Spirits White As Lightning (Bedlam's Bard Series #5)by Mercedes Lackey, Rosemary Edghill
Eric Banyon has settled into the New York whirl nicely: he's doing well at Julliard, he's made a lot of new friends, he's defeated a lord of the Unseleighe Sidhe...
Aerune mac Audelaine, whose beloved was killed by mortal men, was determined to destroy the human race until Eric, with a little help from his new friends the Guardians, thwarted Aerune's plans and… See more details below
Eric Banyon has settled into the New York whirl nicely: he's doing well at Julliard, he's made a lot of new friends, he's defeated a lord of the Unseleighe Sidhe...
Aerune mac Audelaine, whose beloved was killed by mortal men, was determined to destroy the human race until Eric, with a little help from his new friends the Guardians, thwarted Aerune's plans and exposed the chemists whose designer poison turned ordinary humans into zombie Mages. The human side of the threat is finished, but Aerune, like the rest of the Sidhe, has a long memory...and a lot of patience. He's also got Jeanette Campbell, former Threshold Black Ops, and the science behind the murder.
Can Eric stop Aerune's latest plan? Only if he finds out about it before it's too late, but between babysitting a visiting Healer, training a banjo-playing Bard, attending his daughter's Underhill Naming ceremony, dealing with a dragonand trying to survive summer schoolEric's got his hands full. Saving the world has never been more necessaryor come at a higher price.
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Spirits White as Lightning
By Mercedes Lackey
Baen BooksCopyright © 2003 Mercedes Lackey
All right reserved.
The Spirits White as Lightning Would on my travels guide me The stars would shake and the moon would quake Whenever they espied me -Tom O' Bedlam (traditional)
Sir Eric Banyon, the Queen's Knight, known as Silverflute wherever soldiers of fortune gathered together, strode manfully through the thronging crowd, determined to leave the memory of his disgrace at the hands of the foul Frenchman Black Levoisier behind him as surely as he had left the dastardly minions of his Great Enemy in his dust....
Eric dodged around a bicycle messenger just dismounting on the sidewalk, then grinned, startling the bike messenger into an answering smile. Heh. Banyon, m'lad, you ought to go in for writing Hysterical Historicals in your off-hours. He actually was striding-though not exactly "manfully"-through the noontime crowd, heading for the subway and home. His classes at Juilliard were over for the day and no rehearsals (for once!) were scheduled for this afternoon. He could practice as well, or better, at home than in one of the practice rooms, anyway. And he was determined not to sour a perfectly good day with the memory of one jealous teacher trying to make a fool out of him in front of the entire class. Well, all right-maybe not the entire class. Just most of it. And anyway, Levoisier hadn't succeeded, though he'd certainly done his best.
Missing his midterm last winter (he'd been off saving the world, necessary though it had been) had given Professor Rector the chance he had been hoping for all term. He'd failed Eric, banishing him from Introduction to Music Theory with unprofessional glee. Fortunately, Eric's work in his other classes and in ensemble had been good enough that he had been given the opportunity to make up the lost Music Theory credit during summer term, and he had taken the chance to add a few more courses in order to lighten next fall's course-load. Still, this hadn't quite been the way he'd envisioned spending his July and August, which was out on Fire Island with a pitcher of virgin margaritas by his side. And Levoisier made Ethan Rector look like a prince of transpersonal fairness by comparison.
Parisians. Feh. Paris would be such a lovely place without all the Parisians in it, Eric thought grumpily. And the man had certainly been on form today, baiting Eric unmercifully in hopes he'd lose his temper. Once he'd lost it, the professor would have taken him apart in a cool and scientific dissection rendered without benefit of anesthetic.
Levoisier had begun with sarcastic comments about Eric's depth of experience-on the RenFaire circuit. (Why did they always obsess about that? It couldn't be jealousy.) Not exactly a concert-hall environment, as the professor had repeatedly pointed out. Nor were the customers who so praised his playing sober ... or necessarily bright ... or able to distinguish Bach from Bacharach ... or a flute from a clarinet. Certainly even an idiot with three tunes in his repertoire could win acclaim on the RenFaire circuit-which only proved, to Eric's mind, how little Levoisier knew about the RenFaire circuit.
As the professor had expounded on each and every way in which he felt that Eric resembled half-drunk Fairegoers-at exhaustive length-Eric stood there silently. Every single word was calculated to get Eric to explode with temper.
And that would have worked, once, but Eric was a far different person now than anyone that the professor had ever encountered before, at least within the hallowed halls of academe. He had waited, quietly and calmly, until the professor grew frustrated by Eric's lack of agitation, embarrassment, or any other identifiable emotion.
