For a Song - Bookcover
In which a singer saves the world

For a Song

By
Peggy Hogan

CHAPTER 01

Blat (an unfortunate name for a singer) sang one of his favourite ballads as he led the plough horse around and around the field.

The song began with the story of a poor orphan boy mistreated by his so-called caretakers.  This part always made Blat cry a little and he let the emotion help his voice warble at the end of each line.  One day the boy was adopted by an old wizard who claimed he needed an apprentice.  The boy soon learned that he had traded one type of misery for another.  Invoking the despair of shattered hope, Blat transformed his voice from the relief that the boy had finally found a home into the horrible realisation that he was worse off than before.  In the final and triumphant verse, the boy realised that he understood the language of the arcane spells that the wizard invoked to keep him docile and subservient.  His newfound power burst forth and he hurled a vengeful spell at his abusive master.  Aflame with righteous anger, Blat let his voice ring with indignation.With a secret smile, Blat launched into a fourth verse, one that he had added to the song himself.  He felt in his heart that the orphan boy was capable of forgiveness.  Instead of crushing the old wizard as he lay helpless on the ground, the boy relented and to his amazement, the wizard was reduced to tears, only then realising that the boy was his long lost son.  Whenever Blat sang this verse to his younger brothers, they rolled their eyes and groaned.  Blat didn’t care – he loved happy endings.  He brought the ballad to a close with a flourish of joyous notes.

Slow steady applause startled Blat and he felt himself blush.  He shaded his eyes and looked up.  Dusty boots dangled from beneath a dusty cloak.  The sun was behind whoever it was that straddled the fence and he couldn’t make out any features.

“Boy, you are wasted, wasted, wasted at this menial labour!  Come closer.”  It was the voice of a woman, with a tone as imperious as the village head-man when he got himself into a snit.  She impatiently tapped her heel against a fence post as Blat dropped the horse’s reins and shuffled over to where she sat.  She leaned over and rudely took his chin in her hand and turned his head this way and that.

Blat was stunned.  He had been taught to respect his elders, but did that mean that he had to put up with this kind of handling?  From a stranger?

A small smile curved her lips.  “That last verse.  That was yours?”

Does she also mock me? thought Blat.  A flare of anger blazed in his green eyes.

Her smile widened.  “Take me to your parents, boy.”

He considered refusing.  Who was this not-very-polite woman anyway?  It was a warm day; perhaps a few hours on that hard wooden seat would teach her some manners.

“I have to finish ploughing this field,” he declared with what he hoped was authority.

She shrugged and promptly stretched out on the sun-warmed top rail.  It was barely wide enough for her, but she didn’t seem to care.  She clasped her hands at her waist, crossed her ankles, and was snoring softly before Blat had retrieved the slack lead rope.

So much for his moment of defiance.

The sun was low in the sky when Blat nudged the woman awake.  She came instantly alert, vaulted from her perch, and landed nimbly beside him.  She gathered her things and they walked down the lane in silence.

Their boots kicked up a choking dust and Blat stifled a sneeze.  The earth was baked hard this year, harder than Blat could remember.  Of course, at fourteen, there weren’t that many years to remember.  From the talk, this was the worst one ever, but then again, every year had been declared the worst one ever.  His father was worried, though, and Blat hated to see him fret.

Just before they reached the path that would take him home, Blat stopped.  “Who are you and why do you want to talk to my father?”  His anxiety made him speak a little sharper that he intended and he also knew that he was out of line; grown-up business was for grown-ups.  But this woman bothered him.

She turned to him in surprise.  “You don’t know what I am?”  She shook her head at his blank stare and muttered to herself saying something about how everybody should know and what was the world coming to anyway.

“Come.”  She took his arm.  “I’ll tell the tale but once to both you and your parents.”

Blat let her propel him towards the house that was visible through a gap in the hedgerow.  “I should tell you,” he said, “that my mother is dead these past six years.”

She squeezed his shoulder.

He did not want her sympathy and shrugged her hand off.  He climbed the pair of stairs to the porch, pushed the door open, and walked in, leaving it ajar for her to come in or not.  He didn’t care.

