A FAMILIAR PAGEANT
By L.M. James
Raymond clapped his hands together gently. That did nothing to calm down the barely contained chaos of the practice room. He cleared his throat with an equal lack of results. He cast a glance at his wife, but she was busy with Gareth and Tucker. At three years of age, the youngest twins were still too undisciplined to join in with the rest of the family, but Raymond refused to allow any of his children to interrupt the performance of music.
Even if they were only toddlers!
Sadly, he mused, at the moment, the three-year-olds are behaving better than the rest of the family. He cleared his throat again, a bit more loudly. Eight-year-old Jasper looked up briefly from his guitar, glancing at his older brothers and sisters; he turned his attention back to the instrument.
Raymond whistled five notes, each pitched higher than the one before it. At the dying of the fifth note, he sang out the word “QUIET!” Selma, the tiny spider monkey on his shoulder drew back and stared at him reproachfully. With an obscene gesture of biting her thumb, the familiar launched herself into the air, rising upward until she reached the hanging light fixture. All sound in the room instantly ceased as the witchery of a Bard went against its own basic nature, forced to suppress sound. The father smiled at the five children before him. We were insane to have seven, he thought, though a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he saw Jasper, the only one of his children to inherit his Bardic Talent, tapping out a rhythm as he tried a working of his own to lift the silence.
Another quick working, one finger gently tapping against another, restored sound to the room. The children, acutely aware of any change in sound – a trait almost mandatory in a family of musicians – looked about and then at their father.
“Thank you,” Raymond Howison said dryly. He pinned each of the five with a gaze that did not allow them to look away. This, he had said many times, had no touch of witchery to it, but was merely the power of a father. “Melissa,” he said, “you volunteered us to play at your Pact Day Pageant.” He stifled the embryonic protests of the older boys with, “And the rest of us agreed to do it.” Silence fell as if brought by witchery. “So, since we have made the commitment to do this concert…we…are…going…to…do…it.” His eyes narrowed. “Is there anyone who has a problem with that?”
“No,” came the reply from four of the children. Only Jasper remained silent, exactly as the father has known he would. Even in a family of musicians, there would be times when someone would not want to perform. So far, that day had yet to come for Jasper; Raymond doubted that it ever would.
Raymond turned to look directly at his eldest daughter – older than her identical twin by a full six minutes – and let all traces of levity and lightness disappear from his voice. “Melissa,” he said firmly, not letting the girl turn her gaze away from him, “we agreed to do this so you wouldn’t be embarrassed, but you should have asked first, and you should have told us about it as soon as it happened instead of not letting us know about it until two weeks before the day.”
The other girl snickered, realized her faux pas immediately and tried to avoid her father’s notice. “You are not clear of blame in this, Melinda,” Raymond said. “You were right there in the room with your sister when she volunteered us for this, and you didn’t say anything to stop her, and you didn’t tell us anything about it. You are just as much in the wrong as she is.” Melinda ducked her head, a fiery blush rising in her cheeks.
Raymond allowed the lightest trace of a smile to come to his face. “But we do appreciate the fact that you want people to hear your family perform,” he said, “so we’re going to make you proud of us and give your pageant the best concert we can.”
Melissa looked up, her long dark blonde hair falling across her shoulders as she did so. “Are you going to do a working in it?” she asked, her eyes almost glowing with eagerness.
“I doubt it,” the father said. “This isn’t really the time for workings. This is a concert.”
“Actually, honey,” said Rebecca, turning away from the younger twins, “this might be the perfect time to do a working of some sort. This is for Pact Day, after all, the day Orthos and witches finally decided to get along with one another. I think doing a working as part of the concert to celebrate it might help the kids realize just how much a part of everyone’s life witchery is.”
“I’m not sure there’s time to craft one.” Raymond looked toward the Christmas tree, amused and impressed that the lights the girls had worked onto the needles still shone. That, he thought, is some seriously good witchery. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to be like when their familiars find them.
“Then revise one you’ve already done. I know for a fact that you did a working about Pact Day when you were in high school; there’s no reason you can’t update that one.”
Raymond smiled wryly and inclined his head toward his wife. “Boys,” he said, “this is why you should never marry a woman smarter than you.” The hoped-for laughter followed his comment. “Now,” he said, “let’s get back to practice.” He nodded at the sheet music before each of the children. “While the five of you play through that,” he glanced at his wife, “I will find my notes on my own Pact Day working and see what we can do for this one. After all, we want to do the fifth grade proud.”
