The minstrel colt to the war has gone In the ranks of death, you will find him. His father’s sword he hath girded on And his wild harp slung behind him.
“Land of song” cried the warrior bard Tho all the world betrays thee One sword at least thy rights shall guard One faithful harp shall paise thee.
My magic forced air through my flute, the haunting sound that went so well with this particular air. I saw a few tears in the audience, the mark of a well-done show. I saw River sitting on her stool just off to the side, her eyes rapt with interest.
The minstrel fell but the foeman’s chains Could not drag his proud soul under. The harp he loved na’er spoke again For her tore its chords asunder.
And said “No chains will sully thee, O soul of love and bravery! Thy songs were meant for the pure and free…..
They will never sound in slavery!
I snapped my flute upright bowing as the crowd broke into applause. I smiled and thanked them before stepping down from the stage, getting an excited nuzzle from the small filly that I was proud to call my daughter.
“That was so cool, Ma,” she said. I grinned as I heard the slight lilt to her voice, recognizing the slight bit of the brogue that was making its way into her speech.
“Thanks, sprout,” I said as we made our way to our room. We here in the Crystal Empire while Gleam Star had been on rotation here again. We had come up for a weekend to celebrate his birthday and to spend some time together, just us two mares.
“But, what happened to the colt from the song, Ma?” she asked.
“Hmm?” I said, settling my flute down on the dresser. “Oh, I’m not sure, actually. I learned that song long ago when I was about your age, and it’s a lot older than I am at that.”
Her face fell. “Someone should remember him," she said.
“Oh, aye,” I said. “And they do, through the song, sprout. Otherwise, how would we have known he existed?” I flashed her my grin. “Mayhap he came back from the war and told his stories, married some fine young filly and raised a family? Maybe this was a friends way of remembering a lost comrade? Who knows, little one, who knows?”
She nodded. “I guess I see,” she said after a few minutes. “Do you know any other songs like that?”
I nodded. “A sure as Celestia raises the sun,” I said. “You’ll hear some more tonight at the evening show. Maybe I can get you up to sing along with me this time?”
She blushed at that. I had heard her singing in the yard back home and found her voice pretty and clear, though her confidence was a bit lacking. All she needed was that one little push.
“Tonight’s your show, Ma,” she said, backpedaling. “I don’t want to get in the way.”
“Ah,” I said. “What if I chose a song you know well? Say, the lullaby?”
She pawed at the floor.
“Or maybe something else?” I prompted with a soft voice.
She made to speak and then hesitated.
“Go on, then, sprout,” I said, smiling. “What do you want to breathe to life?”
“Raglan Row,” she whispered, blushing fiercely.
I smiled in appreciation. “That’s a fine tune, sprout, a fine one indeed.” I put a foreleg around her withers. “Now, I’ll not force you up there, not if you don’t want to sing. But maybe we can work up to it?”
I ruffled her mane. “That’s my girl,” I said. “Now, I’m for a nap before the nighttime showing and I think you could stand one yourself.”
She was asleep before I finished tucking her in. I smiled and kissed the top of her head before climbing into my own bed.
I plucked at the string of the guitar in my aura, tuning it slightly as River finished her dinner.
“So, sprout,” I start, seeing her grin at the nickname. “What’s it going to be? Am I still going to be a solo act tonight?”
Her coat makes it hard to see her blush but she sure did. “I might,” she hedged. “I’m nervous about it.”
“You know the best way to deal with the nerves?” I asked. When she shook her head, I leaned in close. “Pretend the room is empty. Iffin you believe you’re on your own, you’re suren to be less a flitter inside.” I smiled. “But you shan't have to if you don’t wish to.”
She followed me downstairs, taking her spot on a stool off to the side of the raised platform I performed on.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, I thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives and giving this humble mare your attention,” I said, giving a short bow. “Now that’s enough blathering on, how’s about we start off with a rousing little number from your own empire?”
I started strumming a strident, deep chord, giving a driving purpose to the anthem.
I was born in a country where ponies admire Their great sporting heroes and how they aspire To stand upon mountains and always be winners And never give less than their all
I once met an old mare who told me great stories Of legends of old who played hard for the glory Of lifting the cup in that moment of triumph Those memories kept me enthralled
I was mildly surprised at the number of voices I heard join in with me. I hadn’t realized the popularity of this particular song. I grinned and kept going into the next verse.
Supporting their team with a true sense of place Are the handfuls of ponies with pride on their faces They come from the townlands, the parish, the village Their banners they proudly unfurl.
An anthem of hope is the song they are singing The whistle, it sounds and the game, it begins And the roar of the crowd it echoes to the heavens It sends out a clarion call!
To the fields, the fields of glory To the fields where dreams they send To the fields, the fields, of glory May the best team win! Win in the end.
A good crowd, it was.They knew the words and the rhythm to the song. Sometimes you'd be lucky to have someone sing the same version as you as the older songs tended to have more than one version.
I gave River a glance and she shook her head. Not quite yet. As I started up another tune, I smiled as I heard hooves clapping along.
This was the life I had chosen. The life of a minstrel.
Untouched, unseen, Forever and ever green. The fields of Evenmarch lay bare.
