Story for the Day: The Karnwyl Pipes -- Part 1
The Continents have their share of strident instruments. Livanon has the high bombard, Gallei has the whirring wheelfiddle, and while Frewyn has many different types of bagpipes, there is no set more offensive than the Karnwyl species. The standing joke in Frewyn is that these pipes were invented to keep out invaders, their noise being so grating and detestable they deafen anyone listening. Whether this is true is a matter under constant discussion:
Gaumhin led the way, marching down the all with all the stateliness that the Captain of the Royal Guard could accomplish. He walked a half step ahead of Alasdair, his shoulders straight, hisarms swinging in time with his strides, and Alasdair half expected him to collect the Herald as they went, compelling him to order everyone to make way for the king.
Alasdair walked faster to keep pace. “You could play your pipes if you want to make a ceremony of it.”
Gaumhin simpered. “Ah would if ye asked meh, syre, but folk still might be sleepin’.” He pressed the deflated bag under his arm and tucked the chanter under it. “No’ everyins been trained tae wake up with the sun on Ailineighdaeth mornin’.”
“I think the only people who would be asleep in the castle on a holiday morning are the nobles—“ Alasdair stopped and thought. A notion prevailed him. “You know, I have half a mind to ask you to practice in the nobles’ quarter. I’d love to see you marching up and down the hallway frightening every lord and lady into thinking we’re marching to war.”
“For tha’, syre,” said Gaumhin, “Ah’d need the Karnwyl pipes.”
There was a pause. Alasdair looked serious, and Gaumhin indulged in a terrible grin.
“Do we have Karnwyl pipes in the keep?”
“There might be a-yin in the arena, hangin’ there since Auld Bhantar won the Clayntroda, but Ah doant thenk they werk, syre.”
Here was a dangerous aperture.
“Would you like to find out?”
“Aye, syre,” said Gaumhin, in a dreadful wrawl. “Ah would tha’.”
“Let’s walk toward the arena, shall we?”
They turned down the hall, and here Alasdair led the way, pedipulating with all the pride that the idea of frightening the nobles could furnish. There would be only a few remaining in the keep for the holiday morning, and many were certain to be preparing for a day’s feriation in Farriage or festooning themselves in finery for a morning spent in the front rows of the pews at church. The echoes of a blaring bourdon would travel in the great hall, but as long as Gaumhin did not play near the royal parlour, the horrendous sound should bother no one else in the keep. With proud strides and sanguine aspect did Alasdair march into the atrium of the arena, and with a gesture and an, “After you, Gaumhin,” he ushered the Captain of the Royal Guard toward the hall of champions, where artifacts belonging to victors long past hung in glorious anticipation. A pair of bracers sat in suspended silence, a framed leather tunic stared out from the monotony of its captivity, a pair of leather boots met nailed to the wall. Anything belonging to famous champions like Commander Bryeison or Queen Mharacabhi had long been taken down to the reliquary in the treasury, to be preserved and well cared for by Aldus, but anything belonging to fighters patronized by the nobility was on display, the most remarkable of which was a pair of hophsaas straps, lying tied across two hooks at the far end of the wall, the plaque below them reading: Den Amhadhri Unghaahi, championed over Den Asaan Rautu, guarantor Jaina Shea Whilhem, Duchess of Marridon.
“Here they are, syre,” said Gaumhin, laying down his pipes and taking a set of Karnwyl pipes from the wall.
Alasdair inspected the bag and long drones. “They cannot be very old,” he decided.
“No more than twentae year, but naebodae’s plaed ‘em since Auld Bhantar put ‘em there.” Gaumhin tucked the bag under his arm and began breathing into the mouthpiece. “Ye might want tae cover yer ears, syre.”
Alasdair placed his palms over his ears, and Gaumhin, aligning his fingers along the chanter and giving a hearty blow, put pressure on the bag. The drones bombilated in angry defiance, a mysterious and foreboding chirr jargled from somewhere within, and Gaumhin played one note. The air around the drones wavered, and a fulmination of sound attacked Alasdair’s ears. Gaumhin released, the drones wilted over his shoulder and the bag made a lugubrious sigh of deflated expectation.
“By the Gods,” Alasdair exclaimed, pulling on his lobes, trying to shake the sound out of his ears. “That is the most horrendous noise.”
“Aye, syre,” said Gaumhin gravely, grimacing at the bag. He looked up and surveyed the sky. “Ah thenk if Ah plaed ‘em outside, Ah’d murder the birds flyin’. They’d drop doun in twas and threes.”
“I think you’re right.” Alasdair shook his head, blinked a few times, and touched his hair to make sure all was in place. “Well,” he exhaled, smiling, “to the nobles’ quarter then.”