Blat’s father was an ordinary man – average height, average build, brown hair, and brown eyes – with the look of farmers everywhere in his thickly muscled forearms and deeply tanned face.  He was in the midst of ladling out bowls of stew to a small tribe of children.  “Ah, Blat.  Did you finish the…”  He stumbled to a halt.  The boys had gone quiet – a marvel in itself – but it was the stranger in the doorway, a female stranger, a minstrel female stranger, that had brought the interrogation to an abrupt end.

“Good evening, sir.  My name is Sarah Tucana.  Please excuse my intrusion during your mealtime; I’ll come back later.”  She turned to go.

Blat’s father remembered his manners.  “No, no.  Please join us.  We would be honoured.”

Blat’s brothers had not moved, some with spoons halfway to their mouths.  Their father turned his attention back to his brood.  “Alvin, Michael, Stuart.  Slide down to the end of the bench, there’s good lads.  Robert, Raymond,” Tomias Raike continued his orders, “fetch another bowl and spoon, clean ones mind.”  With that, Blat’s father unburdened their guest of her pack and cloak, and gestured for Sarah to seat herself.

Blat took the momentary shuffle to step out to the rain barrel and splash some water on his face and hands.  Robert and Raymond had manoeuvred themselves next to Sarah leaving him at the far end of the table.  His twin brothers quickly lost their shyness and plied Sarah with question after question.  Who was she?  Where did she come from?  How come they had never seen her before?  What was she doing with their stupid brother Blat?

Sarah calmly ate her stew and smiled at them.  Tomias eyed his two youngest boys but knew it would be worse if he tried to quiet them.  His other boys contented themselves with staring at her between gulps of food.

When supper had been devoured – and that was exactly the right word for the voracious appetites of this many growing boys – Tomias meted out instructions for the clean-up of both the supper dishes and of the hands, faces, and teeth of his sons.  With the usual grumbling, they trooped off to their duties while he invited Sarah to sit by the hearth for a cup of tea which Blat quietly prepared and served.  Tomias joined her when he was fairly certain that his orders would be carried out.  He sat with a sigh and closed his eyes for a brief moment.  “Ah, but it’s a good thing that I love them.”

“I know just what you mean,” she interjected before he could be embarrassed by his unguarded remark.  “I have a fair knowledge of children myself.”  And they were off discussing the great variety of parental headaches.

In a brief lull in the conversation, Tomias ventured the question that had been niggling at him.  “So what brings you to my humble home?”

Sarah cleared her throat.  “May I first thank you for a most cordial welcome and for the fine meal.  I know that it is the custom in these parts to treat strangers with kindness, but you have gone the extra step of making me feel genuinely welcome.”  She paused to sip her cooling tea.  “As you know, I am a Touring Minstrel and it is about Blat that I wish to speak.”  She glanced at the boy sitting just beyond the reach of the firelight.

“A minstrel,” Stuart blurted.  The children had quietly gathered around the two grown-ups, some sitting on the hearth and some on the braided rug.  They had learned that if they were not heard, they might not be seen and hence allowed to stay.  But Stuart had ruined it.  Now they would be sent to bed.

Alvin and Michael turned on their brother.  “Now you’ve done it!”  they said in unison.  You would think that they were the twins instead of being eight and nine years old respectively.  Stuart, at ten years old, should have known better.  Even the twins had kept quiet.

Sarah smiled.  “Yes, a minstrel.  Do you know what that means?”

“A minstrel sings songs,” Michael offered.

“Yeah, but so does stupid Blat and he’s no minstrel,” Robert piped up.  “Blat, Blat, Blat, Blat, Blat, Blat,” he mock-sang in a high, squeaky voice.

“Well, you should talk,” Raymond entered into the fray, “you screech almost as much as he does.”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“Do not!”

