Saturday, 8 January 2011

100 Theme Challenge: Give Up

Working on non-blog things for the last couple of days. Had a bit of trouble with the first two hundred or so words and like Marc I was suddenly at the end.

#93. Give Up

I give up.

Dorian didn't respond, just continued to sit there eyes closed, hands resting in his lap. Marc huffed and closed his as well. Breathe in, hold, out, hold. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four...

First his breath, in and out, next the pulse of heart. The rustle of the grass. The warmth of the sun to his left. The breeze in front, bringing perfume and salt spray. Marc listened and smelt and felt everything in his reach except what he was meant to be trying to hear.

After another countless period of counting, Marc opened his eyes again. Keeping his breathing in rhythm, he spied his teacher out of the corner of his eye. Still the same, in fact Marc had trouble convincing himself that Dorian was even breathing.

It was all much more stupid and more difficult than he had been lead to believe. Nothing he'd been taught as an artisan was as frustrating. Everything had obviously lead towards the final product, even if whittling firewood had been tedious. He'd been able to recognise even sweeping as indirectly necessary. None of the tales of how magery worked had covered the sheer boredom listening was.

Marc mentally sighed, intellectually he could understand why what Dorian was trying to teach him was so important. He could hardly expect to play if he couldn't listen. But why was it so difficult to hear something than was supposedly sounding everywhere forever?

Before he could try and sink back into the trance state he was meant to be achieving, Dorian spoke.

You haven't given up. And that's why you're not hearing the Tune.

That didn't make a whole lot of sense.

You're trying too hard. The aim of the exercise isn't to filter out everything you hear and find something extra behind it. The aim is to listen to everything and hear the whole Tune.

Marc paused, wondering if Dorian was going to share any more advice. After a few moments it became obvious that he'd returned to listening, so Marc mimicked him.

Again he first grasped his breath but unlike last time, kept it in mind as his focus moved onto his heartbeat. The two marked his tempo, against the shifting and sporadic sounds of the hillside.

Marc lost track of time again, and how many times he focused too hard on one sound over the others. He was only partially aware the sun was caressing his right cheek and that the breeze had changed direction.

Like he'd found his rhythm in his breath and heartbeat, Marc felt he'd found the hillside's in the rustle of the grass. The breeze rose and fell, like underlying chords. While the incidental trills of birds and calls of cows in the valley were the soloists playing over.

Slowly but surely the gaps in the symphony were filled in, the light on his cheek both a warm low brass and bright high descant. The earth beneath him built on the bass, solidly supporting everything else, and supplying new motifs.

He was enjoying the lulling and descending line of the sun when a lyre picked up. It was very close, very clear and Marc couldn't quite identify it. What aspect was it? A soulful tenor joined it, singing in a language Marc half-recognised but didn't understand. He continued to listen to it, and began to understand. It sang of days ended, and the time to rise. A refrain repeated by the swarming insects and scurrying critters.

The song started again, more urgent this time, warning of the dangers of staying still. It had almost finished again when some part of Marc noted that the lyre was closer, circling him, playing to him.

Startled, he opened his eyes.

As he did, his breath hitched and the wondrous symphony collapsed, the whole fading away. In its absence Marc truly saw that twilight had fallen, and that he was very hungry.

The tenor faded and the lyre trailed off, Back with us? Dorian asked.

Marc could only nod, still reeling from his first taste of the Tune.

Tomorrow we'll work on how much you should give up.

[+/-] show/hide story

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

100 Theme Challenge: Break Away

And I'm back. Rather short, Pela wasn't being very cooperative today. The prompt Break Away made me think of a scene were Pela gives Marc a surprise kiss, but read and you'll see how well Marc handles talking with her. Definite lack of common interests here.

#6: Break Away

Travelling was tiring Marc decided as he slumped into a seat at the inn. Carefully ignoring the merchant hands who he knew were at least snickering at his softness. He was a city man, what did they expect? Walking through Florona hardly prepared one for the drudgery of accompanying a shipment. The worst thing was that if he were to get up onto the city wall, he'd be able to see the lights of home and then he'd get depressed over how slowly it took to get anywhere.

