The Music of Allyn-a-Dale

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”s Launch Week+ continues!

And who better to emcee today’s post than the novel’s M[ain]C[haracter]?

“Very few,” says Allyn, “given that it is a post all to do with music. Specifically, the songs of ‘Ballad’.”

As performed by me!

“…Who, in the absence of a gate between the worlds to grant me access to her recording equipment, is the best we could get.”

Such is life. Introduce the first number, why don’t you.

“The very first? Well, that was an early effort. The story was still in its planning stages. You and I had yet to officially meet. And already the book’s truth pressed itself upon you: It was not to be done without music. You couldn’t just summarize the plot to yourself in plain prose, oh no – you synopsized in rhyming stanzas. Thus was born the novel’s eponymous song.”

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Click here to hear the melody, courtesy of my ocarina. And the full set of lyrics can be found in the novel, one verse at the start of every chapter.

Ballad and Ocarina

“With a beginning like that,” says Allyn, “not to mention having already worked on two novellas with my father and master in minstrelsy, she ought to have known there’d be no getting through my book without a song number or five. Yet there she was, NaNoWriMo Day 1, all surprise when from her fingers flowed the following:

A sigh escaped his lips – what Father called a minstrel sigh: An exhalation pulled from so deep inside that it brought a melody up with it. “And where there’s a melody,” Father opined, “there ought to be words of a lyrical kind.”

And so there were, in Allyn’s minstrel sigh…

“So she huffed and fretted and scrambled to find…”

The Naming of Allyn-a-Dale

Click here for the music video!

Naming of Allyn-a-Dale

“After that,” Allyn recalls, “she requested I provide her with more notice before demanding a song on the page. To this I agreed, but not before she had her revenge in the form of” – his eyes narrow, voice dropping to dire levels – “the Rock Minstrel.”

What can I say? I’d had a crazy caricature musician hanging out in my imagination for years, and what better fictional setup in which to drop him than a Renaissance Faire?

Rock Minstrel

“Arguably all very well, but was the ‘Ballad-Off’ scene entirely necessary?”

It both provided an opportunity to illustrate what a regular working day in Avalon Faire is like, and entertained me no end, so yes.

“Hmm,” says Allyn, dubiously. “In any case, it called for my composition of another song, this one inspired by a little ditty from Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ – a play which (fun fact for the Robin Hood fans) features a nobleman who runs off to live in the forest with a loyal band of followers. As Will Scarlet would say: #Parallels!”

Sweet Lovers of the Spring

Click here for the music video!

“Being a bard of my word,” says Allyn, “I informed you some hours in advance when I wanted my next song. For it seemed to me that the road trip portion of the book would pass much more merrily for the Men were I to provide them with a song to travel by.”

And you weren’t wrong!

A Merry Traveling Song

Click here to watch me and my lute perform what may be my favorite part of the whole dang novel.

“It was a bit of fun, to be sure,” Allyn chuckles. “And since the book’s bonus song is reserved for those who make it to the back pages of ‘Ballad’, this concludes the day’s post.” He sweeps down in a minstrel bow. “My thanks for your time.”

And our thanks for yours! Readers who want that bonus song’s lyrics – and/or, y’know, the rest of the novel – make sure to get your copy of “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”! Available in paperback (Amazon, CreateSpace) and e-book (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive). And if you’ve already read it, I very much hope you’ll do me the grand favor of leaving a review. Not only might it get you a prize (see my Rafflecopter giveaway), it’s just flat-out a great way to support an author. *performs an author bow of thanks in advance*

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Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

AVAILABLE NOW!

*Bonus*: #HypotheticalFAQs

If Allyn-a-Dale couldn’t be a minstrel, what would he be?

A disappointment to his father.

A Few Bars of BALLAD: Stanza One

2 weeks ‘til the release of the “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, which means two things:

1) It’s the LAST WEEK to take advantage of my pre-order + thank-you gifts offer! Don’t miss out, y’all!

2) It’s time for another sneak peek inside this soon-to-launch novel of my heart – this excerpt introducing its minstrel protagonist, the one and only Allyn-a-Dale.

