The Lady of the Harp

The tavern was empty, the door wide open. A single barkeep tidied up the filthy place; heaving termite-infested tables up on their sides against the wall, so that their legs stuck out. Then, he took the chairs that went with the tables, setting them up in rows so the tavern looked a lot like a theater. He had gotten about half way through the room, and was currently trying to push the largest table over to the wall. Trying is the key word, because he didn't seem to be having much luck with it.

Just then, a young man entered the tavern. He had apparently ignored the rotting, wooden 'closed' sign on the front door; a luxury that very few barkeeps could afford in these troubled times. The man's clothes were travel worn, but obviously had once been quite expensive. The barkeep took one look at the stranger and decided he was a noble come to collect more taxes to get himself out of trouble with the king. He was quite surprised when the man's silver gaze locked on him as he took a step forward.

"May I help you with that?" the stranger asked softly, gesturing to the table. The barkeep could only stare at the man in amazement, not just because he had offered to do work, which no noble would have done. It was the voice - not quite deep, but not high either. It was a voice that he suspected could be clearly heard over a battlefield, and yet, it seemed to hold some deep sadness.

The man cleared his throat, which jerked the barkeep out of his faraway thoughts, back into the rundown tavern. "Oh, yes, of course," he mumbled and with the man's help, carried the table over to the wall. The barkeep leaned against it and wiped his forehead. "I thank you for your help," he said at last.

The man shrugged. "You looked like you needed it," he replied briskly. He looked around for a moment, then inquired, "Who are you expecting tonight?"

Again, he had managed to throw the poor barkeep off guard, only this time with such a casual question. For a moment, the barkeep wondered if the man was a spy for the king. The king always suspected that someone was plotting a rebellion against him. In truth, the king's fears were not exactly unfounded, thought the barkeep, people were always plotting against him.

"A young Harper girl," the barkeep finally answered. He glanced at the man and added, "I'll tell you more, if you help me set up. I'm expecting a large crowd very soon."

He hoped the work would take a while, and that the crowd would come in right after so that there would be no time for more questions. Unfortunately, the man was quite strong, and it took little time for the task to be completed. Soon enough they were both sitting at the counter. The man ordered a mug of ale, which was, as he would recount later, the only thing he had come to the tavern for. He then leaned forward in his seat and asked softly, "So, tell me about this Harper girl."

The barkeep shrugged as he looked around the room at all the wanted posters. "Not much to tell really," he replied, glancing back at the man, "She comes about once a month, and has for a half year. About two months after James tried to lead a rebellion against the king." This was said with a curious look at the man, who showed no reaction whatsoever.

After a moment, the man frowned. "But there is only one woman Harpist in the land, and I thought she had died a few years before," he said musingly, more to himself that to the barkeep. The barkeep looked at him again and he noticed for the first time there was a trace of sorrow in the man's eyes.

"Well, as far as I know there is still only one, and she hasn't changed over the past years." He paused, and then looked from a wanted picture to the man, "She's coming here soon, and you can stay and see for yourself that she is alive."

A torn expression appeared on the man's face. He quite clearly wanted to stay, but seemed afraid at the same time.

"I will," the man said at last. The barkeep smiled and nodded even as the whole village started to arrive.

The man slid into the crowd as a few men and women walked up to the counter, asking when the Harpist would arrive. The barkeep's answer was always the same: soon.

Suddenly, the noisy tavern quieted. A pale woman walked through the crowd, stepped up to the front of the room and looked at her audience with calm blue eyes. A golden harp was in her hands.

The man's breath caught in his throat as he saw her. Alive… she had been alive for years and he hadn't known…

She began to play and sing. Her song was in elvish and English, so everyone could understand it. The song was about the current state of the land; the unfair taxes and laws and the king. It was spellbinding.

Just then, a group of six guards entered the tavern. The spell was broken as everyone looked at the men in surprise, although the Harpist still played. Two guards looked quite drunk. Another two looked utterly miserable, and the barkeep recognized them as two of the men who had first heard her play. The last pair actually seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"Harpist Julia," one of the happy guards called. The Harpist stopped playing and looked up at them. A single lock of blond hair dangled down in front of her face. For a moment, the guard hesitated, then continued, "You are under arrest by order of the king for singing treasonous songs."

Julia raised her eyebrows and looked around. For a moment, her gaze met the man's. But she looked away all too soon, leaving him to stand there, feeling helpless.

"I didn't know my songs were treasonous," she said mildly, "But perhaps it is because the king fears any songs that are in the language of the elves, who he banished."

The guard who had spoken first lunged at her. Instantly, the other people in the tavern attacked the other guards. By the time the melee had ended, five guards kept the villagers at bay while the first guard dragged an unresisting Julia out of the door. The other guards followed quickly.

For a moment, no one spoke in the tavern. The man, relieved from his discovery that the Harpist was still alive, at least for now, pushed to the front of the crowd and jumped up onto a chair. "Listen to me!" he shouted. The villagers turned to him in surprise.

The man coughed. It had been a while since he had done this. "The king has made us pay taxes and has punished us with unfair laws!" He shouted, "Now, he has arrested the one who tried to stand up for him! Are we just going to sit here?!"

One of the others glared at him. "And who's going to lead us? You? Who are you anyways?"

"My name is James, and I lead the rebellion eight months ago," he replied softly. This made quite a few people whisper in shock.

"He is telling the truth!" the barkeep shouted, pushing his way to the front of the room. "James can help us! Do you want to save the Harpist, or not?"

It only took a few minutes for them to agree. Then, the next day, James led a raid against the king and this time he was successful. Quickly James ran to the dungeon to free the prisoners, hoping to see Julia again. But Julia was nowhere to be found. Later, when questioning the guards, James found that she had vanished when the guards had first stepped out of the town. Her work, as many said after, had been finished.