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Spirits White as Lightning

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Spirits White as Lightning

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Author: Rosemary Edghill
Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Baen, 2001
Series: Bedlam Bard: Book 5
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Eric Banyon has settled into the New York whirl nicely: he's doing well at Juilliard, he's made a lot of new friends, he's defeated a lord of the Unseleighe Sidhe...

Or has he

Aerune mac Audelaine, whose beloved was killed by mortal men, was determined to destroy the human race until Eric, with a little help from his new friends the Guardians, thwarted Aerune's plans and exposed the chemists whose designer poison turned ordinary humans into zombie Mages. The human side of the threat is finished, but Aerune, like the rest of the Sidhe, has a long memory... and a lot of patience. He's also got Jeanette Campbell, former Threshold Black Ops, and the science behind the murder.

Can Eric stop Aerune's latest plan Only if he finds out about it before it's too late, but between babysitting a visiting Healer, training a banjo-playing Bard, attending his daughter's Underhill Naming ceremony, dealing with a dragon-and trying to survive summer school-Eric's got his hands full. Saving the world has never been more necessary-or come at a higher price.



The Spirits White as Lightning
Would on my travels guide me
The stars would shake and the moon would quake
Whenever they espied me

--Tom O' Bedlam (traditional)

Sir Eric Banyon, the Queen's Knight, known as Silverflute wherever soldiers of fortune gathered together, strode manfully through the thronging crowd, determined to leave the memory of his disgrace at the hands of the foul Frenchman Black Levoisier behind him as surely as he had left the dastardly minions of his Great Enemy in his dust....

Eric dodged around a bicycle messenger just dismounting on the sidewalk, then grinned, startling the bike messenger into an answering smile. Heh. Banyon, m'lad, you ought to go in for writing Hysterical Historicals in your off-hours. He actually was striding--though not exactly "manfully"--through the noontime crowd, heading for the subway and home. His classes at Juilliard were over for the day and no rehearsals (for once!) were scheduled for this afternoon. He could practice as well, or better, at home than in one of the practice rooms, anyway. And he was determined not to sour a perfectly good day with the memory of one jealous teacher trying to make a fool out of him in front of the entire class. Well, all right--maybe not the entire class. Just most of it. And anyway, Levoisier hadn't succeeded, though he'd certainly done his best.

Missing his midterm last winter (he'd been off saving the world, necessary though it had been) had given Professor Rector the chance he had been hoping for all term. He'd failed Eric, banishing him from Introduction to Music Theory with unprofessional glee. Fortunately, Eric's work in his other classes and in ensemble had been good enough that he had been given the opportunity to make up the lost Music Theory credit during summer term, and he had taken the chance to add a few more courses in order to lighten next fall's course-load. Still, this hadn't quite been the way he'd envisioned spending his July and August, which was out on Fire Island with a pitcher of virgin margaritas by his side. And Levoisier made Ethan Rector look like a prince of transpersonal fairness by comparison.

Parisians. Feh. Paris would be such a lovely place without all the Parisians in it, Eric thought grumpily. And the man had certainly been on form today, baiting Eric unmercifully in hopes he'd lose his temper. Once he'd lost it, the professor would have taken him apart in a cool and scientific dissection rendered without benefit of anesthetic.

Levoisier had begun with sarcastic comments about Eric's depth of experience--on the RenFaire circuit. (Why did they always obsess about that? It couldn't be jealousy.) Not exactly a concert-hall environment, as the professor had repeatedly pointed out. Nor were the customers who so praised his playing sober... or necessarily bright... or able to distinguish Bach from Bacharach... or a flute from a clarinet. Certainly even an idiot with three tunes in his repertoire could win acclaim on the RenFaire circuit--which only proved, to Eric's mind, how little Levoisier knew about the RenFaire circuit.

As the professor had expounded on each and every way in which he felt that Eric resembled half-drunk Fairegoers--at exhaustive length--Eric stood there silently. Every single word was calculated to get Eric to explode with temper.

And that would have worked, once, but Eric was a far different person now than anyone that the professor had ever encountered before, at least within the hallowed halls of academe. He had waited, quietly and calmly, until the professor grew frustrated by Eric's lack of agitation, embarrassment, or any other identifiable emotion.

