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Sing No Songs of Resurrection



Sing No Songs of Resurrection
By James Lecky

On the day that Mistress Cantana completed her eighth – and penultimate – symphony, she held a masquerade in her domus. 'For the purpose of both celebration and commiseration', the invitations read and, accordingly, the citizens of Mortdieu dressed themselves in those costumes prescribed for the occasion.

Lord Lazarus wore the brown armour and helmet of Health, Lady Meridan the bright scarlet gown of Love, and, at their insistence, Dr Sontagg the blue armour and dome of Happiness (a barbed enough jibe on behalf of the Lord and Lady since Sontagg was known to be a morose fellow at best).

And, as the invitation dictated, they danced the Dance though the orchards that led to Mistress Cantana's domus; Sontagg twirling his ceremonial baton while Lazarus and Median used their fans to weave intricate patterns in the evening air.

A mile or so from the domus, along the static shore of Lake Immobile, they encountered Duke Stern and the Naked Angel, sitting on smooth rocks, staring into the unmoving water.

Stern, a literal giant of a man – twelve feet tall and four feet broad - wore only a loincloth and a domed helmet of black iron which belched smoke and flame from its crest at irregular intervals.

“Ridiculous,” he said, speaking to the Naked Angel. “I don't know how you persuaded me to wear this.”

”Nonsense, my lord,” the Angel said. “It is most becoming.” A smooth and androgynous voice to match a smooth and androgynous body. The Angel sighed. “Puzzles and games, she promised, ambrosia and manna. I cannot wait -” It trilled a small run of notes, slightly dampened by the roar of the helmet, and a small pool of the purest ambrosia appeared at the Angel's feet.

“Careful,” the Duke said. “Notes should not be wasted on such frippery.”

“Good day to you both,” Lord Lazarus said, executing a perfect box-step. “And what, pray, are you supposed to be, My Lord Stern?”

“Gloom,” the giant replied.

“An excellent costume,” Meridan said, coming to the end of a complicated pirouette.

“How very apt,” Dr Sontagg said, halting.

“And you,” Meridan said to the Angel, “you wear no costume today?”

The Angel looked down at its own body, as if realising for the first time that it was naked.

“How remiss,” it said and trilled a single, brief, note.

Now it wore vermilion armour and a plumed open-faced helmet topped with the grey tail-feathers of a long-extinct bird.

Dressed, the Angel was even more striking, the very figure of an ancient hero, down to the crimson battle-blade sheathed at its side, the look of steely determination on its sculpted face. It linked arms with Lady Meridan and said:

“Shall we away?”

And once again they began the Dance – a dance that moved without music yet was flawless in its execution – and, with Duke Stern bringing up the rear, they sashayed towards the domus.

* * *

There were live butterflies in Earl Veduc's hair, each one carefully positioned and glued in place. Frugal by nature, he had not used any of his own notes to create them – or any other part of his costume – but rather had caught them himself at dawn in one of the Purple Meadows.

“Risky,” Duke Stern said.

“They are mine,” the petulant Earl said. “Caught on my estate.”

“In lands which abut those belonging to the Margrave of the Marshes.”

“Damn the Margrave,” Veduc said. “Damn him and his library. It's not my fault if he can't keep the creatures on his own estate.”

“I still say it is a risk,” Duke Stern said.

They stood in the great empty hall of the domus, sipping from huge glasses of ambrosia, nibbling upon slices of manna.

As far as they could tell, virtually all the inhabitants of Mortdieu – nearly fifty in all – were in attendance, their costumes spectacular against the dismal backdrop of the hall – a cornucopia of colour representing concepts both great and small.

Lord Jarelle – Pity - was there, with Lord Bleck – Joy – by his side.

Bishop Horne dressed as Invitation, Baronet LeGran as Sorrow, Countess Tanuker as Trivia. and all the other grandees of Mortdieu, a city whose population consisted of nothing but grandees.

They spoke in low, reverential tones as befitted the occasion. It was almost, but not quite, a liturgy.

A moment later all talk ceased.

Mistress Cantana had entered the hall.

The costume she wore was peacock-bright, complete with tail and beak, its colours more intense than any other there. And with her, hopping in her wake, an enormous Blue Jay, her current muse.

“Welcome one and all,” she said, her words amplified by the beak. Then, without further preamble, she reached out and broke the neck of the Blue Jay with her strong but slender hands. A polite smattering of applause in response. “Friends,” she continued. “From today, I shall write no more music.”

She might have said more, but the hall was abruptly filled with noise – leather striking a hollow note against metal.

