On a small rise on the gently rolling prairie, Sarya sat with her battered lute in her arms, picking out the new melody that she could hear in the wind. The breeze was sharp with coming winter, and the grass was dry and brown. With the cold weather coming on, it was time to head south again. She hadn’t done as well in the northeastern prairies as she had hoped; the region’s rich farming and herding had suffered from the last several years of increasingly long and harsh winters, and though it wasn’t as poverty-stricken as the bleak and destitute Burnt Hills, where she had grown up, there was still little paying work for a traveling minstrel.
She turned her mind away from the grim mining town of her childhood and the poor prospects ahead of her, back to the haunting music that teased at her mind. She had always been able to hear music no one else could hear, but it wasn’t until she had come to the Skola at Sucevita when she was fourteen that she had learned that these melodies, called tropes, were part of the natural world, and, when sung as chants, they could be used to control the world and all things in it.
The last several years, she had begun to hear music that couldn’t be found in any of the collections of the known naturally-occurring tropes. Over time, she had come to realize that the new tropes she was hearing seemed to herald disasters like none ever before known: long, dry, scorching summers and harsh, bitterly cold winters unaffected by any of the the weather-control chants; great shakings of the earth; exchanges of bloodthirsty hostilities between nations that until then had always been peaceful. When none of the natural tropes succeeded in controlling these catastrophes, new chants had been Composed, to no avail.
And then there was the last wedding ritual Sarya had Arranged. A chant intended to protect against tragedy had not only failed utterly, it seemed to have brought about the very calamity it was supposed to prevent.
Sarya could only conclude that the chants were failing, or else there were new forces at work in the world that were beyond their influence. But both were impossible. The music that controlled the world, both naturally-occurring and Composed, was a gift from Eshalarian the Creator himself, which He had given to mankind before moving on to new worlds and new creations. As a gift from the God, this music was perfect and eternal and couldn’t fail. And unless Eshalarian had returned His attention to this world, no new forces could come into existence. Surely, if the kind and generous Creator did return to His work here, He wouldn’t do so by bringing death and destruction.
A gust of icy wind rushed across the prairie, blowing strands of wheat-gold hair into Sarya’s eyes. She lifted her hand to push the hair away from her face. As she did so, the wind rippled across the lute strings, bringing forth the melody she had been hearing in the wind in its fullness. Her breath caught at the beauty of the music even as it chilled her heart with fear.
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