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The attic cubicle was dark and stuffy, two conditions the tiny window under the eaves did little to alleviate. Rune reached up to the shelf over her pallet for her fiddle case, and froze with her hand less than an inch away. Her mother's nasal whine echoed up the stairs from the tavern sleeping rooms below.

"Rune? Rune!"

Rune sighed, and her hand dropped to her side. "Yes, Mother?" she called over her shoulder. She'd hoped to get a little practice in before the evening customers began to file in.

"Have you swept the tavern and scrubbed the tables?" When Stara said "the tavern," she meant the common room. The kitchen was not in Rune's purview. The cook, Annie, who was also the stableman's wife, reigned supreme there, and permitted no one within her little kingdom but herself and her aged helper, known only as Granny.

"No, Mother," Rune called down, resignedly. "I thought Maeve-"

"Maeve's doing the rooms. Get your behind down there. The sooner you get it over with, the sooner you can get on with that foolish scraping of yours." Then, as an afterthought, as Rune reached the top step, "And don't call me 'Mother.' "

"Yes M-Stara." Stifling another sigh, Rune plodded down the steep, dark attic stairs, hardly more than a ladder down the back wall. As she passed the open doors, she heard Maeve's tuneless humming and the slow scrape of a broom coming from the one on her right. From the bottom, she crossed the hall to the real stairs taking them two at a time down into the common room.

The shutters on the windows on two sides of the room had been flung wide to the brisk spring air; a light breeze slowly cleared out the last of the beer fumes. A half-worn broom leaned against the bar at the back of the room, where Maeve had undoubtedly left it when Stara ordered her upstairs. Rune took it; her first glance around had told her that nothing more had been accomplished except to open the shutters. The benches were still stacked atop the tables, and the latter pushed against the walls; the fireplace was still full of last night's ashes. Nothing had been cleaned or put into order, and the only sign that the tavern was opening for business was the open shutters. Probably because that was all anyone had thought to tell Maeve to do.

Rune went to the farthest corner of the room and started sweeping, digging the worn bristles of the broom firmly against the floorboards. The late Rose, wife of Innkeeper Jeoff, had called Maeve "an innocent." Annie said she was "a little simple."

What Stara called her was "a great lump."

Poor Maeve was all of those, Rune reflected. She lived in a world all her own, that was certain. She could-and did, if left to her own devices-stand in a window for hours, humming softly with no discernible tune, staring at nothing. But if you gave her clear orders, she would follow them to the exact letter. Told to sweep out a room, she would do so. That room, and no more, leaving a huge pile of dirt on the threshold. Told to wash the dishes, she would wash the dishes all right, but not the pots, nor the silverware, and she wouldn't rinse them afterwards. Of course, if anyone interrupted her in the middle of her task, she would drop what she was doing, follow the new instructions, and never return to the original job.

Still, without her help, Rune would have a lot more to do. She'd never have time to practice her fiddling.

Rune attacked the dirt of the floor with short, angry strokes, wishing she could sweep the troubles of her life out as easily. Not that life here was bad, precisely-

"Rune?" Stara called down the stairs. "Are you sweeping? I can't hear you."

"Yes M-Stara," Rune replied. The worn bristles were too soft to scrape the floor the way Maeve's broom was doing, but it was pointless to say anything about it.

So Stara didn't want to be called "Mother" anymore. Rune bit her lip in vexation. Did she really think that if Rune stopped referring to her as "Mother" people would forget their relationship?

Not here, Rune told herself sourly. Not when my existence is such a pointed example of why good girls don't do That without wedding banns being posted. 

Even though Stara was from a village far from here-even though she wore the braids of a married woman and claimed that Rune's father had been a journeyman muleteer killed by bandits-most of the village guessed the real truth. That Stara was no lawfully wedded widow; that Rune was a bastard.

Stara had been a serving wench in the home of a master silversmith, and had let the blandishments of a peddler with a glib tongue and ready money lure her into his bed. The immediate result had been a silver locket and scarlet ribbons from his pack. The long-term result was a growing belly, and the loss of her place.