This could have continued to the inevitable scuffle and tears, but Sarah chose that moment to pull out the small pipes that she carried on her person and began a sprightly tune.  Robert and Raymond instantly settled to enjoy the first ‘real music’ (as they would later call it) in their house.  She then sang stories of magical beasts and heroes, of strange lands and even stranger people, of impossible feats of strength, and of beauty beyond compare (the younger boys made faces during these ones).  Sarah spotted the first stifled yawn and played a lullaby; several sets of eyelids began to droop.  Tomias gathered the twins, one under each arm, and Blat followed, gently coaxing the other three, into the boys’ communal bedroom.

“This was an evening they will not soon forget,” Tomias said when he returned from tucking his young children into bed.  “And I thank you for it.”  He opened a cupboard well above the reach of curious hands and poured them a drop of the whisky that he saved for special occasions.

Sarah sipped.  “Now that’s a fine thing,” she said, admiring the golden glow of the spirit in her cup.

They drank in companionable silence for a few moments.

“So Tomias, if you don’t mind my asking, wherever did you get the name ‘Blat?’ It’s the first time I’ve come across it and I’ve come across many a name.”

Tomias smiled.  “It was a bit of a mix-up, really, at first.  Marie and I had chosen ‘Bartholomew’ for the lad.  It was her father’s name.  But the scribe, Jeffers, was getting on in years and his hand was not as steady as it used to be, nor his eye as clear.  We didn’t know he had put down the wrong letters until well after the naming ceremony and well, Blat,” he looked over at his son with a fond smile on his face, “blatted as a baby.  Marie and I thought the old scribe had the right of it and so ‘Blatolomew’, or ‘Blat’ for short, is how we know and love him.”

“There’s a song in there somewhere,” Sarah murmured, and her hands pantomimed motions on her pipes.  “Speaking of songs,” Sarah began.

Blat added a few pieces of wood to the fire and returned to his seat beside the hearth.  Now we come to it.

Blat’s father proved to be amenable to Sarah’s proposal to take Blat under her minstrel’s wing, especially since it was coupled with enough coin for him to hire two workers for the upcoming planting season and the promise of more coin in the future.  Enough, she had said, to tide him by until his younger sons were grown and could take up the heavier chores themselves.

Blat observed these changes to his life in a kind of stupor.  By the end of the evening, he was in Sarah’s charge – a woman he barely knew and wasn’t even sure he liked.  Dazed, his thoughts all twisted around, he crawled into bed.

Even after the long day in the field, sleep was illusive.  No matter how Blat looked at it, his father had sold him to the first person to make a reasonable offer.  He tried not to be hurt.  He tried to see it the way his father had explained it to him.  It would be a wonderful experience, his father said.  It would broaden his horizons, his father said.  Don’t worry about us, we’ll get along just fine, his father said.  Your mother would be proud of you, his father said.  This last, more than anything, convinced Blat that his father just couldn’t stand to look at him anymore.  As Blat had grown older, folk commented on how much he resembled his mother.  Blat suspected that it pained his father to see his beloved Marie so clearly in his son’s face.  She had died in childbirth when the twins were born – two more boys to add to the four already in the house – a large enough family by most standards, but not so large when you tilled the soil for a living.  Every hand was needed.  So if four hands replaced his two hands, that is better for everyone.  But somehow this logic didn’t ease the aching in his heart.

The next morning, in a fog from a sleepless night, Blat rummaged through the cupboard for his old rucksack and stuffed it with random clothes.  He was barely out of the room when his brothers began fighting over his bed and the space his clothes had taken.  He looked back, sad and resigned.  One day they might miss him, but it wasn’t today.

His father made his favourite breakfast of porridge sweetened with raisins and honey.  He ate automatically, tasting nothing.

Sarah kept up an annoying chatter while she packed her things (she had spread her bedroll by the hearth – his father had insisted).  She told his father a little of what Blat would study at the Conservatory and where he would live.  She promised that she would send news of his progress as well as more coin with the next minstrel to visit the area.  She told him that she would look after Blat as though he were her own son.

