Sample chapter from Pipes of Orpheus

Excerpt from PIPES OF ORPHEUS by Jane Lindskold.

Published by Avon Books in 1995; Copyright © 1995 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.


sample-pipes


Prologue

She skipped a few paces behind him, happy to hear his familiar footsteps marking out the road through the absolute blackness. As yet, her footfalls were silent.
The light of the upper world haloed him and she devoured every emerging detail. She anticipated his embrace, imagined that she was hearing the soft words he would murmur into the hollow of her throat.
“Look back,” a soft persuasive whisper came.
She halted. Surely she had not heard correctly!
“You’ve been fooled,” the same voice suggested.
Ahead, she saw her beloved pause, his shoulders tighten. He, too, must hear the words. He struggled as if he must look back. Then he walked on. She hastened to follow, trying to urge him on faster. Her voice, like her footfalls, remained silent.
“Look back,” the soft voice persuaded. “Surely you know that she is no longer with you. You know the emptiness. You know that you have been fooled.”
Instead of listening, her beloved ran now, pounding forward, up toward the light. She flitted after him with a glad heart. A few more steps and they would have achieved the impossible!
He only had to duck out of the tunnel mouth to regain the upper world when the voice whispered again. The words were framed by a soft, pitying laugh.
“Fooled! And now the way into Hades will be closed to you forevermore. Turn back while you still can. Go, remind Dis of his promise to return your beloved.”
Horrified, she realized that he had stopped, that he was turning.
“No!” she cried futilely, “I am here!”
He completed the turn. His face etched with misery, he looked back. As his eyes met hers she felt the winds of Hades blowing against her, pushing her again into the darkness. Fall�ing back, she found the voice for a single word.
“‘Orpheus!”
“Eurydice!”
His despairing cry followed her as once again she died.

