BOOK EXCERPT: Fic: Wood Song

Song of Wood
by Nix Winter
From a story concept thought up by Bryn!

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Bryn plays beautiful music too

"With hands of song, I'll tune your heart, to me you belong, this voice will passion impart," Michael said, voice sweet and rich, if slurred just slightly. Blond hair, soft beside his face, was clean and a little flighty, dancing around his slender face. Blue eyes wickedly inviting, watched his prey with genuine longing and desire, freed fro it's cage by the wine from the previous night, a night that had stretched right into the unflattering daylight. "Jean, I didn't know
you were coming home."

He wore a blue velvet vest, laced up the front with a golden chain, uneven as his balance. Blue breeches of a matching blue were clean, cut to fit him neatly, painting the shape of strong legs right down to the golden chains at his knees, with small little locks there, to keep them where they belonged. Pale blue stockings, unmarked by any of the revelry suggested an innocence that had long since fled the blond minstrel. "Your soul still burns so beautifully in your eyes, as if all of nature could linger there, condemning me for all that I am."

He reached towards Jean's face, the dark brown stubble, a bit of bruising under. "Who has been condemning you, my love?"

Jean Bellamont was the younger son of a duke. Legitimate, but unfavored by his brother who was the current duke, he had found better fortunes serving His Majesty's affairs abroad. In grays and serviceable brown leathers, he smelled of horse, of the road, perhaps even a little gunpowder, and there was little patience in his dark eyes. He caught Michael by the arms, steadying him. "The whole world, it seems. Are you drunk?"

"Very likely," Michael admitted. "If I were not, I should not be dreaming of you, now would I? I long for the road, Jean. I can not stay here much longer. I hate this life. I hate his touch."

"Is that so," Jean asked, sweeping the slighter violinist up into his arms with a grace that betrayed a strength and power unlikely in a glittering court life. "Well, my sweet little English, how about we to the new world together? What would you think of savages and penitents?"

With all the care he'd have if he were really in a dream, Michael lay his head against Jean's shoulder, a hand brushing over Jean's face. "Can birds with wings clipped to the bone again take the sky? What there was to pay, I have paid already."

"Hush," Jean said, opening up the door to a room traditionally set aside as his own. Scent, thick and cloying, almost covered the stench of recent mating. In his bed lay a courtier he'd never thought enough of to speak to, with no less than three women. They tangled over each other and the bed. Jean's hissed curse reflected a bend towards military service and the proclivities of the profane. "Where is your violin?"
"Jean? Are you really here? Mary's tits!"

"Michael," Jean said smiling genuinely. "I see the willful spirits have returned you to me." He backed out of his old room silently, not waking the tarnished lace in his bed.

"What are you doing here? Philippe will kill you. He wants you dead any way!"

"Shhhhh," Jean said, holding Michael in his arms still, his own boots much quieter as they moved through the rooms of the passed out household. "You tell me nothing I do not already know. Your feelings for me though are plain and I will have no more lies from you. I have no time for it."

He set Michael down, still keeping him close, just inside the shadow of the deep door frame of his mother's room. From within a gilt cupid, Jean found a small key that let them into the room. "What has happened?"

"Come," Jean said, holding the door for him. A moment later, he closed the door, locked it again. "Three days ago, I killed the brother of the king's current favorite courtesan."

"Why?" Michael pressed his fingers to a headache fast approaching.
"I'm sorry, about," Michael paused, sinking to the floor, head in his hands, "It was just, I feared he would kill you. I… I needed you to live."

Jean sank down to a squat in front of Michael. "Do you think I have not figured this out? At first, I was so angry. I thought you preferred Philipe for his money and title, that you craved power and that was why you moved from my bed to his. Collette writes me often telling me of the house and of you. When I realized the truth, I had commitments to His Majesty and I told myself that you should be safer here. What is this?" Jean touched the golden chains around Michael's knees.

"When he realized I came to his bed unwillingly," Michael said, face pale, but eyes meeting Jean's directly, "He was not pleased. He suspects I might not be the most faithful of lovers. He has Dermont, in his room. I am allowed to play only after I have pleased him."

"Will you leave without him?"

