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"The Piper"


Chapter 1
The Piper

By w.j.debi

What is it about sunset that frightens so many people? Piper broke free from the crowd and stumbled forward to lean against a granite column of the city's main gates so he could catch his breath. He glanced back at the teeming mass of people in the market square. Crossing the distance from the cathedral to the city's main entrance normally took him less than five minutes at a casual walk. This evening it took over an hour. Weaving his way through the surging, tangled mob entering the city had felt like swimming upstream against the rapids. His feet were sore from being stepped on, and he was sure he had sustained several bruises on his arms. Is it like this every evening?

In a way, he was grateful for the extra physical effort it had taken. The world wasn't right. For him, it might never be right again. Oh, buck up. I'm not a kid anymore; I'm nearly fifteen. A deep sigh escaped his lips and he let his shoulders sag. Unconsciously, he fingered the flute that hung at his side, brushing the tips of his fingers across it with fondness, checking by feel that it had not been harmed in the tussle to get through the crowded streets. Constant jostling for position to achieve forward movement had required him to hold the flute close and protect it with both hands.

Another group hurried inside the gates, pushing into the crowd. A little girl of about five tripped and fell to her hands and knees. "Mama! Papa!" she cried out, but no one turned in her direction, her small voice lost in the chaos. She started to wail. Piper went to help her up.

The child glanced up at him for a moment, her lips quivering and her eyes full of tears. "Thank you," she squeaked, then wiped at the tears on her face and ran to catch the group ahead of her. Piper watched to make sure she was reunited with her family. Are you merely afraid of being left behind or have the adults instilled other fear into you? Piper shook his head and then started toward the open gates.

"Aren't you going the wrong direction?" a gruff voice asked.

Piper looked over at the city guard who stood no more than six feet away. The man was of average height, with a brawny build. The hilt of his sword looked smooth with wear, but his uniform was well taken care of, perhaps even new. A scar cut through one eyebrow. The face was strong and looked to be that of a man in his late twenties or early thirties, but a sprinkling of gray hairs made Piper wonder at the guard's true age. "Are you talking to me, sir?"

"Do you see anyone else?"

"I see a whole lot of people." Piper swept a hand toward the public square.

The guard smirked. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Still, I hope you don't intend to go trekking off somewhere right now. We will be closing the gates soon and you will find yourself on the wrong side. There are some dangerous things out there."

"I know. Wolf packs and marauding thieves appear magically as the last ray of dusk disappears."

"Or worse." The guard raised his eyebrows in a warning manner.

Piper resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Of course, you're right, sir. There are many dangers in the darkness." Superstition. I have no time for such foolishness.

The guard shifted a bit closer. "You're one of the musicians from the castle, aren't you?"

Piper nodded poliltely. "Yes, sir."

"Were you close to the old musician they buried today?"

"He was my grandfather." Piper felt his throat tighten at the words and swallowed to keep control of his emotions.

The guard looked sullen, pausing a moment before he spoke again. "I am sorry for your loss, lad. I heard your grandfather play a few times. He was a talented man. He will be missed."

"Thank you." Piper turned to start down the road that was now dotted with only a few late stragglers scurrying for the safety of the city.

"You want me to wait by the gate for your return? I can let you in the small access gate under the guard tower if you don't make it back before the main gate closes. We usually only open it for dignitaries, but we can make exceptions."

Piper stopped in his tracks and turned to look at the guard. Why is he offering this favor to an under-aged flute player? "Thank you, sir, but I'll be alright. I have somewhere to go tonight. I'll be back in the morning."

"Very well, if you're certain."

Piper nodded his acknowledgement. Without another word, he headed into the encroaching gloom, surprised by the momentary hesitation in his steps at the words that trailed after him.

"You be careful, young man."

A scowl creased Piper's brow and he quickened his pace. I've never feared the darkness and I'm certainly not going to start now. In fact, the darkness beckoned like a warm cloak, one he would wrap around himself tonight and use to his advantage.


~~~


Chapter 2
The Piper, part 2

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper struggled against the crowds of people anxious to be inside the city gates before they were closed at sunset. He assisted a small girl who fell and was separated from her family in the rush. As he headed out the gates, a city guard warned him of the dangers in the darkness and offered to wait by the city gates for Piper to let him in if he returns after dark.


Ending of previous chapter
Piper stopped in his tracks and turned to look at the guard. Why would he offer this favor to an under-aged flute player? "Thank you, sir, but I'll be alright. I have somewhere to go tonight. I'll be back in the morning."

"Well, if you are certain."

Piper nodded his acknowledgement. Without another word, he headed into the encroaching gloom, surprised by the momentary hesitation in his steps at the words that trailed after him.

"You be careful, young man."

A scowl creased Piper's brow and he quickened his pace. He had never feared the darkness and he certainly wasn't going to start now. In fact, the darkness beckoned like a warm cloak, one he would wrap around himself tonight and use to his advantage.

 


Chapter 2

Piper wasn't certain how long he stared at the mound of freshly turned earth, tears streaming down his face. Sobs shook his frame, but he didn't care. He let his grief have full rein. There was no one in the darkness to judge, no one to call him unmanly for giving way to emotion. All the tears he had held back when they buried his grandfather this morning could flow freely now. Piper dropped to his knees next to the grave and put his face in his hands. "Why, oh, why, did you have to die, Grandfather? Oh, why?"

Darkness deepened. The moon rose over the trees and inched its way high into the night sky. Stars multiplied and gathered into constellations. Near midnight, Piper finally looked up, weary from the physical drain of emotion.

He rose to his feet, took a measured breath, and put the flute to his trembling lips. A melancholy melody wafted upon the breeze. Night creatures paused to listen. Insects fell silent. Even the moon seemed to fall under the enchantment of the dedicatory serenade.

Some of the best court musicians had performed at the funeral and the graveside, but no one had played the melody Piper knew his grandfather loved best. Was it a secret his grandfather had shared only with him, this melody and its story? Piper hoped so. It made it even more special.

His grandfather had often played this melody as a jaunty tune. Now, Piper played it slowly and thoughtfully. Love. Loss. Loneliness. Heartbreak. A hundred emotions flowed through his flute, caressed by his affectionate fingers, brought to life with his delicate breath. His grandfather was the only one who would understand. It was a connection Piper was unwilling to release, so he stretched and explored each musical phrase to its limit, searching for the hidden meanings in each individual meter. When he finished, Piper started again. The music took on a deeper melancholy mood, each note lingering on the night air--hesitating, longing, embracing, reaching out to touch the world beyond.

Lost in his grief and the alluring comfort of the music, Piper played the tune over and over again. About an hour before dawn, a heavy sigh was all he had left. His mouth was too dry to play another note even though he wished he could. Piper let the instrument drop to his side where it normally hung. He repositioned the cord that crossed his chest and took a deep breath of cool night air. He should head back to the city. Still, he found himself rooted to the spot, unwilling to leave his grandfather alone.

"A wonderful tribute, young man."

The unexpected voice was soft and friendly, but it startled Piper. He spun to face its owner, then froze. A hooded figure stood about twenty yards away.

The speaker continued, "I don't think such a hush has come over the world in many years. I dare say the very leaves on the trees held absolutely still so they could listen. I swear all nature was in awe. It was pure magic, my boy. Pure magic."

Piper's mouth was so dry his tongue stuck to the roof of it.

The figure took a step closer. "What, nothing to say after such praise?"

Piper swallowed. Just enough moisture trickled into his mouth and throat to allow a hoarse response. "I'm sorry, sir. I ... I didn't expect to see anyone else out here. I do thank you for the kind compliment."

"You are welcome." The stranger cocked his head to one side as if listening for a sound in the distance. "I suppose you are right. A graveyard isn't a place a lot of people frequent this time of night."

Is this stranger dangerous? Should I run? Most people are inside the protective walls of the city, except for thieves and such. And one stupid, grieving flute player. Can I outrun him and make it back to the city safely? It's hard to know how fit he is, or how swift.

Then the stranger reached up to push the hood off of his head.

Piper's mouth dropped open and goose-bumps rose on his skin. The stranger's hair was pure white. Because of the dappled shadows of the moonlight shining through the trees, it was hard to tell if there was a silver-blue tinge to his skin or not, but the pointed ears left no doubt about his heritage. He's Fae. I don't stand a chance, not physically. Stories say the Fae are swift, strong and deadly.

"Your name is Piper, isn't it?"

"How ..." Piper choked the word out.

The Fae grinned. "Well, this is fortuitous. I was on my way to find you."

~~~


Chapter 3
The Piper, part 3

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper struggled against the crowds of people anxious to be inside the city gates before they were closed at sunset. He assisted a small girl who fell and was separated from her family in the rush. As he headed out of the gates, a city guard warned him of the dangers in the darkness and offered to wait by the city gates for Piper to let him in if he returns after dark. Piper spends the night at his grandfather's grave, mourning and playing his flute. A stranger in a hood appears and compliments Piper's flute playing.



Ending of the previous chapter
Then the stranger reached up to push the hood off of his head.

Piper's mouth dropped open and goose-bumps rose on his skin. The stranger's hair was pure white. Because of the dappled shadows of the moonlight shining through the trees, it was hard to tell if there was a silver-blue tinge to his skin or not, but the pointed ears left no doubt about his heritage. The stranger was Fae. Although he had never seen one of the Fae before, Piper realized he didn't stand a chance, not physically. Stories said the Fae were swift, strong and deadly.

"Your name is Piper, isn't it?"

"How ..." Piper choked the word out.

The Fae grinned. "Well, this is fortuitous. I was on my way to find you."



Chapter 3

"Why would one of your kind ..." Piper cringed. "I mean ..."

"Careful, my boy," the Fae growled even though he continued grinning.

"Sorry, sir, I mean ..." Piper took a breath and released it slowly. "Why would you be looking for me?"

The Fae strode forward, his pale blue eyes studying every inch of Piper as he advanced. "You're tall for your age, my fair-haired friend."

Piper felt the urge to run, but his legs wouldn't move. It would be a useless effort anyway, so he held his position while the Fae approached, predator-like. "You know who I am. Who are you? Why were you looking for me?"

The Fae stopped in front of Piper and folded his arms, amusement in his eyes. "Well, well. Right to the point." The Fae smirked. "All good questions, Piper." He drummed his fingers on his arm and pursed his lips. "I wonder ..." The Fae glanced at the grave for a moment, then back at Piper. His face took on a more serious expression. "Perhaps this is not the best time and place for this discussion."

"Just tell me."

The Fae raised an eyebrow, amusement trickling back into his eyes. "Ah, the impatience of the human youth. No. Now I am convinced we need to wait."

"Look ..."

"Hey, you there!" a voice shouted from the shadows.

Piper turned to see a soldier approaching at a fast jog, weapons drawn. As the man crossed into a patch of moonlight, Piper recognized the guard who had warned him when he exited the city gates at sunset. An instant later, Piper turned back to the Fae, but the Fae was nowhere to be seen. "How? Where?" He scanned the surrounding area.

The guard pulled up next to Piper a few moments later and stopped abruptly, huffing a bit from his recent exertions. "You alright, lad?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Piper continued looking around, but there was no one else in view. "Where did he go?"

"Does it matter, as long as he is gone?" The guard glanced warily around them, weapons still at the ready. "You shouldn't be out here alone in the dark anyway, especially with Fae around."

"I don't think he was armed."

"Oh, he was armed." The guard scowled. "Not that he would need weapons. I've seen Fae tear men apart with their bare hands."

Piper gulped. "Ah, I guess I should thank you for coming to my aid."

"Burkehart."

"What?"

"My name is Burkehart. And yours?"

"Piper."

A twig snapped and the bushes rustled in the tree line of the nearby forest. Burkehart jerked toward the sound and lifted his blades a bit higher as he surveyed the surrounding area.

"What is it?" Piper asked.

"Shush." Burkehart motioned for Piper to get behind him.

Patchy moonlight filtered through the trees. An owl hooted somewhere in the distance. Piper held his breath and strained to hear or see something out of the ordinary. He glanced at Burkehart and noted the tense and wary stance of the warrior prepared to deal with any threat he might encounter. Otherwise, the graveyard and the neighboring forest were silent.

Without looking at Piper, Burkehart said in a low voice, "We'd better get moving. That Fae isn't the only dangerous thing out here, and who knows if he is lying in wait to greet us somewhere along the way. Keep up and stay close."

Burkehart took a few steps, then looked back at Piper. "Come on, lad. Move it."

"Yes, sir." Piper took one last look at his grandfather's grave, glanced toward the nearby forest, then trudged after the guard.

 

Author Notes Thank you to Angelheart for the loan of her work "Cosmic Celebration"



Chapter 4
The Piper, part 4

By w.j.debi

Previously
At sunset, Piper, a young musician, leaves the protection of the city just before the city gates are about to close for the night. As he heads out of the gates, a city guard warns Piper of dangerous things in the darkness and offers to wait by the city gates to let him in when he returns. Piper spends the night at his grandfather's grave, mourning and playing his flute. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, the city guard comes to the rescue. The Fae disappears into the forest at the appearance of the guard.



Ending of the previous chapter
Patchy moonlight filtered through the trees. An owl hooted somewhere in the distance. Piper held his breath and strained to hear or see something out of the ordinary. He glanced at Burkehart and noted the tense and wary stance of the warrior prepared to deal with any threat he might encounter. Otherwise, the graveyard and the neighboring forest were silent.

Without looking at Piper, Burkehart said in a low voice, "We'd better get moving. That Fae isn't the only dangerous thing out here, and who knows if he is lying in wait to greet us somewhere along the way. Keep up and stay close."

Burkehart took a few steps, then looked back at Piper. "Come on, lad. Move it."


"Yes, sir." Piper took one last look at his grandfather's grave, glanced toward the nearby forest, then trudged after the guard.


Chapter 4

"Tell me again," Rupert begged as he and PIper made their way through the booths of market square.

"Shush! Not so loud," Piper warned. He glanced around at the merchants calling out to advertise their wares, the entertainers performing their tricks, and the shoppers milling about the various booths. The smells and sounds of people, animals, produce and merchandise filled the air. Although it was unlikely that anyone was paying much attention to two young apprentices above the hustle and din, Piper wasn't eager to attract undue attention.

"But you saw a Fae. And Burkehart? You were really rescued by Captain Burkehart? Burkehart, the Captain of the Guard, Burkehart?"

"Yes." Piper said in a low voice, the color rising slightly in his cheeks. "I was really rescued by Captain Burkehart."

"Wow." Rupert was so giddy with excitement that he nearly knocked into a woman walking past with her husband.

"Hey!" the man yelled.

"Sorry. Beg your pardon, ma'am." Rupert bowed slightly, but otherwise didn't break stride. "So Burkehart just appeared out of nowhere? And when he brought you back, you entered through the dignitaries' gate. And you got to see his office and his weapons. What were they like? What kind of swords did he have? How many blades did he carry?"

Piper rolled his eyes. "Honestly, it was nothing. He brought me back to the city, took me to his office, and scolded me for wandering off on my own in the dark." At this point, Piper scrunched his face into a scowl, shook his finger and tried his best to sound like Burkehart. "Do you have any idea what that Fae could have done to you, young man? Or what other dangers lurk in the dark? No, I am certain you have no idea. Wolves. Bears. Thieves. Wild boars. Unspeakable dark things."

Rupert and Piper burst out laughing.

"And the Fae," Rupert asked between laughs, "did he have pointy teeth?"

"Sharp, jagged, razor-sharp spikes." Piper raised his hands, his fingers curved in a threatening manner.

They laughed again, but were immediately distracted by the aroma of food cooking a few rows over. It tickled their noses and tempted their taste buds with the promise of delicious delicacies.

"Oh," Rupert moaned, "I'm hungry."

"I know. You always are." Piper grinned at his skinny friend. "Say, why don't you go ahead. I need to purchase a new satchel. It will only take a few minutes and I can meet you at the food booths. We can eat as we walk back to the guild."

"If you're sure?" Rupert was already stepping in the direction of the food booths, licking his lips in anticipation.

"Yeah, I'm sure." Piper waved him off. "Go on."

A leather goods merchant was hawking his wares nearby so Piper went over to inspect the bags, pouches and satchels on display. The shoppers of the midday market were bumping and squeezing past each other in order to get to the next booth, or stopping to check over the leather goods merchandise before they made a purchase or just moved on. Bags were displayed on a table. Some hung from hooks on a display stand. Piper picked up a satchel and gave it a brief look, then set it down and admired a beaded bag hanging from a hook.

"If that is the size you are looking for, then I recommend this bag. The tanning of the leather is superior to that one and the stitching is finely done. It will last for years."

A plain satchel of soft leather was handed to him.

Piper looked up at the person standing next to him and froze. Those pale blue eyes studied him just as they had a week ago. The individual wore a cowl, a wise move since Piper knew the shape of the ears underneath that hood would attract unwanted attention. The Fae was taller than Piper remembered, and his obvious physical prowess intimidating.

"So, Fae have sharp, jagged, razor-sharp spikes for teeth do they?" The Fae flashed a smile that confirmed his smooth, white teeth were not unlike Piper's own.

The bag he was holding was suddenly interesting, and Piper concentrated on the stitching. He tested the handle and the flap.

"Cat got your tongue, my boy?"

"It's a good bag." Piper glanced at the Fae's hands and then at his face, the only skin the Fae presently exposed to the elements. There was no evidence of the silver-blue tinge. He looked like any other villager on market day. But then again, it was daylight. Legend had it that a Fae's skin only took on a silver-blue hue in direct moonlight.

The Fae's eyes twinkled. He raised an eyebrow. "Well?"

"What do you want with me?" Piper whispered.

There was a pause as the Fae discretely surveyed the area. The leather goods merchant was helping another customer. The merchants on either side were busy enticing potential buyers. Nearby shoppers were intent on examining the wares. Apparently satisfied that they would not be overheard, the Fae leaned closer to Piper and said in a low voice, "I'll honor you by being direct. We need to meet. Alone. There are things your grandfather planned to share with you on your fifteenth birthday; things meant for your ears only. Unfortunately, his unexpected death means he will not have the opportunity to do as he planned." The Fae paused as a man passed by them.

"What sorts of things?"

"Not here. Not now. Meet me at your grandfather's grave at midnight on your birthday."

Piper hesitated. "Why would I do that? You might be luring me to my death."

The Fae shook his head. "If I wanted to kill you, my boy, you would have been dead long ago." A gentleness entered his voice. "I mean you no harm, Piper."

Piper studied the Fae's face. "How can I be certain of that?"

"I admit, you cannot, especially since you know so little about me." The Fae fixed his pale blue eyes on Piper's. "Look into your heart for the answer. It will guide you far better than your eyes or ears if you trust it."

Piper looked down and pretended to study the bag in his hands. He took a breath and exhaled. "I ..."

"Hello, young man. Can I help you?"

Looking up, Piper saw the smiling face of the merchant of the leather goods booth. A quick glance around confirmed the Fae had disappeared into the crowds. A sigh of relief escaped Piper's lips, but a twist in his stomach was growing.

"Are you interested in purchasing that satchel?" the merchant asked.

"Ah, yes. Yes, sir, I am." Piper took a breath to steady himself. "I'll give you three coins for it."

The merchant shook his head. "Come, now. It's worth four times that amount. I can't take less than ten."

 

Author Notes Thank you to Angelheart for the loan of her artwork, "Cosmic Celebration"


Chapter 5
The Piper, part 5

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, leaves the protection of the city just before the city gates are about to close for the night. As he heads out of the gates, a city guard warns Piper of dangerous things in the darkness and offers to wait by the city gates to let him in when he returns. Piper spends the night at his grandfather's grave, mourning and playing his flute. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, the city guard comes to the rescue. A week later, Piper is approached by the Fae while he is at the open market shopping for a satchel. The Fae says he has some secrets he needs to share and invites Piper to meet him alone.


Ending of the previous chapter
Piper looked down and pretended to study the bag in his hands. He took a breath and exhaled. "I ..."

"Hello, young man. Can I help you?"

Looking up, Piper saw the smiling face of the merchant of the leather goods booth. A quick glance around confirmed that the Fae had disappeared into the crowds. A sigh of relief escaped Piper's lips, but a twist in his stomach was growing.

"Are you interested in purchasing that satchel?" the merchant asked.

"Ah, yes. Yes, sir, I am." Piper took a breath to steady himself. "I'll give you three coins for it."

The merchant shook his head. "Come, now. It's worth four times that amount. I can't take less than ten."



Chapter 5

"This is perfect," Rupert said as he and Piper settled themselves in an out-of-the-way corner of the castle's grand hall.

"Yes, it's my favorite spot. We can see everything from here. The entertainment should be good tonight, too. We haven't had a visiting troubadour in months." Piper waved to other guild apprentices that were taking seats across the room. "Good thing we got here early. The hall is filling up fast."

Piper scanned the hall and the entrances, taking in the sounds and sights of an audience anticipating a delightful evening. Would people be this excited to see him perform someday? If only. The odors of melting wax from the candles mixed with those of the burning coal in the fire pots that lit the room. Wood in the fireplaces popped and crackled and added their own scent. In addition to the thick tapestries that normally draped the walls, colorful banners on poles had been added to elevate the sense of festivity expected for the evening. People kept flowing through the doors. Only the center area where the entertainers would perform and the dais where the Duke and Duchess and their party would sit, remained open.

"They say Troubadour Braun has some great stories to share, and wonderful music, too," Rupert said.

"And news from other provinces. That's what I find most exciting." Piper continued to scan the doorways to see who was entering.

Rupert jabbed Piper with his elbow. "I can't wait until we are journeyman troubadours and we can see all those far away places for ourselves."

Piper beamed. "It will be exciting. Hey, look. Here comes the traveling troupe, and there's Troubadour Braun."

"You know him?" Rupert grinned with admiration.

"Yes. He was an apprentice when I first came here. I doubt he remembers me though. He's been gone for four or five years."

The chatter increased and a few people started clapping as the musicians entered. When Braun entered, some even rose to their feet.

Troubadour Braun raised a hand. "Thank you, folks. We are happy to be here, but we are just setting up at the moment. The performance doesn't start until Duke and Duchess Welf arrive. Rumor has it that will be sometime within the hour. In the meantime, we will be warming up the instruments and running in and out as we get ready, so please relax and ignore us for the moment."

The audience settled back and conversations returned to a dull murmur throughout the hall. Piper tried to relax, but found that no matter what he and Rupert talked about, his attention remained on the musicians, especially Braun.

Troubadour Braun spent several minutes testing instruments and then paused with a lute in his hands. He raised his eyes and looked around the hall as if searching for something. Then his eyes came to rest on a particular corner of the room and his face broadened into a wide smile. "Piper!"

Piper smiled back and waved. "Hi, Braun!"

"Hey, Piper, can you join me over here?"

Without hesitating, Piper turned to his friend. "Save my seat, will you, Rupert?"

"Of course." Rupert gave him a playful punch on the arm as he rose to go. "See you soon."

Those seated in front of Piper parted the way so he could reach the performance area, and he was soon standing next to Troubadour Braun.

"It's good to see you again, Piper," Braun said in a low voice meant only for Piper to hear in the noisy hall.

"Hi, Braun. I am surprised you remember me." Piper attempted to match the private tone that the troubadour had set.

"What? Grand Master Raymond Acker's grandson and the child prodigy of our guild? Come now, how could I forget? We even played a few duets together as I recall. I admit you've grown a foot or two, but I'd recognize you anywhere. In fact, I have a proposal for you later. Right now, though, I need a favor."

"How can I help, Troubadour Braun?" Piper could hardly contain his excitement, but put on his best performance face since he knew so many eyes were on him as he talked to Braun.

Braun laughed. "You know, I've been called that for going on five years now, but somehow it seems odd coming from your lips. As I recall you used to follow me around and call, 'Braun, Braun, will you sing a song?'"

"I guess I was a bit of a pest. How did you put up with me?"

"Oh, I didn't mind. You were so talented yourself." Braun paused a moment to take a quick look around. "Say, I don't know where all the guild masters are hiding at the moment, or I'd ask one of them. You see, I've broken a string on my lute so I was wondering if I could borrow a lute from the guild. Do you still have a key to grandfather's chambers?"

"Yes."

"Could you run and get a replacement for me, just for tonight? I'll make it right with the masters later, but I don't have time to restring my own instrument before the performance."

"Of course. I'll be back as quickly as I can, Troubadour Braun."

Braun chuckled and shook his head. "Good, lad. I appreciate it, Piper."

With that, Piper set off toward the chambers of the Master of the Music Guild, his focus on the task at hand, and getting back to the grand hall as quickly as possible so he wouldn't miss anything.