He nursed the ale the barkeep had sold him at an outrageous price, Marc could tell that he was getting special treatment. The inn was fairly full, and tonight's entertainment was a dancer, looked like a Traveller, but he hadn't noticed a camp outside town. Maybe they were camped on the other side? Didn't matter much. It was odd that a Traveller dancer danced inside.

Marc waved and eventually got the barkeep's attention, Have any bards past through here?

A couple, heading for the Carnivale most likely, the bard offered, Got a description?

Short, dark, plays the lyre. May call himself Dorian.

Sorry, don't remember anyone like that.

With a sigh, Marc slid some coin across the bar in thanks. For nothing.

What are you searching for? asked a melodic voice, accompanied by a faint jingle of chimes.

Marc looked down from the ceiling, the Traveller had taken the seat opposite him. She looked so foreign, with her burgundy hair done up in dozens of little braids. Though foreign wasn't the right word, since she didn't come from afar. Just no where.

Following a bard, I have questions to ask him.

Her eyes narrowed at the mention of a bard. Just as abruptly as she sat, she stood. The many trinkets in her clothes sounding angry.

If you have business with a bard, you have no business with me.

With that she turned and stormed out of the inn. Marc uselessly watched the store fall shut. What had he done? She'd invited herself to his table and acted like he'd bargained with her. Cautiously, Marc patted his pockets and belt checking that everything was there. Theft was the only explanation he could come up for her behaviour.

And Marc had thought his wife was confusing.

[+/-] show/hide story

Sunday, 27 June 2010

100 Theme Challenge: Playing The Melody

A short one again. But rather important back story for Dorian. Likely not to be revealed until fairly late in the finished story. I was planning on coupling this with a small description of the basic rules of the magic system. But I think I'm going to work on it a bit more. It would've explained that Mi is water, Ti is entropy, La is earth, and Ve is lightning. However, that's only under one of the arrangements I have yet to settle between.

#67. Playing The Melody

Dorian doesn't cry out when the roof collapses around him. He moved beyond fear a hour ago, about that long after the tremors started. He has no idea what his people did to anger the spirits so much.

All he knows is that they are going to die.

Unless I do something.

Following his sense of duty, Dorian struggles to the cliff, Agriope in hand.

This is what I trained for.

He ignores the back of his mind that complains he isn't fully trained. And this level of disaster is definitely not what he trained for. His job to be, that was now suddenly his job, was to prevent things ever getting this bad.

Dorian only has time for a couple of breaths when he makes it to the cliff. Even has his body pauses to catch up, his mind is moving on. Drawing up memories and lore. The tunes for placating the Sea, their father and provider. Protocol for addressing the spirits. How to plea for his people's lives. The trance-like state required to hear the true melody he must harmonise.

He closes his eyes, willing himself to hear the Tune. The heartbeat, breath, thoughts, life of the world. Rather than peaceful calm he'd heard in his training amongst the olive trees, he stumbles as the cacophony hits his ears.

The Tune is loud, discordant. The main combatants Mi and Ti. La crashes restlessly, torn between. Ve thunders above laughing.

Confident he has hold of the Tune, Dorian opens his eyes and begins to play.

He plays of the present, of the earth and sea at war. The earth hurting itself with every tremor, the sea smacking the island rather than cradling it.

Dorian plays about the past. The building of people, of cities and families.

The earth shakes again, and with a sickening lurch, the cliff drops two feet.

Dorian plays about the future. First of a rock swept bare, only surfacing at the low tide. Then of a green island, home to a loyal people. Who revere the spirits, make amends and spread the knowledge of how to.

The sea begins to rise. The swell stretches from horizon to horizon. And is getting closer.

Dorian plays about his people. Their joys, their fears, their humanity. The way they respect the spirits, their patron the sea. How they endure storms and despair, strengthened by it.

The storm above thunders, showing frozen images of the destruction. Buildings standing one flash, crumbled the next.

Dorian plays about himself. His family, his dedication, his hopes and dreams. That he does his duty, even sure his father and teacher are dead. Possibly even more.

The wave breaks, towering above the cliff. It begins to fall. The earth lurches, as if trying to escape by hiding underground.

