From the Ashes – Excerpts
From Friday Night after Second Weekend
I am not dressed for this, Bea mused for the third time, and she’d only just cleared C-gate. The weather had settled to a hazy, creeping chill that seeks out warmth and sucks it away. A hastily-donned cardigan was not going to make up for air that had lost the day’s heat but not its moisture.
On the other hand, the high humidity made the moonlight occasionally dance in front of her eyes in miniature prisms and spots. Or maybe it’s just that the faeries are out tonight, Bea thought with a mental grin. The moon wasn’t quite full yet, but there was certainly enough of it that the Fae would enjoy a romp.
The express teller machine beside C-gate flashed capitalist messages in a disturbing shade of green.
As Bea meandered away from the comforting sounds of the Blue-Legged Unicorn, she found the moonlight more unsettling than a cloudier night. Stark shadows thrust sharply across the ground and anything else in their way. Hay turned to molten strands of silver, and anything painted a light color glowed eerily. She half expected some little gremlin to pop out at her, all purple-glowing teeth and eyes.
Thoughts like that aren’t helping your cause, Bea told herself firmly. You must not want this much if you consider turning back the first time you get a little spooked. Come on, now. Not kosher to attack pilgrims on their way to a holy place, right?
As she approached the Harvest Man, Bea kept her eyes down. She was going for guidance and clarity – aye, true – but something deep within her feared what she might find all the same . . . and chiding herself did nothing to alleviate the situation. Humbly, and with no little trepidation, the rookie knelt before the giant idol. The long cloth ribbons fluttered quietly in the breeze. The moon-washed grass at her knees held the slightest hint of green in its shadows.
“I bring to you a feather for freedom, a yellow rose for friendship, and a red rose for love.” Reverently, she laid the items among the creeping vines. “I’m pretty confused about all that stuff, actually. I want to find my love, but I don’t know if maybe I have already, and if it’s Liam, I think I need to ask you to help give me the strength to submit because he makes me really jumpy when he’s not making me melt into a little puddle, and that’s probably something wrong with me and not something wrong with him. If it’s not Liam, please help me find who it is – someone who is freedom and friendship and love. Help me have the clarity of heart and mind to realize who it is when they show up, and help them realize, too, because none of this is going to do anyone much good if it’s one-sided, you know?” She paused, a little awkwardly. “I’m, um, not expecting a neon sign or a lightning bolt or anything like that. Just maybe a nudge, if it’s not to much trouble and stuff. Er . . . yeah. And even if you don’t, thanks for listening. I appreciate it.” After a few more moments of quiet respect, Bea rose, dusted herself off, and headed the long way back to the campground, around the Flying Buttress side of Track. Her right leg from the knee down was wet from the dew where she’d knelt.
But oddly, Bea didn’t feel cold anymore.
It seemed a good sort of omen, she decided as she rounded the end of Flying Buttress Stage and scaled the small hill at its end.
And went absolutely round-eyed.
Someone had turned on the blacklight in the BLUE’s tower; it glowed surreal off the fog as stark moonlight bathed Bea from behind. Faintly she heard wire-strung guitars as the opening strains of “Hotel California” drifted from within.
“Oh, wow.” Bea stood for a moment, imprinting the moment in her soul.
Despite better sense that warned she might disappear off the face of the dimension if she entered, the rookie slowly approached and let herself into the firelit room. Somebody was mulling cider, and it smelled absolutely wonderful. Bea found the bartender and procured herself a mugful (and a pottery mug with “BLUE” and the year on the front – just because she could) before locating a quiet corner in which to sit and watch the show, maybe even learn a couple songs. Which I can do now, she reminded herself with a smug smile, since I don’t have to worry about ignoring my date in favor of the music.
And it really was worth it, Bea decided as the cider spread its warmth sleepily through her and the musicians ran through a few tunes. No one was paying any attention to her, and she liked that. She could observe unseen, enjoying the casual laughing banter the musicians tossed around between songs, just as entertaining as the music itself. Here were people who made music for the sake of making it, not just to see how much they could make in hat pass. Here was music given freely to the night and anyone who cared to listen.
And they showed no signs of slowing or stopping.
That was okay with Bea. She didn’t want them to.
Fog swirled outside the windows as Ryna and her father entered playing their fiddles, bringing with them an eerie, slow lament. Voices took up the round in a key that slid just a little sideways of reality. Soon the tavern had stilled save for the many-voiced cry:
“We lay down and wept,
Please remember, please remember,
Avalon . . .”