The Margrave of the Marshes had arrived and, seeing the butterflies fluttering around Earl Veduc's head had immediately struck at him with the massive book he habitually carried on a gilded chain around his neck.

Fortunately for Veduc, Duke Stern had interposed himself between Earl and Margrave and the great volume – in which the Margrave kept his collection of words - had struck hard against his helmet saving the Earl both injury and social embarrassment.

“Miscreant!” the Margrave roared. “Blackguard! Losangier!”

The words, archaic as they were, were understood by few of the assembled crowd but their tone – and the ferocity with which the Margrave swung his makeshift weapon – left none in doubt as to their meaning.

“Please, My Lord Margrave,” Duke Stern said. “Restrain yourself, remember the day and the company we keep.”

The Margrave peered up at him. A vein throbbed in his forehead and his white hair stood in disarray.

“Forgive me, Stern,” he said. “Forgive me, Mistress Cantana,” - here a slight bow to the woman who stood with the dead bird at her feet - “Forgive me one and all.... Except you, Master Veduc. You, sir, are a dastard and a blighter. And it is my intention to...” He riffled through the pages of his book until he found the word he sought. “... my intention to make war upon you and your domus.”

“What the devil do you mean?” Veduc asked.

The Margrave smiled, a twist of rouged lips. “You will find out in good time,” he said.

A curt nod to the assembled nobility and he was gone, the heels of his boots clacking against the stone floor.

“Extraordinary,” Lord Jarelle said.

“Quite so,” echoed Lord Bleck.

The party dissipated soon after - no one in the mood for either celebration or commiseration – leaving Mistress Cantana alone with her slaughtered muse.

As they retuned to their own estates, walking rather than dancing now, Dr Sontagg turned to Lord Lazarus and said:

“What did he mean by 'make war'?”

“Who knows?” Lazarus said. “Just another of those ancient words and phrases he likes to use.”

“Doubtless.” But he could not shake the nagging feeling that all was not as it should be, that something new and terrible had entered the world. Or, worse than that, something old and terrible.

* * *

The Margrave of the Marshes sat in his workroom and plotted.

A rotund man in voluminous grey robes, his thick neck and weak chin disguised by an elaborate ruff, he was, by any definition, not handsome. He could, of course, have Remade himself in a more pleasing form but chose not to. In a society where beauty is commonplace, ugliness has its attractions.

Besides, to Make or Remake cost notes and there were fewer and fewer of those in the world these days.

Not that he was spendthrift with his music – he had created the marshes which gave him his title, the domus where he housed his vast collection of books, unearthed from ruins so ancient that even he could not call them by their proper names.

He took the great volume from around his neck and turned once again to the word 'war'.

A sustained campaign against an undesirable situation or activity.

Something in the words, the shape and sound of them, gave him an inexplicable thrill of delight and he had for some time now – ever since the Naked Angel had introduced him to the concept - been seeking an excuse to put them into practice. The Earl's recent theft had given him his casus belli.

Not that he undertook his new diversion without good reason. The Earl had long been partial to incursions upon the Margrave's estate – a few dozen butterflies here, a jackalope there, crushing flowers underfoot in total disregard for their placement.

No, the man would have to be taught a lesson. A war, a colourful war to determine the exact boundaries of their estates.

If nothing else, it might help to pass the slow drag of time.

* * *

And while the Margrave plotted, Mistress Cantana sat and brooded. Alone in her great empty hall, save for the rotting carcass of the bird, she contemplated the great, empty days that stretched before her.

She might, under present circumstances, be expected to live until Mortdieu itself crumbled into dust. Her health – restored along with her youth at the completion of her Eighth – was robust, her beauty ethereal, her mind as sharp as ever.

But.

An eternity of idleness, the constant knowledge that her life's work would remain unfinished, for to complete – perhaps even to begin – the Ninth Symphony would spell her end.

Others – like Lord Lazarus, his twin sister Lady Meridan and their sometime secretary Dr Sontagg – had already written their finest music and were content now to fritter away their Talent on madrigals, tocattas, little whirls and snatches of melody which could only ever hope to transform the world in small, unimportant ways. Their last notes would remain uncomposed since, for them, the will to live beat stronger than the impulse to create.

Others still, those inhabitants of Mortdieu whose names were long forgotten, had simply allowed music, time and life to expire.

Mortdieu – the great city of composers where music and magic intertwined so completely that one was indistinguishable from the other.

An old, old city surrounded on all sides by impenetrable mist – said to have been conjured and composed by Saint Wolfram to hide the city from the Beautiful Horde, so far back in the ancient past as to have moved into the realm of legend.