Stara lived on the charity of the Church for a time, but no longer than she had to. After Rune had been born, Stara had packed up her belongings and her meager savings, and set out on foot as far as her money would take her, hoping to find some place where her charm, her ability to wheedle, and her soft blond prettiness would win her sympathy, protection, and a new and better place.

Rune suspected that she had soon discovered-much to her shock-that while her looks, as always, won her the sympathy of the males of the households she sought employment with, she got no favor from the females. Certainly on the rare occasions when she talked to her daughter about those long-ago days, she had railed against the "jealous old bitches" who had turned her out again after they discovered what their spouses had hired.

And so would I have, Rune thought wryly, as the pile of dirt in front of her broom grew to the size of her closed fist. The girl Stara had been was all too likely to have a big belly again as soon as she'd wormed her way into the household. And this time, the result would have been sure to favor the looks of the master of the house. She had no credentials, no references-instead of applying properly to the women of the household, she went straight to the men. Stupid, Mother. But then, you never have paid any attention to women when there were men around. 

But finally Stara had wound up here, at the "Hungry Bear." The innkeeper's wife, Rose, was of a credulous, generous and forgiving nature; Innkeeper Jeoff a pious Churchman, and charitable. That alone might not have earned her the place as the serving-maid in the tavern. But luck had been with her this time; their pot-boy had signed with the army and gone off to the city and there was no one in the village willing or able to take his place. Stara's arrival, even encumbered as she was, must have seemed like a gift from God, and they had needed her desperately enough to take her story at face value.

Although the villagers guessed most of the tale easily enough, they too were obliged to accept the false story, (outwardly, at least) since Jeoff and Rose did. But Rune was never allowed to forget the truth. Stara threw it in Rune's face every time she was angry about anything-and the village children had lost no opportunity to imply she was a bastard for as long as she could remember.

They only said openly what their parents thought. Stara didn't seem to care, wearing low-cut blouses and kilted-up skirts when she went into the village on errands, flirting with the men and ignoring the sneers of the women. Back in the tavern, under Rose's eye, however, she had pulled the drawstrings of her blouses tight and let her skirts down, acting demure and briskly businesslike in all her dealings with males. Rune had more than once heard Rose defending her foundling to her friends among the villagers, telling Jeoff afterwards that they were just envious because of Stara's youth and attractiveness.

And that much was certainly true. The village women were jealous. Stara was enough to excite any woman's jealousy, other than a tolerant, easy-going lady like Rose, with her long, blond hair, her plump prettiness, her generous breasts and her willingness to display her charms to any eye that cared to look. Of course, none of this did any good at all for her reputation in the village, but Stara didn't seem to concern herself over trifles like what the villagers thought.

It was left to Rune to bear the brunt of her mother's reputation, to try to ignore the taunts and the veiled glances. Stara didn't care about that, either. So long as nothing touched or inconvenienced her directly, Stara was relatively content.

Only relatively, since Stara was not happy with her life as it was, and frequently voiced her complaints in long, after-hours monologues to her daughter, with little regard for whether or not Rune was going to suffer from loss of sleep the next day.

Last night had been one of those nights, and Rune yawned hugely as she swept.

Rune wasn't precisely certain what her mother wanted-besides a life of complete leisure. Just what Stara had done to deserve such a life eluded Rune-but Stara seemed to feel quite strongly that she deserved it. And had gone on at aggrieved and shrill length about it last night. . . .

Rune yawned again, and swept the last of the night's trod-in dirt out into the road. It would, of course, find its way right back inside tonight; only in the great cities were the streets paved and kept clean. It was enough that the road through the village was graveled and graded, from one end to the other. It kept down the mud, and kept ruts to a minimum.

As well wish for Stara to become a pious churchgoer as to wish for a paved road. The second was likelier to occur than the first.

