The Crying Blade
The Crying Blade
The bard's voice echoed mournfully through the pub as she sang the tale of the Lass MacKay. The tavern's wenches stood or served the customers in silence listening to each note. The patrons were also bespelled by her song as she gently plucked the notes while the torches glowed behind her. They cast their images in her hair and glowed there dancing. Her blue eyes were rimmed with tears as she lifted her voice in another chorus and the tears fell silently to the wooden platform she sang upon. Almost done ... almost done. The first notes of the new chorus began.
The final note hung in the dry stale air of the small tavern for a moment before the audience began to clap. The bard accepted their applause and coin and fled the stage as quickly as she could. She'd saved the song for the very end. She hated singing it. Her soft leather boots made barely a whisper as the tired woman climbed the old wooden steps to the tiny room she'd rented from the tavern owner and his family. After the heavy wooden door was firmly shut and locked behind her, she leaned against it for a moment and let herself cry the tears she'd been holding in during the song. When the tears passed, she began to prepare for bed. It was the end of her three-week stay here. Tomorrow would find her gone and only a few coins left behind for the tavern wench who had been so kind to her during her stay.
She removed most of her stage attire and settled in front of the old mirror and table. The comb slid through her long copper hair snagging occasionally on a stray tangle. After a few moments, it raced gracefully through her hair unheeded. She spent near a half of an hour braiding the long copper. As she did, she looked at her reflection in the old mirror and thought it remarkable how the sun had changed her coloring while she'd traveled. Her once alabaster skin was now a soft golden hue. Her drab hair had been burned to pure copper by the caress of the sun overhead during her journey. The packs she carried, once heavy, now seemed like nothing as she walked the dusty roads. Her braid finished, she splashed a bit of water on her face and then slipped into her bed for a night's sleep. As sleep came for her, she prayed for no dreams...
The midday sun shone down on her as she rode towards her next adventure. The old mare came to her as she prepared to leave in the early dawned morning. The tavern owner offered her the old mare for far less coin than she should have thought. The bard had been doubtful at first, but accepted when she saw the deep brown eyes of the horse. While she'd not win a race nor a beauty contest, the old girl was loyal and steady. Its name was Heather. According to the stable boy, that was given to the young mare when she was found newly born and stumbling to find her legs in a field of heather beside her dame. Heather, while no longer able to pull the plow, was fine for a light rider in no hurry. The bard allowed Heather to set the pace as even Heather's slowest pace was faster than the bard's was lest she ran.
The sunset found them entering a green forest. Finding a bank near a brook not too far from the road, the bard made camp for the evening. Heather drank at the cool brook as the woman built a small fire to heat water for tea. Darkness fell quickly and her meager stores yielded some bread and a bit of dried meat for her dinner. Heather grazed nearby as the bard sat by the fire adding wood to it carefully. Once her meager meal was finished, she fetched her guitar from Heather's back and sat tuning it thoughtfully. The chords sang softly in the cool night air and her voice lifted to the heaven's singing not in the foreigner's tongue she'd learned but her own native tongue ... older than old. Tales of long dead heroes, Gods and Goddess, great wars and heartbroken lovers ... they poured out of her in the darkness. When she played the final note and the strings slowly ceased their perfect vibrations, she was startled by the sound of clapping.
"Well sung and played, lady bard. May I share your fire?" A voice said from the darkness. She could not see her mysterious audience, but to refuse was rude. She whispered a silent prayer to the Gods before she spoke in his tongue.
"Yes, you may." She placed the guitar beside her and looked up when she heard her audience step from cover. His hair was blacker than the twilight sky and his eyes seemed to sparkle in the firelight. She smiled hesitantly and motioned for him to sit. The massive ebony stallion he had led into the small clearing stomped and tore up a small tuft of sod. The bard reached into her supplies and tore off a chunk of her bread and offered it to the large beast. It snorted and backed away a step before slowly lowering its head to take the morsel from her open palm. It nuzzled her hand briefly before walking over to the stream to drink. The man released the reins and sat where she'd motioned for him to sit. He glanced at her allowing his eyes to travel from her coppery hair to her soft leather encased feet.
"A bard, and a lovely one at that, who can charm a war horse and its rider? A rare find. A rare find indeed." He settled down and got comfortable. "I'm Roger and you are?"
"A bard ... Prince Blackpool. I had heard you were named Geoffrey. Did I hear incorrectly?" She smiled at him trying to keep the annoyance out of her tone. He smiled at her a bit embarrassed.
"My apologies, lovely bard. I believed you would be better at ease if you didn't realize that one of the two princes of this kingdom shared your humble camp."
"No apologies needed, Prince Blackpool. It is your kingdom, you may order me to address you as Roger, if you like. But, a piece of advice? Take off the house sword and the armor which carries your family crest before you try to play rich commoner." She rose to return her guitar to its place.
"No." She froze as he barked. "Please, lady bard. Play for me. I will gift you with coin for your performance, if you wish."