Mortdieu, where the lives of the inhabitants were measured in notes; enough to create nine symphonies – no more and no less.

But what a city they had created; a work of art as much as architecture; the delicate towers of the classicists, the rigid utilitarian structures of modernists, the chaos of the avante-garde, fragile balconies overlooking silent lakes whose waters were never disturbed, for no winds blew through the city of Mortdieu.

She understood why so many had chosen death - could already feel the maddening itch of music in her brain, music that demanded to be released. Despite herself she sang a few bars of the overture, sweet and mournful as befitted the Ninth.

Around her the walls of the great hall changed, granite imbued with colour and form, and the bird at her feet twitched back into startled life. She reached down and killed it again.

No.

She would write no more music, no matter how strong the impulse, for there was always that threat of mediocrity – with her since the triumph of her First – and Mistress Cantana feared mediocrity much more than she feared death.

* * *

Two days after the masquerade, the Margrave of the Marshes began his campaign against Earl Veduc.

It was Dr Sontagg, taking his customary morning stroll through one of the abandoned coral gardens who saw – or rather heard – him first.

A great clanking shook the air, accompanied by the sound of ponderous hoofbeats, and the Margrave hoved into view.

Sontagg recognised him at once, despite the strange armour he wore – black and bulky with a featureless helm – and despite the ungainly and preposterous beast he rode, like nothing so much as a great ram, its fleece dyed indigo, its horns gilded with gold. In one hand the Margrave carried a great long lance, a red and white pennant dangling near its tip.

“Good day to you,” Sontagg said, studying both armour and beast with casual scrutiny. “Is there a pageant today? No one has informed me if there is.” His voice took on a slightly peevish tone.

“No pageant,” the Margrave said.

“Is this, then, something to do with the 'war' you spoke of?”

“Exactly that.” He fumbled with a satchel hanging from the ram's left horn and produced a scroll. “This is my formal declaration which I intent to deliver to the Earl.”

Dr Sontagg raised an elegant eyebrow. “Fascinating,” he said. “May I accompany you?”

“Of course,” the Margrave said and kicked the ram into a shambolic trot.

* * *

The Earl had spent most of that morning with his clockwork court.

The collection – to the envy of some and the puzzlement of many – was a vast one, painstakingly assembled by the Earl himself. From miniature guardsmen no bigger than his thumb to life-sized courtiers in lace and velvet, their bland features concealing intricate clockwork brains capable of a modicum of independent thought.

It was one of these – a dandy in a brocade coat and silk knickerbockers – that he pursued across his lawn waving an oversized butterfly net and laughing heartily.

“Spartaco!” the Earl cried. “Come back, our revelries are not yet ended!”

But the automaton paid him no attention, striding away on stick-thin legs. The sight of it made the Earl laugh all the harder.

The dandy stopped, and for a moment Veduc thought that its mechanism had run down. Odd that, since he had carefully wound each one that morning. But as he drew closer it became clear that the clockwork continued to run smoothly. Something else had caused it to stop.

A moment later he knew the reason.

There, coming along a wide boulevard in high pomp, was the Margrave of the Marshes.

A small crowd had gathered in his wake – Dr Sontagg, Lords Jarelle and Bleck, Bishop Horne, Countess Tanuker and, as ever, Lord Lazarus and his sister Lady Meridan.

Despite the Margrave's sinister – if comic – appearance the whole procession had an air of carnival about it. Jarelle and Bleck smiled and laughed, two newly-weds out for an afternoon stroll. The Bishop and the Countess skipped along, and behind them Sontagg, Lazarus and Meridan performed a pastiche version of the Dance.

They drew closer. The Margrave dismounted from the back of his monstrous ram and clanked towards the Earl.

“This,” the Margrave said. “Is for you.” And presented the scroll.

The Earl unrolled it and read the words it contained.

It read:

I, Oswellian, Margrave of the Marshes, declare war upon the Earl Veduc, his estate and domus. I and my allies shall do our utmost in prosecuting the war in the attainment of our aims.

To whit: to ensure the peace and stability of my estate, free from interference, persecution and theft.

Signed

Oswellian, Margrave of the Marshes.


“Allies?” the Earl said. “Who exactly are your allies?”

“They are.” The Margrave waved towards the laughing, dancing group.

“Indeed.” The Earl called down to Lord Lazarus. “Is it so, my lord, are you the Margrave's ally in this affair?”

“I suppose I am,” Lazarus replied diffidently. “I suppose we are all.”

“And I am allowed to engage allies of my own?”

“Yes, of course,” the Margrave said, although he sounded unsure.

“Very well. In that case I accept your declaration. What must we do next?”