Dorian plays about death. The death of himself, his family, his people, their land, its life, its future. The injustice of such a death. No fair warning. No chance at penance.

The Tune pauses. As if for breath. The wave hangs in the air. The ocean is still, but not calm. The earth unmoving but not solid.

A new tune is playing. Or a single part of the previous concert. Dorian stops playing, knowing exactly what is standing behind him. All around him. But always behind.

Penance? No. Death begins. But a deal can be made.

[+/-] show/hide story

100 Theme Challenge: Dreams

990 words this time! Though a couple days late. Meet Adel, the fourth main character of Spirit Song. A knight errant, who does good deeds hoping to achieve glory at a bard's hand. And another meeting with Marc. The unequal length do reveal my bias between the characters. Though I met Marc first, and Adel is really only just starting to grow beyond plot device.

A second post will be up later, for the next theme on my list: Playing the Melody. Which is likely to end up something different as the theme kind of applies to the whole piece.

#39. Dreams

I'm going to be the greatest hero ever.

Adel had many dreams, most of which revolved around the immortality of fame. He'd been raised on a steady dose of epic ballads and knew that it was his destiny to earn his own.

He had humble beginnings as a poor goat herd's son in the hills of High Zeustch. Adel was the middle child, did look like his parents and hadn't a special trinket. He planned to succeed in his dreams anyway. Those details could be fixed later.

As such, he started small. Saving lost animals, then finding lost children, and then at age sixteen leaving home, descending from the High Zeustch looking for his quest.

Years later and leagues south of his mountain homelands, in a hill fort town, in a foreign land, Adel still dreams.

Adel's sword hisses as he slices the shadowy beast before him. He can feel the filth trying to creep up the blade, to his hand and to corrupt him. He holds firm and the stain fades, unable to withstand his pure action.

Even as this occurs, he is still fighting. His footing sure, his thrusts and cuts precise, Adel does his duty. He pays no heed to the shifting mass of shadows that rally against him. One or a hundred, these spirits have overstepped their bounds. The wrongs that gave them entry into these people's lives have been righted, their time as retribution finished. They should return to whence they came.

They disagree. Forcibly.

Adel rebukes them, safe in the knowledge of his right conduct. With sword and shield and word, Adel forces them to give up their pretence of virtue and reveals them to be untrue.

An hour, a week later all the shadows are brought low, and fade where he fell them. Adel regains his breath, hardly tired by the long fight, sheaths his sword and looks to where his prize awaits.

She smiles coyly at him, more than thankful for Adel's bravery. She takes his offered hand, murmuring her gratitude. He offers, she refuses. He promises her the world, she smiles but refuses. He promises her his all and her eyes say yes.

Adel takes her, still within his right conduct.

He may dream first of fame, but there are certain events that any great ballad requires. The hero gets the girl.

Marc is lost. Not in the sense that he doesn't know where he is, he does, but the more satisfying sense of being lost in a crowd. It is Carnivale and he can't travel five steps without hearing another bard, another story.

I'm going to the Carnivale. I'm at the Carnivale, I can't believe it.

He grins, the only problem he has is that there are too many bards, too many stories. No matter what he tries he will miss some. He will stay ignorant of some aspect of the world's history, of its workings. That thought sits unwanted and uncomfortably in the back of his head.

Before he can follow that train of thought, he sees something out of the corner of his eye. Dorian. That secretive bard, performer afraid of small talk, man who's seen a different world.

Bard Dorian! Marc yells, his words drowned out by the crowd. Determined, he tries pushing the way Dorian went.

The crowd closes in, like some greater force had decided that Marc won't succeed. It seems for ever step he makes toward where he saw Dorian, the crowd pushes him back three.

Where are all these people coming from?

Marc sighs and changes tack, heading to the edge of the crowd. Fortunately for him a walled side, rather than a canal. He's sure the hostile mass would push him in. Going is easier with the wall beside him. It isn't pushing and Marc can forge his way against only half the crowd.

He makes it to the corner he saw Dorian turn around. Several minutes of pushing and less than polite shoving later, and Marc covers the alley. He's reached another intersection, and has no idea which of the five alleys the bard went down.

Need to get higher, he can't be moving through this crowd much faster than I am.