Bea heard her own voice and wondered when she had begun to sing. Other instruments joined in a respectful cadence, slow drums, guitars, a bass, a mandolin, the occasional chime of zills and shiver of tambourine, and a pennywhistle like the call of spirits in the wind as it swirled around the violins’ stately melody. The music faded, slowly, a carousel winding down. For a long moment Bea felt as if she stared at an old photograph, everything in suspended animation and exquisite detail, though just a little faded: the rough wood of the tables, the warmth of the mug against her palms, the quiet crackle of the fire in the hearth, the smell of woodsmoke, and mulled cider, and Guinness.
This must be what eternity feels like, Bea mused, but thought seemed a long way off, as if it came from someone else entirely. I wonder what would happen if we never moved again?
Into that stillness dropped the enthusiastic strumming of a mandolin, followed a couple measures later by a hearty alto:
“The night that Paddy Murphy died is a night I’ll never forget
Some of the boys got roarin’ drunk and they ain’t got sober yet;
As long as the bottle was passed around everyone was feeling gay
O’Leary came with bagpipes some music for to play!
And that’s how they showed their respect for Paddy Murphy
That’s how they showed their honor and their pride;
They said it was a sin and a shame and they winked at one another
And every drink in the place was full the night Pat Murphy died!”
Bea grinned at the explosion of sound that accompanied the chorus as musicians dove into full swing and the Blue-Legged Unicorn thrummed with life oncemore.
From Sunday of Third Weekend
“Left! Left! Left, right, left!” called a voice in peasants’ English.
Ryna turned to the sound. At first she couldn’t see anything. Then, after a few moments, the crowd gave way. “Oh, dear Goddess.”
Five rennies marched by, their left feet bound to one long board with rough rope, their right to another. A tall peasant with a topknot headed the procession, with a shorter, burlap muffin-capped peasant behind him. That peasant in the dark brown cloak and hood had been strapped to the middle of the board, followed by the once-white garbed peasant who had pulled Ryna out of the mud. A petite brunette, her lengthy chestnut hair in two braids and a kerchief on her head, brought up the rear as the token wench – though she wasn’t flaunting nearly enough to merit the title.
“Ack! Blow out!”
The procession came to an abrupt stop, everyone grabbing the rump of the person in front of them to keep from toppling over. The second from the last peasant crouched to retie the rope around his ankle. His action offset the end peasant’s balance; her arms windmilled wildly for an instant before she went down with a plop in the mud. Ryna winced, but at least it wasn’t a puddle.
“Finished,” the fourth peasant proclaimed, rising.
The one on the end scrambled upright.
“Ready?” called the brown-cloaked peasant in the middle. “On the count of three, start with the left. One, two -”
“Which one’s the left?” inquired the one who had just fixed his rope.
“That one,” the remaining four chorused. Two of them were pointing to their other left.
“Are you sure? I thought -”
“No, I’m pretty positive -”
“Well, I could be wrong, but -”
“This one, then! We’ll start with this one!” the middle guy decided for them, though Ryna couldn’t see to which board he had pointed.
“Um, which one?” inquired the lone female.
“The left!” her companions chorused.
A pause. “Oh.” She shrugged.
“One, two, three!”
The group lurched as some of the peasants started with one foot, and the rest with the other. A couple tried to start on the count of two. They would have fallen on their collective faces if it hadn’t been for another round of grab-ass.
“Leper!” a couple voices accused.
“So which foot is it?” cried the second peasant from the end.
“This one!” the other four chorused. For a wonder, they were all pointing at the same foot. Granted, it was the one on the right, but it was still the same foot.
“Oh. Well, all right then. You should’ve said something.”
“Peasant Precision Marching Squad – one, two, three!”
This time they stumbled into motion, squelching along in the muck.
“Puddle!” warned the fellow in front as they approached a small lake.
“Pud-dle! Pud-dle!” agreed the one in the burlap muffin cap.
“Squish! Squish! Squish, splash, squish!” they chanted as they plowed through, spraying muddy water in all directions.
“Peasants know that it is true!” yelled the girl.
“Peasants know that it is true!” came the response from the squad.
“Privy water, it is blue!”
“Privy water, it is blue!”
“We shall go a-reveling!”
“We shall go a-reveling!”
“Burlap goes with everything!”
“Burlap goes with everything!”
And then Ryna had lost them behind their mob of attendant patrons, giggles and exclamations drowning out the marching squad’s chant.
Gods. Where did they come up with this stuff?! Shaking her head in bemusement, the Gypsy slogged onward, keeping an eye out for children she could offer to buy.