“Ah!” the Margrave said. “We must fight a battle - you and your allies against me and mine.”

The Earl nodded.

“Then shall we say, one week from today?”

“Very well.” The Margrave turned, clanked off and clambered back onto the ram with as much dignity as he could manage.

It was only after the procession had disappeared from view that the Earl allowed himself to frown.

* * *

News of the war spread rapidly and by the next evening the majority of the citizens of Mortdieu had declared their allegiances one way or another.

Mistress Cantana remained a notable exception, refusing to be drawn into such nonsense, preferring to be left alone to mope and wander through the corridors of her domus, sometimes visiting her workroom to weep over the manuscripts of her eight symphonies.

Other than these, she had created nothing in her life. Yes, of course the domus had risen with the performance of her First, the Blue Waste been conjured by the bleak power of her Fifth and so on, but these had been byproducts of the work, not their intention.

Musical architecture, atonal landscaping, contrapuntal decoration – these were best left to others. She was and remained a composer. Music was her craft, her genius. Her passion.

Wiping her tears with a lace kerchief, she sat at her harpsichord and tinkered with the keys, careful not to create any new combination of notes. After a moment she found her fingers drawn to the second movement of her Third. The sorcerous properties of the music had gone, dissipated with the creation of the inexplicable machines it conjured in its wake – but the music itself remained, by turns harsh and sweet, soaring and subtle.

Her greatest work?

More technically proficient than her First, more controlled than her second. The Fourth and Fifth might rival – although not equal – it, the Sixth and Seventh have received greater acclaim and the Eighth reduced even Duke Stern to tears.

But was it her greatest? What might her unwritten Ninth accomplish?

Equally, though, what might it fail to achieve?

No, the risk was too great, the possibility – however remote – that her final work and legacy be a commonplace one.

“I will write no more music,” she said, an affirmation as much as an utterance.

“You are too critical, Mistress,” the Naked Angel said, appearing cross-legged on the lid of the harpsichord. A discordant note accompanied its arrival.

“And you attune yourself to emotions that are none of your concern,” Mistress Cantana said, her fingers frozen on the keys.

Au contraire,” the Angel said. “When one of my fellows is in distress it concerns me greatly.”

“It might fit you better to think of the coming war,” Mistress Cantana said.

“A trifling thing at best,” the Angel said, “merely another fad, forgotten when fashions change.” It smiled, the expression filled with mischief rather than malevolence..

“I hope you are correct,” Mistress Cantana said.

“Of course I am. Now, tell me, Mistress, where lies the heart of your sadness?”

“Go away, you irksome thing,” Mistress Cantana said

The Angel vanished as quickly as it had come. It would return whenever it wished, of course, since neither lock nor charm could prevent it from doing so. But for the moment, at least, Mistress Cantana could savour her solitude.

* * *

The battle began on time, just after noon.

The craze for war had swept through the city, with a procession of citizens – both allies and enemies – combing the Margrave's library for definitions, examples, methods and means.

Although he scowled, muttering under his breath, the Margrave remained secretly pleased at this attention, even permitting the Earl Veduc to spend an long afternoon among the books, soaking up all the martial information he wished.

And now the two armies were arrayed, facing each other across the cobalt expanses of the Blue Wastes.

On one side, the Margrave's Alliance, its ranks filled with crude creatures imagined and brought to life by his allies. A mixed bag by any definition, their one cohesive factor the grey serge uniforms the Margrave insisted the rank-and-file wore. There were pikemen and slingers, dragon riders on ill-tempered beasts, mangonels and trebuchets and other archaic machines of war.

On the other side, the Earl's forces, culled in great part from his clockwork court, fashioned by the Earl himself after long hours in his workroom but bolstered by other automata created especially for the day by his allies.

There were hussars on prancing ponies, long lines of red-clad infantry, great field pieces of brass and bronze.

“Magic versus metal,” Duke Stern observed. Like Mistress Cantana he had elected to take no part in the war but, unlike her, had been unable to restrain his curiosity and now sat with the Naked Angel enjoying breakfast while the two armies manoeuvred into position.

“How long do you think it will last?” the Angel said.

“Not long. One side or the other will grow bored with the whole thing, quit the field and that will be the end of that.”

“Doubtless,” the Angel said. It raised a glass of sparkling wine in salute to both sides. “Still, it may be entertaining enough.”

“Do you think of nothing but your own entertainment?” the Duke said.

A little laugh. “Rarely,” it said.

Lord Lazarus came riding up, seated on the back of a white charger. He wore a charcoal coloured uniform of his own design and a long sabre hung from his hip.

