Kinslayer Chronicle Part 7
This is the homestretch on the NaNo novel. Only 10k words to go and a week to finish it off! I’m not super behind this year either! Only trick is keeping up the motivation. But at least I have Kinslayer Chronicle chapters to keep posting for the rest of you.
Chapter 4 Part 2 – The Roots that Grew
When you are raised on the wagons and ships of a roving Maen Nkowainn band, privacy is a foreign concept you can scarcely afford. Rooms can not be spared to provide a recluse for a growing child. So, I bore witness to all life had to offer. I slept beneath the beakers and bottles of our resident tinker, watching him work deep into the night with whatever curious contraption had consumed his thoughts that day. While he worked, I would question him. What is in those beakers? Why do you wear such thick goggles? Why does that fire burn blue? How did you turn that liquid solid?
Each question led to another and he tolerated my presence, as if my enquiries helped focus his mind and keep him from wandering off in his own experiments. The more I learned, the more difficult my questions grew. Why is water blue? Why is a triangle the strongest form? Why does a curved lens make things bigger? Why does the sun and moon ride overhead? How do we extract pure minerals from the rocks mined from the ground?
What he knew, he shared. What he didn’t know, he postulated. What he couldn’t imagine, he confessed. The world stopped working through the mystical touch of the gods but began to be a series of interactions that could be proven through exacting method and precise tools. He demonstrated the fragility of the elements. He set metal on fire, creating the coloured flames we often employed for our more spectacular performances. He showed how he could make a metal disappear in little more than water, producing great light and heat the likes only ever seen by a wizard’s fingertips. Through the eyes of his tools I saw the distant planets revealed in the dark of the night sky or the mountains and valleys hidden upon the surface of a leaf. He showed me the unseen just like the Caenn, but instead of inferring these invisible existences, he brought them in full view with the glasses of his craft.
And I would fall asleep amongst his ingredients and herbs, my mind swimming with the information he shared in those late hours by shaking candlelight. My dreams were complex mathematical calculations and proofs of intricate natural theory. My young mind thirsted for these answers and when my questions grew too ambitious for the lessons, he would wave me away until I had proven his latest question.
“Why does a bird fly?” he would ask. And no matter what I requested, he would not share until I had formulated a theory to explain that phenomenon. Sometimes, I would sneak into his room, hiding amongst his things just to listen to him whispering to his self to gleam some grander piece that he was keeping from me. It was all a puzzle and the world was the picture I had to create through his pieces.
So quick was I with his studies, that he began to allow me to assist with his technical work during our performances. Few roles were available to us children, so when we rolled into town, ours was to help with unloading of props and costumes. We stayed behind the curtains waiting with wigs and bottles as the adults prepared for their next entrance. Our greatest performances would call on the tinker’s abilities, giving astounding powers to the wave of mighty Njordr’s hands as sparks or lightning shot about him. Explosions of fire and light were his speciality and sometimes we would have whole shows devoted to his colourful displays that would light the night sky. He trusted no one else with those performances. No other Maen understood the dangerous interaction of sulphur and saltpeter as well as the charcoal, copper, sodium, calcium and other powders which gave them their colour. I would run amongst the launching jars, inspecting the proper amount of powder and insuring their lines were secured.
Because I was so small, it was easier for me to work and see amongst the tangled knots of lines he held. Each had to be lit in the proper order or else his performance would be ruined. It was dangerous work, one mistake and the small square of field bearing our materials would become a crackling, sparkling inferno of pure heat and light. But we never had a mistake and even our troupe would watch in rapt admiration as our jars popped across the black grass, leaving sparkling trails as the sky lit with showers of flame and light.
Those were good performances, if only because they were so rare.
But my need to learn couldn’t be satiated by the tinker alone. The troupes of the Maen Nkowainn offered far more than any village. Beneath my father’s gaze I learned how to control my voice in ways that would seem magical to most. His soft fingers showed me strings and chords on the lute that would weave a spell over the hearts of those that listened. Song is just as powerful as the arcane to those that know how to use it. And my father was a master.
