“Lyre? Lyre are you here?”
It took me a minute to realise that Dan was talking to me, to remember that Lyre was my name now. It had seemed a good idea at the time, I clearly had a connection with music and they had to call me something. I remember first seeing the lyre, they’d all called it a harp and yet somehow I’d known straight away it was actually a lyre, not a harp at all. It was the first thing I’d gone to, been drawn to like it held some sort of magnetism directed at me and me alone. Lydia had suggested it. She’d thought that if I could see things, touch them, even everyday items, it might trigger a memory. I’d been hopeful at the time, especially with the way I practically ran to the damned lyre like it would save me. That was a full three weeks ago and I still had nothing. I’d run to it, I’d stood there, my hands hovering over the dark wood, Lydia just behind me, barely breathing. I’d plucked a couple of strings, with less-than-musical results and that was it. No flash of memory, no sudden spark of the life I must have led before this – this existence.
“I’m over here Dan,” I called aloud.
Dan. Danen. Lydia’s grandson, we were about the same age. At least, we assumed as much, considering how old I was was as lost to me as everything else. We got on well – he was tall and strong and remarkably easy on the eyes. I had no idea if he would have been my type in the past, but this was one area I had no real problems adapting to. He was the only one who treated ‘Lyre’ as a real name and not just a temporary measure until I got my memory back. Even Lydia, who had been the first to confess that I might never get my memory back was reluctant to accept that this name might be it for me. Her wilful delusion had infected the rest of the village, except for Dan. I found it hard to be around any of them, which is why I was hiding out here. There was only so much well-meaning assistance I could stand.
“Lyre, what are you doing out here? You know you’re not strong enough.” Dan had inherited his grandmother’s skill at healing but none of her kind, gentle bedside manner. No, Dan used his skill and the awe in which he was held as a bludgeon – lightly wielded to be sure, but a bludgeon all the same. Do this. Don’t do that. The only reason I didn’t scream at him was because I knew he genuinely cared. And that was strange. No one else seemed to understand that his gruff manner was deliberate. Lydia coaxed people back to health. Dan intimidated them.
“I’m well enough,” I grumbled as he came around the massive trunk of the tree I was leaning against. “And if I had to stay in Lydia’s house with everyone and his dog offering suggestions and advice, I would’ve grabbed that bastard sword in the corner and done some serious damage with it. Besides,” I added as his dark eyebrows rose, “you said I could go for walks.”
“Short walks. With someone accompanying you.” Dan retorted, moving to stand fully in front of me, blocking the light of the setting sun. “I definitely didn’t mean you could swear up a storm, threaten bodily harm and then storm out of the house. And this,” he waved his hand in a vague gesture intended to encompass the entire area “is not a short walk. This is an hour’s walk at a good pace and I’ll bet it didn’t take you an hour?” his tone was both questioning and a statement of fact. Impressive. How I knew it was impressive I wasn’t sure.
“I swore up a storm?”
We spoke at the same moment, his voice flat and implacable, mine full of confusion. Dan dropped into a crouch in front of my face, his face both concerned and amused,
“Apparently,” he said with wry amusement. “You don’t remember it?” he added, voice gentling. I shook my head, feeling suddenly lost
“No,” I said. “What did I say?” I asked with sudden concern. What had I said to these people? Dan laughed, I liked listening to him laugh, he didn’t laugh very often, but when he did it was full of sunlight and spread like the ripples on a clear, flat pond.
“I don’t know,” he confessed, “and no one would repeat the words, so it must have been pretty bad.” He chuckled.
I stared up at him, my face stricken even as I felt the blood drain from my face. How could I have said something and not remember it!? Dan was right, it hadn’t taken me an hour to get here, so how could I possibly have forgotten something I said no more than two hours ago? I could understand and even accept to a degree, that I could no longer remember anything before waking up in Lydia’s house, but this, this was – was... wrong.
Dan reached out towards me and in a sudden fury I slapped his hands away.