When Levoisier finally ran out of insults, Eric had simply said, "The Review Committee and the Entrance Committee were satisfied with my performances, Professor, as are the rest of my teachers," and sat down again. And at that blessed moment, the change-of-class bell sounded, and he was free.

Not as satisfying, perhaps, as telling the professor off would have been. Not nearly as satisfying as pointing out the professor's own deficiencies as both a musician and a teacher--many of which Eric had already heard for himself during faculty recitals. Yehudi Menuhin, the professor was not.

Yahoo Menudo, maybe.

But the point wasn't to get the better of the arrogant Frenchman. The point, in fact, was not to even bother with making a point. The point was to take what was good, leave what was bad, and pass through all the name-calling and innuendo like the wind through the grass.

Be Teflon. That's the only way to handle guys like this. He's insecure, ignorant, and arrogant. Just let everything slide right off until he gets tired of not getting a rise out of me. By then he'll probably have gone far enough to expose himself as the trivial goon that he is. That might take the full eight-week summer session, but Eric didn't mind--while Levoisier was heckling him, he wasn't picking on the younger and more inexperienced students, who were not equipped to deal with him. The bastard had already reduced Midori to silent tears before he'd turned on Eric.

Well, let him wear himself out on me. Levoisier doesn't know half of what he thinks there is to know about me. I have a black belt in Verbal Aikido, you arrogant Frog.

Levoisier's appointment wasn't an insoluble mystery. Eric knew why Juilliard had such a miserable excuse for a teacher on its staff this year. Levoisier was no great shakes as an interpreter of music, but he was a brilliant technician. Even Eric was willing to admit there was a lot he could learn from the man, if he ever decided to stop humiliating the students and elected to teach. And even at his worst, he was teaching valuable things to his students.

Though he knows it not. Though he intends it not.

It was a cruel, cold world out there, a world singularly lacking in first-chair jobs in fine symphony orchestras and prestigious traveling ensembles, recording contracts, solo tours, and praise--and full of cruel critics and low-end positions teaching in schools or playing in little city orchestras under conductors who themselves had failed to make the cut for a high-end professional musical career. Trial-by-Parisian might harden some of them to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The students at Juilliard were fairly well equipped to deal with professional rivalry and even sabotage from other students, but they weren't ready for the real world of real people and the fact that most of them were doomed to eke out a living playing in the Tacoma Sousa Band.

Or playing harps in hotel lobbies, pianos in cocktail bars, clarinets at weddings, and yes, flutes at RenFaires. Anything that Levoisier can throw at them isn't half of the abuse they'll get out there. Or, in the dark of the night, what they'll give themselves.

What had triggered today's attack, he suspected--given that Levoisier had first gone after Midori, then him--was the results of the placement auditions for the summer-session orchestra. Eric (and Midori) had been placed in second chair.

Now, Eric hadn't heard Midori's audition, but there was something that no one, including the Audition Committee, knew about Eric's. He would never get first chair, because all during his audition, he had been sending out a thread of Bardic magic.

No matter how good I am, you won't give me first chair, the magic had whispered, carried along on the wings of Debussy. I don't need the experience, and you should give it to someone else.

In fact, at the end of the audition, one of the committee had taken him aside, apologetically, and had said, "Banyon, you deserved first chair, but frankly, we can't give it to you. You don't need--"

"--the experience," Eric finished, with a grin and a toss of his long chestnut hair. "No worries, Doctor Selkirk. Frankly, what I need is a lot more experience in backing and supporting another flautist. They also serve, and all that."

Doctor Selkirk had sighed with relief and shook Eric's hand. "I knew we hadn't made any mistakes in readmitting you, Banyon. If running around in tights and floppy shirts on weekends would give our students that kind of maturity, I'd assign it as a course."

Eric grinned to himself again. It's not as if I need experience in front of an audience. I rather doubt that I'm ever going to face a more hostile audience than a flock of Nightflyers, or a pickier one than an Elven Bard and Magus Major. And it's not fair to the kids to make them compete with me for something I don't need or want.