Rune propped the broom in a corner by the fireplace and emptied the ashes and clinkers into the ash-pit beneath the fireplace floor. Every few months the candle-maker came to collect them from the cellar; once a year the inn got a half-dozen bars of scented soap in exchange. A lot of the inn's supplies came from exchange; strawberries for manure, hay and straw for use of the donkey and pony, help for room and board and clothing.

There were four folk working under that exchange right now; of the six employees only two, Annie Cook and Tarn Hostler, received wages. The rest got only their rooms, two suits of clothing each year, and all they could eat. While Rune had been too young to be of much help, she'd had to share her mother's room, but now that she was pulling her share of her load, she had a room to herself. There wasn't a door, just a curtain, and there was no furniture but the pallet she slept on, but it was hers alone, and she was glad of the privacy. Not that Stara ever brought men up to her room-she wouldn't have dared; even the easy-going Rose would not have put up with that-but it was nice to be able to pull the curtain and pretend the outside world didn't exist.

Provided, of course, Stara didn't whine all night. There was no escaping that.

With the fireplace swept and logs laid ready to light, Rune fetched a pail of water, a bit of coarse brown soap, and a rag from the kitchen, with a nod to Granny, who sat in the corner peeling roots. Annie Cook was nowhere in sight; she was probably down in the cellar. From the brick ovens in the rear wall came a wave of heat and the mouth-watering smell of baking bread. Rune swallowed hard as her stomach growled. Breakfast had been a long time ago, and dinner too far away. She was always hungry these days, probably because she was growing like a sapling-the too-short cuffs of her shirt and breeches gave ample evidence of that.

If I hurry up, maybe I can get Granny to give me a bit of cheese and one of yesterday's loaf-ends before Annie makes them all into bread pudding.  

With that impetus in mind, Rune quickly hauled the tables and benches away from the walls, got the benches down in place, and went to work on the tabletops, scouring with a will. Fortunately there weren't any bad stains this time; she got them done faster than she'd expected, and used the last of the soapy water to clean herself up before tossing the bucketful out the door.

But when she returned the bucket to the kitchen, Annie was back up from her journey below.

Her stomach growled audibly as she set the bucket down, and Annie looked up sharply, her round face red with the heat from the oven. "What?" she said, her hair coming loose from its pins and braids, and wisping damply about her head. "You can't be hungry already?"

Rune nodded mutely, and tried to look thin and pathetic.

She must have succeeded, for Annie shook her head, shrugged, and pointed her round chin towards the pile of ingredients awaiting her attention. "Two carrots, one loaf-end, and a piece of cheese, and get yerself out of here," the cook said firmly. "More than that can't be spared. And mind that piece is no bigger than your hand."

"Yes, Cook," Rune said meekly-and snatched her prizes before Annie changed her mind. But the cook just chuckled as she cut the cheese. "I should ha' known from yer breeches, darlin', yer into yer growth. Come back later if yer still hungry, an' I'll see if sommat got burnt too much fer the custom."

She thanked Annie with an awkward bob of her head, took her food out into the common room, and devoured it down to the last crumb, waiting all the while for another summons by her mother. But no call came, only the sound of Stara scolding Maeve, and Maeve's humming. Rune sighed with relief; Maeve never paid any attention to anything that wasn't a direct order. Let Stara wear her tongue out on the girl; the scolding would roll right off the poor thing's back-and maybe Stara would leave her own daughter alone, for once.

Rune stuffed that last bite of bread and cheese in her mouth and stole softly up the stairs. If she could just get past the sleeping rooms to get her fiddle-once she began practicing, Stara would probably leave her alone.

After all, she'd done her duty for the day. Sweeping and cleaning the common room was surely enough, especially after all the cleaning she'd done in the kitchen this morning. Sometimes she was afraid that her hands would stiffen from all the scrubbing she had to do. She massaged them with the lotion the farmers used on cow's udders, reckoning that would help, and it seemed to-but she still worried.