Gaumhin feared that even half a reel blared out on the Karnwyl pipes would deafen its listeners, but he delighted in the notion of rattling the lords and followed his sovereign with a lively step. They marched back through the gallery and turned toward the main hall, and every maid and servant about the place who saw Gaumhin readying the Karnwyl pipes made their quick bows and scurried away, dreading the dissonant fremenscence distilling somewhere in the bag beneath Gaumhin’s arm.
“I wish Rosse were here for this,” said Alasdair, as they turned into the hall and walked through the guest quarters. “The sound from those pipes would blow off all his horrid clothes.”
“Aye, syre,” said Gaumhin, the blowpipe in the corner of his mouth. “As Auld Suilli’d sae, if ye’ll allow the expression, syre, it’d taek the hair from yer baune.”
Alasdair’s eyes flared. “Now that you mention it, I’m sure it would. The note you played made my innards rumble a bit. Wait till I’m farther off before you start playing.”
“What about you, Gaumhin?”
“Ah’ll be o’ right, syre. Ah spent the last few year listenin’ tae Mureadh practice.” Gaumhin looked sagacious. “Ah put a bit o’ candle wax in mah ears before Ah plae mahsel’.”
He turned his head and leaned down, and inside his ear, Alasdair saw a small piece of molded wax.
“Just like the cannoneers in Marridon,” said Alasdair.
“Aye, syre, but Ah thenk Ah’d rather hear the cannon roar than the Karnwyl pipes oan the field.”
“Remind me to write a letter to Jaina about the dangers of the Karnwyl pipes, being more cost effective than a Marridon mounted cannon.”
Presently they came to the nobles’ quarter, and while there was no one about in the royal parlour, voices were heard behind a few of the doors, voices shouting to maids to pull their corset strings tighter, voices calling out for more tea and buttered toast, voices abusing housekeepers and flustering servants: a sundry of exsibilation, and when they stopped at the end of the hall, where the conclamant cries for more melted cheese and breakfast brandy converged, Alasdair stepped far away, nearly entering the courtyard, and gave Gaumhin a nod. He smiled, covered his ears, and crouched as Gaumhin’s chest surged with breath.
The note resonated from the drones and broke the air around the captain in a ripple of violent sound. Gaumhin gowled in displeasure as the piercing skirl tried to invade his ears, but his hands found their way to the chanter and, much to his surprise, began playing intelligible notes. He played a Westren reel, and with every succeeding expression, the horrid bourdon emanating from the drones caromed off the castle walls, opening doors, shutting windows, silencing all conversation from within the chambers, and bringing their inhabitants without. They piled in doorways and sank over thresholds, holding their hands to sides of their heads and gaping in soundless horror at Gaumhin, who was now beginning to dance about. He hopped in a circle, kicking behind and in front of him in Westren fashion, lifting his opposing heels to his knees. Those who came to the doorways of their apartments, wrapped in holiday finery, held their ears until they ached. They were shouting something, something about his stopping this moment, about his playing offending their ideas of musical felicity, about his ruining their exquisite and languid breakfast parties, servants hid in back rooms, ladies escaped to their closets, lords attempted to talk over him with a very stern “Now see here”, but it was useless to try to surmount so insufferable a sound, and only when Alasdair nodded to him to stop did Gaumhin let the drones rest against him and the bag collapse.
“Oh, Lord Islington, Lord Duvereidh,” said Alasdair, with perfect amity. “I had no idea you and your families were still here. I thought you had already gone to your estates for the holiday. I’m so glad you decided to stay for the morning. Sir Gaumhin was practicing one of the marching reels he’s going to be performing later in the evening.”
A string of lesser lords and ladies clamoured about the thresholds of their apartments, staring at the king in grim confusion, their faces floddering, their mouths open in awe and disgust. Someone in one of the parlours was crying, another was shouting “What? What! I cannot hear anything with this confounded ringing!” as someone asked whether she would not take more milk in her tea, and a few were excavating their ear canals, industriously digging with their small fingers as they endeavoured to hear what the king was saying.
“Sorry to have disturbed you,” said Alasdair, in a pleasant hue. “Good morning to you and Maith Ailneighdaeth.”
He made his civil nods and turned toward the courtyard, and Gaumhin followed, marching after his sovereign with long and important strides, leaving the concentration of lords and ladies to welter in cluster of nebulous dismay. What had happened? What was the king about, letting the Captain on the gad with pipes at such a time and on such a morning? They stood silent and stupefied: a monocle hung filipendulous and tinkled as it fell, someone’s hair settled across their face in a matted wreck, someone’s teeth were still buzzing, and everyone watched the king and the captain take their leave, someone filled up the blanks in the wordless conversation by saying, “Did you hear at all what His Majesty was saying? For the life and soul of me, I haven’t the faintest idea…”