The New York streets simmered with summer heat, and the kind of glare found when the only thing to take the sun's rays is stone, and glass, and more stone. His local friends told him that August would be even worse--if they got a really hot spell, even the blacktopped streets would go soft underfoot. He hadn't believed it at the time, but now Eric was just as glad that he'd spent the time last winter setting up bomb-proof spells on all his apartment windows: now, when he opened them into muggy July heat, he got arid January cold. It was a more elegant solution than nursing a power hog a/c along with Guardian House's cranky electrical system. His computer and stereo systems were already major power hogs, not to mention his pet microwave; he'd learned he had to shut down every other appliance in the place when he vacuumed. An air conditioner would have been the final straw. When Guardian House had been built back in the first decade of the 20th century, all those appliances hadn't even been distant dreams.

He was looking forward to getting home, opening all the windows, and maybe coaxing Greystone down into joining him for a glass of something cold. It wasn't likely anybody would miss the gargoyle if he deserted his post--not in a sweltering afternoon in July.

All he had to do was make it through the subway alive. Though most of the cars were air-conditioned to pneumonia levels, only some of the stations had any pretense to climate-control at all. Fortunately, the Lincoln Center stop was one of them. Can't let the aesthetes and yuppies fry, after all.

Eric joined the stream of humanity descending the steps into the subway, whistling a Bach gigue to purge his brain of any remaining taint of irritation with Professor Levoisier. There was nothing like Bach to rev up the old right brain and let logic take over from emotion.

He let the flow of traffic take him along towards the turnstiles. Hey, it's Friday. I've got a whole weekend in front of me, the sun is shining, nobody wants to kill me, and there's not a single crisis Underhill or Overhill that needs sorting out. That thought put a bounce in his step. Maeve had been born and Kory and Beth were planning to bring her for a visit. If the weather held, maybe they could make a run up Long Island and see how the other half lived. And if it didn't, well, if you couldn't find something to do in New York on a weekend, you were in pretty sad shape.

And when they go back Underhill, if Ria isn't up to her sculpted eyebrows in Bizness, I might even get her to go out with me to some New-York-Magazine-Approved event. So maybe I ought to have a look for something she might not ordinarily go to. Not that Ria's actually a party animal at the best of times. How could someone who looks like she looks be such a grind? It's one of Life's Great Mysteries.

He turned his mind back to the question of finding something fun he could tease her into attending. Anything musical was a good bet, but it would have to be both competent and something she wouldn't have thought of for her--

Something teased his ears as he passed the turnstile. A string instrument--


And a very, very familiar tune.

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free, 'tis a gift to come 'round where we ought to be--

Someone was playing a banjo in the subway.

That wasn't all that unusual. Eric had heard everything from bagpipes to string quartets to old-fashioned One Man Bands playing on subway platforms throughout the city. Busking was permitted in the New York subway system and on the city streets as well, but it was a peculiar form of busking. You had to have a license, and you only got the license by passing an audition.

It was a pretty good system, actually. The ears of the public weren't assaulted by talentless musicians, licensing kept down the territory wars for the best spot, and the beat and transit cops weren't put on the spot by having to bust a player who was doing the public a favor by being there. Eric didn't know all of the licensed buskers--New York was a bit bigger than any Faire pitch he'd ever worked--but he thought he was familiar with most of the ones who set up near Lincoln Center on a regular basis and he was sure that none of them played a banjo. The pleasantly jangling notes ricocheted off the echoing tile walls of the subway, the echoes providing a depth and richness to the music that was the reason so many musicians--including Eric--liked to play here. Something else teased his inner ear as well, as he approached the platform.


Nothing overwhelming, just a gentle little lilt, a Bardic lilt to the tune, something to tease a little money from the pockets of the passers-by, but only by those who had it to spare. More of a reminder, really, to be courteous.

If you like what you hear, and can spare the money, drop a coin or two--if not, pass on, pass on....

And no one with a New York City busking license was a Bard. Except, of course, him.

A sense of urgency hit Eric in the gut: not only did he want to catch this unknown Bard and find out who he was, he wanted to get to him before he was busted! He hurried towards the platform. The transit cops, who were supposed to enforce the busking licenses, could be along at any moment. Some of them were inclined to turn a blind eye towards the occasional violator, if he was good, if the cop in question liked that particular kind of music. So how many of them like bluegrass?