Blat had hardly said a word the whole time Sarah had been in his home.  It was as though he couldn’t get his mouth to work.  Her songs and stories had awakened a deep yearning inside him, a yearning that had lain quiet and peaceful until she had stirred it into this turmoil.  His world was changing, but changing into what?  Did he want to make his way as a singer?  Was that even a real job?  Everyone in the village knew that he loved to sing, but never did he suppose that it was something for which people would pay good money.  But, oh, to live the stories in the songs.  To travel to exotic and dangerous places.  To sing for villains and princes.  To do something different.

He had enough sense to recognise these daydreams for what they were, but it wasn’t just that.  Did he really want to leave the only life he had ever known?  Here, he knew exactly what was expected of him: in the spring was the tilling and the planting; in the summer was the weeding and the trimming; the fall was the harvest and the pickling and the salting and the drying; and the long winter was for mending clothes and tools, and what little schooling as could be had.  In another three or four summers, he would ask one of the village girls to marry him and she would come to live with them in their house, which would be enlarged to accommodate her and the babies she would bear.  His brothers, too, would marry and bring their wives home.  More additions would be built onto the house and more babies would arrive.  On and on it would go until the sound of many generations filled the ever-expanding homestead.  That was his father’s plan – Blat had heard it often enough to feel it was his own – and that was how his life was supposed to be.  No surprises.  Before Sarah.

He glanced sidelong at the woman striding next to him.  Did she know what she had done to his life?  Today he should be tilling the field behind the copse of alders.  Would his father find reliable men?  Would they know how to do the work as well as Blat had done it?  No, of course not.  How could they?  They wouldn’t get it right and the wheat would not ripen properly and his family would starve.  What was he thinking?  He should return home right now.  He stopped and looked back.  His father stood in the middle of the road, made small by the distance Blat and Sarah had already walked.  Blat hesitated and looked down at his dusty boots.  It was what he wanted, wasn’t it?  It must be.  Blat raised his arm to wave, but his father had already disappeared into the bush at the side of the road.

He sighed.  As much as he felt his responsibilities pulling him, his feet would not move.  Guilt made its insidious way into his mind.  He was expected to fulfill his duties, he was the eldest.  On his shoulders lay much of the burden of the family’s future.  How could he even consider leaving?  And why, of all the times in the world, did the thought of going home fill him with such weariness?  Gods.  Guilty for leaving; unbearable to stay.  He was torn between duty and the pinprick of joy that was beginning to emerge from a remote corner of his soul.  He dared not look at that joy too closely; it only made his guilt bubble more furiously.

“You can’t seem to make up your mind to frown or smile.”  Sarah’s smooth voice sliced into the morass of his mental labour.  He turned to look at her and stumbled over a non-existent rut in the road.  “Now if it were up to me, I’d smile,” she continued, “because they say that it’s easier on the face muscles.  You don’t have to use so many.”  She placed her palms lightly on her cheeks and proceeded to alternate between smiles and frowns.  “Hard to tell.  It feels different, that’s certain.  So without definitive proof, I’ll go with what ‘they’ say.”  She took her hands away from her face leaving a huge smile there and resumed her loose stride.

Blat followed and stumbled again.  Her smile grew even wider.  “How about a walking song?”  Sarah stepped onto the verge and foraged until she found a long stick about as thick as Blat’s thumb, and broke it in two.  She banged the two pieces together and, satisfied with the sound they made, came back onto the road and with a clatter of sticks began a lively tune.  It was an old song that Blat knew well; he’d sung it many times while working in the fields.  But he was determined to remain silent and distant from this woman who had forced so much change into his life without even talking to him about it first.

Come to think of it, no one had asked him what he wanted.  Certainly not Sarah but most especially not even his own father.  They had just foisted another life on him as if he were chattel to be sold.  Very well.  Let them think that he was the meek, pliant domestic beast that they could do with as they pleased.  He would travel with Sarah and would see what there was to see.  He would bide his time and make his own choices about his life.

She had a very good voice, Blat noted in spite of his dark thoughts, and the variety of sounds and beats she finessed from the two sticks was remarkable.  Well she could amuse herself however she wished.  Blat would have no part of it.

