The sun was well up when Leryn woke, his arm across his eyes shading him from the sunlight pouring through the window. He hadn’t seen Rosie for three days, as was traditional for an engaged couple. She’d gone to stay with Lancelyn and Galahad in their little cottage at the edge of town, and wouldn’t see him until they met in the square at sunset for the wedding ceremony.
Merlin shook him again. “Wake up, fool!”
“For god’s sake, go away. I just got to sleep.”
Merlin yanked the sheet off him. “Get up now! We have an emergency.”
Leryn sat up, rubbing his eyes. “You’re aware that while you were resting after our day’s labor in your dungeon, I was in the square entertaining the masses until near dawn, right? It was Moon Song Night. And tonight we’re getting married the traditional way, under the Solstice Moon with the others.”
Merlin handed him his breeches. “I know, and I’m sorry. But there won’t be any weddings if this isn’t fixed.”
“What’s the problem?” Leryn stood up, buttoning his pants.
“Tenneriff Keep has reappeared. It’s a trap, meant to lure me, but I’m not so stupid as to set foot in there. I can resolve this from the top of the hill, but I need you to support my magic with your music. I will supply the instrument.” Merlin handed him his shirt. “Now listen to me. You will present yourself as an ordinary bard. The demon will be watching us from whatever shadow he is hiding in.”
Leryn paused, glaring at his mentor. “Watching us? I’m not walking into his parlor on my wedding day, so don’t ask it of me.”
Merlin snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. Mordred has managed to weaken the veil concealing the keep. It hasn’t manifested completely, but while we were busy yesterday, something allowed him to create a window from his spot in Hell, allowing him to view that place. I mean to make that view of his temporary and slap his hands in the process.”
“I’m getting married tonight. I shed a lot of blood yesterday, and I need the blood I have left to hold my veins open. I can’t be unconscious, or otherwise absent. Rosie is counting on me.”
“Trust me.” Merlin put on his most persuasive smile. “You won’t have to do anything involving a blood sacrifice.”
Leryn sighed, “What do you want from me?”
“When we get there, I will behave toward you as if you have no magic. I will question you since you were the witness when it last appeared, and he would expect that. You will answer as if you were still the naïve boy you were then.”
“I’d better not miss my wedding, or you’ll have to face Hannah’s wrath. She’s gone to a great deal of trouble for Rosie and me.” Leryn gestured to the wardrobe, which stood open. “Tom Tailor has made me a fine shirt of red linen, just like any proper groom. So don’t mess this up for me.”
The ride to the keep took less than half an hour. They stopped on the hill where an overgrown, rutted road went down to a valley. There, shimmering as if it were an illusion, was the massive castle Leryn remembered. They dismounted, letting the horses graze.
“It looks less solid than when I was summoned here before, sir.” Leryn’s head still ached from lack of sleep and his hands shook as if he were hung over, but his voice was calm. “I don’t want to enter it.”
“Don’t worry, bard. I won’t ask it of you.” Merlin radiated power, something Leryn had never seen him do. “Tell me what happened the first time you saw this place.”
As if he’d never told the tale before, Leryn complied. As he concluded, he said, “I don’t blame you if you disbelieve me, Sir Wizard. But I swear by all I hold holy that what I have told you is the truth.”
“And what happened after that?”
“Nothing sir, until the night of the Crypt Wind.” The bard recounted the events of that evening, again speaking as if he’d never done so. “As you can see, he is a fearsome man, sir. I’d prefer not to be involved in this.”
Merlin nodded. “I expect so, but he has involved you, and you gave him information that has harmed me. Therefore I require your services.”
“How could I have gone against him?” Genuine fear tinted Leryn’s voice. “And what can I do that you can’t? I’m a bard. I make people dance, and if needed I can sing rats away from a barn or a home. Other than that I have no skills.”
“Let’s discuss your rat singing skills. Rats and crows perhaps? In my travels, I heard you had sung away the rats at Yarrl’s Tavern.”
“Not crows sir. But rats from a barn, yes. Any apprentice bard can do that. And Yarrl would have paid an apprentice five coppers for the work, had one come by when he needed him. I did it as a favor to him as he was kind to me when the weather was bad.”
“Could you do it for me, now? I will pay you a silver for it.”
“Without my pipes? At the very least I would need an apprentice’s flute. It is the tones that drive rats away, and I don’t think one can sing the rat song effectively without the sharp tones of a flute or the pipes. At least, I’ve never tried.”
Merlin fished around in his saddle bags, handing Leryn a wooden flute. “Can you play this?”
Leryn held the flute, turning and examining it, seeing it was made of a certain wood he recognized as having come from the primal forest. Runes were inlaid in silver, and the flute itself reeked of magic. “This is a wondrous instrument, sir, one no master would be ashamed to play. What master made it?”
