Watcher and Listener by Nicole DragonBeck

For Danny, I hope you enjoy!

Piper let the branch go and the piper fell from it.

The trap sprung perfectly, and the odd little man plummeted to the ground with a scream and landed on his back. Piper was surprised, not that she had known what to expect when she laid her trap for whoever was following her through the forest, but she was certain it wasn’t this. It didn’t matter now, she had found the culprit, and now she had to figure out if he was friend – or at least friendly – or foe.

“What are you doing, spying on me?” she demanded, looking at the scrawny man at her feet with a fierce expression.

He spluttered, spitting leaves from his mouth and wiping dirt out of his eyes.

“I wasn’t spying!” he protested, holding his silver pipes out like a shield. “I was watching, only watching!”

“Watching what?” Piper said, still not sure of the little man’s intentions though she decided he didn’t look particularly threatening.

He wore a ridiculous floppy hat, and the brim fell into his eyes. He flipped it away and trained a bright gaze on Piper.

“Watching the others who’re watching you,” he replied, with a sly smile.

Piper looked around the woods, and for the first time felt a twinge of uncertainty. These trees were her home, and here she was queen. Her strange power kept those in the forest with teeth and powers of their own from bothering her, but the ancient giants held many secrets beneath their boughs and in their roots, so she could never let down her guard.

“Who?” she said.

“Don’t know,” the piper shrugged. “Just felt them staring.”

“You felt them staring?” Piper raised an eyebrow, and flipped her red braid over her shoulder. That was a new one, and her interest perked up. “What are you anyway?”

The piper huffed and stood up. He came to Piper’s knee, and muddy brown marks covered what skin she could see. He had no beard, but a thick mop of curly brown hair highlighted with green and gold stuck out from under the hat. “I’m a brownie.”

“Not much of your kind left,” Piper commented.

The brownie huffed again and muttered something rude under his breath. She chose to ignore it.

“So, why’re you helping me?” Piper said, cocking her head and studying the little man.

He in turn studied his pipes, turning them over and over in his rough hands, which looked large on his small body. “Because maybe you can help me.”

“With what?” Piper was more intrigued despite herself.

“I want to leave.”

“The forest?”

“No, the whole world. Yes, the forest.”

“Why?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” the brownie grumbled.

“I’m sorry. I don’t get to talk to a lot of people,” Piper confessed.

“Okay, I’ll ask a question. How did you know where I was hiding?”

“The music told me,” Piper said.

“I wasn’t playing.”

“You don’t have to,” Piper said. “I hear the music all the time. It tells me things, helps me.”

“And what do hear when I play?”

“More,” Piper shrugged, satisfied with the answer though it was woefully inadequate.

The brownie looked at her askance, then raised the pipes to his lips. He blew a simple tune, sets of three notes repeating over and over, tumbling over and under each other but never bumping into anything.

Piper closed her eyes and smiled. She heard water and earth. She heard the obstinate courage of the boulder that refuses to be moved by the river. But the theme which wound throughout was loneliness, a single star in a black sky, the first bird call to a new dawn, which echoed forever answered.

The notes faded, leaving a moment of respectful stillness in their wake, before the forest came to life with a song of its own again, the rustle of leaves, the chitter of small creatures, and the soft thoughts of the trees and stones all combining to create the familiar melody and constant backdrop to Piper’s life.

“So?” the little piper asked.

“I heard you,” Piper replied.

The simple statement struck the man dumb. His mouth hung open and he stared at her wide-eyed as a single tear rolled down his nose. It broke the spell and he swiped the wetness away, muttering something about a fly in his eye.

A feeling that Piper only remembered feeling in the dimness of the distant past washed over her, and on impulse, she knelt down and wrapped her arms around the man. For a long moment, he stood stiff and unmoving, then his arms came up to return the hug. The silver pipes clutched in his hand were warm against Piper’s back.

“So, what about leaving can I help you with?” she asked him, drawing back and looking at him earnestly.

He looked around, craning his neck to gaze up at the sky speckled with deep green leaves, and heaved a great sigh. Then his mottled face was creased with a shy smile. “Actually, I think I’d like to stick around for a bit longer. Would you care for some company?”

“Yes,” Piper smiled back, glad he had said it first. “Yes, I think I would.”

 

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