Moonlight Sonata

by Mary Lou Mendum


(Not to be confused with Ludwig von Beethovan's composition of the same
name, which is available from the Classical Music Archives.)


Prelude


	"I'm ready, Daddy.  Come and tuck me in!"
	Tallin, First Companion in Dar, smiled at the imperious summons.  "What,
not already?" he called, pretending dismay.  "No, you can't be in bed.
I'll have to come and check."
	He "tiptoed" towards his son's bedroom, making sure that each footstep was
clearly audible, and was rewarded by a giggle and a muffled scrambling
noise.  However, by the time he poked his head through the door, Califf was
on the bed and halfway under the covers, bouncing with excitement as he
pointed at the clock.
	"The big hand isn't straight up," Califf announced with the delight of a
six-year-old who has trapped a parent.  "Now you have to tell me a story."
	"Oh, dear."  Tallin made a show of inspecting the clock.  "I do believe
you're right."  He sat down on the bed next to the child.  "Well, then,
what sort of story shall I tell you?"
	 "Tell me a 'venture story,  with night raids, and bandits, and narrow escapes!"
	"All of that?  Well, let's see."  Tallin considered how best to balance
the demands of his audience, and of his audience's mother, who didn't
appreciate having to deal with childish nightmares when she was in need.
	The thought of Nilba gave him the required inspiration.  "Suppose I tell
you about how I met your mother?"
	Califf looked at his father suspiciously.  "Don't want a mushy story."
	"Well, I think there's enough adventure in the story even for you.
However, there are some mushy parts.  I'll tell you what.  If it gets too
mushy, you can stop me.  All right?"
	The six-year-old considered the offer for a moment, then nodded, and
settled back on his pillow to listen.  "All right."
	Tallin smiled, and smoothed the child's silky hair back from his face.
"How I met your mother.  Let's see, I was about fourteen natal years at the
time, but still a child.  Your Grandmother Japora, the locksmith, had been
dead for almost two years.  I was living in Sommerin with a pair of bandits
who found my skill at opening locks very useful."
	"Bandits!"  Childish eyes opened with delight.
	"Well, burglars, anyway.  But Gloron and Kintha weren't always very good
at choosing which locks I should open, and so money was tight.  That meant
hard times for everyone, and especially for your Daddy..."


Adagio sostenuto


	"Empty!  Whadya mean, boy, the safe was empty?"
	Gloron's face was saturnine at best.  Now, taut with need-tension and red
with anger and an excess of porstan, it was something to give small
children nightmares.  He glared at Tallin, tentacles knotting.
	"There were papers and stuff, but no gold or jewels."
	Tallin ducked, but Gloron's fist found his ear anyway.  With the hard-won
knowledge of experience, he rolled with the blow, yelping loudly in hopes
that his mentor would consider him sufficiently chastised.  Sometimes, the
tactic allowed him to escape a serious beating.
	"Oh, leave the boy alone, Gloron," Kintha whined.  "There's other Gens in
the Pen; something'll come up before the taxes are due.  'Sides, he's noisy
when you hit him, and I got a headache already."
	Gloron growled, swearing under his breath, but did not threaten to hit
Tallin again.  "Outa my sight, boy," he ordered.  "Don't come back until
tomorrow.  We'll see if you can do better then."
	Tallin was not surprised at being suddenly assigned complete
responsibility for the fiasco, despite the fact that his part of the affair
had gone flawlessly.  If the safe had contained suitable valuables, he knew
that Gloron would have taken all of the credit--and the proceeds--for
himself.
	He started obediently for the door, but paused before he quite reached it.
As often happened when the two Simes were in need, regular meals had
dwindled to occasional snacks.  Gloron and Kintha didn't mind fasting, but
Tallin had grown two inches since midsummer, and he was always hungry.  The
colder weather as fall set in was making it worse. The scrap of stale bread
which he had been given the night before had long since been digested, and
an all-too-familiar gnawing chasm in his stomach demanded to be filled.
With the courage of desperation, he summoned his best imitation of an
innocent child, and begged, "Might I have a bit of supper to take with me,
please?"
	He realized immediately that he had gone too far.  Nothing enraged Gloron
and Kintha faster then hearing him speak with the courtesy and educated
accents his mother had taught him.
	"Supper?"  Kintha screeched in outrage.  "We're scrapin' for Pen fees, and
the boy thinks we got money ta feed him?  After he messed up the heist?"
	"Get out on the street, where we shoulda left you," Gloron demanded,
throwing a scrap of firewood in his young apprentice's direction.
Fortunately for the boy, his mentor had consumed enough porstan to affect
coordination, and the projectile missed.  As Tallin ducked through the door
and scurried for the stairs, he heard, "And don't think you're gettin' any
breakfast, either!"