“No!” I yelled it in his face and grabbed his arms, partly to hold him still and partly to use him as leverage to get to my feet. It was an odd, subtle action that felt strangely familiar. Had I done something like this before? Letting go of him, I spun around and shoved my way past him, further along the track that lead through knee-length grass, down to the river. A scattering of stones and small rocks decorated the track and I aimed a vicious kick at one, intending for it to go spinning off ahead of me. Instead, I got a vicious reminder that I was far from healed. The instant I pulled my leg back the unhealed muscles in my back constricted and screamed white-hot fury. A nerve twisted and pinched in a blaze of agony and I collapsed onto my knees trying not to scream, but unable to smother a choked gasp of pain.
“LYRE!” Dan’s voice ricocheted around my head as I slid sideways in the dust. Pain slithered along my nerves, coiling up my spine only to shoot down my legs, curl my toes as abused muscles retracted, and return to settle as a burn in the small of my back. I caught my sideways motion with a hand thrust out in front of me, my fingers folded into a fist as even that motion jarred my back and fed the fire. Even as I heard Dan’s footsteps approaching so quickly the still-sane part of my mind wondered that he didn’t trip over his own feet, I slid and fell. The hand that had been holding up became an elbow and even as the dull thud told me Dan had arrived and was on his knees beside me, I sprawled in the dust.
“… ‘re! Lyre!” Dan’s voice, urgently pleading somewhere over my head. Why was this room so stuffy?
“’An?” I heard him swear, using words I’d seen him swat the village kids for using. My healer using such language? Surely the lack of oxygen was getting to him as much as it was to me. I lifted myself to look at him, my fingers scrabbling in the – “Aaanh!” – dust?
Hands caught mine and pressed hard enough to force my fingers to lie flat on the ground. Hands gently lifted my head and – oh! even that hurt! – carefully turned it to one side so I could see and breathe again. Dan’s face, blurry through the dirt in my eyes, appeared just above me,
“Lyre? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled the words, remembering now – the track to the river, avoiding Dan, burning pain in my back – I must have blacked out.
“Good. Now hold still, I need to check the bandages.” I tried, I really tried. But dear gods it hurt so badly. “Bloody hell Lyre!” Another bout of swearing, poor Danen, I must be trying his patience so badly. He started muttering under his breath as he attempted to replace the bandages, I caught the odd word like “stupid”, “idiot” and “fool” before his face appeared back in front of me, his expression as grave as I’d ever seen it.
“You’ve torn most of the stitches out,” he told me, “I’ll need to get my gear and-” he paused, lifting his head and looking around. I stared dully at him, the pain had dimmed to a slow, idle bite that I could almost ignore. He sighed heavily and his fingers came down to sift lightly through my hair and gently brush dirt from my cheek. “It’s too late,” he said regretfully. Panic surged in me and he hastily added “to get my things and come back. It’s already getting dark.”
“Take me home?” I asked then, the first chance I’d really had to speak. Everything hurt and I was so tired and struggling to hold back tears and I just wanted to go.
“Oh Lyre,” his breath warmed my check as he almost whispered my name. “I would have to carry you and-”
“Don’t care.” I said stubbornly. “I want to go,” my voice broke and I sobbed out the last word. “Please…”
“It will hurt,” he warned me, “and badly.”
“It already hurts badly,” I retorted and began struggling to get my arms to lift my weight, gasping with every movement, but knowing, deep down, that Dan would help me rather than let me struggle on my own.
“Oh Lyre,” he sounded – so many things. “All right. I could go back and get help, but I don’t move as fast as you, and I don’t want to leave you out here on your own. I don’t think-” he broke off abruptly.
He was silent for so long I began to wonder if he was still there, perhaps he had turned into a bird and flown away, or an insect and crawled away through the long grass. The sound of tearing cloth pulled me from my odd reverie and I titled my head to see Dan tearing the bottom off his tunic and balling it up. The first thought that popped into my head was that he intended to gag me – oddly enough the thought didn’t really bother me – not until he lowered his hand and offered it to me, and I, operating on some instinct I wasn’t aware of, pulled back. Dan immediately drew back his hand and caught the back of my head with the other.
“Easy,” he murmured. “Easy. I need to get you upright so I can carry you. It’s going to hurt,” he offered the cloth again, drawing my head forwards as he did. “Bite down on this, it will help.”
He was right about that. Moving carefully and slowly, Dan eased me into a sitting position. It hurt! I bit down on the cloth, grateful for his foresight, but still couldn’t stop a groan.