When Levoisier finally ran out of insults, Eric had simply said, "The Review Committee and the Entrance Committee were satisfied with my performances, Professor, as are the rest of my teachers," and sat down again. And at that blessed moment, the change-of-class bell sounded, and he was free.
Not as satisfying, perhaps, as telling the professor off would have been. Not nearly as satisfying as pointing out the professor's own deficiencies as both a musician and a teacher-many of which Eric had already heard for himself during faculty recitals. Yehudi Menuhin, the professor was not.
Yahoo Menudo, maybe.
But the point wasn't to get the better of the arrogant Frenchman. The point, in fact, was not to even bother with making a point. The point was to take what was good, leave what was bad, and pass through all the name-calling and innuendo like the wind through the grass.
Be Teflon. That's the only way to handle guys like this. He's insecure, ignorant, and arrogant. Just let everything slide right off until he gets tired of not getting a rise out of me. By then he'll probably have gone far enough to expose himself as the trivial goon that he is. That might take the full eight-week summer session, but Eric didn't mind-while Levoisier was heckling him, he wasn't picking on the younger and more inexperienced students, who were not equipped to deal with him. The bastard had already reduced Midori to silent tears before he'd turned on Eric.
Well, let him wear himself out on me. Levoisier doesn't know half of what he thinks there is to know about me. I have a black belt in Verbal Aikido, you arrogant Frog.
Levoisier's appointment wasn't an insoluble mystery. Eric knew why Juilliard had such a miserable excuse for a teacher on its staff this year. Levoisier was no great shakes as an interpreter of music, but he was a brilliant technician. Even Eric was willing to admit there was a lot he could learn from the man, if he ever decided to stop humiliating the students and elected to teach. And even at his worst, he was teaching valuable things to his students.
Though he knows it not. Though he intends it not.
It was a cruel, cold world out there, a world singularly lacking in first-chair jobs in fine symphony orchestras and prestigious traveling ensembles, recording contracts, solo tours, and praise-and full of cruel critics and low-end positions teaching in schools or playing in little city orchestras under conductors who themselves had failed to make the cut for a high-end professional musical career. Trial-by-Parisian might harden some of them to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The students at Juilliard were fairly well equipped to deal with professional rivalry and even sabotage from other students, but they weren't ready for the real world of real people and the fact that most of them were doomed to eke out a living playing in the Tacoma Sousa Band.
Or playing harps in hotel lobbies, pianos in cocktail bars, clarinets at weddings, and yes, flutes at RenFaires. Anything that Levoisier can throw at them isn't half of the abuse they'll get out there. Or, in the dark of the night, what they'll give themselves.
What had triggered today's attack, he suspected-given that Levoisier had first gone after Midori, then him-was the results of the placement auditions for the summer-session orchestra. Eric (and Midori) had been placed in second chair.
Now, Eric hadn't heard Midori's audition, but there was something that no one, including the Audition Committee, knew about Eric's. He would never get first chair, because all during his audition, he had been sending out a thread of Bardic magic.
No matter how good I am, you won't give me first chair, the magic had whispered, carried along on the wings of Debussy. I don't need the experience, and you should give it to someone else.
In fact, at the end of the audition, one of the committee had taken him aside, apologetically, and had said, "Banyon, you deserved first chair, but frankly, we can't give it to you. You don't need-"
"-the experience," Eric finished, with a grin and a toss of his long chestnut hair. "No worries, Doctor Selkirk. Frankly, what I need is a lot more experience in backing and supporting another flautist. They also serve, and all that."
Doctor Selkirk had sighed with relief and shook Eric's hand. "I knew we hadn't made any mistakes in readmitting you, Banyon. If running around in tights and floppy shirts on weekends would give our students that kind of maturity, I'd assign it as a course."
Eric grinned to himself again. It's not as if I need experience in front of an audience. I rather doubt that I'm ever going to face a more hostile audience than a flock of Nightflyers, or a pickier one than an Elven Bard and Magus Major. And it's not fair to the kids to make them compete with me for something I don't need or want.
The New York streets simmered with summer heat, and the kind of glare found when the only thing to take the sun's rays is stone, and glass, and more stone. His local friends told him that August would be even worse-if they got a really hot spell, even the blacktopped streets would go soft underfoot. He hadn't believed it at the time, but now Eric was just as glad that he'd spent the time last winter setting up bomb-proof spells on all his apartment windows: now, when he opened them into muggy July heat, he got arid January cold. It was a more elegant solution than nursing a power hog a/c along with Guardian House's cranky electrical system. His computer and stereo systems were already major power hogs, not to mention his pet microwave; he'd learned he had to shut down every other appliance in the place when he vacuumed. An air conditioner would have been the final straw. When Guardian House had been built back in the first decade of the 20th century, all those appliances hadn't even been distant dreams.