“Are you sure you won't join us, my lord Duke?” he asked. “The day promises to be splendid fun.”

“Thank you, no,” the Duke said. “I am content enough to observe.”

“As you wish.” He galloped back to his own lines.

And the battle commenced.

Dr Sontagg was killed in the first exchange, still attempting to mount his horse.

Lady Meridan, laughing so hard that she could hardly sing the resurrection notes, brought him back to life and this time he managed to clamber onto the back of his charger with a little more panache.

* * *

The casualties were greatest in the first hour – Lord Lazarus, Bishop Horne, Baronet LeGrand, Count Wesker, the Boyar-Prince Safronkin – until the grandees began to come to grips with the rules of this new game. But when they had, their laughter boomed in counterpoint to the Earl's clockwork cannons - even Duke Stern was seen to crack a wry smile.

And over it all the sound of resurrection songs as both sides returned their dead back to life and back into battle.

A fine, grand game it was too, distraction enough to fill the endless hours that hung over Mortdieu and her grandees.

Until Lord Lazarus died irrevocably.

“An accident,” the Earl explained afterwards. “An unfortunate accident.” And no one – even Lady Meridan – had cause to disbelieve him.

Lord Lazarus, swept up in the dash and elan of a lancer's charge. Six hundred of them, with Lazarus at their head, determined to take the Earl's cannon with pluck and steel alone.

Lord Lazarus, handsome and smiling, waving his sabre above his head, riding straight into the mouth of a brass monstrosity from another age. An explosion – no greater or louder than any that had gone before – a crash of earth and when the smoke cleared there he was, torn apart by the force of the blast, limbs and organs scattered like discarded playthings.

The Earl was the first to see that something was amiss.

“Pax!” he called out, remembering the word that the Margrave had taught him. “In the name of Saint Wolfram, pax!”

The Margrave trotted across the battlefield to meet him, a broad grin on his florid, face.

“Surrendering so soon? You disappoint me, Veduc, I would have though the battle to go on for hours yet.”

The Earl did not reply, instead he merely pointed to the red ruin that had been Lord Lazarus.

“Oh my...” The Margrave said, that simple phrase as expressive as any curse.

“Help him!” Lady Meridan screamed. “For pity's sake help him!” She ran towards them, her hair in perfect disarray, face smudged with gunpowder and soot. Dr Sontagg rushed behind her, his features carefully composed in a look of professional concern.

“Dead,” he pronounced after a cursory examination of the remains. “Dead, certainly, beyond my capabilities.”

Kneeling beside the body of her brother, Lady Meridan sang a keening song of resurrection. A song so filled with anguish and loss that the universe itself might have wept to hear it.

It did no good.

* * *

“The cremation will be held in five days,” Duke Stern said.

“So it is true then?” Mistress Cantana said. “There is no hope?”

“There is always hope while the stars shine,” the Duke said. “But in these circumstances... no, there is no hope.”

They sat in the stone garden in the grounds of Mistress Cantana's domus, sipping tea.

A curious place, that garden, even given the esoteric nature of Mortdieu. No flowers grew there, nor were there any weeds. It was merely – as far as the Duke could tell - a collection of rocks placed without consideration or aesthetic choice.

Mistress Cantana had taken to spending time her time here, watching the rocks grow, giving the impossible task her full attention in order to silence the music that played in her head.

“I have your invitation here,” Stern said. “Lady Meridan asked me to deliver it.”

He fumbled in the pockets of his red velvet coat and produced an envelope, dwarfed by that massive hand.

She took it and briefly read the contents.

“You will be going, of course,” the Duke said.

“I will consider it.”

“The first death since Von Shirak and you will merely consider it?”

She did not reply, her attention fixed upon the stones once again.

Death was not unknown in Mortdieu, but equally it was not common.

The last demise had been over a hundred years before, when the Mad Knight Baldur von Shirak had thrown himself from the Seagull Tower to plunge into the welcoming rocks below. Not trusting gravity to do its work unaided, he had taken a tincture of strychnine prior to his autodefenestration to ensure that even the finest resurrection song could not have brought him back.

The death of Lord Lazarus, three days before, was more final than that.

It would take a symphony to resurrect him.

And only one person in Mortdieu had so many notes left to them - notes that chased through her head night and day in screeching ill-formed melodies, pleading with her for form and release.

The sound of a dirge broke her from her reverie and she looked up from the rocks to see Lady Meridan driving towards them in her calliope.

The calliope – one of Earl Veduc's many machines – was a gaudy thing, more suited to carnival than mourning, pulled by a team of clockwork horses. It had, according to Duke Stern, been Veduc's gift to Lady Meridan to mark her brother's passing.

