Tim Boucher

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Their footsteps were leaden as soon as they set out. Benda made for what should have been the Great Road to the Temple Mount, but it was simply not there. It had either been removed, hidden, or simply never built, depending on where – and when – they truly were.

Tob Gobble, back to feeling fine, was filled with his characteristic mirth, and proceeded to while away the time repeating jokes and tales he had heard round the campfire the evening before amidst the men-at-arms.

“They’re really fine fellows, at the root of it,” he said, to no one in particular.

Benda responded absently, “I’m sure.”

They stayed within sight of the water, partly under the knowledge that the Great Road should have laid alongside it as it rose up amidst the hills, cliffs, and to the Temple Mount itself. They did it partly also out of simple fear of being lost if they ventured too far from the sight of it, with only those small dread mountains in the distance as reference.

The passage of time was interminable, or it happened not at all. Benda could not rightly tell.

Eradus, who had been pensive like the others (except Tob), finally put words to it, saying aloud, “What if we never find it? What if there’s nothing and no one there when we arrive?”

Greppo, in whom the madness had been tempered by a growing uncertainty as well, finally added, “What if we never arrive?”

“Ooh, this reminds me of a very famous tale from a country I once had occasion to visit,” started Tob Gobble.

Benda cut him short, “We’ll find it. I can see it with my heart as plainly as I can see any of you with my earthly eyes…” He trailed off.

Perhaps it was Benda now the madness gripped. He considered the possibility.

High above them, an eagle cried, and circled. When they waved to it in recognition, it flew off in another direction – decidedly away from the water.

“He wants us to follow,” Greppo said soberly.

“Know who you follow,” Eradus replied.

“Have we another choice?” said Greppo. They both looked at Benda searchingly. “It seems we’ve made no progress since setting out. Why, I have the sensation that the village still lies just behind us over but one or two low hills.”

“Or that the village too is now as lost as we are,” intoned Tob, who was suddenly spooky, running a chill through Benda.

“Come then,” said Benda. “If the High Augur reads the flight of birds, so shall we.”

At this time, the eagle who was Murta flew back to them, in slow flapping agreement, and then flew off again in the direction he had earlier indicated that they should follow.

As they walked, they began to notice an eerie effect in the landscape. Walking towards them now, the mountains seemed instead to recede from view. It was as if the great plain which was turning to desert was expanding as they traversed it. They turned to look toward the sea, thinking it too would be vanished, but it seemed ever within reach, just over the next hill behind them, or the next.

“Most peculiar,” said Tob. “Most peculiar, indeed!”

“Perhaps this calls for a poem,” he said, twirling about, and gesticulating with his rootlets. “Something… extemporaneous,” he said bowing low with a flourish before them, before anyone had time to protest.

“Gentlemen, I give you: Invocation at the End of the World.


Dweller in the lost direction,
lead us beneath shaded paths,

under your protection.
Keepers of song and silence,
we ask you unveil now your vision,
and our place in it.

Send us costumes that fit,
provide for the audience a nice place to sit,
something to drink,
and a nice time to think back upon someday
when our bones (or our roots) are old round the fire.

Before the end of the world,
we speak this our desire.
We invoke thee!
Show thyself!”

For a moment, the world wavered, but nothing happened. So Tob whipped out his reed flute, and began to toot on it incessantly. The sound was so annoying that they all plugged their ears, and asked him loudly to stop. He did finally, and they all broke down laughing.

When they had somewhat recovered, they saw that Murta had appeared once more over the horizon, and was now flapping his great wings to hover over a particular spot out in the desert. A formation of rocks, an oasis.

“Your incantation worked,” said Greppo. “Let’s go.”

Invocation,” corrected Tob, as though he were teaching a small child. “I would be delighted to demonstrate the difference in style between the two genres, if you’d like.”

“Perhaps another time, Tob,” said Eradus, “Look, we’re halfway there.”

“More than halfway,” said Benda. “We’ve only taken a few steps, but we’re almost there.”

