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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