Amanda M. Hayes
The sand along the shoreline was soft and cool, soothing to bare feet. It shaped itself around Marizah's as she walked across it, recording the vague imprint of toes, of heel, of arch and callous... only to have the memory erased by the next touch of water and crash of wave.
As it should be. Marizah had no real will to leave traces of this trip behind. It was not the first time she'd stolen out to the ocean that lay so close to her home, that lulled her to sleep every night with its roaring and rumbling music. And it would not, she was sure, be the last. But she didn't need her brothers to know of what she was going to try tonight--to tease her if she failed; to scoff and disbelieve if she met with success. They would dismiss it all as a dream, just as they'd dismissed her pipes and her tunes all her life.
She couldn't really blame them. After all, that was what their parents did. "Don't play those things around the baby," her mother had once complained, cradling a wailing child to her breast. "Your screechings could deafen the living and wake the dead!"
A grin curved Marizah's mouth at the memory. That last was what she was here to test, wasn't it?
Moonlight glinted silver off the metal of her pipes as she paced her way towards the jagged, outthrust rock, its craggy black surface glistening with water and salt. High enough, just, to keep one who perched on it from the batter of the waves; low enough to let her feel the spray of the broken crests that splashed against her legs, reaching for her face. Sitting there gave her the feeling that she was daring the ocean to come and get her--and when had she ever been able to resist calling, or responding to, challenge?
She was there. Brown skirts, rough-woven, were hiked up to allow her to climb astride the rock. She let go of them when she was settled, not caring how they fell--who was to see? The wind would blow them every which way soon enough at any rate. Modesty and propriety would only get in her way.
Were Marizah modest, she would not go out of her way like this to prove parents and siblings wrong, if only to herself. She could play, and well enough to spark the old magics. Were Marizah proper, she would not have slipped from her home at midnight to walk beside the sea; she would not be sitting atop a rock with skirts rucked up above her knees; she would not now be staring over the dark expanse of water and darker reach of cloud-shrouded night. Only a moment. Only for a moment. And then she raised the pipes, took a breath... and began.
The notes tumbled free from the first, soaring as a knife might if thrown from the right hand. They were bright and flawless. As was only right--Marizah concentrated on perfection of melody and nothing else, for she had no intent of failing through distraction, and her efforts matched the tone of the pipe: clear. Pure. True. The invitation cried out through the night, welcoming, teasing; a gift, a call, a promise. A dare and a challenge, bound up in a slender rope of song. It was a tune that surely had power to summon sleeping spirits and bring them up to dance....
But there was nothing. No answer at all.
Stubbornness struggled with increasing bewilderment. She played the song through in its entirety twice before finally faltering in the middle of the third repetition, eyes roaming across the restless waves. This was the way it was done--the stories said so! She was to wake the dead and give them the music, the human music, that all the legends said they craved! Why would they not come out?
For a long time, Marizah sat there, contemplating her failure. The sea took no notice. It crashed and roared as ever, its white foam splashing across the would-be musician's arms and legs. The wind whispered along the water's surface, bringing its own breath of salt and moisture as it played with the heavy skirt and the mouse-brown curls of the girl.
"The ocean sings," she muttered, wrapping arms about herself for warmth. "The wind does, too, and they both draw the living. Yet my songs cannot draw the dead."
A whisper stole into her mind. If these spirits still listen to wavesong, perhaps you would do better not to try and overpower the call? Harmonize, this once. You've nothing to lose in the trying.
She was startled; where had that thought come from? She did not think it was hers. Some impulse drew her eyes out again towards the dark waves that seemed to pay no heed to her. Could it be...?
She didn't know, but the advice was good. Slowly, Marizah lifted her pipes again, bringing them to her trembling lips. A wan flicker of moonlight cut through the clouds to caress the silver, making it shine. An invitation? A blessing? An omen? Oh, she hoped--
And this time, she played a different song.
The haunting notes rang out again, but without any set rhythm or measure beyond the rollicking, rocking dips and crescendos of the sea. Music skirled out, carried by a sudden wind that blew from her back--her back? But that was not the way the wind had blown before--to scatter over the waves, not unlike the windsong itself; howling now, whispering then, wild and whirling and filled with reckless things. Grey eyes laughed above the pipes as Marizah let her fingers find the harmony, not caring whether the song was beautiful to her human ears. There was only she to hear--she, the seas, the winds, the skies.
Encouraged, she played and fancied that the elements were responding with delight to this mortal that sang their song. The fingers of the wind raked clouds to tatters, and moonlight poured through the rents, bathing her and the ocean alike in a pallor that subtly altered the melody. Stars twinkled accompaniment, not to be left out; nor entirely overpowered by wind or wave however strong their voices.
Ironically enough, it was only once Marizah had forgotten them totally that the drowned spirits stirred.
She did not see them at first, mistaking them for moon-gleam and shadow; the light rippled, then solidified, and slowly took human shape. They floated just above the sea, whirling and weaving in time with the waves and her melody. When the wind blew, it spun them, too. The light danced; they danced--and she found herself dancing with them, on the slick surface of the rock, her bare feet skidding and spinning. She could not feel fear, caught in the uncanny measure.
But she was still a mortal girl, unable to keep up her music as the elements did theirs. Her notes began to falter and fade, and at last... there was silence.
Breathless, Marizah could only watch as the spirits dissipated, the light that comprised them flickering away as clouds once more drew themselves across the moon and stars. Even the winds and waves were quiet for this one moment in time, resting from the dance--or perhaps showing respect for this human who'd made music with them. Perhaps not. Who could say what the elements thought, if indeed they thought at all?
One last spirit lingered on the water, its misty eyes on the girl who stood still upon her perch. A breeze brought his words to her, faint and breathy "And will you succumb to the wavesong too, child?"
Marizah grinned and replied, quite honestly, "Not yet, sir. Not yet. I have other songs to discover first."
A smile touched the translucent lips, and she could believe that there was the light of merriment yet in his eyes. "It is well. But a song will claim you someday, child. Wavesong, windsong, or even moonsong... someday. Remember."
She sat a long time after he had gone, watching, listening. When she felt the tug on her spirit that said it was time to go home, she gave the sea and its brethren a salute with her pipes before sliding down to the earth again.
And when Marizah's father complained over breakfast the next morning about the racket he'd heard through his window last night--"Some godawful caterwaul, enough to wake the dead!"--he did not understand why his daughter laughed.
copyright © 2005, Amanda M. Hayes