Fortunately there is a raised platform in the centre of the mini piazza. For the bards to perform from. Not for non-musicians to climb as lookouts. Even if it was dangerously easy to lose someone in this crowd.

The crowd gave Marc a couple of minutes to consider how he was going to bluff his way atop the stage. So when the vaguely familiar looking guard at the bottom of the steps gave him a nod and opened the gate, Marc felt an odd mix of surprise, annoyance and dread.

Only the dread survived the short trip to the stage. Marc held his violin tightly by his side. He could see his family, his master, his friends sitting in the front row. All with various bored, disappointed and even angry expressions. Playing for time, Marc checked the tuning of his violin, which was fine.

Any requests? he timidly asked.

The Lay of Old Tyne!

Merry Fairweather.

Silver's Ballad!

Yonder, Beyond the Hills!

Yonder, Beyond the Hills it is! Marc answered almost sounding confident, safe choice, everyone knew it and knew it different. That'd cover his mistakes.

Marc raised his violin, played a clear Mi and began the lively jig that accompanied the song.

Yonder, beyond the hills,
where my fair maiden lies,
I will free her from...


Marc froze in terror. The words were there. He could feel them eager to be sung, but something was broken. The crowd matched his silence. For a few moments.

Fake! Loser! Get him!

The crowd surged forward, climbing on each other. All focused on the disgrace who would ruin a tune and risk offending the spirits it recounted.

I'm sorry. I shouldn't be a bard. I'm sorry.

[+/-] show/hide story

Thursday, 24 June 2010

100 Theme Challenge: Vacation

Still not up to my aim of 1000 words a theme. But in this case I know where they are missing. I was going to write Marc divining the spirits' will but could feel myself getting to bogged down in how that would work. So I cut that scene. But I'm off to consider it none the less. Similarly there should be a scene between Marc and his family but I don't know them as well as I'm getting to know Allegretto yet.

Another reminder, these are more exercises and are unlikely to appear in the final work without serious revision.

But without further ado, enjoy!

#21. Vacation

I need a vacation, Marc said to his master at the end of the day.

What makes you say that? his master replied watching the apprentices sweep up, More importantly, what makes you think I'd allow such a thing. Unless you're keeping secrets from me, you have no reason for pilgrimage.

Not pilgrimage, Marc replied, why did I think this was a good idea?

Then what? Neither of us has the riches to squander of frivolous travels. For the first time in the conversation, Master Allegretto looked at Marc, Or did the bard say something to you?

Not as such. Marc's thoughts wandered to the velvet pouch and back further to the bard's... unusual... spin on some of the tales he told.

You're not doing a very good job of convincing me, Al noted as he moved to check the workstations. I know that you wanted to be a bard when you were a youngster but something must have made you see sense. Remember, it's a sad fool who thinks he can play a broken fife.

Says the master instrument-smith to the journeyman.

True, true. But dreams and the past are not things we can fix.

I'm not trying to.

Aren't you? If not, why do you want to go?

Curiosity, Marc answered before he'd properly prepared his response, Dorian, the bard, told some stories I've never even heard of. And half of those I'd heard before he knew different versions of.

So he's a poor bard. Al shrugged, Either memory wise, poorly taught or disrespectful of the songs.

I don't think it's any of those. Remember Agriope? She was old, his family must have been bards for generations, no way he was poorly taught.

Maybe he doesn't enjoy the family business. Not every bard became one out of the same yearning you used to have, Marc's master countered, and Marc could hear the emphasis on used to.

But he did enjoy singing songs. Or at least most of them.

You still haven't explained why you need a vacation.

They'd reached Marc's workstation and he collapsed in his chair. I really don't know. He found he was thumbing the crossbar he'd been given. It's just, nothing about that bard resolves. It all points to a great big mystery.

And I know what you're like about mysteries.

Marc grimaced, Yeah. I guess.

And you know what I'm like about wasting time and money.

Marc's grimace deepened, Yeah. I know.

I'll let you think about it. Don't be a fool, was Al's parting advice.

You look focused this morning, Master Allegretto said by way of greeting the next morning when Marc reported for work.

I did a lot of thinking last night.

And what did you conclude?

I did my best to ask the spirits for advice.