From the sound of things in the far room, Stara had decided to turn it out completely. She must have set Maeve to beating the straw tick; that monotonous thumping was definitely following the rhythm of Maeve's humming, and it was a safe enough task for even Maeve to manage. This time she got to her fiddle, and slipped down the stairs without being caught.

She settled herself into a bench in the corner of the room, out of direct line-of-sight of the stairs. It hadn't always been this hard to get her practice in. When Rose was alive, the afternoons had always been her own. Yes, and the evenings, too. As long as Rune helped, Rose had made it very clear that she was to be considered as full an employee as Stara-and Rose had counted entertainment as "helping."

Rose had forbidden Stara-or anyone else-to beat Rune, after the one time Rose had caught her mother taking a stick to her for some trifle.

Rune carefully undid the old clasps on the black leather-and-wood case. They were stiff with age, and hard to get open, but better too stiff than too loose. Rose had taken a special interest in Rune, for some reason. Maybe because Rose had no children of her own. But when Rose died of the cough last winter, everything changed.

At first it hadn't been bad, really; it made sense for Rune to take over some of Stara's duties, since Stara was doing what Rose had done. And work in the winter wasn't that difficult. Hardly anyone came in for midmeal, there were very few travelers to mess up the rooms, and people came for their beer and a bit of entertainment, but didn't stay late. There wasn't any dirt or mud to be tracked in, just melting snow, which soaked into the old worn floorboards fairly easily. Really, winter work was the lightest of the four seasons, and Rune had assumed that once the initial confusion following Rose's death resolved itself, Jeoff would hire someone else to help. Another boy, perhaps; a boy would be just as useful inside the inn as a girl, and stronger, too. There had even been a couple of boys passing through earlier this month on the way to the hiring fairs who'd looked likely. They'd put in a good day's work for their meal and corner by the fire-and they'd even asked Rune if she thought Jeoff would be interested in hiring them on permanently. But Jeoff always found some excuse not to take them on-and Rune kept losing a little more of her free time with every day that passed.

Now she not only found herself scrubbing and cleaning, she was serving in the common room at night, something she hadn't had to do since she was a good enough fiddler to have people ask her to play. That was one of the reasons the Hungry Bear was so popular; even when there weren't any traveling musicians passing through, people could always count on Rune to give 'em a tune to sing or dance to. Why, people sometimes came from as far away as the next village of Beeford because of her.

But now-she was allowed to play only when the crowds asked Jeoff for her music. If they forgot to ask, if there was no one willing to speak up-then she waited on them just like silly Maeve, while Stara presided in Rose's place over the beer barrels, and Jeoff tended, as always, to the cashbox.

Rune bit her lip, beginning to see a pattern in all this. There were more changes, and they were even more disturbing. There was no doubt in Rune's mind that her mother had set her sights on Jeoff. Aiming, no doubt, for matrimony.

When Rose was alive, Stara had kept herself quietly out of sight, her hair tightly braided and hidden under kerchiefs, wearing her blouse-strings pulled tight, her skirts covering her feet, and keeping her eyes down. Rune knew why, too-Stara flung it in her face often enough. Stara had one bastard; she was not minded to attract the master's eye, only to find herself in his bed and saddled with another bastard.

But since Jeoff put off his mourning bands, Stara had transformed from a drab little sparrow to a bird of a different feather entirely. She was rinsing her hair with herbs every night, to make it yellow as new-minted gold and smell sweet. She had laced the waist of her skirts tight, kilted them up to show ankles and even knees, and pulled her blouses low. And she was painting her face, when she thought no one could see her; red on the lips and cheeks, blackening her lashes with soot, trying to make herself look younger. Where she got the stuff, Rune had no idea. Possibly a peddler, though there hadn't been any with things like that through here since before winter.

Stara didn't like being reminded that she had a fourteen-year-old daughter, and she certainly didn't want Jeoff reminded of the fact. It helped that Rune looked nothing like her mother; Rune was tall, thin, with light brown, curly hair, and deep brown eyes. She could-and occasionally did-pass for a boy in the crowded common-room. She was nothing at all like soft, round, doll-pretty Stara. Which was exactly as Stara wanted things, Rune was sure of it.

