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Eric Banyon, also known as Bedlam's Bard, managed to rescue his young brother Magnus from what seemed to be a killer demon (in Mad Maudlin), but now he must rescue Magnus again, this time from their tyrannical parents. Eric does not look forward to the battle, but is confident he can gain custody. His financial sources are virtually unlimited, his friend Ria Llewellyn heads the most high-powered law firm in New York, and in a pinch he and his friends can use to magic powers, ...
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Eric Banyon, also known as Bedlam's Bard, managed to rescue his young brother Magnus from what seemed to be a killer demon (in Mad Maudlin), but now he must rescue Magnus again, this time from their tyrannical parents. Eric does not look forward to the battle, but is confident he can gain custody. His financial sources are virtually unlimited, his friend Ria Llewellyn heads the most high-powered law firm in New York, and in a pinch he and his friends can use to magic powers, even flummoxing a DNA test, it comes to that.
What Eric does not know is that his parents are allied with the evangelist Billy Fairchild, who himself is a tool of the evil Unseleighe elves, who feed off human sorrow and suffering. Fairchild specializes in getting “bad” children to shape up, which is accomplished by letting a soulsucker—malevolent creature from the elf world—drain the victim of all talent, creativity, and will, leaving an obedient zombie husk behind. If Magnus and his friend Ace, who is also on the run from her twisted parents, fall into Fairchild's hands, they will join the Unseleighe's zombie ranks. And even Eric's bardic magic may not be enough to save them.
This is not spring, Eric Banyon thought grumpily, looking around at the grey sky and the patches of dirty ice that still lingered in sheltered areas around the edges of buildings here on the Upper East Side. I have seen spring, and this is not it. Even though spring's official beginning was a week and more away, it was March, and in Southern California it was already T-shirt weather.
And Underhill, snow was purely for decoration.
But he was neither in California nor Underhill. He was in Manhattan, and it had been a long, bitter, wet winter, one that seemed to intend to hang on long past the time when any polite season would have known it was no longer wanted.
He'd graduated Juilliard at the semester break in February-either ahead of or behind his class, depending on how you looked at it-but he'd been considering a number of possibilities for what to do with his shiny new degree since late last year, and he'd decided on this one.
He wasn't sure whether you'd call it "paying back," "paying forward," or just staying out of trouble. It wasn't as if he needed to work in any financial sense-kenned gold from Elfhame Misthold took care of that, and even if it hadn't, all he hadto do was hint to Ria that he wanted paying gigs and he'd be doing society weddings and political banquets every night and day of the week, and for big fat fees. But Eric knew he sure didn't want to waste that degree on becoming a live and expensive version of Muzak-and he also doubted he'd be comfortable just sitting around in front of the TV all day-or even for more than the length of the average movie. He hadn't come back into the World Above from a very comfortable life Underhill just to turn into a slacker. Yes, his initial reason for coming back into the World Above had been to finish what he'd started-primarily his degree-and he'd done that. And it wasn't enough, not anymore, not when he knew what a mess the world was in. He needed to be doing something. Doing good, in fact.
He was pretty sure this counted, in a small way. And it left him free for the big things that came up from time to time.
Although on days like this-raw, cold, windy, and almost-but-not-quite raining-he really wished he didn't have to make house calls.
He trudged along with his head down against the weather until he sensed an indefinable change in his surroundings, looked up, found he'd reached the address he was heading for, and went in, nodding to the doorman. Since he'd started his new gig before he'd graduated, Esai passed him with a smile and a nod: Eric was a familiar face here.
He stopped at the front desk to give his name and destination, and waited while they called and checked-both his ID, and whether he was expected. A dearth of uninvited and unexpected guests was only one of the many things people like the Tienhovens paid for the stunning service charges of a building like this.
* * *
Vicki, the incredibly discreet au pair, greeted him at the door and led him into the music room. Vicki was of the sort described as "a treasure"-so polite, so polished, so flawlessly invisible that Eric would have suspected an import from Stepford if he hadn't caught Vicki and her charge-and sometimes Vicki and her employer-miming the occasional wordless comment in "womanspeak" behind his back. Sometimes at his expense. He didn't mind; it made him feel better to know that she wasn't some cowed little thing, trapped in the walls of this gilded cage, subdued into the "appropriate" image.
Belinda Tienhoven, Eric's real reason for being here, was waiting for him eagerly, her flute already assembled, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail with a plaid bow that matched her school-uniform skirt. It was bizarre to think that here in Manhattan, where rent for an efficiency the size of an Underhill closet was so high that most people had roommates, there were people who had the money to spend to have rooms devoted only to music.
Then again, where on earth would you put that monster hi-fi set out of the fifties that was Ian Tienhoven's pride and joy, except a room devoted only to music? For crying out loud, the thing was the size of a van! It had tubes, tubes the size of mustard-jars, for chrissake! Eric was half afraid to go near it. He kept expecting Ian to rise up out of the middle of it, hair on end, shouting, "It's alive! It's alive!"