With a unison born of natural talent and long practice, the five children picked up their instruments and began playing. The strains of the classic “Pact of Peace” sounded through the house. Raymond smiled as he left the room. “Jasper,” he said over his shoulder to the eight-year-old Bard, “go ahead and sing while I find what I need. I’ll take over the next one.”
The high, but perfectly pitched, voice of the young boy rang out the first notes of the song. Alone on the stairway, Raymond made no attempt to hide his smile of pride and pleasure. As rare as the Bardic Talent was, even in witch families, the chances of his having sired another Bard had always been slim. And, no, he firmly reminded himself, we did not have another pregnancy after Jasper just so there might be another Bard in the family. He chuckled silently. The girls are stronger witches, anyway, and they’re only ten. Jasper’s voice rang through the house, perfectly clear on the highest note of the song. But that boy is going to be something. He’s already as good as I am.
He pushed open the door to the attic and stepped inside, flipping the switch to turn on the light. The large banker’s box containing his working notes stood where it had been for over a decade, though its smaller companion had joined it only a year earlier. He rifled through the larger box, quickly finding the folder he needed. He sat down on the floor and began to look through his writings. He nodded his head. Yes, he thought, this will be easy enough to modify to include the children. And once he got it into the hands of the fifth grade teacher, it shouldn’t be hard for the students to learn it.
Pleased with the plans rapidly forming in his mind, Raymond left the attic and returned to the family practice room.
# # #
Jasper peeked between the curtains to look at the crowd forming in the school auditorium. He turned to look at his parents. “There’s a LOT of people out there!” he said urgently, indicating the room beyond the curtains with an exaggerated wave of his hand.
Raymond chuckled and clasped his son’s arm to pull him away from the curtain. “Don’t worry about the audience, Jasper,” he said. “All you need to worry about is how well you perform.”
Jasper drew himself up to his full height…as much as an eight-year-old could do so…and looked his father directly in the eyes as he said, “A Bard always performs well.” He turned with more solemnity than would fit on his small frame and strode toward his guitar standing by the wall.
Raymond Howison spun to face the wall so his son would not see the tears of laughter rolling down his face. He composed himself and went to join his children. Under his direction, the three boys and twin girls took their places on the stage and readied their instruments. Raymond picked up his own instrument, a guitar similar to the one Jasper held, and placed the strap over his head and onto his shoulder. He looked to the wings of the stage and nodded to the man sitting at a large control panel. Lifting one hand in acknowledgement, the man pressed two buttons on the panel before him.
The curtains opened. The Howison children struck up their instruments immediately, their music a strong but gentle presence in the auditorium. Raymond opened himself to the power the children raised with the music. Focusing through Jasper, the five of them poured the strength of their witchery to their father.
Children in various costumes from many nations during the late seventeenth century walked onto the stage from either side. The children took their rehearsed places on stage, none of them looking directly toward the audience, though many of them could not keep their eyes from drifting to the crowd, no doubt searching for their respective parents.
Raymond began to lightly strum his guitar, singing softly in Chinese. A long, curving structure appeared, the image stretching far beyond what could be within the confines of the elementary school auditorium. Images of majestic mountains covered in trees of brilliant green showed behind the now fully-formed illusion of the Great Wall of China. As the music continued, the entire auditorium filled with the illusion, until the audience shared the feeling of sitting along the raised ramparts and crenellations of the wall.
A fifth grade student, a young blonde man dressed in white suit, tie, shirt, shoes, and beret stepped forward. “A wall exists among our people,” he said, almost yelling as he attempted to project his voice beyond the confines of the stage. “Witches and Orthos have long fought one another, each hating the other for the differences between us. For too long we have turned brother against brother and child against parent. The talent of witchery is in all our blood, for we are all human. Today, we have gathered here to forge the Pact of Accord.”
Another student, a thin black-haired girl in a long silk dress stepped forward. “I am Huy Zhao, a Master of Earth witchery.” She stretched forth her hands and a slab of stone rose from the body of the great wall. “Upon this earthen tablet shall the Pact be inscribed.”
Another student, this one a boy with dark skin and dressed in a pair of leather sandals, pants and flowing tunic of blue linen, and a tight-fitting round cap of the same material. “I am Ewelike Okafor, Master of Fire Witchery.” He pointed one index finger upward and then to the stone tablet held by “Huy Zhao”. Fire streamed from his finger and struck the stone. The finger moved, and words appeared, burned into the stone itself.