Eric shoved his way towards the cluster of people around the source of the music, and shouldered his way into the magic circle, ignoring the indignant looks of the two he squeezed in between. "When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed--" his mind supplied the words to the tune.

The busker was a tall young man, built like a linebacker. Eric took it all in with a single glance. Blond. Longish hair, jeans, faded blue work shirt--and that indefinable something that said "not from around here" to city-trained eyes. He had an open, friendly face and piercing blue eyes, which held a promise of friendship out to the entire world, if only the world was wise enough to accept it. His banjo case was open at his feet, money in it, as he ran leisurely fingers through the intricate patterns of the old song. An old Army surplus duffle bag rested at his heels.

And the banjo-- The banjo--glowed. Not that anyone other than Eric or an elf would have seen the glow. The strings were a network of silver-fire, and blue afterimages danced along the pattern of the busker's darting fingers.

An enchanted banjo?

There were legends of enchanted instruments in the ancient days. The traditional songs were full of examples. Flutes made from a Bard's bones. A harp strung with the hair of a murdered girl--

No, that's a bit too grisly. Nothing like that here. More like... an enchanted sword, forged for a paladin. I didn't know there was anyone left Overhill who could do work like that.

Not that he knew, yet, that the banjo had been made here. But if it were elvenwork, he would have sensed that, and Eric's Bard-trained senses caught no trace of Otherworldly craftsmanship here, just innate human magic.

A stir caught his attention--the glimpse of a uniform hat down by the turnstile. The transit cops.

The busker finished his song and coins and a couple of bills dropped into his banjo case, accompanying a spatter of applause. And in the pause, Eric pulled out his busking license and propped it in the side of the banjo case, very visibly, then got out his flute. He opened the flute case and put it behind the banjo case, and began fitting his instrument together as he stepped to the side of the very surprised banjo player.

"You need a license to play down here, friend--I've got one, and you just became my partner," Eric muttered under his breath just as the transit cops reached them. "So, 'Unquiet Grave'?" he said, louder, as if he and the stranger had been duetting for some time.

The stranger nodded, and they both began--quite as if they had been duetting for some time.

Mind, "Unquiet Grave" wasn't Eric's tune of choice, but it was the only Appalachian piece he had been able to think of on the spur of the moment. Plaintive and just a little on the spooky side, it wasn't one calculated to haul in the cash. But that was all right; it made some of the audience clear off, giving the transit cops a good look at the two buskers--and Eric's license.

And giving Eric a good look at them, just as he nodded to the banjo player to wrap it up. He sighed with relief; they were people he knew, who weren't going to quibble that his license was for himself alone and not with a partner.

"Top o' the marnin' t'ye, constable," he said in his best "Faire-Irish" accent. Officer Zielazinski laughed.

"More like afternoon, isn't it, O'Banyon?" the transit cop jibed good-naturedly. "Who's your partner?"

The banjo player answered before Eric could fumble. "Hosea Songmaker, sir, at your service," he said in slow syllables sweetened with the honey accent of the hills and deep with respect. Eric could sense the touch of Bard-magic here, too: I am no threat to you; I will cause no trouble.... He supposed a man as big and physically intimidating as Hosea Songmaker'd had plenty of use for that particular charm more than a few times in his life, and it made him like his new partner all the more.

Zee laughed, responding unconsciously to the touch of the benevolent magic. "Not from around here, are you! Well, you stick with Banyon; he'll show you the ropes. He's pretty street-smart."

The two transit cops moved on, back to business; there were more important matters to claim their attention in the subway than a couple of licensed buskers.

When they'd gone, Hosea gave Eric a sidelong glance, followed by a slow smile. "Reckon I owe you one," he said. Eric laughed.

"Just want to keep a good musician out of trouble," he replied easily. "How were you to know you need a license? Listen, let's collect a take while the collecting's good, and I'll tell you all about what you need to know afterwards."

Hosea nodded, and combed back the long blond hair that flopped down into his eyes back with a set of strong, brown fingers. "Old standard?" he suggested, and played the first few notes of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

Eric nodded. Everybody knew that one--the Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs classic had been the theme song to the movie Bonnie and Clyde. And while it was written for banjo and fiddle, there was no reason he couldn't take the fiddle part.

"Then--how about we follow straight into 'Devil Went Down to Georgia' and 'Mama Tried'?" Eric countered. There. I'm not just a Celtic purist, you know.

