1. A Bit of “Culture”

“You know,” Erredel grumbled softly as he returned to the cramped table in the corner, setting a wooden tankard down in front of his brother, then taking a seat with his own. “I would give quite a bit for a proper mead or a glass of sweet wine.”  

Oladrilon glanced down into the tankard, regarding the foamy surface for a moment. “Well, we knew things would be different across the sea….” 

“Yes, but I didn’t realize that they would be absolute heathens when it came to drinking.” 

“Come on now, give it a try at least.” Oladrilon protested, bringing the ale to his lips and taking a proper swig of it.  And did his best not to grimace. “It’s at least better than what they had on the ship.” 

Erredel wasn’t convinced.  “Oladrilon, anything is better than what they offered on the ship; that’s not a compliment in the slightest.  I’m surprised what they called ‘drink’ didn’t eat right through the casks they stored it in.” He regarded his drink for a long moment, then sighed and pushed it away.  “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.  Someone really needs to teach the humans how to brew something palatable.” 

“At least the sun still shines here?” It was a weak attempt at finding a silver lining, but honestly, that one early morning when seasickness had driven him up to the deck, bending him double over the rail…looking up and seeing the first sunrise he’d seen in years? It hadn’t been an easy journey in the slightest, but that sight had filled the elf’s heart with hope in a way that nothing else had since.  

“Yes, but it’s night now.” Erredel’s words caught Oladrilon off guard, enough so that it drew him out of memory.  He flicked his gaze over to his brother and seeing the teasing smirk on Erredel’s lips and the spark of mischief in his eyes made the elder of the two smile.   

“You know what I mean,” Oladrilon muttered, leaning over to give Erredel a good-natured punch to the arm before settling back and taking another drink.  It really did get better the more you had, an acquired taste.  Either that or his sense of taste was simply surrendering.  “And there’s music! You can’t be upset with music.” 

The way Erredel raised one elegantly arched brow, he felt he certainly could be upset.  “You call this music?” 

“Well….” Oladrilon winced a bit, glancing around the crowded tavern room.  “It’s got a melody…kind of.  And when everyone joins in, there’s something like harmony? And rhythm! You can’t deny that there’s rhythm!” The last bit was a very hurried addition, as Erredel only offered a flat stare.  “Look, I know it’s not home, but…well, we’re not at home.  We’re not anywhere near home.” 

“No, we’re not….” Erredel sighed softly, shaking his head.  “And I’m already starting to regret leaving.” 

Oladrilon wasn’t sure how to answer that. So instead, he cast his attention back to the room.  It was a raucous affair, which was almost a relief after the dead silence that had followed their entrance.  A group of three humans was near the center of it all, two playing instruments and one leading the whole tavern in song.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad song, it had good bones, but it was…very different from what he was used to.  It was bouncy, energetic, and the chorus was simple enough that nearly the whole crowd joined in along each time it came around. 

“I’m not sure how we’re going to afford a place to stay tonight,” Erredel was saying, and Oladrilon drew his attention back to his brother.  The tankard of ale still hadn’t been touched, and Erredel was looking through their money pouch.  “Transport has been more expensive than I thought it would…should have tried harder to bring our horses over….”  

Oladrilon felt a stab of guilt at the mention of their horses.  Faria had been the light of his life.  Having to leave the mare behind had felt like part of his heart was being ripped out.  Seeking distraction, he looked back to the room, and once more, his eyes landed on the performers.  There was just…such light within that small group.  As if the attention and adoration of the crowd were giving them some sort of power.  That was when he saw it – one of the nearby patrons flipped what looked like a copper coin into a hat that had been set out nearby.   

“Hey, hey.” Oladrilon reached over without looking to grab Erredel’s arm, giving him a light shake to get his attention.  “I think I’ve found the end of our money troubles.” 

Erredel looked up, startled, nearly dropping the few coins he had cupped in his hand.  “What are you talking about.” 

“Look,” Oladrilon urged, pointing, and as if on cue, another patron tossed a few coins into the hat.  The singer offered the man a low bow, never losing time with the song, a practiced motion.  “We could do that.” 

“Do what?” 

“Perform!” Oladrilon could hear how his excitement had reached his voice, but he didn’t care.  That…well, that looked like a whole lot of fun.   

He felt movement at his side, heard the faint scrape of wood against wood, and when he looked over, Erredel was peering into his half-empty tankard.  “I think the drink has gone to your head, brother.  You always had a bit of a weakness for it.” 

“Erredel, I’m serious,” Oladrilon shook his head, dropping his voice down.  “We need money.  They’re earning money by performing.  Weren’t you just complaining that someone needed to teach humans ‘culture’? Why not us?” 

“I didn’t mean us,” Erredel pointed out, shaking his head.  “Look, we’re strangers here. They’re not.  And no matter how much you protest that it doesn’t matter, it does.  The reception we’ve received has been colder than the depths of winter. Even you and your limitless optimism can’t deny that.”  

Oladrilon opened his mouth to protest but found that he didn’t know what to say.  It was impossible to deny that conversations tended to go silent when they approached, that the stares they received weren’t all curious. He sagged back a bit in his seat a bit as Erredel set his cup back in front of him with a heavy ‘thunk.’  “We’ll figure something out, brother.  So sit back and…well, I can’t believe that anyone can enjoy this drink, but do the best you can.” 