He taught me all the old tales, each pluck of the lute conjuring an almost unending narrative from his mind. The memory of a performer had to be impeccable. Nothing could sour an audience faster than a favourite line forgotten or a clever jest mistimed. But, much like everything else, there is a trick to the bard’s unfaltering recall.
The key was to break the tales down into acts, my father explained. Then, he simply paired an act with a chord. The music was his mentor, the notes whispering him his lines as he played. He taught me to listen to the notes and to turn their voice into my own. The lute became an extension of my speech and you could accompany the performance of one with the other. He even taught me how the lute could shore up your mistakes. With a timely sharp note you could mask a missed line with enough song that the audience wouldn’t even notice.
Those were the most interesting lessons. I sat before my family’s fire many nights, my father’s lute balanced carefully in my lap. I knew I had to be careful any time I borrowed it. A performer’s instrument is his closest confidante. But my father would leave it in my care on the nights he spent with my mother in their wagon and I would practice the innumerable songs and tales that he had left me to memorize. But the note of masks intrigued me the most. Learning tales was far too easy. I desired to learn more.
So I would play and play, trying to mimic his skill. I wanted to get the lute to speak for me, to have it say all the things I could not. It took many long sessions, my fingers blistering in the deep night, but I began to learn a most amazing technique. With the right cadence and melody, I could hide my own voice perfectly within the song. At first, I thought it was only my inexperienced ear getting lost in the melody, so I called for my Caenn to listen.
I played a raucous ballad of the Shattered Realms’ incestuous lineages all the while reciting the basic components of alchemy that the tinker had been teaching me that week. The Caenn laughed and clapped at my performance until I stopped halfway through to ask if he heard what I was saying. He looked at me strangely. The question confused him. He congratulated me on learning the ballad, noticing that my father had only started teaching me it this morning. But I shook my head, telling him I wasn’t singing its lyrics.
I explained to him what I was actually doing. He laughed unbelieving.
And so I played again.
Only this time, I would pause during certain chords and melodies, stilling the quivering voice of the strings with my fingers. However, I kept my recitation, never skipping a single word. At first he was uncomprehending. It wasn’t until I was in the third stanza that he his eyes lit and he stood, walking over and asking for the lute in soft reverence. I passed him my father’s instrument and he began to strum the chords, watching my lips closely. After a few lines, he began to play off tune.
And then he burst into a great roar of laughter.
“Wait till your father sees this!” he exclaimed. Without another word, he rushed to their wagon. A few minutes later and after a loud exchange within, my father emerged lute in hand, hair dishevelled and breeches held up with bare fingers.
But he didn’t look at me with anger or scorn. Instead, there was wonder in his eyes.
“Is it true?” he whispered. “What Caenn Aodh says? You can speak beneath the song?”
I knew my face flushed in the shadows of that firelight. My father had always been proud of me, but there was weight to his words then. His voice was filled with wonder and marvel that I had only ever heard once before. That tone was only conjured when he whispered of our people’s greatest hero: Iomhair.
I nodded meekly and he handed over his lute, not even aware that he held it brutishly by her neck as if she were little more than a plucked goose. I took the instrument. It felt heavier in that moment than it ever had before. I could feel my throat grow dry as I looked from my Caenn’s beaming face to my father’s expecting eyes.
My mother emerged just as I took a seat on the moist grass, she robed in the lanky shirt of my father. She looked like a spirit drifting through the mists as she drifted to the flames. All eyes were on me as I began to pluck the strings. For a moment I worried that it was all in my head and I was going to make an enormous fool of myself.
But as I began to speak, I could see my father nodding slowly along with the tune. It was my mother, though who noticed first. She cocked her head at the first couple of lines then turned to my father and Caenn expectantly. But the Caenn waved away her question before it was uttered, watching my father closely.
It wasn’t until my fingers stumbled on a note that he stopped singing gently and turned to the Caenn. I stopped playing but he insisted that I continue without changing a thing. I resumed the song and he stepped close, standing over me with his ear turned towards the instrument as his eyes wandered absently amongst the stars.
And then he too began to laugh.
Our Caenn joined in on the joke, their bawling stirring some of the other clansmen from their nightly business. My mother watched from the outside but she did not laugh. She only stared at me with haunted eyes.