The Altered Ballad, a short story

Narissa stepped up onto the small stage set up in the great hall, clutching her lute nervously as she looked out upon the throng.

Nervousness wasn’t generally an issue when the time came for her to perform. But this night was different.

She had but one set, allotted to her to prove herself worthy of a court position, and she knew which song the crowd wanted. She also knew to make them wait. So she performed a smattering of older classics everyone knew with a few of her lesser known compositions until she had used up almost all her time.

Then, she looked up, as if just realizing something. “Oh! My Lords and Ladies, I suppose upon reflection that there’s one more song you wish to hear. Or am I wrong? I could always close with Amongst The daisies.”

This, naturally, got a roar of negation and she flashed a quick grin, her face concealing how nervous she was. Training would do that. “Alright, alright.”

Then, she held up a hand. “This is a serious song, gentles all. A solemn song. A lament.” Her hand lowered, strumming at her lute. “As you know, I was blessed to travel with the late Sir Henry, Champion of His Royal Majesty, as his bard, making record of his many exploits. I was there the day he died, and indeed, the days leading up to it. This is his last song.”

Her fingers guided the melody of the lute into a minor, mournful chord, and Narissa began to sing.

“Twas ten years or more ago
when last he rode away.
And none have seen his brave face
since that sad gloomy day.

“Bright was his hair, blue his eyes,
his countenance so fair
He left broken hearts in his wake
a fate that I do share.

“On that day, Sir Henry rode
to avenge his murdered wife,
He rode away to Capartan
and there he lost his life.”

Narissa let her gaze sweep the crowd of nobles, taking in their rapt faces. Even the serving men and women had ceased, spellbound. Finally, she saw him. The one she needed to be there. Rage burned in her heart, but she kept it from her face and voice.

“He did not ride alone that day,
I, his Bard was at his side.
I witnessed full that fateful duel
and held him as he died.

“Twas Sir Robert that he fought,
brother of his love,
twas Sir Robert cut him down,
and sent him up above.”

So far so good. This was the song that had become famous throughout the land in the wake of the most popular knight the kingdom’s death.

But the court was about to hear the debut of Narissa’s new, altered ballad, and she let some of the anger bleed into her voice.

“And yet, where does fault lie?
In he who swung the sword?
Or in the villain, foul and bent,
who wispered deceitful words.

“Sir Robert loved his sister fair,
and approved of whom she wed,
it was with grief that Robert swung,
and struck Sir Henry dead.”

It was a pity that Sir Robert wasn’t here, but the events of that duel had left him as a social outcast. Perhaps she would play it for him one day.

“A jealous knight had told him false,
and sought to bring him low.
He sits and drinks here, even now,
his name is Sir Mardow.”

Mardow, shocked, leapt to his feet amidst gasps and a muttering of the crowd, and Narissa strengthened her voice.

“Sir Mardow wanted what was not his,
he wanted Henry’s wife.
He wanted Henry’s place in court,
he wanted Henry’s life.

And so, he killed the fair Eileen,
in fits of jealous rage,
and told Sir Henry falsehoods vile,
so to set the stage.”

Mardow was pushing through the crowd, making for the hallway that would lead him to the castle courtyard.

“Rise up, ye listeners all,
bar the passage out.
Bring down the vile, vile snake,
bring down the evil lout.”

Narissa all but shouted the final line, and as her lute fell into silence, the crowd surged forward. Hands reached for Mardow. Others reached for daggers. Mardow tried to run, and that sealed his fate. And Narissa watched, face impassive.

It was true, then. A Bard really did have the power to shape the opinions and actions of those who heard her song. So long as she got her court position, why, she could shape the very fate of the kingdom.

Sir Robert would be pleased.

(The above was one of the short stories I wrote during June. Yes, the poetry of the ballad is atrocious. I never said it was my best work, but I kind of like this one. Be kind to me. 😛 And, you know, yourself and those you encounter.)

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An Honest Answer, a short story

A quick explanation before we get into the story. I decided to post this because I think we all need a diversion right now. It is part of a writing challenge I’m doing this month. We were told to get someone to tell us a true story, and then write that story in such a way that changed absolutely everything but kept the core of the story. So here is mine. Can anyone guess what the original story was?

Captain Carole stood in the hangar bay of the enormous space station she called home, staring at her small craft. Granted, it was only precise to call this place home when she wasn’t on the move, which she often was. Still. A lady needs some place to keep her things.

The problem was the anti-grav lift. A tiny fracture had grown, all unnoticed, over time. Or, she thought it was an overuse fracture. For all she knew, some unexpected bang had caused the minute break. It didn’t really matter, though. At the end of the day, it made the lift completely useless until the self-repairing nanobots were done with it, and that was going to take at least a week.

In the meantime, she had the drive crystal to replace. The very heavy drive crystal. Though Carole looked a good deal younger than she was, and no one seemed to believe her actual age, she just couldn’t lift something as heavy as that crystal, no matter how independantly minded she might be.

And until she replaced the crystal, she couldn’t leave. She might make it to her destination at the distant Denys Outpost, but she’d never make it back again on that old drive crystal.

Captain Carole’s musings were interrupted by footsteps, and she turned to see a young, short man emerging from the inter-station travel pods. When he spotted her, he gave her a friendly sort of nod.

“And how are you today, Ma’am?” he asked.

The polite thing to do, of course, was to say that she was doing just fine, thank you, and let him go about his business. It was the acceptable thing to do. Even in these advanced days of interstellar travel, polite social fictions hadn’t died.

On impulse, Carole gave a rueful half-smile, running a hand through her short hair. “Honestly? Not so great.”

All she expected from this was some offer of sympathy before the man stroede onwards to his own destination. Instead, he stopped, cocking his head.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Such a simple question. She wondered for a moment if he was just being polite, but there was such an earnest look in his soft, brown eyes.

“Oh. Well. It’s the drive crystal. I need to replace it. But my anti-grav lift is busted, there’s no available ones to be borrowed or rented, and there’s just no way I can move the replacement from where it’s waiting over there to the engine casing.” She gestured off across the bay to where the large crystal sat, right where it had been delivered.

The young man smiled. “I can get it for you, Ma’am.” He gestured for her to step back, an all too common occurance these days, as spacers could bring back who-knew-what strain of disease from worlds, so strangers just tended to stay two meters apart at all times.

Carole stepped back, and found herself blinking back tears of gratitude. The man vanished, and reappeared toting the huge crystal in his arms. He hadn’t even grabbed one of the manual, rolling dollies that were available.

“Goodness. You must be strong, to carry that all on your own,” the captain said, still blinking back tears.

“I’m in the space marines, Ma’am,” the man, who Carole realized was even shorter than her own petite frame. “Just waiting to be deployed. The daily exercise regime is intense.” In moments, he had stepped aboard her ship and deposited the new crystal in its bracket, where her own vessel’s machinery could lift it into place. When he emerged with the old crystal in his arms, though, a tear actually did escape Carole’s blinking eyes. That was just going above and beyond.

Once the crystal had been taken to the reclamation zone, the marine turned back to Captain Carole. “Anything else I can do?”

Shaking her head, Carole smiled. “No, no. Thank you so much. I’d give you a hug if I could.”

Grinning, the young man merely offered her a jaunty salute, despite her lack of military rank. “Just happy to help, Captain. You have a good day, now.”

The fellow turned to head off, and Carole boarded her ship. It was time to head out to Denys Outpost. Sometimes, an honest answer got you kindness. She’d remember that, and pay it forward.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.