He gave it the usual uneasy glance as he pulled up his own chair. Vicki and Belinda exchanged the usual amused glance. Then Vicki settled into a chair in the corner with her needlepoint-Eric had discovered it seemed to be an unwritten rule that nannies, governesses, and au pairs all did needlepoint-and the music lesson began.
When Eric had made up his mind to set up as a private music tutor, he'd known that at least some of his pupils would be the same kind of over-scheduled, over-achieving, way-above-middle-class kids he had been. Kids whose parents could well afford a Juilliard graduate as a private music teacher. It would look rather odd, after all, if none of his pupils could afford to pay for their lessons, and he had plenty of sliding-scale and pro-bono students on his books.
When he'd made his decision to teach, he'd remembered his own experiences with private teachers-most of them had only cared about pleasing their clients, and those had been the parents, not the pupils. And his parents had only been interested in how well he performed, not whether he'd enjoyed learning.
That had been almost enough to make him abandon the idea of teaching then and there. It had been Hosea who pointed out that it was certainly up to Eric to decide what sort of teacher he was going to be-and that if he did run into any parents like that in the course of his work, he'd be in the best position possible to make things better.
"The music," Hosea-Eric's Bardic student and friend-had said, "can be a great comfort, even when everything else in yore life is a mite dark."
That had made sense to Eric. In fact, if he had gotten the kind of teacher that he himself intended to be, there might not have been that incident with the Nightflyers.... And he just might have stuck with Juilliard the first time. But whether it was sheer luck, or whether because parents raising trophy kids went after trophy teachers, Eric had been fortunate so far. His high-end students might not see a lot of their parents. They might have schedules of activities that would drive a CEO to exhaustion. But they weren't being treated as objects-and he had it in his power to make their music lessons into times of relaxation instead of stress.
Belinda Tienhoven, for example, was studying the flute because she liked the flute. She was pretty good, too. He'd been better at her age-but then, he'd been practicing six hours a day. He was lucky to get a half-hour of practice out of her a day, since she was also taking soccer, ballet, riding, and French-and those were just her after-school activities.
For the first half hour of the lesson they worked on drills-fingering, breath-control-and then on a short solo piece. After that came Belinda's favorite part of the lesson: the duet. Small wonder; that was when Eric used a bit of Bardic magic to heal some of the damage that her killer schedule was doing to her. Eric had adapted a Mozart "Rondo in A" for the purpose, making sure it would be challenging but not too difficult. They alternated parts; this week Belinda had the lead.
They managed a complete play-through once without disaster, though Eric had a bit of work to keep everything on an even keel. But when he'd taken up teaching, he'd made a firm vow that if lessons weren't going to be all fun all the time-since nothing involving drill and repetition could be-they definitely weren't going to be the exercises in humiliation he remembered from his own student days. And he'd vowed that even if his pupils were so unprepared that their duet consisted of "Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," every lesson was going to end on a good, pleasurable note, and his pupils would finish up feeling happier and more relaxed than they'd been when they started the hour.
Every time you use your Gift to make something better, no matter how small the change, you add Light to the World Above. That had been Dharniel's admonition the last time he'd seen the crusty old Elven warrior. So here he was, lighting his tiny little candles in what seemed these days to be a very dark city indeed. Did it make a difference?
He had to believe it did, or what was the point?
When they brought the piece to an end, Eric was startled to hear enthusiastic clapping.
Karen Tienhoven-Belinda's mother-was standing in the doorway, still in her coat-a garment whose tailoring was so impeccable that Eric had no doubt of how expensive it was. Still, she worked hard for that money, and so did her husband.
"Wonderful!" she said, beaming, as Belinda hastily set down her flute and ran over for a hug. They looked like sisters; clear enough where Belinda got her fair coloring from. "I'm sorry to say I only heard the end of it-but you're playing very well, darling. I'm only here for a few minutes, I'm afraid. It's going to be another late night at work, but I thought we could have a snack together and then I could run you and Vicki up to your dance practice in the car. What do you think of that?"
Belinda squeaked, sounding like any typical eleven-year-old promised a special treat, and nodded enthusiastically. She managed to remember her manners far enough to thank Eric for her lesson, then ran off to get her dance bag. Vicki had already tactfully vanished.
Mrs. Tienhoven sighed. "Sometimes I think I'm missing her childhood, and I'm going to regret all this when she's a teenager. But this brief won't wait. And some people-naming no names of course-seem to think it's their right to pave the entire city over. But you aren't interested in a high-priced lawyer's problems, Mr. Banyon. How is Belinda doing?"
The question every teacher dreaded, Eric thought with an inward grimace. Still, even if Belinda wasn't a child prodigy, she was a good, proficient student, at or above her expected level.
"She's making real progress. And she seems to enjoy it. If you're asking me if she has the talent to be a professional musician ..."
"Oh, good heavens, no." Karen Tienhoven waved the idea away. "It's much too soon to tell, don't you think? No ... you see, we're planning to go away this summer. To Italy. For a month-or six weeks, if Ian and I can both get away. So if she's doing well and wants to keep on with it, I'd hate for her to stop her lessons for that long. So I wondered if you'd like to come with us? We'd pay all your expenses, of course."