And rain, and sun, And clouds unending run, O’er the little cottage there.
O! why did she roam, And why never home, Did the mare ever turn her hooves?
O! why did she never Turn her hooves for home?
I closed my eyes and lowered my head as the final chord on the guitar fell silent. I heard a few sniffles from the crowd. I waited another moment before raising my eyes, tossing my shaggy mane out of my face. I kept meaning to get it trimmed, but something always came up.
“Thank you,” I said, settling the guitar behind me on a stand. “That one is a particular favorite of mine, despite its sad note.” I glanced out the window, judging the sun’s position. “I believe we have time for one more song before we have to part ways for the time being. Any particular ones you want to hear?”
I heard many good choices called out, from The Beggarcolt to Wild Rover. I was about to start the ridiculous intro to Beggarcolt when I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. I turned to see River standing next to me, an eager smile on her face.
“Are you sure of this, sprout?” I whispered. She nodded with surety.
“Well, it seems we’ve an unexpected guest,” I said, putting a hoof on my daughter’s shoulders. “This wee lass here wants to give it a go, and I can’t say no to her. Give River here a proper greeting, what say?”
She blushed as the applause rolled in. She dipped her head and slowly began singing.
O the summertime is come And the tree’s are sweetly bloomin’ And the wild mountain thyme Grows around the blooming heather
I smiled and joined her as the chorus came on.
Will ye go, lassie, go? And we’ll all go together To pull wild mountain thyme All around the bloomin’ heather Will ye go, lassie, go?
I lifted my guitar and started a soft pattern behind my filly's voice, careful not to obscure it under the music. She was a little quiet, but her voice was sure on the notes and her confidence grew as she went on.
I will build my love a bower By yon cool crystal fountain. And around it I will pile All the wild flowers o’ the mountain
Will ye go, lassie, go?
This time, I heard several voices rise up in the crowd to join us. Looking back, I could pick out Gleam’s massive frame, along with a few guards from his unit. They knew the songs as well as I did, and when River saw him, she grinned broadly and stood a littler straighter.
I will range through the wilds And the deep glen sae dreamy And return wi’ their spoils Tae the bower o’ my dearie
Most of the crowd joined in with us, but right then, in that moment, I knew the only voices that River could hear beyond her own were that of mine and Gleam.
I ruffled the fillies mane as I pulled the blanket up around her shoulders, her sleeping face as sweet as I could imagine. I left softly, pulling the door to and turning to see Gleam setting our battered old kettle on the stove.
“She go down ok?” he asked, keeping his voice soft.
“Oh, aye,” I said, walking over and nuzzling his neck. “A perfect angel, that one.”
“She certainly sings like one,” he smiled down at me. “Going to train her right and proper?”
I shook my head. “I’ll not force her to follow my hoofsteps iffen she doesn’t wish to,” I said. “She’s more about the stories than the presentation, she is.”
Gleam nodded, picking the kettle from the stove as steam started to come from the spout, keeping it’s singing from waking the slumbering filly.
“So, what’s next for my elegant singer?” he said after he poured the steaming water into a pair of teacups. “A cross-Equestrian tour with your family?”
I shook my head. “I’m thinking that I’m ready to stay home a pace,” I said, glancing at the door to where my daughter slept. “Maybe for longern’ normal this time. She could use some kind o’ stability.”
“Fluttershy was happy to watch her when we left to get the adoption papers finalized,” he said. “If you get the urge to go off wandering again…”
I put a hoof across his muzzle, a soft smile on my face.
“I appreciate the offer, sweetheart,” I said, lighting my horn and brushing a stray lock of his mane back. “But this is something that I’ve been wantin’ a long time now. You know that full well. I think takin’ a wee bit of time off and being a proper Mum would be enough adventure for me right now.”
“I understand,” he said, leaning forward and kissing me just below my horn, a few shivers passing down my spine.
That night, I slept just like the tan-coated filly in the room next to me.
I reached over and poked the filly, getting her attention. “It’s time, sprout.”
We rose and gave a bow as Princess Twilight entered the room, her wings tucked in close and her head unadorned. I took that as a positive sign, meaning this was a more informal meeting.
“What can I do for you today, Azure?” the lavender Alicorn asked, smiling down to River.
“I’m in the mind for addin’ to my repertoire of stories,” I said. “And I always like to get an audience reaction to a story before I commit a story t’ memory.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” Twilight said, turning and leading the way, a spring in her step. “I’ve got books of all kinds of stories in here, from modern fiction to old legends and folk tales.” She led us into one of the libraries that the castle held, one smaller and filled with the smell of paper and old books.
I smiled as River stepped slowly forward, gazing at the books in awe, a tiny bit of hunger in her eye.
“Someone has the bug,” Twilight commented, sharing my smile. She motioned me to the side as the filly walked around, eagerly looking at all the titles on the spines of the tomes contained within the room.
“You are welcome to bring her by anytime,” she whispered. “You provided half of these books during your travels, as you well know.”
I nodded. “She has a love of the stories,” I said. “The least I can do is give her the chance to explore and find what she likes.”
