HarmonyBy Judith Proctor
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Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affection dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
(This story is set in the first season, shortly after they find Cally)
The music shop might have been there for eternity, gathering dust upon its leaded panes. Small and stooped, it huddled between its larger neighbours, hiding in its forgotten past. In this city of tall, glass and concrete buildings it was an impossible anachronism, yet there it stood, windows so dirty that it was all but impossible to deduce what secrets lay within.
Above Blake's head, a sign swayed gently in the wind, a fretwork carving of an ancient musical instrument: a violin. He hadn't noticed the shop, his business on this world did not concern it, but it was waiting for him. The music of the pied piper called him and he responded unknowing, turning without conscious realisation to the door that bore the word 'Open' in a faded Gothic script. Ducking, to avoid the low lintel, he entered another world. Strange creations of wood and metal, curved and carved, stringed and bowed surrounded him on every side; picking up an instrument he examined it, unable to fathom either its function or its mode of operation, understanding only that it had been crafted with great skill and love.
The shopkeeper laid down his flute and smiled. He was ageless, as old and as bent as his abode, yet the twinkle in his eye belied all suggestion of decrepitude. Blake looked up as the music stopped and indicated the contraption that he had replaced on the table, "What is it?"
Blake held out his hands helplessly. "But what does it do?"
The shopkeeper cleared a rush-seated chair of a pile of ancient, yellowed sheets of music, and sat down placing the melodeon on his lap, its strap over his shoulder. Pushing and pulling the bellows to gain air pressure, he simultaneously danced his fingers over the keys. Blake listened as the music began, firstly a slow waltz, then faster and faster, the tune changing to a jig that set the feet tapping and itching to dance.
"There's a drum beside you," said the musician without slowing the pace of his music. Blake looked around and saw a cylindrical drum with what looked like genuine animal skin stretched across the top. Cautiously he tapped it with his fingers, then gaining confidence in the rhythm, he joined in, the tune swirling around him, becoming part of him, and he part of it.
As the melody whirled to its conclusion, Blake laughed out loud for the sheer pleasure of it. "I would love to have a recording of that."
Eyes that had seen centuries looked into his. "Is that really what you want, Blake?"
He should have been surprised by the use of his name, yet he was not. This was somehow a place beyond time, and beyond the Federation.
"I want to share it with the others."
The old man shook his head. "No. To share in music one must become a player. To listen is to be one person alone, to participate is to become part of a greater whole."
He looked knowingly at Blake, a half smile on his old, yet young face, "They are still a group of individuals, if they are to work together, they must become a part of that whole."
Blake was sceptical. "You think music is the key?"
"Not the whole answer, but a part of it. If musicians are not aware of what their fellows are doing, the result is chaos. If they all work together, the result is greater than any could have achieved individually. Besides," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "it's fun. Shared enjoyment draws people closer and knits them together."
Outside, improbably, snow began to fall, masking the sounds of the busy city and catching on the edge of the each of the tiny window panes. Blake tapped his fingers on the drum, picking out a simple beat. "They certainly aren't drawn together by a desire to fight the Federation," he said wryly. "Perhaps something else is worth a try."
Slipping the melodeon strap off his shoulder, the shopkeeper passed the instrument to Blake. "This is for you. You chose it without realising. An instrument to take the lead, but not so loud as to drown out other voices."
Blake spread his hands helplessly, then accepted the proffered instrument."
"I haven't the faintest idea what to do with it."
"Did you think I was born playing?" The man's accent puzzled Blake. He couldn't place it at all, there was an odd lilt to it.
"The basics, I'll show you, the rest you will find for yourself. I've music here aplenty. Learn by playing as so many have done before you.
"The dark one, Avon. Tell him to send the others down. I'll see what I can find for them." He scurried around the shop, nimble in his movements inspite of his age; looking in ancient wooden cabinets, disturbing the dust on shelves piled high with flutes, tambourines, spare strings and miscellany of every kind.