"If his majesty wishes, I will play for him." The thoughts of coin were forced out of her mind. I have no need of his coin. Not yet. If he gives me coin, I'll not refuse. I will not ask for even a single Kolna. She walked back and sat down. She played a few standard tunes that any bard working in the kingdoms would know before she drifted into more original tunes. Her performance lasted well into the twilight hours and yet he did not seem to grow restless or tired of her songs. She finished a moving tale of two lovers parted by war who ran to be together only to die at the hands of their own families when they were captured. It never failed to move even the most hardened of soldiers and yet he sat there seemingly unmoved. She sighed and set down the guitar. Her fingers hurt from the long performance and her throat begged for some of the streams cool water. She smiled and sipped from her canteen before going over to fill it silently. His eyes followed her movements without comment. When she returned she found her guitar in his hands and was surprised to hear a gentle melody purring gently from its strings. She became the audience for a few moments and forgot her anger at the use of her beloved guitar. When he finished strumming, he opened his eyes and looked her for her reaction. She smiled and clapped softly.
"It was lovely. I've never heard it before. Does it have a name?"
"It is called "Sorrow" and you could not have heard it before. Only a few Blackpool troops have heard it and most of them are dead now."
"I'm sorry. One of your soldiers taught it to you?"
He smiled at her, handed her back her golden guitar and chuckled. "No, lady bard. I wrote it and played it for them. It was the only gift my mother left me, music."
"I'm sorry." Her thoughts turned inward. Home and family blurred in her mind, she'd been gone so long.
"Don't be. I barely remember her. Ebony hair, bright eyes filled with love, and the soft scent of lavender."
"I love lavender."
"I know. I was in the tavern. I stayed there three nights and each night you played for a few coins the soft scent of lavender followed you." He leaned forward and his eyes filled with urgency. "Wouldn't you like to not have to travel all over hoping to earn a few coins? Wouldn't you like to have lovely clothes and expensive instruments to play?"
She stood and returned her guitar to its proper place. She stood patted Heather and trying to calm her nerves. "Prince... I travel to travel. I play for a few coins and then travel until I need coin again." She sighed softly and leaned against Heather's side. "I am running from my past, Prince. No castle will be home for me. No dress will be beautiful enough to keep me from leaving. I travel, it's all I have."
"That could change."
She spun to face him, the fire danced in her eyes. "Could it? Could it really? Do you really think I haven't been offered this before? That I haven't been bathed in jewels and expensive gifts to try to buy my services? I have been begged by kings and by peasants. Still ... here I am... traveling."
"I haven't made you the offer before."
"You now have and I have refused." She turned and went about fixing a blanket into a pillow for her head. She heard his approach but did not turn to face him. His knees came down beside her legs as his arms encircled her in a hug. She stiffened waiting to have to force him away but found that she had misread his intentions. She fought relaxing in his hug but after a few moments, her body relaxed and then ... tears poured out of her followed by sobs that tore at her soul leaving it raw in their wake. She remembered little of the rest of the evening, but she awoke cradled in his arms by the cold ashes of the fire. When she stirred, he released her. Without a word, he slowly helped her pack up the camp after sharing a bit of his food with her. The horses stood together in the early morning mist, they huddled close for body heat. She got on Heather and turned to face him as he mounted his black monster of a steed.
"Yes, bard?" His tone was distant, she believed his mind was either at the front or back in the castle he called home.
"May I visit your hold? Perhaps, to play for you and your brother before I head south for the winter?"
He glanced over his shoulder at her. "If you wish, bard. I won't try to bind you to a promise." The hurt tone in his voice cut her worse than the slight to her honor. She nudged Heather over beside his mount and looked up at him. His eyes burned with anger, she doubted he was used to being refused. Her hand gently came to rest on his wrist and she waited for him to look down. When he did, the gentleness in her eyes smothered the flames in his heart. She smiled seeing the change in his expression.
"May I ask a boon of you, Prince?"
"Coin? Guards to escort you through my kingdom? Ask."
"A kiss, my Prince. No coin. A simple kiss." He blinked when she spoke those words and nodded a bit stunned. He stepped off the stallion and was amazed that she did not dismount. Then again ... his height nearly had him standing at her shoulder in any case. She bent down a tiny bit and lavender filled his senses an instant before her petal soft lips brushed a gentle kiss against his lips. Visions of men with hair as red as fire with eyes as green as malachite filled his mind for a moment along with the faint sounds of swords and strange songs as her lips touched his. Then his eyes opened to find both her and her tired mount gone. He glanced around their campsite and found no trace of their fire. He blinked and shook his head.
"I never even learned her name" he muttered as he remounted his steed.
"Deirdre." The name echoed softly on the chill morning air. Both rider and steed perked and were startled by the ghostly whisper. Geoffrey calmed the horse and glanced about the mist covered woods.
"Then ... sweet Deirdre ... I say farewell until you find your way to my hold." He nudged his mount and they slowly slipped into the underbrush and quickly where engulfed by the woods. Several minutes passed before the bard and Heather stepped from the mists on the other side of the stream.
"Good bye, sweet Prince. Fare thee well until our paths cross again." She walked Heather across the stream and they slipped into the green forest heading towards another village and another tavern on her long journey...
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