It’s no secret that After the Ruin was largely inspired by folk songs and that the book is a conscious response to many of the themes and motifs found in the Child Ballads. I’ve written about such things here so I won’t repeat myself, beyond saying that the quotations at the head of each chapter were chosen to reflect and display those influences. Within the story, however, Assiolo is remaking himself as a musician and has to sing for his supper. Giving him a few verses fleshed out this idea a bit*. So I wrote a couple of songs with something of a traditional feel but which contained the mythology of his world rather than ours.
Here’s one of them, describing a meeting with the king of the borderlands:
Into the wood I chanced to stray
All upon midwinter’s day
There stood a stranger in my way
The dark was softly rising.
‘Oh who are you that I do see?
Who stands beneath the apple tree?
Who holds out its dark fruit to me
All with the starlight shining?’
‘I am the sky, the stone, the sea
All mortal men bow down to me
From love and death I’ll set you free
I am the starlight shining.
‘Come put your left hand in my right
Come dance with me this winter’s night
Forget the sunrise and the light
Know always starlight shining.’
‘Oh no! This dance is not for me
Mine is the rose upon the tree
And my love yonder waits for me
All in the darkness sleeping.’
‘If that’s your will go on your way
Pick roses on midsummer’s day
But roses wither and decay
All into darkness falling.’
‘I’ll take the fate that falls to me
The rose is lovely on the tree
And my love, she’s worth more to me
Than all your starlit dancing.’
As some of you will have noticed, this song’s form is modelled on Death and the Lady. This isn’t a Child Ballad; some of its different versions were recorded by other song collectors in various places (summary here). My ballad is rather happier – the king of the borderlands not being a grim reaper stand-in – but can be sung to many of Death and the Lady‘s settings; there’s a nod to this in the book’s text, when a listener remarks to Assiolo that she ‘knows the tune, and bitter words to fit it’.
If you’re interested you can listen to Jon Boden’s singing the real folk song here.
* Also songs are pretty well as ubiquitous as maps in fantasy fiction