The Minstrel Boy
Long Time Gone
The youth who played the bright, relaxing notes on the golden harp was just as fair as the notes he strummed to the listening throng. Long locks of auburn, each light brown lock holding a glimmer of red embers, tumbled wildly around his oval-shaped face. A dreamy smile had stolen upon his full lips, revealing pearl white teeth as he smiled. The orbs of sea water which some called eyes were distant, reliving half-forgotten memories. Even the harmony he played tugged at the heartstrings of the nobles, reminding them of far-off, happy childhood memories. When the last notes faded off wistfully, everyone in the throne room wore a reflective smile, even the king.
The adolescent bowed low, his sea-blue eyes finding a spot to stare at upon the ground, his smile disappearing as quickly as it had come. "Would you care for another song, Your Highness?" His melodic, tenor tones were accented, revealing him to be from another land.
"No, no, that will be all. You are dismissed, minstrel." The king's smile had also vanished, his expression returning to that faint frown that he always wore.
The minstrel, known to a few by the name of Zamiral, bowed one more time before fading into the crowd of nobles, his gestures as delicate and as graceful as a gazelle's. He kept his eyes upon the floor, not daring to look up at anyone. Although his harp playing was enjoyed, that didn't stop certain courtiers from tormenting him if they thought he was getting haughty. Zamiral exited the throne room just in time to hear the king announce that his heir would be back from the war in two or three days.
The war. Even without speaking the two words, the youth felt a bitter taste on his tongue, and he wished for nice, cool glass of water. It was the war between this country of Sladis and his homeland of Reban that had caused him to be captured and forced to play for the Sladisian king like a little slave. Essentially, Zamiral was a slave, but the boy of sixteen years still hadn't accepted the fact, even after six years of being in the palace. He could be considered lucky to be gifted with the ability to both play his harp and sing, for playing his harp had been the only thing to keep him from being sold to a lecherous lord once his voice had been struggling from a pure soprano to a lovely tenor. The king had never been known for his patience.
As the minstrel ghosted his way through the halls of the palace, his long, slender fingers caressed the golden harp. It was the only possession that hadn't been taken away from him when he had been captured and his father's dukedom been completely destroyed. He had entertained the slave traders with the beautiful notes of his harp, as much as giving the slavers pleasure from the music had disgusted him. He had somehow found himself in the possession of the king, and had become the king's favorite pet.
Again, a horrible word. Pet. The former noble shook his head in a single, violent movement. Even if he was called that horrid nickname by the courtiers of the Sladisian court, he wasn't. All he did to live was play his harp and occasionally sing for King Landis.
The minstrel entered his small bedchamber, and closed the door behind him. His eyes didn't bother flickering around the all-to-familiar room, for he had lived in the same room ever since he'd arrived at the palace. There was a golden pedestal for his harp, which he placed the musical instrument upon with a reverent movement. The walls were of marble, with two wall hangings depicting minstrels of yore on either side of his bed. His bed was covered with silk layers of the same gold color as his pedestal. A large mirror with silver engravings depicting various musical instruments was there for him when he wished to prepare himself for a day at the court, with an ivory water basin to wash his hands and face with. Although some might call his beautiful room just another clue to being the king's pet, Zamiral knew better.
The king was humiliating him.
As the son of a duke and nephew of the king of Reban, Zamiral sun Reba's lowest slave had a nicer bedchamber than this one. After all, Reban was the wealthiest country in the world, with Sladis a close second. By giving Zamiral this room, King Landis had silently informed the former noble that he was lower than even a slave in his country.
The youth disrobed, carefully folding the silk finery and putting them on the end of the bed before he slid between the covers, relaxing into the soft silk, his slender frame half-asleep before his auburn-locked head even touched the sleek pillow.
"Minstrel!" The urgent call jerked Zamiral awake, and the youth raised his head to blink away sleep as he gazed at the servant, who looked nervous and was sporting a red mark across his cheek. "The King will have your music before he goes to sleep." Even the wording was careful, for the King's word was law; he did not request or wish for anything.
"Step outside, and I'll get into some clothes," he murmured, fighting back a yawn. The servant nodded and exited the small room, leaving the tousled Zamiral to scramble into the same clothes he had worn that day. Then, carefully picking up his harp, he moved to meet the servant in the hallway, who would lead him to the king's bedchambers, although Zamiral could walk to the bedchambers with his eyes closed.
"Play me a song." That was the king's greeting, and he wore a dark scowl as the servant bowed deeply before beating a hasty retreat, out of the room. "Make it soothing, minstrel."
"Yes, sire." Without another word, Zamiral began to play, a gentle Reban song that told of a warrior who fell in love with a beautiful maiden, and after many adventures they lived happily ever after.
One of the songs that Zamiral hated. But the king would never know this, for the youth never sang the lyrics to any Reban songs that he played. It was Sladisian songs that he actually sang. He would not allow his country's songs to be dishonored by singing them in the court of Landis.
When he let the last notes trail off, the king was half-asleep, a small smile on his lined face, making him seem years younger. King Landis was actually only forty or so, having ruled his country with an iron fist since the age of seventeen.
However, all Zamiral saw was a horrible tyrant who had ruined his life and humiliated him every day. He gazed upon the man with hatred before he turned and exited the bedchambers to be led by the same servant back to his bedroom, where he disrobed again and fell back to sleep.
Zamiral woke to the sound of pounding feet upon tiles as several people bolted down the hallway by his bedroom. Pulling on the next clothes (which another slave had placed on his bed while he slept), the harpist stumbled out into the hallway, not bothering to ran a comb through his locks.
"What's going on?" he inquired, making one of the rushing servants cast a wide-eyed look in his direction.
"The heir has arrived earlier than expected," Zamiral was informed breathlessly before the slave sprinted off to complete a task that had been assigned to him.
Zamiral reentered his bedchamber, where no one could see him make a disgusted face. Oh joy of all joys, the son of his most hated enemy had returned. Now Zamiral would have to play his harp for this moronic and most likely spoiled prince.
Not that the youth had ever seen Heir Prince Haroun. The prince was six years his senior, and had been away from the palace since the age of ten, training to be a military strategist and great king in the lands of Natrona, a neutral land of knowledge. Haroun had been gone from the country of Sladis for two years before Zamiral had been dragged to the palace. And now, after years of training and fighting in the war, the Heir had returned to his homeland.
Zamiral glowered at no one as he straightened out his clothes and washed his face and hands, letting them dry before he dared touch his precious harp. He was cradling the instrument as one would a cherished babe; the youth promenaded his way in the direction of the throne room, knowing he would be called to welcome Prince Haroun home.
Perhaps now he'd be considered Prince Haroun's pet also?
(To be continued.)