He was looking forward to getting home, opening all the windows, and maybe coaxing Greystone down into joining him for a glass of something cold. It wasn't likely anybody would miss the gargoyle if he deserted his post-not in a sweltering afternoon in July.
All he had to do was make it through the subway alive. Though most of the cars were air-conditioned to pneumonia levels, only some of the stations had any pretense to climate-control at all. Fortunately, the Lincoln Center stop was one of them. Can't let the aesthetes and yuppies fry, after all.
Eric joined the stream of humanity descending the steps into the subway, whistling a Bach gigue to purge his brain of any remaining taint of irritation with Professor Levoisier. There was nothing like Bach to rev up the old right brain and let logic take over from emotion.
He let the flow of traffic take him along towards the turnstiles. Hey, it's Friday. I've got a whole weekend in front of me, the sun is shining, nobody wants to kill me, and there's not a single crisis Underhill or Overhill that needs sorting out. That thought put a bounce in his step. Maeve had been born and Kory and Beth were planning to bring her for a visit. If the weather held, maybe they could make a run up Long Island and see how the other half lived. And if it didn't, well, if you couldn't find something to do in New York on a weekend, you were in pretty sad shape.
And when they go back Underhill, if Ria isn't up to her sculpted eyebrows in Bizness, I might even get her to go out with me to some New-York-Magazine-Approved event. So maybe I ought to have a look for something she might not ordinarily go to. Not that Ria's actually a party animal at the best of times. How could someone who looks like she looks be such a grind? It's one of Life's Great Mysteries.
He turned his mind back to the question of finding something fun he could tease her into attending. Anything musical was a good bet, but it would have to be both competent and something she wouldn't have thought of for her-
Something teased his ears as he passed the turnstile. A string instrument-
And a very, very familiar tune.
'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free, 'tis a gift to come 'round where we ought to be-
Someone was playing a banjo in the subway.
That wasn't all that unusual. Eric had heard everything from bagpipes to string quartets to old-fashioned One Man Bands playing on subway platforms throughout the city. Busking was permitted in the New York subway system and on the city streets as well, but it was a peculiar form of busking. You had to have a license, and you only got the license by passing an audition.
It was a pretty good system, actually. The ears of the public weren't assaulted by talentless musicians, licensing kept down the territory wars for the best spot, and the beat and transit cops weren't put on the spot by having to bust a player who was doing the public a favor by being there. Eric didn't know all of the licensed buskers-New York was a bit bigger than any Faire pitch he'd ever worked-but he thought he was familiar with most of the ones who set up near Lincoln Center on a regular basis and he was sure that none of them played a banjo. The pleasantly jangling notes ricocheted off the echoing tile walls of the subway, the echoes providing a depth and richness to the music that was the reason so many musicians-including Eric-liked to play here. Something else teased his inner ear as well, as he approached the platform.
Nothing overwhelming, just a gentle little lilt, a Bardic lilt to the tune, something to tease a little money from the pockets of the passers-by, but only by those who had it to spare. More of a reminder, really, to be courteous.
If you like what you hear, and can spare the money, drop a coin or two-if not, pass on, pass on....
And no one with a New York City busking license was a Bard. Except, of course, him.
A sense of urgency hit Eric in the gut: not only did he want to catch this unknown Bard and find out who he was, he wanted to get to him before he was busted! He hurried towards the platform. The transit cops, who were supposed to enforce the busking licenses, could be along at any moment. Some of them were inclined to turn a blind eye towards the occasional violator, if he was good, if the cop in question liked that particular kind of music. So how many of them like bluegrass?
Eric shoved his way towards the cluster of people around the source of the music, and shouldered his way into the magic circle, ignoring the indignant looks of the two he squeezed in between. "When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed-" his mind supplied the words to the tune.
The busker was a tall young man, built like a linebacker. Eric took it all in with a single glance. Blond. Longish hair, jeans, faded blue work shirt-and that indefinable something that said "not from around here" to city-trained eyes. He had an open, friendly face and piercing blue eyes, which held a promise of friendship out to the entire world, if only the world was wise enough to accept it.
Excerpted from Spirits White as Lightning by Mercedes Lackey Copyright © 2003 by Mercedes Lackey. Excerpted by permission.
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