: The Piper, part 21 by w.j.debi
Story of the Month contest entry
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.
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.
"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."
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."
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.
"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.
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