A tall figure in a dark, hooded cloak had been watching Piper the entire evening and slipped out of the room to trail a short distance behind the young apprentice. He was careful to stay far enough behind Piper to avoid arousing suspicion from castle guards or other astute observers. Traveling in the same direction as someone else would not seem odd if done in a casual manner. After all, there were only so many paths one could take through the castle corridors.

As he passed an open window, moonlight flashed across his bare hand revealing a slight silver-blue hue to his flesh. The figure instinctively adjusted his cloak so that his hands were not visible and kept his face turned toward the inner wall. It was unlikely in all the hustle and bustle that anyone would notice the revelation made by the moonlight, but there was no sense raising questions if it could be avoided. Not tonight at least.


Chapter 6
The Piper, part 6

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, risks leaving the protection of the castle and the city gates one evening, and spends the night playing his flute at his grandfather's grave. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, a city guard comes to the rescue. A week later, Piper is approached by the Fae while he is at the open market shopping for a satchel. The Fae says he has some secrets he needs to share and invites Piper to meet him alone, then leaves. That evening, Piper goes with his friend Rupert to a concert in the grand hall. Before the concert begins, Troubadour Braun asks Piper to retrieve a lute for him from the guild's collection. As Piper leaves the grand hall, a figure in a dark cloak follows him. 


Ending of the previous chapter
As he passed an open window, moonlight flashed across his bare hand revealing a slight silver-blue hue to his flesh. The figure instinctively adjusted his cloak so that his hands were not visible and kept his face turned toward the inner wall. It was unlikely in all the hustle and bustle that anyone would notice the revelation made by the moonlight, but there was no sense raising questions if it could be avoided. Not tonight at least.


Chapter 6

"Excuse me, sir. Are you one of the musicians?" A girl of about fourteen with a dreamy expression looked up at the individual who was about to pass her in the castle corridor.

The cloaked figure paused mid-stride and smiled down at her. "No, I came to watch them."

"Oh, I thought you might be Troubadour Braun. They say he is tall, broad shouldered, and ever so handsome. And well ..." She caught herself mid-sentence and lowered her eyes. "I am sorry for disturbing you, sir"

His smile broadened. "Don't be. I'm flattered that you would mistake me for the troubadour, but I am afraid I'm just part of the crowd, little one."

She giggled. "My friends are saving a seat for me, so I better go." She made a small curtsy. "Good-bye, sir."

"Good-bye."

Further down the corridor, several entryways converged into a foyer. Benches lined the walls, offering residents and visitors a place to rest, or pause to listen to the musicians who sometimes practiced here since they worked, studied and slept in nearby rooms.

The cloaked figure positioned himself in a shadowy area, and began to unfasten the laces of his boot. With one foot on a bench, he bent over and continued to fiddle with the lacings for several moments. Anyone glancing in his direction would think he was adjusting the laces to make them more comfortable to wear, not that many people looked his way. Most everyone was in a hurry to get to the grand hall of the castle before the entertainment began.

Across the way, Piper appeared before the door of the Grand Master of the Music Guild. The cloaked figure merged deeper into the shadows, and clenched his teeth for a moment in frustration. Things would be so much easier if you were still alive, Raymond Acker. Piper would believe you. The timing of your death couldn't have been worse.



After returning the key to his pocket, Piper paused. For the first time in his life, he hesitated to turn the handle. The door loomed taller, wider and more solid than he recalled. When did I cease to notice the finely carved panels with their scenes of musicians plying their craft? I was always in such a hurry to get to the other side of the door. The artistry and craftmanship are amazing. Flames from the sconces on the walls flickered and danced in a way that made the characters in the panels appear to move in time to some unheard music they were playing. It is easy to see why some people think this door is enchanted.

Piper reached out with one finger to trace the details depicting a duet between a piper and a lute player. Just like us, Grandfather. He dropped his hand and took a step back. I'll never see your smiling face again. Or hear your admirers call you the First Trouvere, or Beloved Troubadour, or Grand Master of the Music Guild.

A tear had formed at the corner of his eye, and Piper reached up to wipe it away. He swallowed hard to dislodge the lump forming in his throat. Oh, Grandfather, I know the guild will take care of me, but it won't be the same. He took a long deep breath, then released it slowly. Grasping the handle with more determination than he felt, Piper entered the room and walked halfway across it. The light from the sconces directly across the hall flowed into the room and banished shadowy forms to the corners.

Piper stood transfixed as he surveyed his surroundings. Nearly every morning since he was nine years old, he had rushed to get here, but he had not visited these chambers in a week. A sudden chill made him shiver and he rubbed his arms to warm himself. His eyes grew wide. 

Everything is the same. Somehow, I thought it would be ... different. 

Benches and music stands still took up one corner, ready for the next practice session to begin. Three quills rested on a stack of parchment paper on the desk near the shuttered window. Last week I sat there to copy and transcribe music for you, Grandfather, in preparation for tonight's concert. Piper felt a twinge of guilt. I should have put the quills away after clipping the nibs. Instruments still decorated the room, grouped in their various categories as usual. Nothing had changed. Still, all the familiar objects seemed out of place and somehow lost.

"Everything alright in here?"

Piper turned toward the door. "Oh, good evening, Captain Burkehart."

"Good evening, Piper." Burkehart stepped forward. "I hope I didn't startle you. I was surprised to see the door open. I thought all the musicians from the guild would be joining the festivities since one of your own has returned to the fold, so to speak."

"Troubadour Braun broke a string on his lute, and I was sent to fetch a replacement for him."

"Ah, yes. That makes sense." Burkehart looked around the room. "I never realized there were so many types of horns and lutes, let alone pipes, or flutes, or whatever you call them." He paused to look at Piper. "Do you play them all?"

Piper shrugged. "You could say that. Some better than others, of course."

"And your grandfather taught you."

The corners of Piper's mouth turned up. "Everyone said he was the most talented musician ever. I was lucky to be his apprentice." Piper's hand wandered to the flute hanging at his side. "He gave me my first fife, and taught me how to read music." Piper motioned toward the other side of the room. "Over at that desk near the window, I learned to write musical notation by copying music for him and the other masters. He also taught me to sing, compose, and how to play nearly every instrument in this room." A sigh passed his lips. "But the pipes are my favorite."

"Yes. I've heard you play. You have every right to be proud, Piper. Of both him and yourself."

"Thank you, Captain."

"You're welcome."

Piper glanced around the room again. "You know, I never thought of this before, but my grandfather occupied the rooms of the Grand Master of the Music Guild for more years than I've been alive."

"He will be hard to replace. Has the new Grand Master been determined yet?"

"Soon, they say. They were waiting for a few of the traveling masters and troubadours to return so the entire guild could meet."

"Speaking of which, I suppose everyone is waiting in the grand hall for your return. Would the two of you like an escort back? I know a few ways to get through the crowds more quickly."

"Two of us?" Piper questioned.

"Yes, you and the tall fellow who was lagging behind you when you entered. I took him to be one of the visiting troubadours."

"No. I'm alone. Everyone else stayed in the grand hall to watch the performance."

Out of reflex, Burkehart's hand went to the hilt of his sword. "Strange." He glanced warily around the room. "I was sure. Perhaps, it was trick of the lighting."

"You're probably right. The flickering light seems to do strange things to the senses." Piper reached toward the lute he had chosen for Troubadour Braun. Over his shoulder he saw a guard appear in the doorway.

"Captain Burkehart, sir?"

The captain turned toward the guard. "Yes, Troy. What is it?"

"Captain." Troy paused to glance at Piper, then back at Burkehart. "You asked to be informed when Duke Welf and his party drew near. They are about a mile from the castle and should arrive at the gates in the next twenty minutes."

"Thank you, Troy." Burkehart turned to Piper. "I am afraid I must take my leave. Troy will escort you back to the grand hall. Have a good evening, young man."

"The same to you, Captain."

Captain Burkehart stepped into the hallway to converse with Troy.

Out of habit, Piper walked over to the window next to his desk and tested the shutters. They were secure, but when he glanced at the desk he noted that there were only two quills resting on top of the parchment. Piper inspected the surrounding area briefly, then headed for the door. The quill could wait. Right now, Troubadour Braun needed a lute for his performance. Piper took one last look around to confirm all was secure, shut and locked the door, and headed for the grand hall with Troy at his side.



A cloaked figure placed a quill into his satchel along with several other items, then stepped from the shadows an instant too soon. He locked eyes with Captain Burkehart across the foyer.

Burkehart glared, and his hand went to the hilt of his sword. His lips formed a silent curse out of the name, "Summerstorm."

The Fae nodded at Burkehart--a taunt. There would be no confrontation. No other guards were within earshot, and there were too many people around. Besides, Burkehart had to hurry to be at the city gates when the Duke arrived or risk losing his position.

Redd-Leif Summerstorm turned to merge into the crowd. His smile turned into a smirk. Well, Burkehart, you may have interrupted my plans, but I have certainly put a thorn in your side for the evening.


~~~

Author Notes Thank you to Angelheart for use of the artwork "Cosmic Celebration"


Chapter 7
The Piper, part 7

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, risks leaving the protection of the castle and the city gates one evening, and spends the night playing his flute at his grandfather's grave. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, a city guard comes to the rescue. A week later, Piper is approached by the Fae while he is at the open market shopping for a satchel. The Fae says he has some secrets he needs to share and invites Piper to meet him alone, then leaves. That evening, Piper goes with his friend Rupert to a concert in the grand hall. Before the concert begins, Troubadour Braun asks Piper to retrieve a lute for him from the guild's collection. As Piper leaves the grand hall, the Fae follows him. Whatever his intentions, the Fae is interrupted when Piper is visited by Captain Burkehart.


Ending of the previous chapter
The Fae nodded at Burkehart--a taunt. There would be no confrontation. No other guards were within earshot, and there were too many people around. Besides, Burkehart had to hurry to be at the city gates when the Duke arrived or risk losing his position.

Redd-Leif Summerstorm turned to merge into the crowd. His smile turned into a smirk. Well, Burkehart, you may have interrupted my plans, but I have certainly put a thorn in your side for the evening.



Chapter 7

Rupert held up a tunic. "What about this one?"

"It should go in the trunk. I want to save it for when I get back." Piper selected an item of clothing from those arranged in front of him and placed it in his bag. Then he paused with a dreamy look on his face. "These past few days have been incredible."

"So, am I forgiven for not saving your seat?" Rupert taunted.

Piper smiled. "I admit I was upset when I returned to the grand hall with the lute for Braun and looked over to where you were sitting. There wasn't an inch to spare. I thought I was going to have to stand in the hall with the overflow crowd and just listen to the performance."

"Hey, I tried. You saw those guys, right? They were all bigger than me. What could I do? Besides, it worked out in your favor anyway."

"Yeah, it did." Piper's smile got even bigger. "When Troubadour Braun offered me a seat among the performers, I couldn't believe it."

"Good thing you always carry your flute or you would have been just a prop on the stage."

Piper patted the flute at his side. "Yeah, I was lucky."

"That duet you played with Braun was incredible." Rupert placed several items of clothing in the trunk then turned to look at Piper, a smirk on his face. "You sure you didn't practice with him beforehand."

"You know I didn't. I haven't seen Braun for years, not until he walked into the grand hall the other evening." Piper shrugged. "Besides, it is a common enough tune."

"Sure, everyone knows it. But to perform a duet the way you two did in front of a crowd? That was amazing. The Duke and Duchess loved it." Rupert got a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "And so did half the girls in the audience. Now they all giggle every time you walk past and say, 'Oh, Piper won't you play your flute for us?' And rumor has it that Lady Elise is sweet on you." Rupert increased the teasing in his tone. "Who knows, maybe you'll be the next duke."

Piper rolled his eyes. "You are crazy. I was as surprised as anyone that Troubadour Braun suggested I perform that duet with him. I followed his lead, put in a few flourishes, we connected musically, and it seemed to go from there."

"Don't we need to start calling him Master Braun?"

"You're right. After this morning that is his new title."

"Oh, I don't know," a voice said from the doorway. "The official ceremony isn't until this evening. Until then, I'm still technically a troubadour."

"Braun!" both boys called at once.

"Congratulations." Piper crossed the room to greet Braun. "They couldn't help but make you a master after your performance the other night. The crowd loved it."

Braun smiled. "It was a nice homecoming. I've been away far too long."

"Yeah," Rupert said, "you know how to put a show together."

"Thank you." Braun bowed, sweeping his hand with a flourish and stepping into the room. "How's the packing going?"

"Great. Hey, Troubadour ... I mean, Master Braun."

Braun laughed. "Yes, Piper?"

"Hey, I appreciate you taking me with you so I can get up north and see the estate my grandfather left me. I'd forgotten about it. He so seldom mentioned it."

"No problem. I'm excited to have you join me, and the visit to your estate should only take us a day or two out of the way. It will fit perfectly into our tour."

"I expect to learn a lot from you while we are traveling."

Braun beamed. "Thank you, Piper. You'll be the first apprentice to join me. Maybe the arrangement can become permanent when we return. I'll get an official residence then and can start building my school of performers. I can hardly wait."

"So, will you stop traveling?" Rupert asked.

"No, I want to keep traveling, just not as far or for as long. It will be nice to have a home base after all these years." Braun glanced over at the bags and clothes. "It looks like you are about finished packing."

Piper nodded. "I tried to follow your instructions. A change of traveling clothes, a couple of performance outfits, but keep it light. I'll take my flute and maybe a fife."

"Good lad. We'll have a few donkeys, but they'll carry our food and some of the bigger instruments. You'll have to carry most of what you need." Braun gave an approving nod to Piper. "I'll leave you to finish up and see you at the ceremony." Then he turned to Rupert. "Do you have time to assist me with some preparations?"

"Me?" Rupert beamed with surprise and delight at the request. "Yes, I do, Master Braun. See you later Piper."

Piper smirked at Rupert and nodded at Braun. "See you at the ceremony."

After Braun and Rupert left the room, Piper picked up his new satchel and sat on the bed. He ran his finger over a grey fringe poking out of a pocket he hadn't noticed before. Piper pulled at it and an object emerged from the pocket. The missing quill from the Grand Master's chambers? Strange. How did it get in my satchel? Who could have put it here? Out of curiosity, he put his hand into the mysterious pocket and retrieved a piece of folded parchment. Carefully, he unfolded it. Elegant script proclaimed,


The Black Forest Fife is yours by birthright
Secure its song

"The Black Forest Fife is mine? What Black Forest Fife? And secure its song?" Piper shook his head. "What does that mean?"

"I can explain if you would like," a soft friendly voice said.

Piper looked up to see a figure leaning against the door jamb, arms folded across his chest. The tunic he wore was colorful, hitting him mid-thigh, and was accented with a gold belt. His breeches, leggings and slippers matched the tunic. The overcoat was a deep russet-brown and flowed down to mid-calf. A large hat fit down over his ears. He could pass as a troubadour already dressed for the evening, but the pale blue eyes that seemed to search into Piper's soul revealed exactly who it was.

"Good evening, Piper." The Fae grinned. "It's difficult to catch you alone, my boy. If you have a few minutes to spare, we need to talk."

Piper rose to his feet. "May I ask why, sir? Sorry, I don't know your name."

"You can call me Redd-Leif." The Fae uncrossed his arms and stepped into the room. "And we need to talk because your grandfather was to impart certain information to you on your fifteenth birthday. I am afraid that task now falls to me."

Piper sighed. "My birthday isn't until Friday."

"And you will be on the road, traveling to Hanover City." Redd-Leif stepped closer. "A few days early shouldn't hurt anything. But if you insist on being official, I suppose we could wait until midnight on Thursday."

A movement in the doorway caught Piper's attention. He leaned to the left so he could see past Redd-Leif.

"Good evening, Captain Burkehart." Piper noted that the Captain was fully armed, a hand resting on the hilt of his sword. From the corner of his eye, Piper saw Redd-Leif stiffen.

"Good evening, Piper, and to you as well, Troubadour."

~~~


Chapter 8
The Piper, part 8

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, risks leaving the protection of the castle and the city gates one evening, and spends the night playing his flute at his grandfather's grave. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, a city guard comes to the rescue and the Fae disappears. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted. One evening, Piper is packing to go on tour with Master Braun, and the Fae shows up disguised as a troubadour. Just as the Fae is about to say why he wants to talk to Piper, Captain Burkehart appears at the door.  



End of previous chapter
A movement in the doorway caught Piper's attention. He leaned to the left so he could see past Redd-Leif.

"Good evening, Captain Burkehart." Piper noted that the Captain was fully armed, a hand resting on the hilt of his sword. From the corner of his eye, Piper saw Redd-Leif stiffen.

"Good evening, Piper, and to you as well, Troubadour."




Chapter 8

Captain Burkehart nodded at Piper from the doorway, but kept a hand on the hilt of his sword and an eye on the individual dressed as a troubadour. "I see you are busy packing for your journey, Piper. I hope that won't keep you from attending the festivities tonight."

"Oh, it won't, Captain," Piper said. "I'll have plenty of time to get ready."

"Are you providing any of the entertainment tonight?"

"Not officially, but after the ceremony there will be time for impromptu performances: storytelling, music, magic tricks, and all sorts of tomfoolery. It could go quite late." A dreamy look accentuated the huge grin that had not left Piper's face in days. "It's going to be grand."

Burkehart couldn't suppress a smile at the lad's enthusiasm. "It sounds exciting." The captain's gaze wandered to their companion. "And you, Troubadour, will you be favoring us with any entertainment tonight?"

"Perhaps." The troubadour gave a slight nod, keeping his face in the shadow of his large hat as much as possible. "We'll see how the evening goes."

"Yes, of course." Burkehart repositioned himself so that he was leaning against the door jamb. He studied the troubadour for a moment. "Sir," he said, "your clothes indicate you are visiting from a northern region. That area of the world fascinates me. I would love to hear the news of your travels. I'm making my rounds before the ceremony begins this evening. If you can accompany me I would like to ask you some questions as we walk." He looked over at Piper. "That is, if Piper can spare you. Do you mind, Piper?"

"No, not at all, Captain. I still have some packing to do and I need to change for the ceremony."

"Well, then, we will leave you to your preparations. Good evening, Piper." Burkehart straightened up, nodded at Piper, then stepped from the doorway into the hall. "Troubadour? Shall we be on our way?"

"By your leave," the troubadour said to Piper, giving him a slight bow before following the captain.

Piper nodded to each of them in return.

As the pair started down the hallway, Burkehart said in a low voice, "Don't try anything, Summerstorm. I have men positioned in strategic places to keep an eye on you."

"And your hand has never left your sword hilt. I am flattered," Summerstorm said with a smirk. "What have I done to deserve such attention?"

"Hopefully, nothing, but you're in disguise which indicates you are up to something."

"Disguise? I am just dressed for the evening."

"So now you're a troubadour? Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"I do have musical talent."

Burkehart frowned. "Too bad you won't be able to prove that since you aren't attending the festivities tonight. I do thank you, at least, for not upsetting Piper. He seemed in good spirits."

"Of course. It is an important evening for him." After they walked a few more paces, Summerstorm asked, "Tell me, Captain, what is your interest in the boy? You seem to be keeping a close watch on him."

"I might ask you the same thing. What do you want with him?"

"Me? I admire his musical ability. You heard him play at his grandfather's grave and then the other night with Braun. He's a prodigy. Piper plays better than most masters. Such talent is rare in one so young."

"And you intend to exploit that talent somehow."

Summerstorm stopped and faced Burkehart. "Not at all. I am merely an admirer."

"Keep moving," Burkehart growled, and motioned Summerstorm toward the next archway where two guards stood waiting. Summerstorm complied at a slow measured pace.

"Does Piper know who you are?" Burkehart asked.

"He knows I am Fae and that I like his music."

"Nothing more?"

"Nothing more." Summerstorm raised an eyebrow. "Again, Captain, what is your interest in Piper? Is he a relation of yours?"

"My interest is protecting him from your kind."

"My kind?"

"Fae, faeries, gnomes, pixies, elves, trolls, sprites, alfar and the like."

Summerstorm huffed. "You name quite a few races."

"Alright then, Elementals, the Fair Folk, or Faerie-kind if you prefer. Call yourselves whatever you like, but your kind preys on the young and vulnerable. Piper is both at present. He recently lost his last living relative, and he is starting out on his first adventure into the world. He doesn't know what to expect. Who knows who or what he will believe or how he will react? And he's just at the age your kind likes to lure away with tales of changelings who were exchanged at birth with human children and now need to return to their 'true parents' in the Faerie world."

Summerstorm scowled. "Stories invented by you humans to frighten your children and make them suspicious of the Fair Folk."

Burkehart took a deep breath and was about to respond when a shout came from the archway.

"Look! It's Troubadour Braun!"

Both Burkehart and Summerstorm turned to look behind them, but Braun was nowhere in sight.

Summerstorm turned an impish grin on Burkehart. "Seems I've been mistaken for Braun. Frankly, I don't see the resemblance. He's a good two inches shorter and not nearly as muscular as I am. Well, it is said that the clothes make the man."

A moment later a crowd of enthusiastic Braun admirers mobbed them. Burkehart made a futile attempt to grab Summerstorm's arm, but the crowd quickly came between them. Pinned against the wall, Burkehart was helpless to do anything except watch Summerstorm being swept away by the crowd. Summerstorm looked over his shoulder and smirked at Burkehart one last time before he disappeared from sight.

Burkehart cursed. Red faced, he turned toward the archway where his two men were posted. "Guards!"

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the beautiful artwork "Music abstract"


Chapter 9
The Piper, part 9

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, risks leaving the protection of the castle and the city gates one evening, and spends the night playing his flute at his grandfather's grave. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, a city guard comes to the rescue and the Fae disappears. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted. One evening while Piper is packing to go on tour with Master Braun, the Fae shows up disguised as a troubadour. Just as the Fae is about to say why he wants to talk to Piper, Captain Burkehart appears at the door. Burkehart excuses himself to make his rounds and takes the Fae (Summerstorm) with him, warning the Fae to not attempt anything. As they walk down the corridor, fans of Master Braun mistake the Fae for Braun and race toward the two.  


End of Previous Chapter
A moment later a crowd of enthusiastic Braun admirers mobbed them. Burkehart made a futile attempt to grab Summerstorm's arm, but the crowd quickly came between them. Pinned against the wall, Burkehart was helpless to do anything except watch Summerstorm being swept away by the crowd. Summerstorm looked over his shoulder and smirked at Burkehart one last time before he disappeared from sight.

Burkehart cursed. Red faced, he turned toward the archway where his two men were posted. "Guards!"



Chapter 9
"Leave off the search and return to your posts. We need to be in place before the ceremony begins." Burkehart's strict tone was meant to sound professional, but his men knew that the gruffness masked his frustration.

"Yes, sir," the two guards said in unison, heading for their assigned posts without hesitation.

With a heavy stride, Burkehart withdrew in the opposite direction. When he passed the chambers of the Grand Master of the Music Guild, he gritted his teeth. The figures carved in the door panels seemed more eerie than usual. Flickering light from the wall sconces cast moving shadows which brought the figures to life, and tonight they were taunting him with their dancing and playing. He could almost hear their laughter mixed with that of the Fae's.

