Music’s Memory

Write what you know, right? Then why do I write about music?

Why is music so important in my books?  I’m not a musician; I can’t play an instrument, carry a tune, or even keep time.  Write what you know, right? You wouldn’t think I’d write about music.

But one of the themes of my books is language, and what it can and can’t do: in my protagonist Lena’s words, they are in part

about language, and meaning, and if all concepts were universal, and could be translated. About the gap between intent and comprehension, between what was meant and what was understood, and the assumptions and shared experience encompassed—or not—in any exchange.

Empire’s Exile

Music, in my books, is another form of language, a way to communicate that goes beyond words to invoke memory and emotion. I introduce this in the very first book, Empire’s Daughter, when the character Tice teaches Lena a song about exile and lost love (introducing another major theme of the series).  In book 2, Empire’s Hostage, Lena learns that in Linrathe, the country north of the Wall, song is used to teach history – and more than history, in truth – a sense of national identity.

Song weaves its way through the next book, Empire’s Exile, too: its role in entertainment, in ritual, in status among a group of warriors. It communicates regret, love, loss – and is a vehicle to bring two people together.

But it’s in the two books that the musician Sorley narrates: Oraiáphon and Empire’s Reckoning, that music takes centre stage. Its role in Oraiáphon is pivotal to the story – without giving away the plot, I’ll just say that Oraiáphon is my world’s equivalent of classical mythology’s Orpheus.  

Music is central to Sorley’s identity, and as the author I take advantage of that. Music highlights the differences between him and the two men in his life: with pragmatic Druisius, the instruments they play are similar, but the tunings are different, and to Druisius, all Sorley’s songs are sad. With Cillian, whose use of language is precise and subtle, honed by his years as a diplomat, Sorley’s contrasting use of song to influence through emotion reflects their characters:

“Stories told by you, with all your scáeli’s skills?” Cillian asked. “A tale spun to coerce and convince, my lord Sorley?”

Empire’s Reckoning

Of all the books in the series, Empire’s Reckoning focuses most on the influence and limitations of language: of oaths made and broken, of the power of words spoken and unspoken – and the role of music in conveying what words cannot. That’s why I, a weaver of words, write about music.

You can hear Sorley sing his beautiful Paths Untrodden here.

Purchase links for all my books here.

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Sorley’s Song for Cillian

“Another soft, mournful descent of notes faded into the dark, and with the next, Sorley began to sing. Nothing disturbed the music: drinking cups were lowered, conversation ended. His voice, deep and slightly rough, told his anguish and grief to the night, to the stars, to all the world. A lament, I knew, for what he could not have…”

Paths Untrodden
(c) 2019 Marian L Thorpe
Sorley ladhar crop

Sorley, who is the narrator of the novella Oraiáphon and the upcoming Empire’s Reckoning, first appears in Empire’s Hostage as a minor character and becomes an important supporting character in Empire’s Exile, is in love with Cillian, the main male character of Hostage and Exile, and has been since he was sixteen. Sorley is a musician, and as all musicians and poets do, he’s written a song about his unrequited love.

Paths Untrodden

My true love’s eyes are darkly gleaming

In candlelight and music’s lure;

One night alone, at spring’s fair dawning

To keep me longing through the years,

To leave my soul bereft and mourning.

You danced that night with grace unfettered,

A glance my way, a touch bestowed.

Your dark hair swept by supple fingers.

Too soon the day, the calling road,

The shaken head when asked to linger.

A long, long path, and distance boundless,

Years of sorrow and empty days

Till chance or fate together brought us,

So far from home, in summer’s blaze,

With war behind and war before us.

The gods and time have blessed us both

With love’s reward for all our years

Of wandering on lonely ways;

A respite offered for our cares,

A soul to hold ours, all our days.

But candlelight and music’s memory,

Dark eyes gleaming over wine

Revive that youthful love and longing

For graceful fingers touching mine

For kisses left at day’s first dawning.

My life’s companion loves me truly

My heart is his and his is mine,

But older love is not forgotten

There is, by fate, or god’s design

A yearning still for paths untrodden

You danced that night with grace unfettered,

A glance my way, a touch bestowed.

Your dark hair swept by supple fingers.

Uncharted ways might be explored,

Still dreams this wistful, loving singer.