"Right." Hosea's eyes lit up slyly, and Eric suspected he was about to be given a run for his money. Hosea surged into the opening bars of the "Breakdown," his fingers blurring on the strings. Eric barely made his entrance in time to take the melody away from the banjo and carry it.

Hosea, like many an Irish player at the Faires, had a wicked sense of humor and liked to accelerate the pace of an already fast piece with each successive pass. But Eric was ready for him--not that it was all that difficult for a Bard to figure out what another Bard was going to do next. By the time they segued into "Devil Went Down to Georgia," they'd hit lightspeed. The crowd around them was thicker than before, and people were grinning and tapping their toes to the Charlie Daniels standard.

He'd had the joy of working with another Bard only Underhill, with his mentor Dharniel. That was always fun--if you could really use that word for anything to do with Master Dharniel--but it was nothing, nothing like working with another human Bard! There was a level of spontaneity and creative spark here that just wasn't present when he made music with the elves, and it made all the difference. Eric closed his eyes and gave himself over to the purest pleasure he'd ever felt outside of sex--and it certainly lasted a whole lot longer than even the most athletic sexual adventure he'd ever had!

It wasn't until he opened his eyes as he played the last flourish of "Mama Tried" that he realized they were surrounded six-deep by a gaping, grinning, toe-tapping human audience of people who should have been getting back to their jobs (or on to their lunches). The very moment they finished, money actually began to snow, rain, and hail into the banjo case, a veritable Hurricane Andrew of coins and small bills. Money that missed the case was scooped up and dumped into it by helpful hands, which was a small miracle in and of itself, as applause followed on the monetary accolade.

"Got enough to hold you for the next day or so?" Eric muttered sotto voce with a nod at the case.

Hosea grinned and nodded, his hair flopping into his eyes again. "That'll get me vittles and a bunk at the Y for a couple days, while I study on what I've got to do next," he replied. "Let's give these nice folk something to play 'em out on." His fingers began to move on the strings again.

Of all the tunes that Eric would have suspected Hosea would chose, this would not have been one. He listened as the banjo-Bard's clever fingers picked out the deceptively lazy little "pink-a pink-a pink-a pink-a pink (pause) pink-a pink-a pink-a pink-a pink (pause)."

Eric recognized it immediately, and knew the tune so well that his flute was at his lips and the soft notes spilling out at exactly the right moment after that second pause. "The Rainbow Connection" from the very first Muppet movie--how had Hosea known how much he liked that tune? And where had an Appalachian mountain boy learned it?

I guess that only proves that we live in a globally connected world, when an Appalachian mountain boy and a Juilliard student can recognize the same tune and play it like a couple of old buddies.

Simple tunes are deceptive things; superficially easy to play, they are the very devil to play well. But in the hands of not one, but two Bards, the very simplicity allows the heart and soul to shine.

When they finished, this time the reward was smiles as well as applause. Eric bowed with a flourish, Hosea with a kind of foot-shuffling modesty. Eric was pretty sure that though Hosea was a practiced musician, he hadn't been playing for money for very long--at least not as a street musician.

"Ladies and gents, you need to get back to your jobs, I'm sure--" Eric announced with practiced Faire-patter. Groans, and a chorus of "aaawwww!"--surely the greatest music to a musician's ears--greeted this announcement.

"--so in the interest of making sure you don't get in trouble, my friend Hosea and I will be taking a break now for a few hours. Thank you all, and we'll be here off and on for the rest of the week!"

With no display of hurry, but with the efficiency of any busker who has sometimes seen his "take" vanish along with the rear end of a petty thief, Eric shoved the banjo case over behind Hosea's legs with his foot while he scooped up his flute case and began taking his instrument apart and cleaning it. The crowd dispersed--with a few generous souls lobbing a couple more handfuls of change at the case for good measure as they left.

"This is half yours," Hosea said, from a bent-over position, preparatory to doing something about the "take."

"Oh, just pull out enough for some lunch for both of us and I'll call it quits," Eric replied absently. "Fifteen bucks should do it; that'll leave you enough for bus fare to get to the Y and a street and subway map."

