“Home is Behind, the World Ahead” (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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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’ve been 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, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and below is the final installment (until the rest of the story releases in full, someday). Enjoy!

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Three harvests, the Gant family shared together. But by the time the season for the fourth had arrived, and after some weeks of illness, Jeromey Gant had died. And Jackillen was a little surprised at how terribly sorry he felt. After all, he had lived far fewer years with the man than he had without him; surely the thought of things returning to the way they had been before was not such an unpleasant one?…

But to Jackillen’s further regret, things did not return to the way they had been, for Wendara refused to give up her beloved Jeromey’s farm. She stubbornly struggled with all she had to bring in the harvest without the help of her late husband, and almost as little help from her son, who developed the maddening habit of disappearing whenever there was a task in want of tending to (which, on a farm, there always was). Many a time had Wendara begun to outline a list of things to be done, glanced away for the merest moment, and looked back to find that she was talking to an empty room. Many a time would she pause to rest in the middle of a long, hot day of toil, and turn her face into a cool refreshing breath of a breeze, only to realize with a jolt of anger that she could detect the faraway sounds of an all-too-familiar duet of voice and plucked strings, carried on the wind.

“What kind of a son are you?!” Wendara railed, when at last she had had enough. “What kind of a son leaves his widowed mother with only the scantest of farming experience to handle everything on her own?! You haven’t lifted a finger to help me since the harvest began, and now look!” She jabbed a finger at the window. “Winter’s first snowfall, and only half the crops brought in – if that! – and no thanks at all to you, you worthless, selfish, lazy boy!”

“Well, that’s a fine way to talk,” said Jackillen, his expression wounded. “Worthless, selfish, and lazy, she says… It’s not that I’m lazy; more like gone-half-crazy, just sitting around this dull town in the Down…”

“Don’t start that again!” Wendara shouted. “I’ve heard enough of your complaints about our home here, and MORE than enough of that absurd, sing-song manner of speech!”

Jackillen’s eyes flashed as he strove to keep his annoyance in check. “There is nothing absurd in attempting to word things in ways that are pleasing for ears to hear. And as for your having to handle everything on your own, that is hardly necessary. It’s not as if I’m the only able-bodied young man in the vicinity. The most able-bodied, most likely, but not the only. Why don’t you hire a fellow or two with naught better to do than root ‘round in the ground to assist you in doing just that?”

“Hire them with what?” Wendara demanded. “Where do you think a farming family’s money comes from, a goose laying gold in the barn?! We need produce to sell, Jackillen; produce from the surplus of what we harvest for ourselves. But because you could not be bothered to help me, we shall be fortunate to have just barely enough to last us through the year and put next year’s seed in the ground, with nothing to spare for sale. So unless you’re planning to sell that blasted lute of yours, which I am seriously of half-a-mind to see that you do…”

“What, sell my lute?” said Jackillen, brows lifted in surprise. “Oh, indeed, no – that would be most foolish. There is far more money to be gotten from keeping my instrument than from selling it. You go ahead and hire a boy or two to assist with the farm, come spring; promise them wages at the end of the year, for by then we will have more than enough to pay.”

Left as she was with few options other than to place her trust in her son, thus did Wendara do. And on the Forespring day when the snows first melted, this selfsame son – a boy-turned-man clothed in a commoner’s finery made all of the blues of the sky he loved so well, his lute and a traveler’s staff crisscrossed upon his back – half-walked, half-bounded away from the Down and the farm and his mother and the Jackillen Gant he’d been. For Jackillen Gant, though a wonderful name for an ordinary person, was no sort of name for a professional minstrel – particularly a minstrel as far from ordinary as Jackillen was sure he could not help but be.

A minstrel’s name was not a thing to be taken lightly, Jackillen knew; for it was that which first proclaimed to the world exactly who the minstrel was, or thought he was, which could well end up being truer than the truth, when all was said and done. Like Ioan-o’-the-North, a minstrel’s name ought to tell from whence the minstrel came, whether regarding literal geography, or no more nor less than the place inside where the songster’s fount of music sprang. A minstrel’s name, in short, bared a minstrel’s heart, and the home where the heart could be found. In Jackillen’s case, his heart was with music, and his home with the man who had given it to him: The music of a name in full, the music of a father’s love, and – perhaps most precious of them all – the music of his dearly cherished lute. In light of these things, Jackillen’s minstrel name practically chose itself. So it was that when Jackillen Gant, aged only eighteen, stepped out into the world as a minstrel, he did so as Gant-o’-the-Lute.

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Song Caster Cover, resize

And thus do the minstrel’s adventures begin, to be continued in “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)”! The book’s slated to launch on June 24th, but if you’re game to read and review the tale early, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

That’s a wrap for Ever On Word’s part in Fairy Tale Fortnight. But forget yet not, there’s still a little time left in my giveaway! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and/or my interview with The Book Rat and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell!

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