So it was that they arrived suddenly upon a natural rock formation, which had been hewn here and there expertly by the hands of man, and upon which a slab of stone had been laid like a roof. The area around the house, for such it did appear, was rich with verdant grasses, and an unusual kind of shrub none of them could identify. A small stream flowed out from under the roof, which they turned the corner and saw the source of, a natural well. Small wonder this place had been covered and protected, and could nourish plants amidst a hard barren landscape all about.

At first, they saw the cavern within as empty, but as their eyes adjusted to the long shadows of the cave, they recognized a man there in a cloak, sitting on his haunches, staring at them, almost as if unseeing.

“Hello,” waved Benda. The figure did not move, so he added, “Sorry to intrude. We are… ah, lost.”

After a few moments, the figure replied absently, “Lost…”

“Are you lost too?” asked Eradus.

The figure turned then, and regarded Eradus. His eyes began to focus, it seemed, on the here and now.

“Lost too…” he said.

He took a sharp breath then, closed his eyes, and nearly fell backwards, but caught himself. He stood up fully.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I took you for phantoms from another time and another place.”

“Erm,” said Tob.

Greppo eyed him sharply, “The important thing,” he cut in, “is that we’re here now.”

“Yes,” the man said, and strode towards them. He reached out to shake the hand of Greppo in ritual greeting. “I am called Elum.”

Greppo took his hand, and said in return. “And I am called Consciolus Greppo, King of the Citadel, and First King of Kremel.”

He presented himself then to Eradus, who, before introducing himself in return inquired, “Elum, like the village?”

“Village?” Elum replied. “I hail from the forest villages, a long, long way from here.”

“Not like the village,” said Benda, who then introduced himself to Elum, and embraced him excitedly, like a long lost brother. “Like the legend,” he said. “The Dark Dance Cycle! Sad Elum, who sat in his cave, beside the small stream, which flowed out of the deep cleft, pining for his lost love, Sweet Delrin.”

“How come you to know my life, and my love?” Elum looked shocked, but felt a kind of recognition dawning on him too. “Have we met?”

They went out of the cave then, and looked down the path of the small stream, as it wound its way down the hills towards the sea, and what had been – or perhaps one day would be – the village of Elum, by the Bay of Erasure (or the Bay of Pleasure depending who you asked, or when). And they saw in the distance the ramshackle huts, and men-at-arms like ants at work enlarging the pier there.

“Maybe we have,” said Benda. “Or maybe we yet will. A man greeted me once here on the beach, wearing the cloak and insignia of his Order.”

“His Order?” asked Elum, looking out at the world.

“The House of Silence,” said Benda.

“Silence… yes,” said Elum, a flicker of memory stirring.

“But the houses are broken, and thrown down now. Haven’t you heard?”

“No,” said Greppo. “We are only travelers to this place. Pray tell us what news you’ve heard…”

“Not new,” Elum stammered, trying to remember. “Old, very, very old. A river–” he exclaimed, and then stopped.

“A river that… flows upstream,” he said looking at each of the others for some sign of recognition.

Then he closed his eyes and said, “The Hypogeum was opened, and the river of time which once flowed out of it was set to flowing back upstream. There… isn’t much time left. I must complete my task.”

“We saw her,” said Benda. “When we arrived in this place, where the towers Jyagar and Raggath should be.”

“Saw who?” said Elum, confused.

“Heron,” he said. “Delrin.”

“Oh, I have seen her too,” he said. “She comes to me, even now.”

“Then your task is nigh complete,” said Benda.

“Not yet,” said Elum, who went off alone around the side of the stone dwelling. He bent down, and pulled off some branches of the peculiar shrub which grew there.

He returned and said, “I was set here on this vigil by the Powers to wait for the return of another.”

“Another?” said Tob.

“The New King,” he said. “And to give him this gift.”

“I am the King you speak of,” replied Greppo, “but its just a plant.”

Elum then, laughed boisterously. When he recovered himself, he said to Greppo, “It is no more ‘just a plant’ then are you the New King.”

Greppo frowned, but said nothing.

Elum stepped next to examine Eradus’ face carefully.

“The New King is a mindspeaker,” said Elum on the channels of light, looking at him. Eradus did not hear him, but Benda did.

Benda replied on those same lightways, “I am no king. I deserve not that honor. I’m just a man, like any other.”