Hosea looked up at him doubtfully, but seemed to sense that Eric was in earnest. He just shoved most of the "take" into the duffle he'd had behind him, keeping out a handful of bills that he crammed into his pocket. He placed the banjo lovingly into his case, and handed Eric his busking license back.

He moved very gracefully for such a big fellow; shortly he stood up with duffle and case slung over opposite shoulders, looking very much at ease and entirely out of place.

"So--your name's Banyon," he said, giving Eric a slow and considering once-over with those piercing blue eyes. "Is that a first name or a last?"

"Last. Eric Banyon, former RenFaire player, current Juilliard student, at your service," Eric replied, making a little bow that mocked his status as "Juilliard student."

But Hosea's slow smile wouldn't accept the mocking attitude. "Figured you had to be from around there," he said. "Some feller told me it was up that-a-way"--he waved vaguely at the ceiling--"and I reckoned anybody could play like you was probably from there. Well, Eric Banyon, the cop said I was to stick by you, so where do we find lunch?"
* * *

Central Park on a July day was as good a substitute for countryside as you were likely to find within fifty miles, and a lot cooler under the trees than the city streets were. The park was a lot bigger, and had more secluded places, than anyone but a native New Yorker would be likely to guess--a lot of them avoided the Park anyway, fearing gangs and muggers. There had been a suggestion, a couple of years back, that wolves should be reintroduced--a suggestion that wasn't entirely a silly idea. Wolves would do very well here if they could be kept in isolation, but it was inevitable that they'd crossbreed with feral dogs, which in a few generations would only mean that there would be a resident pack of slightly-more-lupine feral dogs in the remoter parts of the place. Probably not the best idea in the world, given the unpredictable nature of lupine-canine crossbreeds. It was bad enough that coyotes had made their way here and had a thriving pack up by the Reservoir: no garbage can--or stray poodle--was safe.

Eric and Hosea gathered hot dogs and drinks from one of the Sabrette's carts outside the Park, and Eric led his fellow Bard into one of those quieter spots more familiar to the bird watchers than to the Frisbee throwers. There was, in fact, one of the bird feeders that the bird watchers maintained in this little bit of half-tame wilderness, and when they finished their food, Eric watched some sort of tiny birds flitting to and from it.

Hosea had clearly not eaten today, but he hadn't wolfed down the four (!) hot dogs he'd gotten for himself from the vendor. He'd eaten neatly and precisely, with not a crumb wasted or a bit of mustard smeared. He finished his soda, folded up all the paper neatly, and stuck it and the can into his duffle with the rest of his gear. No littering for this lad, evidently.

"So," Hosea said at last, breaking the silence. "Where do I get me one of them licenses so I can play for the folks without getting myself in trouble with the law?"

Eric explained the whole process while Hosea listened carefully. "The next audition isn't for another three weeks, though," Eric concluded, and as Hosea's face began to fall, he added quickly, "But don't worry--you can busk in the Park without one, and you can busk with me in the subway."

"Ain't you got classes?" Hosea asked doubtfully.

"I can work around them," Eric replied, then chuckled. "Besides, look what we did in half an hour together! There's probably about a hundred bucks there--figure we hit the lunch crowd and the commuters going home, we'll take in more than enough to cover your expenses until you can get a license for yourself. And you will," he added, with certainty.

Of course you will. You're a Bard, how can you not, if you put your mind and magic to it?

Hosea's earnest gaze met his steadfastly. "You've been helping me because..." There was a long pause, and for the first time Eric saw Hosea hesitate, as if he weren't quite sure how to put the thought into words. "Because of the music-magic. You've got the shine, too. Right?"

Eric hadn't expected him to put it quite so bluntly, though after the first few notes he'd been pretty sure that Hosea knew his own gift, and recognized Eric for a kindred soul.

"Well--yeah," Eric admitted a little sheepishly. "Where I come from, we're called Bards."

"Bards." Hosea rolled the flavor of the word over in his mouth and thoughts. "Like--back in the Druid times?" He grinned at Eric's raised eyebrows. "You reckon I'm right out of the hills, but we got libraries there, too. And the Internet."

Eric laughed, a little ashamed of himself for assuming Hosea was as simple as he looked. It wasn't precisely an act, Eric was coming to realize, but more of another defense against frightening people. Hosea was almost painfully courteous. "No offense meant," he said.

