An excerpt from UNTIL AGAIN:

 

Putumayo was stuffed with patrons and was as loud as Miea had ever experienced. Of course a table was available for her party. Hensis had called ahead to make sure that was the case.

 

Okay, Miea thought, as the host seated them, I don’t mind throwing my weight around a little.

 

The table was in a corner to the right side of the stage with a clear view of the enormity of musical equipment on it. The stage was so full of paraphernalia Miea wasn’t sure how the performers were going to fit onstage, let alone play their instruments. She hadn’t heard of the act they’d come to watch. Were the musicians very small, maybe even invisible?

 

A waiter came and Camara and several of the others ordered a variety of intoxicants. Miea ordered a barritts, her favorite soft drink. She had intoxicants on occasion but never in public (and they were very much in public; Miea had never taught herself to ignore the many heads that turned in her direction whenever she entered a place).

 

Dyson, in a show of support, ordered a barritts as well, as did Sinica. Miea was a little surprised that Sinica was sitting with her at the table. Usually, both he and Hensis positioned themselves elsewhere when she was out. She glanced around and found Hensis on the other side of the room.

 

Not long after their drinks arrived, the lights went down, and the band – all normal-sized people – walked onstage, stepping gingerly around the mass of equipment. Without saying a word to the audience, the musicians swung into their first song. As was typical of tzadik, the beat, performed by three percussionists, was propulsive. The wash, however, performed by three string players, was tender, almost plaintive. About a minute into the first song a musician stepped to the edge of the stage and blew into an instrument that Miea had never seen before. It had a neck that curved upward to a long, flat opening. Miea expected the instrument to make a rich, reedy sound, but what came out was chittering, almost like the call of the tiny purisma.

 

Miea leaned toward Dyson. “What is that thing?”

 

“He calls it a barsuk. He invented it – that’s what’s getting them so much attention. Amazing, isn’t it?”

 

“Amazing.”

 

The barsuk player stepped back after a long bit of improvisation, and two surprisingly tall women began singing in unison. At first they seemed only to be vocalizing, but soon Miea discovered a pattern in their phrases; they were singing backward.

 

“What kind of machine lets them do that?” she said to Dyson.

 

“It’s not a machine. They’re doing it themselves.”

 

“They’re singing backward together?”

 

“Can you imagine how much practice that takes?”

 

Miea simply shook her head in wonder. Looking around, she noticed that the audience seemed transfixed. Some were dancing, some were shouting, but all seemed in thrall. Except Hensis, who maintained diligent watch, as did Sinica. And a man in the other corner of the room. And a woman standing about twenty feet behind her. Each bore the unmistakable attentiveness of the royal guard. Had her parents increased her security detail without mentioning it to her?

 

The song continued for easily twenty minutes, introducing new sounds and counter-rhythms as it progressed. Finally the music seemed to converge. What were once layers became a unified blend, and then, with an explosion of percussion, the song ended. At its conclusion, one of the percussionists threw a drumstick into the audience – straight in Miea’s direction. Delighted, she reached out for it, only to have Sinica dive across the table to intercept the stick before it got to her, knocking over her barritts in the process.

 

Instantly, Hensis and one of the other people she assumed to be a guard converged on the stage, drawing a great deal of attention to themselves. The band seemed intimidated by this and the percussionist who’d thrown the drumstick held up his hands to show he’d intended no harm. By this point he’d recognized Miea and seemed mortified by what he’d done.

 

The concert continued a few minutes later once it became clear to Miea’s bodyguards that she had never been in danger. The muttering among the crowd ended as a new song began. However, Miea found she couldn’t give herself to the music as she had before.

 

Hensis and Sinica had never overreacted like this before. Obviously her father was much more concerned about what was going on with the Thorns than he’d acknowledged to her.