“Then that will have to be enough,” said Elum out loud. He went over to Benda, took his hands, and into them placed the branches of the herb axla, which he had recovered from beneath the Weeping Waters, when Delrin had fallen from the Great Bridge into the Cave of Unnaming.

“The houses are broken,” Elum repeated. “Quatria is retreating into the Hypogeum, like a flower fading after its season, drawing the life back into itself. There is only one True House, the House of Life, and unto you is given its care for this generation, and for those to come. Take these branches, and go and plant them on the island of Ovarion. The place that was prepared for you is waiting. Linger no longer in this dying world. Go, and plant the new one.”

Benda took the branches, and wiped the tears from his eyes, and when he looked again, the cloak had fallen from Elum’s shoulders, and in its place, a great white bird with a long crooked neck stretched out its wings, and flew off toward the sea to meet its mate.

The Sacred Melodeon (Shape Note Singing, Music)

Out of the secular sources Warren cited, two are available online. One is Amos Sutton Hayden’s The Sacred Melodeon (1849). In fact I came across this one some time ago and downloaded it then. As Warren explains, Hayden was a Disciples preacher who had this idea that if you invoke God (“the Author of his being” and “the Most High” as Hayden says) while you’re learning to sing, you’re taking “his sacred name in vain” because you don’t know how to sing the song right yet when you’re just learning it. Or something like that. So this collection, and another of Hayden’s tunebooks called Introduction to Sacred Music, despite the word “sacred” in the titles, usually avoided saying “God” and “Jesus” outright. A lot of the songs are ones familiar to Sacred Harp and Christian Harmony singers, which too use a lot of language like “Author” and “the Most High,” but Hayden did so even more. So, for example, where “Exhortation (First)” in The Sacred Harp says “Up to the hills where Christ is gone To plead for all His saints,” the same song in The Sacred Melodeon goes “The world, at each returning day, Awakes again to light.”

Source: The Shape-Note Notebook: Secular Music in Shape Notes, by David Warren Steel

* The Sacred Melodeon full book scan on Archive.org.

Village Docks

At first light, they weighed anchor to row for Quatria. Though a mast of the second ship was salvageable, the madness was rising with the sun once again to grip Greppo, and he would brook no delays. As they made to depart, however, they made out at a distance near the shore a bedraggled but portly man running from the woods, arms flailing wildly.

“Stop!” Benda demanded of Greppo softly, but firmly. He went to the ship’s rail, and strained his eyes, peering out over the side. “Why, it cannot be! I know this man!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Dear Ofend, friend and fellow fisher of Cannaxus. I thought him lost in the storm-at-sea. We must go to him.”

“We know not these waters nor shores,” replied Greppo gruffly. “And we must act while the element of surprise is still upon us.”

“Must we?” said Mergolech coming up from nearby.

“And could any of this still truly be a surprise?” added Eradus, “I would wager not.”

To which Mergolech added, “Beside, if he be truly a man of Cannaxus and is castaway, it is my duty under the right of kings to take him into my care.”

Greppo nearly growled, but turned away, and shouted out only to the other ship’s deck, “Murta!” He pointed off to the man ashore. “Bring him!” And turning back to the others, “And they we must away.” He stormed off.

Murta then, as eagle, leapt into the air, and in a few graceful beats of his mighty wings was ashore. The man, poor lost Ofend, knew not what manner of beast was upon him, but lost as he was, he did not protest as the giant bird took him up in its talons. It flew back, and deposited the man roughly on the deck by Benda.

There was much embracing, and tearful exchanges between Benda and Ofend, who had grown up together. Naturally, Ofend was also well acquainted with his wife Lualla, and little Sol – though when they had been lost at sea, he was but a baby still. When queried as to what had happened, he could say only he woke up on this beach some few weeks ago, and had survived off wild leaves, roots, and what fish he could manage to catch with his bare hands.

The tearful reunion was, however, cut short and muffled by the commands Greppo let fly to the men-at-arms and rowers of the two ships. They pulled out of the bay, and made for the mainland which lay beyond. They did not have far to go under oar, though, for they soon found themselves in a swift current, which pulled them across the remaining sea to Quatria.

As land eventually came in sight, there was a great promontory with a hill off to their left a ways on still.

