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Songs of the Common People
Being gathered on travels throughout
the Tormalin Empire the reigns of
Castan the Gracious and Nemith the Wily,
by Maitresse Dyesse Den Parisot
The House of Den Parisot has dwelt in the Nyme Valley since the days of the earliest Emperors. As the wisdom of Tormalin advances to embrace ever wider lands, the men of the House work ceaselessly in the service of their Name and Den Parisot responsibilities now run from farthest east to the very fringes of the Great Forest. The bonds of affection between my husband and myself were so sorely tested when these obligations drew him from home that I resolved to go on the road in his company. While fulfilling my wifely duties on our travels, I made a study of the tales and music we heard and present them here for a wider audience. Music is always a proper occupation for women, from the lullaby that soothes the fractious babe, to the genteel airs we teach our daughters, to the round songs we share in good fellowship. In these songs gleaned from the commonalty of the Empire, I have found beguiling melody, tales to provoke tears and laughter and no little wisdom. Much of value and beauty has been found across the Empire to ornament the great Houses of Tormalin and music is but a less tangible wealth to enrich us. I present these songs as an entertainment, and too, as evident proof of all that unites the Empire, however many leagues might divide its peoples. While we beseech Drianon's blessing on our fields of wheat, so the people of the boundless plains commit their mares and foals to her care. I have been welcomedin Ostrin's name to the leathern tents of cattleherds, just as devoutly as on the threshold of the Imperial palace. Divine authority pays no heed to bounds of time or distance and the same is true of music. A song of woodland birds sung to a babe beneath the leaves of the wildwood will beguile a silk-swathed princeling just as happily. Stirring adventures from northern mountains will warm the blood of youths in the cohorts and teach them much of courage and duty besides.
Harmony delights the ear more than the solitary voice. A threefold cord is not so easily broken as a single strand. Brothers united in common purpose fare better than those divided by rivalry or suspicion. Such truths are acknowledged the length and breadth of the Empire. You will find these and more besides in this collection.
Selerima, Western Ensaimin,
First Day of the Spring Fair, Morning
There's a certain kind of man whose common sense shrinks almost exactly as fast as his self-conceit swells. Perhaps it's an inevitable law of nature, one of those things Rationalists will bore on about, given half a chance. Whatever, there are enough of them about, especially at festivals, to let me turn a rune -- or in this case, a nutshell -- for profit any time I choose.
I leaned forward and smiled confidingly. "You've been watching close now, haven't you, friend? Care to risk another penny on it?"
The stout man's eyes flickered upward to my face, halting for a breath at the tempting ruffle of my loose-laced shirt. As his gaze left the crumb-strewn tabletop, my fingers moved unseen beneath my other hand to make sure I'd be taking his coin once again.
"I'd say I've got it this time'" he chuckled, confidence gleaming in his eyes like the fancy braid on his cuffs. Still smiling, I held his eyes with mine although a whisper of cold air on the nape of my neck stirred the hairs like thoseof a wary cat. A door behind me was being held open for some reason pressing enough to let the tavern waste its heat on the chilly spring day outside.
The merchant made up his mind and reached for the middle of the three nutshells. I laid a soft hand on his hairy fingers. "Copper to choose, silver to see," I dimpled, all innocent charm.
"Fair enough, girlie. I've got you this time, " He tossed a copper onto the table and snatched boldly at his chosen shell. As he gaped at the bare wood beneath, I managed a look of wide-eyed startlement to match his own surprise.Several onlookers laughed, but I never do that, not since my early days on the road. A disgruntled cowherd once back-handed me across the face, losing his sense of humor along with his meager hoard of pennies.
"Saedrin's stones, I could have sworn I had it that time!" The merchant rubbed a fat hand over sweaty jowls and reached again. As I spread a warning hand over the shells, I heard the scrape of nailed boots coming down on flagstones with a measured tread.
"Silver to see, you know the game," I braced myself in my chair, unnoticed but ready to rise.
Frustration never lets them not know. The merchant tossed an ill-tempered and tarnished penny at me, which I swept briskly into my pocket. As he picked up one shell then the other to reveal the errant kernel, I let the eager bystanders close in to the table.
"But how, by all that's holy --" the luckless mark looked up, exasperated, but the townsfolk in their holiday best had me effectively concealed from view. I edged away. A tug at the laces drew my shirt to a more respectable neatness and I paused for a moment in the shadow of the stairwell to reverse my jerkin unseen. Unhurried, I pulled the far door closed behind me as I shrugged into dun homespun, pulling the gaudy scarf from my head and stuffing it in a breeches pocket. There was no mistaking the bellow of a Watch sergeant behind me, asking who had been running the game...The Gambler's Fortune. Copyright © by Juliet McKenna. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.