Eric shook his head, smiling gently. "I really don't think I could get away for that long. But there are a lot of senior Juilliard students who are free over the summer who might be available. I know several studious young ladies who would really enjoy teaching someone like Belinda.... I could make some inquiries, if you'd like."
Mrs. Tienhoven thought about that for a moment-probably reflecting that, all things considered, a studious young lady might make a better traveling companion for Belinda-and Vicki-than a studly young man, like one Eric Banyon. Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Romantic Italy-the tutor and the au pair cooped up in the hotel together-
Belinda's mother smiled, and if there was a touch of gratitude in that smile for having narrowly escaped a-situation-well, Eric pretended not to see it.
"I'll talk to Belinda and see what she thinks. But that might be the perfect solution. Thank you, Mr. Banyon."
* * *
A few minutes later, Eric was headed cross-town, his check-in its discreet envelope-tucked into his pocket, having made a mental note to check with his former classmates to see who might be interested in an all-expense-paid trip to Italy this summer.
Assuming, of course, that Belinda was interested. She might not be. And certainly there was plenty else to do in Italy. Six weeks wouldn't make that big a difference in the playing of a child who had the normal dose of talent, as long as she kept up her practicing. And even if she didn't-well, who cared? There were plenty of other ways Belinda Tienhoven could make a living when she grew up, including following in her mother's footsteps.
Eric grinned to himself. The scene he'd just left had all the elements of his childhood but one: Belinda Tienhoven obviously wasn't a trophy, but a prize. Treasured. Loved.
* * *
The Coenties & Arundel Private Academy for Boys-known to its inmates as Cooties and Runt-was located in the East 50s. The prospectus said that it prepared its students for life. The parents of most of the students simply hoped it would prepare them for college.
Neither Eric nor Magnus had been thrilled with the idea of Magnus's enrollment there-Magnus, because he hadn't wanted to go to school at all; Eric, because he'd never had a good experience with private schools, and knew perfectly well that his younger brother hadn't either.
It was Ria who had pointed out-patiently, firmly, and, as usual, inarguably-that Magnus's academic background was spotty at best, and moreover, the false history they were constructing for him in order for Eric to gain custody of him meant that they couldn't use his real background anyway. He'd need a solid grounding at a good prep school to bring him up to speed if he wanted to get into any college at all-and according to Ria, the New York City public schools were a horror. The C&A had small classes and good security, and an excellent record of college placement for its graduates. And unlike the previous schools Magnus had attended, the security was to keep trouble out, not students in.
It was also, as Eric had quickly discovered, dauntingly expensive and impossible to get into. The first was no problem for him, and the second, as he'd discovered, was no problem for Ria. A place had been found for Magnus, who'd started at the beginning of the winter erm.
Eric had fought Nightflyers, Unseleighe Sidhe, and rogue government agents long before discovering that he had a teenaged brother he needed to take responsibility for.
There were days when he thought that the Unseleighe Sidhe were less of a challenge.
The C&A required a blazer and tie. Not only did Magnus never get tired of complaining about that, he also never exhausted the possibilities of skating near the edges of the dress code, since the C&A left the choice of tie for third- and fourth-year students-and Magnus was a third-year student-up to them.
But the major almost-fights-no actual full-scale fights; Eric had been spared that much-were always about Magnus having to go to school at all. Magnus's stated intention was to become a drummer in a rock band. Drummers in rock bands were not known for flouting their CVs. Most of the drummers in rock bands that I've known were barely able to speak three articulate words in a row.
Maybe it was like his theory about sopranos-in the case of sopranos, the cranial cavity was naturally empty in order to help them reach the high notes with resonance. The vibrato, much like the pea in a whistle, was the small piece of brain rattling around in the skull. In the case of rock-band drummers, the cranial cavity was naturally empty due to being so close to the amps. Any brain material left alive after the amps got done with it was compacted into the size of a thumb.
Oh that wasn't fair. There was Neil Piert and the early Phil Collins....
Then again, there's Sigu Sigu Sputnik. Wonder if Magnus has ever heard of them.
There were times when Eric really felt his actual age. Dropping a reference to something he remembered as being a household word, only to have Magnus stare at him blankly, tended to invoke those times.
He reached the block of the school just as the doors opened and the students came swarming out. Some of them headed directly for the waiting vehicles-Lincoln Town Cars were the limousine of choice-others clustered on the sidewalk to talk to friends. Magnus stood at the top of the steps, looking around.
He knows I'm here, Eric thought with a pang of realization.
He wasn't sure how to feel about that. Magnus hadn't known he was coming today, but he obviously sensed Eric's presence on some level. Eric knew Magnus had the same Bardic Gift he did, though so far it hadn't made its presence known in any obvious way. And Magnus knew that Eric was a Bard, though they hadn't talked about it much. They were going to have to talk about it sometime, though-just as Magnus's Gift would have to be evaluated and trained.
Excerpted from Music to My Sorrow by Mercedes Lackey Rosemary Edghill Copyright ©2005 by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill. Excerpted by permission.
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