For there was a race on to see who'd snare Jeoff. Maeve was no competition; the girl was plain as well as simple-although it was a good thing she was plain, or she would have been fair game for any fellow bent on lifting a skirt. Rune wasn't interested-and half the time Jeoff absentmindedly called her "lad" anyway.

Stara's only competition would come from the village. There were a couple of young women down there in Westhaven of marriageable age, whose fathers saw nothing wrong with running a good, clean inn. Fathers who would not be averse to seeing their daughters settled in as the innkeeper's wife. None were as pretty as Stara-but they all had dowers, which she did not. And they were younger, with plenty of childbearing years ahead of them.

Much younger, some of them. One of the possible prospects was only sixteen. Not that much older than Stara's daughter. No wonder Stara wanted to be thought younger than she was.

Rune got out her fiddle and began tuning it. It was a little too cold to be playing outside-but Jeoff liked hearing the music, and once she started playing it was unlikely that Stara would order her to do something else.

The gift of the fiddle had been Rose's idea. She'd watched as Rune begged to play with traveling minstrels' instruments-and had begun to coax something like music out of them right away-she'd seen Rune trying to get a good tune out of a reed whistle, a blade of grass, and anything else that made a noise. Perhaps she had guessed what Rune might do with a musical instrument of her own. For whatever reason, when Rune was about six, a peddler had run off without paying, leaving behind a pack filled with trash he hadn't been able to sell. One of the few things in it worth anything was the fiddle, given immediately to Rune, which Rune had named "Lady Rose" in honor of her patron.

It had taken many months of squealing and scraping out in the stable where she wouldn't offend any ears but the animals' before she was able to play much. But by the time she was eight, minstrels were going out of their way to give her a lesson or two, or teach her a new song. By the time she was ten, she was a regular draw.

Rune was smart enough to remember what the common room had looked like on any day other than a market-day before she had started to play regularly-and she knew what it was like now. Rose's "investment" had paid off handsomely over the years-gaining in new business several times over the worth of the old fiddle.

But Stara-and there was no doubt in Rune's mind who was behind all the changes-evidently didn't see things that way, or thought that now that the extra custom was here, it would stay here. Rose could have told her differently, told her how it wasn't likely the Hungry Bear would hold anyone who didn't actually belong in Westhaven if there wasn't something beyond the beer to offer them. But Rose wasn't here, and Jeoff was not the kind to worry about tomorrow until it arrived.

On the other hand, although Stara was behind the changes, Jeoff was behind the cashbox. If Rune pointed out to him that he was losing money right now, that people weren't coming from outside the village bounds, and that those within the village weren't staying as long of an evening because she wasn't playing, well, maybe he'd put a stop to this, and hire on a good strong boy to do some of the work.

She thought again about going outside to practice, but the breeze coming in the window decided her against the idea. It was really too cold out there; her fingers would stiffen in no time.

She tuned the fiddle with care for its old strings; she wanted to replace them, but strings were hard to come by in this part of the world. If she was lucky, maybe a peddler would have a set. Until then, she'd just have to make sure she didn't snap one.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and let her fingers select the first couple of notes. The tune wandered a bit, before it settled on a jig, a good finger-warmer, and one of the earliest melodies she'd learned. "Heart for the Ladies," it was called, and folks around here usually called for it twice or three times a night when they were in the mood for dancing.

Rune closed her eyes again; she remembered the woman who had taught it to her as clearly as something that had happened yesterday.

Linnet had been her name, so she said; odd, how many of the traveling players had bird-names. Or maybe they just assumed bird-names when they started playing. Linnet had been one of a trio of traveling minstrels doing the Faire circuit, a mandolin player, herself on flute, and a drummer. Linnet was a tiny thing, always smiling, and ready with a kind word for a child. She had more hair than Rune had ever seen let down on a woman; she didn't wear it in a wife's braids, nor loose under a coif like a maid. The coppery-brown tresses were twined with flowers and piled in loose coils about her head when Rune first saw her, and later, it was tied in two long tails bound around with leather and thongs for traveling. When she let it down, it reached past her knees.