“Why, this must be the place of Jyagar,” said Benda, “but she is missing.”

“Or hidden from view,” replied Mergolech. “The legends do say after all that this is a land of illusion and sorcery…”

“If you say so,” said Benda, “I know it only as a place where the truth is sung from every hill and mountaintop, and the joy of it flows through the rivers, and streets, and hearts of the people.”

“Even still,” calculated Eradus, “they must have their defenses, like the people of any other land. Perhaps a strange kind of music, to cloud men’s minds.”

“Perhaps,” said Benda, “but this is not that, or I would sense it. Something else is the matter here…”

They floated on, rowing only occasionally to course-correct for the center of the channel leading into the infamous Bay of Erasure, but otherwise letting the current take them onward. As they reached the halfway point, at which both towers, Jyagar and its sister on the far promontory, Raggath, should both be visible, they saw only empty country, shorelines up to hills, mostly barren and stripped of trees. A few long grasses lingered here and there lazily. There were no towers, or other signs of habitation. Benda began to grow increasingly uneasy, but he did not know what to make of these strange signs.

At that precise moment, from where the tower Raggath should have stood, there flew out a single large blue bird with a hooked neck, folded in for flight. It soared toward and then over their ships entering into the channel, and it disappeared in the direction of where Jyagar should have been. They all watched it silently go. “Hail, heron,” remarked Benda.

As they entered into the Bay of Erasure, Ofend remarked to his friend Benda, “I haven’t forgotten.”

“Forgotten what?” said Benda.

“Anything,” said Ofend.

Benda looked puzzled.

“The Bay, the first time we came here. Our memories were erased.”

“Ah, so they were.” Benda contemplated this.

“And now they are not,” continued Ofend. What if, this Bay is no longer the Bay of Erasure?”

“Or it’s erasing itself,” said Eradus.

Mergolech added, “And we’re next.”

They all knew that there was no turning back Greppo though, not at this juncture. He had gone silent and dark and brooding since they left Gilla, and had scarcely seemed to notice the concerning reports of Benda that things in Quatria had changed – or were even in the midst still of changing.

In due time, the current brought them within easy reach by oar of the docks of the village of Elum, where Benda, Ofend, and their third companion and countryman Tendar had landed quite some time before. With the apparent differences in the flow of time between this land, and that of Kremel, Benda could no longer accurately estimate its passage. Quite some time ago, indeed, he said to himself, looking at the greatly reduced docks of Elum, which at this point seemed to consist only of a single shaky pier. It was not the grand construction he remembered upon their loading the ship to depart from that land previously. Looking off too to what should have been a large thriving village serving the Temple Mount, instead he saw only a few ramshackle huts and a trail that lead off into dust, toward the mountains. The mountains, Benda too remarked, should have been much more visible from here. But they seemed shrunken, and far off to the horizon, almost as if pained and withdrawn.

The kings and their charges disembarked at what they took to be the village of Elum’s dock, with a very small company of men-at-arms. There was nary room for more than a few people to stand on the rickety pier at one time, and by the looks of things, even Greppo did not feel it necessary to make a large show of force in this place. For whom would they put on such a show? The village appeared deserted.

“Maybe it’s not Elum, after all,” said Eradus to Benda. “And we’ve been turned about in all the commotion…”

“Or maybe it’s not Quatria,” said Martis Ovnis, who had come down off the second boat with Murta. Each considered this as a real possibility, but said nothing.

Murta said only, “I’m going to get a look around,” and as an eagle, he flew off.

“We will set up camp here,” said Greppo. He ordered the men-at-arms who had come ashore with them to begin at once strengthening and widening the pier, so that the rest of the soldiers could disembark, and they could unload their provisions without misstep. They used what wood they could salvage from the ships, and would have used the wood of the seemingly abandoned shacks in the village, but Benda forbade them. And Greppo after a silence agreed, ordering some men-at-arms off to gather wood as they could from the brushlands and light forests in the surrounding country.

Machef, who had been silent for a long time, then said to Benda only in the silence of his mind, “I fear the place you knew is no more, my friend.”