She sat stiffly in the passenger seat while a mechanical coachman drove the calliope. She wore a mourning gown of indigo, a grey veil over her face, topaz rings on each of her fingers.

Mistress Cantana rose as the machine drew closer, as did the Duke, towering over her.

The music it played was a simple tune in a minor key – Mistress Cantana recognised it as a fragment of Lazarus' toccata and fugue, pressed into service to mark his death.

An exhausted piece of music, she thought, all sorcerous power long since gone, although at the time it had been enough to rise the rococo towers that faced mistward in the east of the city. Prosaic music, prosaic architecture. The notion was unworthy of her, but she could not help but think it.

The calliope came to a halt, Lady Meridan dismounted and came to them.

Grief had been hard on her, etched into her face, eyes blank with the pain of it. The tracks of tears, both new and old, formed irregular lines through her thick layers of make-up.

“I have come to plead with you,” she said without preamble. “Please, Bring my brother back to life.”

“No,” Mistress Cantana said.

Lady Meridan continued as though she had not heard her.

“A light has gone out in my soul. All joy has left this world. Without him I am nothing more than a shade. Please,” she said again. “Bring him back to life.”

“No.” Mistress Cantana said the word as gently as she could, yet there was still ice in her voice.

“You will, at least, attend his cineration.” As much a command as a question.

“Of course.”

As Lady Meridan turned to go, Mistress Cantana stood and placed a hand upon her elbow.

“I am sorry for your loss,” she said. “And I grieve for the Lord Lazarus, but it was no fault of mine, I have no obligation towards him.”

“Nor to any of us, it would seem.”

And then she was gone, the discordant music of the calliope fading as she went back the way she had come.

“You understand my reasons for refusing her?” Mistress Cantana said when silence had returned.

“Whether I do or do not is unimportant,” Duke Stern said. “Your reasons are your own and that is good enough.”

“Thank you, my friend.”

* * *

Five days passed.

In Mortdieu – the city, the land, the world they inhabited – the only talk was of the death and forthcoming funeral of the Lord Lazarus.

No one quite knew the etiquette, however, since the Lord Lazarus had left no stipulation, no last will and testament. Some – Lords Jarelle and Bleck, for instance – took to openly weeping and rending their garments, returning to their domus every few hours to don new and more elaborate mourning costumes which they tore with artful precision. Others – such as Bishop Horne and the Graf Orlok – remembered the carnival atmosphere that had accompanied the interment of Baldur Von Shirak and used a little of their precious precious music to compose a joyful syncopated melody in honour of their fellow aristocrat.

“To celebrate the life rather than mourn the death,” Bishop Horne explained when questioned.

Upon its first performance the music raised a garden in the southern quarter of the city, a full acre of gladioli and lupins, through which they marched at the head of a mechanical band with trumpets and trombones. In keeping, the Bishop and Graf wore top hats, silk sashes and carried silver maces with which they kept time.

A formal peace was concluded between Earl Veduc and the Margrave of the Marshes at which both men vowed never to make war again and some took small consolation that, if nothing else, the death of Lord Lazarus had brought peace to the world.

“Until the next time,” Dr Sontagg was heard to mutter before scurrying away.

* * *

Mistress Cantana awoke at dawn on the morning of the funeral.

She took an hour to choose her gown, finally settling on a simple design of purple charmeuse. Another hour to choose a pillbox hat and veil. Three more to apply her make-up.

It was the way of things with her now, taking an inordinate time over every decision, and the noon clocks had struck by the time she was satisfied with her appearance.

They were all there at the Necropolis, all the gaudy, silly citizens of Mortdieu.

A band had been assembled close to the funeral pyre, mostly mechanical musicians but not all. Bishop Horne with his trumpet, Lords Jarelle and Bleck with their violas, Lady Peel with her piccolo, half a dozen others with their virtuoso instrument of choice.

Lady Meridan was there, of course, standing in the conductor's position with a ebony baton in her hand.

The tune they played – Mistress Cantana recognised it as she approached – was a variation on Lady Meridan's Seventh, the symphony she had composed to celebrate her brother's five hundredth birthday. But now it was played in a sombre minor key.

“I'm glad you came,” Duke Stern said.

“He was a good man. The least I can do is pay my respects to him.”

“Of course.”

The music ended, Lady Meridan put down her baton and plucked a torch from the brazier beside the pyre.

They had reassembled the Lord Lazarus as best they could, stitching torn flesh and shattered limbs, applying cosmetics to his poor face to at imitate a semblance of health.