She had been as ready with her help as her smiles. When Rune brought out her fiddle, and attempted to follow their tunes silently, fingering but not bowing, she had taken the girl aside and played "Heart for the Ladies" over and over until Rune had gotten it in her head, then helped her to find the fingerings for it on the fiddle.

And then, the next day, when the trio had gone their way, Rune had practiced the piece for hours until she got it right. She'd waited until someone in the crowd that night saw her and called out, "Well, little Rune, and have ye got a new piece for us to hear?" the way some of them used to, half in earnest, half to tease her. This time, she'd answered "yes," and brought out her fiddle.

She'd surprised them all with the jig, so much so that they'd made her play it again and again-and then, several times more, so that they all could dance to it.

That night had brought her a pair of copper bits, the first time she'd been paid for her fiddling. It had been a heady moment, made all the headier by the first money she had ever owned.

She played the jig over twice more, until her fingers felt flexible and strong, ready for anything she might ask of them.

But what she asked of them next was the very latest piece she had learned, a slow, languorous love song. The lilting melody was the kind of song popular at weddings, but mostly not in the tavern.

A real fiddler had taught her this one; this and near two dozen more.

She smiled to think of him. Oh, he was a villainous-looking lad, with a patch over one eye, and all in gypsy-colors, half a brigand by his looks. But he had played like an angel, he had. And he'd stayed several days the first time he'd stopped at the Bear-because of the bad weather for traveling, so he'd said, and indeed, it had been raining heavily during all that time. But he'd had a horse-a pony, rather-a sturdy beast that was probably quite capable of taking him through rain and snow and anything else he might ask of it. It wasn't weather that had kept him, but his own will.

The rains pounded the area for a week, providing him ample excuse. So he stayed, and enlivened the tavern by night, bringing folks in from all over, despite the weather. And he'd schooled Rune by day.

Quite properly, despite her early fears as to his behavior. Fears-well, that wasn't quite true, it was half hope, actually, for despite his rascally appearance, or even because of it, she'd wondered if he'd pay court to her. . . .

She certainly knew at thirteen what went on between man and maid, male and female. She had taken some thought to it, though she wasn't certain what it was she wanted. The ballads were full of sweet courtings, wild ones, and no courtings at all-

But he was as correct with her as he had been bawdy with the men in the tavern the night before. He'd stopped her on her way to some trivial errand, as he was eating his luncheon in the otherwise empty common room.

"I hear you play the fiddle, young Rune," he'd said. She had nodded, suddenly shy, feeling as awkward as a young calf.

"Well?" he'd said then, a twinkle in the one eye not covered with a patch. "Are you going to go fetch it, or must I beg you?"

She had run to fetch it, and he'd begun her lesson, the first of four, and he had made her work, too. She worked as hard at her fiddling under his critical eye as she'd ever worked at any task in the tavern.

He saved the love songs until the last day-"A reward," he'd said, "for being a good student"-for they were the easiest of the lot.

If he'd introduced them at the beginning of the lessons, she might have suspected them of being a kind of overture. But he'd waited until the last day of his stay, when he'd already told her that he was leaving the following morning. So the songs came instead as a kind of gift from a friend, for a friend was what Raven had come to be. And she treasured them as completely as she would have treasured any material gift.

He'd returned over the winter, and again the next summer, and this winter again. That was when he had taught her this melody, "Fortune, My Foe." He should be coming through again, once the weather warmed. She was looking forward to seeing him again, and learning more things from him. Not just songs-though courting was not on her mind, either. There was so much she needed to learn, about music, about reading it and writing it. There were songs in her head, words as well as music, but she couldn't begin to get them out. She didn't know how to write the tunes down, and she didn't have enough reading and writing of words to get her own down properly so that another could read them. She had barely enough of writing to puzzle out bits of the Holy Book, just like every other child of the village, and there was no learned Scholar-Priest here to teach her more. There must be more . . . there must be a way to write music the way words were written, and there must be more words than she knew. She needed all of that, needed to learn it, and if anyone would know the way of such things, Raven would, she sensed it in her bones.