“I fear the same,” replied Benda, on the same silent channel of the mindspeaker. He had learned how to feed-back on the canal of light which linked them and reply to Machef in kind. None of the others could hear them (that they knew) either outwardly or inwardly.

“Tomorrow,” said Benda to him in this manner, “We will go to the Temple Mount, and there – I think – find our answers.”

“Let us hope,” replied Machef.

That night, Benda slept together with his family for the first time since he had left Cannaxus to go fishing that fateful day. He knew not how long ago. And despite all the strangeness in which they were enmeshed, he was well and truly happy to be there with them in that moment. Greppo had allowed them to take one of the little dilapidated shacks as their own, while others of the royal troupe took up residence in others. Around them were arrayed others of the men-at-arms who had come down off the boats, and made camp on the naked earth, lighting their fires there, telling their jokes, singing their songs, and drinking. Tob Gobble was off somewhere among them, roving and laughing, listening and learning, exchanging joke for joke and tale for tale, dancing and playing his flute for their – and, of course, for his – amusement. Benda stayed with Lualla and Sol, though, after eating, and the three slept long and deep.

By morning, Murta had not returned. An impromptu council was held of the other remaining kings in the village, along with Benda and Machef, to decide what to do. Benda immediately proposed leading an expedition to the Temple Mount, to look for the Pillar of Song and the High Augur, who he was certain was still there. The motion passed and, of course, Greppo himself insisted on commanding the expedition. Though the madness was still upon him, it had subsided somewhat as even he too could see that things were not as they had expected when they set out from the Citadel of Kremel.

Martis Ovnis, Mergolech, and Machef stayed behind. Eradus and Tob Gobble elected to come. Ofend was named Chief Fisher, and given a cohort of men-at-arms to employ in these arts, while others roved the countryside, and still others worked on the docks, and as supplies began to trickle in, on improving accomodations in the village.

Benda and Greppo, Eradus and Tob set out with two days provisions. Though on foot the Temple Mount should have been no more than a few hours, conditions on the ground appeared to have become variable, and they knew not at all what to expect. They would go out for no more than the day, camp at night if they must, and if they found nothing, return straight back to camp.

Lualla kissed Benda goodbye, “Come home to me this time.”

“I will,” he promised, and meant it.

Machef to Benda silently, “Call if you have need.”

Benda only nodded, and they set out.

Babylon Is Fallen 117 (Sacred Harp Music)

Barby Allen (Melody, music, audio)

Sacred Harp Singing (Video)


Having passed the veil of the Stormwall, the three chained-together Kremellian ships found themselves floating upon a calm blue sea. Though bruised and battered, and some among their numbers lost in the tempest, they continued under oar. In this they had no choice, for their masts were largely ruined, and their sails in tatters.

They had, however, not far to travel, for across the calm blue sea their quarry lay in sight: the place called Tetharys. As they came closer, gathering their wits again after the terror of the storm, they could see it plainly. Though once an island waystation between Kremel and Quatria, all that remained of that sunken isle was the upper halves of two massive columns jutting up out of the water. They had once stood atop the Temple Mount there, within the arx, supporting a long-since crumbled archway. Together, they formed the Gate of Song.

Legend had it that the Sea Bull, Kominthu, when the world was young, and after many adventures, had charged out to this place of deep waters, gravely wounded, and vanished. He left behind only his immense ivory horns, jutting up out of the mountain, which the Quatrians who later discovered and colonized the island carved into the pillars Kominth and Serus.

Benda, and all aboard the three ships, felt their hearts leap as their boats passed one after the other between the twin pillars of Kominth and Serus, and on through the Gate of Song. Though their hearts had lain heavy in their chests in the gale and in its aftermath, hope sprang anew, in each after his own fashion, and after his own virtue.

Whatever power held intact the magic of the Gate of Song, it recognized Benda now as the Keyholder. As the last boat passed, a distant sound of bells ringing which had begun when the first boat nosed through became now much louder and present, until it was all around them. The sound rang through each of them bodily, affecting them greatly. Whatever fears, strains, or worries had gripped them previously, whatever their intentions had been, they could feel them being melted down by the sound resonating within, and they were exceedingly glad.