Always a wise move.

I believe they agree that I should follow up on this curiosity. I am a journeyman after all.

I suspected that you wouldn't change your mind. Al replied a little glum, You know I can't just let you go gallivanting off. I am your master after all.

I know, Marc answered meekly, losing most of the confidence he'd built up.

If this is really the spirits' will, they'll manage something.

But... as you say, you are a journeyman, so it is acceptable for me to send you on a journey. Marc held his breath, he'd worked hard for his master's respect but he'd known his request was unreasonable. I think you are responsible enough for me to trust with supervising the shipment of some of our instruments to Serenisma. And it would do you good to attend a couple of lectures at the academy there.

Marc was speechless, but managed a bow and a Th-thank you. Besides the vote in confidence in his skills and judgement, the delivery would conclude just before the Carnivale. The closest thing to an official bard tournament. If Marc wanted to find Dorian, he'd find him there.

Just remember, it's not a vacation.

[+/-] show/hide story

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

100 Theme Challenge: Spiral

Not as long as the previous challenge. But here's today's writings.

#85. Spiral

Pela danced. She danced alone.

She spun, spiralled, jumped, stamped, danced, for these strangers, alone and unaccompanied. No music other than the bells and chimes in her dress. No partners other than the pavers beneath her feat and the fire in the torches.

Pela enjoyed music - when she didn't dance, she sang - but was wary of the bardmages. She trusted the spirits, made her offerings and prayers - and curses - but she knew in the depths of her soul that no one could truly tame them. So she never sang and danced at once, and never either with someone else.

Yes, it did hurt her earnings, the public didn't know - or care - what danger they skirted every time they put words to notes. But she felt safer not grabbing the spirits' attention. So her dress had to compensate by revealing much and hinting at more. In her paranoia, even the bells and chimes were slightly mistuned and placed so that her rhythmic movements wouldn't translate to a melodic tune.

So she danced, and that was all - she'd sooner court death than the scum that crowded her performances.

Pela danced alone, not just out of fear of being supernaturally noticed but because there was something everyone she'd met lacked. Something divisive. Not just her Traveller blood, though that created a barrier between her and the townspeople she danced for. It was more basic than that. She'd know it when she felt it. Pela felt a cruel mockery of it around the bardmages. She suspected the rabble felt it too, the way they distanced themselves from both her and them.

She danced for money, not love or joy. She had once but those days were long past. Money bought food, shelter and travel. Money open doors. Money would help her find the family she was looking for. A family where that elusive feeling of wrongness would settle and she'd find harmony.

Pela danced like she travelled. Tracing the same path, never returning to the same spot. Her spiral to the world's straight line. Like the troupe she yearned for, she moved with the seasons.

Her steps spiralled in, a tinkle of chimes following, a spring in a piece of clockwork, storing energy, keeping time. She spiralled out, releasing herself, jumping with an outwardly joyous spin.

Pela danced. She danced alone.

[+/-] show/hide story

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Blog Necromancy, Spirit Song and the Hundred Theme Challenge

It's alive! Or at least temporarily revived.

Yes, I'm posting again. Someone introduced me to the Hundred Themes Challenge and I've decided that writing one a day should be a good way to get myself into the habit of writing something everyday. I've randomised the order so that I don't use up the tempting themes first.

In the long gap since my previous attempt at starting this blog, I admitted to myself that Covenant (my Australian High Fantasy) had a terminal case of first novelitis, and have shelved it for now.

So I have a new project, current working title Spirit Song. A quest to end an eternal spring in a renaissance Italy ripoff, in a world with music based spirit magic.

I will be doing my best to writing and post something each day, either a response to the Hundred Theme Challenge, or world building musings. I doubt that all these challenges will make into even the first draft, but they should provide useful character studies at least.

Today I have the prologue and first challenge for your entertainment (see posts below).

Spirit Song: Prologue

As mentioned a my first post for the day, I have a new work in progress, Spirit Song. In this post, I would like to share the prologue (or following the musical theme, anacrusis) I wrote.

Prologue (or Anacrusis)

Dorian huddled alone under an old tree as drizzle fell around him. He could've easily sung the rain away, or raised a shelter from the earth but opted to leave things be. The tune of the evening was sombre, and that suited Dorian just fine.

