Read an Excerpt
Song of Sorcery
Songs from the Seashell Archives: Book 1
By Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Elizabeth Scarborough Kacsur
All rights reserved.
If it hadn't been for Maggie's magic, the eggs would have tumbled from the basket and shattered when the panting barmaid careened into her. The automatic gathering spell barely had time, as it was, to snatch the eggs into the container before they were spilled back out again as the distraught young woman began tugging at Maggie's sleeve.
"Come! Be quick now! Your old Granny's at it again!"
"Be careful!" Maggie scrambled to keep her eggs from breaking, trying at the same time to snatch her sleeve from the girl's grasp. "What do you mean?"
"Some poor young minstrel was singing a song, and just like that she starts ravin' and rantin' and changes him into a wee birdie, and commenced chasin' him and callin' on her great cat to come eat him up! Oooooh, I hears the cat now—do be quick!" This time she had no occasion to do further snatching at the sleeve, but slipped instead on the forgotten trail of egg mess left in Maggie's wake as she galloped across the barnyard and through the tavern's back door.
Wood clattered on stone and fist on flesh as the patrons of the tavern rudely competed for the front exit, tripping on overturned chairs and trampling table linens underfoot in their haste to be gone. Only three of the most dedicated customers remained at their table, placidly sipping their brew, watching the commotion with far less interest than they watched the level in their flagons.
Granny's braid was switching faster than the tail of a cow swatting blowflies as she ran back and forth. She showed surprising agility for one of her age, and for all her leaping about was not too out of breath to utter a constant stream of hearty and imaginative curses. With the grace of a girl she bounded over an upturned bench and then to the top of a table, whacking the rafter above it with furious blows of her broom.
"Come down from there this instant, you squawking horror, and take what's coming to you!" Granny demanded, black eyes snapping, and body rocking with the fury of her attack. "Ching!" she hollered back over her shoulder. "Ching! Here, kitty. Come to breakfast!"
It was fortunate for the mockingbird that Maggie saw him dive under the table to escape the broom before the cat spotted him. Just as the cat gathered himself for a pounce on the low-flying bird, Maggie launched herself in a soaring leap and managed to catch the cat in mid-pounce, retaining her grip on him as they landed with a "whoof" just short of the table.
Struggling for the breath their abrupt landing knocked from her, Maggie clasped the cat tighter as he squirmed to escape. "Grandma, you stop that right now!" she panted with all the authority she could muster from her red-faced, spraddle-legged position on the floor.
"I will not!" the old lady snapped, taking another swing at the bird as it landed safely back in the rafter above the table. "No two-bit traveling tinhorn is going to gargle such filth in MY tavern about MY in-laws and get away with it." She jumped down from the table, looking for another vantage point from which to launch her attack.
"Whoever he is, Gran, change him back," Maggie insisted, setting the cat free now that the bird was out of reach on the rafter, quivering in its feathers at the slit-eyed looks it was receiving from both broom-wielding elderly matron and black-and-white-spotted cat.
The old lady glared at her granddaughter and primly adjusted her attire, tucking her braid back into its pin. "I most certainly will not."
"You most certainly will," Maggie insisted, noting with some consternation the set of her grandmother's chin and the anthracite glitter of her eyes. "Grandma, whatever he's done, it's for Dad to dispense justice—it just isn't the thing these days to go converting people into supper for one's cat just because they displease one. What will the neighbors think of us? It isn't respectable."
The old lady made a rude noise. "As if I cared about that. But alright, dear. Only wait until you hear what he did—wait till your father hears! That birdbrain will wish Ching had made a meal of him before Sir William's done with him!"
"But I didn't write the tune," protested the man who materialized in place of the mockingbird as Gran snapped the release ritual from her fingers. His arms and legs clung to the rafter for dear life. "Please, somebody get me a ladder."
"It isn't that high," snorted Grandma contemptuously. "Ching can jump it from this table."
"One of you men come help me with this thing," Maggie said, taking hold of one end of a long bench. A member of the stalwart society who'd remained at his station during the melee, being between pints, sauntered over and lifted the opposite end of the bench, and together they stood it on the table so that the former mockingbird could use it to descend.
"Now then, sir." Maggie stood with hands on hips as the stranger dusted himself off. "You have upset my grandmother terribly, and I want to know how and why. What did you say to her?"
"I upset her?" he stammered, the redness deepening in his already ruddy cheeks.
"What did he say to you?" Maggie whirled on the grandmother, who sat cross-legged on the floor, trying to calm her cat. The cat was attempting to maintain a seriously threatening hissing crouch while being dragged flat-eared and whip-tailed into the old lady's lap.