Intermezzo


	"They were mean bandits, to make you go without supper, Daddy,"  Califf
said.  "Were you very hungry?"
	"Yes, I was," Tallin admitted, with the resignation gained over ten years
of being teased for his Gen appetite.
	"So what did you do, when they wouldn't give you any food?"
	"I tried to find another way to get some, of course," his father answered.
He paused a moment, remembering, until Califf's impatient wiggle brought
him back to the present.
	"Excuse me.  I was telling you about the day Gloron and Kintha threw me
out without supper..."


Allegretto


	Being on the street was nothing new to Tallin.  Since his mother's death,
his memories of the safe and happy home of his early childhood had faded
until they seemed like a dream.  He could barely remember what it was like
to live without worrying about his next meal.  Still, it had been a long
time since he had gone without food for over a day, and there had been less
of him to be hungry back then.
	I'm growing so fast, surely I'll go through changeover soon.  Then I won't
mind when there isn't food, any more than Gloron and Kintha do.
	He refused to consider what would happen to his appetite if he failed to
become Sime, on the grounds that in that unhappy event, he would be
unlikely to live long enough for it to be an issue.
	However, if he was still a growing child at the moment, with the
embarrassingly large appetite that implied, he was also a resourceful boy.
Over time he had developed some alternative methods to supplement the
meager offerings provided by Gloron and Kintha.
	He had enough of his mother's pride left to want to earn his keep, so he
settled into a suitable corner near the produce market and pulled out the
silver flute she had given him shortly before her death.  Putting it to his
lips, he blew gently into the holes, coaxing an old melody out of the
instrument.  He didn't have the flare of a professional musician yet, but
he was good enough to earn the occasional coin from those who enjoyed
encouraging youthful talent.
	Unfortunately, the weather had turned cold and windy with the
unpredictability of autumn, and the heavy clouds above threatened rain to
come.  The crowd was thinning rapidly, and the remaining customers were
hurrying to complete their errands and reach shelter before the storm
broke.  They had no interest in dallying to listen to music.  An adult
musician might have caught their attention by manipulating the ambient, but
Tallin's childish nager was far too weak.
	And when I'm grown up at last, I'll set up as a locksmith, and I won't
have to attract an audience in the market.   It seemed a bit unfair that
the ability would not be his while he still required it.
	When the first raindrops began to fall, he put the flute carefully away
and tried begging instead.  He knew he looked ragged and forlorn, in his
outgrown clothes, but he was also as large as most of the adults in the
market.  Without the extra appeal of a small child, all Tallin earned was a
few cuffs for his impertinence.
	As he made his way through the produce market, he edged close to some of
the busier stalls, hoping to snatch something edible while the grocers were
occupied with paying customers.  He was too large and ragged to be a good
shoplifter, though, and he had never really learned the tricks of that
trade.  A gaunt gang of full-time street children was also working the
market, and the merchants were keeping watch on their goods whenever they
zlinned hunger.  The urchins were getting an occasional success, but Tallin
was simply too conspicuous.
          Just as he was beginning to despair, Tallin saw an apple fall
from a crate that a dripping farmer was hastily loading into his wagon.
With the speed of a pouncing cat, he ran after it as it bounced across the
cobblestones.  He let out a small cry of triumph as his hand grasped the
lusciously red (if badly bruised and somewhat dirty) fruit.
           He raised it to his lips to take a bite, and only then noticed
that the street gang had surrounded him.  The largest of them was a good
foot shorter then him, but there were over a dozen of them, and they were
all carrying sticks or rocks.
	Their leader, a red-haired girl of about ten, was watching the apple in
his hand in a very proprietary fashion.   "This is our turf,"  she announced,
hefting her improvised club, "an' all the pickins here belong to us.  We
don't like no compe-tition."
	Her followers looked more than a little impressed by her vocabulary, and
not impressed at all by Tallin's larger size.   Or maybe they were too
hungry to care that they might get hurt.
	Tallin knew with a sick fear that while he would hurt many of them if it
came to a fight, he could very easily end up dead.  Under the
circumstances, the wise move was to get away immediately.  Mourning the
necessity, he threw the apple as hard as he could.  The leader grunted and
doubled over as it hit her in the stomach, and when it bounced and rolled
temptingly along the ground, several of the smaller children broke ranks to
scramble after it.
	Taking advantage of their momentary distraction, Tallin sprinted through
the break in the circle and dashed down the nearest cross street.  At their
leader's panted command, a few of the older urchins chased him, but his
longer legs allowed him to gain on them.  He dodged right in front of a
wagon to cross the street, and gained a bit of distance as his pursuers
were forced to wait and cross behind it.  Encouraged, he dodged down an
alley, climbed onto a parked wagon and from there onto the roof of a
building.  He lay panting on the shingles as the urchins pounded into the
alley after him and began to search.
	Tallin was lucky: the children were too small to climb onto the roof from
the wagon, and they failed to consider his greater height.  After a minute
or two, they gave up and headed back for the produce market.
	Tallin went limp with relief, hugging the wet roof as his racing heartbeat
gradually slowed to something near normal.  When he recovered enough to
feel the cold rain pounding on his already saturated clothing, he made his
way carefully to the other side of the building.  He found a place where a
length of fence joined the wall, and started to lower himself down onto it.


