return, or perhaps at any of the others for being… gruff.”

“I mean, I could be mad at the way they’re acting, but it’s hard for me to stay mad. They have their own reasons; I know that.”

“Your insight into their feelings is much appreciated,” he said when we’d gotten to the bottom of the stairs and were heading down the hall towards the music room. “Truth be told, Lady Moss, I appreciate you being here so much more.”

There was something in the way he spoke, something sincere but also melancholy. I could tell somehow that it was one of the most important things to him that I was willing to give this a try. Not that I had much confidence in what they had me doing. But it was important to him, and he was so kind…

“Evander,” I breathed, hardly more than a whisper, and I looked up into his eyes. I could barely move as I took in the realization of how worried he was, but also how much he truly wanted to ease my mind.

He reached up a hand, and I thought he was about to caress my cheek. I could imagine how soft his fingers would be, and how even though his nails were long, he wouldn’t let them hurt me. He was gentle and careful and– but instead of touching my skin, he pushed a curl out of my eyes. He gave me a sort of half smile, and as weak as it was, I knew he meant well, that he wanted to smile even though something was weighing heavily on his heart.

“Come,” he whispered, and laid an arm around my shoulders to guide me ever-so-gently, hardly even touching me, into the music room. He closed the door without a sound before turning to me. “Lady Moss,” he said, his voice soft and soothing. “I wanted to give you something before you left.”

“You didn’t take the scroll from Nikolai did you?” I asked him, mostly jokingly. “I mean, I know I asked to read it, but you don’t have to–“

“No,” he replied, with another faint smile. “It is not my way to take what is not freely given, even if it is for you.” He reached into one of the larger pockets in his jacket and pulled out a folded section of cloth. I watched as he unwrapped it, revealing that it had been hiding a metal box inside, something just smaller than the palm of his hand. It had been intricately worked, shaped with curls and folds and beautiful designs. It was also inlaid with small pieces of wood.

“Evander,” I breathed as he held it towards me. “It’s lovely. Can I… may I open it here?” I asked.

He nodded, and lifted the lid, which was hinged. The inside of the box was lined with velvet, a light gray color that was almost silvery. The box only contained two things: a tiny clay jar, and a narrow piece of parchment rolled into a cylinder and tied with a bit of silk thread.

“What is that?” I asked him, indicating the little jar.

“It’s a bit of the salve that we used on your wound,” he told me. “I realize that you’ve got all sorts of medicines back home, but I wanted to give you this one in particular.

“In case it made a difference in in treating a werewolf scratch?” I asked when he faltered.

“I suppose,” he replied, “though really there’s nothing special about a werewolf scratch that should need anything different. I just…”

“I understand,” I told him. “Thank you for thinking of me, Evander. I’ll give it a try in between doses of antibiotic ointment. It smells really good, too. What is the paper?”

“It’s the only part of the ballad I could send along with you right now,” he replied. “I know it’s not much, but it’s all I had time to write down in the short time we had. It’s the first line of the ballad.”

My smile for him brightened. “That’s actually really thoughtful of you!” I told him. “Thank you, Evander. I will of course look forward to reading more.”

I wrapped my arms around him tightly, pulling him close. He gave a soft oomph.

“And I shall look forward to sending more your way. Not one line at a time, don’t you worry. As I have pages finished, I shall send them with Chopin to your home.”

“Oh, first class delivery?” I said with a giggle. “I appreciate that, Evander. And thank you again for being accommodating of how I’m dealing with all of this.”

I released him from the hug, and he stepped back slightly, nodding to me. “We are grateful every time you come here, Lady Moss,” he told me. “I realize that some of the others might have made it seem that you are expected, or the perhaps that they’re making demands, but the truth is, we are at your mercy. For someone from a world of science to believe so fully in the realms of magic… you are a treasure for that and so many other reasons. We will explain the rest of our world to you; we will explain the ballad to you. You really have been so patient with us, you have listened to us so carefully…”

He shook his head, and it almost seemed that tears were about to well up in his eyes. I pulled him in for another hug. “It’s okay, Evander,” I reassured him. “We have time, right? Not forever, but we don’t have to rush. We’ll work it out. I’ll make sure they won’t miss me back home, and I’ll take care of this wound, and I’ll be back.”

He was quiet for a long moment. Then he led me to the door that would take me back home. His hands shook a little. He seemed to really be trying to steady himself. “We believe in you, Lady Moss. As much as we rely on you, we believe in you. And we’re here for you; we’ll keep you safe. I should not delay you any longer,” he said. “Thank you, Lady Moss, and take heart. You are welcome here anytime you choose to return. Until then, be well.”

He squeezed my hands, and I smiled up at him. I stood up straighter, lifting my feet up just a little bit so that I could reach and place a soft kiss on his forehead. “Okay,” I told him, admiring the way he smiled while at the same time looking like he didn’t believe what I had done. “I’m not going to say ‘goodbye,'” I told him. ‘I’m going to say ‘see you next time,’ because I’ll be back.”

And then I turned around and went through the door. Once I was back in my room, I set my backpack down and took another look at the intricate metal box. I could put some of the salve on my scratch later, after I’d washed up and put some antibiotics on it. I looked over the cloth that had been wrapped around the box, and noticed that it was a scarf, a mix of autumn colors and a few faint blues here and there. It didn’t feel like wool though; it was a lot softer than that. I laid it over my shoulders, smelled it, and noted that it smelled just like Evander. I wondered whether it had been his before.

Then I pulled out the small strip of paper the tiny scroll, and released the tiny bow in the silk thread. I unrolled the paper, and read the first line of The Ballad of the Kingdom of Music.

“Before there was music there was only silence, and before there was magic there was only metal and stone.”

About Legends of Lorata

Eleanor Willow is the author of the high fantasy series Legends of Lorata, which takes place on a medieval-style world filled with elves, dragons, and faeries. There is also a fourth race, one that is rare and magical: the angelic Starr. Lorata is a distant planet watched over by four deities: good, evil, elemental, and celestial-- and there are plenty of legends about them all! One of the most important ones is the prophecy of Jenh's champion, Loracaz, who is promised to return to the realm whenever evil threatens to take hold. There are currently three books completed, and the first one can be read online. Book four is currently being written, and a fifth will most likely be in the future.
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