Chansons de Geste in Modern Epic Fantasy: Carlisle’s Troubadours, “Eric & Frett”
Good Morning, Everyone!
Now that we’ve seen a variety of chansons de geste, here’s an excerpt showing how those thousand-year-old “songs of deeds” appear in my own work; here, in a scene from The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears, one of my main characters, the Muslim scholar, Khajen ibn-Khaldun, meets a troubadour in the aftermath of the Battle of Mecina.
I hope you enjoy, and remember, the e-book’s on sale at Amazon.com; 792 pages for only $3.99! http://www.amazon.com/The-Codex-Lacrimae-Part-2
Thanks for visiting,
[Excerpt, © 2013-2014 A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears, Bk. 3, Chapter 4 “The Orphans of Mecina” (pp. 41-43) http://www.amazon.com/The-Codex-Lacrimae-Part-2:
Ibn-Khaldun recalled the dawn of that morning five years ago at Mecina, when he, Arcadian, and Mercedier had approached the scored limestone of the demolished curtain wall.
Against a backdrop of fires blazing high from the castle, a colorfully dressed jester sat playing a fiddle on a pile of rubble.
The music drifted, hauntingly beautiful over a ruined landscape still filled with the sounds of injured and dying people, the shouts of rescue personnel, burning buildings, and even the hastening clip-clop of horses being led to safer pastures.
When the musician turned to the approaching Hospitallers, the small contingent saw that he seemed blind, the shadows cast by a foppish hat not concealing a linen rag across his left eye.
Moreover, the performer radiated pain. He appeared to be a person completely shattered by war, whose pockmarked and thinly black-bearded face, ragged clothing, and haggard aspect made for an altogether strange counterpoint to the exquisite melodies flowing from the strings of his Hardingfele.
The trio dismounted the stallions and hiked up the pile of rubble.
“Bonjour, messieurs!” The jester said with a flourishing bow. He grandiosely doffed the fancy hat, but overthrew and lost it into a nearby fire. He frowned as the article briefly blazed, then shrugged and spread his hands.
“Je suis Eric le Marin — Eric the Seafarer — et c’est Frett, un ami de longue date et tout un harpiste accomplie, jongleur, et zitherer!”
Mercedier grunted. “You’re alone, mon ami. Were you —”
“Seul?” The man croaked. “Certainement pas! Frett and I entertain together, always.” His voice gained in strength as he leaned forward to speak in a stage whisper. “Et, entre nous cinq, nous espérons que vous venez de meilleure humeur que les Sarrasins qui vient de quitter ici.” (“And just between the five of us, we hope you’re in a better mood than the Saracens who just departed here!”)
“I think the man over here is…was ‘Frett.’ ”Ibn-Khaldun said,nodding at a corpse slumped to the side of the boulder.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” Eric asked in alarm, following the Muslim’s eyes until his own came to rest on the body of his friend. “Ah, Frett, non, non, non! No sleeping now! A song, a song!”
“Did you…drag him here?” The grandmaster asked. “From the castle?”
“No, no, that would be mad, wouldn’t it?” Eric replied conversationally, even while he strained to lift Frett’s body into an upright position.
“If he were dead,” the jongleur continued, “why, I’d have left him in the courtyard on Santini’s pyre, just like all the others did. There are enough corpses back there for both the Sidhe and Nightmare Lord to feast upon. Our friends piled them on the flames before they took their walk to the Genoese ships. To the sea. Hah! Don’t worry about us. He’s just tired and feeling a bit … displaced. We’re glad to see you. It means that we can start fixing everything, rebuild our home.”
Eric’s tugging on his friend’s unmoving torso dislodged Frett’s head, and the troubadour bolted to catch it before the decapitated thing rolled down the slope.
“Non, non, non …” he said fiercely. “You need to be back here on the shoulders, Frett, stop falling off —”
“Enough!” Mercedier shouted, intercepting the man’s wrist as Eric tried to complete his work. The soldier’s tone quieted as he took the head from Eric, and returned it to the ground in proximity to the corpse. He covered both with a discarded cloak. “Enough, ami. Enough. He’s gone.”
“Non,” Eric said, wrenching away and hoisting his fiddle under his chin. He drew the bow across the strings on the mother-of-pearl fingerboard. “I can still hear the song he taught us during the siege. A soothsaying song, or I’m a fool. Listen. I’ll prove it:
Sur la Barbe de Mimir, dans la Jeunesse des Mondes,
De Crânes de Jotuns, à la Dent de Ran Coralliens,
Cherché les Aesir — les frères, Vili, Vé, et Odin —
La Sagesse Antique, Neuf Reliques en Ruine.
Dessous de Givré Pins, sur un loin Côte Ardeur,
Près de Glade Elfique, par la Porte Surtur,
Frappe le Marteau du Volund — voir Destins Enlacés! —
Par le Forgeron Sampo, Codices Neuf récuperés…
The effort seemed to exhaust the fiddler. He stopped abruptly, and returned in a heap to his boulder.
“There’s more, but it’s dark and sad, and this is a bad enough day already. Oh, just leave the wretched youth be,” the survivor pleaded, then pressed a palm against his temple. “Oh, très bien, je vais leur dire, si vous voulez être tranquille!”
Arcadian and Mercedier exchanged glances.
“Who are you telling to be quiet?” Mercedier asked.
“The Shee?” The cynical Frenchman repeated. “What’s that?”