With a wild flourish of voice and sticks, Sarah finished the song.  A small stream cut across the road and the sun was nearly overhead.  She scooted down the embankment, plunged into the undergrowth, and disappeared from Blat’s view.  He stood on the road, uncertain.  “Come on, you great dolt,” Sarah’s voice floated back to him.  Blat shrugged his shoulders and followed.

By the time he reached her, Sarah had spread a blanket on the ground, and bread and cheese on a clean cloth.  Another packet revealed cold sausage and yet another held several of last year’s apples, wrinkled and sweet.  Blat’s stomach grumbled appreciatively at the sight.  He sat on the edge of the blanket, his long legs stretched towards the stream.

“Don’t talk much, do you?”

Blat shrugged and concentrated on chewing a mouthful of heavy brown bread.

“Oh, I think you have a lot to say.  Just not to me.”  Sarah cut the sausage with her knife.  As he reached for it, she moved it beyond his hand.  Annoyed, he looked up and met her eyes.  “You can go back if you want to.  I won’t even ask for the money back from your father.”  She placed the sausage in his hand and Blat stared at it.

“The funny thing is,” he began, “I want to.  Go back, that is.”

Sarah sighed.

Blat glanced up at the small sound.  “And then I don’t want to.”  His stomach churned.  He lurched to his feet and wandered the short distance to the stream.  He kicked a few stray pebbles.  “But until I decide for sure, I might as well stay with you.”

The road to the Conservatory was long and the growing summer heat scorched the ground.  They slept in whatever shade was to hand during the hottest part of each day and did most of their walking in the early morning and evening.  The grassy edge of the road was easier on their boots and, without kicking up dust at every step, easier on their lungs.  At twilight, they would stop at an inn or a tavern or a manor house where Sarah would ply her trade with an exuberance that astounded Blat.  Her energy and endless repertoire of songs amazed him every single night.

When he told her of this, expecting a gracious ‘thank you’ for the compliment, she snarled at him.  “You are easily impressed and that can sometimes mislead you into thinking that the person impressing you is better than you.  Don’t you believe it for a single minute.  It’s just that they know something you don’t yet.  That’s all.  If you put your mind to it,” Sarah poked her index finger into his shoulder, “you can learn most anything and do most anything.  That said, there will most likely always be someone who can do a thing better than you and most likely always be someone who is much worse at it.  What you lack is perspective.”

Blat was puzzled and irritated at her outburst.  “But you make it look so easy, Sarah, and you can sing all night long!”  Blat still couldn’t believe that she could do that even though he had witnessed it himself for the past seven nights in a row.

Sarah pursed her lips.  “So, tell me.  The first time you harnessed a horse and tilled your first row, how long did it take you?”

Blat hesitated in mid-stride at the sudden change of topic.

“Just answer the question.”

He put his foot down and continued walking.  Might as well; she’ll just pester me until I do.  “A while,” he said.  Blat remembered that day.  The harness buckles were stiff and his fingers fumbled.  The horse only knew him as the small human who fed him the occasional apple and did not deign to obey Blat’s commands.  That first row?  – well it wasn’t really much of a row at all.  It was more like a short crooked ditch.  He had spent the better part of the morning accomplishing nothing.

“And now?”

Blat prided himself on the swift and accurate job he could do, though not so much on the day that Sarah had come into his life.  He had been distracted by the song he was singing; come to think of it, that happened a lot.  “When I put my mind to it, I’m nearly as good as my father.”  It had been days since he had thought of home.  He realised at that moment that it would be very hard to return to life on the farm.  The insight staggered him and he forgot what they had been discussing.  “Um… thanks for bringing me along,” he muttered.

She stopped and looked at him, her raised brows creating tiny furrows in her forehead.  Abruptly, she pulled him to her in a fierce hug.  “Now, that’s real music to my ears,” Sarah said into his shoulder.  She pushed him away to arm’s length and peered into his eyes.  “Yes, you do mean it.”  She continued walking, a new spring in her step.