“Easy. Easy.” Dan said again, an oddly comforting litany, it gave me something else to focus on. He moved then to be properly behind me and adjusted his grip. “Okay Lyre, I’m going to lift you up now. Don’t try and help me, just stay as still as you can and let me do the work. Ready? One. Two. Three.”
“Nnnnnnaaahhhh!” I screamed aloud, as pain tore along the nerves in my back. I bit down viciously on the cloth as Dan paused, balanced himself and stood up. “Mmmhh! Ah. Ah. Ah.” My breath came out in a series of gasps as I struggled to stay calm.
“Little angel, full of grace.”
It hurt so badly, Dan’s hands were carefully placed to avoid the bruises, but by necessity his arms put pressure on my back. I tried to move, to ease the pressure and the pain.
“Sitting tall, in your place.”
He started walking, each step sent daggers up my spine and the nausea kicked in. I clenched my teeth and tried to concentrate on breathing. In and out. In and out. Don’t think about the pain. Don’t think about anything at all. It came surprisingly easy to me – I just – stopped thinking.
“Come to the table. Take a seat. Hands together, nice and neat.” Dan’s voice cracked on a note and suddenly I was aware again. Pain was still there, but – something else, the sound of a voice reaching for a note just out of range.
“You’re in the wrong key.” I mumbled.
“What?” Dan sounded startled; I felt the muscles in his neck move as he looked down at me.
“You’re- in the wrong key.” I gasped the words out as Dan stumbled over a dip in the path.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “What key should I be in then?” He asked.
“This song’s in C major.” I replied without thinking. “Probably too high for you, but it’s not meant to be sung by a male voice anyway.” Dan stopped walking and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was. How did I know that? He chose not to comment on that, instead, he picked up on something else,
“Well then, why don’t you sing it for me?”
“Little angel-- full of grace.
Sitting tall. Ahhh- in your place.
Mmnnnnh Take- take it s-slow, no need to r-race.”
“Nnngghh oh gods! Stop. Dan stop! Stop! Please stop!” The words exploded out of me. Oh gods it hurt! Forward movement stopped immediately as Dan immediately came to a halt. He awkwardly crouched and adjusted his grip.
“Shhhh… shhhh,” his voice murmured in the air above my head as he freed one hand and I felt him stroking the hair away from my face. “It’s okay. You’ll be okay.”
“It’s not okay,” I sobbed. “It hurts too bad. I can’t do this.” Tears spilled out of my eyes, down my face. My chest jerked as I tried to breath and still there was pain.
“You can.” Dan’s voice was implacable. “You wanted this Lyre. It was your idea. Now, it is far too late for me to leave you and get help, even if I thought you’d survive on your own out here. Now, get your arms around my neck and hold on.” Ahh, there was the Dan I’d come to know and love. There’s no love like tough love. That welcome and distracting thought got me through the lift. A couple of steps later and Dan spoke up again.
“Hey, what happened to the music.” I glared at him, but couldn’t deny that having a distraction helped and started singing again. My voice was weak and thready and yet I could feel myself attempting to take deep breaths from right at the bottom of my ribcage, to project my voice, to make the most of it.
“Come to the table. Take a seat.
Mph. Hands together, nice and neat.”
Was I a singer? The thought kept me occupied on the long and painful walk back. Encouraged by Dan, I tried singing a few other songs. If he named a song, I couldn’t remember the words, but if he asked me for a song about unrequited love, I immediately sang what he informed me was the best known song on the subject. For over an hour we went on this way. Dan sang a few lines here and there and I immediately corrected him on tone and pitch – and sometimes even on the words. By the time we reached the village we were both staring at each other in utter bafflement.
“Well,” Dan said finally, “I suppose we know what you used to do.” I smiled dreamily at him, singing had felt – well, it had hurt like hell, but it felt nice, right somehow. Dan had a good voice too, which helped. I hated singing with someone who couldn’t hold a tune. Feeling oddly – good, I let myself relax into Dan’s arms.
“Lyre? Lyre?” It was getting darker, but that was to be expected, after all Dan’s fussing about it getting late and too dark to see. There was a pleasant numbness spreading out from my back into my legs now… it was… pleasant.
“Lyre? Oh no… No, no no! Lyre! Grandma! I need you! Lyre, stay with me! GRANDM-!”