[Cecily]Prologue: "A Penny for the Fiddler"

January 16, 2189

       I leaned back in my chair, injured leg propped on a tattered bar stool. O'Donnell's was quiet for a Friday (especially a payday Friday), but it was still early. As it was, I was able to enjoy being waited on hand and foot by Ian. As I drained the last dregs of my fourth pint, I sighed contentedly. It didn't get much better than this.
       It was about 8 o'clock before any of the other regulars wandered in. Wade, the blacksmith, and his wife Edna were the first, and of course I had to explain the whole story of my most recent injury in graphic detail. Edna clucked at me in that exasperated, motherly way of hers. "You, my girl, need to get yourself married and settled down," she admonished sternly. Wade almost choked on his bitter as I patted Edna's hand. "I know, Edna, but I'm afraid I'm just not suitable marriage material."
       She harrumphed at me, but a smile broke through her attempt at a stern demeanor. "Perhaps, my girl, but I thinks it's more that there's few men out there of a demeanor strong enough to handle ye."
       I had to laugh. "Isn't that the same thing?"
       By nine, the usual crown had made their seperate ways in, and the pub was filled with the cheery warmth of friendship and inebriation. I had consumed enough ale by that point that I couldn't really even feel my leg, let alone be bothered by any pain, and was happily involved in an impromptu yarn-spinning contest (more accurately a bull-shitting contest) with Wade and Patrick, when Eldon, our constable, piped up, "Why'nt you and George there give us a tune, m'lass?"
       With that excuse, I bowed out of the story-telling - Patrick, a trained bard, was kicking both our rears anyway - and reached under my chair, carefully pulling out the battered case that sat there.
       George and I have been through a lot together. My job often takes me away from home for days, sometimes weeks, and often he's my only companion. I took him out of the case with exaggerated care - it would look bad if I dropped him, no matter how drunk - and tuned him up. George is an antique, a fiddle of great age and character. I found him at a flea market over thirty years go, and he's been with me ever since.
       The crowd quieted in anticipation, and so as not to dull the merry mood, I struck into a fast paced reel. Wade grabbed Edna and swung her about, and soon they'd shoved the tables aside and it looked like a small riot had broken out.
        Most folks who don't know me well are rather surprised to see this side of me, I've been told. I guess folk musician and dare-devil demon slayer don't really conjure up images of each other. Truthfully, I didn't start playing out of any great love for music - I did it to annoy my brother, he who has this horrid taste for opera. But when you're sitting out in a muddy field, waiting for the devil to come out of the darkness, music is a very bright and comforting light.
       It was almost an hour later that I finally had to beg off; George's E string snapped near the end of a particularly frenzied bit of playing. But the sudden stop left me feeling as if I'd forgotten something, so I strung the replacement, and began to play a traditional lullaby that I've always loved. It helped bring the crowd down after the frantic dancing, and restored the mellow mood of the evening's beginning.
       The last notes died away into the contemplative silence, and I carefully packed George away.
       It really didn't get much better than this.