No need for me to freeze though.

The tired enchanter scanned the forest floor with a practised eye, searching for dry wood. Choosing a few likely branches, he hurried to grab them before they got any wetter. After a few trips he'd amassed a respectable pile and began to sort.

He knocked branches together, listening to the hum they produced. Fire and wood were not harmonious combination, a battle of predator and prey. In this forest at least, Dorian had walked under trees eager to burn. So he searched for a stick with that same burning tone. He was almost finished with his pile - and being to rue never purchasing any flint - when he found a branch with just the right resonance.

Good. This'll make life easier.

He lay the branch across the fire pit he'd prepared, and sharply hit it. He closed his eyes to better tune into the branch and the fire sleeping inside it. He took a deep breath, and began to hum. Softly at first, building into a loud, drawn out, "Re".

The stick hummed in sympathy, its vibration building with Dorian's crescendo until it could take no more and ignited. It wasn't complicated enough to even really be a spell, just an inefficient use of power to get what he wanted. But he was tired, and didn't trust himself to compose a true spell.

Satisfied, he carefully built up the fire and relaxed beside it. The cheerful crackle played over the rain's quiet drumming, the duet far richer than any human could hope to recreate. But Dorian's experienced ear could hear the fatigue in the very background. A fatigue so old that people mistook it as normal.

Better not to dwell on that. He'd had a long day, and tomorrow was another chance to find her and break this cyclic curse. The day was approaching and maybe this year would be the year he succeeded.

"May I join you?"

Dorian whirled to face his sudden guest. And smiled, if warily, gesturing for his guest to sit.

The man sat down on the far side of the fire, unconcerned with the rain falling on his unsheltered shoulders. His green eyes were smiling, hidden in the knots of wrinkles on his ancient face. His gnarled hands reached towards the fire as branches to the sun, seeking warmth and light.

Comfortably settled, the man broke the silence.

"What brings you to this neck of the woods?"

"The same reason I go anywhere, " a bitter laugh, "Chasing a myth. I hear that she passed this way."

"Aye, she was in these parts. Only a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, she didn't run into me." The older man stared at his arthritic fingers. "No kiss of eternal youth for poor old Forrest."

Dorian sighed, "I'm not sure it would be such a boon."

"Then why leave you home and family to seek her so devotedly?"

Dorian eyed his guest suspiciously, I would never, pausing to gather his temper before replying, "it is for my family that I seek her. Not myself."

"I apologise for the slight, but I am still curious. Tell me bard, how would eternal youth be a curse?"

Dorian smirked, and recited,

"Once a man did desire endless youth, so fair maidens would hold him uncouth. The spirits rolled their eyes, and prepared a surprise, for all girls hold a babe close in truth."

Forest laughed whole-heartedly, "Yes, well you do need to be careful with wishes and spirits, " noting Dorian's glare had returned, "Which I doubt anyone knows better than you."

Yes, their price is always more than you have.

Gathering his welcome was wearing thin, Forest rose. "Thank you, bard. For warmth, cheer and company. Good luck on your quest. Although, if I could make a suggestion, no tree wishes to stand alone. There is a promising young man in the valley, who might accompany you."

"Thank you for your company, and advice. I will consider it."

Dorian didn't watch the Old Man of the Forest leave, since it was pointless. It may have been unwise to betray his bitterness to the spirit but he'd managed to refrain from insulting him. Which was fortunate, as he may have never escaped this forest, spirit quest or no.

He stared into the fire, looking into the past, the family he'd left behind and the goal he sought. With a snort he lay down and let the tune lull him to sleep.

I don't need company, I am alone. Always.

[+/-] show/hide story

100 Theme Challenge: Precious Treasure

As mentioned a my first post for the day, I have a new work in progress, Spirit Song, and am starting the 100 theme challenge. In this post, I give you the first challenge, number 36: Precious Treasure.

#36: Precious Treasure

She's beautiful.

Marc examined the instrument lying there, silenced. Just beyond hearing he could hear it singing. Not just because he'd heard it the night before, or because he always imagined his patients' voices. No, every string, wave in the varnish, line in the grain, pulsed under his fingers. This was no normal instrument. It must be old to have such life, and ancient to have such patience.