One

Otto ordered Leni to lead the way, trusting the petite eightyear-old to evade the ‘seers more easily than the rest of them.
Small stones and bits of sand pebbled Leni’s knees and elbows as she crawled. Despite feline grace, she kept catching herself on her tunic, which threatened to tear until she tugged it free.
At the top of each slope she carefully peered around, checking against memory for a stony outcropping that had not been there last time. Then she’d motion the other four on, the indoor pair making no more noise than the wind through the crevices, the outdoor children shadows of that same wind.
When they had left the bean fields behind them and moved into the brush, three-year-old Willy, whom the Piper called the “Gemini,” motioned ahead.
“There.”
I       In the half-moonlight his arm looked translucent. “That way. Franz is crying. He wants us to hurry.”
As he hiked Willy onto his back, Otto exchanged a worried glance with Bettina.
The fair-haired girl, leader of the Indoors, tightly knotted a bandage about Kurt’s blistered foot and tugged him to his feet.
As they crept after Leni, Willy whispered, “Hurry, or the ‘seers will get us and the Piper will make me take him to my twin and to Her.”
Otto bit into his lip. “You want us to run, Willy? The ‘seers will get us for certain then.”
“As the sun moves farther, the Piper’s song fades,” intoned the toddler, in a voice too old. “Then the stones sleep and the demons return to their tortured dreams. Then dare we run. But when the first sun comes, the Piper’s remembered song awak�ens the rock and gives strength to nightmares that walk in the day.
“So run?” Leni suggested, bouncing from foot to foot, “Fast as we can to wherever the Piper took Franz?”
His shrug impeded by Willy clinging to his shoulders, Otto nodded. “I guess–but you scout ahead anyway–there’s more than ‘seers here. Can break a leg in a pit as easily as. in a ‘seer’s claw.”
Nodding agreement, Bettina surveyed Otto’s burden and tore a wide strip from her cotton petticoat. Reaching around Otto’s waist, she bound it into a sling to help support Willy.
Her voice was soft as she checked the knots. “Good. Let Leni run ahead. Kurt and I will help you balance Willy.”
“So,” said Leni, impatiently, “let’s go!”
She ran ahead, a small, lithe child. Dusky skin, dark black hair, and darker eyes marked the gypsy heritage that even after a timeless time in the Piper’s captivity set her apart from the children of Hamelin. The other four were all fairer, somewhat heavier of bone and build, though all were thin with the thinness of frequently missed meals.
The setting moon shed barely any light, bulking little rocks with shadow, absorbing big ones into the summer night. Coursing ahead as quickly as she could, Leni bit back whimpers and yelps as she caught knees and shins on shadowed outcroppings.
More than her whispered warnings, Willy’s eerie mutters and wails set them right when the path fragmented or simply vanished in open areas.
Although only thirteen, Otto carried Willy easily, even at a full run. Son of the gamekeeper for one of Brunswick’s nobles, he had gotten his growth early. Delighted, his father had taken him from school and soon the towheaded boy had become a familiar sight as he trotted at his father’s heels. Only the wistful look in his warm, brown eyes hinted that he might prefer the schoolroom to toting axe and bow in his father’s wake.
Blond and rosy, Bettina had been made the Piper’s housekeeper soon after his song had encouraged them to “come away” from Hamelin. His first appointment to the position, pretty Helene, had been torn apart by maenads who resented seeing the Piper dote on the girl. Bettina took care not to court the master’s favor or to offend his mistresses. Her calm smile comforted the other Indoors and none knew that often she awoke in tears, haunted by terrible dreams that she could never recall upon waking.
The sky was lightening from black to cinder grey as they slogged up yet another gritty embankment.
Forgetting to whisper, Bettina said in her soft voice, “Remember this rise, Otto? Do we go over the top?”
Wearily he shook his head. “Sun’s coming, but we’d better check first. There was a beast the Piper’d chase away with his singing. I remember that from coming before.”
They crouched below the rise. Kurt’s panting was audible. Of the five, he was the least fit for this mad run. Brown-haired and hazel-eyed, thinner than even Leni and barely taller (though two years older), he had become the Piper’s librarian when the master had discovered that he could read and write Latin, Greek, French, and German. Kurt kept his sharp features schooled in an expression of superiority that he trusted covered his awareness of his scrawny build.
Almost as one, they peered over the ridge. Leni stifled a cry. Bettina turned away, violently retching, and Otto let Willy slip down as his own stomach revolted.
They’d found Franz. Below, stretched out on a slab of flat rock in a valley white with bones, was the missing Gemini. His eyes were open wide and his fair hair spread halolike on the polished grey altar stone.
He’d been cut open from the base of his throat to the top of his groin. The linen rags of an outdoor child were stiff with blood and black with flies. His entrails had been pulled out and strung across the rock, squeezed and bent as if someone had searched for something in their convolutions.
With a skittering of stones, Willy scrambled down the hill, his short arms and legs barely balancing him. Bright blond hair streaming behind him, his blue eyes running with tears, he was a living mirror of the child sacrificed on the altar below.
Leni dropped her provision bundle and sprang after the littlest boy. Her momentum unbalanced them both, carrying them down the hill in an avalanche of shale and sand.
They hit bottom to the low baying of hunting hounds. Then from a shadowy crevice a great three-headed hound emerged, stalking across the bone-littered glen, directly toward them.
Leni shrieked, one hand still gripping Willy, who mindlessly struggled to get to Franz. Stumbling to her feet, she groped along the ground for a weapon. Her fingers wrapped: around a smooth and solid length of what had to be human bone. Still screaming, she threw it at the monster hound.
One snap from one head and the bone was crushed into dry, white splinters. The hound stalked forward, heads low, growls like metal on stone rumbling from its three throats.
Reaching for another bone, Leni heard hysterical laughter from up on the hillside. Then Kurt, his sharp features white with terror, came running down the slope.
“That’s right! A sop!” Still laughing, he raced past them, his arms windmilling wildly as he tried to keep his balance. “A sop for Cerberus.”
Uncomprehending, Leni dragged Willy to join Kurt beside the grey stone slab. Kurt’s thin hands pulled at Franz’s stinking corpse.
“Kurt, you’ve gone crazy!” Leni screamed, half-choked by the stench, trying to put herself between the boys and the monster.
“No!” he replied, eyes wide with something worse than horror. “This is the only way to slow Cerberus.”
Bettina yelled from above, “Do what he wants, Leni!”
Ominously, the ground began a dreadfully familiar shaking.
Otto shouted, “The sun’s up! And Willy’s right–the ‘seers are coming.They’ll be here soon.”
The demiquake of the ‘seers approach shook loose the top of the ridgeline, carrying Otto and Bettina to the ravine floor, nearly at Cerberus’s feet.
Willy screamed, “The dog! Watch the dog!”
Yelling helplessly, the gypsy girl picked up a skull and heaved it at the beast. Cerberus paused long enough to catch it in one set of jaws, crunching it with a satisfied wag of its dragon tail.
Gagging against the smell and feel of rotting flesh, Kurt had somehow pulled Franz’s body from the altar.
“Help me throw this, Leni!” he yelled.
Their first toss was ineffective, but as Cerberus swung its heads to watch the body fall, they could see that a heavy chain anchored in a collar spanned the base of its three necks, cutting cruelly even through its dragon hide.
“That’s what’s been slowing it!” Leni exclaimed. “We’ve got to get the body closer.”
Franz’s dead skin slid under their fingers as they dragged the corpse closer to the three-headed monster.
Willy screamed, “Franz! No!”
Kurt dropped the corpse, barely fast enough to tackle the three-year-old before he could run after his brother’s body.
Hold him!” Leni said. “I’ve got this.”
She gave one final heave and the body flopped near the monster. With a satisfied growl, Cerberus stiff-legged toward the “sop,” letting Bettina and Otto free.
Kurt dragged Willy back. The ground was shaking worse from the pounding approach of the ‘seers when Kurt yelled to them.
“I’ve found something! Maybe a cave. Hurry, we’ll be safe from the ‘seers and Cerberus’s chain won’t let him go this far!”
Leni and Otto ran. Bettina stopped long enough to gather the few provision bundles they had carried away.
Glancing up, she saw the first of the ‘seers reach the rim. The motley-clad Piper perched athwart its stony shoulders. His strange, satisfied smile haunted her as she vanished into the cave mouth after the others.


Excerpt from PIPES OF ORPHEUS by Jane Lindskold.

Published by Avon Books in 1995; Copyright © 1995 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the Publisher. Exceptions are made for downloading this file to a computer for personal use.

Copyright © 1995 by Jane Lindskold. All rights reserved. 

Comments are closed