Blue eyes held back rain. With tight lips, he nodded slowly. "Do you think we will really be able to … escape?"

Jean's grin was bright, as wide and daring as the first day Michael had met him. Light, long dim, flared back up within Michael. "Was that not what we first said we would do? Take to the road? You said you'd die if kept to the rule of one man or one roof. I understand now. I just want nothing more than to be in your song, to see you smile."

"I can get another violin," Michael said, rising up on his knees. "You are more important to me."

The lock turned, iron doom in the fall of those tumblers.

There should have been time, time to run, time to flee, time to react, but the door opened and neither of them had moved more than just to turn and look.

Philipe filled the door, broad cuffs ornate with rubies and embroidered dragons. Dark hair like his brother, his face was fuller with the thin lips of his mother. "How tender," he growled, "My
traitorous lover and my usurping brother. Brother, I understand you're lost whatever favor you might once have had with His Majesty. I knew you were coming though."

"Philipe," Jean said, rising slowly to his feet. "I want only the minstrel and his violin."

"You would take my dear little bird? Don't you know what kind of pleasure he gives me? You don't care, do you?"

"I have no time for games. You cannot stop us from leaving. I will not be bullied."

The sword drew, hissing metal death through silk and air. Jean matched him though, blocking with his own blade. Reflected morning sunlight, crashing steel, the will of a man held extended out like desire hardened deathly firm. Jean had ridden through the night. Philippe's debauch had hardly left him in better form.

Mouth dry, Michael watched the slick silver disappear into Philippe. The song of two brother's ended there, dark eyes watching the light in the other's eyes. "Murderer," Philippe cursed. "You will rot in hell. The bird will betray you too."

"Not more than I have him," Jean said, guilt over having left Michael to his brother. Still close, Jean went to one knee with his brother.
"I shall fetch a doctor for you. I doubt I've hit anything fatal. Philippe, just let us go."

"Never!" Philippe spat.

Jean jerked, falling back, a small dagger in his thigh. "It burns," he hissed as he pulled the dagger out, splashing red blood on the white of his mother's bed cover. "What have you done?"

"Killed you, of course," Philippe said smugly. "You have always been better with the sword than me. Birds are owned by those that can keep them in the cage."

"The antidote," Jean demanded, grabbing his brother by the lapels, "Where is the antidote! You'd never carry a poison on your person if you didn't have the antidote!"

"I'll let you leave now," Philippe offered, a hand holding his blood soaked waistcoat. "Take the bird, the violin, go. Before you make the coast, you'll die screaming."

Michael dropped to his knees, hands catching hold of Philippe's coat hem. "What do you want? Anything. Please, please don't let him die!"

"Isn't that an old song, my bird? You begged for his life last time, promising to love me my whole life. A song turned lie is nothing but tin and piss."

"Please," Michael pressed his forehead to Philippe's knee. "Please don't let him die."

"What will you give me now, my bird? What do you have more important than your sweet body?"

"What would you have of me? I have given you everything. I have nothing left."

"Oh, but you do. You have your heart, which you have given to him and your song which you would never give to anyone. That is what I want. I want your song. I will free you, my traitorous bird. I'll even let you take my brother and your violin, but you must leave me your right hand."

"No!" Jean growled, a wounded wolf, he fell faster than he rose, blood black against the leather of his pants. "That's insane."

"Soon, Michael, or he be past when the antidote will work," Philippe said. "Give me something you can't take back, then I will let you both leave alive."

"How," Michael stammered, years of songs flowing through his head, the feel of music flowing from him so sweet and vital, as he tried to hold onto that feeling, that knowledge, so that he won't think of never touching that beauty again.

"Put your hand out, on the floor," Philippe instructed, the pride and satisfaction of a bully blooming in his voice.

Shaking, Michael pulled his sleeve up, set his arm out. In their years, Philippe had done many things, many ugly things, but he'd never lied.

"Philippe! Don't do it," Jean begged, reaching out with a shaking hand. "Don't! You'll kill him!"

"Good," the duke said. With a great jerk he pulled the sword from his side and pulled his arm back. The lighting of angry soul split the air and bone, tendon, a lifetime of music and freedom, pride and hopeful searching, all split and severed. Michael's fingers flexed, claw like, as if there was a bow held there still. Blood sprayed. In the pain, which felt so like far away gauze, Michael wondered if music was really in the blood, if it could spill out of him to leave nothing except a ruinous stain.