"You know about the teleport?" asked Blake curiously.
"Is that what you call it? Don't waste my time with questions." He was suddenly irritated and waspish. "Bring them down, or go away and stop bothering me."
Blake hesitated, then decided that he trusted the strange old man. "Liberator, this is Blake. Avon, teleport Vila, Gan, Cally and Jenna down to my current location."
"I don't suppose you'd care to tell me why?" came the familiar sarcastic voice from his bracelet.
"You'll find out soon enough," said Blake shortly. Suddenly the whole idea seemed ludicrous. With the others he could believe it, but whoever wrote the line about music having charms to lull the savage beast had never met Kerr Avon.
His chain of thought was broken by the appearance of his crew. The shopkeeper studied them, his green eyes alight with curiosity. "Wander around, try things, make a noise, see what happens.
"You." He picked out Vila. "Catch!"
Vila reached out automatically to catch the small rectangular object that flew through the air at him.
"Blow it. Suck it."
Vila tried the harmonica experimentally and grinned at the result. Finding a corner of his own behind a large harpsichord he sat down and tried various combinations, eventually managing a recognisable rendition of a nursery rhyme.
Jenna spent a long time, trying things out, sometimes getting a sound she liked, sometimes wincing at the noise. Her final choice was a wooden recorder, a dried-out piece of paper wrapped round it showing the fingering for the various notes.
It was Cally who found the xylophone. "A bandurar," she exclaimed in surprise.
The shopkeeper appeared puzzled, then his face cleared. "You are not of Earth," he stated. He gestured offhandedly to the instrument. "Whatever you call it, take it if it pleases you."
He turned to Gan, seeming to find him of more interest that Cally, and studied him. Gan looked more than a little bewildered at the complex array of objects surrounding him. "Come," said the old man. "Come, try these."
Drums, large and small, side drums, snare drums, bongo drums, drums like overgrown tambourines; drums in an immense pile that Gan could have sworn were not there a minute before. Like two children together, they sat amidst the pile. "These are played with the hands," the shopkeeper demonstrated, "and this one here uses drumsticks like this." He took another with a gaily painted dragon on the skin. "This one, you hold sideways and play with a single stick." A happy half-hour of experimentation followed before Gan finally made his choice, the sideways drum with its eighteen inch width and four inch deep frame. He'd never seen anything like it before, but he liked the sound, and if the truth be told, he was also stricken by the red dragon as it chased its own tail over the drum skin.
Melodeon, recorder, harmonica, xylophone and bodhran, each held their choice as Blake asked the shopkeeper what he owed him. The old man looked offended. "My gift to you. All I ask in return is that you try to restore Earth to what she once was. Perhaps some day my people can return."
"Your people?" asked Blake.
The old man glanced at Cally, "Many are exiles, and for many different reasons." His attention came back to Blake. "There is another one to come. You will return and operate your teleport machine for him?"
Blake shrugged. "I'll try, but I doubt if you'll get far with Avon."
The other man simply smiled and waited.
"Avon, bring us up."
Five minutes later the solitary form of Kerr Avon materialised inside the music shop. The shopkeeper had not apparently moved, he was still seated where he had been when Blake had departed. The only change was that he had a violin under his chin and was now playing what seemed to be a slow air.
Avon waited impatiently for him to finish; then slowly the call of the song, the lament for those fallen in battles fought before the new calendar ever began, started to speak to him. Impassive, he listened, drawn in, in spite of himself.
The melody drew to its conclusion and the player waited for Avon to speak. Avon folded his arms, and in his turn waited also, putting forth a challenge that clearly stated, this is nothing to do with me.
Amusement crossed the musician's face. "You think this is a waste of time."
"Just like that?"
The shopkeeper smiled gently. "I keep no one here against their will. If you wish to choose an instrument, seek for what pleases you. If you wish to leave, you are at liberty to do so."