“Not what, who, and they’re in my head, all the time now.” Eric’s bow dangled limply in his slack hand. He exhaled slowly. “I think the Nightmare Lord is partial to musicians — oh, how these Sidhe wail! His sendings barely let Frett or I sleep for more than a couple hours at a time once the siege began.” He paused. “Et, I confess: Frett didn’t make up the song. I did. I just tried to write what the Sidhe were screaming in my mind all … the … time. I soothsay to you: Santini’s fall becomes your ruin if you bring him with you! Hela walks this land, Surtur begins his bid for freedom, and the boy must face them alone.”
Eric shook his head, his voice so calm and rationale in its tone that Ibn-Khaldun forced himself to remember the seeming madness of a few moments earlier.
“ ‘A deluded child,’ ”the troubadour continued, “that’s what Veröld Martröd called him in the end. I think only I heard the words. The Nightmare Lord’s so far away, but he’s returning, he’s returning. They’ll all return, now. Urd didn’t have the heart to end it at the Fields of Burning Night, and now all the enemies will return. Ancient enemies.”
He cast a long gaze at the smoldering curtain wall.
“Monsieur Martröd’s Sidhe have been repeating much the same thing, mocking the boy, taunting us all.” Eric raised his voice. “I soothsay thus: Santini was orphaned while still at home, but knew it not — let reality catch him and take its due. Such is the nature of sacred quests, eh? Interfere, though, and worlds will be worse for it later — doomed. He wasn’t meant to be here, nor to survive this siege. All is changed. The worlds will burn with a fire like the heart of Creation itself….
“Ignore him, he’s crazy,” Mercedier said, nodding to where a fountain still splashed peacefully on corpses floating in its waters. “Look at this place — everything seems doomed, and Santini’s lying through there, dead.”
“…this is the world that awaits us all,” Eric continued in disgust,“both franj and Saracen alike. My dear, dear Frett — why did you have to stay up so late and play with those nasty Sidhe? They came for him, they came for Santini and you distracted them. You…lost your head!”
The jester barked a laugh, then convulsed into sobs as he saw Arcadian and Mercedier tightening the reins on their stallions. “You go? You leave poor Frett and his Eric? Ah, c’est une bonne chose, ce qui est bon. Je comprends. Nous ne sommes plus comme un couple heureux. Nous sommes actuellement trois.” (“Ah, that’s a good thing, for the best. I understand. We no longer live as a happy couple. We are now three.”)
He leaned against the boulder and again took up the instrument. “You’ll find Santini in there. My last warning to you, a gift of the Sidhe screaming their frustration in my head: beware his finding a book that weeps, or a sword that sings — each alone is chaos. Together? Murder and madness that can be healed only by a cup of blood!”
The fiddler’s words receded into a titter as he returned to his music. “A cup of blood, the chrism of kings. Et, that’s only three of six, before the line that bars all nine … Ha! Break time’s over, Frett! Grab your harp, and get to work, you Lazybones….”
He began to play again, but while the Hospitaller brothers moved on to ascend the hill that led to the destroyed front gate, Ibn-Khaldun remained to listen.
This time, he noticed, along with repeating the first verses, Eric the Seafarer finished the song.
“That man’s broken by war,” Mercedier muttered when Ibn-Khaldun rejoined him. The Muslim scholar said nothing, still thoughtfully regarding Eric.
“He seems to soothsay well,” Ibn-Khaldun observed. “Those images seemed specific.”
“Vraiment, Khajen? Really?” Mercedier blanched, then in a slightly mocking tone recited the first verse:
Upon Ymir’s Beard, in World’s Youth,
From Jotun’s Skulls, to Ran’s Coral Tooth,
Sought the Aesir — Odin, Vili, and Ve —
Nine Runed Relics, Wisdom’s Way.
“That’s prophesying to you? It sounds like gibberish!”
The old man’s eyebrows raised in amusement. “For gibberish, you repeated it quite well.”
“Bah. I’m still a monk, and I do listen, Khajen.” He jerked a thumb at the mourning jester. “I tell you, he’s in shock from losing his friend, and his words are absurde.”
“Wait. What are you doing? Where are you going now?”
“Back to Eric for a moment. To write it down.”
“Mon Dieu, Khajen. This place is a war zone. Can we at least get inside the castle and see for ourselves?”
“Look around, mon ami, the battle’s over, and no one’s going anywhere. I’ll be back shortly. Something tells me that this song is important. Something in the man’s … presence.”
Mercedier and Arcadian waited for him to return, but it was a quarter hour before he joined them. Even with shorthand, it took many tries until Eric could repeat the song in its entirety, rather than fragmented phrases.
“Finis?” Mercedier asked.
“For now — I may speak to him again on the way out. Merci.”
The trio passed through the gigantic smoking gap in the wall next to the ruined front gate, emerging into a nightmarish scene.
Hospitallers seemed to be everywhere; the white crosses on their black robes and surcoats the only symbol of order in the chaos.
Pinkish-white smoke billowed into the lightening, rose-colored skies of dawn as the kitchens and stables continued to burn. Some castle servants ran in panic past the blazing timbers and hay bales that fueled the fires, while more composed knights carried bodies to mass graves in the nearby Syrian hills … . [End excerpt, A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears; http://www.amazon.com/The-Codex-Lacrimae-Part-2]
Next Time: Romance & Chivalry in Medieval Literature!