"Nothing much, dearie," replied the grandmother, pouring over her descendant a gaze of the purest molasses. "He can explain to your father. Chingachgook is a trifle upset. I'll be at my cottage if you need me." She dimpled her dried-apple cheeks at the stranger. "Do sing Sir William that delightful song, young man. Ta, Granddaughter!" A wave of her arm and a final whip of the cat's tail from the crook of her other arm, and she was off.
When Maggie looked back for the stranger, she found him by the hearth, inspecting a fiddle for damage, setting it to his shoulder and lightly drawing a bow across the strings. He had slung a guitar across his back.
"You're a minstrel, then?"
He had to try out several notes before answering. "I'd hardly be making myself so popular with my music and all if I were a stonemason, now would I?" He spoke flippantly and Maggie thought it was to conceal the tremble in his hands as, apparently satisfied that his instruments were undamaged, he slipped fiddle and bow into a soft skin bag. "Who are you?" he asked, "besides the relative of that witch?"
"You might do better with a sweeter lyric, minstrel. The one you've used so far today hardly seems to please, now does it? I am also Sir William's relative, as a matter of fact. He's my father."
The minstrel blinked twice, rapidly, as if expecting the medium-sized dusky-colored girl to be transformed into his idea of a fair and lithesome noblewoman. She continued to stare at him frankly and without noticeable approval, giving at best, in her bare feet, coarse brown tunic and skirt, and dirty white apron an impression of pleasant ordinariness dealing with momentary unpleasantness. Remembering his manners, the minstrel bowed, briefly. "Colin Songsmith, Journeyman Minstrel, at your service, lady."
She had followed his inspection with one of her own as far as her own dirty feet, and now looked up from them to meet his gaze with shrewd brown eyes. "You're looking no great treat yourself. Wait a bit."
Watching her disappear through the back door, Colin sank down onto a bench that had miraculously remained upright and passed long, tired fingers over his eyes. Being changed from one thing to another, chased by witches and cats, and being changed back again was not the sort of thing his apprenticeship had prepared him for. He could make fair to middling instruments, write stirring epic sagas and set them to equally stirring and complimentary music, play lute, zither, harp, dulcimer, pipes, and drums competently, and fiddle and guitar splendidly, if he did say so. He was quite prepared to entertain at feasts and be feted, to immortalize adventures and be considered an adventurer by association, to record history, and to have all the ladies wooing him ever so prettily for songs immortalizing their own particular charms.
But no, he had decidedly not been prepared to be one moment singing the latest southern ballad to an appreciative audience, and the next to be regarding his fiddle from a bird's-eye view while the matronly sort who had served his cakes and ale batted at him with a broom, shrieking to her cat to come and eat him.
His training had not included lessons on maintaining his aplomb while hanging onto rafters and getting splinters in his fingers and knees, while some brown-haired young woman argued with her grey-and-brown-haired grandmother about the respectability of feeding him to the cat. The animal in question evidenced no concern whatsoever for their concerns as it lashed its wicked tail at him and licked its wicked chops.
His ruminations were interrupted by the return of the unlikely noblewoman, armed with a broom. Colin knocked over the bench he had been sitting on in his haste to escape.
"Don't be a goose," she said. "I'm only going to dust you off a bit. You're all over feathers and dust, and if you're going to see my dad you'll have to be somewhat more hygienic. He's been sick, and you reek of contamination." He managed to stand still while she broomed him with brutal briskness.
* * *
After five months in bed, no amount of twisting, turning or repositioning could make Sir William quite comfortable. It wasn't just his legs, injured when an arrow inexplicably found its way into his horse while he was hunting, causing the poor beast to rear and roll on him. Granny Brown claimed sickbed fever had prolonged his recovery far past the usual convalescent period, and lack of active use had caused his legs to weaken and his wounds to mortify, conditions she continued to fight with her entire herbal arsenal.
What he wished was that Amberwine could come home—even for a short visit. Although she had no healing magic whatsoever, and cheerfully admitted incompetence at managing even the simplest aspects of household or estate affairs, her lighthearted faery gaiety and placid, accepting intelligence brought the dimples out from under Granny Brown's traditional witch scowls, and even slowed the brusque and practical Maggie down to something close to gentleness.
