“Pipes and piper were both lost. Rumor is, he angered the gods. Nobody has crossed the Whelmed at Taskeen in near 50 years.”
Mazzie stood staring at the torrent that passed below her. “If you need to get across,” the barkeep continued, “you’ll have to head upriver to Seldin and cross on the bridge, or down to Vens where the port master will take you around.”
Her fingers twitched, just shy of the pane, but she knew she couldn’t press her hands and nose against this man’s windows. She was no child. Not anymore. Forcing her hands to her sides, Mazzie turned away from her view of the river to face the bartender. “A room then?” Her own weariness sounded hollow in her ears. “Somewhere I can figure out what to do next?”
“No rooms here,” said the man as he rubbed a glass with a cleaning towel. Mazzie noted that the glass was pristine and dry. Cleaning the barware must be more habit than necessity tonight. “City doesn’t allow libations to be sold by innkeepers. Lucky for you,” he continued as he placed the polished glass on a shelf and laid aside the towel, “I know the owner of the best Inn in town.” He tossed a brass token that Mazzie snatched from the air. “Show that to the proprietor of The Piper’s Palace on Riverside. Tell Belford that Alford says hello.”
Mazzie wasn’t exactly sure how she ended up standing in this town, in this inn. She just knew it was a bad few days. Her flute was stolen. Then she was fired from the troupe. Can’t pay if you can’t play. Sorry for your loss, Mazzie. On your way now. But her mentor… he promised a job if Mazzie could get there. Gave her directions. Cross the Whelmed at Taskeen, he’d said. And now here she was. Stranded in this dead-end town and no way across.
“Well now,” a familiar-sounding voice interrupted. “What can I do for you, miss?” A face nearly identical to the one worn by the bartender at The Piper’s Public smiled at her, eyebrows raised.
It took a moment for Mazzie to find her voice. “I… I… “ She snapped her mouth shut, embarrassed by her stammering, and took a deep breath. “Alford said you could rent me a room.” She fished the token from her pouch. The brass coin clicked as she placed it on the counter. “How much will it cost?”
The innkeeper allowed his eyes to linger on her face for a long moment. “I’m afraid your money is no good here,” he said.
Mazzie closed her eyes and sighed. “If you don’t have a room, can you tell me where I can get one?”
“I have rooms,” Belford said, a smile finally spreading across his weathered face. “But if my brother gave you his chit, you can’t make me take your money.” He placed a finger on the token and slid it back across the counter, then set a large brass key next to it. “You keep that coin,” he said, indicating the token, “and any silver you have too. Your room is upstairs and down the hall. Number seven. Come back down once you’re settled. I think we can help.”
The large copper washtub full of hot, scented water that she’d found in her room did wonders for Mazzie’s mood. How did he get it set so fast? She still didn’t know what her next step would be, but at least she would face it with her travel-weary muscles soothed and wearing a clean set of clothes. Her silk trousers were usually reserved for performing, but without her flute…. She may as well wear her best.
Back downstairs, she found the brothers sitting in a room open to the river. “Thank you both for everything,” Mazzie said. “I’ll repay your kindness. Somehow.”
One of the men waved a hand dismissively. Alford or Belford? “Tell us about your flute. That can be your payment.”
“How do you know about my flute?” She tried to choke back the surprise in her voice. “Not that it matters. My flute was stolen.” She fingered an invisible flute, remembering. “He said I should cross here, a job would be waiting. A new instrument, maybe. Clay must have been wrong.”
“Do you play?” asked one of the brothers. Mazzie thought it was Alford. “You’re a musician?”
“I did. Mostly the simple flute, but he taught me one tune on his pipes. He left me with the troupe though. Now the troupe left me too.” She slumped sadly, staring at the water. “I may never play again.” The river almost sounded like the piper’s tune in her ears.
One of the brothers pressed a box into her hands while dark eyes looked at her from expressionless faces.
Unbidden, she opened the lid. Within lay a set of pipes drawn from dark silver and chased with gold. “These are just like the ones Clay played,” she whispered, confused.
“Cleford. Our brother. He played the Piper’s Pass. Until he left.” Two heads shook. “We were so angry.”
“Play for us. Please?
“Play?” Surely they didn’t mean for her to play such fine pipes.
In spite of her apprehension, Mazzie lifted the pipes. They were heavy but felt right in her hands.
“He only taught you one tune?”
She nodded and began to play. The melody was haunting and sweet, suggesting waves and sorrow and love lost.
The final notes still hung in the air as Mazzie turned to see the waters of the Whelmed piled up.
Shocked, she ran to the banks and stopped, agape at the man who stood to the other side of where the river once ran. Her mentor, Clay.
He was the image of his brothers.
“Mazzie,” he called. “Daughter.” He lifted a hand. “Will you come?”
As her feet padded softly across the dry riverbed, she finally understood.
Mazzie ran over the Whelmed to welcome her father home.
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I hope you’ll take the time to read the other stories in this Hop. These are some great writers and wonderful people. And if you like what you read, I hope you’ll consider joining their lists too. The world is a richer place when there are more stories to tell.
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