Raymond changed the fingering on his guitar, altering the illusion working to represent the various workings done on the original Pact Day. He glanced over at his family, proud of their united playing, providing reliable music for the pageant but not drowning out the actors. He scowled mildly at Jasper; the boy took the hint to stop watching his father’s working and return his full attention to the music. The girls looked about the area, their attention to the music no more than rote. While technically perfect through the specific magic of muscle memory, the twin sisters clearly had their minds focused on other matters.
The man frowned briefly turning away from his children, as he felt a sudden surge in the strength of the witchery. Light flared behind him, illuminating the stage far beyond what it should be. With instincts born from decades working Bardic witchery, he strengthened the scenic illusion instantly, hiding the light behind deeper and more opaque images. With a mental promise to find out who had altered the lighting and reprimand that person thoroughly, he turned his attention back to the pageant, though he kept part of his mind aware of the increased strength and power of his children’s witchery.
“I am Constance Whittaker,” said a young girl costumed in a long black dress with a white apron and white bonnet. “I am an Ortho, but I have married a witch of the Iroquois.” She reached one hand toward a boy dressed in leather pants and jacket decorated with colored wooden beads.
The boy walked forward to take his place on the wall. “I am Orenda. I am a witch of the Shaman Talent. As my wife and I have joined witch and Ortho in marriage, so this pact shall join witch and Ortho in peace.”
Huy Zhao handed Orenda the stone tablet, lines of text now carved into it. “By this Pact of Accord,” the young girl playing Huy read in a voice that projected remarkably well for her age, “we agree for all peoples, witch and Ortho, of all nations, that all laws and customs which drive witch and Ortho apart are hereby dispersed and done away. No longer shall the possession or lack of witchery determine one’s place in our societies nor shall witchery be seen as a force of evil. Likewise, no witch may use his workings on another without the other’s knowledge and consent save in circumstances where lives and safety are endangered.”
She looked up from the tablet and handed it to the boy portraying Orenda. “We declare by this Pact that Ortho shall not persecute witch for a gift of birth that was declared by the Divine, in whatever name it may be known,” he read. He handed to tablet then to his “wife” who read in turn, “We likewise declare that witch shall not assume superiority over Ortho for the lack of a gift of birth. For a witch to work an Ortho in an attempt to gain power or influence over that Ortho shall be tried as the use of any other weapon against an unarmed opponent.”
Huy took the tablet again, though this time, Orenda laid one hand on it as well. The two of them together returned it to its place in the wall, the stone seamlessly joining with the rock mortar of the great landmark. Orenda sounded out a beat over the site with a wooden rattle he drew from his belt. Letters of bright blue light in multiple languages appeared on the stones of the wall. Each of the actors faced the section written in his or her character’s language as they all read in unison, repeating once more the words of the Pact.
“Each time the moon in full on the anniversary of this day,” Orenda said, “these words shall appear on this wall again. In this way, let no one ever forget that for this one moment, for this one cause, all mankind was united. If this small peace can be created here today, perhaps in some tomorrow, our grandchildren shall create a greater one to cover all the world.”
The actors bowed as the audience stood to applaud and the curtains slowly drew closed. Raymond allow the illusion to fade.
The music ended, and Raymond spun to see who had turned on the light that still shone too brightly. Words of reprimand and anger died on Raymond’s lips as he saw the source of the light. A hummingbird sat perched on Melinda’s shoulder, the light of noon-day sun pouring from it, lighting the area.
Raymond turned to look at his other daughter, wondering how she would react to her twin getting her familiar. His eyes widened as he saw Melissa holding a stroking a large orange tabby cat. “Adult familiars,” he whispered. “This is going to be interesting.”
Two more members of the family. He smiled and looked at his own familiar. Already he wondered how these two new additions could be added to musical performances.
Pact Day = January 5, 1697
Sid says: This is the first time we get to see Jasper’s family as a unit, performing the music that is in all their souls. The relationships that are spelled out here are going to be crazy fun to explore in later books and short stories. Plus, we finally get to see what Pact Day means to witches and orthos alike. All in all, this is a fantastic addition to the Perfect Coven world.
Mickie says: Lots of information packed into one short story. Pact Day is arguably the most important holiday of our created world, as it celebrates an end to decades of war between Witches and Orthos. It’s nice to see, even in a microcosm, how it came about. Also, a nice look into the family of one of our anchor characters, which gives us a peek at influences on the man he is now. Fun story, James!