Of course, readers of my Wilderhark Tales will have already met him, as well as his father. “Ballad”s first chapter (not counting the prologue we sampled last week) picks up not many days after the series’ final book, “The Story’s End”, left off. If you’ve read it, you’ll have a pretty good idea where that places Allyn emotionally. If you haven’t… well, here’s your chance to find out. Come in closer. But quietly, now. This is a somber occasion.

“He looks all wrong.”

Allyn hadn’t meant to say it aloud, but the words had slipped out of their own volition. And why not, when they were only true? Jackillen Gant did look all wrong. Because he was so pale, his shining light dimmed and sparkling energy gone. Because he was so unmoving, when nothing before could ever hold him still. Because he was clothed in expensive finery, golden crown upon his golden head, inside a grand castle filled with everyone from the land’s highest officials to its lowliest farm girls, every one of them come to pay him honor. Because he had once been king, and now he was dead. All of it wrong, so wrong.

“I know,” murmured Dorian — Allyn’s brother, though quite old enough to have fathered him, had the man lying in the extravagant coffin not beaten him to it. Beside the king of the last nineteen years stood his wife, his sons and daughters (a number of them also older than Allyn), and his twin sister and partner in the rule of Carillon, Queen Ioniana, all of whom belonged in this royal setting more than the dearly departed Jackillen did.

More, too, than did Allyn.

“But it’s for The People,” Ioniana joined in the murmuring. “You understand.”

No, I don’t, Allyn thought. He didn’t understand why his father’s funeral had become this long drawn-out ceremony “for The People,” or why it seemed any action taken by Dorian and Ioniana seemed only ever to be “for The People,” or why “The People,” if they’d cared about Father so much, would want to see him made up without his say-so to look like the king he’d never desired to be.

The whole thing was a farce of the most tragic kind. Had Father been there — alive, that is — he’d have shattered the music of mourning with a countermelody of derisive laughter. “There’s a satirical song in here, somewhere!” he’d say, and would then have proceeded to find it and play it to an audience rolling on the floor with hilarity.

The thought caused Allyn’s lips to twitch. “Go on, lad,” he could hear Father’s voice urging, as it had so often when his lips twitched in such wise. “It won’t break your porcelain face entirely to crack the smallest smile.” And often, to please Father, a full smile would follow.

It didn’t now. It couldn’t. Not when his motivation for smiling lay embalmed in unwanted gold.

“Forgive me, Father,” Allyn whispered, his small hand hovering over the glass lid of the casket. “I should not have brought you here.”

Poor, dear Allyn. Little does he know that the tragic end he’s faced is only the beginning. What adventure lies ahead on the mourning minstrel’s path? Short answer: Summarized past the section break below. Full story: Comin’ atcha July 12th!

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Ballad Cover, front 02

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Stay tu-u-uned!

P.S. — You wanna hear/watch me read this excerpt aloud? ‘Cause you can!

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Behind the Talette: The Soul Shepherdess (Part 1)

It’s the last Monday of the month, meaning my Channillo series has grown by one Wilderhark Talette. ^o^

Maybe you couldn’t tell from the opening poem, title tale, and closing chapter of “The Sky-Child and Other Stories”, or the recent post centered around my emerging bond with Rosie, but the minstrel point of view is a favorite of mine. And like “The Sky-Child”, the next four installments of my Wilderhark Talettes will be all about how the Wilderhark world gained a special songster – one you’ve not met before, though the name does make a cameo appearance in Book 6.5

“Gant-o’-the-Lute,” he returned the greeting. “So, that’s you, is it? Wasted no time getting started with an instrument of your own, I see. Who did you find to apprentice you, then? Barden-a-Tor? Balladry Sol?”

– Ioan-o’-the-North in “The Sky-Child”

Balladry Sol. The answer to a question that once did I wonder: Are any Wilderhark minstrels girls?

Not often, it turns out. Hardly any at all. Or at least, such was the case before Lute’s time. But in “The Soul Shepherdess” – Part 1 shared on Channillo today – we meet an exception: An out-of-the-ordinary little girl with a musical destiny.