The next archway brought him into an alcove across from the chambers of the Music Guild apprentices. Burkehart strode to the window and looked down at the ground. He shook his head and let out a deep sigh. "Blast it, Summerstorm, how can you disappear so easily, and in a crowd of people? So many stories." He gestured with his hands. "You were seen here; you were seen there. One person even claimed you disappeared through this window." He paused to look down at the ground again. "Even you couldn't have jumped from this height without killing yourself. Not unless you used faerie dust or grew wings." Burkehart slammed his gloved fist against the stone wall, then groaned and shook out the pain in his hand. Through gritted teeth he growled, "Where are you?" He stomped away, heading to the dining hall where the ceremony for Braun was being held.

~~~~
An hour later the corridors were deserted near the chambers of the Music Guild. A figure dropped from the rafters and went to the window where he leaned out to look down at the ground. "Whew. That is a ways down." He drew himself back in and relaxed against the wall to gaze up at the stars. "Faerie dust? Hmm. You have quite an imagination, Captain."

Redd-Leif Summerstorm chuckled as he headed down the corridor and through the archway into the next alcove. He stopped across from the chambers of the Grand Master of the Music Guild and paused to admire the door with the figures that appeared to move in the flickering light. "Enchanting," he said. "Such amazing workmanship."

But there was not time to dally. He paused a moment more, concentrating to hear, see, or smell anything that would indicate an intruder approached, or anyone lurked in wait for him. Convinced of his solitude, Redd-Leif moved to a certain dark corner against the opposite wall. Once more, he paused to listen before he put his hand on the stone wall and began to feel around. Now, where is that stone you showed me, Raymond? Ah, here it is. The scraping noise of stone on stone echoed in the empty alcove as a hidden door slid open. Quickly, Redd-Leif stepped into the secret passageway and pressed another stone to close the door. Once the scraping stopped and the wall settled back in to place, he put his back against the door and held his breath for several moments. Had anyone heard the noise? If so, would they come to investigate? Only the sounds of the flames flickering in the sconces came from the alcove. He let out a sigh of relief.

Faint starlight trickling through ventilation slits high up in the outer wall provided enough light for Redd-Leif to see. The passageway was deserted except for a few spiders who made their webs near the ventilation slits. Not even rats seemed to know this place existed. Black marks high on the stone walls were evidence that humans needed torches to see where they were going, but the marks looked old. No one had used a torch in this space in some time. Looking down the passageway, Redd-Leif wondered why they bothered with torches at all. The walls were close, with space barely wide enough for him to walk through without brushing the walls on both sides. If you couldn't see, you could feel your way along.

A swift walk brought Redd-Leif to the other end of the passage in a few minutes. Laughter, chattering voices, and music confirmed that the dining hall was on the other side of the wall. If he remembered correctly, a huge tapestry draped the wall, and he could easily slip out of the passageway without being noticed. If he were wrong or things had been rearranged, he was in danger of being seen and revealing the secret door.

The music ended. Cheers and clapping followed. Braun's voice called, "All the apprentices are invited to join us in this next piece. Piper, Rupert, the rest of you, come on up."

I don't want to miss this. Redd-Leif found the rock-switch and the door opened. Either it was quieter than the entry at the other end of the passageway, or the noise from the festivities was loud enough to cover the scraping of stone on stone. Either way, Redd-Leif barely heard the noise of the door opening himself.

To his relief, a dark blue drape was in place when the secret door slid open. Peeking from behind the curtain, Redd-Leif scanned the room. The few guards that were in the room were paying attention to the entertainment, with an occasional glance around the room so they would appear alert. Burkehart was leaning against a wall and watching the stage.

Redd-Leif smiled. He should blend in easily. Several troubadours wore hats and clothes similar to his, and one of them had just left a nearby table. Redd-Leif moved into the spot, certain that Burkehart would mistake him for the troubadour that had recently sat there. He reached for bread, cheese, and meat, more to blend in than to feed his hunger, although the food was welcome to his empty stomach.

The musicians played several songs, joking and teasing with the audience and each other as they performed. Then there was a slight break as the performers conferred. One of the masters stepped forward and announced, "Next up is Piper." He waved toward Piper. "The stage is yours, young man."

Piper stepped to center stage and bowed. "Thank you, Master Kort." Turning to the audience, Piper said, "This piece is one that my grandfather, Grand Master Acker, wrote. It was one of his favorites. I dedicate this performance tonight to his memory."

A hush fell over the audience as the first notes flowed from Piper's flute and embraced the emotions of those in the hall.

Tears welled in the eyes of a few; soft smiles and thoughtful gazes graced the faces of others. Dreamy looks that hinted of being transported to enchanted, far away places graced even more. Other than a hand here and there reaching up to dab away a tear, nothing stirred. Except the music.

Delight crept into Redd-Leif's eyes, and a grin enveloped his face as he observed the reactions of the audience. Oh, Piper, my boy. This ... this is pure magic.

~~~~~

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the beautiful artwork "Music abstract"


Chapter 10
The Piper, part 10

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper, a young musician, risks leaving the protection of the castle and the city gates one evening, and spends the night playing his flute at his grandfather's grave. A Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. As the Fae approaches Piper, a city guard comes to the rescue and the Fae disappears. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted. Captain Burkehart searches for the Fae in vain. The Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) uses stealth and secret passageways to travel through the castle. He attends the festivities celebrating Braun's promotion to a master musician. To Summerstorm's delight, Piper performs at the occasion.



End of Previous Chapter
A hush fell over the audience as the first notes flowed from Piper's flute and embraced the emotions of those in the hall.

Tears welled in the eyes of a few; soft smiles and thoughtful gazes graced the faces of others. Dreamy looks that hinted of being transported to enchanted, far away places graced even more. Other than a hand here and there reaching up to dab away a tear, nothing stirred. Except the music.

Delight crept into Redd-Leif's eyes, and a grin enveloped his face as he observed the reactions of the audience. Oh, Piper, my boy. This ... this is pure magic.




Chapter 10

"We'll make camp here," Master Braun called out so the entire company could hear. He looked up at the sky and added, "Put up some tents as a precaution. It doesn't look like we will be sleeping under the stars tonight."

Packs fell to the ground and everyone set to work. After a week of traveling together, each person knew his assigned tasks.

Rupert found a fallen log and sat down to shake debris out of his boot. He reached down to rub his foot. "Ahh."

Piper came to sit next to him. "So, you still happy your parents relented and let you come?"

"Of course. A blister or two is a small price to pay for a chance to travel with Master Braun." Rupert punched Piper on the arm. "And with you, of course."

"Thanks." Piper smiled. "Say, did you ever find out what Braun said to your mother to get her to agree?"

"Not all of it." Rupert shook his boot one more time then put it back on. "I did get that Master Braun promised her I would be one of his first apprentices, and he will teach me more on this trip than I could learn in a year at the castle. Basically, I think he charmed her into believing this was the chance of a lifetime." Exaggerated voice and arm movements accompanied his next statement. "It will enhance my musical career beyond anything she could imagine."

Piper laughed. "Whatever he said, I am glad you are here."

"And so am I," Braun said from behind them.

"Master Braun." Piper rose to his feet. "We were just about to go fetch the water."

"Calm down, Piper. I actually want to switch up your assignments this evening. Part of becoming a troubadour is knowing how to take care of yourself on the road. Sometimes you can attach yourself to a group traveling in the same direction. A few people are content to let you 'sing for your supper,' but it is rare. You'll have to pitch in and help along the way. Sometimes you will be on your own and have to do everything yourself. I am afraid the mundane tasks are just as important as the glamorous ones." Braun put his hands on his hips. "So, either one of you boys know how to pitch a tent?"

"My father and I go hunting sometimes," Rupert said. "I've helped pitch the tents then."

"Excellent, Rupert. Since you've had experience, I have another assignment for you." He turned to survey the area. "Captain Burkehart?"

Burkehart looked over from where he was instructing one of his men. "Yes, Master Braun?"

"Could Rupert go with your men to gather firewood? With the clouds hovering the way they are, we want as much dry wood as we can get."

Burkehart nodded. "Of course." He called to one of the guards, "Axel, take our young apprentice Rupert with you to gather wood. Keep him safe."

"Yes, sir." Axel smiled at Rupert. "Come on, lad. We want a hot supper before the rain starts tonight and plenty of dry wood will assure that."

Braun pointed to a bundle a few feet away. "Piper, come with me. It's time for you to pitch your first tent."

After Piper made several attempts with Braun instructing, a lopsided tent was standing. Braun shook his head and laughed. "If it didn't look like rain, I'd knock it down and make you do it again. It's far from perfect, but this should do for you and Rupert tonight. Maybe, Rupert can show you how he pitches a tent tomorrow night." Braun looked over to see Axel stacking wood into an organized wood pile. Another soldier was getting a fire started and several other members of the company were preparing dinner.

"Where's Rupert?" Braun asked.

Axel looked over his shoulder before answering. "He was right behind me, Master Braun. I'm sure he will appear at any moment."

"I'll go find him, just in case he needs some help," Piper offered. "Sometimes he tries to carry too much so he can make fewer trips."

"Thanks, Piper." Braun turned back to directing the preparations for the evening's camp.

Piper picked up his flute, admired its new traveling case for a moment, then lifted the strap over his head so that it crossed his chest. He arranged his satchel on his opposite shoulder so that the straps crossed perfectly over his chest. After he was satisfied that everything was in order, he headed for the tree line at an easy jog, slowing to a fast walk as the ground grew steeper near the forest's edge. He stepped into the trees and paused. The air was several degrees cooler in the shade. He took a deep breath, smiling at the coolness as it flowed past his teeth, and then let it out slowly through his mouth.

"Rupert?" he called. When there was no answer, he headed deeper into the trees. Up ahead he spotted a figure who appeared to be looking in his direction. Piper weaved his way through the trees and undergrowth toward him. "Rupert?" he called again. Still no answer. Piper drew closer to the individual, wondering at the lack of response. Was he mistaken? Wasn't that Rupert? It looked like him. Piper stopped behind a tree to study the person a few feet in front of him.

Clutching the wood he had gathered to his chest, Rupert stood still as a statue.

Piper stepped forward a few more paces and stopped. "Hey, Rupert, what are you doing? We can't start dinner without the firewood."

As if the sound of his voice were a cue, wolves slunk forward to form a barrier between and around the two boys. Hackles rose with each stealthy step the animals took. Low growls, which were so soft that they were felt more than heard, sent a shiver down Piper's spine.

"Piper?" Rupert whispered, a terrified look on his face.

"I ..." A wide-eyed Piper looked from Rupert to the crouching wolves, then shouted with as much force as he could, "Wolves! Help!"

A snarling wolf sprang from the bush at Piper's right, lunging toward Rupert. Rupert threw up his arms to protect his face, screaming as fangs sank into his arm. Firewood clunked and clanked as it dropped to the ground.

Piper staggered backward and lost his footing on the soft earth. Struggling to regain his balance, arms flailing as he slipped backwards, his feet caught in the tangled vines of the forest floor, and he tumbled toward a fallen log. The last thing Piper saw before his head hit the bark was a blur of dark wolf fur and a person with white hair meeting mid-air a few feet from him.

Author Notes Thank you to GailaG for the use of the artwork "Music abstract"


Chapter 11
The Piper, part 11

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe.



End of Previous Chapter
Piper staggered backward and lost his footing on the soft earth. Struggling to regain his balance, arms flailing as he slipped backwards, his feet caught in the tangled vines of the forest floor, and he tumbled toward a fallen log. The last thing Piper saw before his head hit the bark was a blur of dark wolf fur and a person with white hair meeting mid-air a few feet from him.



Chapter 11

"Wolves! Help!"

"What the ..." Master Braun froze.

Everyone in camp turned in the direction of the nearby forest. Shrieks, the sounds of branches breaking, yelps and growls rent the air. Then silence.

Master Braun grabbed his staff and ran toward the trees. "Piper! Rupert!"

"Guards!" bellowed Captain Burkehart although his orders were unnecessary. Trained soldiers had instinctively drawn their weapons and were dashing toward possible conflict. The two soldiers on guard duty stayed behind to protect the rest of the company and gather its members into more defensible positions.

Upon reaching the attack site in the trees, Master Braun paused to assess the area, his eyes darting from one place to another:  A patch of blood on the leaves at his feet. A dead wolf. More patches of blood at his right. More blood here. And more over there. Scattered leaves. Churned soil. Freshly broken branches. To his left a pile of wood looked as if it had been gathered and then dropped. A lump formed in Braun's throat. Where were his apprentices?

"Piper! Rupert!" he shouted. He held his breath. Seconds ticked by. Braun shouted again, "Piper! Rupert!" A twig snapped. He jerked toward the sound, every muscle taut as he strained to see, smell or hear something, anything. Please answer. He began searching the ground. There had to be footprints indicating which way the boys may have run in search of safety.

Meanwhile, guards scattered in various directions, looking for signs and shouting the boys' names. Captain Burkehart remained at the attack site with Braun to search for clues. "Piper! Rupert!" Braun continued to call every minute or so.

After several minutes, two guards came crashing through the underbrush, running up to Burkehart. "Captain," one of them said between breaths, "there were at least ten or twelve wolves, although it could have been more." He pointed as he spoke. "Some went that way, others that way. There is blood in both directions. There is no obvious reason to indicate why the pack separated and ran off."

"Thank you, men. Continue the search."

Burkehart moved over to the wolf lying on the ground. He prodded it with his sword, then with his foot. When it didn't move, he bent down to examine it more closely, moving his hands through its fur. He lifted its head, then let it drop back to the ground. "There is no blood on this wolf. Someone broke its neck. A nice clean kill."

"Someone?" Braun asked.

"One of the Fair Folk, perhaps. I don't know any humans who are strong or quick enough to dispatch a wolf so efficiently. Elves are common in these parts. A Fae has been hovering around Castle Welf. We could have been followed, or they could have happened by." Burkehart stood up and continued searching for clues.

"Elves. Fae." Braun walked over to the wolf, but he barely glanced at it. He let out a sigh. "Then there is hope. Some of the Fair Folk may have rescued the boys and taken them to safety or to care for them if they are wounded."

Burkehart was silent a moment before answering. "Frankly, it would be better for the boys if they were carried off by the wolves. Wolves would offer a quick death. Their suffering would be short."

Braun's jaw dropped. "We have no proof either of them is dead. Wounded, perhaps, but we don't even know if the blood is theirs."

"Be realistic, Master Braun," Burkehart said as he continued searching the ground for clues. "It is likely at least one, if not both of them, is dead or mortally wounded." Burkehart looked up at the sky. "It will be dark soon and the wolves may return. We need to secure the camp."

"I disagree. There is every reason to hope they are both alive, and their best chance is for us to continue the search and find them as quickly as possible."

"It's too dangerous in the dark." Burkehart looked at the sky again. "Those clouds are going to make the night even darker than usual. We will have to wait until morning. Pray it doesn't rain and destroy any trail they may have left."

The knuckles of Braun's hands turned white as he gripped his staff to steady himself. In a low controlled voice he said, "Are you giving up on finding them before we even start a search, Captain?"

"No." Burkehart bent down to examine a patch of blood, pausing a moment to examine the position of the leaves and to turn over some twigs. He didn't bother to look up at Braun when he continued. "No. I have not given up, Master Braun, but I am realistic. There is always a chance the boys escaped, however, it is slight. If the wolves have them, they are dead. And I hold little hope they are safe if they are in the hands of the Fair Folk."

"You're a bit hard on the Fair Folk, aren't you?"

"Have you ever faced one of them in battle?"

"No."

"No, you would be too young to remember the wars. So you have no idea what they do to their captives, do you, Master Braun?"

"Do you, Captain?"