Raven was weeks away, though. And she would have to be patient and wait, as the Holy Book said women must be patient.

Even though she was almighty tired of being patient.

Oh, enough of such lazy tunes.  

The trill of an early songbird woke another melody in her fingers, and that led to many more. All reels this time, and all learned from a rough-faced, bearded piper just a few weeks ago. He'd come to play for the wedding of some distant relations, and though he had not made any formal attempt at giving her lessons, when he watched her frowning and following his music silently, he'd played everything at least three times over until she smiled and nodded by way of a signal that she'd got the tune straight in her head.

He'd gone before nightfall, not staying-he couldn't have played at the tavern anyway; the pipes were not an instrument for indoors.

But this winter, after her fiddler had come and gone, there had been a harper who had stayed for nearly two weeks. He was a Guild Minstrel, and was taking a position at the court of the Sire. He was ahead of time, having come much faster than anyone would have ever expected because of a break in the weather, and had taken the opportunity to rest a bit before taking the last leg of the journey.

He was an old man, his hair half silver, and he had been very kind to her. He'd taught her many of the songs popular at the courts, and she had painstakingly adapted them for fiddle. He hadn't had much patience, but fortunately the melodies were all simple ones, easy to remember, and easy to follow.

But from those simple songs, her fingers slowed, and strayed into a series of laments, learned from another harpist, a real Gypsy, who would not come into the village at all. Rune had found her with her fellows, camped beyond the bridge as she had returned from an errand. Unaccountably, eerily, the girl had known who she was, and what instrument she played. It still gave Rune a chill to think of her, and wonder how it was the other musician had known all about her.

She'd stopped Rune as the girl lingered, watching the Gypsies with burning curiosity. "I am Nightingale. Bring your fiddle," she'd said abruptly, with no preamble. "I shall teach you songs such as you have never heard before."

With a thrill of awe and a little fear, Rune had obeyed. It had been uncanny then, and it was uncanny now. How had Nightingale known who she was, and what she did? No one in the village would have told her-surely.

And indeed, Nightingale had taught her music the like of which she had never heard before. The strange, compelling dance music was too complicated to learn in a single afternoon-but the laments stuck in her mind, and seemed to make her fingers move of their own accord. . . .


She started, and opened her eyes. Stara had a mug in one hand, and most of the rest up on their pegs, above the beer barrels, and she had turned to stare at Rune with a strange, uneasy expression on her face. Rune got ready for a tongue-lashing; whenever Stara was unhappy or uneasy, she took it out on someone. And Maeve wasn't within reach right now.

"Haven't you practiced enough for one day?" Stara snapped crossly. "You give me the chills with that Gypsy howling. It sounds like lost souls, wailing for the dead."

Well, that was what it was supposed to sound like-

"-or cats in heat," Stara concluded, crudely. "Haven't you got anything better to do than to torture our ears with that?"

"I-" she began.

A cough interrupted her, and she glanced over at the door to the kitchen. Jeoff stood there, with a keg of the dark ale on one shoulder.

"We're going to be working in here for a while, Rune," he said. "I don't want to sound mean, but-that music bothers me. It's like you're calling something I'd rather not see."

Meaning he's feeling superstitious, Rune thought cynically.

"Don't you think Jib could use your help in the stables?" he said-but it sounded like an order.

"Yes, sir," she said, trying not to sound surly. Just when I was really getting warmed up. It figures. "I'll see to it, Master Jeoff."

But as she put her fiddle away, she couldn't help watching Jeoff and her mother out of the corner of her eye. There was something going on there, and it had nothing to do with the music.

It looked like Stara's ploys were working.

The only question was-where did that leave Rune?

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