Ah well, he sighed to himself, arranging his bedclothes in a position suitable for the company whose footsteps he heard climbing the long spiral staircase to his tower chamber. He'd made Amberwine the best possible marriage to that southern lord—the fellow might even get to be king, they said, and she seemed to like him in the bargain. Where he'd find such a match for thorny Maggie was more than a sick man should contemplate. It was complicated arranging marriages for not-quite-born-in-wedlock children one acknowledged belatedly. The village witch's daughter who at the age of two years is declared to be the daughter of the Lord-High-Mayor-Knight-Protector-of-His-Majesty's-Northern-Territories (And Incorporated Villages) tends to remain the village witch's daughter. No amount of equal education or advantage seemed to be able to make a witchchild as refined a lady as her faery sister. For all of Amberwine's extra encouragement and coaching, Maggie remained neither fish nor fowl, her mother's line too base for nobles, her father's too noble for the base-born lads. Too bad she wasn't a son, so all he'd have to do would be to leave her the estate, which she managed most capably, and find her a wife. Worthy wives were bound to be more common commodities than worthy husbands, he felt sure.
To the poundings on his chamber door he called permission to enter, and a disheveled Maggie did so, followed by an only slightly less disheveled young man.
"Hullo, Dad." She dropped a kiss on his forehead.
"'Lo, Magpie. Who's this?" He made an attempt at hearty cheerfulness in the direction of the young man.
"I caught Granny trying to feed him to Ching," she replied. "She was in a dreadful huff."
Sir William narrowed his eyes at the young man. "What did you do to cause my mother-in-law to wish to make cat food of you, sir?"
"Your pardon, noble sir." The young man made him a low bow. "Colin Songsmith, Journeyman Minstrel, at your service. Noble sir, I don't know why the lady was so vexed with me. I only sang the latest southern ditty for her, practicing it, y'know, before presenting it to you."
"Present it to me then, dammit, and let's get to the bottom of this. Maggie, dear, do scratch my shoulder—ah, right there—good girl."
Since his fiddle rendition of the tune had met with such avian results, Colin unslung his guitar from his back and tuned it. The tuning gave him time to compose himself. Finally he tapped his fingers on the soundboard of the guitar and told them, "Not being from this district, or the one where the song originates, I can't understand the fuss over it. I learned it from Minstrel Giles. He said he always comes north this time of year to avoid the first blossom of some of the southern plants. Gives him ill humors of the nose and throat, he says, and, as you well may imagine that's an unhandy affliction for a troubadour." He paused to allow this professional confidence to sink in. Maggie nodded briskly that she was perfectly capable of understanding occupational hazards and the old man impatiently waved him to continue. "Ahem—yes, as I was saying, folk down south at least, find this an entertaining tune. Giles says it's all the rage." He paused again for dramatic emphasis before striking the strings in a minor key. The guitar sent ripples of sobbing across the room once, twice, and once again.
The minstrel's features coarsened and his voice dropped to a lower register. The guitar was a stone fence he leaned upon as he confided ribald gossip to another peasant. The music galloped along in time to his voice.
"The gypsy Davey came riding along,
Singing so loud and gaily.
He sang so sweet and so complete,
Down come our faery lady ... down come the faery maid.
"She come trippin' down the stairs
Her maids were all before her
As soon's he saw her pretty face
He cast some glamourie o'er her."
Sir William opened his eyes. A gypsy man had wreaked a great deal of havoc in the village two festival seasons ago by absconding simultaneously with two of the estate's dairy maids, sisters whose soiled state Sir William had had to launder with generous donations to their dowries so they could be safely wed before they whelped. If the fella'd charmed a faery he must be quite the charmer indeed—the faeries were so enchanting themselves, they generally saw through the "glamourie" of others.
The minstrel dropped the peasant role and became the gypsy, insinuating himself into the lady's romantic imagination. Casting Maggie as the lady, his passionate glances totally confused the expression of polite attention she had maintained. Trying to stare down the minstrel's false gypsy as she would her grandmother's cat, she found herself annoyed that she was unable to look away when she wished.
"Will you forsake your husband dear,
And all the wealth he gave ye?
Will you leave your house and lands
To follow Gypsy Davey—to ride with the Gypsy Dave?
Maggie flushed, her dark skin burgundy with befuddlement as the minstrel released her eyes to become narrator again.
"She dressed herself in her gay green cloak
And her boots of finest leather,
Then mounted on her pony fine,
And they rode off together.
"Late from huntin' came Lord Rowan,
Asking for his lady.
The one did cry and the other reply
'She's gone with the Gypsy Davey—rode away with the Gypsy Dave.'"
Excerpted from Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Copyright © 1982 Elizabeth Scarborough Kacsur. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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