"None taken. So, I ain't never met another Bard before, except my Grandma. She had the shine, right enough. Guess I got it from her. I'm right glad you came to my rescue, Eric Banyon." Hosea's friendliness was as infectious as his grin.

"Right glad I did, too--" How could he not respond? There was something about Hosea that not only exuded trustfulness, but trustworthiness. He could no more have walked away from the guy than kicked a puppy in the face.

Besides, it isn't as if I need the money. Eric's needs were met--and more--by Elven magic. He'd gotten his busking license as much to help out some of the kids at Guardian House as to line his own pockets--or, admittedly, for the joy of playing for a live and mostly uncritical audience. His last assist had been to one of the dancers who lived on his floor--Amity was between dancing jobs and desperate to find something to pay her bills besides waitressing or cleaning houses. Eric had suggested that she bring a small square of "floor" with her down to the subway with him. He'd played, she'd danced, and together they made enough to pay her bills until the next job came along.

"Well, reckon you can find me the YMCA?" Hosea continued. "Friend of mine back home told me that was the place to stay when I got here; told me the rooms was cheap--at least, cheap as anything is here in the big city--and pretty safe. Not that I've got too much to worry about. Folks just take a look at me and just naturally think twice about making trouble, I guess."

Eric grinned. Most people would leave a Bard alone, even if they weren't sure why. And a Bard who was six-four and looked like he juggled pianos in his spare time was even less likely to attract undesirable attention.

He quickly thought about all the things he'd most needed when he first moved to New York. Bonnie and Kit had been there to get him settled in, but he'd still spent most of the first month getting lost every time he ventured out of his own neighborhood.

"First, we get you a street map, a bus-route map, and a subway map," Eric decided. "That'll help you find your way around. Come on."

A quick stop at a newsstand took care of those immediate needs, and for good measure, Eric picked up a guidebook that would give Hosea a lot of reference points--not just the tourist attractions, but the important buildings, the schools and libraries and other major landmarks. After that, it was no great effort to get Hosea planted firmly in front of the nearest YMCA. Once inside, and only then, Hosea dug the day's haul out of the duffle and counted it--he might not be street-smart, but he had a lot more common sense than a lot of people Eric knew.

They'd done better than Eric had thought. There was almost $200 there, even if half of it was in quarters and dollar coins, and a lot of subway tokens.

"I'm good for a week--" Hosea said, tentatively. He raised his eyebrows questioningly, offering Eric his share again as he paid for his room and took the key. Hosea didn't have a credit card--no ID of any kind but a driver's license and a library card, both from someplace in West Virginia--so the room clerk had asked for cash in advance. Hosea had paid for three days, after being assured he could extend his stay if he wished.

"No worries," Eric assured him. "Look--here's my phone number and address, but I'll come and meet you back here--Sunday night, say. That's day after tomorrow. We can run through some numbers and set up a playlist. Then at noon break on Monday, wait for me at the main entrance to the school and we'll do a lunch gig." He coughed, a little embarrassed. "I'd gig with you the rest of this weekend, but I've got friends coming in--"

"Reckon friends got to come before strangers," Hosea countered, with a grin. "You said that it's okay to play in the Park, right? So I'll play in the Park. I'll do all right. Don't you worry none about me, Eric Banyon. I'm a big boy and I can take care of myself. You go on and be with your friends."

Relieved, Eric clapped him on the back--and had to reach a bit to do it. "One of these days--and soon--they'll be your friends too, if I don't miss my guess. Okay, Hosea, I'll be out here Sunday night--about six. We'll get something delivered for dinner, talk some music, and see what happens."

"I'll be looking forward to it," Hosea said genially, then hauled his duffle up onto his back again as if it weighed nothing and headed for the elevator, his room key jingling in his hand.

Eric just shook his head, watching Hosea go. He tried to imagine all the trouble this guileless country boy could have gotten himself into within thirty seconds of arriving in the city, and couldn't even calculate it. If he wasn't a Bard...

Well, he is a Bard, and he'll be fine. And I need to get home and start cleaning before Bethie gets there and has a fit!

Copyright © 2001 by Rosemary Edghill

Copyright © 2001 by Mercedes Lackey


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