Let my inspiration flow,
In token lines suggesting rhythm,
That will not forsake me
‘Til my tale is told and done (1)
The guildsman hurried, hoping to reach the village before its gates closed for the evening. If he arrived too late, he’d be doomed to spend an uncomfortable night among the crickets and highwaymen of the countryside.
The man hated driving his tired palfrey so hard, for the aging beast had been his ally on many a journey. He considered seeking shelter among the boatmen on the banks of the nearby Terrapin River, but that would be little better than the damp fields. A guild's man would find scant welcome among the colliers and gypsies that sailed the river.
As the man rode, a sound of distant music caught his attention: A rustic tune drifting across the quiet countryside. Its notes called to him, conjuring memories of younger years, before duty and responsibility placed their marks on his brow. Against his better judgment, the man reined his tired palfrey off the road, finding a trail among the trees’ lengthening shadows. Dismounting to better follow the narrow footpath, he led his horse among the willows of the riverbank.
An open space lay ahead, a clearing among the willows lining the Terrapin's banks. Scores of country folk and rivermen filled the area, listening to a motley company of musicians. Some sat on blankets, entranced by the folk ballad’s sad tale of a devil-haunted wanderer. Others talked softly among themselves, passing around bottles or smoking the sweet herbs favored by the region's gypsy folk. A massive dire wolf lounged to one side of the clearing, apparently the pet or mascot of the musicians. The powerful lupine was clearly spoiled, as people ruffled its fur and fed it snacks.
As he joined the relaxed onlookers, the man felt as though he left behind a heavy burden. Here was a place where he could forget the relentless call of duty, where he could lose himself in dreams he had dreamed long before.
Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold… (1)
The River Consort, Uncle Jehan’s Band
“Uncle” Jehan le Jongleur, leader of the River Consort, is a tall man clad in the battered garments common to workmen and country folk. Although he wears clothing of plain cloth, intricate patterns have been embroidered upon it, and a chaplet of wild roses adorns his head. Threads of grey wind through the aged musician's beard, and his eyes are often lost in dreams and visions. Jehan is never seen without his well-used instrument, a cittern of antique design.
The clear voice of Romer the Weary gently carries Jehan's music to the crowd. A tired-looking fellow with long brown hair, he shares the dreaming eyes of his troupe’s leader, as if some vision calls to him to another land, beyond dreams and regrets.
A hard-drinking man clad in garments of decrepit leather, plays a battered virginal. This fellow is “Pigpen” Kernan. When sober, Pigpen will often be seen practicing on his virginal, as he and Jehan often butt heads over Pigpen’s erratic performances.
Several other consort members are also present, going about the business of the band. Lesh, Viel the Drum, and Kay Hartsign have a lively rivalry as they joke and banter their way through the day, but they leave this behind when they play.
A pair of young women travel with the troupe, helping them with their journeys and often preparing food for the guests that join them on their long, strange trip. “Cassie” (Casanda) and “Sugar” Magnolia care for the others, often teasing the men with playful flirtation. They’ve been traveling with the band for years, a perennial inspiration to the consort.
One other creature travels with the band, a massive dire wolf. It seems quite tame, although the band members are clearly wary of it. Lounging lazily nearby the band’s encampment, it only rouses itself to beg handouts from audience members.
Many years before: A Brush with Death
The storm's turbulent waves tossed the river barge wildly as it raced with the flood. The consort would have been wiser to avoid the wild waters, but none had foreseen the river's rage.
Cassie hauled at the tiller with all her might, fighting the chaotic flow. Overwhelmed by the river's unstoppable power, her strength wasn’t enough. The raging current slammed the craft against the rocks, tumbling her crew, the passengers, and their property into the frigid floodwaters.
One by one, they came to the shore, finding a gentleman waiting there: Waiting for them. Recognizing the pale man as a regular at their concerts, they were glad to see him, but none anticipated the offer that he suggested.
Instead of claiming their souls, he chose to… delay a while. Granting them time to play a bit longer, he allowed the consort to remain in the world of the living until they should grow weary of their rootless life. He gave the consort a guardian, a massive dire wolf to watch over them and escort their souls to the afterlife when their time of music was done.
Until that time comes, they travel dusty roads and winding rivers, sharing music with workingmen and gentry, guildsmen and wanderers. True enthusiasts know to find them by the river’s side.
And deep within the thorny thickets lining the river, scattered bones lie hidden. Wild roses twine among them, forming garlands for bleaching skulls.
More than this I will not ask
faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last
some rise, some fall, some climb
to get to Terrapin. (2)
1.) Words from Lady With A Fan, written by Robert Hunter
2.) Words from Terrapin Station, written by Robert Hunter