: The Piper, Part 24 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
A tall 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."
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."
"I said, show yourself."
"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?"
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?
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