	He was cold and his fingers were stiff.  It was perhaps not surprising
when he lost his grip, missed the fence, and landed face down in a reeking
pile of stable droppings.


Intermezzo


	"You fell into a manure pile?" Califf giggled loudly.  "Yuck!"
	"I warned you there were mushy parts in this story," Tallin pointed out,
with the full dignity becoming a Companion.  "And those stable droppings
were very mushy indeed.  As well as smelly.  But I've never been able to
really regret that fall, because while I was washing the worst of the mess
off in the water pouring off of the roof, I saw and heard something that
changed my life forever.  Not that I guessed it at the time."
	"What did you see, Daddy?"
	"Nothing particularly unusual, on the face of it.  The building with the
mushy manure pile was an inn.  While I was washing, the inn's cook came out
of the kitchen door to accept a delivery of fruit.  I was a bit worried
that they'd chase me off before I was done, but instead, their attention
was caught by a group of riders going down the street."
	"Were they bandits, like Gloron and Kintha?"
	Tallin hoped that his son's mania for bandit stories was a passing phase.
"No," he explained with a storyteller's prerogative to control the plot,
"they were a team of Dar guards heading back home after a job.  I envied
them--they would soon be warm and dry, and even the horses and Gens were
obviously well fed.  The cook and the farmer looked at them and spat in the
mud.  The farmer muttered something about what he'd do if the 'perverts'
should ever try to buy his produce.  I remembered that I'd heard similar
comments from other people.  And then I knew where I was going to get some
food."
	"You decided to ask Dar if you could come to dinner?"
	"Well, not exactly,"  Tallin admitted.


