Ully the Piper

A short story by Andre Norton

Plot: Ully lives in Coomb Brackett in High Hallack. During the Alizon War it was overlooked by everyone. It is located to the north west and there are apparently tales of the elder races that lived there before. Certain days and nights are kept by those in Coomb Brackett. It's own lord, the Lord of Fartherdale, had apparently died in the war, and no one had been sent to collect taxes in a very long time.

Ully had fallen from a tree when he was very young and this left him hunchbacked and paralyzed below the waist. He traveled around in a wooden cart that he pushed with two sticks. He would watch festivals such as May Day, Harvest Home, and dances like Ring Around at Yule without being able to participate. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) his injuries he developed an almost supernatural ability to mend things that were broken. He has a crush on Gretta of the inn and and active dislike of Matt of High Ridge Garth. Matt is a bully and Morgana (the smith's daughter) is known for '"seeing what she wished to see and did only what it pleased her to do" (p.37). The two generally win at dance contests.

It was during this midsummer dance contest that Ully pulls out a pipe. Matt had broken the musical instrument when a stranger visited the winter before (he'd broken it in jealousy because Morgana showed interest in the stranger). Gretta overhears Ully playing and insists he play for them at the festival. This brings disaster because Matt takes the pipe from Ully and when Ully tries desperately to reach it his cart rolls backwards down a hill. Gretta, coming back, wonders where Ully is and Matt tells her he left. Horrified, Gretta guesses most of what had happened and goes chasing down hill after Ully, but went in a different direction.

Ully eventually manages to stop himself in a glade where there was a ring of stones. Ully is enchanted and begins to hum and whistle his song - a song of all the dale. As he does moths (or what look like moths) begin to flutter in and out among the stones. The moths eventually vanished to be replaced by small, barefoot, beautiful women - one for each pillar. Though they do not speak, Ully is somehow able to know what they want and he whistles his tune for them to dance to. Eventually, near down, the dance ends and the moths return, but before Ully can leave one of the dancers returns and shakes her hair three times. Ully is knocked from his cart and he finds himself strait-backed and able to walk. He uses the pillars to balance himself at first and as he's about to leave he notices a beautiful pipe in the center of the stone circle. He picks it up and returns home, playing on the pipe the whole way.

Ully tells his tale, which is believed. That year was a particularly good one, but Matt is no longer as favored with the new Ully around. Though he tries to spread dark rumors about trafficking with the unknown only a few listen, among them Morgana, who is no longer being as courted as she once was. Morgana suggests that Matt try to duplicate what happened to Ully. With Harvest Eve, he sets out to the pillars. For him, however, the way is rough and thorny and the pillars dark with fluttering things around their crowns (as opposed to the bright moths and moonlit stones Ully found) finally he tried to play, but he could only produce mournful noises and when he tried to stop or leave he found he could not. He was forced to play until dawn when he was released, but at that time a giant black fly appeared and stung him all over. Though Matt would eventually recover he would never tell what happened to him that night.

Ully, however, goes on to pipe at the dances and feasts and, on occasion, to the pillars.

Publishing History

  • High Sorcery, Ace, 1970
  • Spellbound: Fantasy Stories, edited by Dianna Wynne Jones, Kingfisher, 1994

Timeline Notes

High Sorcery/Spellbound

  • p107/33 - War - invaders from overseas
  • p108/34 - Dale not visited 'for a tale of years'

Discussion

Ully the piper is more or less in keeping with what is known of High Hallack and the Witch World in general. It does, however, share similarities with fairy tales like Mother_Hulda, Kallo and the Goblins, True and Untrue, The Months, and similar tales where (usually) one sister is kind and is rewarded and, when she returns with the reward, the other sister (or step-sister) tries as well but since the other sister is of a different nature she is punished instead of rewarded.

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