"Can you fix her?" the owner asked, though that wasn't quite right. Partner fit better, as the bard relied on the instrument as much as it did on him. Or even nephew, as something this old would be a family heirloom, as much a person as its temporary owners.

"I believe so, " Marc replied only a tiny fraction of his curiosity and excitement breaking through his practised professionalism. "I cannot say that I worked on such a piece in a long time. Of either type, quality or age." It wasn't his imagination that it hummed at the praise.

"Yes, lyres aren't very common around here, or even any more, " the bard said. Even if he earnt his bread through performing, he seemed rather reluctant to engage in mere small talk.

"What's her name?" Marc asked, it wasn't right to operate on a patient without knowing their name.

"Agriope, " he answered.

"Like the story?"

"The very one." A challenge, did you dare argue with him? An obviously accomplished bardmage?

He couldn't mean what I think he means.

Marc didn't take the dare, "Where are you from?"

A brief storm on the bard's stoic face, "From the sea, a place no one visits."

There was silence, Marc considering what else he dared ask one of his idols. The bard merely silent, nothing he wanted to share.

"Be careful with her, " he said, breaking the silence, "She is very precious to me." With that he turned, a left Marc's workshop.

Alone, or more accurately the only human in the room, Marc examined the lyre again. The back of the soundbox and the arms were intricately carved with images of forests, animals and inhuman dancers. They were dancing, or at least that's what his eyes saw.

Cautiously, still awaiting her to snap at him for daring to touch her, Marc plucked one of her strings. The soft La that rang out was nearly perfect. He would need one of his tuning forks to get it further. But holding in his hands he could feel what he couldn't hear. The whole body resonated with the sound but in places sections had split and warped, adding dissonance.

Marc let out a sigh. The bard obviously cared for her, both emotionally and physically. This was a simple check and touch up. There were no serious breaks or replacements to be done.

A shift in the hum gave him a second's warning before his master came in.

"Already started? Good. Paid triple for midday tomorrow." With that terse instruction he was gone before Marc could report the simplicity of the job.

Gently placing her on the workbench. Marc ducked out to light a pinch of incense for steady hands. He couldn't bear to hurt her even beyond the repercussions from his master.

Settling in his place again, he gazed over his tools before picking Agriope up again. Less cautiously but no less carefully, he plucked the other six strings, floating in the sound.

"Agriope, my name is Marcato of Florona and I will be repairing you today."

The echoing tones resolved into a major chord.

Relax. It's just an ancient, foreign instrument. What's the worst that can happen?

The line of sunlight worked its way across the room slowly. Across the floor, up the stool, across Marc's back before gaining his shoulder and lancing his eyes from there. Head cradled in his arms he groaned, and scrunched his eyes against the glare.

Haven't had enough sleep for it to be morning.

Groggily he blinked and looked at his night's work. Agriope lay exposed on a drying rack nearby. It hadn't taken very long to glue the cracks in her soundbox and add another coat of lacquer to prevent further. It had however been quite late, or maybe early, by the time he finished carving a new crossbar for her.

The piece had snapped when Marc had released the tension on the strings. But not so messily as to prevent him using it as reference for the carving. Not that he had been totally faithful. Marc had taken the opportunity to fix tuning pins to the crossbar. A luxury that Agriope had not previously possessed.

Taking a deep breath, of air slightly heavy with solvents, Marc began putting his patient back together. The new crossbar fit with only a slight sanding, and the new strings were nice and taut.

Good as new.

A quick check of the clock tower visible from Marc's window if you leaned over just right, told him that he had just over an hour before the bard would return for his lyre.

That hour passed quickly enough through menial tasks that Marc had been putting off in favour of larger more pressing concerns. In fact, he was sweeping the workshop when one of the apprentices informed that his client had returned.

Strictly, the velvet was only meant to be used for presenting newly crafted instruments. And even then really only those finished by the workshop's master. But a combination of Marc's seniority and the obvious quality of Agriope permitted him to. Not that he expected the bard to take the velvet anyway.