Presto


	Like most good heists that Tallin had heard about, the basic idea was
simple.  If Dar could feed its livestock so well, and if people didn't like
to sell them food, then they must grow their own.  This in turn implied a
stored supply locked away somewhere on the grounds, and there were very few
locks which were more than a passing inconvenience to the son of Japora the
locksmith.  The thought cheered him immensely, and when the rain slacked
off, and then stopped entirely, it seemed like an omen of good luck.
	Unfortunately, like many plans, what was simple in theory proved more
difficult than anticipated in practice.  When Tallin followed the team of
guards to the Householding's main gate, he was dismayed to discover that
there was an alert gatekeeper on watch, and that the gates were barred from
the inside after the riders entered.  Neither impediment seemed amenable to
his lock picks.  The high stone wall which surrounded the enclave was
unclimbable due to the shards of glass embedded along the top.
	He decided he required some perspective on the problem.  After some
exploration, he found a way up onto the roof of a building across the
street.  As the wind gusted, breaking up the clouds,  he settled down to
observe the situation more closely, shivering in his damp clothes.
	By the time the sun set, he had eliminated a frontal attack as impossible.
However, the sight of the gardens and orchards beyond the main buildings
only firmed his belief that there was food for the taking, if he only could
get to it.  His eyes lovingly traced the neat borders of the plots, and the
well cared for road that wound between them...
	...and out of sight through the woodlot.   Tallin inspected the road again
with a growing excitement which made his stomach growl loudly.  He was no
farmer, but he could see no reason that even perverts should so carefully
maintain a road if it wasn't used regularly.  That meant that the road must
end up somewhere important, and the eyeway was not far beyond.
	Which, in turn, implied the possibility of another entrance onto the
Householding grounds--one which might not be guarded with live gatekeepers.
Carefully, Tallin climbed down from his perch and started making his way
through the outskirts of Sommerin, following the stone wall.
	As the full moon rose, the houses gave way to fields, and the wall gave
way to impenetrable thickets of blackberries, their razor-sharp thorns a
deadly danger to any Sime who might attempt to break in.  Tallin had no
laterals to injure, but he was not quite desperate enough to brave the
blackberries when there was still a possibility of finding a back gate.
	He almost gave up many times before he found it:  a discrete and unlabeled
road winding towards the eyeway, just wide enough for a wagon.  There was a
gate across it as it left Dar's grounds, secured with a heavy chain and a
padlock.  Tallin stopped and listened, but there was no sound beside his
own heartbeat, and no speck of light to imply that anyone was present.
What he could see of the road in the moonlight showed no fresh footprints,
human or horse.
	Satisfied that he was alone, he made his way over to the gate and checked
the padlock.  It was slightly stiff from what Tallin assumed was a
combination of infrequent use and damp weather, but in the end, it yielded
to his efforts.  He slipped through the gate, closed it behind himself, and
wrapped the chain back around it so that any roving sentry who failed to
make a close inspection would assume it was still locked.  Then, stomach
growling, he started down the road.
	It was slow going, in the dark under the trees, and he stepped in more
than one puddle, but eventually he found himself looking at Householding
Dar from the opposite perspective of his earlier scouting session.  The
buildings were dark shapes with lighted squares denoting windows.  There
were occasional flashes of light as people moved around the compound,
lighting their way with lanterns, but Tallin wasn't particularly concerned.
His child's nager should not be zlinnable at this distance.  The fields he
had come so far to plunder were ahead of him, and the closest one held tall
stalks of late corn, the plump ears silhouetted against the sky.
	Tallin's knees were weak with hunger, and he was clumsy with cold, but he
didn't care.  He had just enough presence of mind to step a full two rows
into the field, so that he would be hidden, before he tore the first ear
off the stalk, ripped the leaves off, and filled his mouth with the largest
bite he could manage.
	It was feed corn, being dried on the stalks for winter silage.  There was
no sweetness left to the kernels, and they were tough and half dried, but
they were the best thing Tallin could remember eating in years.  He forgot
all his hard-learned caution, and bolted down the rest of the ear as fast
as he could swallow.  When he had gnawed the last edible bit from the cob,
he dropped it and reached for a new ear.
	"Corn tastes much better when it's cooked, you know."
	Tallin whirled.  The light, childlike voice came from the road, not six
feet away from his hiding spot.  He peered through the stalks and made out
the form of a girl--no, a woman, he corrected himself as he saw her
tentacles.  He rejected a half-formed idea of making a run for it.
Instead, he drew himself up with what dignity he could, stepped out of the
cornfield, and replied in his most educated tones.
	"It didn't seem practical to stop and build a fire."
	She chuckled, and then inspected him more closely.  Tallin squirmed, aware
of just how disreputable he appeared in his ragged, outgrown clothes,
stained with mud and still smelling of manure despite his cold shower.
	"You have had a time of it, haven't you?" she said, with more sympathy
than Tallin had dared to hope.  He began to wonder if he could talk his way
out of anything more than a token punishment for his theft.  Under the
circumstances, it was a small price to pay for even one ear of corn.
	"It hasn't been a pleasant day," he admitted.  "I'm Tallin, son of Japora
the locksmith."  He didn't have a tentacle tip to offer in greeting, so he
held out his fingers instead.
	The woman looked faintly surprised at that, as if she had expected
Tallin's manners to match his clothes, not his accent.  However,  she
brushed his fingertips  with the tips of two tentacles, and introduced
herself.  "Nilba, second channel in Dar."
	"I hadn't expected to disturb anyone back here," Tallin apologized,
overlooking for the moment the damage he had been doing to the corn crop.
	"Most Simes wouldn't have noticed you," Nilba said.  "Your field is still
very low.  Did your mother warn you?"
	"....Warn?"
	"You mean you didn't know?  You've established."
	Tallin's stomach unaccountably changed its mind, and threatened to reject
the stolen corn.  He could feel his entire future self-destructing as
Nilba's light voice continued, "You're cold, wet, filthy and hungry.  Why
don't you come with me, and we'll see what we can do about that?"
	Despite the polite phrasing, there was a Sime possessiveness about Nilba's
manner which made it plain that she expected to be obeyed.
	And why shouldn't she?  Even perverts have the right to claim a stray Gen
that's stupid enough to wander onto their land.
	Glumly, Tallin turned towards the shadowy buildings and started walking.


Coda


	"And that is how I met your mother," Tallin told his wide-eyed son.  "It's
a good thing she zlinned me raiding that corn patch, too.  If I'd returned
to Gloron and Kintha the next morning, the way I'd planned, they would have
sold me for a kill.  Not that I appreciated what Nilba had done for me at
the time."
	"You didn't want to stay at Dar?"
	"Not then.  I wanted to be a junct locksmith like my mother Japora.  That
wasn't possible, obviously, and I hated Nilba because she was the one who
told me."
	Califf's eyes were troubled.  "Do you still hate Mother?"
	"No, I grew to love her very much," Tallin hastened to reassure his son.
"And we both love you even more."
	The child considered for a moment, then nodded.  "So you became a
Companion because you couldn't be a locksmith?"
	"Well, not exactly."  Tallin tucked the covers closer around the small
body.  "But that is a story for another time.  Good night, son."
	"Good night, Daddy."

[Read and send comments about this story]

[Return to Mary Lou Mendum's Index]

[Return to the Secret Pens]