And as we all know by now, you can’t have a Wilderhark minstrel story without music. Each chapter of “The Soul Shepherdess” will include at least one original song – which are well enough to read about, but better yet to hear. So for today’s “Behind the Talette” treat, I’ve recorded a video of me and my lute performing the very first composition of she who’ll become Ballady Sol. Ladies, gentlemen, and whoever else, I present to you, “Glass-Light Goodnight” (as shared on my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page).

Glass-Light Goodnight Still

For the touching tale of how this song came to be, make sure you’re subscribed to the Wilderhark Talettes on Channillo, and this story and more shall be yours, all yours!

The Ballad of Rosie and Me

Once upon a time, a girl desired a lute.

She couldn’t remember what exactly had placed this longing within her heart or when. She assumed her minstrel characters were at least in part to blame, since their own skill on the lute was nothing short of legendary on multiple plains of reality. High goodness knew she would have given much to be one of them when she grew up. (Whenever that happened. Keep in mind, this girl was already in her twenties.)

For years, the girl told herself she would reward herself with the purchase of a lute just as soon as she published her younger minstrel’s book. She had even begun setting some money aside into a lute fund for that sunshiny day down the road. But then, one day, and almost of the blue, it sank home: Life is short. Seize the day. There was no good reason at all that she shouldn’t buy her lute now. So that is precisely what the girl did.

And that girl… *solemn nods* …was me.

Me and my Lute, black and white triptych

And this is my lovely new 8-courser, Rosie, here all the way from the Amazon (…dot com). I about lost my mind with excitement when she arrived. The smell of her still thrills me every time I take her out to play – and that soft, full-body reverberation when the clasps on her case snap open. Tuning her is a delicate, time-consuming exercise; she loves to go flat every time I turn my back, silly girl. Ah, but then the music we make together.

Me and my Lute 08

Because most of the songs I want to play upon her are my minstrels’ compositions – and therefore, not to be found in any lute songbooks around here – I’m having to teach myself to play them by ear. And I thought trying to play piano by ear was rough going! But if I weren’t the tenacious sort, most of you reading this right now wouldn’t even know I exist, so I keep at it, more or less patiently struggling to get it right. For the first while, I made a point of practicing every day.

Then the high G string broke.

Along with my heart.

Rosie was in her case at the time. I was minding my business across the room when I heard the twang. With trepidation, I checked to see what may have caused the sound, and alas! Agony! Woe!

A blue day for me and my baby.
A blue day for me and my baby.

To my surprise (I guess this whole “getting it” thing, with him, is more than a one-time fluke?), it was Gant-o’-the-Lute who proved the greatest comfort in my throes of grief, assuring me that a snapped string was no great tragedy. “A broken string is not a broken lute,” said he, his gentle (and technically imaginary) touch upon my back a balm to my distress and disillusionment. “Take heart. It happens to the best of us. Which I would know, being the best of us.”

Thanks, minstrel mentor.
Thanks, minstrel mentor.

Of secondary comfort was the fact that I could still play most of my self-taught songs on the remaining strings. And on the side of silver linings, I got to come out of this episode feeling like a boss when I restrung the high G myself (once my Amazon order of replacements strings arrived).

So all’s well that ends well. At last I know the joy of joining in sweet union with the instrument of my heart – much like a young Jackillen Gant in “The Sky-Child”. And for those of you eager for a chance to hear what Rosie and I sound like together, I’ve recorded a video of us performing a Gant-o’-the-Lute original – “On Adventure” (as featured in “The Song Caster”). Click the pic below to view the vid on my “Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale” Facebook page. I hope you enjoy my minstrel debut. ^_^

On Adventure Vid

Guest-o’-the-Lute (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”

Danielle whipped up a logo for me, because she is awesome first class.

The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.