“Now what were we talking about?”  Sarah pondered a moment.  “Oh, yes, how one can get better at almost anything with knowledge and practice, and you gave yourself an example from your very own life.  Here’s another question: if you were the best plough-boy in the country but ploughed in a salt marsh, would people consider you a good farmer?”

Blat puzzled over her words.  Did she mean you could be good at something but still not be any good?  Maybe you could be good at some parts of something and not good at other parts.  Maybe you had no control at all over how good or bad you were.  But that didn’t seem right.  Maybe you had to look at things differently.  Maybe you had to look at things as part of a bigger thing.  This was exhausting; there must be an easier way.  Maybe you just had to look at what other people did instead of having to guess all the answers yourself.

Excited, he caught up with her.  “Are you saying that I know some parts of singing and not others?  And you’ll show me?”

Her smile was all the answer he needed.

Blat might not have been so quick with his enthusiasm if he had known the full significance of what Sarah meant by ‘knowledge and practice.’ They would be at the Conservatory in a fortnight and Sarah was determined to mould him into a fledgling singer by then – the kind of a singer that the Conservatory would accept into its novice ranks.  The kind of singer that could pass the entrance audition.

Endless seemingly-nonsense drills in vocal ranges he had never used in a real song filled his mornings and evenings.  Breathing became a continuous conscience effort.  Little did he know that he had been doing it wrong all his life.  It had kept him alive hadn’t it?  But once Blat had put himself in her hands, there was no arguing and no escape.  After the first two days, he could barely croak his need for water.  After four days, his vocal cords still slipped and slid where they would.  After eight days, Blat had an epiphany: he glimpsed what his vocal cords and the breath pushed from his belly could do together.  And at ten days, the control that his head must have over the art of singing was born.  It was a tiny thing, to be sure, needing much care and attention, but born nevertheless.

***

Sarah was not like some other musicians – thankfully few in number – who needed the fawning attention of hangers-on and a fancy stage in order to perform.  Their songs (though such drivel barely merited the word) were invariably about whoever had most recently lavished them with gifts.  If she heard about the ‘limpid cerulean eyes’ of some ‘luminescent lissom lass’ one more time, she would hurt someone.  Sarah disdained the confines of such a life.  She needed to be out on the road, to feel life where and when it happened, and not caged in some stultifying theatre where every note and movement was choreographed well ahead of time.  There was no inspiration for new material in such an atmosphere, and neither was there room for the teaching element that every Touring Minstrel embraced.

Sometimes it seemed to her that the Touring Minstrel was the only way that any information at all was distributed to the people of Whitecap Island who lived outside the main centres.  She liberally interspersed all kinds of items of interest in an evening of song.  Some were general statements about the health of the rest of the country and some outlined troubles that were brewing.  She did not expect her audience to take any action, but it was the responsibility of all Touring Minstrels to let the people know how their fellow citizens fared and what sorts of difficulties they encountered.  And, especially, what had been done to rectify those difficulties.  The villagers just might be able to use such knowledge in their own situations.

She also sang of the various philosophies that were bandied about as well as of the basic tenets of the religious orders and cults.  She was not a church-going person herself, but felt that, once again, the people should know what went on.  It had brought her trouble a time or two particularly from supporters of the Brothers of the Watch who wished their ideology to remain hidden.  It was a risk she was willing to take.

People everywhere appreciated a good listener and Sarah was one of the best.  She heard new stories and new versions of familiar tales.  It seemed that every part of the country had similar legends flavoured and spiced to suit the local environs.  The sea serpent of the coastal villages became the flying dragon of the desert.  The wise woman of the mountains was the sorceress of the swamps.  The wizard of the inland plains was the alchemist of the cities.  Each version gave new texture to the narrative, new words to convey meaning, and new colour to brighten the yarn.  Sarah was intrigued by this phenomenon and loved discovering clues regarding its origins and possible meanings.

As much as she loved discovering new talent.  There was always a certain amount of pain, though, in separating a child from his or her family.  Blat had been ready to go, even if he had not realised it, and Tomias suspected his son’s as yet unvoiced yearnings.  If the boy stayed he would do what was expected of him but he would never be truly happy.  From what Sarah had seen of the Raike family, Tomias would never withhold that happiness from his son.