The Princess smiled. “Thinking she might want to follow into your profession?”
I shrugged. “At the very least, discover something she could enjoy and provide her with a method of relaxin’ that is of her choosing,” I said. “Rathern’ followin’ some expectation that I unwittingly placed.” I looked at the filly as she came trotting back over.
“This place has got to have thousands of stories!” she whispered, almost prancing in place. “I can’t wait to hear them all!”
I reached over and ruffled her mane. It was getting to where it could stand a trim again, growing out from the patchy, ragged mop she had when she moved in. Long enough where I might have to brush up on how to tend to a longer mane. I kept mine relatively short and simply styled out of habit.
“Well, sprout,” I said, leaning in to rub noses with her. “The Princess here has generously offered to let us come over as oft needed to learn new tales of daring and courage and harrowing frights.” I leveled a look at her, mischief in my eyes. “Are you thinking you’re for that, are you love?”
She set her face in a solemn look, nodding once before the smile broke free and she spun to look at the crystal shelves again.
“That’s quite a load, hon,” Gleam said as he doffed his helm and ambled over to the cupboard for a mug. “Are you sure you aren’t pushing her?”
I raised an eyebrow and stared at him with a tired look. “I had to set a limit on how many we could bring home,” I said with a look that combined pleasure and fatigue. “That lass is insatiable! I’d like to have spent the entire evening there had I not promised her her favorite dinner.”
“Maybe she’ll grow up to be an author,” Gleam said, coming over to nuzzle me. “Or an archivist.”
“Or a pile o’ dust in a library shelf,” I huffed. “I never thought there were so many stories out there. I read five of them to hear her joy just before you got home.”
He smiled that smug and cocksure grin that I normally loved on him.
“What?” I growled good-naturedly.
“You knew what you were getting into,” he started. “And you can’t pretend that you didn’t enjoy yourself in some way. You may have decided to take time to be a stay-at-home mom for now, but at your heart, you're always going to be a bard, and you yearn for new stories and new tales.” He looked at the stack of books on the table, smiling. “You just have to learn some self-discipline and not let her wrap you around her hoof.” He came in close again.
“I canno’ help it,” I said. “She lost so much, I can’t help but want to give her what I can.” I turned my face into his shoulder, making sure my horn didn’t poke him in the neck should he move. “Maybe even make up for how hard her life has been.”
“Her life, or yours?” he whispered in my ear before heading to our room to remove his armor.
I watched the young filly sleep, thinking. Was it what I wanted to give her, or what I wished I had been given when I was her age?
She shifted in her sleep, her face taking on a look of worry, her sleep turning restless and a few whimpers slipped free. I went over and nuzzled her, humming out her favorite lullaby.
Over in Killmarey, many years ago My mother sang a song to me in tones so sweet and low, Just a simple little ditty, in her good old Mareish way And I’d give the world if she could sing that song to me this day
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral Too-ra-loo-ra-li, Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Hush now, don’t you cry! Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral Too-ra-loo-ra-li, Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, That’s a Mareish lullaby.
She stopped whipering, seeming to drift back into a restful sleep. I smoothed back some of her bangs with my cerulean magic, smiling at the face.
To Tartarus with doubts for tonight. We’d talk about boundaries and expectations tomorrow. I climbed up onto the bed with her and let my body warm the space next to her, her face turning up in a smile.
As long as she was safe and happy, that was all that mattered to me.
I sat down across the table from River, using my magic to lift the book away from her.
“I’ve no trouble with you reading,” I said. “Quite the contrary. But not at the dinner table. The table is for eating, and the porch is for reading.” I set the book off to the side, keeping it open to her place and set a plate down with a daffodil sandwich on it.
River took the reprimand much better than I thought until I remembered how discipline for her used to be. “I need to talk to you, sprout,” I said. “We need to set some guidelines for your story search.”
The tan filly crooked an eyebrow at me. “What do you mean?” she asked around a bite of sandwich.
“Well, firstly, don’t talk with your mouth full, sweetheart,” I said, smiling. “Mostly, we need to only take out one or two books at a time. It isn’t fair to the princess or other ponies if she’s got so many books checked out at the same time.”
“But they’ve got so many interesting tales in them,” River said, swallowing her bite.
“Are you reading more than one at the same time?” I asked with a grin. “The tales shan't run off like the Sunday dish with the silver spoon. They’ll still be there a few days later.”
She looked down at the table for a second. “I guess I understand.”
I reached over and ruffled her mane. “And I’ll make a deal for you,” I said. “On the way back from returning some o’ those books, we’ll stop by the way and we’ll both get a manecut and a hayburger. Sound good, River?”
She made a show of thinking about it, then blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes. “Not too much off the top?”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Then you’ll have to keep on it else you’ll have a mop for a mane.” I gave a fake look of horror. “And you don’t want me to try and tame it for you. After all, look at mine!” I shook my shaggy mane, letting it fall into my face.
Her giggle made all of the trouble easier to deal with.
Though she does need some more training with table manners.
I read one of the stories with her when putting her to bed that night, using my magic to create a dancing show of the story. I was tucking the blanket around her when she raised her head, looking into my eyes with an earnest look on her face.