He missed the old violin maker. He wondered how the old man would remake a ruined violinist. Perhaps he could take the good parts and make something new. The bridge and the scrollwork, because the box was completely ruined now. He'd hated the cage though, missed the road
more than he could have said.

It wasn't jean that lifted him out though, holding him, cradling him in such strong arms. The face was young, sad, but so familiar. "Dermont?"

"Hello, Michael." A deep and gentle voice greeted him. "Music and love, they're not so different."

"Am I dead? Jean?"

"I'm here," Jean's voice answered, close to his ear. "We are safe."

"Where are we," Michael asked, sitting up a little. Dermont was on his lap, between himself and the wall, which was a dark unfinished wood. Jean had been the one holding him, in the rocking world where they sat.

"We're on the Hart's Run." Jean brushed blond hair from Michael's face, caressing. "We're free. The king's men caught up with me, within the hour of you losing your hand. We never would have out run them. Philippe made it possible for us to escape. We are on our way to the
Carolinas."

"The New World." Michael said, laying back down, exhausted. "How long?"

"Ten days. You've been sleeping," Jean said gently. "The doctor said it might take sometime for you to regain your strength. You were exhausted before. The loss of your hand nearly killed you."

"Is Dermont," Michael asked, trying to sit up again.

"The violin is fine. He's as tough as the old man that made him," Jean said, shifting a little to turn up the oil lamp. "I have a gift for you."

With his whole arm he reached around Jean's waist pulling the man close, hugging him, drinking in the sweet scent of a living human. "You are a gift. We are together. We will never be apart."

"Never. I'll never leave you again, but you're my little bird. I'll follow you along whatever roads you find."

"I can't play now," Michael whispered, hiding his face in Jean's belly.

"Stop whining," Jean said gently. "Music is a man's soul, not his hand. I'm going to help you up."
Michael let himself be turned around, feeling weak as a newborn. As Jean moved off the bed, Michael let himself explore the stump of his hand. Philippe had kept it, he guessed, his hand. That hand had been very helpful for many things. Since that first real beating when he'd lost his first violin, he'd learned a lot about the nature of humanity. He'd wanted to trade places with his violin then. Some part of him still missed that first violin, even if part of it lived on in Dermont.

This time, he lived, Dermont lived, but the music had been taken from him. When it hurt less, he'd cry.

Jean touched his shoulder to announce his return, then shifted them both so that Jean was behind him. "I expect your hand is too sore still, but I don't want you sleeping away your songs."

"What are you talking about?" Michael said, resenting this painful dance with hope. "My songs are gone. I have no voice and music takes two hands."

"Stubborn Michael," Jean chided, "Too much drink and lazing around has softened your wits. I can't make music and I have two hands. Close your eyes and trust me."

Jean's voice comforted him, even if there were years of separation between them, too much sacrifice on both their sides. "What is it? A hook? I can't play violin with a hook for a hand."

"That's true. Give me another minute," Jean said, pulling a slender strap all the way around Michael's elbow. "It might be a little tight because of the swelling, so you can't wear it very long."

"What? Oh, oh my," Michael asked, impatient eyes opening. There around his stump, bandages showing like rumpled lace at the open end, was a wooden chalice, the stem end carved into the end of a bow, a full length bow. "Will it work?"

Jean kissed his cheek, then his ear. "Let's try."

Dermont came out of his box. Clumsy, Jean helped Michael get the violin into position. Years of living between bow and string gave Michael an understanding of pressure and tension, but the first pull across the strings had more in common with a dying cat than song. Michael cringed. Jean held him, "Breath. Try again."

Michael closed his eyes. Music. Love. Spirit. With his eyes closed, it was as if the old violin maker held up his arm, giving him strength. The man who'd stayed with him in his dreams, was with him now in the music, young and strong, the immortal spirit of the violin. Music, a slow reel, joyful and triumphant filled the room he shared with Jean. He didn't know he cried, but held in Jean's arms, supported by his friend's spirit, the violinist was free and on the open road again.

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