In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’m sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Part 1 is linked here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 is below. Enjoy!
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Now that Jackillen seemed determined to remain underfoot during the traveling band’s stopovers – or worse, to wander off away from the towns and villages on his own – his elders lost little time in giving the boy something to keep him safely occupied.
“You’re young, but bright,” he was told by Yaradin, the caravan’s head. “We might as well get you started in learning a useful trade.”
“All right.” Jackillen nodded willingly. “I want to be a tumbler like Salomar. And a juggler like Keran. And a wrestler and stave fighter like Adu. And I want to bend myself into funny shapes like Jilal, and throw my voice like Dulai, and dance like Mother, and—”
“Whoa, now, slow down, little man,” Yaradin chuckled. “You can’t do everything.”
To which Jackillen answered matter-of-factly, “Yes I can.”
And he could. By the age of twelve, he could turn cartwheels on a high-wire while juggling handkerchiefs. He could knock down an opponent more than twice his size without missing a step in a jig. And he could strike up the song for that jig himself on any instrument his band could offer – drums and bells, pipes and flutes, and anything with strings, each mastered more quickly than the last as natural talent and diligence combined to match his skill level to that of his inborn confidence.
Jackillen had reached the point where he could indeed do everything his fellow entertainers could, and more. And it was about then he concluded that it was not enough.
This conclusion was drawn more quickly than it might otherwise have been due to another chance meeting in another town and land – this time in Chandling Town, kingdom of Lucerian. It was there that Jackillen – while off gallivanting by his lonesome, as he was wont to do – heard on the wind a most pleasant sort of sound: Notes of song, tripping lightly in a musical cascade; produced by some manner of stringed instrument, Jackillen wagered, though not one with which his ears were familiar. Intrigued, he followed the sound to its source, joining the small number of others who had paused in their doings to hear the musician play.
Jackillen waited for the melody to reach its end – even waited with something close to patience, placated as he was by the song – before he approached the musician and asked, “Your pardon, good sir, but what is the name of your instrument?”
“A lute, of course,” the fellow replied. “And it’s no good asking to touch it,” he added, knowing what it meant when young boys came around inquiring as to the tools of his trade. “No one touches this lute but Ioan-o’-the-North, ye ken?”
“Ioan-o’-the-North…” Jackillen repeated. An odd sort of name, but pleasing to say; he relished the rhythm of it. “Well, surely you might make an exception for me? I am something of a musician myself, you see, and know how to handle an instrument with all due care, I assure you.”
But the lute-bearer shook his head. “Nothing doing, lad. First rule of the minstrels: Entrust your bread-and-butter instrument to no one’s hand but your own.”
Well, what was to be done? Short of taking the lute by devious means or straightforward violence, nothing at all. And while of course Jackillen could have effectively employed either method, the notion of parting a minstrel with his music did not sit well with him. So he merely sighed, in the manner of one expressing grave disappointment in a world he had really expected so much better of, and went on his way.
The fact that he went quietly, however, did not mean that he had put the encounter out of mind. On the contrary, he sulked about it for the rest of the day; well into the night, too, for he seemed to feel the need to sleep only one night in three, and this was not one such night. And in the morning, just as soon as his mother appeared to be waking or close to it, Jackillen demanded, “Why can I not have a family name?”
“Mm— what?” said Wendara, who had actually been farther from waking than her son might have wished.
“I met a minstrel yesterday,” Jackillen said impatiently. “A minstrel with a lute – a lovely lute, with a lovely sound, and you don’t even know how dearly I wished to play it, though he wouldn’t let me; most vexing. Ioan-o’-the-North, he called himself – have you ever heard such a name? A name like music; just trips right off the tongue. Not like Jackillen. Do you hear it? How incomplete it sounds, just Jackillen? It’s missing a beat, Mother! A waltz stopped too soon! – no resolution! Resolution I might have had if only I had a second name. So why can I not have a family name?”
“Jackillen, don’t be ridiculous,” his mother said testily. “You’re quite old enough to know why we have no family name.”
“Old enough to know it, but not to understand it,” Jackillen muttered, arms crossed. “Whether he who fathered me wanted to behave like a decent human being or not, the least he might have done was give me a name. Or didn’t he have one to give?”
Wendara shrugged irritably. “Not one that he ever spoke to me; so perhaps he had no such name after all.”
Wonderful; meaning that Jackillen’s father, whoever he was, was either a royal, an illegitimate, or a woman. Jackillen decided that he must have been a royal.
And what’s that leave me?, he thought, with another sigh of disappointment for the world. Unclaimed royalty with an incomplete name. Better a man-o’-music with a name to match than a king.
Two things Jackillen wanted more than anything, and saw little hope of having: A beautiful lute like Ioan-o’-the-North’s, and a musical name worthy of it. And as fate would have it, there would one day come a man who would give him both.
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More of the pre-“Song Caster” tale to come as Fairy Tale Fortnight continues!
And two things to remember: One, I’ve got a giveaway going on! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell”!
Two, I’m looking for advance readers! If you’re willing to read and review “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)” ahead of its scheduled release on June 24th, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!