An unnecessary refinement, Mistress Cantana thought, since death had already chosen him - or rather had had him thrust into its embrace without warning.

“The Angel is not with you today?” she said to the Duke.

The giant scratched his head. “No,” he said. “I have not seen it, away on some errand of its own devising, no doubt.”

“No doubt.”

But even as she spoke, the Naked Angel appeared beside Lady Meridan. It held something in its hands, something that Mistress Cantana could not help but recognise.

Eight musical scores, each one in her own precise notation.

The Angel handed them to Lady Meridan with a flourish.

“As requested,” it said.

“What does this mean?” Mistress Cantana demanded, advancing upon them.

“Please, Mistress,” said Lady Meridan, “do not take another step.” She held the torch dangerously close to the crisp vellum, so close that a faint crackle could be heard.

“It would be unfortunate,” the Angel said, “if your life's work were to be burned along with the Lord Lazarus.”

* * *

Her symphonies, her precious, precious symphonies. If the manuscripts were destroyed her music would never be heard again. Even she herself could not hope to recreate them other than as simple sound, for the magic that had been released upon their composition was long gone.

“Traitor!” she hissed at the Naked Angel.

“To whom?” the Angel replied. “I owe you no allegiance, Mistress.”

“You would not listen to my pleas,” Lady Meridan said. “Nor would you find it in your heart to aid me. Therefore, you have left me no other avenue than coercion.”

“Please,” Duke Stern said, advancing to stand beside Mistress Cantana. “Some compromise must be possible.”

“None,” Lady Meridan said. “If Lazarus is consigned to the flames, Mistress Cantana's work will follow.” Grief and madness competed in her voice.

“Very well,” Mistress Cantana said. “I will do as you request. And damn your soul for it.”

She turned and walked away from them, her face serene but a fierce hatred burning within her. Hatred. But something more, something that even she herself was unable to completely identify.

A sense of....

What?

Relief? Release? Purpose?

She had feared this moment for so very long – since the first moment she had begun to compose – and now that it had been forced upon her its arrival did not seem so terrible.

No one, not even Duke Stern, would meet her gaze. The Naked Angel – normally so pleased with its schemes - appeared chastened, its smile not quite so broad. But then it was a mercurial creature at best, not inhuman but unhuman, and who knew what emotions resided in the recesses of its elegant cranium.

* * *

Back in her workroom, she worked with an intensity hitherto unknown.

In the past each note had been carefully weighed and considered, its place within the composition precise - technique over instinct. Now she allowed instinct to come to the fore, feeling as much as placing the notes onto the manuscript.

For a single, feverish day she worked, transcribing from the music that whirled and pounded and swept through her head.

Sometimes, a small snatch of music would fall unbidden from her lips. Never more than a few notes, but the power of them, raw as they were, worked its way into the walls of her domus, altering them so that they flowed like quicksilver and, at times, blinked from opaque to translucent, filled with cold fire. Elegia Per La Bella.

Mistress Cantana saw none of this nor, had she been awaret, would she have cared, her focus given over utterly to the majesty of her ninth symphony.

Elegia Per La Bella. She had named it with scorn in that ancient tongue they all knew but none spoke...

Elegy for the Beautiful.

* * *
* * *

The next day they assembled, all the grandees of Mortdieu, bringing with them those instruments upon which they were virtuosi.

And before the mouldering corpse of the Lord Lazarus, they set up their music stands, tuned to A, and waited for the arrival of Mistress Cantana.

A thin rain had begun to fall, which some took as a good omen, although those with stringed instruments – the Graf Orlock with his cello, the violins and violas of Lords Jarelle and Bleck - thought it an inconvenience.

Duke Stern, by common consensus, had been chosen to conduct and he stood with the baton in his great hands, staring towards the distant domus of Mistress Cantana. Now and again he would take out his pocket watch – its face as big as that of a grandfather clock – and check the time.

“Noon, she said,” Lady Meridan said as she approached him, piccolo cradled in the crook of her left arm, a gaudy carpetbag containing Mistress Cantana's stolen musical scores in her right hand.

“It is not quite the time,” Duke Stern replied. And it was true, a minute or more remained until the appointed hour. He brushed a light sheen of rainwater from the shoulder of his black dress jacket. “She will be here.”

“And if she is not I will keep my promise.”

“Is he really so precious to you, the Lord Lazarus?” Duke Stern asked. “So precious that you would destroy one life to restore his?”

Before she could reply, Stern saw the familiar figure of Mistress Cantana, clad in a hooded crimson gown, making her way towards them with measured steps.