The bard was standing in the anteroom, settling with the master. Marc tried to ignore the sum of coins changing hands. He waited patiently for them to finish before coming forward.

"Agriope, sir bard." Marc said, holding it out.

The bard picked her up carefully, strummed her once, not bothering to separate the notes. Satisfied with the sound, he looked fondly at her. A look which became unreadible when he saw the new crossbar.

"What did you do to her?"

"I'm sorry but the crossbar split when I unstrung her, " Marc answered, and held out a small velvet bag. "I glued it but it wouldn't be strong enough to do its job anymore."

The bard stood there for a moment not taking the bag. Just looking at the new crossbar, and fiddled with a tuning peg absently.

Marc held his breath, the bard was probably asking Agriope what she thought. He had last night but the bard would be more able to interpret her response.

The bard smirked slightly, "She says to thank you. And that you should keep it." A pause, listening to it again. "Treasure it."

With all the enigmatic disregard that those who dealt with the spirits earnt, the bard strummed a short tune and went on his way.

Marc made his way back to his station and retrieved the crossbar. His finger idly tracing the waves carved on it while his eyes rested on the bird hovering.

I wish I could fly away.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Past Poetry

Following up on Flashpoint and because I've been a bad writer and not actually written anything, here are two poems I wrote for the same course last year.

The first is about how nice a really early morning train ride can be, and the second an attempt at collating my thoughts about Australian identity.

Dawn Start

Darkness, outside and in,
from which voices call
you out of slumber
You silence them
before they harshly resolve
The cosy quiet of
the sleeping house surrounds
your mind unwalled, ungrounded
as you go through
the daily routine, into

Half-light, rising gently
falls upon your cheeks
as you descend a hill
(Everest in the evenings)
You feel a cool wind
finishing the shower’s task
Duties try to worry weakly
through the heavy hush
you dismiss them
Colours awake with

Dawn, entering shyly
forms while you wait
You feel the day
the hint of heat in the air
(a taste of the hell ride home)
So subtle it can’t be felt
you can smell it (just)
The Alamein arrives
(nursing wounds from last night)
Wordless you watch as

Full light, rallies around
you sitting in sociable silence
Eyes wide, mouths closed
A quiet opposite to the day’s end
(a crush of stares, loathing, exile,
anxiety, fear and accidental guilt)
Outside the window, unheard,
an eucalypt drops a limb
Discordant, screeching voices enter
The moment breaks

[+/-] show/hide poem

Core of My Heart

I love a sunburnt country
Thought I was born elsewhere
Come with me as I search
To find the heartlands
Like Sturt and Hume and Hovell
We’ll cross the Great Divide
To find the Inland Sea
Where our Aussie Spirit lies

The skies are grey, the winds cool
But you cannot trust them
It’s not our sung harsh clime
Even Mild Melbourne
Rains floods once or twice a year
So swirling chaos drowns
And shares months of scorching nights
We heat stroke to black outs

I’m born of old Britannia
My brother in Sharjah
We came on an aeroplane
Stunned by a land bizarre
Dad was born up in Eildon
Amidst a thunderstorm
Is it his blood I follow?
Five steps back over countless?

The tragic ring barked forests
Replaced by sprawling roads
On this eldest continent
We pass an ancient train
Graffiti Rainbow Snake
Sloughed by an urban life
Of flying footy saints and
Slithering liberal demons

The hot wind of the desert
Is sung to be our soul
It has many other names
Mateship and the Fair Go
The old adage She’ll Be Right
All these part of the truth
An impossible platypus
Yet real, with a sting, streuth!

As we walk through the bustle
A colony in dance
We might chance a glimpse of it
Matilda’s waltzing prance
Ned’s black box, the ghostly gums
All facets of the Spirit
It’s hidden inside, outback
Where we rarely visit

I tried to reach it once
Hiked four days and three nights
One day we’ll roam the desert
See the wildflowers
Radiant Southern Cross above
We’ll as prophets search
But I can guess what we’d find
There is no Inland Sea

An opal hearted country
Black veiled rainbow gold
Changing with every look
Contradictions unfold
City dwelling, bush yearning
The platypus returns
Although we didn’t catch it
We know now where it dwells

[+/-] show/hide poem