The two fell back into silence, one mind working out logistics, the other lost in thought.  Oladrilon sipped at his drink and let the world just wash over him – Erredel thinking aloud, the clinking of cups and glasses, the hum of chatter, and the music tying it all together.  

It would be the absence of music that would draw Oladrilon back to reality.

He looked over to where the troupe had been performing to find that they had taken seats themselves, chatting with other patrons.  That was an opportunity if he’d ever seen one. 

“Oladrilon, what are you doing?” He caught Erredel’s question as he leaned over to where their packs were under the table, drawing his lute case out.  He felt a hand on his arm as he swiftly moved to tune the instrument, and he offered his brother a bright grin.  “Showing the humans a bit of culture,” he laughed, shrugging Erredel’s hand off and getting to his feet.  It was hard to ignore how those at tables close by went silent. 

“I’m not going to get you out of this one,” Erredel muttered, resigned as Oladrilon set his fingers to the strings, starting up a simple tune that set the rhythm for the song.  It was a simple one, as simple seemed to work well, but already it sounded so different from the shanties the troupe had been singing.   

He stepped away from the table, and his fingers faltered just a bit as the rest of the tavern started to fall quiet, looking to him.  Oladrilon swallowed hard, steeling himself against the silent attention.  He’d started this.  He’d see it through. 

He was only slightly surprised to hear a second instrument behind him after only a few measures.  He turned as he walked and was just in time to catch his younger brother rolling his eyes.  Still, he had his own lute out – a much more delicate instrument than Oladrilon’s own, but Erredel had always had a preference for quality.  And that quality showed as his fingers danced over the strings, tuning at the same time as he strummed out the melody for the song that Oladrilon had chosen.   

Circle around, and circle around again, 

Summer, Autumn, Winter and, Spring, 

There are few things as true in this world, 

As those of which I sing. 

It was a very rough translation, something that Oladrilon had worked at on the ship to try and distract himself from how his stomach seemed to try and mimic the rolling waves.  Erredel had, of course, given him a hard time about it, and the elder of the two winced just a bit hearing it proper.  He was quite proud of the chorus, however. 

Warmth to chill, seed to flower, 

First snow’s bite and fair bluebird’s wing, 

All can find comfort in the steady beat, 

Of Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring. 

Another voice, strong and clear, joined his own as he began the chorus, and he was so startled that he almost dropped the song entirely.  Then, turning, he smiled in both surprise and delight as Erredel’s sang with him, as he had so many times before.  Erredel gave a brief shake of his head, but it was a good-natured gesture, and he was smiling as well while he sang.   

Erredel stood, though he remained near their table, weaving melody through the song.  Even though the other did leave Oladrilon to sing the verses alone, Oladrilon somehow felt far more confident.  His voice was stronger, clearer, and he moved more confidently through the crowd, which parted to give him room.  

The days grow long, there’s a joy to be had, 

Plenty of songs to be sung both by day and by night, 

There’s a feel to the air that nothing else matches, 

By Summer’s sun, everything feels so bright. 

Once more, as he came to the chorus, he almost lost the thread of the song out of surprise.  Erredel’s voice had joined him again, but so had an unfamiliar one.  No…not entirely unknown.  The singer of the troupe that had been performing had stood. The man displayed no small amount of talent and bravery by joining in, a warm smile on his lips, and a light to his eye.  And…yes, the group’s fiddler had lifted her instrument and was testing a few brief notes, finding the right key. 

Red apple crisp, bright golden wheat, 

Trees festooned in colors so bold, 

There’s a chill to the air, so bundle up tight, 

Autumn’s bounty is a sight to behold 

The fiddler had found her place by now and added a new sort of harmony to the mix.  To the side…yes, a few patrons were trying their voices at the chorus now.  Not particularly well, true, but it was warmth, not cold, judging silence.   

Perhaps even acceptance? 

When the snow lies deep, it muffles the land, 

A blanket of white with a cold wind’s ire, 

There’s a bite to the air, hear the lone wolf howl, 

Winter is a time to stay safe by the fire. 

Again, the chorus, and again more voices, a good third of the patrons having picked up the idea and joining in curious, drunken revelry.  It felt more like Oladrilon was singing with them rather than to them, and the feeling made his heart soar.  

Just when it seems like hope may be lost, 

The first bloom of a flower, the birds begin to sing, 

There’s a magic to the air, and around again, 

The circle has ended and begins again with Spring. 

The song ended with the chorus repeating a few times, and Oladrilon did his best to encourage those joining in.  When he heard Erredel’s voice rise up in a note that signified that it was the last round, Oladrilon turned, so his back was against the broad oak bar, and he was facing the crowd.  The performing troupe took the cue as he dropped his hand from his lute for the last bit, and the sudden lack of instrumentals caused most of the patrons to stop as well, leaving the final line to be sung by Oladrilon alone (accompanied by a few of the more drunken patrons).   

And then there was silence. 

And then a cacophony of noise as the entire room started speaking. 

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