She wore a serene expression, a woman content with the world and her place in it, Or, Duke Stern thought, a woman who had accepted fate.

He had seen that expression before – on the face of Baldur Von Shirak before he threw himself from the Tower. Yet Von Shirak had screamed, just once, as he had rushed to meet the ground. What sound, the Duke wondered, might now emanate from the elegant throat of Mistress Cantana?

The assembled orchestra fell silent, as Mistress Cantana moved among them, placing a copy of the music on every stand. Silence, so unusual in chattering, melodious Mortdieu, could be the only possible response now.

The Duke was the last to receive the score and he nodded his thanks as it was placed before him.

Elegia Per La Bella.

He tapped his baton against the podium and every eye in the world was upon him.

They began to play.

Oh! The delicacy of the contrasting musical themes, the perfection of the bridge from First movement to Second, the expositions, the development, the unexpected satire of the modulation.

But, Stern wondered, was it a masterpiece?

By the time they had reached the Third movement he had decided it was not.

No better than her Fifth. Not as well developed as her Third.

It was not an opinion he would ever give voice to, however, not in Mortdieu where critical words were wielded with the precision of a misericorde.

Still, whether he cared for it or not, the music had its desired effect.

Upon the pyre, Lord Lazarus began to stir. By the bridging passage to the Fourth movement he had risen, staring about him with blank incomprehension. Death had changed him – how could it not? Death had been hard on him – how could it not be? His movements, once so graceful, had become stiff, a marionette without a manipulator. His eyes and cheeks had sunk, lustrous skin become slack wax, carmine lips become grey leeches.

As the allegro of the Fourth Movement swelled around him, Lord Lazarus pointed to the east.

And screamed.

The music came to a halt, the violins continuing to play for half a dozen bars after the rest, and every head turned to where Lord Lararus stood with his arm outstretched.

To the east, the mists had rolled away, or rather they had been impelled away by the Elegia.

Mists that had surrounded Mortdieu, kept her hidden and safe.

A horde stood just beyond, so vast that the end of it could not be seen. The tips of lances glittered above parti-coloured pennants, bared swords that held and kept the reflection of a weak and dying sun.

Held and kept, for the horde stood immobile, a frozen moment they had held since the music of Saint Wolfram had trapped them there.

The Beautiful Horde.

They had never truly forgotten it, these last inhabitants of Mortdieu, merely pushed the memory so far back in their minds that it had taken on the substance of a myth. A hundred thousand years will erode even the strongest truth.

Now they remembered. Every blade, every piece of bright silvered armour, every look of hatred and envy on every radiant face.

Duke Stern turned from his podium.

“What have you done?” he whispered to Mistress Cantana.

“Not I,” she said. “I did not know that this would happen.” And he knew she spoke the truth.

The Duke looked down at the music before him. They had almost reached the rondo that marked the end of the symphony. A glance told him of the power of those final bars. What he had thought uninspired had proven to have a darker inspiration than he could have ever imagined.

“Burn it,” he said. “Burn them all.”

“You cannot!” Mistress Cantana said.

“Do you not understand, Mistress?” the Duke said. “To play to the end would destroy us all. The Horde has been revealed. What if it were to awaken?”

“I did not know this would happen,” Mistress Cantana said again. “The music was trapped, I simply freed it.”

“But the rest must never be freed,” the Duke said.

Then, tender as a lover, he reached out his huge hands and snapped her neck.

* * *

They burned her on the pyre so lately occupied by the Lord Lazarus. And they burned her manuscripts - all of them, from the First to the Cursed Ninth - for who knew what latent thaumatology might lurk within those notes even now.

“Sing no songs of resurrection,” the Duke ordered. No one thought to question him.

And no one bothered to watch as the flames consumed Mistress Cantana, their attention fixed upon the Horde not two miles from where they stood. A legend had come to life and not a one of them knew what to do.

Then, from somewhere, a chill breeze blew through the streets of Mortdieu and the music it made as it caressed the stones of that ancient, ancient city, was the sigh of a world eager for its end. For their end.

“Is there magic in that music?” Lord Lazarus asked, his voice empty.

Duke Stern thought he saw a pennant flutter. A trick of the light, perhaps, or the product of his own dire imagination.

“Yes,” he said. “I fear there might be.”

* * *

James Lecky is an actor, writer and (very occasional) stand up comedian from Derry N. Ireland, where he lives with his wife and cat. His work has appeared in a number of publications both online and in print including Mirror Dance, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Heroic Fantasy Quartery and Swords and Sorcery.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

A love of words, a love of fiction and the opportunity to create new worlds, let a few characters loose in them and see what happens.



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