NOTE TO NEW VISITORS:
To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.

Eleven

Sunup found Taraval in the village square, where a little caravan of wagons had already assembled, loaded with the last of Ilahee’s meager treasures. Waiting by the wagons were Uncle Terwilliger and the five village craftsmen – Jonthan, Peter, Bramwell, Kenneth, and Andrew – who had been selected to represent the others and sell their wares for them.

“What happened, Nephew?” Terwilliger asked in surprise when he noticed the strings dangling from the lute uder Taraval’s arm. “Have you worn it out with playing already?”

Blushing a little, Taraval shook his head. “I don’t know, Uncle. I found it this way when I came back from the stable last night.”

Terwilliger let out a laugh, then seeing the boy’s embarrassment added, “Sometimes it takes a while to break in a new lute and mellow it. Don’t worry, I have some extra gutstring with me; you can restring it when we stop tonight. And when we come home, I’ll give you enough gutstring to keep your temperamental lute well supplied.”

Grateful that he wasn’t to be teased further, Taraval checked his uncle’s wagon to make sure all the instruments were wrapped and tied, and that the chests full of Ilahee’s treasures were securely fastened in the last wagon. Then, after a last-minute flurry of adjusting harnesses and tightening ropes, the little troop of six oddly assorted wagons and carts started off. Terwilliger and Taraval led the caravan, the younger on Tressiter, the elder on his handsome dapple grey.

The day-long journey was one Taraval made twice a year with his uncle, but the pleasure of the trip never diminished for him, since the fair in Trent was the closest thing to an exciting city he ever experienced. Even the steep, rough road they traveled, little more than a trail at some points, was part of the enjoyment, for it wound down through rocky gorges dotted with the rich purple of saxifrage, thickets of sweet-smelling elderberry, and finally meadows carpeted with dusty lavender flowers that resembled his mother’s velvet pincushions.

On this day, as they left Ilahee, Taraval spotted a cluster of delicate bluebells that set him thinking about the blue, star-shaped flowers that grew around the tandaril tree in the tapestry. Once starflowers had grown profusely in Ilahee, but he had never seen a living one, nore even a dried one until the day he opened the carved leather chest that held the tandaril trunk. Had all the starflowers really died with the tandarils? And if he ever found one growing – the idea made him catch his breath – would it mean that tandarils, too, still lived somewhere? This possibility haunted his thoughts all through the journey, but the only other blue flowers he saw that day were a few scattered forget-me-nots.

In early evening they set up camp for the night in their usual place, a grove of alder trees beside a small stream an hour’s journey short of Trent – a custom that saved them the cost of a night’s lodging. They seldom bothered with cooking for this one-night stop, instead sharing equally in the cheese, bread, dried figs, and salted meat pulled form their various packs. It was their habit, after dinner, to share stories by the campfire, and then to bring out their instruments and pass the rest of the evening playing music together. But on this night they were quiet and somber, downcast by the impending fate of Ilahee and their knowledge that the sixth wagon carried not instruments and handicrafts, but the family treasures each of them had sacrificed for the sake of the kingdom. Among those treasures, Taraval knew, were the royal salt cellar with its free-leaping stag and his sister Alisoun’s jewelry, and that weighed heavily on his mind.

So he was especially pleased when a young dear wandered into the grove and distracted them from their gloomy thoughts. Cautious at first, the deer soon began to nuzzle Terwilliger and then Taraval, who found a carrot for it in his uncle’s pack.

“Aye, lad, you have your uncle’s touch,” said Andrew approvingly.

Taraval smiled, feeling at ease among these men who accepted and admire him for his musicianship and his way with animals, not merely because he was the king’s son. Then, getting a coil of gutstring from his uncle, he brought out his new lute and began to restring it.

When the surface of the lute caught the firelight, Jonathan, oldest of the crftsmen save for Terwilliger, drew in his breath and exclaimed, “Lad, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that was tandaril wood!”

There was a flurry of excitement as the other men gathered round to look at the lute.

“It is! I’d wager my life on it!” said Andrew, running his fingers over the lute’s glossy belly.

Proudly, Taraval held the instrument up to the light of the campfire. “Uncle Terwilliger made it for me from the last of Ilahee’s tandaril wood.”

There were murmurs of wonder and delight as each man in turn examined the beautiful lute, its surface glowing like satin in the firelight. Jonathan and Andrew were old enough to remember the tandaril trees and their legacy first-hand. But for Bramwell, Peter, and Kenneth, only a decade older than Taraval, the magic of Ilahee’s tandaril years was as much the stuff of dreams and legends as it was for him. They held and touched the lute cautiously, awestruck by its lightness and gemlike hardness. None of them ventured to pluck the strings, however, for in Ilahee a person’s musical instrument was respected as if it were a part of his body – even more so when that man was the prince and his lute was made of the fabled tandaril wood.

Jonathan laughed. “I always wondered what you’d make with that trunk you ferreted away, Terwilliger,” he said. Aye, a lute for the young prince – that was a good choice, old friend.”

Then they barraged Terwilliger with questions about the making of it, and shook their heads in amazement as he described the tribulations he had endured. Finally, when Taraval reclaimed the lute and began to play a favorite lullaby on it, they listened in breathless silence, astounded at the absolute clarity and deep, undulating resonance of its tone.

“More!” they clamored when he finished. So Taraval honored the men by playing ballads, one each of their own compositions, for they were all songmakers as well as musicians and craftsmen. When he was done, Jonathan cleared his throat and said respectfully, “That was graciously done, Prince Taraval, and we thank you.”

Then Andrew said, “Sing you now one for Orchis, lad.”

“Gladly,” Taraval replied, and he began to play and sing one of Ilahee’s many legendary songs celebrating the sad tale of the sorceress who enchanted the groves, creating the tandaril trees that would become the glory of Ilahee. It told of her broken heart when King Galen betrayed her love, how she had fled from the kingdom in despair, and of King Galen’s change of heart, which Orchis never knew. It was a song of deep devotion to the sorceress, and a heartfelt plea for her forgiveness and her return.

There was a long moment of silence when he finished, then Peter said, “I have never heard that song more movingly sung, Prince Taraval. If the shade of Orchis could hear it, she couldn’t help but come back to rescue the kingdom that loves her.”

“Aye, Peter,” said Jonathan. “I’ve no doubt she would, but we can’t expect anyone – spirit or human – to rescue us now; we’ve got only ourselves to count on.”

The others nodded gravely, but Bramwell, intrigued by the thought of spirit intervention added, “Well, if Orchis can’t rescue Ilahee, maybe she can at least help us get good business and lots of sales tomorrow.”

“By Saint Agnes’ ghost, here’s to good sales tomorrow, with or without the help of Orchis,” said Kenneth.

There was a chorus of “Here’s to tomorrow!” Then, at Taraval’s invitation, they all brought out their instruments and joined in the playing, and the evening ended in merriment, despite of the depressing nature of their trip.

“Come, Taraval,” Terwilliger said at last. “I’m an old man and need my rest. And we will all need our energy tomorrow.”

So, bidding each other good night, the men put away their instruments, doused the campfire, and bedded down. The last glimmer of orange had faded from the cloud-swept sky, and night fell rapidly. Not far off, an owl hooted in the darkness, its call a haunting lullaby for the weary travelers.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Your niece,cl said...

I may be only on chapter 11, but I can already tell this is a great book.Congratulations to both of you!

8:28 PM  

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