It troubled her that her garb had not identified her to the boy.  It was not so long ago when all the people in all the villages, however small, showed instant recognition of one of her Guild.  The deep purple of her cloak, even if it wasn’t as deep a purple as it used to be, clearly declared what she was.  She would let the Assembly know; they would decide what to do.

A sudden gust swirled loose debris down the middle of the road.  The dust aggravated her throat even through the scarf she had secured around her mouth and nose.  Had it been this dry last year?  She thought not.  No matter.  Tomorrow, they would see Rivercrest.

The sprawling city nestled between two rivers.  The waterways continued to provide the trade that was the original reason for the city’s existence, but events of much greater importance now happened in Rivercrest: over the past two generations, first one and then a second of the Guildhalls had chosen it as their center for training and administration.  Soon, all the major crafts and trades deemed it advantageous to be together in one place.  Rivercrest was as central as any place on the island, Sarah supposed, and the weather was more temperate than in many other locations.  She shuddered to think of necessarily frequent visits to, say, frigid Ozoli high up near the glacier.  Or to smelly Ruapo in the heart of the swamplands.  Or even Zayu, which she definitely enjoyed some of the year but not during the windy season when the sand could scour the skin from your face.

Though the requirements of her Guild insisted that she return to Rivercrest periodically, over time she had chosen to call this madhouse of a city home.  That’s what happened when you returned to the same place too often.  She smiled.  And then there was Jamie and her children waiting for her.

Blat, however, would be overwhelmed and she simply did not have the time to teach him about life in the city.  He was so gullible.  What could you expect living in a remote village in the middle of nowhere?  She should know; she came from one herself.  In her case, Sarah had snuck away from her latest keepers and followed behind a visiting minstrel whose life seemed ever so glamorous to the seven-year-old girl.  The minstrel, of course, caught her and brought her back to the village.  Sarah pleaded and begged to be taken away from the small, sad life she hated.

The previous summer, her entire family – father, mother, brothers – had disappeared one day.  Dark shadows were seen at the edge of the forest and frightened voices whispered of Brothers of the Watch.  She couldn’t understand what had happened, and the pity in the eyes of the village folk suffocated her until she could barely breathe.  She struck out with anger and tantrums at the least provocation and was passed from family to family, to share the cost of an extra mouth to feed they said, but it was more that her fits of temper disrupted the households wherever she went.

The village headman convened a town meeting and the elders struck a deal with Johane, the Touring Minstrel, to take the child with her.  They convinced themselves that Sarah would have a better life away from the reminders of her tragedy.  Sarah was ecstatic.  She was soon to learn that Johane was a tough mistress and expected her charge to work harder than she ever had before.  Sarah balked and fought and screamed her rage.  Johane was unmoved by her fits and tears and, with firm but gentle resolve, the minstrel guided the budding talent that sporadically shone through Sarah’s bad behaviour.

It was the music that finally soothed her soul, and if it meant that she had to learn to read and do numbers in order to sing, the young Sarah gritted her teeth, sat still, and learned.  Sarah slowly healed under the minstrel’s care and they grew to love each other.  Her eyes stung with unshed tears.  Johane had ascended to the spirit world shortly after Sarah had achieved Touring Minstrel status. That was many years ago now, but Sarah still missed her terribly.

Sarah dragged herself from her meandering thoughts and listened to Blat’s scale practice.  The boy was improving.  At the end of his next set she would call a halt for the day.  She wanted to time their arrival at the Conservatory with the afternoon mass chorus.  If that didn’t inspire Blat to continue his musical training, nothing would.

Blat had no idea of the kinds of situations that the world could and would throw in his path.  She felt a moment of regret for the innocence that he would doubtlessly lose.  No matter.  She trusted her instincts.  This boy was destined for greatness; she could feel it.  She had done her best to prepare him in the short time she’d had; all she could do now was give him the chance.  The rest was up to him.

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