: The Piper, Part 23 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 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."
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.
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."
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."
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