A SONG OF MAGIC
Copyright 1989, Sarah Hartwell
The woman was tall and wore her chestnut hair loose so that it fell in rippling curls down her neck and across her shoulders. With her hands clenched upon her hips and her manís leather jerkin and breeches she looked like a warrior, and indeed she was going to do battle of a sort. She threw back her head, the curled hair tossing down her back, and lifted her face to the high window of the tower. Then she began to assault the edifice with her only weapon - her voice.
Gadran was nineteen and had spent six of those years as an apprentice mage; the first three at the College of Magery and the latter three in Eleginís tower within the Deepwood. He was a quick, clever pupil, but now he despaired of ever becoming a master of magicks for he had succumbed to the awful temptation - he had looked at a woman and desire had been kindled within him. Three years more! That was all he needed, another three years to master the spells and potions, the formulae and the components. Then he would be a mage in his own right. He could not afford to fall in love and risk losing the spells, not yet.
He pushed a lock of mousy hair from his eyes and stared at the complex formula again. He had spent all morning looking at it but it had done no good; he could think of nothing but her face. Elegin had grumbled at him for his inattentiveness; Wiz-Spark, the mageís cat, had huffed angrily at him when he accidentally stepped on her tail because everywhere he looked he could see only brown eyes and fair skin, framed about with a cascade of tangled brown.
She was a singer and had been entertaining in the Laughing Dragon when she had spotted the stranger. He was a lanky youth, dressed in the soft dove-grey robes of an apprentice mage and she supposed he had been running errands for his master and stopped for a bite of lunch and a drink. His eyes had been blue and earnest and she had felt them watching her as she sang the Ballad of Elanor the Fair with its complex metre and interweaving rhymes; by far the most difficult of the ballads she had learnt. He had applauded with the rest, but not thrown coin and when she returned from the privy outside he had gone.
For two days more she had performed in the town; at the Dragon, The Wolfís Head Tavern, The Rack of Antlers Inn and other smaller establishments where breakfasts and lunches were served. She had not seen him again. Then it was time to pack her lap-harp and fold her gown and climb back into menís travelling clothes to ride to the next town with her songs and her gift of music. She tried to forget the youth in the dove-grey robes and set her mind to other, higher matters, but it was hard. Oh it was hard.
It had been a bright late spring day when she rode out of the town, everywhere the birds sang to her and insects chirped among the grasses. The air was full of natureís own special music and life danced to the tune of springtime. By midday she was hungry and broke trail at the edge of the Deepwood by a babbling, chattering, chilly brook that bounced and tumbled out of the wood singing its song of sea-spray as it set off on its long winding journey to the coast. Her saddlebags were full of food and dainties, supplied by the innkeepers or bought in the market so lunch was a leisurely affair while her horse cropped the dark turf among the trees at the woodís edge. Then another tune had superimposed itself upon the streamís merry music, a voice humming part of the Ballad of Elanor.
There was a splash, a curse and the sound of a full bucket being carried. Curious, Kathrie scrambled to her feet and traced a barely trodden path beside the stream. Carrying a full bucket, which slopped over his legs where the grey-robe was tucked up into his belt, was the lanky youth whose eyes had followed her one midday in the Laughing Dragon.
"Stop!" she yelled at him, "I want to talk to you."
He turned his head at her most unmusical call and his face went white. Trembling he ran to the foot of the tower which had nestled hidden in the Deepwood and had slammed the wooden door tight behind him. No matter how she called or hammered on the door there was no reply.
Gadran burrowed his face into his hands at the thought of his temptation. He had been mortified when she had seen him drawing water from the stream. Elegin refused to let him waste energy conjuring water so the twice daily trip to the stream was a necessity. She was just as he had remembered, a cascade of chestnut curls around a somehow strong, somehow soft face; brown eyes and hunterís-bow lips. Gadran was alone in the tower, his master had gone seeking herbs and solitude in the deepest reaches of the wood. He was thankful for that because the woman began to sing, her rich beautiful voice weaving together his longing and desire, his homesickness and ambition and all his self-doubts. She had come back to do so again in the evening and he had had to conjure water in case she was waiting for him at the stream. He dared not give in to temptation.
He was, therefore, mortified when she began singing again. Elegin looked up at him and demanded, "Whoís that?" and he had not dared answer.
"Well who is it? Gadran, answer me, who the devil is that and what is she doing down there?"
"I donít know," the apprentice had answered quite truthfully, because he did not know anything about her apart from her face and her voice.
For four days, she came to the tower each dusk and sang until full dark sent her back to her camp at the edge of the wood. For four days Gadran immersed himself in his studies and avoided the gaze of Elegin, wondering how much the old mage knew and how much he suspected. Did he know that his apprentice had felt lust for the woman or did he suspect much worse? Gadran could only try to pretend the singing voice meant nothing to him.
On the fifth day she sang while they were in the upper chamber which overlooked the clearing the tower occupied. Gadran peered out of the window and was transfixed by her song and her face. She sang to him sad stanzas where lovers were held apart by adversity or death; of longing and hope, desire and desolation. Irritated by his apprenticeís inattentiveness, Elegin stood behind the boy and stared with furrowed brow at the singer.
Kathrie knew she had gone too far when the older mage appeared at the open window. Gadran was hooked, unable to turn away, his master was scowling behind him. Gadranís eyes, his face, his expression was as she remembered; his hands clutched the sill as he leaned out and she wondered what it would be like to feel the clutch of those hands. His master was taut with annoyance at the interruption; between them they held the young apprentice in thrall, torn between love and ambition.
She had come to do war, even if her only weapon was song. Angrily she pointed at Elegin, and sang a song of ire and loverís wrath at the forces holding them apart.
"Sorcerer, who is the master,
Who is the slave, who feels desire?
Sorcerer, what is the reason,
Loveless be, to the heart treason,
Loveless be, to the heart sorrow,"
She sang pain and wove separation into the melody, unaccompanied by harp or lark-song she filled the clearing with resonating song. The air throbbed with it, the ineffable sadness, the aloneness as she question at the mageís right to keep his apprentice from her. With her hands and her whole body she gestured emptiness~ and warmth.
Roughly, the older mage pulled his apprentice from the window and leaned out himself.
"You, who are you, girl, that presumes to interrupt me?" he snarled.
"You, who are you mage who presumes to keep a manís heart away from women?"
"Pah!" was Eleginís only reply, "You know nothing."
"I know that when he finally leaves your tower all means of desiring women will have been cut from him. What know you who can barely remember your manhood?" her voice was rich and sweet and taunting.
Gadran heard his masterís voice take on a note of wrath, it had reached that dangerous intensity which meant the older man had become unpredictable. Elegin turned to him.
"Gadran, what means this she-whore to you?"
"She is only a singer, master," the boy answered respectfully and in perfect truth, inwardly aching at the memory of her face.
Elegin turned and leaned out once more, "Go!" he ordered.
In reply, she stared him full in the face and began to sing, "Sorcerer ... "
Elegin pointed at the presumptuous singer and a bright spark spat from his index finger. It struck Kathrie and she fell in a heap of tumbled, crumpled clothing. From the folds of the empty shirt hopped a small bird. With bright eyes and fluttering heart it flew to a nearby branch and began to sing as though its heart would burst. Even to this day it sings sorrow and hope and the lost Ballad of Elanor. Men call it the nightingale and its song is so beautiful it is said that a man can1 for one hundred years) stand listening to Kathrieís children sing and not notice the flow of time.