Avon looked around the shop, seeking for something that wasn't there. "This place is out of the dark ages. One computer and a decent synthesizer could duplicate the sound of anything in this room. Why bother to struggle with antiques when I can program Zen to do it quicker and with better sound quality?"
"Because it would be Zen and not yourself. When a machine plays music it is the same every time, but when a man plays music, his soul enters into the tune."
"So why not stock electronic instruments?" He pointed to the contents of the room around him, "These things are archaic, they can't possibly have the same accuracy of pitch."
The old man smiled, "They don't. Neither do they have the flexibility, most instruments are limited to one type of sound and some can only play in a single key. Also, just in case you wanted to know, some of them are affected by temperature and humidity and can go quite badly out of tune in a short period of time."
"Then why," asked Avon in stark disbelief, "stock them at all?"
"I love them. They were here before you were, and will be here long after you are gone. On those of the outer worlds that lack decent manufacturing industries, they are still made and used. To me they have life, whereas a synthesizer is dead. Think of it as a personal prejudice if you will."
He placed the violin once more under his chin and began to play once more: a tune once written by sailors, on a world whose present inhabitants had never even seen the sea.
The music stopped. "I beg your pardon?"
"That one, the one you are playing."
"The violin? You do realise that it is archaic, difficult to tune, breaks strings at regular intervals and is harder to master than anything the others have chosen?"
Avon said nothing, so the shopkeeper continued, "They have instruments where it is easy to find an individual note. With a violin, you cannot press a particular button or cover a given set of holes, you must learn from trial and experience where to place the fingers on the string to get the sound you desire.
"On the other hand, once you have that skill, there is greater flexibility, any note in any key becomes possible."
Avon's smile was wry, "If I am to become a fool, I might as well do the job properly."
Blake had mixed feelings about the outcome of the experiment, Avon had disappeared after the first session never to be seen again, when Vila had commented that his violin sounded like a cat being tortured to death, but the others were enjoying the experience. As they gained in confidence and skill, so they developed their repertoire. Tunes learnt as children, popular songs, and a selection of melodies from the old man in the music shop, some sad, some happy, some with words, some without.
It was true, Blake felt, they were growing together, he could feel the difference. As an added bonus, Gan had turned out to have a powerful singing voice and a totally unexpected repertoire of ballads. Blake found they all looked forward to their sessions together.
Except for Avon, he thought in exasperation. Why must the man be forever an outsider, forever anti-social? Couldn't he at least have given it a decent try?
That night Blake heard again the call of the pied piper, the flute charming its way through his dreams. Hardly aware that he was doing so, he dressed and made his way to the flight deck and then stopped. There was music, not the music of his dreams, but a slow, sad melody that spoke to him of loneliness and bereavement. It came to an end, and Blake spoke softly into the silence, "Avon, please, could you play it again."
The player turned slowly towards him, studying his face for mockery or cynicism. Finding none, he slowly resumed the tune, the lament echoing gently around the screens and consoles of the flight deck.
What, Blake suddenly wondered, had Avon been, before he became the man he was now? He'd never asked himself that. What personal tragedy or betrayal had made him the bitter, withdrawn man that Blake saw every day? He wanted to know and did not dare to ask.
Coming forward he sat down on the couch, seeking some way of getting closer, some way of making contact with this man, this stranger. "What's the tune called? I don't know it."
"According to the sheet it is the Londonderry Air, also known as Danny Boy. Make of that what you will." The voice wasn't welcoming, but it wasn't hostile either.
"I'd like to learn it." Blake wished he had his melodeon with him, and was surprised to find it on the seat beside him when he could have sworn he had left it in his cabin.
Avon gave him a rare smile. "By all means."
It was only later that Blake realised he had spent two entire hours in Avon's company without a single cross word or argument between them. More than that, he knew with the surety of foreknowledge that their lives were bound together for good or for ill. Whatever might come between them in the future, he had found a friend.
Later that night Blake dreamed again, but this time the music was of the violin, and the shopkeeper smiled at him, bowed politely, and doffed his green feathered hat.
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