Burkehart turned his gaze on Braun, an angry glint in his eyes. "Unfortunately, yes."

~~~~~

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork, "Music Abstract."



Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf.


Chapter 12
The Piper, part 12

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert missing.


End of Previous Chapter
The knuckles of Braun's hands turned white as he gripped his staff to steady himself. In a low controlled voice he said, "Are you giving up on finding them before we even start a search, Captain?"

"No." Burkehart bent down to examine a patch of blood, pausing a moment to examine the position of the leaves and to turn over some twigs. He didn't bother to look up at Braun when he continued. "No. I have not given up, Master Braun, but I am realistic. There is always a chance the boys escaped, however, it is slight. If the wolves have them, they are dead. And I hold little hope they are safe if they are in the hands of the Fair Folk."

"You're a bit hard on the Fair Folk, aren't you?"

"Have you ever faced one of them in battle?"

"No."

"No, you would be too young to remember the wars. So you have no idea what they do to their captives, do you, Master Braun?"

"Do you, Captain?"

Burkehart turned his gaze on Braun, an angry glint in his eyes. "Unfortunately, yes."




Chapter 12

Piper's eyes fluttered open. Flickering light from a fire illuminated the cave's ceiling and walls with an other-worldly glow. Rough formations transformed their shapes and textures erratically as the variable lighting flitted across their surfaces. Faint groans from somewhere close by echoed in Piper's ears. He rolled his head to the left, squinting into the gloom as he tried to focus on something moving in the dim light. "Rupert?"

A large shadow suddenly loomed across the cave ceiling and wall, blocking the light from the fire. Piper's eyes widened. The shadow shrank when someone knelt next to him. "Ah, Piper, my boy, you're awake," a deep gentle voice said. "Good. I was getting worried. How is your head?"

Piper touched the swelling above his temple and winced. "Ouch." With a determined effort, he raised himself to his elbows, then sat up. Even in the dim light, Piper could make out the white hair and pale blue eyes that gazed back at him. "Redd-Leif?"

"Yes, my boy?"

"Is Rupert alright?"

"He's alive."

"Where are we? How did we get here?"

"I brought you here."

"How ..."

Redd-Leif put up a hand. "Hold on, Piper. I'll answer all your questions, but first I need you to do something."

"What?"

"Tell me the last thing you remember."

Piper closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I saw Rupert ..."

"No, look at me while you speak. I need to see your eyes."

A groan drew Piper's gaze to the left side of the cave. "Is he alright?"

"Piper, I know you are concerned about your friend, but try to concentrate."

He looked back at Redd-Leif. "I saw Rupert standing in the forest, holding the wood he had gathered, then a wolf attacked him. It bit his arm, and ..." Piper gulped. "And he screamed. Other wolves closed in and started attacking. I saw one jump toward me, and someone ... you, I think ... caught it in mid-air." Piper stared at Redd-Leif. "You ... you saved us. Didn't you?"

Redd-Leif smiled. "You seem to have your wits about you. That's a good sign." Shifting to a sitting position, Redd-Leif nodded toward Rupert. "Your friend is hurt badly, but it could have been worse. His thick leather clothing protected him from most of the bites, especially his lower legs where the wolves concentrated their attack. When Rupert dropped his bundle of wood, it frightened the wolves off, either because the noise startled them or because the wood hit them. Unfortunately, the wolf you saw attack him broke his arm. I've done what I can to stop the bleeding and administered herbs to help ease the pain, but he needs a healer and soon."

"We have a healer in Braun's traveling company," Piper said. "If we could get back to the troupe, he could help."

"I'm afraid that is not an option. For safety, the troupe moved on after the attack. Trying to locate them might take too much time. He is in danger of losing his arm if we don't get him help and soon."

"No, don't say that. Rupert is a musician; he needs both hands. He couldn't play lutes, or pipes, or ... so many things ..." Piper's brow furrowed. "Where can we get help then?"

Redd-Leif let out a deep sigh. "Piper, what I am about to propose requires you to be very brave, but it is the only thing I can think of to give Rupert a chance."

"I'll do whatever I can to help him."

"I know." After a slight pause he added, "Rupert is lucky to have such a good friend." Redd-Leif ran a hand through his hair then let one finger come to rest on his chin. "I know an Elven settlement where we can seek help. They have several excellent healers. I need to get him there as soon as possible."

"How far away is it?"

"If all three of us travel together it would take about a week."

"A week?" Worry crept into Piper's voice and pleading into his eyes. "Can he make it that long?"

Redd-Leif remained silent for a moment while he studied Piper. "I doubt it. But with luck, and if the weather holds, I could make it in three or four hours if I carry him." Redd-Leif reached over and put a hand on Piper's shoulder. "It would mean leaving you here alone until I could get back. I'm sorry, but it's the best solution I have at the moment."

"Then go! Hurry!"

"Slow down, Piper. We need to take time to prepare." Rising to his feet, Redd-Leif continued, "At the moment Rupert is sleeping more peacefully than he has in hours. Before we leave, I want to make certain you are taken care of." Pointing to the other side of the cave, he said, "I've stacked enough dry wood against the wall to last several days. Keep the fire going at the mouth of the cave and animals should leave you be." Redd-Leif reached over and picked up a satchel. "There's enough food in here for several days: dried meat, dried fruits, a few carrots, and cereal you can make into porridge. " He pulled a small round pan out of the bag. With a slight smirk he held it up for Piper to see. "This is my favorite traveling pan. Take good care of it."

"I will."

Next, Redd-Leif picked up a water skin. "I'll leave this for you as well. It should last you two or three days if you are careful."

"Thank you." Piper looked anxious. "What about you and Rupert?"

"Thinking of your friend." Redd-Leif smiled. "Good lad." He pointed toward his packs. "I carry a spare water skin in case the one I have springs a leak. Usually it is empty, but I took time to fill it when I gathered the wood. I'll take it with us. We shouldn't need food until we reach the Elven settlement. The lighter I travel, the quicker we can get there."

"It sounds like everything is covered."

"Almost. I need to make a sling to carry Rupert. His cloak should work. That way I can leave you my blanket. Fortunately, he is a small lad so he weighs next to nothing. The tricky part will be protecting his injured arm while we travel."

"What can I do to help?"

"How is your flute?"

A puzzled look crossed Piper's face. "My flute?"

"Yes. If you are up to it, play some tunes while I work. It will help all three of us."

Piper reached to his side where the flute normally hung. It wasn't there.

"I placed it with your satchel just above your head." Redd-Leif nodded to a position behind where Piper was sitting on his bedroll.

"Thank you, sir." Piper turned over from his sitting position onto his knees and reached toward his belongings. He removed the flute from its traveling case and unwrapped the sheepskin covering he used for extra protection. To his trained and careful eye, the flute appeared to be in good condition. He played a few notes to confirm it was unharmed. Then he reached for his satchel and checked its contents, including a case containing a fife he had brought along as his second instrument. Everything seemed to be in order.

Piper stood and began playing the tune he had played at Braun's ceremony.

"Ah, that's nice, Piper. When you are alone, you should play your flute if you are feeling threatened or nervous. Not only will it give you something to do, but it will charm the animals so they don't bother you."

Piper paused mid-tune. "Really?"

"There is more power in music than you imagine, Piper."

"More power?" A gleam came into Piper's eyes. "I've always thought that, but ..." Piper's fingers caressed the finger holes of his flute and he placed the instrument back to his lips.

While Redd-Leif prepared Rupert and himself for the journey ahead, Piper continued playing his flute. At first the melodies were slow and thoughtful, but then Piper turned to brighter more cheerful pieces.

After a few minutes, preparations were completed, and Rupert was safely cradled in a sling for the journey. Redd-Leif stood at the mouth of the cave. "If the weather holds and I don't run into any trouble, I should be back by tomorrow evening. If I can send help before that, I will. We should select a password so you know the help comes from me. How about 'Rupert?'"

Piper nodded. "That should work."

"'Rupert' it is then." Redd-Leif started forward, then paused and turned to look at Piper. "If you feel threatened or hear odd noises in the forest, play your flute. I recommend either the tune you played at your grandfather's grave or the one you played the night of Braun's ceremony."

"Why those?"

"Those tunes have deeper magic. One day you will understand their power. For now, use them to your advantage."

Piper looked down at the flute in his hand, and was about to ask another question, but when he looked up, Redd-Leif had disappeared into the night.

~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf.

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.


Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 13
The Piper, part 13

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and rescued by the Fae.



End of Previous Chapter
Redd-Leif started forward, then paused and turned to look at Piper. "If you feel threatened or hear odd noises in the forest, play your flute. I recommend either the tune you played at your grandfather's grave or the one you played the night of Braun's ceremony."

"Why those?"

"Those tunes have deeper magic. One day you will understand their power. For now, use them to your advantage."

Piper looked down at the flute in his hand, and was about to ask another question, but when he looked up, Redd-Leif had disappeared into the night.



Chapter 13
Pacing back and forth didn't help. Stoking the fire every five or six minutes didn't help. Sitting at the mouth of the cave and staring past the fire into the darkness wondering what time it was didn't help.

With a heavy sigh, Piper rose to his feet. Being alone was harder than he had anticipated. No, that wasn't true. Neither darkness nor solitude had ever bothered him. What was difficult was not knowing, the sense that there was nothing he could do but wait. Had Redd-Leif reached the Elven settlement? Did he outrace the storm? Did the sling they created for Rupert hold and protect him as Redd-Leif ran? Would the Elves help Rupert once they got there? Piper paced a few more strides then stopped.What if Redd-Leif doesn't come back? The Fair Folk are notorious for playing cruel tricks on humans. But Redd-Leif saved my life, didn't he? And he is trying to save Rupert, isn't he?

Piper looked toward the cave entrance again. The sun had set a few minutes ago. If everything had gone as planned, Redd-Leif should be back any time now.

To stave off a sudden chill, Piper placed his hands on his arms and rubbed them up and down vigorously, then pulled the hood of his cloak up to cover his head. Not a single ray of sunshine had broken through the clouds all day, leaving it colder than it should be for a day in late spring. The fire helped some, but not enough. He glanced over at the blanket that made up his bedroll. Sleep eluded him last night and probably would tonight as well no matter how tired he was or how hard he tried to drift off.

During the day he'd wandered outside the cave a few times to relieve himself, look around a bit, and gather more wood. He thought about eating and had even pulled out a pot to cook some porridge, but he wasn't certain how to do it. Besides, he didn't want to risk damaging Redd-Leif's favorite pan, or so he told himself. The truth was he was too nervous to eat anything except a few pieces of dried fruit and meat.

He paced some more. Waiting was exhausting, but rest was impossible. What to do in the meantime? Unconsciously, he put his hand on the flute hanging at his side.

A smile crept into his lips. Of course, the obvious. There was no truer companion than his flute. They had grown up together. It understood his moods, his needs. It knew how to console, soothe, heal, inspire. It knew how to transport him beyond time and place.

He lifted the instrument from his side, placing his fingers deftly over the familiar holes. The coolness of the mouthpiece against his lips caused Piper to suck in his breath sharply. He licked the mouthpiece to prepare it for playing, savoring the taste of the rosewood on his tongue. To test the timbre of the wood, he coaxed a few tentative notes from the flute with short, warm breaths. The tone seemed a bit sharp. Take it slowly. As Grandfather always said, let the instrument warm at its own pace.

A gentle melody, the first tune his grandfather had taught him, flowed into the cave. The acoustics of the small, enclosed space enhanced the essence of each tender note. Piper's smile grew. At first, he played the tune simply, then picked up the pace, adding flourishes and variations. Another tune his grandfather had taught him followed, then another and another. Lost in the joy of the music, he swayed and danced to the rhythms. His thoughts drifted to his sixth birthday.



"Come, Piper," his grandfather had called. "Hurry. I have a surprise for you."

Piper's eyes grew wide when he saw the package. "For me?" He couldn't get the wrappings off fast enough. Then he stared at the flute for a full minute before looking up at his parents and his grandfather, too dumbfounded to say a word. It was so beautiful.

A moment later, wonder turned to alarm when he saw the concerned look on his mother's face. His frightened heart skipped a beat when she said, "Father, what are you thinking? A rosewood flute of such quality is too grand a gift for a child. It belongs in the hands of a master musician, or a troubadour at very least. He's not even old enough to be an apprentice."

Six-year-old Piper bit his lip and held his breath. Would she take it from him before he even had a chance to play a note? He picked up the flute and wrapped both hands around it, prepared to cling to it, but not too tightly. It was too precious to risk damaging it.

"Nonsense," his grandfather said. "You'll thank me later, my dear. A cheap instrument produces inferior sound. The shrill notes and squeaks as he experiments with the music would drive you all mad and discourage his talent." Grandfather then put a hand on Piper's back and looked down at the worried six-year-old. "The tone of this one will make you all joyful when Piper plays it. Besides, he is going to take good care of it." Grandfather winked at him. "Aren't you, Piper?"

Piper nodded his head a dozen times in response as he continued to stare wide-eyed at the flute in his hands. Then he placed the instrument to his lips, took a breath and blew into it.

The flute responded with vibrations tingling beneath his fingers. Shivers raced from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. His toy reed and bone pipes had never responded with such wonderful sensations. They had never come to life. Yes, he would take very, very good care of this flute.

Piper's father had laughed. "We are in trouble now. See the look of delight in his eyes?" Then his voice grew stern. "Piper, remember your chores come first. Music is a nice diversion, but a hard way to make a living. Not everyone can be a master musician like your grandfather."

"Come now," Grandfather had said, and winked at Piper again. "He's a natural. Music runs in his blood. It's his birthright even more than it is mine."



A piece of wood in the fire popped loudly, jolting Piper's thoughts back to the small cave now serving as his shelter. He looked over at the fire which had diminished to glowing embers licked by a few flickers of flames. He must have played longer than he realized. Memories may warm my thoughts, but I should keep the fire going.

The flute fell back to its place at his side and he went to retrieve fuel from the wood pile. He was careful to arrange the logs for efficient burning as he added them to the fire. Though there was enough wood for a week or more, there was no sense wasting it. Squatting on his heels, he stoked the fire so it would blaze for a while without being tended. Once he was satisfied, he glanced into the darkness.

Two eyes glowed back at him.

Piper gulped. What...? Who...? He stood up and stomped his feet, thinking the action would startle an animal and drive it away.

The two eyes continued to stare at him.

Piper put the flute to his lips again. I hope you are right about the power of music to keep the animals at bay, Redd-Leif.

After a quick six note trill, the tune Piper had played at Master Braun's ceremony floated into the night air. He varied the tempo, volume and rhythm every few measures. The glowing eyes blinked and moved slightly a few times, but otherwise remained in the same position. You said this tune had deeper magic and would protect me. Piper stopped playing and stared back at the glowing eyes.

"What a nice melody," a serene feminine voice said from the darkness.

To control the quivering he felt rising in his throat, Piper took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Who's out there?"

A moment later, a large gray wolf stepped into the light just the other side of the fire. "You play well," she said. Then she moved past the fire and into the cave.




~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf.

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.


Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"



Chapter 14
The Piper, part 14

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and rescued by the Fae.



End of Previous Chapter
Piper stopped playing and stared back at the glowing eyes.

"What a nice melody," a serene feminine voice said from the darkness.

To control the quivering he felt rising in his throat, Piper took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Who's out there?"

A moment later, a large gray wolf stepped into the light just the other side of the fire. "You play well," she said. Then she moved past the fire and into the cave.



Chapter 14
The wolf crept into the cave with smooth silent steps, its jade green eyes fixed on Piper. The light gray color of its fur contrasted sharply against the darkness surrounding it, enhancing the bristling hackles along its back. As it moved past the fire, its shadow grew and loomed across the cave to envelop Piper.

Piper backed up until he was against the cave wall. He gulped, not daring to look away from the creature or reach up to brush away a bead of sweat forming on his forehead despite the chill in the air. "Wolves are supposed to be afraid of fire," Piper whispered. "And the music ..."

"... was lovely," the serene feminine voice said. "And, I am not a wolf."

"But ..."

"I know, dear boy." She stopped next to the bedroll and sat down. "But looks can be deceiving." The wolf yawned, letting her tongue stretch out and curve back to touch her front teeth--such large white teeth--before relaxing and making several smacking sounds with her lips. She looked over at Piper. "Besides, how many wolves do you know who can talk?"

Piper drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. His eyes darted to the wood pile, then back at the large gray creature. He slid his foot a few inches in the direction of the wood pile and shifted his weight to follow. "I've never had the opportunity to talk to a wolf before."

A sound resembling something between a laugh and a growl, followed by a snort, came from the wolf. "Silly boy. You know wolves can't talk."

"If you're not a wolf, then what are you?" He slid his other foot next to the first.

"It's a long story." She glanced over at the wood pile, then returned her gaze to Piper. If a wolf could smirk, she did. "The short answer is, I made a sorcerer angry. Obviously, not advisable." She lowered herself to the ground, and crossed her paws in front of her. "You must be Piper."

"How ...?" Piper leaned forward. "Who are you?"

"I am Sheba. Summerstorm sent me."

"Summerstorm?"

"You know, tall guy, white hair, carrying your friend Rupert to safety. Oh, by the way, you neglected to ask, but the password is 'Rupert.'"

"You saw them?" Piper took a step toward Sheba. "Have they reached the Elven settlement yet? Is Rupert alright?"

"I imagine they have reached the settlement by now. When I saw them early this morning, Summerstorm estimated they would be there in an hour or so."

"You mean Redd-Leif?"

"Redd-Leif?" She cocked her head to one side. "He lets you call him Redd-Leif? Hmm."

"That's what he told me to call him."

Sheba snorted again. "Summerstorm, or if you prefer, Redd-Leif did say you were prone to impatience. Most likely your youth, I suppose." She began licking her paw.

"Is Rupert alright?"

She looked up. "I'm no healer, but Rupert was conscious and complaining his arm hurt when I saw them. That's generally a good sign." Sheba studied Piper for a moment. "I don't know if it will help, but I suppose I should tell you what I know." She tilted her head toward the bedroll. "Come, sit down. Or better still, lie down. You will be warmer wrapped in the blankets and you should get some sleep. I'll talk to you while you doze off."

Piper stayed where he was. "How do I know you won't eat me?"

Sheba licked her lips and snapped her teeth in Piper's direction.

He gasped and jumped back.

She laughed. "Oh, you do have an active imagination, don't you?" With an amused tone, she continued, "You would taste awful. Besides, I promised Summerstorm, ah, pardon me, Redd-Leif, that I would watch over you until he can return."

Piper glanced toward the mouth of the cave. Nothing but darkness was visible now the sun was fully set. The cloud cover made the air heavy. A knot settled in his stomach and his throat tightened. Out of habit, Piper's hand went to the flute at his side, as it often did when he sought reassurance. "Redd-Leif should be back soon."

"Yes, soon. Later tonight or early tomorrow, I would guess." Sheba continued with a more comforting tone. "You know, Redd-Leif is incredibly fit, but even a Fae needs rest. He'll be here as soon as he can." When Piper didn't move, she got up and went over to the fire. "I think I'll keep watch for him while you get some sleep."

Still as a statue, Piper remained where he was. "You promised to tell me about Rupert."

"So I did." Sheba glanced in Piper's direction and sighed. "At least wrap the blanket around you or get closer to the fire. Your chattering teeth are driving me crazy."

"Oh, sorry. I didn't realize ..." Piper moved over to the bedroll, keeping a wary eye on Sheba as he bent down and reached for his pack. "I need to clean my flute."

"Well, at least it's a start."

A start to what? I'm trapped in a cave with a wolf that isn't a wolf, too afraid to sleep and too tired to stay awake.



A little before dawn, the regulated breathing indicative of deep sleep filled the cave with a soothing rhythm. Sheba glanced over at Piper. Thank goodness the boy had finally drifted off. He was exhausted, but he also clutched the blanket close as if he couldn't get warm. Perhaps she should go lie next to him now that he was fast asleep. Being raised in a castle, he probably slept in a bed with several other boys and was used to their shared bodily warmth. She could move away from him if he showed signs of waking. Or maybe she should just put some more wood on the fire. There was plenty.

A faint sound in the distance caught her attention. Sheba rose to her feet and moved into the dim morning twilight just beyond the mouth of the cave. Voices in the distance were calling, "Piper! Rupert!" She hurried back into the cave.

Working as quickly as she could and using all four paws, Sheba threw dirt onto the fire to quell the flames. Smoke floated into the pre-dawn air. She sniffed the remains of the fire. Then as a precaution, she pushed more dirt onto the smoldering wood with one paw. When she was convinced the last ember was covered, she turned to look at the sleeping Piper. "Sorry, dear boy, but I have a promise to keep." Then she melted into the shadows outside the cave.

~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 15
The Piper, part 15

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.



End of Previous Chapter
A faint sound in the distance caught her attention. Sheba rose to her feet and moved into the dim morning twilight just beyond the mouth of the cave. Voices in the distance were calling, "Piper! Rupert!" She hurried back into the cave.

Working as quickly as she could and using all four paws, Sheba threw dirt onto the fire to quell the flames. Smoke floated into the pre-dawn air. She sniffed the remains of the fire. Then as a precaution, she pushed more dirt onto the smoldering wood with one paw. When she was convinced the last ember was covered, she turned to look at the sleeping Piper. "Sorry, dear boy, but I have a promise to keep." Then she melted into the shadows outside the cave.



Chapter 15

"It's a large wolf," Captain Burkehart muttered to himself through clenched teeth. He bent down to examine the paw prints more closely. Was it a scout for a pack, or worse yet a lone outcast? Either way, it was headed toward the search party.

Rising to his feet, Burkehart drew his sword. A quick assessment of the surrounding area revealed little else. With a determined stride, he followed the wolf tracks, increasing his speed as he traveled until he moved at a slow jog. It had been a mistake to go back to camp instead of staying to protect the search party as he should. Why had he let Braun get under his skin? The master musician had finally agreed to move on as long as a small party looked for the apprentices one more time while everyone else broke camp. Burkehart scowled. At this point, no matter what had happened, the boys were lost to them. The sooner Braun accepted facts, the better.

Up ahead voices were shouting the names of Piper and Rupert. The noise would help him locate the group. It would also lead the wolf straight to the search party. Burkehart quickened his pace. He was probably too late to head the animal off, but maybe he could get close enough to startle it, or warn the others before it attacked.

Through the trees he saw a glimpse of gray fur. Maybe it was a trick of his eyes in the dark forest. He ducked behind a boulder and crouched down low to stay as hidden as possible in case the creature looked in his direction. It was definitely gray fur. The wolf's posture was puzzling though. Instead of slinking through the trees or crouching to attack, it was just standing there gazing at something. Or ... talking to someone? Then it turned and sprinted away so quickly and silently that for a moment he wasn't sure he'd seen it.

But he had seen it, and its unnatural behavior. In frustration, Burkehart punched the boulder with his fist. Why would a faerie creature be communicating with someone in the company? What was going on and why?

He ran to the spot the faerie wolf had occupied a few moments ago. Out of habit, he paused to confirm the wolf had moved on and was not presently a threat, then sheathed his sword. Just beyond the treeline, he saw several pairs of boot prints in the soft ground. He cursed under his breath. A solitary pair of boot prints would have been preferable.

Voices drifted toward him from a hundred feet away. Raising his eyes, he looked into the clearing where the search party had gathered. Some of the men were chatting, others appeared to be searching for clues. A quick count confirmed everyone was accounted for. Burkehart cursed again. Experience told him no one would admit to conversing with one of the Fair Folk, and the Fair Folk were crafty enough to make sure no one overheard or saw anything, even in plain sight.

Burkehart stepped out of the trees and into the small clearing. "Master Braun." When everyone looked his way, Burkehart nodded to the group in greeting. "We are all packed-up and ready to go. We only await your return to camp." Then he looked upward. "The skies are growing darker and the temperature is dropping by the hour. We need to hurry or we're going to get caught in a storm before we reach the next village."

Master Braun looked up at the sky, then over at Burkehart, a resigned look on his face. "You're right, of course. Thank you, Captain." Braun took time to look at each member of the group in turn. In a dejected tone, he said, "Thank you everyone for indulging me. I just hate ..."

"Giving up on the boys," one of musician completed. "We all do, Master Braun."

Everyone murmured their agreement. It was a blow to leave without finding the young apprentices. To lose such promise, such talent, was a catastrophe. It was a shame. It was a tragedy.

With one last look around, Braun heaved a deep sigh. "Come on men, we need to get on the road."

Captain Burkehart lagged behind the others to look back over his shoulder into the trees. He didn't want to raise false hopes, but for the first time he saw a chance for locating the lost boys. If only he could find a reason to leave the company so he could follow the faerie wolf's trail before it was destroyed by the coming storm. He gritted his teeth. Duty called. He had given Duke Welf his word to see the musicians safely to Hanover. More importantly, he promised to deliver a message to the Duke of Hanover and return with the response.

Bringing up the rear, Burkehart studied his companions as they walked ahead of him. Out of habit, his hand went to the hilt of his sword. Which one of you has faerie blood?


~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"
Pays


Chapter 16
The Piper, part 16

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.



End of Previous Chapter
Captain Burkehart lagged behind the others to look back over his shoulder into the trees. He didn't want to raise false hopes, but for the first time he saw a chance for locating the lost boys. If only he could find a reason to leave the company so he could follow the faerie wolf's trail before it was destroyed by the coming storm. He gritted his teeth. Duty called. He had given Duke Welf his word to see the musicians safely to Hanover. More importantly, he promised to deliver a message to the Duke of Hanover and return with the response.

Bringing up the rear, Burkehart studied his companions as they walked ahead of him. Out of habit, his hand went to the hilt of his sword. Which one of you has faerie blood?




Chapter 16

Rain pelted the foliage and rocks as if it had a fierce desire to drench the world. Thunder cracked and rolled like giant wooden wheels groaning under an immense weight. A flash of lightning lit the sky, and for an instant the silhouette of a cloaked figure loomed across the mouth of the cave. Thunder boomed another chorus as the figure stepped out of the storm, water pouring off of his cloak and forming tiny rivulets which pooled in the dirt around his feet. He pushed back the hood of his cloak and got his bearings. A few feet away, Piper snuggled in his bedroll, his hand entangled in the fur of a gray wolf.

Redd-Leif scowled. In a soft voice he asked, "What happened to the fire, Sheba?"

The wolf raised her head a few inches to look at him. "Shush. You'll wake Piper. He needs his sleep."

"Sheba?"

"If you must know, I put it out."

"So I see. Why, may I ask? I told Piper to keep it burning to protect him from animals."

"Yes, my friend, but it also attracts the wrong kind of animals. A search party was scouting the woods; the fire would have led them straight to this cave." She yawned. "Besides, I've watched over your boy as you asked. He's safe."

"I'll give you that much, I suppose." His scowl deepened.

Sheba raised her head higher, "My, my, someone is out of sorts. Rain dampened your mood as well as your skin, Summerstorm?"

Redd-Leif's shoulders slumped and he let out a weary sigh. "Sorry, Sheba. I am grateful for your help. Knowing you were watching over him was a comfort to me." He closed his eyes a moment and then looked back at her. "I guess I was hoping for a warm fire and some rest when I got here. Maybe even some hot food or at least a way to cook this." He held up a rabbit.

"Yum." Sheba licked her lips. "Yes, they are better cooked, especially the way you prepare them."

He shook his head. "You're the only wolf I know who prefers her food cooked."

"I eat plenty of them raw. Besides, I am ..."

"... not a wolf. Yes, I know."

She studied him for a moment, then lazily said, "You are dripping all over the place, you know."

He cracked a smile, huffed, laid the rabbit next to the remains of the fire, and moved over to the other side of the cave to remove his cloak. Though the thick leather was well oiled for protection from the elements, the outer surface of the cloak was starting to soak through. The same with his boots. Another hour in the storm would have saturated everything.

After removing his packs and spreading his cloak across part of the wood pile so it could dry, Redd-Leif set three pots just outside the cave to catch rain water, arranged the contents of his packs to his satisfaction, and pulled out supplies in preparation for cooking a meal. Then he grabbed some tinder and approached the remains of the fire, bending down to examine it for embers. Nothing. He'd have to start from scratch. At least they had plenty of dry wood. He looked over at Sheba. "Any danger of them finding us if I start a fire now?"

"None. They gave up and moved on, most likely to the nearest village and dry lodgings." Sheba looked toward the entrance. "That's quite a downpour. I'm sure it made for a difficult journey."

"That it did." Redd-Leif glanced into the gloom. "You'd never guess it was mid-morning by looking at the sky."

Once the fire was blazing, Redd-Leif retrieved two pots, now half full of water, from outside the cave. He placed them on the coals forming at the edge of the fire, putting cereal for porridge in one and cutting carrots into the other. A low growl made him look up from his task. He noted Piper's hand clutching Sheba's fur. A smile tugged at the corners of Redd-Leif's mouth. "I see you two were able to get reacquainted."

Sheba sighed. "He doesn't remember me. In fact, he thinks I'm quite frightening. I simply snuggled next to him after he fell asleep to keep him warm." She curled her lips back to show her teeth. "I just wish he wouldn't pull so hard on my fur."

"You thought it was cute when he was three."

"He isn't three any more."

Redd-Leif chuckled. "Well, he looks to be at ease with you at the moment so the memories must be in there somewhere. Give him time."

A brilliant white flash lit the sky, followed by a deafening thunder clap an instant later. Redd-Leif instinctively jerked toward the mouth of the cave, gazing into the dimness outside, his nostrils flaring, all his senses tensed to full alert.

"Summerstorm? What is it?"

He shook his head. "Probably nothing. Just an eerie feeling. The tingling in the air, the closeness of the lightning and thunder. It creates an unsettling aura." He continued to gaze into the distance. "When it rains this hard, I wonder what could be moving out there undetected. Logic says everything must be hunkered down waiting for the storm to pass, and yet ..."

"You didn't get any rest before heading back, did you?"

"There wasn't time. I tried to outrace the storm. Besides, I wanted to keep my promise to Piper to return as quickly as I could."

"Maybe you should rest now."

"As soon as I get these pots simmering. We'll be here a few days while this storm passes and things dry out."

Another lightning bolt lit the sky, and several seconds later thunder followed. So the rain would continue its assault, veiling the outside world from his senses. Redd-Leif turned back to the task of preparing a meal. Noting Sheba's more vigilant posture, he let a sigh of relief escape his lips. Within the cave, the fire crackled, and Piper stirred in his sleep.

~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 17
The Piper, part 17

By w.j.debi

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.


End of Previous Chapter
Another lightning bolt lit the sky, and several seconds later thunder followed. So the rain would continue its assault, veiling the outside world from his senses. Redd-Leif turned back to the task of preparing a meal. Noting Sheba's more vigilant posture, he let a sigh of relief escape his lips. Within the cave, the fire crackled, and Piper stirred in his sleep.


Chapter 17
Piper smiled in his sleep and snuggled closer to the warm fur blanket next to him. The harmonious rhythm of the pattering rain outside the cave danced within his dreams. What a beautiful melody. A descant played an octave higher on my flute would create a wonderful duet. I could make it into a ballad. Crowds would cheer. Music masters would be impressed. I might become the youngest troubadour ever. The patter of the rain turned to applause.

A smile, a bow, a deep breath of satisfaction and ... Wait. What is that aroma? Piper's mouth watered. Whatever was wafting on the air was warm and savory. The harmony of the rain faded into background accompaniment as the erratic rumbling of his empty stomach took center stage. His eyes fluttered open.

Piper raised his groggy head enough to make out a figure bent over the fire stirring a pot in the dim light. "Redd-Leif? You're back?"

The Fae looked up and nodded at him. "Well, well, our fair-haired friend has awakened at last. Hello, Piper."

Piper sat up and yawned. "Hello, sir. How is Rupert?"

"You don't waste any time getting to the point, do you?" Redd-Leif grinned. "Well, my boy, the healers had to work a little magic on a couple of crushed bones, but they were able to set the arm. Given time to recuperate, Rupert should heal completely if he follows healer's orders."

The warm fur blanket he was clutching shifted next to him. Piper gave a start, jerked his hand out of the wolf's fur and pulled away, eyes wide as he stared at her.

"Relax, dear boy. If I wanted to eat you, I would have done so already." Sheba rose, stretched nonchalantly, and sauntered over to the fire to sniff at the cooking pots. She smacked her lips in approval. "I hope you are making plenty, Summerstorm. I so seldom get porridge."

"Porridge tastes better if it simmers a few hours. The stew is for midday. The porridge will be for dinner, leftovers for breakfast."

"If there are any." Sheba's tongue made a full circle of her top and bottom lips.

Redd-Leif scowled. "There'd better be." He looked over at Piper. "I'd daresay you are starving. From the looks of things, you didn't eat much while I was gone. Too worried about your friend, or don't know how to cook?"

Piper shrugged, his eyes still on Sheba. "Maybe both."

"The stew will take a while longer, but I brought back some fresh bread. If you look in the pack over there, you'll find it along with some apples and cheese. A pot is sitting just outside the cave entrance collecting rain water if you are thirsty."

"Thank you, sir." Piper got up and went to the pack Redd-Leif had indicated. He rummaged through the contents, retrieved a hunk of bread and an apple, then found a place to sit near the fire opposite Redd-Leif. After taking a few bites, he asked. "Rupert's never been away from his family before. Was he alright being left alone with strangers?"

Redd-Leif nodded as he continued attending to the cooking. "Oh, yes. He seems to enjoy being the center of attention. Probably the performer in him. I'd say he is as fascinated by the Elven youths as they are by him."

"Elves are fascinated by Rupert?"

"Of course. Not many elves your age have seen a human before." Redd-Leif stopped stirring the cooking pots and smiled at Piper. "It is admirable you are so protective of your friend. Right now though, he's much more comfortable than you are. Which reminds me, how's your head?"

"Better. It doesn't hurt as much and the swelling has gone down." Piper raised a hand to his temple and winced.

"So I see." Redd-Leif smirked. "How about I look at it after I finish here, maybe make a poultice?"

"Might be a good idea." Piper continued to munch on his food as he watched Redd-Leif work, glancing sideways at Sheba occasionally. As long as the wolf concentrated on sniffing the food in the pots he supposed he shouldn't worry too much about the fact she was licking her lips continually.

Redd-Leif stoked the fire, then reached for a rabbit. He examined it briefly then started to skin it by putting his thumbs under the skin of the rabbit's back ankles and working his way up the legs. Less than a minute later the skin was removed in one piece. He set the pelt to the side, then twisted off one back leg followed by the other. Bones snapped and joints popped.

Piper gasped.

Redd-Leif looked up. "What's wrong, Piper? Haven't you ever seen anyone dress game for cooking?"

"Yes, sir, plenty of times." He paused to take a breath. "But usually they use a knife." A puzzled looked filled his eyes. "It's just ..."

"Yes?"

"Well, it reminded me of something Captain Burkehart said."

"Captain Burkehart?" Redd-Leif raised an eyebrow. "What did he say?"

"That he ..." Piper swallowed. "That he'd seen Fae ... tear men apart ... with their bare hands."

Redd-Leif cringed and the color drained from his face. He looked down.

Piper followed the Fae's gaze to the torn rabbit and the blood on his hands.

"Sometimes," Redd-Leif said softly, "Fae forget how fragile humans are."

Raising his eyes, Piper noted the tightness in Redd-Leif's jaw and the slump in his shoulders. Piper stiffened. "He didn't mean you, did he?"

Redd-Leif closed his eyes, took a deep breath and tilted his head upward.

Out of habit, Piper reached to touch the flute that normally hung at his side to reassure himself, but it wasn't there. His eyes darted to the bedroll. The flute was nestled safely among his things. Not wishing to make a sound, he resisted the urge to retrieve the flute. Instead, Piper stared at Redd-Leif. The Fae was every bit the stuff of legend--all muscle and sinew, swift, strong, and deadly. He could tear me apart as easily as he did the rabbit, if he chose.

The fire crackled. The rain pattered. In the distance, thunder rolled.

"Dear boy." Sheba's serene voice made him jump. "If that's all Burkehart told you, then you only have a small portion of the story. The fact is ..."

"It's alright, Sheba," Redd-Leif interrupted. He looked over to meet Piper's gaze. "So Piper, you're curious; you have questions."

"Yes, sir."

Redd-Leif nodded. "And I have much I've been wanting to tell you. Let me finish preparing the stew, and then we will talk."

~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"
Pays


Chapter 18
The Piper, part 18

By w.j.debi

Previously

Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.



End of previous chapter

"Dear boy." Sheba's serene voice made him jump. "If that's all Burkehart told you, then you only have a small portion of the story. The fact is ..."

"It's alright, Sheba," Redd-Leif interrupted. He looked over to meet Piper's gaze. "So Piper, you're curious; you have questions."

"Yes, sir."

Redd-Leif nodded. "And I have much I've been wanting to tell you. Let me finish preparing the stew, and then we will talk."



Chapter 18

Redd-Leif braced his arm against the cave wall, leaning into it as he paused to look out into the storm. Strange, I thought I was so well prepared. I've imagined so many scenarios, so many ways of approaching this moment. Yet, I never imagined it like this. Where ... how do I begin?

More to buy himself time than to complete necessary tasks, Redd-Leif retrieved a pot of rain water from just outside the cave entrance and walked over to empty it into the water skin. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Piper stifle a sigh and let his breath out slowly. All the while, the young apprentice continued polishing his flute. Every finger hole and slat of that flute has to be cleaner than it has ever been. I wish he would play something. A good tune right now would be welcome.
 
After returning the pot outside the cave to collect more rain water, Redd-Leif sat down across from Piper, the fire flickering between them. Redd-Leif tasted the stew, added a few more herbs, and stirred the pots. At last, he set down the spoon. "Piper?"

Piper looked over at him. "Yes, sir?"

"So, what is it you want to know, my boy?"

"Well, when we first met you said you were looking for me. May I ask why?"

"Ah, straight to the point as usual. I should have expected that." Redd-Leif smiled. At least he is making it easy to begin. "You deserve a straight answer. To begin with, your grandfather and I made a promise to your mother."

"You knew my mother?" Piper's face lit up. "How?"

"Yes, I know your mother." Redd-Leif leaned forward. "She sent me to get you. She is anxious to see you."

"What?" Piper's brow furrowed. "No. No, you're mistaken. My parents died from the fever when I was nine. That's how I came to live with Grandfather Acker."

Redd-Leif looked over at Sheba. The wolf gave him an encouraging nod. He took a breath and turned back to Piper. "Eric and Annelise Strauss were good parents, weren't they?"

"They were the best parents. My mother and father loved me very much."

"Yes, they did. For that I am grateful." A piece of burning wood popped, and Redd-Leif reached over to stoke the fire. In a gentle tone he said, "They did everything good parents do for their children. No one could have loved you more." Redd-Leif hesitated a moment then added, "But they were not the parents who gave you life."

Piper unconsciously tightened his grip on the polishing cloth in his hand. "I'm not sure I understand." He bit his lip. "Are you telling me, I was adopted?"

Redd-Leif nodded. "I suppose, I am."

"But ... mother ... father ... they never said."

"I'm not certain they knew."

"How could they not know?"

Shifting slightly, Redd-Leif gazed out into the rain for a moment, then back at Piper. "It's a bit complicated. That's why we wanted to wait until you were older to tell you. Your mother insisted you know the truth by the time you were fifteen. Personally, I had hoped Master Acker had already told you, or at least prepared you by giving you some hints of your origin. I was on my way to meet with him so we could fulfill our promise when I heard of his death."

At the mention of his grandfather, Piper looked down at his flute and rubbed it gently with the polishing cloth. A moment passed in silence, then he lifted his eyes to meet the Fae's gaze. "So, Grandfather knew?"

"Yes. In a way, it was his idea. May I try to explain how it happened?"

Piper nodded. "I'll listen."

"That's all I can ask." Redd-Leif gazed over Piper's head as if looking into the distance although there was only the cave wall in his sight. "Let me start with the day it happened. We were a small group. You were just a babe in arms. My brother Blew-Gale, his human friend Garrin, your mother Melodica, and I were traveling from a fair in Frieburg to a village in the Black Forest."

"Melodica?" Piper looked thoughtful. "It's a lovely name."

Redd-Leif smiled. "Yes, and she is as lovely as it sounds." He paused to look Piper in the eye. "You look a lot like her, my boy."

A smile tugged at the corners of Piper's mouth, but he resisted it. A moment later he frowned. "'Melodica' doesn't sound like a human name."

"You are perceptive. Melodica is Elven."

"What?" Piper's eyes grew wide. "I'm half-Elven?"

"As a matter of fact, you are."

Piper rose to his feet and took a step forward, a bewildered look on his face. "I've heard stories like this, where the Fair Folk try to trick humans into believing they are actually faerie-born, and then the person disappears to never be seen again."

"Perhaps, dear boy," Sheba said with a slight edge to her serene voice, "before you continue this train of thought, it would be wise to consider where you are and who you are with."

Piper stared at Sheba. Jade-green eyes gleamed back at him. He took a step back.

Redd-Leif sighed. "Sheba ..."

She looked over at him. "Summerstorm, I realize you have every reason to be understanding and patient with the boy, but there is no reason for him to be rude. Master Acker would not have allowed it if he were here. He was part Elven himself."

"It can't be true," Piper said. "Grandfather would have told me."

"I wish he had."

The words were so gentle Piper couldn't help looking at Redd-Leif. He stared at the Fae for a long moment.

"Look, Piper, I know it's a lot to take in, and this information would have been better coming from your grandfather. You loved and trusted him. You hardly know me. All I ask is that you listen."

Sheba shot Piper a look. "You did say you would listen."

Piper retreated to his seat near the fire. "Yes, I did. And I will." He reached up with his free hand and touched the top of his ear. More to himself than anyone else he said, "I don't have pointed ears."

Redd-Leif let a slight smile play across his lips. Could it be, he will listen? Could it be, he will consider the possibility? "No, your ears have not changed yet. That happens later as you mature. Somtimes it happens at puberty, which is one reason Melodica was anxious for you to know about your family. She wanted you to be prepared. Sometimes it happens years or even decades later. Fair Folk mature at different rates, especially when bloods are mixed."

"I see." Piper placed his flute in his lap and began to polish it again. Without looking up he said, "You say my mother is alive and wants to see me. Let's say I believe you. Why did she give me up in the first place?"

A pained expression crossed Redd-Leif's face. "She didn't want to leave you. It nearly broke her heart." He took a deep breath. "But it was necessary in order to save your life and hers. Believe me, she has worried about you every day since you were separated."

Redd-Leif wasn't sure how long he stared into the fire, but when he looked up Piper was watching him as if waiting for a response. Kindness entered the Fae's eyes and a gentle smile formed on his lips. "There is one thing I know for certain, Piper. Your mother loves you dearly."

~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Melodica = an Elven female

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 19
The Piper, part 19

By w.j.debi

Previously

Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper and his friend Rupert separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae.



End of previous chapter

"I see." Piper placed his flute in his lap and began to polish it again. Without looking up he said, "You say my mother is alive and wants to see me. Let's say I believe you. Why did she give me up in the first place?"

A pained expression crossed Redd-Leif's face. "She didn't want to leave you. It nearly broke her heart." He took a deep breath. "But it was necessary in order to save your life and hers. Believe me, she has worried about you every day since you were separated."

Redd-Leif wasn't sure how long he stared into the fire, but when he looked up Piper was watching him as if waiting for a response. Kindness entered the Fae's eyes and a gentle smile formed on his lips. "There is one thing I know for certain, Piper. Your mother loves you dearly."



Chapter 18

Redd-Leif sounds so sincere. I'm tempted to believe him. But ... Piper glanced at his two companions. Sheba was licking her lips as she watched Redd-Leif stir the contents of the simmering cooking pots. Fair Folk are known as tricksters. Why would they tell me these things? What do they want from me? Oh, I wish Master Braun was here, or one of the other masters from the guild, or even Rupert for that matter.

Redd-Leif blew on a spoonful of stew before tasting it, then looked over at Piper. "The stew is about ready. Shall I continue the story, or would you like to eat first?"

"No, please go ahead, sir. You've been patiently waiting to tell me, and I think I'd like to know." Piper glanced out into the rain and then back at Redd-Leif. "Besides, we aren't going anywhere for a while. It will be a good way to fill the time.

"Very well." Redd-Leif set down the spoon. "Let's see; where was I?"

"I believe you were telling me how you and your companions were traveling from a fair in Frieberg."

"Ah, yes, you are correct." He nodded at Piper. "As I recall, it was a beautiful spring morning. The frost sparkled in the bright sunlight and melted quickly as the air warmed. We traveled at a casual pace, enjoying the rebirth of the world that spring brings:  budding trees, sprouting plants, the sounds of birds twittering and animals scampering about with the burst of energy that comes on such a day.

"At midday we decided to rest and eat. Blew-Gale and Garrin had spotted a stream nearby and went to refill our water skins. I stayed behind to prepare a quick meal, and to keep Melodica company as she rested to care for the baby. Suddenly, we heard the sound of arrows flying around us. One struck Melodica in the shoulder." Redd-Leif stared into the flames. "I still remember the stunned look on her face."

When Redd-Leif remained silent for a moment, Piper asked, "What did you do?"

Without looking away from the fire, Redd-Leif continued, "My first thought was to get you both to safety, so I picked up Melodica and you, and ran as fast as I could. I carried you over a mile away so I could be sure we were out of danger. To my horror, when I paused to care for her wound, I found Melodica was showing the effects of being poisoned. Thank goodness I had not let her run or it would have been much worse. I pulled out the arrow and applied moss and herbs to draw out the poison.

"Melodica assured me she felt much better after the removal of the arrow. She was certain it had decreased the danger. Her thoughts were for Blew-Gale and Garrin. They should have been right behind us. Melodica insisted she and the baby were fine and encouraged me to go find our companions." Redd-Leif looked up. "I didn't want to leave the two of you alone, but I was worried about the others so I agreed."

"I arrived in time to see Garrin on the ground in a heap, and the attackers concentrating their efforts on my brother. They had him backed up against a rock formation with no opening for escape. A man was about to shoot his crossbow, so I reached for him. I meant to grab the bow out of his hands, but ended up ripping off his arm." Redd-Leif looked horrified. "It was an accident. I just wanted to save my brother." He took a deep breath. "The man screamed, and everyone else turned to flee. I believe they thought reinforcements had arrived and they took off in all directions." Redd-Leif's chest heaved.

Piper leaned forward. "Were you able to save your brother and Garrin?"

Redd-Leif shook his head. "Unfortunately, Garrin was already dead. As a Fae, my brother could have outrun the band of renegade humans as I had, but he would never leave a friend. He stayed behind to protect Garrin." Redd-Leif took another breath. "Blew-Gale, died in my arms." Redd-Leif closed his eyes. "His last words were, 'I knew you would come back for us, Redd-Leif. Promise you'll take good care of Melodica and the baby.'"

The cave was silent for a moment, then Redd-Leif rose to his feet. "I think we need more wood on the fire." He went to the wood pile and carefully sorted through the stack to select the logs he wanted.

Sheba rose and went to the mouth of the cave. "It looks like it will rain for a while longer, but it is slowing. The thunder and lightning have moved on. It may take a day or two to dry out enough for us to travel."

Piper stared at the wolf until the thunk, thunk of logs being added to the fire drew his attention back to Redd-Leif. Piper settled back to wait for the Fae to continue.

Redd-Leif cleared his throat. "To make a long story short, I placed Blew-Gale's and Garrin's bodies in a nearby cave and sealed it the best I could so I could come back and give them a proper burial later. Then I headed back to Melodica."

"What happened then?"

"When I got back, the poison was spreading. I wasn't sure what to do. Our original plan had been to visit Melodica's cousin on the way home, so I picked up the two of you, and ran as fast as I could in that direction, hoping to find friends who would help.

"When I burst through the cottage door, Raymond Acker was holding his recently born grandchild in his arms, a look of anguish on his face. The child was stillborn. Raymond's daughter was unconscious in the bed. Without looking up he asked, 'Eric? Did you find help?'

"I said, 'It's me, Summerstorm. Please, Raymond, I need your help.' He looked over at me like I was some kind of apparition, until you let out a little cry. The sound seemed to awaken him to the moment.

"Things happened quickly then. It's still a blur in my mind. Raymond set down his grandchild, took you from my arms and placed you in the cradle, and began attending to Melodica. He recognized the poison as a rare substance known as Elfbane, so called because it is deadly to elves. You were crying. Melodica wanted to nurse you, but Raymond said it was too risky. The poison may have traveled to her milk and your life would be at risk. He made a poultice that slowed the poison, but said her only chance was to get to the Elven healers as soon as possible. If anyone had the remedy, they would.

"I picked her up and she reached for you. Raymond intervened. 'No Summerstorm. You need to travel as fast as you can to give Melodica a chance. Leave the baby behind. Annelise can nurse him.'

"I had almost dropped you twice while trying to carry both you and your mother to the cottage. There was a long way to go, and I needed to travel as quickly as possible if there was any chance of saving Melodica. I didn't want to leave you, but it seemed the wisest choice."

Redd-Leif's shoulders drooped and he put his face in his hands. When he looked up, he stared into the fire. "Melodica was barely conscious, but let out a plaintive, "No, no, no, my baby!' as I ran out of the cottage with her in my arms." Redd-Leif fell silent. When he spoke again, his voice was distant, as if he were speaking only to himself. "I can still hear the anguish in her voice." He shuddered. Then Redd-Leif rose, went to the wood pile and grabbed his cloak. He walked to the mouth of the cave, pausing with his back to the others. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Nature calls." Then he disappeared into the storm.

Sheba moved to the cave entrance and gazed after the Fae. She cocked one ear in Piper's direction. "Summerstorm has told me several times how he regretted leaving you behind that day."

Piper glanced out into the rain, then back at the fire. He placed his flute to his lips, took a deep breath, and improvised a tune to echo the mood of the rain.


~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Melodica = an Elven female

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.