“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”

As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “He quite quotably described himself in the fourth of the Wilderhark Tales novellas thus:

I am called Gant-o’-the-Lute, by most. Lute only, by my friends. Jackillen, by my dear beloved. Minstrel extraordinaire, by anyone with any musical taste to speak of. And far less pleasant things by those who’ve had occasion to meet more than their match in myself in this field or that and were inclined to be rather sore sports about it.

“Welcome, Lute!” Will greets the minstrel in blue now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – what are your thoughts regarding the multiple people who have seen you on the cover of your latest book and assumed it’s a girl?”

Off-camera, Allyn buries his face in his hands. Lute’s eyes, meanwhile, flash a bit over-bright, but the fingers softly tickling the strings of the lute in his lap never tense. “It’s bothersome,” he says coolly, “but I suppose they are not wholly to be blamed. I was an uncommonly pretty lad.”

“An aesthetic you’ve yet to outgrow. Now, though I just now called it ‘your book’, the fact is that it contains a number of stories, only three of which feature you. Tell us a bit about those?”

“Certainly. Chief among them is the titular tale, ‘The Sky-Child’. It follows me from my infancy through the daring escapade that would later land me in the middle of the infamous Seventh Spell – all of it excellent, though in my opinion, it’s not ‘til I make the transition from child to minstrel that the story really starts to sing. Somewhat literally.” He smiles. “The narrative is interspersed with original songs.

“The second story of which I’m a part is a companion to ‘The Seventh Spell’, offering perspectives on the adventure not seen during Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales. And the third, the collection’s finale, serves to echo the poem at the book’s opening, as well as matters touched upon in ‘The Sky-Child’. Prepare to shed tears, Scarlet; I happen to know you’re an easy cry.”

The corner of Will’s mouth crooks upward. “I’m an easy lot of things. A slight switching of gears: Of the stories in the book that don’t include you, which is your favorite and why?”

“Hmm,” Lute hums, his inner eye skimming the table of contents. “‘Skie Welduwark ’.”

Will blinks. “Was that English?”

“Welken, actually, as is the story – an account of the genesis of earth and Sky. I’d have given much to be there,” he says wistfully. “How marvelous would it have been to watch the world first awake? Oh, the songs of it I’d sing!”

“And well worth hearing, they would be,” Will concedes. “One last thing I’d like to hear from you, if you please. Tell me, Lute, what is our mutual author’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He bats his lashes. “Or would you rather kiss me?”

Lute’s laugh rings ‘round the stage. “Now, that would set you crying. I’m too much for you, Will Scarlet, and I think you know it well. That leaves secrets to tell. What shall I disclose?… Mm, not the most mortifying.” He shakes his head. “She’d not soon forgive me, and I’ve need of her yet. A deep secret, then: As an author, there are truths of her to be found in near every character she writes. But of all those who populate her Wilderhark Tales – and though I would have once been mortified to admit this is so – I believe she is most like me. Not in musical skill, mind you, or in most skills at all; she’s far beneath me there. Yet in spirit, we have much in common. Far too much. Though she’s got it the worse,” he says, his smile as bright and sharp as sunlight, “for I less often bother to play at what you call ‘being nice’.”

“So I’ve had opportunity to observe,” says Will. “Hey, Allyn, how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”

“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, “was brought to you by Danielle E. Shipley’s The Sky-Child and Other Stories (A Wilderhark Tales Collection)’, Book 6.5 in the series.

Sky-Child Cover, front 02

Born into a world his heart knows as beneath him, an extraordinary boy becomes a man of music, hopeful that someday he’ll find a way higher.

As the first day dawns, a world comes awake, order and disorder striking a dangerous balance.

Under the stars, a princess and tailor trade age-old lore, little dreaming of the future that could trap them in the past.

All of it in, around, and far above the timeless trees of Wilderhark, the forest whose secrets reveal themselves slowly, if ever at all.

Tales of beginnings. Tales of quests for belonging. Most of all, tales of true love.

Once upon a time, you knew something of Wilderhark’s tales. Now for the stories that fall in between.

“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will. “Thanks to you as well, Gant-o’-the-Lute. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided here, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”

“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!

Jackillen and the Man-o’-Music (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’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!

Song Caster Cover, front