From Wednesday Night after Fourth Weekend
Ryna stepped out, casually locked her door, and hopped to the ground; in silence they crunched across the campground and labored up the Olympic Staircase. Once on site, they walked right, between the Maypole with its beaten circle of dirt and Bardstone Hall, past the carousel, around and down until Globe Stage, large and yellow, appeared on their right. As the duo strode between two seas of seating, Tremayne handed his fiddle off to his daughter and captured a couple benches, which he hauled onto the stage and placed facing one another. Wordlessly they checked tuning, then Tremayne called out one low, vibrant note into quiet air.
Ryna matched him an octave higher, trilled slightly around it, sailed into the upper registers, found another note, and held it.
Her father responded with a note four steps down, and after a moment launched into a wild, spirited Gypsy tune that he had recently picked up. It was simplicity itself to do variations on and still return to the original melody in snatches. Ryna had been working hard to find something that could be played in a round with it and just now, just now, she realized what would work. She saw his eyes widen as she waited a phrase, then wailed out the sweet accompaniment, saw his approving grin as he recognized the tune, and saw no more as she lost herself to the music. Mist crept over the site with the fading of light, wrapped caressing tendrils around their ankles, silent and dark in the moonless night. And yet – and yet, she felt that they were not alone, felt unearthly passers-by pause in their wanderings, felt them draw closer to the music as humans would move nearer a campfire – or moths, a candle.
The fiddles cried like nightbirds, wailed like spirits, sang like faeries at a feast. With no drums to bind them to the earth, melodies swirled and danced among the invisible watchers, soaring to the stars as they twisted in a breeze that did not ruffle leaves nor make pennants ripple quietly. For a Magickal while Pendragon was theirs, and every creature that had never drawn breath in this realm paid rapturous heed to the spell they wove. In the back of her mind, Ryna idly wondered where and when they would be when the mist cleared. The song was no longer the one with which they had begun. It was no longer anything that had ever before existed, or ever would again, each moment carrying surprises and beauties meant not for mortal ears, though pulled from mortal hands.
Something bright sparked beyond the benches, but Ryna was too lost to her muse to pay it much heed as slowly, softly, the music circled home, Tremayne pulling again that first, clear note, Ryna’s an octave higher, until the last echo – lasting a bit longer than perhaps it should have – faded into realms unknown.
Father and daughter stared at one another, breathing ragged, as one by one the watchers broke from their trances and slipped into the darkling night. When the last presence had like a star winked away, Ryna started to speak, but Tremayne put fingers to her lips and shook his head, replaced his fiddle, and padded quietly back up between the two great seas of benches. His partner hurried after, pausing briefly when a flash of silver caught her eye. She bent silently to take it up before continuing, footsteps soft on beaten ground, to her vardo where she fixed tea for the both of them. Only then did she examine what she had found.
Her heart nearly stopped.
“Uh?” She blinked up, uncomprehending, at him.
“What did you find?”
“It- it’s my bracelet, Tata. The silver one with the glass emeralds that you gave me for my birthday – the one I lost. I found it halfway up the path between the benches.”
Many people would have told her that maybe she’d dropped it there. But Tremayne wasn’t most people, and with one look in his brown-green eyes, Ryna saw truth.
Tremayne had felt them there, too.
Someone (or something) had loosely tied a thin green ribbon with gold embroidery around the bracelet. She unbound it and removed her fiddle long enough to tie the gift firmly around its scroll, then turned her inspection to the bracelet. The small etching of a fiddle bow she’d done on the inner band to mark it was there, but so was something else: the perfect imprint of a tiny, tiny hand.
From Saturday of Second Weekend
Liam stood in the center of Hidden Valley’s grove and peered into the treeline. He tried not to look like he was peering. He tried to look calm and in control. After all, the campground was just a short trek up the hill behind him. If he screamed, someone would come to his aid, right?
Would he want to admit he needed that aid?
Animate shadows slunk across the corners of Liam’s vision, darker patches in an already dark night. The knowledge of their presence crawled along the edges of his awareness, unwilling to be pinned down. Was he strong enough to control them? What if he failed? What if –
The sound of bones shifting in a grave filled the air around him. It made him jump. Had anyone else heard it? How could they not? What if someone found him?
The creeping shadows blocked out more and more of the night. Darkness prickled along his veins. The stars flickered and were gone as the world fell away, leaving him spiraling down into the blackness.
“It took you long enough . . . ” The words echoed through his skull with shadow-sibilance, as heavy as six feet of earth over a corpse.
Liam trembled involuntarily and tried not to scream.
“No matter . . . .” crumbled a graven voice.
“What is your desire . . . ” The third voice shrieked like an unholy bird of prey.
It took a moment before the horror of the voices gave way to their words’ meaning.
He had called them.
And they had come.
Liam smiled with grim triumph. “There’s this girl . . .