~~~
Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


Chapter 20
The Piper, part 20

By w.j.debi

Previously

Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of previous chapter
Redd-Leif's shoulders drooped and he put his face in his hands. When he looked up, he stared into the fire. "Melodica was barely conscious, but let out a plaintive, "No, no, no, my baby!' as I ran out of the cottage with her in my arms." Redd-Leif fell silent. When he spoke again, his voice was distant, as if he were speaking only to himself. "I can still hear the anguish in her voice." He shuddered. Then Redd-Leif rose, went to the wood pile and grabbed his cloak. He walked to the mouth of the cave, pausing with his back to the others. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Nature calls." Then he disappeared into the storm.

Sheba moved to the cave entrance and gazed after the Fae. She cocked one ear in Piper's direction. "Summerstorm has told me several times how he regretted leaving you behind that day."

Piper glanced out into the rain, then back at the fire. He placed his flute to his lips, took a deep breath, and improvised a tune to echo the mood of the rain.



Chapter 20

Captain Burkehart yawned, shook his head, and rolled his shoulders to get the blood flowing. How long had he been standing at the window staring into the darkness? Cool, fresh air leaked through the sash and brushed his face, alleviating the overly warm air from the room behind him. Burkehart clenched and unclenched his fists. The aromas of ale and last night's stew, and too many people forced into the protection of the inn were straining his already thin patience. It could be worse. At least the musicians kept everyone entertained with music and stories last night, and only a few people were awake at present. Still, he wanted to be on the move, not cooped up like a prisoner with no control over his destiny.

Burkehart looked out of the window again. A few stars were peeking through the clouds. The storm had moved on, but trees and buildings were still dripping wet; the road in front of the inn was a mire of mud and pools of water.

"Captain Burkehart, sir?"

He turned from the window to face the speaker and gave a slight nod of his head. "Troy."

"The change of the guard has been completed."

Burkehart allowed himself a wry smile. "Thank you, Troy." When Troy did not move on, Burkehart asked, "You think I'm wrong to head out alone?"

"I admit I would prefer you to stay with the company, sir, or at least take a few men with you in case you run into trouble."

"Thank you for your concern, Troy, but I can travel faster by myself. I know this area and the people; I can find help if I need it. Besides," Burkehart looked directly at Troy, "it's time you had a chance to be in command." Then Burkehart glanced in the direction of the sleeping musicians. "Master Braun made it quite clear last night that they would not risk damaging their musical instruments by heading out into the muddy roads. Keeping this crew under control while in close quarters should offer its challenges, but I feel you are up to it."

Troy nodded. "Thank you for your confidence in me, sir."

Burkehart surveyed the occupants of the room. His men were hardened and tanned soldiers, even the officers of noble birth; for them a march in the sodden earth would be just another day's work. The musicians, however, looked pale and pampered in comparison.

"Master Braun may have a point, sir. We can make better time once the roads dry out and firm up. In the long run it may take about the same amount of time, and it will be easier on the animals."

"Perhaps." Burkehart let out a sigh. "At any rate, I will survey the two main routes to Hanover. I'd like to also check out a third way that may be less traveled leaving the ground firmer. It could allow us to be on the road sooner. Or the roads may not be passable at all." Burkehart waved toward the window. "It's almost dawn. Walk with me to the stable, Troy. There are too many ears here and too many people sleeping with their horses and donkeys in the stable. There's no one on the road at the moment."

"Yes, sir."

Burkehart girded on his sword, put on his cloak and gloves, and reached for his pack. Then the two men stepped out into the street. Mud sloshed ankle deep and they had to keep moving so they wouldn't get sucked in by the sludge.

When they were a few feet from the inn door, Burkehart said, "If I am not back in five days, get this group to Hanover as fast as possible using the main route. I'll catch up with you as quickly as I can. As we discussed, keep an eye on the musicians. I want to know if any of them disappear from the group, even for a short time, and let me know who and how long when I return."

"As you wish, sir."

A northerly gust whipped at their cloaks and then died back to a slight breeze. Burkehart let out a pleased sigh. "Ah, looks like nature might help us out. A couple of windy days will dry things out."

"And drop the temperature," Troy added.

Burkehart clapped a hand on Troy's shoulder. "It is spring, warm one day and cold the next." Then he handed Troy an envelope sealed with a wax crest. "This message must be delivered to the Duke's brother in Hanover when you get there. Wait for a response and return it to Duke Welf."

Troy looked puzzled. "But you'll be back to deliver it yourself, sir."

"Yes, that is the plan." Burkehart surveyed their surroundings. "But in case I am delayed I leave it in your capable hands."

Troy nodded, a suppressed smile on his lips. "Yes, sir, Captain Burkehart."

"Good man. Now go back to the inn and keep an eye on things."

"Yes, sir." Troy saluted. "Good luck, Captain."

"The same to you, Troy. See you in a few days."

Burkehart stopped on a firmer plot of ground under the roof of the stable to watch Troy re-enter the inn. A stronger gust of wind whipped his cloak about him then settled back to a steady breeze. Satisfied he was alone, Burkehart turned up the street and headed, not for Hanover, but back the way they had come. Somewhere out there a fairie wolf lurked in the forest, and that creature might lead him to Piper and Rupert, and perhaps the fairie realm itself.

~~~

Cast of Characters 

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15. 

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14. 

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild. 

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf 

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae 

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf 

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form 

Melodica = an Elven female 

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals. 


 

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 21
The Piper, part 21

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of previous chapter
Burkehart stopped on a firmer plot of ground under the roof of the stable to watch Troy re-enter the inn. A stronger gust of wind whipped his cloak about him then settled back to a steady breeze. Satisfied he was alone, Burkehart turned up the street and headed, not for Hanover, but back the way they had come. Somewhere out there a fairie wolf lurked in the forest, and that creature might lead him to Piper and Rupert, and perhaps the fairie realm itself.


Chapter 21
Piper closed his eyes for an instant and concentrated on the tranquility. It was that tenuous moment when nocturnal animals had just settled in and daylight animals had yet to stir. After days of constant rain followed by wind, the quiet was a welcome contrast. The aromas of moist soil and forest vegetation hovered in the spring air. Piper opened his eyes to survey the vague outlines of trees mingled with shadowy images of foliage and the indistinct tangle of debris that carpeted the forest floor.

A leaf fluttered in the whisper of a breeze. Piper smiled at the sound. Then he frowned. Fair Folk, elementals as they called themselves, were said to have senses superior to humans. Was the fact he could hear something so insignificant evidence of his Elven heritage? Would human ears have heard it?

He had paid little attention in the past when people had mentioned his excellent hearing. Musicians developed a good ear; it was part of the trade. At least that was what Grandfather Acker had said anytime it was brought up. Piper had an advantage because his musical education started earlier than most. Any of the apprentices that applied themselves to their musical studies would develop a good ear in time.

What were you hiding, Grandfather, and why? Why keep my Elven heritage a secret? I wish you were here to tell me.

Plunk.

"Ouch!" Piper rubbed his head and looked up. From high in the tree a chattering squirrel scolded him. "Well, good morning to you, too, my friend." Piper shook his head, squared his shoulders, tugged at the straps of his bag, flute, and satchel to arrange them for comfort, then turned to head up the sloping trail. And froze.

Jade green eyes glowed back at him. A low growl was followed by jaws snapping only an arm's length away. Piper gave a start and scrambled to keep his balance on the soft, uneven ground.

"Sheba!" Piper steadied himself and glared at her.

The wolf stepped out of the shadows. "Did you miss me?" The glee in her serene voice was unmistakable.

Piper huffed. "Where have you been? I thought we were supposed to stay together while Redd-Leif scouted ahead."

"There was no need to worry, dear boy. I've kept an eye on you the entire time. You were safe."

"I wasn't worried. Besides, that is not the point."

"What is?"

Piper frowned, leaned into his pack, and began to pick his way up the incline. Sheba turned to follow. Under his breath, Piper muttered, "Wolves."

"I heard that. And may I remind you, I am not a wolf?"

"Really? You certainly seem to like pretending to be one."

"Now, now, dear boy. Didn't your parents teach you to respect your elders?" Sheba brushed passed him and turned to confront him. "Yes, I am sure they did."

Piper pushed past Sheba and continued trekking onward, trying his best to ignore her. No doubt she would merge back into the shadows as if she were part of the ethereal world, just as she had done so often since they'd left the cave four days ago.

Up ahead Piper saw Redd-Leif leaning against a tree as if he were part of it, a silhouette against the pre-dawn sky. Piper shook his head. If he hadn't known to look for the Fae, he would have missed him.



Redd-Leif studied the clearing below. Early risers were just beginning to stir. By the looks of the pack animals, horses, carts, and the few wares exposed to the elements, it was likely a merchant caravan. Maybe a few traveling entertainers were in the group as well. Spring brought welcome festivals and fairs after the bleak winter months.

A shadow moved stealthily in the nearby foliage; Redd-Leif turned his gaze in that direction. "Do you think you should tease Piper by jumping out of the shadows like that?"

"Oh, you saw?"

"Uh-huh." Redd-Leif raised an eyebrow. "You do remember he was attacked by a pack of wolves only a few days ago, don't you?"

"What better way to help him overcome his fear of wolves?"

"Oh, so that's what you are doing, helping him overcome his fears? How kind of you."

"Humph." Sheba turned her gaze to the caravan below them. "Are you thinking of joining them?"

"I am considering it, but only briefly. Piper needs a change of clothes. If they have a tailor among them, we wouldn't have to go to the next village. It could save us a few days of travel."

"From the way we've been wandering around, I wasn't aware that you were in any hurry to reach our destination. Honestly, I don't know which is more aggravating, your meandering or Piper pausing to inspect every speck of the forest."

"Be patient, Sheba. Piper's world is suddenly very different from what he thought it was. He needs time to consider it all."

"All?"

Redd-Leif sighed. "I'm waiting for the right moment."

"Ah, I see. May I remind you, we are not far from the Elven village. In fact, we could be there tonight if you'd put some effort into it."

"Yes, I know." After a moment he continued, "I was hoping Piper's curiosity would lead him to ask so I knew he was ready. Instead, he's been so quiet."

"You both have."

Redd-Leif peered at Sheba. "If you'd like, you can always travel ahead and let Melodica know we will be there in a week or so."

"What? A week? And incur her wrath because you are dragging your feet? No thank you. I know how eager she is to see the boy."

Redd-Leif took a deep breath, tilted his head back, and exhaled slowly. "You're right, Sheba. Melodica has waited a long time for her boy to come home."

For the next few minutes the sounds of the waking forest increased, each adding its part to nature's symphony:  various bird song, chirping squirrels, animals rustling in the shrubs and forest canopy, and the sounds of insects. Overhead a hawk circled.

"Summerstorm, my friend," Sheba said.

"Yes?" 

"I'm sorry. I sometimes forget. You've waited a long time, too."

Redd-Leif merely nodded at her and looked over his shoulder. Down the path he spotted Piper hiking toward them. "The people in the caravan will take awhile to get started for the day. We should use the time to rest a bit and have some breakfast."

PIper looked up and waved. Redd-Leif waved back and started down the trail with Sheba in tow.

