It would perhaps be more appropriate to say that rarely does Eater not sing. When one half of one’s martial power comes from one’s own voice, it is important to always keep that weapon polished. What’s more, she simply enjoys it: She does not proudly claim the label of minstrel for nothing.
(It would be poor cover for her if she did not like to look the part.)
Eater sings old ballads, love songs, and folk tunes picked up from every corner of every world. From the kinds of music deemed “high art” and performed to the rich and famous in packed ballrooms to nonsense rhymes that parents use to make their children fall asleep and buy themselves a few precious hours of rest. The preludes of the fairies, the nocturnes of the dryads and Undines—if her harp is accompaniment enough, she will sing it. If not, she will wheedle the performance out of the musically capable with entreaties both sugared and suggestive, whatever it takes. Having a musician along with her is what she needs to stabilize her ear and allow her to keep herself on pitch.
(Once the sun sets, Eater still sings: Bawdy tavern reels, and in a warbling voice that veers off pitch as often as not. His songs are for self-satisfaction and for entertainment; for him the clàrsach is just another weapon.)
(Retuning and cleaning it is a daily task because of this, one she must attend to immediately after dressing, and she sulks all the while.)
Eater sings the hymns of Asgard.
Eater sings the hymns of Asgard—and whenever Nessiah is in earshot, he screams and breaks things, flying into rages that have cost Gram Blaze more than three full sets of porcelain teaware to date. He screams and doesn’t stop screaming and curls into himself with hands over his ears until someone forces Eater to stop, until Garlot comes running and holds him and gentles him like some kind of wounded animal.
(And she tries not to show it, but whenever this happens she is overwhelmed with an ugly, gut-seizing desire to walk over and strike Nessiah about the face, to tie his hands and force him to listen, because it’s only a song, only music, only a memory. They are kindred, but in times like this she feels only disgust for him, for his weakness, for the utter disgrace of him.)
(This is why, no matter how many times she is told to be considerate of Nessiah, she will always pretend to have forgotten and sing the hymns of Asgard at least once more. They are beautiful, and she has the right to play whatever music she wants.)
For all the centuries he has lived, all the music he must have heard in his interactions with humans—Nessiah sings a single song only.
He does not seek to perform it in front of crowds, does not use it to entertain or as a catalyst for magic; he will, however, sing it and sing it and sing it in endless loops into the night sky as if practicing, his breath streaming out in white clouds all the while.
It nettles her at times to admit it, but it is a piece arresting in its sound. Musically, it is watertight—and it is nothing like the harmonious songs preferred by the people of this world. Too many places where it edges towards minor chords, and too many flats; it’s too long to be a folk song and too short to be a formal concert ballad.
She has heard Nessiah’s song enough times that she could play it by heart, but she still does not know what to make of it. If he is in a place where his voice will carry when he starts, every person in the barracks will stop what they are doing to listen—she herself is no exception, and still she does not understand why.
Nessiah sings. Sometimes a single repetition seems to suffice for him, and sometimes he will carry on and on until half the commanders in the base are standing stock still with tears dripping off their frozen faces—until Garlot arrives to fold Nessiah into his arms, crying like the rest of them.
Something always moves in her chest, too, keeps her still and empties her mind of everything but the notes. It is not enough to make her weep, but there is something about Nessiah’s voice that pins her in her tracks and shakes her to her core.
Eater simply cannot make heads nor tails of it.
One morning—when the whole of Ancardia has been left far behind, and Bronquia is only remembered in her harp and her voice—Eater uncrosses and recrosses her legs atop her makeshift barrel chair, looks about the mostly empty deck of the Gloria, and plucks at her harp strings a bit curiously. She has played pirate ditties ad nauseum, and even in this week alone she has sung of Gulcasa’s deeds more times than she can bear: And hardly anyone is around anyway, and so she may as well try it.
For nearly nine minutes, she sings—and when she has finished, Pinger is standing there with a very curious look on her face.
“What happened to the person who wrote that song?”
She smiles, a little bitterly. “Who knows—why, I left that country behind ever so long ago. Do excuse me, I simply must ask—how did you know that this piece isn’t one of mine?”
Pinger’s gaze floats off to the horizon, her tall cat’s ears rotating slightly back.
“Hmm, it’s hard to put a finger on precisely—I think it’s a bit to do with your voice. The way you sing just doesn’t match the rest of the song, and you’re so skilled and know so much about music that the only explanation I can imagine is that you just didn’t realize you were even making a mistake.”
“Oh, my.” She uncrosses her legs again, folds her ankles together, and sets the clàrsach down upon her lap. “Then, how were you able to judge such a thing?”
Pinger spreads her hands wide, her tail waving at an easy pace like an eel. “I don’t know very much about music, but it’s not about the music itself—it’s what the person who wrote the song felt and wanted to convey. That’s the only thing that I think I could ever pick up on better than a real musician like you.”
The cait sidhe’s expression is very apologetic, and Eater tilts her head coquettishly. It’s impossible to help being intrigued.
“Do tell me more. If I’m not performing this song properly, then I would like to be able to correct myself—at least out of respect for the music itself.”
For a moment, Pinger looks quite unlike herself; her eyes narrow subtly and her usual carefree smile vanishes.
“I don’t know what it is exactly that the original composer wanted to say—what I can understand of the lyrics is very vague. But… I imagine that whoever they were, they would probably sing to keep from crying themselves to sleep… as a way to get everything that they felt out.
“Unless you’ve experienced the sensation of screaming on the inside, but being unable to make a single sound out loud… and unless you remember how it feels very clearly when you sing… I don’t think that anyone could ever perform that song quite how the person who wrote it meant it to be.”
Eater cannot find the words to reply to this. Pinger waits for nearly a minute, then nods her head with a small smile and trots off to the ship’s mast, shimmying up the rigging into the crow’s nest.
For a moment—just a moment—she wants to fling her harp away from her, to skitter across the deck of the ship. When the moment passes, Eater is left with a very mysterious feeling that she knows she will not immediately be able to understand.
She recalls the half-forgotten voice of a man singing well into the dawn, almost like a wild animal crying, and she frowns into the ocean mist.