: The Piper, part 19 by w.j.debi
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."
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.
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