~~~~
Cast of Characters 

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15. 

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14. 

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild. 

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf 

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae 

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf 

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form 

Melodica = an Elven female 

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals. 


 

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"



Chapter 22
The Piper, part 22

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of previous chapter
"Summerstorm, my friend," Sheba said.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry. I sometimes forget. You've waited a long time, too."

Redd-Leif merely nodded at her and looked over his shoulder. Down the path he spotted Piper hiking toward them. "The people in the caravan will take awhile to get started for the day. We should use the time to rest a bit and have some breakfast."

PIper looked up and waved. Redd-Leif waved back and started down the trail with Sheba in tow.




Chapter 22

Redd-Leif made a feeble attempt to stifle a chuckle as he and Piper walked away from the tailor's wagon.

Piper looked up at the Fae. "What is so amusing?"

"Oh, I was just wondering if you selected the most expensive shirt and pants the merchant showed you because you liked them or because she, uh . . . what was her name again?"

"Ruby."

"Ah, yes. Or was it because Ruby was so pretty and flirtatious?"

Piper colored slightly. "I like the clothes."

"Of course." Redd-Leif smirked. "But just think what you would have missed this morning if your friends hadn't taken all of your clothes with them."

Piper stopped in his tracks. "They thought I was dead. What else could they do?"

Redd-Leif turned to face Piper. His smile softened, as did his voice. "I know. I imagine they were very sad to leave you behind." Redd-Leif took a deep breath. "And I know they will be overjoyed to see you again when you rejoin them."

Piper looked into the distance as if imagining the scene. He nodded and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He returned his gaze to Redd-Leif. "At least I'll see Rupert soon. When will we get to the Elven village?"

"What?" The smirk returned to Redd-Leif's face. "Are you tired of being on the road already? I thought you were eager to become a traveling musician."

"I am, but . . ." Piper shrugged. "It's just, well, I was hoping to see some Fair Folk. I know you said it would take about a week to reach the Elven village, and we've been traveling almost constantly for four days and nights so I thought maybe we were almost there."

"We will be soon." Redd-Leif gestured toward Piper's satchel. "And now you can be presentable when you meet your mother. Though I doubt she will notice your attire, a bath and a change of clothes couldn't hurt. I know a nice spring where you can bathe before we reach our destination."

Piper smiled. "I suppose you are right. I should look my best when I meet her." Piper grew more serious. "Do you think Rupert is alright? It feels like forever since I've seen him."

"It's only been a few days and he is in good hands. He'll probably surprise us both with his recovery."

Redd-Leif reached up and adjusted his cowl and they continued toward the cobbler's wagon. As they reached the wagon something across the way caught the Fae's attention. "Piper, do you mind if I leave you to deal with the cobbler on your own? I recognize a merchant over there that I know has some things that interest my wife. I'd like to get her something."

"You have a wife?"

Redd-Leif smiled. "Yes, Piper." He took a deep breath. "As a matter of fact, I'm married to-"

"Hello, gentlemen. Can I be of service?"

They turned to see a jovial man with curly, salt and pepper hair and beard facing them. "Ah, customers?" A grin overtook his face. "Would you happen to be interested in a pair of shoes or boots? I have some ready-made, but if you have a couple of hours I could custom-make a pair."

Piper smiled at the cobbler. "I am looking for some traveling shoes."

Redd-Leif nodded at the cobbler, then at Piper. "Well then, I leave you to it, my boy. I'll be back soon."

The cobbler tapped his lip with his index finger. "Now, let's see, you wanted traveling shoes. Let me get a look at your feet."

Piper obliged by turning his feet and lifting each in turn for the cobbler to examine.

"Hmm. I may have a pair of boots already made that would be a close fit. Give me a moment if you would."

"Of course, sir. Thank you."

The cobbler disappeared around the side of the wagon. Then Piper spotted the horses with their dark chestnut bodies and flaxen manes and tails. His eyes grew wide. "Are those Black Forest horses?"

"Yes, there are," the cobbler called from inside the wagon. "Ever ridden one?"

"No, but I've heard about them. They are gorgeous."

"I like them--big, strong, elegant, and good natured. Feel free to pet them if you want. They enjoy the attention."

"Thank you, I will. What are their names?"

"Abel and Seth."

The horses were busy cropping grass between the wagon and a stand of trees. Piper stepped over and patted each of them. They did seem to enjoy it so he continued rubbing the neck of the closest one. "Good boy. You are a beauty."

"Psst, Piper," a whispered voice called.

Piper moved a step closer to the trees. "Who's there?"

A figure stepped out of the shadows.

"Captain Burkehart?"

The captain put a finger to his lips. "Shush." He cast a guarded glance around the area. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine."

"Good." Burkehart stepped back into the trees. "Keep petting the horses and act like you are talking to them."

Piper returned to rubbing the neck of the closest horse. "Good boy."

"We thought you and Rupert were dead."

"Luckily, no. Redd-Leif saved us from the wolves."

"Then Rupert is alive. That is good news. I didn't see him with you. Where is he?"

"Redd-Leif took him to the Elven healers. He was badly hurt."

"Oh?" Burkerhart was silent a moment. "When did you last see him?"

"About a week ago." After another moment of silence Piper continued, "Redd-Leif left me behind and rushed Rupert to the healers and then returned to get me."

"So you only have the Fae's word that Rupert is still alive?"

"Yes. Why would I doubt it?"

"Because Fair Folk are tricksters. They especially like to lure young men and women your age away from their homes never to be seen again. Sometimes they try to convince their victims they have elemental blood themselves." Burkehart was silent several seconds. "Has Summerstorm told you that you are his son? That would be the obvious trick."

"No. No, he hasn't said that." Piper felt a knot forming in his stomach. He stopped petting the horse and looked across the camp. He couldn't see Redd-Leif anywhere, but then again, the cobbler's wagon was partially blocking his view.

Burkehart continued, "Well, I suppose that is good. I hope Rupert is safe as you believe, but I still fear he may be lost to us. Look, why don't you come with me now so we don't lose you, too? If Summerstorm is taking you to the Elven village, I can't help you once you enter their realm."

"But, Rupert . . ." Piper shook his head. "I can't leave him behind."

At that moment the cobbler called out, "I think I found just the thing for you, young man."

"That's great," Piper called back and then headed to the cobbler's wagon without looking back.

The merchant was holding a pair of boots in the air like a prize to be awarded. "Here we are."

Piper took a deep breath and put a smile on his face. "Those appear to be exactly what I am looking for. Let me try them on."

~~~~


Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Melodica = an Elven female

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.
 

Author Notes Thank you to GaliaG for the use of the artwork "Music Abstract"


Chapter 23
The Piper, Part 23

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of previous chapter
Burkehart continued, "I hope Rupert is safe as you believe, but I still fear he may be lost to us. Look, why don't you come with me now so we don't lose you, too? If Summerstorm is taking you to the Elven village, I can't help you once you enter their realm."

"But, Rupert . . ." Piper shook his head. "I can't leave him behind."

At that moment the cobbler called out, "I think I found just the thing for you, young man."

"That's great," Piper called back and then headed to the cobbler's wagon without looking back.

The merchant was holding a pair of boots in the air like a prize to be awarded. "Here we are."

Piper took a deep breath and put a smile on his face. "Those appear to be exactly what I am looking for. Let me try them on."


~~~~

Chapter 23

Piper sat on a rock, his face upturned to catch the warm rays of the mid-morning sun. A contented sigh escaped his lips. It is amazing what a bath and a fresh set of clothes can do for one's disposition. Behind him, he could hear Redd-Leif splashing as he took his turn to bathe in the cool waters of the forest spring. Piper reached for his satchel and began arranging its contents on the grass next to him so that he could repack them: his clothes, cleaning supplies for his flute, a few personal possessions, his coin pouch, and a small wooden box.

I'd nearly forgotten about you. Piper opened the box and brushed his fingers lightly over the fife inside. A thrill ran through him the instant his fingertips came in contact with the instrument.

Grandfather Acker never explained why the fife was special; Piper just knew it was. From the moment he'd entered Castle Welf, he'd been drawn to the instrument. As far as Piper could remember, Grandfather had never played this fife nor had he allowed Piper to touch it, only to gaze upon it from time-to-time when Piper had pestered him too long about it. Someday, he would play this instrument. It would be magic. He reached to take the fife out of the case.

Someday, Piper, but not today.

Were the thoughts his own or something the fife communicated? Piper consciously released the breath he wasn't aware he had been holding. He closed the case and gently placed the wooden box at the bottom of the satchel before carefully packing his other belongings on top of it.

Someday.

With a grin, Piper reached to his side and brought his faithful flute to his lips. Joyful, carefree music floated on the air. The sun grew brighter; the trees, grass and shrubbery glistened greener around him.

"I always enjoy hearing you play, my boy." Redd-Leif nodded to Piper as he walked past to go sit on a nearby log. "The music sounds wonderful."

Piper nodded back, but kept playing.

Redd-Leif rummaged through one of his knapsacks. "Would you care for a little something to eat before we head out? There's not much of a selection left, but we still have some jerky and dried fruit."

Piper finished his tune, then answered. "Yes, I am a bit hungry. Thank you, sir." He slipped his flute into its case and let it drop to his side before walking over to accept the food Redd-Leif offered. Piper bit off a piece of jerky and began munching, letting his saliva mingle with the dried meat to soften it and bring out the juices. "You know, for traveling food this is tasty fare."

Redd-Leif grinned. "Thank you."

A quick scan of the campsite and nearby forest revealed to Piper that his only companion was the Fae. "Where's Sheba? It's not like the wolf to miss a meal."

Redd-Leif looked over at Piper. "It was the dark of the moon last night."

"The dark of the moon?"

"Ah, yes, I forget you don't know." Redd-Leif paused to take a drink of water. "It has to do with the enchantment the sorcerer cast on her. During the dark of the moon, Sheba disappears for a night or two, sometimes even longer. No one knows why or where she goes." Redd-Leif began arranging his packs and their contents. "And I would advise against asking her about it."

Piper swallowed his jerky. "Don't irritate the wolf by asking her questions."

"I would lay-off the 'wolf' comments for a few days afterwards as well. She gets a bit touchy about it."

"Even more than usual?"

"Much more than usual. Whatever happens during the dark of the moon, I think it reminds her there is no way to break the spell, not with the sorcerer who cast it being dead." Redd-Leif paused in his preparations. "Piper, we will be entering the Elven village later today. Aren't there a few things you'd like to know before we get there?"

"Like what?" Piper bit off another piece of jerky and began working to soften it.

"Oh, maybe you have questions about your mother or life among the Elven?"

Piper shrugged. "I have a lot of questions for my mother, but I'd thought I'd ask her when I meet her."

Redd-Leif nodded. "Probably wise."

"As far as the Elven, I've heard so many different things I thought it best to learn about them first-hand and then make up my mind."

"Again, that seems wise, my boy."

The two of them continued eating for a few moments, then Redd-Leif asked, "What about your father?"

"My father?" Piper nodded. "Yes, I have wondered about him. You say you knew Garrin. What was he like?"

"Garrin?" Redd-Leif looked puzzled. "Why do you want to know about Garrin?"

"I . . . I guess I assumed since I was just a baby that my mother and father would be traveling together." Piper's brow furrowed. "You said it was a small group, just you, your brother, my mother, and Garrin. You said I was half-Elven. Garrin was the only human in the group so I figured he was my father."

Redd-Leif looked down and his jaw clenched. "Yes, I can see how you would think that." Redd-Leif looked up to meet Piper's confused gaze. "You are correct; your parents were traveling together."

"And Garrin?"

Redd-Leif shook his head. "No, Garrin is not your father."

"But . . ." Piper swallowed. "So, you're telling me I'm not human at all?"

Redd-Leif took a deep breath and shook his head. "Again, you are correct."

"Oh," Piper looked into the distance, unconsciously reaching to clutch his flute. He turned back to Redd-Leif. "Blue-Gale?"

Redd-Leif shook his head.

"Then . . ." Piper stared at Redd-Leif.

"Piper." Redd-Leif's voice was soft and full of emotion. "I have a lot I need to tell you . . . my boy."

Silence passed between them for several moments as they studied each other.

Redd-Leif took a deep breath. "Look, Piper, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I know it's a lot to take in." A grimace crossed his face. "I should have told you before, but I was waiting for the right time. It just never seemed to present itself."

Piper stood, uncertain where to go.

A rustling in the nearby forest pulled their attention in the direction of a nearby stand of trees. A voice called out, "Hello, the camp. Permission to join you?"

Redd-Leif closed his eyes and his shoulders slumped. A whispered, "No, no, not now," crossed his lips. His jaw momentarily clenched before he stood and turned to answer. "Raven, is that you? Welcome, my friend."

"Summerstorm, well met. We weren't certain when to expect you." A tall Elven hunter flanked by several Elven youths stepped out of the trees. One youngster, a Fae of about ten-years-old, burst from the group and dashed towards them. "Papa, you're back." He reached Redd-Leif and leaped-up to give him a hug.

Redd-Leif returned the embrace then drew back to look at the youth. "Lynx, I need to talk to you. Now."

But Lynx broke free of Redd-Leif's embrace and bounded over to stand before Piper. A look of wonder exploded into an exuberant smile. "You must be my brother Piper."
~~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Blue-Gale = Redd-Leif's brother

Melodica = an Elven female

Lynx = a young Fae male

Raven = Elven; master hunter

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.


Chapter 24
The Piper, Part 24

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.



End of previous chapter
A t
all Elven hunter flanked by several Elven youths stepped out of the trees. One youngster, a Fae of about ten years, burst from the group and dashed towards them. "Papa, you're back." He reached Redd-Leif and leaped to give him a hug.

Redd-Leif returned the embrace then drew back to look at the youth. "Lynx, I need to talk to you. Now."

But Lynx broke free of Redd-Leif's embrace and bounded over to stand before Piper. A look of wonder exploded into an exuberant smile. "You must be my brother Piper."


Chapter 24
Captain Burkehart placed his hand against a tree and leaned forward to study the ground. There was no evidence of recent disturbances in the forest debris or undergrowth. He had hoped to pick up the trail when the sun rose, but his efforts the last two hours had been futile. He resisted the urge to punch something. No sense attracting unwanted attention from pointed-eared creatures.

He rolled his shoulders, rubbed his neck and exhaled in frustration. There hadn't been time to sleep much the past few days, not since he had located and begun following Piper and Summerstorm. Tracking last night was hard enough, especially during a new moon, but avoiding a group of young Elven hunters who had scattered themselves throughout the forest had made it impossible for him to stay on task. And let's not forget the wolves. It's no wonder I've lost Piper. Summerstorm probably has him in the Elven village by now. Burkehart scowled. Fair Folk. Wolves. They love the night, and they protect each other.

Burkehart sat on a rock and took a long drink from his water-skin, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he finished. There was nothing else he could do. Piper was lost to the human world. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists.

A tune wafted upon the breeze, so soft it was more of a caress than a sound. Burkehart felt the tension in his muscles ease a bit and he sighed. Ah, that music is almost magical; so joyful, so relaxing. He yawned. I wonder if Troy has reached Hanover with the musicians yet. I should head back and check on them. Ah, but that music is sweet. Burkehart opened his eyes. Flute music in the forest? His lips turned up slightly. Piper. So I haven't lost you after all, my young friend. There is still time to save you from the Fae.

Following the sound of the music, Burkehart scurried from rock to bush to tree, displaying a stealth that was more Elven-like than human. In the forest one had to adapt the ways of its creatures in order to survive. The wolves may have retired for the day, but the Elven hunting party might still be in the area.

When the tune ended, Burkehart paused to listen for another. Instead, he heard only the sounds of birds and insects. No matter, he had established the direction the music originated from so he continued onward. After a few moments, he heard voices. One voice was louder than the rest.

"Piper, Piper, Piper, Piper. Mama and Serein are going to be so excited to see you, and so jealous that I got to see you first."

Burkehart eased up from a crouch and peeked through the bushes. The Elven hunting party appeared to have joined Summerstorm and Piper in a clearing next to a mountain spring. Although Piper stood head and shoulders taller than a young Fae, he was being lifted off the ground in a tight embrace by the youth. Burkehart noted Piper's obvious discomfort. Hang on Piper. I'll have you out of there shortly. If I know the Fair Folk, they will disperse and enter the faerie realm individually or in small groups so they can keep the entrance a mystery. Then I can grab you.

Summerstorm stood a few paces away from Piper, a concerned look on his face. "Lynx, put your brother down, please."

Burkehart suppressed a smile. So Piper was being told he had a Fae brother, or half-brother. It was a common trick among the Fair Folk. No doubt the young Fae was Summerstorm's boy. The youth had the sturdy, muscular build of a Fae, though his hair was dark instead of the characteristic white. By the expression on Piper's face, he was having trouble accepting the fact he had a faerie sibling. Smart boy.

"Ah, Captain Burkehart," a serene voice cooed from behind him.

Burkehart spun around to face the speaker, unsheathing his sword and dagger in one fluid motion as he did so. He peered into the shadows and glanced from side-to-side, weapons at the ready. "Who's there?"

"I don't believe we've ever met, Captain, but I've heard much about you."

The voice from the shadows was so calm it was unnerving. Burkehart felt the sweat begin to bead on his forehead. He kept his voice low so those in the clearing wouldn't hear him. "Show yourself."

Silence.

"I said, show yourself."

"Why?"

"Why?" Burkehart adjusted the hold on his blades. "Because it is only right for a man to know who his adversary is."

"Who says I am an adversary? Perhaps, I am a friend."

"More likely you are some faerie trickster." That voice is too soothing, too controlled not to have a spell concealed within it. "Are you one of the Fair Folk? Step out of the shadows and let me see."

"Hmm. First, answer a question for me, Captain. Why are we called the Fair Folk? Is it because we are so beautiful, so fair to look upon? Or is it because we are honest and fair in our dealings with others?"

The speaker was somewhere to his right so Burkehart took several steps in that direction. "You admit to being one of the Fair Folk then?"

"Of course."

Burkehart paused. The voice came from a different position so he moved to follow. "Show yourself, Faerie. Let me see what type of creature you are."

"Is the question too hard, Captain?"

"What question?" He took several steps toward the voice.

"Why are we called the Fair Folk?"

Burkehart peered into the foliage and strained to hear any movement. He only heard the creaking of his leather uniform and his own breathing.

"Very well, let's forget that question, Captain. Answer this one instead. Why are you so interested in Piper?"

Burkehart focused on his weapons so he wouldn't succumb to the enchantment threatened by that tantalizing voice. "Why shouldn't I be? A young orphan being lured away by the Fair Folk needs someone to watch out for him."

"So, you think we mean to harm him?"

"Of course. It's what Fair Folk do."

"A human misconception, Captain. Piper is very talented. We only wish to help him."

"Help him? By luring him away from all he knows to your world?" Burkehart froze. Lure away? She is luring me away. I need to get back to Piper.

Burkehart turned and dashed back to the spot where he had last seen Piper. As he expected, Piper, the Elven hunters, Summerstorm--the entire group was gone. He hurried down to the clearing. Footprints dispersed in various directions. Which ones were Piper's? Burkehart dropped to one knee and looked for the familiar tread he had been following the last few days. It was useless. Oh, why did the boy have to purchase new boots and wear them today?

He selected a trail and followed it into the forest. It might not be Piper's trail, but it could eventually lead to the entrance of the faerie realm. The trail switched back on itself several times and finally disappeared. Burkehart returned to the clearing and tried following another trail with similar results.They know I'm here. How can I hope to trick the tricksters? He tried tracking a third trail which ended at a stream with no footprints on the opposite bank. After searching both banks for nearly a mile upstream and then downstream, Burkehart slumped to the ground and leaned his back against a tree. There has to be some way into the faerie realm. How do I find it?

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Blue-Gale = Redd-Leif's brother

Melodica = an Elven female

Raven = Elven; master hunter

Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.


~~~


Chapter 25
The Piper, part 25

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of previous chapter
Captain Burkehart selected a trail and followed it into the forest. It might not be Piper's trail, but it could eventually lead to the entrance of the faerie realm. The trail switched back on itself several times and finally disappeared. Burkehart returned to the clearing and tried following another trail with similar results.They know I'm here. How can I hope to trick the tricksters? He tried tracking a third trail which ended at a stream with no footprints on the opposite bank. After searching both banks for nearly a mile upstream and then downstream, Burkehart slumped to the ground and leaned his back against a tree. There has to be some way into the faerie realm. How do I find it?


Chapter 25

Piper didn't break stride as he stepped over the fallen tree crossing their path. Lynx, however, jumped on the trunk, bounced off and hopped for several steps. Though they walked side-by-side, Lynx's lively antics made his pace seem hurried and excited compared to Piper's leisurely gait.

". . . and Papa is right, you do look like Mama, tall and lean like an elf, but her hair is so dark green it looks like it's black unless she is in the right light. Your eyes are shaped like hers too, only her eyes are emerald green. Me and Serein have dark hair, but not as dark as Mama's, of course. I'm more like a Fae except for the hair color, but I guess you can see that, huh, Piper? It's hard to tell about Serein though. Mama says when Serein goes through growth spurts sometimes she seems more Elven and other times more Fae."

"I see." Piper reached up to brush aside a low-hanging limb so it wouldn't hit him in the face. As he did so, he glanced over his shoulder. Redd-Leif was still following several feet behind them. Piper felt the knot in his stomach tighten. If I believe what Lynx says, not only do I have an Elven mother and a Fae father, I also have a ten-year-old brother and a six-year-old sister I never knew existed.

"Your eyes are blue like Papa's and your hair is light, but more yellow than white, so not really like Papa's. Serein's eyes are blue too, only really bright blue. Mine are hazel, although people say they change color depending on my mood. See?" Lynx turned around and blocked the way, staring at Piper with his eyes as wide-open as possible.

"Yes, I see what you mean. They look kind of golden at the moment."

"Golden, really?" Lynx grinned, then turned and pointed to something up ahead. "Hey, look." Lynx bound away to investigate whatever it was.

Piper watched Lynx disappear into the forest and sighed. I'm not human at all. How can that be? I was raised human. I feel human. He turned and looked at Redd-Leif who had stepped up next to him. "Does he chatter like this all the time?"

Redd-Leif smiled. "When he is excited he can't seem to contain himself, much like the lynx he is named for. Those cats can make a real racket when they want to. And just like a lynx, the one time he is quiet is when he is on the hunt." Redd-Leif chuckled and raised an eyebrow. "You really need to watch out for him then."

Up ahead Lynx called, "Come on, Piper. Hurry. You have to see the pixies."

"Pixies?" Piper's brow furrowed. "Have we entered the faerie realm already? I thought there'd be some kind of magical entrance."

Redd-Leif shook his head. "No, we're not quite there yet, but we are close. Many elementals travel between realms so we will probably run into a few of them as we get nearer to the entrance. It won't be long now, my boy."

Piper inwardly cringed at "my boy." Redd-Leif meant the words literally. If Redd-Leif really is my father then why didn't he tell me sooner? Maybe, Captain Burkehart was right about the Fair Folk all along. Maybe, it is all a lie, a trick to get me to join them. But why? Oh, Rupert, if only I knew you were alright. . . But I don't know what's happened to you and I have to be sure.

Lynx called out, "Hey, Piper, what's taking you so long?"

"I'm coming." Piper turned and trotted in the direction of Lynx's continued chattering.

Once Lynx was in sight, Piper slowed to a walk. A group of pixies were talking with the young Fae. The pixies looked like perfectly formed miniature humans with wings, standing between four and six inches tall. If the legends were true, they could change size from being barely visible to as large as humans. Piper hesitated. What is the proper way to approach a group of pixies?

"Hey, Piper, I was just telling the pixies what a great musician you are and they want you to play something for them."

Piper smiled. That's right, pixies are supposed to love music. He reached for the flute at his side and began playing a tune as he walked toward them.

Lynx looked puzzled. "No, not like that, Piper. Master Crescendo says the pixies like lively tunes. They love to dance. Play something spirited, something they can really flit and zip around to. Play, "Midsummer," everyone loves that song."

Redd-Leif caught-up to them and placed a hand on Lynx's shoulder. "Remember, my boy, Piper hasn't met the Elven musicians yet. He doesn't know the tunes you know."

Piper smiled. "Let's try this instead." A jaunty, syncopated rhythm punctuated the air and the pixies went wild, yelping and shouting with excitement. Some remained on the ground, prancing and clapping with the beat. Others began flitting and darting through the air to the sprightly refrain. Lynx jumped up-and-down with glee, and Piper joined in by dancing about as he played.



Redd-Leif watched the two boys frolicking with the pixies. He felt a sense of . . . what? Pride? Relief? Fulfillment? Redemption for having left Piper behind fifteen years ago? Whatever it was, he was thankful Lynx had asked to join them on the journey home, and relieved Piper had agreed. Perhaps, Piper wanted another person around to act as a buffer between the two of them, or perhaps he found Lynx an eager font of information and was learning all he could. Whatever the reason, it warmed Redd-Leif's heart to see them together. Soon, his family would be complete. A wave of emotion welled in his breast and climbed into his throat. Redd-Leif reached to daub the moisture from the corner of his eye, then started clapping in time with the music.


~~~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Blue-Gale = Redd-Leif's brother

Melodica = an Elven female

Raven = Elven; master hunter

Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.
~~~~~

Thank you to GaliaG for use of the artwork
~~~~~


Chapter 26
The Piper, part 26

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him.


End of Previous Chapter
Redd-Leif watched the two boys frolicking with the pixies. He felt a sense of . . . what? Pride? Relief? Fulfillment? Redemption for having left Piper behind fifteen years ago? Whatever it was, he was thankful Lynx had asked to join them on the journey home, and relieved Piper had agreed. Perhaps, Piper wanted another person around to act as a buffer between the two of them, or perhaps he found Lynx an eager font of information and was learning all he could. Whatever the reason, it warmed Redd-Leif's heart to see them together. Soon, his family would be complete. A wave of emotion welled in his breast and climbed into his throat. Redd-Leif reached to daub the moisture from the corner of his eye, then started clapping in time with the music.



Chapter 26
Piper craned his neck, attempting to see the top of Hidden Falls. Water thundered down in two tiers. He could see the water at the bottom of the first tier crashing into the canyon wall and abruptly changing direction at a right angle. A surging pool formed at the bottom of the second tier before cascading across rocks and boulders into a roaring stream. Lush forest vegetation grew right up to the edge of the water, thriving on the moisture. The aromas of spring flora and water mingled and scented the air. Mini rainbows attempted to emerge at various levels. Piper shook his head. How could anything this beautiful, this large and this noisy be hidden?

He paused to look downstream, checking the foliage for unusual movement. What am I hoping to see? I declined Captain Burkehart's offer of rescue.

A knot formed in Piper's stomach. This is it. In a few minutes, there will be no turning back. He adjusted the strap on his pack and resumed his trek, following Redd-Leif and Lynx to a spot near the edge of the lower falls.

They nodded to each other to indicate they were ready and Redd-Leif signaled them to move forward. Lynx went first, hopping from one stone to the next as if it were a game until he disappeared behind the falls. Redd-Leif moved deliberately from stone-to-stone. Piper took a deep breath and stepped forward. As previously instructed, he placed his feet exactly where Redd-Leif positioned his. A dozen steps later, Piper found himself behind the waterfall staring in awe at the back of the thundering cascade. Drops of water glistened in the sunlight like crystal prisms creating dapples of restless color.

He wasn't certain how long he stood mesmerized by the waterfall, but he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Redd-Leif mouthing the words, "Beautiful, isn't it?" Then Redd-Leif motioned for Piper to follow and moved toward the back of the cavern.

Sunlight flickered into the cavern in iridescent waves, growing dimmer as it filtered deeper into the enclosure. Piper took a moment to let his eyes adjust and study his surroundings. The cavern floor was slick with moisture from the spray and sloped down toward the cascading water.

He looked up to check on his companions. Lynx was nowhere in sight. Redd-Leif waited near the back of the cavern. If it weren't for the light shimmering with a silver-blue tinge on the Fae's skin, he would have been invisible in the shadows. Silver-blue skin? I thought that only happened in direct moonlight. Piper proceeded cautiously, looking at his feet and testing his footing as he moved upward so he wouldn't slip. Thankfully, the rock floor was pitted, uneven, and covered in soft moss, which made it easier to find footholds. Redd-Leif reached out and took Piper's hand to help him navigate the last few steps.

"Thank you!" Piper shouted, but he couldn't hear his own voice above the din of the waterfall.

Redd-Leif seemed to understand and nodded, then he turned and disappeared into the rock. Piper hesitated. Was this some sort of faerie magic? He put a hand on the wall in front of him. It was solid. From the side, Redd-Leif reached out of the shadows and pulled Piper toward him.

Hidden at the back of the cavern was a natural passageway about thirty meters long formed by a break in the rock that created two opposing walls. The ceiling rose several meters above. The resulting corridor was wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, though Piper chose to follow a few steps behind Redd-Leif. The ground in the passageway was dry and fairly level, and the roar of the rushing water diminished with each step. At the end of the passageway, Piper could see Lynx standing in the sunlight looking off into the distance.

"Is this the entrance to the faerie realm?" Piper asked when they were about halfway down the corridor.

Redd-Leif turned and walked backwards a few steps. "Unofficially, my boy. Many of us do consider the falls the border to our lands. We will be at the official entrance in a few minutes."

When he stepped into the sunlight next to Lynx, Piper shivered. He hadn't realized how chilly the air had been inside the cavern until he felt the warmth of the sun on his skin. And was that a bird singing? He sighed in gratitude to be able to hear again.

"Glad you finally made it, Piper. You almost missed them." Lynx pointed across the clearing. "Beautiful, aren't they?"

Piper gasped. "It's a group of faeries, isn't it? Can we get closer? I've always wanted to see a faerie up close."

"Technically, they're called a frolick of faeries," Redd-Leif corrected.

"A frolick?" Piper looked puzzled.

"Yes, and please don't gape. Fairies consider themselves quite normal and get irritated when others stare at them. Don't they, Lynx?" Redd-Leif raised an eyebrow in Lynx's direction.

"Yes, Papa. It's just I get so excited to see them." To the side, Lynx whispered to Piper, "I don't get to see faeries very often so it's hard not to stare. It gets me in trouble every time."

Redd-Leif sighed. "But it's still impolite, Lynx."

Lynx shrugged. "I know." Then his countenance brightened. "Look, they're coming this way. Hold still, Piper, so you don't scare them."

Redd-Leif chuckled. "Great advice, Lynx. Let's see if you can follow it."

The faeries flew over and surrounded the three of them. Their bodies looked like perfectly proportioned mini elves, ranging in height from one to three inches. Their colorful wings varied with each invividual. Some were as transparent as dragonfly wings; some were as vibrant as stained glass windows. Their voices were lyrical and pleasant to the ear, especially after the deafening roar of the falls.

Piper's eye grew wide. "Wow. They're gorgeous."

One faerie broke free from the others and flew over to examine Piper. "Did I hear them call you 'Piper?'"

"Yes, ma'am."

She clapped her hands. "Oh, magnificent! I am the first to greet you, son of Summerstorm." With that, she flew closer and kissed Piper on the cheek. "Welcome, Piper. We are thrilled you are here."

"Thank you." Piper smiled and put a hand to his cheek where the faerie had kissed him. "I am happy to be here." And he was happy, happier than he'd been in some time.

While faeries came to greet him one-by-one, Piper noticed Redd-Leif conversing with several faeries as if they knew each other well. Lynx seemed especially pleased when one faerie kissed him on the cheek, but the faeries scattered when he let out a yelp of joy.

Redd-Leif laughed. "it seems Lynx is having trouble containing his excitement."

Lynx shrugged. "Sorry, Papa."

Redd-Leif gave Lynx a playful scowl then turned to the faeries. "It's been a pleasure visiting with you, my friends, but I am afraid we need to be on our way." He nodded to the fairy that had kissed Piper. "By your leave, noble one."

"Of course, my gallant friend. It is always a pleasure." She gave him a bow in mid-air.

There was a chorus of farewells and good wishes as Redd-Leif lifted his pack to his shoulder and started down the path, Lynx in tow.

Piper took one last look at the faeries, a huge smile on his face, and hurried to join the others.

~~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Blue-Gale = Redd-Leif's brother