Even gladder were they when they passed well beyond sight of sunken Tetharys and the Gate of Song, and in the distance saw land rising up out of the vast deep ocean.

“Quatria, at long last,” exclaimed Greppo in delight to no one in particular.

Benda, coming up beside him corrected him, “Nay, that is the island of Gilla, outer-most of the many isles of Quatria, near the borders of the Houses of Wealth and Song, and leading beyond it into the Bay of Erasure, and Quatria herself.”

It had been their plan under council to sail and make camp at Gilla, and thus proceed from a place of greater strength on to Quatria herself by and by. They were to send for reinforcements if necessary. Instead, however, a kind of mad fury gripped Greppo instead, upon his eyes catching sight of these shores. His imagination leapt into the void of the untold riches and glory which surely lay just beyond.

“We row on to Quatria, now,” Greppo said forcefully.

Benda looked at him, and saw the mad blood behind his eyes boiling. “Oh my king, it is not my place to question, but the men-at-arms and rowers are deathly tired, and our vessels badly damaged. Let us set ashore awhile, recover, and consolidate to the best ships remaining which will hold us all.”

The madness mounting in Greppo’s eyes subsided just long enough for him to see the reason in Benda’s suggestion, and he ordered it to be so. The rowers rowed, and after still a long time, when the shadows had well lengthened, they arrived and set anchor in the small seaward bay of Gilla.

Greppo, however, did not allow them to rest or go ashore until the ships had been inspected under torch-light, and the best among them discovered. It was found to be the third vessel, that upon which had embarked Mergolech, Eradus, Lualla, Sol, Tob Gobble, and their retinues and men-at-arms of Kremel. They had taken the least storm damage, and had a mast which would be salvageable come light of day. They spent that night, however, transporting provisions from the badly damaged first ship (which in point of fact would have sank before ever reaching Quatria proper), and distributing them to the others, and unchaining them one from the other.

Greppo took command of that ship, while Murta and Martis Ovnis in the second ship (still damaged, but less so than the first) received their share of provisions and men-at-arms to replace those rowers lost at the Stormwall. The first ship, which was already taking on water, was abandoned to soon sink, and the assembled company at last slept, and dreamt feverish dreams of what they’d find in Quatria.

Sacred Harp as participatory music

Sacred Harp singers view their tradition as a participatory one, not a passive one. Those who gather for a singing sing for themselves and for each other, and not for an audience. This can be seen in several aspects of the tradition.

First, the seating arrangement (four parts in a square, facing each other) is clearly intended for the singers, not for external listeners. Non-singers are always welcome to attend a singing, but typically they sit among the singers in the back rows of the tenor section, rather than in a designated separate audience location.

The leader, being equidistant from all sections, in principle hears the best sound. The often intense sonic experience of standing in the center of the square is considered one of the benefits of leading, and sometimes a guest will be invited as a courtesy to stand next to the leader during a song.

Source: Sacred Harp – Wikipedia

Musica ficta (Musicology, medieval)

The music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was often annotated under the assumption of musica ficta, which were particular raisings and lowerings of notes by the interval of a semitone, not written in the music notation. Authentic performance of such music must rely on the best available musicological scholarship to interpret the difficult and obscure rules governing when musica ficta should be introduced.

Source: How Sacred Harp music is sung – Wikipedia

Oral transmission of Sacred Harp music

The reason why Sacred Harp includes practices not notated in the music (that is, in the various published editions of The Sacred Harp) is that the printed music is not the only way that the music is transmitted among singers and across time—there is an oral channel as well. Many Sacred Harp participants can be described as “traditional” singers. They learned Sacred Harp by being taken to singings as children, and usually are the children of traditional singers of the previous generation. The parents, in turn, also learned the tradition as children.[1] Thus there is often a chain of direct transmission dating back to (or even before) the original appearance (1844) of The Sacred Harp. This chain has evidently developed and transmitted a number of singing practices distinct from what is printed in the book. As Sacred Harp scholar Warren Steel states, “traditional singers use the printed book in learning songs, and refer to it while singing, but the notes in the book are not interpreted literally, but according to a performance practice and style that is learned through oral tradition and varies among different regions and families.”

Source: How Sacred Harp music is sung – Wikipedia

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