I Would Choose Him Again
When Tasni had first seen the Choir Master at practice, she couldn't
believe her eyes. Surely that man could not be the husband of the young
woman she had met in the archives. He was old enough to be her
grandfather, and...well, she could see why his wife would be looking for
After a few days at the Hall, the journeywoman had begun to think that
the South was not much different to the North and that the lurid stories
about forced marriages had been invented to embellish harper romances.
Whenever she thought about Merlish and her husband, though, she couldn't
help but wonder, and her new home seemed a very strange place indeed.
Tasni tried to tell herself not to judge. He was probably a perfectly
sweet, kind man. Maybe she had fallen in love with his voice, which was
None of these thoughts were very convincing, though, and after a while
she decided to go and pay Merlish a visit. She chose a time when she
knew Master Eilomar would be drilling the apprentices in their Teaching
Ballads and set off to visit their cot.
Merlish had been reading one of her books about runners. When would
the snow break and the races could start again, she wondered with an
impatient sigh as she gazed at an illustration of a famous Amber Hills
stallion. Sitting up straighter, the young woman decided to quiz
herself by listing off the different parts of the animal from nose to
tail. "Ok. The poll, the crest, the withers the back, the loins, the
croup, the dock, the..."
She froze. That sounded like boots on the steps! Shards, had her
husband come home? Jumping up from the kitchen table, she threw the
book quickly into the pantry and grabbed her apron from the back of
her door. But as she tied it around her middle, she was surprised to
hear instead of a click of the latching opening a knock.
Her heart was still pounding and she smoothed her hair back as she
called "Yes? Who is it?"
"Journeywoman Tasni, from the Hall," the visitor replied. "Is this
Master Eilomar's cot?"
Oh, yes, she had met her. In the archives. Merlish quickly glanced
back at the pantry. The book was safe there. "Yes, it is! Just a
moment." Taking a few deep breaths, she strode across the kitchen
and into the hallway and threw open the door with a bit more force
than she had meant. "Oh. Sorry, journeywoman," she apologized with a
blush. Her nerves certainly had not calmed themselves. "Ah, yes,
this Master Eilomar's cot. How may I help you?"
"I'm trying to track down some musical scores that have turned up
missing in the archives." Tasni had come prepared with a story. "Most
likely they weren't recorded properly when they were borrowed, and I'm
checking to see if any of the Masters or journeymen have them. If the
Master isn't here, I can come back another time..." She frowned briefly,
then her expression cleared. "We've met, haven't we? In the archives, on
my first day. You're Merlish."
"Yes, that was me," the young woman said with a shy smile. It was
nice to be remembered.
"How did you find those recipes?" Tasni asked. "Did your husband enjoy
"He likes his vegetables better cooked, I think. But he hasn't really
complained to me." That was in itself a triumph! "I think one with
fruit mixed in next time we can get fresh citrus."
"If you're looking for more inspiration, you're always welcome to come
back to the archives, and I can look up some more recipes for you,"
Tasni offered. "Or, you know...if you just want to talk?" It must be
lonely here in the cot all day, she thought, with nothing to do but make
salads for an elderly Master.
"That's very kind of you," Merlish said with a shy smile. She might
go back to the archives, but she didn't know if she'd have the nerve
to go without a good reason. What if she bothered the woman when she
was supposed to be working at got her into some kind of trouble?
She'd feel utterly responsible. But she was here now, and it was
important to show good manners. "Master Eilomar should be returning
soon. Would you like to wait inside?"
"Oh, thank you, if it wouldn't be any trouble? I don't want to interrupt
you at your work." Tasni stepped into the hallway. It seemed ordinary
enough. There were no bars on the windows or chains bolted to the walls.
But then, her imagination reminded her, in a Pass there didn't need to be.
"Not at all. I always have water heating in case Master Eilomar needs
some tea to sooth his throat," Merlish said as she stepped aside and
indicated the way to the kitchen.
Tasni followed the directions to the kitchen and after glancing at
Merlish for permission, sat down at the table. "You have a lovely home.
It's so peaceful, it must make a good place for the Master to practice."
"Yes, he has a private studio in the back." Merlish poured tea leaves
in the tea pot and covered them with hot water from the kettle to
"So you get your own little recitals to enjoy. I'm almost jealous! He
has a wonderful voice. I've heard him at choir practice." Her tone was
light, but she watched the other young woman closely for any reaction.
"His is the best bass voice of his generation," Merlish said with a
hint of pride. At least, that was what she had heard, and she tended
to agree even though she did only hear those voices at the Hall.
"He certainly gives the choir a lot to live up to," Tasni said with a
mock grimace. She hadn't done so much vocal practice since she'd been
working towards promotion to journeywoman. "If you don't mind me asking,
how did you two meet? You said you have a relative who's a harper,
This seemed to be the question everyone got around to asking
eventually. "Yes, my father's uncle introduced us. He thought we
might be good for each other."
Tasni couldn't help feeling indignant at the idea of one old man
arranging to provide another with a young bride. It was like something
out of a romantic novel, but without the intervention of the hero. She
knew she ought to drop the subject - it wasn't her place to interfere -
but she couldn't help it.
Telling herself she was here to study Southern culture and was therefore
perfectly justified in at least asking about it, she tried to think of a
way to do so without being rude. "Is that...the custom here? To be
introduced by your family?"
As someone who had grown up in the South, Merlish wasn't quite prepared
for, or was even really aware of the way the practice was viewed, and so
was a little confused by the Harper's question. "I'm sorry, I'm not
sure what you mean."
"Well, in the North, it's more usual to marry someone you lo...uh,
choose. For yourself. At least, that's how it is in the Harper Hall,"
Tasni said. She knew that people sometimes married to unite their
families, or to formalize a trade deal. But at least, the couples were
usually a similar age, and no-one was forced into it.
"But I _did_ choose," Merlish said, feeling a little defensive. "Master
Eilomar is a great match for my family and I was honored that he asked
me to be his wife."
"No, I mean, we can choose the person _we_ want. That is, if we get
married at all." Tasni certainly had no intention of burdening herself
with a husband. "Do you mean to say you'd have chosen him over all other
men? If you could have had anyone?"
"I wanted no one else. I would choose him again," she said with an
almost defiant lift of her chin. Merlish knew she and Eilomar might
look strange on the outside, and it was true that she could not say she
loved him like they did in Harper tales, but she cared for him deeply.
He was always good and kind. Despite her feelings, she was sure that he
loved her. She was lucky to have him no matter what others might think.
For a moment, Tasni was lost for words. As hard as it was for her to
comprehend, Merlish sounded too sincere to be anything other than
genuinely attached to her husband. She was immediately ashamed of
herself. She was supposed to be here to observe, not criticize other
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed...well. I was rude, and I apologize."
Merlish felt mollified and a little embarrassed that she had shown her
annoyance in front of her guest. But she couldn't quite say she
regretted standing up for her husband. "It's all right," she lied. But
she also was aware of the reality of the situation. "I know that not
everyone at the Hall likes Master Eilomar, but it's only because they
don't know him like I do."
"We all know he's a wonderful musician, and respect him," Tasni said,
hoping to make up for her lack of courtesy. "I've just been reading too
many novels, really. They can give a strange idea of what it's like to
live down here in the South."
"Well, now hopefully you can see what yourself what thing are really
like," Merlish said, standing up to get the kettle. "More tea?" she
asked in the hopes that they could move on to other topics.
"Oh, yes, please," Tasni replied in relief. She still wasn't quite sure
what she thought about Merlish's marriage, but firmly told herself it
was none of her business. She had other, more important matters to
investigate. For now...
Last updated on the February 28th 2019