Melodica = an Elven female

Raven = Elven; master hunter

Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.
~~~~~

Thank you to MoonWillow for use of the artwork


Chapter 27
The Piper, part 27

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of the Fae, Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-Elven and Piper's Elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper to the faerie realm.



End of Previous Chapter

There was a chorus of farewells and good wishes as Redd-Leif lifted his pack to his shoulder and started down the path, Lynx in tow.

Piper took one last look at the fairies, a huge smile on his face, and hurried to join the others.



Chapter 27

Though Lynx bounced along next to him, Piper had to admit he felt a lilt in his own step, and he couldn't stop smiling. He touched his cheek. He'd been kissed by a faerie--a real faerie. He sighed.

Growing up in Castle Welf, he'd heard stories of Fair Folk, but seeing one was so uncommon, he'd sometimes wondered if they actually existed. Once, an Elven musician came to the castle with visiting troubadours. Elven merchants were said to have sold wares at the market, but he'd never seen one, at least not that he knew of. Redd-Leif was the first Fae he'd ever met.

During the next few minutes, several groups of elves and a group of gnomes passed them, traveling in the opposite direction. Redd-Leif nodded at the various creatures and exchanged pleasantries, and Piper followed his example. Here, Fair Folk came in groups, and he was acting as if it were a normal occurrence. He smiled. It was normal here. Along with the faerie creatures, plants he didn't recognize were in various stages of bloom along the trail. It seemed strange to see this much color, foliage and even fruit so early in the spring. Scents from the various plants perfumed the air. Piper inhaled deeply.

"Welcome to Elf Haven," a deep bass voice said. Piper jumped nearly a foot as Elven sentries emerged from an unseen post a moment later.

One sentry took a step forward. "Greetings, Lord Summerstorm. You have been sorely missed, sir. We rejoice at your return."

"Thank you." Redd-Leif nodded as two more sentries stepped forward and gave him a slight bow. "I am happy to be home, my friends."

The sentry nodded at Lynx. "Lynx, welcome back. I hope hunting was good."

"It was excellent, Commander Thorn." Lynx put a hand on Piper's arm and beamed. "I found my brother."

"Ah, so this must be the long lost Piper. Sorry if we startled you, young sir." Thorn nodded to him. "It appears we can look forward to some festivity. Everyone will be happy to know you have arrived."

"Thank you." Piper's brow furrowed. "Everyone?"

"Yes, your arrival has been hoped for these many years. There is much to celebrate."

"I see. Well, I am happy to be here." Piper smiled nervously. "Are there passwords to open some secret portal leading directly into the mountain realm?"

The sentries chuckled good-naturedly.

"I think you have heard too many human tales about elementals," Thorn said.

Piper smiled. "You could be right."

"Come on, boys. We're nearly home. Your mother will be anxious to see you." Redd-Leif nodded to the sentries. "Good day, my friends."

As they started down the path, Lynx broke the relative silence he had maintained since they left the waterfalls. "That was awesome, huh, Piper? I mean, we got to dance with pixies and then talk with faeries. Don't you think faeries are beautiful? I really like their wings. Did you notice some of their wings are so transparent they shimmer like rainbows as they fly around? It is rare to see faeries, you know. They are what people call, 'aloof.' Even some elementals never get to see one in their entire lives, and we just saw an entire frolick of them. 'Course, faeries like Fae best of all so that's probably why we got so lucky. Right, Papa?"

"Yes, Lynx. That's probably it." Redd-Leif turned to smile at the two boys, but kept up a steady pace.

"And we got faerie-kissed, too." Lynx's voice increased in volume and pitch. "Wait until Mama and Serein hear about that."

"Yes, they will be surprised," Redd-Leif said.

"Wait until you see the house, Piper. It is the prettiest cottage in the woods. And Mama's cooking is the best; everyone says so. Do you like being in the faerie realm so far? Are you excited to meet Mama and Serein? And what do you think about . . ."

Piper smiled. Somehow, he found Lynx's unrestrained chattering soothing. The boy seemed to want to unload information like river rapids racing for the falls, and he rarely required a response other than a nod or an occasional, "I see."

A few minutes later, Redd-Leif turned to his right and stopped. "Home is such a comforting sight, isn't it?"

A wide flagstone path led up to a decorated blue door. A deep porch ran along both sides of the door and disappeared into the foliage. The rest of the cottage seemed to merge into a group of trees on one side and to be part of the mountain on the other side, making it impossible to gauge the size of the building.

Lynx let out a yelp and took off at a run, disappearing into the trees. "I'll put my hunting gear away and meet you inside."

"Don't dawdle," Redd-Leif called after him.

A sweet, melodious song drifted toward them from inside the cottage. Piper stood transfixed, goose bumps rising on his arms and neck. He couldn't place the tune or the words, but something about the music was . . . familiar.

Redd-Leif turned to Piper. "Come on, my boy. Let's go in."

They walked through the cottage door into a sitting room. Afternoon light flooded the room from windows on three sides and an open skylight. The room was decorated with flowers, some in pots while others appeared to grow right out of the walls. Piper drew a deep breath and smiled. This felt so homey.

Redd-Leif put down his packs and coat on a nearby bench and led Piper down a hallway, following that beautiful singing coming from the center of the cottage. The aroma of fresh-baked bread and some sort of stew simmering made Piper's mouth water. When they walked into the kitchen, a slender elf with dark green hair was working at the kitchen counter with her back to them, singing to herself.

Redd-Leif walked over and put his arms around her waist, then rested his cheek next to hers. "Hello, my little meadow lark."

She turned and wrapped her arms around him. "Finally. Oh, I've missed you, you crazy Fae. What took you so long?" Then she looked over Redd-Leif's shoulder, and her eyes met Piper's. She looked up at Redd-Leif. "Is it . . . Is it . . . him?"

"Yes, Melodica. It's Piper."

"At last," she whispered.

When Melodica returned her gaze to him, Piper felt his breath catch in his throat. If he could paint a picture of the perfect sylvan elf, she would look like Melodica, with porcelain skin and dark green hair. Her emerald eyes were flawless, shining with warmth, kindness and a hint of sadness. And Melodica's voice was even sweeter than Sheba's--so soft and melodious.

Piper smiled politely. "Hello."

Emerald eyes began to glisten with tears and smiling lips quivered slightly. "Piper." She paused to take a deep breath. "My dear one. Welcome home."

~~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters

Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.

Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.

Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.

Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf

Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae

Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf

Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form

Blue-Gale = Redd-Leif's brother

Melodica = an Elven female

Raven = Elven; master hunter

Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm

Fair Folk = Refers to non-human races sometimes considered magic such as elves, Fae, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc. Also called elementals.


Chapter 28
The Piper, part 28

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-elven and Piper's elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper into the faerie realm.

End of Previous Chapter
"Oh, I've missed you, you crazy Fae. What took you so long?" Then she looked over Redd-Leif's shoulder, and her eyes met Piper's. She looked up at Redd-Leif. "Is it ... Is it ... him?"

"Yes, Melodica. It's Piper."

"At last," she whispered.

When Melodica returned her gaze to him, Piper felt his breath catch in his throat. If he could paint a picture of the perfect sylvan elf, she would look like Melodica, with porcelain skin and dark green hair. Her emerald eyes were flawless, shining with warmth, kindness and a hint of sadness. And Melodica's voice was even sweeter than Sheba's--so soft and melodious.

Piper smiled politely. "Hello."


Emerald eyes began to glisten with tears and smiling lips quivered slightly. "Piper." She paused to take a deep breath. "My dear one. Welcome home."


Chapter 28
"You're much taller than I expected." Melodica stood within arm's-length as she studied Piper. "I guess I envisioned you as a little taller, blond version of Lynx, but you're as tall as I am." She smiled. "How silly of me. Of course, you would be. You're five years older than Lynx." Melodica reached over to brush Piper's cheek. "And so handsome." Her voice quivered a little. "I can see hints of my father in you, and of Redd-Leif, too."

Piper felt a knot growing in his stomach. Is it true, then? Redd-Leif is my father? Or is it a trick like Captain Burkehart said?

"Fifteen years." Melodica's emerald eyes started to glisten again. "Oh, Piper, you have no idea how much I've missed you." She couldn't seem to help herself; she pulled him close.

Piper tentatively put his arms around her and returned the embrace. The last female to hold him this close was his mother--his human mother--when he was nine. Yet, something about being held by Melodica seemed so right, like a lost memory surfacing for air.

Melodica stepped back and assessed him once again, brushing the tears from her cheeks. "I'm sorry to be so emotional, Piper. Having you here, it's like a dream I thought would never come true."

Piper nodded. "It's alright. Redd-Leif told me how we were separated and how difficult it has been for you."

"Redd-Leif?" Melodica looked from Piper to Redd-Leif and then back at Piper. "I don't understand. You call your father by his given name?"

"Uh . . ."

Redd-Leif stepped over and put his arm around Melodica. "I told him to call me Redd-Leif for his own protection." He took a deep breath. "I'll explain later. For now, let's give Piper time to adjust. He has spent fifteen years thinking he was human. He didn't know about us. It's a lot for him to take in, my love."

"He didn't know about us?" Melodica's voice had an edge to it. "But Raymond gave his word."

"And he meant to keep it." Redd-Leif looked over at Piper then back at Melodica. "Raymond and I planned on speaking to Piper together. Unfortunately, the Grand Master died while I was on my way to meet with him. In fact, I found Piper playing his flute at his grandfather's grave when I arrived."

Melodica returned her attention to Piper. "Yes, news reached us about Raymond. You poor thing. First we leave you behind. Then your human parents die. Now, the man you knew as your grandfather is gone." She dropped her eyes for a moment and then looked back at him. "It hasn't been easy for you. I am sorry."

"Thank you." Piper took a gulp of air, and tried to breathe normally. The man I knew as my grandfather? Raymond Acker was my grandfather. He raised me. Piper bit his cheek to keep his emotions in check.

Melodica took his hand in hers. "Piper, now you're home, if it's not too soon or too much to ask, I am hoping you will call me 'Mama' or, since you're nearly grown, perhaps, 'Mother.'"

"Of course." He took a breath to steady himself. "Mother."

Melodica's smile brightened and she wrapped her arms around him again. "Oh, Piper, my baby. My nearly grown-up baby. I am so happy you're here."

Piper returned the embrace more confidently this time. Everything is happening so fast. Maybe, Melodica really is my mother. Or maybe, I just miss my parents and ... grandfather. Oh, I don't care. It just feels good.

Just then a six-year-old girl came bounding into the room with Lynx right behind her. "Papa! You're home!" The little girl leapt toward Redd-Leif.

Redd-Leif caught her in his arms and hugged her tightly. "Hello, little one. Have you behaved yourself while I've been gone?"

"Yes." The little girl looked over at Piper, her smile changing to a guarded expression. "Is that him?"

"Yes, Serein. This is your brother Piper."

Serein scrunched her nose. "He doesn't look like a Fae."

"He's half Fae and half elf, just like you are. He just takes after the elven side of the family more."

"How long is he staying?"

"As long as he wants." Melodica reached over to stroke her daughter's hair. "Piper, this is your sister Serein."

"Hi Serein." Piper smiled at her; she glared back. Her response made him smile even more. At least there is someone beside me who wonders if I belong here or not.

"Oh, Mama," Serein said in a rush, "I came to tell you, Master Crescendo and his wife are coming up the walk."

"So we have visitors already," Redd-Leif said. "I didn't expect word about our arrival to get out so quickly."

"Perhaps, it hasn't." Melodica headed for the door. "I invited the High Mage and his wife to come visit and join me for dinner. I wasn't sure when you'd be back and I wanted some company."

"Excellent." Redd-Leif turned to Piper. "I didn't have time to speak to your mother when I brought Rupert here. She was out helping a neighbor and I had to gather my things quickly. High Mage Crescendo agreed to watch over Rupert once the healers released him. The High Mage is what you would call our local grand master of music. He was quite excited to discuss music with a human so it seemed like a good place for Rupert to stay."

"I know his whole title," Serein said. "It's High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song, Master Crescendo."

"Very good, Serein." Melodica smiled then turned to Piper. "But we generally just call him Master Crescendo or High Mage."

Piper looked hopefully at Melodica. "Will Rupert be with them?"

"Let's go find out," she said.

When they reached the sitting room, an elven couple stood in the doorway. The man wore the robes of a music master and had a lute slung over his shoulder. "Greetings to the family Summerstorm."

"Master Crescendo, Lady Crescendo, please come in." Melodica approached and embraced them.

Master Crescendo smiled at Melodica. "As always, it is a pleasure to be in the home of one of the loveliest voices in our province." He nodded at Redd-Leif. "Lord Summerstorm, it is good to see you."

Redd-Leif nodded back. "And you as well, my friends."

Master Crescendo looked over at Piper. "It appears I also have the good fortune of meeting a special flute player and his very special flute." Crescendo stepped forward and nodded. "You must be Piper."

"Yes, sir."

"I am delighted to make your acquaintance at last. I have been informed you are very talented. I am eager to hear you play."

Piper followed the example Redd-Leif had set and nodded back. "Thank you, sir. It is a pleasure to meet you." He nodded to Lady Crescendo. "And you as well, ma'am. I hope I can live up to your expectations." He looked past them to see if there was anyone else at the door. "I heard my friend Rupert is staying with you. Is he here?"

"No, I'm afraid not. We didn't know when to expect you. Rupert went with some of my students to provide entertainment for a celebration in the pixie village tonight. He will be back tomorrow."

"Oh." Piper smiled, trying to mask his disappointment.

Master Crescendo put a hand on Piper's shoulder. "The fact is, the timing works out perfectly. Much as I enjoy Rupert's company, it is good to have him away at present. You and I need to discuss some things that are meant for elemental ears only."

~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters
*Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.
*Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.
*Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.
*Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf
*Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae
*Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf
*Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form
*Melodica = an Elven female
*Master Raven = Elf; master hunter
*Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Serein = Six-year-old daughter of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Master Crescendo = Elven High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song

Elementals, also called Fair Folk by humans
*Fae = Oldest of the elemental races. Known as strong, swift and deadly by their enemies. Characterized by white hair and skin that shimmers silver-blue in direct moonlight. Usually taller than humans and muscular.
*Elf = Most numerous of the elementals. Often slightly taller and more slender than humans.
*Pixie = In their normal form they are six inches tall with wings, but they can change size to as large as humans or as small as a faerie.
*Faerie = Vary in height from one to three inches. Wings vary and can appear to be like those of dragonflies or butterflies.

Fair Folk = Name given to faerie races by humans. Refers to elves, Fae, faeries, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.


Chapter 29
The Piper, part 29

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-elven and Piper's elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper into the faerie realm.

End of Previous Chapter
"I heard my friend Rupert is staying with you. Is he here?"

"No, I'm afraid not. We didn't know when to expect you. Rupert went with some of my students to provide entertainment for a celebration in the pixie village tonight. He will be back tomorrow."

"Oh." Piper smiled, trying to mask his disappointment
.

Master Crescendo put a hand on Piper's shoulder. "The fact is, the timing works out perfectly. Much as I enjoy Rupert's company, it is good to have him away at present. You and I need to discuss some things that are meant for elemental ears only."


Chapter 29

"May I see the flute?" Master Crescendo asked.

"My flute?" Piper reached to his side. "Of course, if you'd like."

Master Crescendo raised his hand like a conductor pausing an orchestra. "I'm sorry, Piper. I meant the Mage Flute."

Piper looked puzzled.

"Perhaps you know it by another name. Sometimes it's called the Black Forest Fife."

Piper shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what you mean."

"He does have it, Master Crescendo," Redd-Leif said. "I made certain he brought it with him when he left Castle Welf, but I felt it best not to tell him what it was." Redd-Leif turned to Piper. "It's the fife you brought as a back-up instrument."

"Oh." Piper nodded. "It's in my satchel. I'll go get it."

Lynx stood. "We took your things to your room. I can show you the way."

When they returned with the flute, Melodica met them at the door and led them back into the sitting room. Lynx went to sit next to Serein on a settee, a huge grin on his face. "Wow. This is so exciting."

Master Crescendo and his wife sat in chairs to the left of Lynx and Serein, and Redd-Leif was in a chair to their right. All of them watched Piper expectantly.

Melodica held out her hand. "May I?" Piper handed her the case and she opened it slowly. "The Mage Flute." Her tone had a hushed reverence to it. "I wasn't certain I'd ever see it again."

"Melodica," Master Crescendo asked, "may I see it?"

"Of course." She handed him the case and went to sit next to Redd-Leif.

Master Crescendo studied the flute for a moment before speaking. "Amazing. So amazing." He turned to Piper. "Has it spoken to you?"

"Spoken?"

Master Crescendo smiled. "I don't mean verbally. Have you sensed it communicate to your mind? Something that seemed like your own thoughts, perhaps, but somehow wasn't?"

"I've always felt drawn to it, but I don't think it's 'spoken' to me."

"I see." Master Crescendo looked disappointed.

Piper thought for a moment. "Wait. On the way here, I considered playing the fife. I thought it was my imagination, but the thought came to mind, 'Someday, Piper, but not today.' Is that the sort of thing you mean?"

A huge smile enveloped Master Crescendo's face. "Exactly what I mean, young man."

Melodica squeezed Redd-Leif's hand. "I told you he was the one. It's his birthright."

"Yes. It makes sense it would choose him." Master Crescendo looked at Piper. "Have you ever played it?"

"No, sir. Somehow, I felt it was too special."

Master Crescendo nodded. "Yes, it is very special. In fact, to protect it, we gave it to Master Acker to safeguard after the Human-Elemental Wars. Things were in such turmoil. So much was in ruins. We were afraid it might fall into the wrong hands and be lost or destroyed. As a master of music in the human realm, Raymond Acker seemed to be in the best position to protect it. Our enemies were unlikely to look for it in their own realm." Master Crescendo was silent for a moment as he gazed at the fife. "After he became Grand Master of the Music Guild, I believe he kept it hidden among the instruments at Castle Welf."

"Yes, sir. My grandfather, I mean Grand Master Acker, always handled this fife with great respect. As far as I know, he never played it. He showed it to me a few times when we were alone and I begged him to, but I don't believe he ever mentioned it to anyone else." Piper grew introspective. "I was never certain why, but I've always been curious about it."

"Understandable. We all hold the Mage Flute in great awe." Master Crescendo looked Piper in the eye. "Master Acker would not have been able to play the instrument. He was a good man, and he had some elven blood, but legend has it that only a worthy elf of the Glenn line can play this flute if chosen by it."

"The Glenn line?"

Master Crescendo nodded toward Melodica. "Your mother's line."

Melodica had a look of wonder in her eyes. "Its return is a great event for our family."

"For your family and for all elementals." Master Crescendo leaned forward in his chair. "Let me tell you a little about the Mage Flute, Piper. It is made from a special tree called a Mage Tree. The last tree was destroyed during the wars with the humans."

"Master Crescendo, would you mind if I told him?" Melodica asked.

"Please do, my dear. It is, after all, your family's story."

"Thank you." She turned to Piper. "You see, the mage trees were able to communicate with elves."

"The trees spoke?"

"In a way. We could hear their thoughts and they could hear ours. During the wars, the humans stripped and burned the forest. They especially liked the wood of the mage trees because it was so good for building. My ancestors did their best to save the trees, but it was no use. As the last mage tree was dying, she asked my great-grandfather to make three instruments out of her heart. She loved elves, especially our music. Though my great-grandfather and the other elves protested and said they would do all they could to save her, she insisted. There were no more mage seeds to plant, no mage saplings to grow to maturity. She wanted to leave something special behind so mage trees would not be forgotten.

"She requested the instruments to be a drum, a lute and a flute. Each instrument was endowed with magical properties because it came from her heart. The flute was the smallest of the three because it was made last, and there was only enough wood left to make a small fife. This wood came from the very center of the mage tree's heart. The instrument became known as the Mage Flute. Because the mage tree grew in the Black Forest, and because the flute was small, it is sometimes called the Black Forest Fife.

"It will only allow itself to be played by the best and most worthy of musicians. My father played it. He gave it to me shortly before he died and asked me to protect it. It never made a sound for me when I tried to play it, but then, my musical talent is with my voice, not so much with instruments." She put a hand on Piper's shoulder. "It is your inheritance, Piper. I would like to hear you play it if you can. Will you try?"

Melodica held the open case in front of Piper.

It is time.

Piper felt a prickling sensation on the back of his neck. That was my own thought. Right? Everyone watching me is making me nervous, that's all. He took the instrument in his hands. "It's so beautiful."

"Yes, it is." Melodica smiled encouragingly.

Piper put the fife to his lips, licking the wood of the mouthpiece with his tongue in preparation to play it. He took a breath and blew into the flute. One note, sweeter than he'd ever heard, floated on the air. He paused for a moment to savor the sound. With a second breath, he played a trill. A tingling sensation moved from his fingertips, up his arms and throughout his body. Then the tune he played at his grandfather's grave filled the cottage. Did I choose the music, or did the fife?

With each note, the tingling sensation increased. By the end of the tune Piper felt lightheaded. He removed the fife from his lips and stared at it. What are you? He swallowed, took a deep breath, then looked around the room.

Melodica was crying. "I knew it. You can play it. It has chosen you."

Everyone else was silent, but smiling.

Enough for now.

A shiver shot up Piper's spine. He stared at Melodica. "I ..."

Melodica returned an understanding smile. "A bit overwhelming?"

Piper nodded.

"Father always said playing the Mage Flute was intense. Perhaps we should put it away for now. When you are ready, you can play it again." She held the case in front of him.

Piper placed the fife back in its case, his fingers lingering a moment as if unable to release the connection. Even as he took a hesitant step back, he found it difficult to take his eyes off the instrument. Once Melodica closed the case, Piper's trembling fingers reached to clutch the flute hanging at his side.

~~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters
*Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.
*Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.
*Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.
*Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf
*Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae
*Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf
*Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form
*Melodica = an Elven female
*Master Raven = Elf; master hunter
*Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Serein = Six-year-old daughter of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Master Crescendo = Elven High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song

Elementals, also called Fair Folk by humans
*Fae = Oldest of the elemental races. Known as strong, swift and deadly by their enemies. Characterized by white hair and skin that shimmers silver-blue in direct moonlight. Usually taller than humans and muscular.
*Elf = Most numerous of the elementals. Often slightly taller and more slender than humans.
*Pixie = In their normal form they are six inches tall with wings, but they can change size to as large as humans or as small as a faerie.
*Faerie = Vary in height from one to three inches. Wings vary and can appear to be like those of dragonflies or butterflies.

Fair Folk = Name given to faerie races by humans. Refers to elves, Fae, faeries, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.

Thank you to jgrace for the use of the artwork "Golden Nostalgia"


Chapter 30
The Piper, part 30

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-elven and Piper's elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper into the faerie realm.

End of Previous Chapter
"Father always said playing the Mage Flute was intense. Perhaps we should put it away for now. When you are ready, you can play it again." She held the case in front of him.

Piper placed the fife back in its case, his fingers lingering a moment as if unable to release the connection. Even as he took a hesitant step back, he found it difficult to take his eyes off the instrument. Once Melodica closed the case, Piper's trembling fingers reached to clutch the flute hanging at his side.



Chapter 30

"Master Crescendo's cottage is at the end of this path. Serein and I will leave you here." Melodica gave him a peck on the cheek. "Have a good day, Piper."

"Thank you." Piper nodded to Melodica and Serein, then started up the path. All this affection is going to take some getting used to. Lynx had volunteered to show him the way to the Prime Sage's cottage, but Master Raven had called an early morning bow-and-arrow practice for the young hunters and Lynx hadn't returned home in time.

Piper paused in his tracks. Actually, a few minutes alone were welcome. Yesterday's events had left him feeling unsettled and drained. He found a boulder next to the path and sat down. So many extraordinary things have happened. I encountered elves, pixies and faeries for the first time. He smiled at the memory, but quickly grew contemplative. Redd-Leif started to tell me he was my father. Then Lynx bounces in and tells me I have a brother and a sister too. And why didn't Redd-Leif tell me two weeks ago he was my father when he told me about Melodica? I'm supposed to believe I'm not human; I'm half-elf and half-Fae. He shook his head and stared ahead at nothing in particular. They seem like a nice family, so happy to see me. Maybe. . . It seems so fantastic, yet everyone treats me as if it is fact. If it's a trick, it is certainly an elaborate one.

And what about the Mage Flute? A musician is supposed to master his instruments, to use his skill to bring them to life. The Mage Flute feels like it has a mind of its own--powerful and unpredictable. And being able to play it supposedly confirms my heritage as an elf. Piper put his hand on the flute at his side and breathed a sigh of relief. At least you're a reliable friend.

"Hey, Piper!"

Piper looked up the path. Speaking of friends. "Rupert!" A wave of relief flooded through him.

"Hi, Piper!" Rupert broke into a run, pulling up short when he reached Piper. "It's so good to see you again."

"And it's good to see you."

"Master Crescendo said you arrived yesterday."

"I did. I asked about you, but he said you were playing at a concert last night."

Rupert nodded. "The pixies had a big festival. I felt honored when the musicians invited me to go with them, especially since I've been here such a short time. It was so exciting. There was wonderful food, games, and competitions. When the stars came out, the music became the center of attention. Talk about spectacular! The pixies started dancing and some of them even changed size and started flying around. It was the most incredible thing I've ever seen." Rupert had a transported look in his eye. "We played for hours. I wish you could have been there, Piper. You would have loved it."

"I can imagine it. I met a group of pixies on my way here and played for them. It was pretty amazing." Piper looked Rupert up and down, noting the sling on his arm. "How's your arm? Are you alright?"

Rupert grinned. "I'm more than alright. Elemental healers are remarkable. They're able to reduce the healing process by half. Instead of six weeks, it will only take three weeks for my broken bones to knit. I only have to wear this splint for another week. And the musicians are wonderful. Master Braun was right about this trip. I've learned so much in the past couple of weeks. This place is amazing. I feel so lucky to be here."

Master Braun. I bet he's worried about us. I wonder where he is?

Rupert looked up at the sky. "Look, Master Crescendo let me sleep in since we didn't get back until almost dawn. I'm late for practice with the other musicians so I've got to hurry, but we can get together this evening."

"But--"

Rupert took a few steps down the path, then turned back. "Meet me at Moonbow Meadow."

"How--"

"Everyone knows where it is." Rupert tilted his head back the way he had come. "By the way, Master Crescendo is waiting for you."

"Yes, I know."

Rupert smiled. "The High Mage is an amazing teacher. You're in for a wonderful day. See you later." With that, Rupert trotted away.

Piper watched Rupert until he reached the end of the path and turned onto the road. He heaved a frustrated sigh. It wasn't the reunion he expected. Somehow, he'd pictured the two of them talking for hours as they caught up on what had happened to them, and figuring a way out of the faerie realm and back home. At least Rupert is safe. He looked down the path. Rupert was nowhere in sight. He's obviously enjoying himself too. He seems so enchanted with this place. Piper hesitated. Is it possible they put a charm on him?

Piper turned and looked up the path with its beautiful hedges and trees The foliage didn't hold the same wonder it did yesterday. He kicked at a loose stone on the path. I should head to Master Crescendo's cottage. Instead, he pulled out his flute and began to play.


Master Crescendo enjoyed watching the bees buzz around his flower garden. Even more, he considered their pleasant humming sound some of the sweetest music in nature. So, why were they all so still at the moment? He walked around to the front of the cottage and listened intently. Flute music resonated in the distance. A musician was pouring his soul into his instrument. A musician who was so talented even insects and leaves took notice. A musician so naturally gifted he was unaware of his influence. A young musician who was in need of understanding by the sounds of it.

Master Crescendo smiled knowingly, stepped inside his cottage to retrieve his cloak, then started down the path.

~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters
*Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.
*Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.
*Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.
*Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf
*Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae
*Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf
*Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form
*Melodica = an Elven female
*Master Raven = Elf; master hunter
*Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Serein = Six-year-old daughter of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Master Crescendo = Elven High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song

Elementals, also called Fair Folk by humans
*Fae = Oldest of the elemental races. Known as strong, swift and deadly by their enemies. Characterized by white hair and skin that shimmers silver-blue in direct moonlight. Usually taller than humans and muscular.
*Elf = Most numerous of the elementals. Often slightly taller and more slender than humans.
*Pixie = In their normal form they are six inches tall with wings, but they can change size to as large as humans or as small as a faerie.
*Faerie = Vary in height from one to three inches. Wings vary and can appear to be like those of dragonflies or butterflies.

Fair Folk = Name given to faerie races by humans. Refers to elves, Fae, faeries, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.


Chapter 31
The Piper, part 31

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-elven and Piper's elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper into the faerie realm.

End of Previous Chapter
Master Crescendo enjoyed watching the bees buzz around his flower garden. Even more, he considered their pleasant humming sound some of the sweetest music in nature. So, why were they all so still at the moment? He walked around to the front of the cottage and listened intently. Flute music resonated in the distance. A musician was pouring his soul into his instrument. A musician who was so talented even insects and leaves took notice. A musician so naturally gifted he was unaware of his influence. A young musician who was in need of understanding by the sounds of it.

Master Crescendo smiled knowingly, stepped inside his cottage to retrieve his cloak, then started down the path.



Chapter 31
A bird sat quietly in the trees with its head cocked, as if trying to capture an exquisite melody it wished to imitate. Master Crescendo noted several other birds sitting on nearby branches exhibiting the same expression. Butterflies were still. A line of ants had paused in its busy trek of duties. Even the blades of grass and leaves on the trees seemed to be listening. Just like the bees in my flower garden.

Master Crescendo found himself humming as he walked slowly down the sunlit path, enjoying each note and musical phrase that floated his way. At first the music was slow and melodious, even a touch mournful. Then it grew more lively. Trills and runs extended from the flute's lowest to its highest notes, as if testing the range and versatility of both the instrument and its musician. Master Crescendo nodded. Ah, Piper, music is an understanding companion, isn't it? Nothing else responds so completely.

When Master Crescendo came over the rise, Piper was prancing about, enjoying himself. The High Mage continued forward until he was a few paces from the young performer, who was so caught up in his music he was oblivious to everything else. Master Crescendo waited patiently, swaying in place to the rhythm as he enjoyed the performance.

Piper finished an especially elaborate set of musical phrases, and paused to laugh at his own cleverness. "Too bad I don't have parchment and ink to write the music down while I still remember it."

"I think I can arrange that."

Piper started and turned to look at the High Mage. "Master Crescendo, sir. I ... was resting for a moment. I guess I lost track of time."

Master Crescendo smiled. "It's alright, Piper. I've been lost in music plenty of times myself. It drives my wife crazy, and some of my pupils and assistants as well." He walked over and sat on a log. "Improvising?"

"Yes, sir."

"So you compose music as well as play it. Lord Summerstorm said you were talented. I thought he was just being a proud father. Last night, I wasn't certain how much was your talent and how much was the Mage Flute. At last I get a chance to hear what you can do. You have spoken through your music and it has told me a great deal."

"Master Crescendo, I--"

Master Crescendo put up a hand. "What I had intended to do in our first meeting was to have you play so I could assess your musical ability and training. I think you have given me a good sample just now." He pointed to Piper's flute. "You always carry your flute so I assume it is your preferred instrument, however, knowing Master Acker, he would have trained you on others. What else do you play?"

"Most everything he had around: various pipes or flutes, lutes, lyres, harps, percussion, horns."

Master Crescendo again put up his hand. "Good."

"Of course, I'm more proficient at some instruments than others."

"Of course. You can demonstrate your proficiency on them later. What about singing? Did you inherit your mother's marvelous vocal cords?"

Piper grimaced. "Well, I used to sing quite a lot, but I enjoy playing instruments so I've concentrated on learning how to play as many of them as possible. Grandfather played the lute and sang. I usually accompanied on one instrument or another."

Master Crescendo smiled. "There's nothing wrong with that, though, if I were to guess, I'd dare say you have a beautiful singing voice. We can test it later as well. Sounds like you have an abundance of talent." Master Crescendo leaned toward Piper. "But there is one thing I want you to remember above all else." Master Crescendo looked Piper directly in the eye. "Follow your heart when it comes to your music. As you've demonstrated, when passion and talent combine, they are powerful."

Piper smiled. "Thank you, sir."

A bird started trilling in the distance. Master Crescendo paused to listen. "Ah, nature is returning to its normal routines now it is free of your enchantment."

Piper's brow furrowed. "My enchantment?"

"Yes." Master Crescendo leaned forward. "Has anyone ever commented on the affect your music has on things around you?"

Piper thought for a moment. "Well, obviously the audiences at musical performances, and sometimes those who listen at our practices."

"Obviously. Anything else? Perhaps, something about how your music affects plants or animals?"

Piper shrugged. "Sometimes the gardeners at Castle Welf joke that the ivy nearest the musicians' practice chambers grows faster and thicker than anywhere else on the castle."

Master Crescendo waited as Piper reflected further.

"When Redd-Leif left me alone in the cave, he told me to play my flute to keep animals away. He told me I should play the piece I played at my grandfather's grave or the one I played at the celebration for Troubadour Braun when he was promoted to master. Redd-Leif said they had deeper magic."

"Yes. Your father has some understanding of the magic of music."

Piper looked over at Master Crescendo. "Sir, we often say music is magical, but Redd-Leif was the first person who ever made me think it was something more than just a saying." Piper shrugged. "I wondered what he meant, but the topic never came up again."

"I see." Master Crescendo placed his chin in his hand and thought for a moment. "What I'd like to do," he finally said, "is head to my cottage and have you demonstrate what you know about composition and transcription. Perhaps, as you mentioned, you could commit what you were playing just now to paper and transcribe it for several instruments."

Piper grinned. "I would like that, sir."

"Excellent. I like your eagerness." Master Crescendo stood and clapped Piper on the back. "Let's get going. I'd also like to introduce you to some winged friends of mine."

Piper's eyes grew wide. "Faeries?"

Master Crescendo chuckled. "Something even better. Bees."

~~~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters
*Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.
*Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.
*Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.
*Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf
*Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae
*Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf
*Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form
*Melodica = an Elven female
*Master Raven = Elf; master hunter
*Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Serein = Six-year-old daughter of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Master Crescendo = Elven High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song

Elementals, also called Fair Folk by humans
*Fae = Oldest of the elemental races. Known as strong, swift and deadly by their enemies. Characterized by white hair and skin that shimmers silver-blue in direct moonlight. Usually taller than humans and muscular.
*Elf = Most numerous of the elementals. Often slightly taller and more slender than humans.
*Pixie = In their normal form they are six inches tall with wings, but they can change size to as large as humans or as small as a faerie.
*Faerie = Vary in height from one to three inches. Wings vary and can appear to be like those of dragonflies or butterflies.

Fair Folk = Name given to faerie races by humans. Refers to elves, Fae, faeries, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.


Chapter 32
The Piper, part 32

By w.j.debi

Previously
Piper is a young musician whose grandfather has passed away, leaving Piper an orphan to be raised by the music guild where he is an apprentice. After the funeral, Piper returns alone to play his flute at his grandfather's grave, and a Fae appears--a creature considered swift, strong and deadly--and compliments Piper's flute playing. Captain Burkehart comes to the rescue and escorts Piper back to the castle. During the next few weeks the Fae (Redd-Leif Summerstorm) approaches Piper on several occasions and says he has some secrets he needs to share, but each time they are interrupted by a vigilant Captain Burkehart. Meanwhile, Piper continues his musical education under the direction of the popular performer Master Braun, including traveling with a performing troupe. A wolf attack leaves Piper separated from the musicians and in the hands of Redd-Leif Summerstorm who tells Piper he is half-elven and Piper's elven mother (Melodica) is alive and wants to see him. Redd-Leif then leads Piper into the faerie realm.


End of Previous Chapter
Master Crescendo placed his chin in his hand and thought for a moment. "What I'd like to do," he finally said, "is head to my cottage and have you demonstrate what you know about composition and transcription. Perhaps, as you mentioned, you could commit what you were playing just now to paper and transcribe it for several instruments."


Piper grinned. "I would like that, sir."

"Excellent. I like your eagerness." Master Crescendo stood and clapped Piper on the back. "Let's get going. I'd also like to introduce you to some winged friends of mine."

Piper's eyes grew wide. "Faeries?"

Master Crescendo chuckled. "Something even better. Bees."



Chapter 32
Captain Burkehart dipped his cupped hand into the stream and bent forward to gulp the water before it drained away between his fingers. The iciness of it made his hand sting, but felt good in his mouth and throat. He repeated the process until he quenched his thirst.

As he filled his water-skin, he gazed upstream at the thundering waterfalls that fed this cascade. He clenched his teeth in frustration. Every group of fair folk he had tracked had either headed toward a human village, or the group had split and gone numerous ways.

Yet, nothing led in this direction. It was that very fact that piqued his interest, and why he had set up an observation post downstream late yesterday.

Several groups had passed his look-out point this morning, the last one about an hour ago. Following them had ended at the waterfall. No footprints led around the falls. The water was too swift and deep for them to be crossing to the opposite bank. Climbing the rock face to the top of the falls was extremely perilous. Even more mysterious, all footprints along this stream disappeared within an hour after the travelers passed by.

Burkehart stood, blowing on his numbing fingers to warm them before putting his glove back on. He noted the dense foliage surrounding him and smiled. It will be easy to conceal myself. All I need now is to find an existing path. A game trail would be perfect, one animals use to reach the stream. It would make it easier to obscure my movements and establish a new look-out point. He threw the strap of his water-skin over his shoulder and picked up his pack. He took another look around, then trudged up the bank toward the falls, keeping an eye out for any unusual movements or signs of danger, be they human, animal or, most importantly, fair folk.

Three more days. That's what I'll give myself. If I don't locate the entrance to the faerie realm by then, I'll head back and rejoin my men before they return to Castle Welf.

A few minutes later, Burkehart located a game trail across from the waterfall and followed it high into the foliage. After he secured his pack and found a good position to watch for travelers, he sat with his back against a tree, allowing himself to slump with his arms on his knees. He closed his eyes for a moment. I need to rest, but I can't stop now. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since yesterday. With a sigh, he sat up and rummaged through his pack, found some dry meat, bit off a piece and tucked it in his cheek so he could suck on the juices.

A movement near the stream below caught his attention, and he peered through the leaves. A group of travelers was hiking toward the waterfall. Burkehart leaned forward. Are you human or fair folk?

Everyone was wearing a hat or cowl so he couldn't see their ears. Their traveling attire didn't distinguish them, but fair folk would try to blend in while traveling outside their realm. Burkehart glanced downstream. Another group was about two miles away. That gave him time to observe this group and track them if necessary. He heaved a self-satisfied sigh. This location gave him an excellent view of the falls and the canyon below.

Returning his attention to the first group of travelers, Burkehart watched as they reached the falls, and then stopped to adjust and secure their packs. One individual stepped onto the rocks jutting out of the streambed, balancing carefully, and advanced toward the torrent of falling water.

Burkehart sat up straighter and leaned forward. What is he doing?

The person balancing on the rocks continued forward and, just when it appeared he'd be knocked into the stream by the gushing surge, he disappeared behind the wall of water. One-by-one, the others followed.

Burkehart grinned. "You crafty devils."

With renewed energy, he grabbed his pack and rushed down the game trail, sliding down the steepest part so he wouldn't lose momentum. Within a few moments he stood breathless at the edge of the falls, grinning as mist sprayed toward him.

~~~
 

Author Notes Cast of Characters
*Piper = A musical apprentice, just turned age 15.
*Rupert = A musical apprentice. Piper's friend, age 14.
*Grand Master Raymond Acker = Head of the music guild. Piper's grandfather. Recently deceased leaving Piper an orphan under the care of the music guild.
*Captain Burkehart = Captain of the Guard at Castle Welf
*Redd-Leif Summerstorm = A Fae
*Master Braun = Troubadour recently promoted to the rank of Master in the music guild at Castle Welf
*Sheba = an enchanted creature in wolf form
*Melodica = an Elven female
*Master Raven = Elf; master hunter
*Lynx = Ten-year-old son of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Serein = Six-year-old daughter of Redd-Leif and Melodica Summerstorm
*Master Crescendo = Elven High Mage, First Sage of Music and Song

Elementals, also called Fair Folk by humans
*Fae = Oldest of the elemental races. Known as strong, swift and deadly by their enemies. Characterized by white hair and skin that shimmers silver-blue in direct moonlight. Usually taller than humans and muscular.
*Elf = Most numerous of the elementals. Often slightly taller and more slender than humans.
*Pixie = In their normal form they are six inches tall with wings, but they can change size to as large as humans or as small as a faerie.
*Faerie = Vary in height from one to three inches. Wings vary and can appear to be like those of dragonflies or butterflies.

Fair Folk = Name given to faerie races by humans. Refers to elves, Fae, faeries, brownies, sprites, gnomes, dwarfs, etc.

Thank you to jgrace for the use of the artwork "Golden Nostalgia"
~~~~


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