“I did, many years ago. Longer ago than I like to remember. Music is magic, bard, and don’t ever forget it.”
“If you say so, sir. The only magic I’ve found in music is that people like it and pay me to play it, and rats don’t like the rat song, so they leave.” He held the flute to his lips, sensing the magic within it. “This is longer than I am used to, but the song is simple, so I should be able to play it.” Knowing it would be odd if he didn’t bargain for a larger fee, he continued, “However, I would require one gold for such a task, because you’re asking a master to do an apprentice’s job. Surely you don’t require a master’s services for such a minor thing as clearing rats from this area.” Leryn stalled for time, as he tried to get a feel for the flute, mentally working out what he had to do so the melody would sound like he was an ordinary bard. “Besides, I fear to cross the demon.” There was a ring of truth to his statement.
Sensing the bard was hedging for a reason, Merlin played along. “A gold! Don’t press your luck, boy. You’re a very young master, and that master’s pin is a recent acquisition.”
Leryn held firm. “Nevertheless, the rank is mine. I may have earned it recently, but I did earn it and should be compensated accordingly.”
“I will give you two silvers because you have a master’s rank and not a copper more.”
Leryn nodded, as if reluctantly. “As you wish, sir. Two silvers.”
“Good. You will play that song, and I will cast a spell.” The wizard attempted a comforting smile, which only succeeded in looking slightly evil. “Don’t be frightened. it’s only a spell of aversion, making sure no one stumbles onto this place by accident.”
“I see.” Leryn would have to get on with it whether he was ready or not. “I’m not pleased at being involved, Sir Wizard. It seems perilous. I don’t like to court danger.”
“It’s perilous, no matter which way you go, bard. The demon chose you when he made his move, and because he did, you are involved.” Rising to his full height and power, he said, “What makes you think I’m any kinder than the demon? Now, begin that song. I must warn you: no matter what happens, don’t deviate from the melody and don’t stop playing until I tell you to, or you will find yourself in the demon’s clutches.”
“That’s not very reassuring, sir.” Raising the flute to his lips, Leryn played the opening refrain, a simple repetitive melody that was the first song an apprentice bard learned.
At first, nothing happened. The flute had a beautiful, sweet tone, lower than most other flutes. Merlin apparently knew it well, as he sang his spell to that tune perfectly. Leryn concentrated on just playing the music, and not injecting any of his own magic into the mix.
At what must have been the tenth round of the melody, he noticed Tenneriff’s castle had become more ghostly. It was transparent, less in the world than it had been. By that time Leryn was struggling with boredom and had to force himself to keep strictly to the mindlessly simple melody. The urge to liven it up was almost overwhelming.
That urge, he reasoned, must have been the demon’s spell trying to protect itself. He concentrated harder, playing the tune exactly.
Eventually Merlin ended his spell, and gazing down on the valley, Leryn lowered the flute. All that remained was a fog bank shaped suspiciously like a large keep. Everything about it shouted “Run! Get away!” which he knew was Merlin’s ward of aversion doing its task.
Merlin turned to the bard. “It’s not perfect but will have to do. Thank you for your assistance. I believe I owe you two silver coins.”
Leryn accepted them, “Thank you, sir.” The fact that Merlin was still carrying on the charade told him it hadn’t gone as well as the wizard had hoped.
Back on the road to town, Merlin told Leryn the time was rapidly approaching when the Demon would make his move. “He has gained a point in this game. I was unable to completely seal Tenneriff Keep away from this world. I closed his window, but we have to be careful from here on out. We must avoid that place, as he may be able to hear some things spoken there if the words are what he is listening for.”
When they arrived back in Bleakbourne on Heath at the Ploughman’s Inn and parted ways, Leryn said, “I intend to take a long nap, now. I have a big night planned, and I thank you for not dropping me into some death-defying escapade we couldn’t get out of.”
Merlin looked at him. “It was death-defying. Don’t fool yourself that it wasn’t. Had he been able to lull you into improvising, it would have been a disaster. He lurks on the other side with his army at the ready, just waiting for his chance. If you had deviated from the melody, he would have had the gate into this world open, and we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
Leryn glared at him. “That’s what I love about you. You always know how to ruin a perfectly good mood.”
The wizard smirked. “Enjoy your wedding night. I’ll be there to keep the dwarf in line. You know how much he loves his ale.”
“Hah! You mean he’ll be there keeping you from making a fool of yourself.”
Merlin’s cheeky grin faded. “I haven’t been up to much drunken foolishness, lately. But maybe after everything is resolved.”
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
To Read Previous Episodes of “Bleakbourne on Heath” click here: