I’ve decided that this is going to be my last Flash Fiction story for a while. Although I’ve enjoyed writing some of these, my focus is usually elsewhere these days with my job and my reviews. Even so, I appreciate all the attention these stories have gotten and hope you’ll like this one as well.
The Rhapsodist Came to Town, Part I, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 1,023
And you remember him sitting in the corner of the tavern, slumped in a chair with his guitar in hand. Plucking strings endlessly. You never did ask him what tune he was playing. It was soft and sad. Never a happy tune, even though he smiled.
He kept on playing when Joey Blake and his cutthroats came barging in, demanding fresh ale and hot food. Your village lived in fear of Blake. He was like the visiting minstrel in the corner—a man from Earth. On your world, they had a word for his profession: sellsword. But in his native tongue, he was only a private contractor and protected by royal decree.
The local aura turned black and bitter whenever Blake entered town. But what could you do? No fey had the weapons to fight the Earth-born. Even the greatest sages, in full chorus with the Worldsong, could only do so much to slow the coming of Men and their science and technology.
On this night, Blake slapped the barmaid on her thigh. She squealed and hissed something in Cant, the primordial tongue of the druids. But Blake drew back his jacket and showed her the weapon nestled within: a hand-sized firearm, matte-black and loaded. The barmaid went pale and backed away like a whipped cur.
Your blood boiled at the sight, and before you could stop yourself, you had leapt to your feet
“Leave her be!” you snarled, quieting the tavern.
All eyes and ears now turned to you, and you realized your mistake in an instant.
Only the minstrel didn’t seem to notice. He continued to pluck at the strings of his guitar, never once losing his cold smile.
Blake rumbled when he turned his gaze onto you. A mountain of flesh and muscle, he rose up from his seat, joined by two of his heavyset mates. They were all close-shaven and wore bright orange coveralls under their jackets. The bright colors were sharp to human eyes, but blinding to the fey. A clear sign to keep their distance while the mercenaries scouted out Hornworld.
“If you’re gonna start something, boy,” Blake growled, “you’d better be ready to finish it.” He emphasized his point by cracking his knuckles.
The guitar music stopped, followed by a quiet snigger.
Blake craned his neck to the left and glared at the far corner of the room. “You mind, buddy? We’ve got rights in these parts and you don’t.”
You swallowed and said, “T-they’re forfeit.”
“The hell you say?”
“They’re forfeit!” Despite the tremor in your voice, you clenched your fists and stood your ground. “B-by right of the Erlking, you must present yourself to the magistrate for judgment!”
Blake laughed, as did his companions. You trembled when he took a step forward and pulled open his jacket. His other hand was already reaching for the handgun.
You closed your eyes and said a prayer to the gods for a merciful end—
And then you heard the Song.
It was a strong melody that spread out from the corner of the tavern. Your eyes opened and your jaw dropped when you saw the minstrel standing up, holding his guitar across his chest. His fingers danced nimbly over the strings, playing a tune that moved as fast as lightning.
You saw a cold light shining in the man’s eyes—for he was a human and no fey like you or the rest of your tribe. He wore the long cloak of a traveler with a human-made scarf and hat. A pair of spectacles rested on the bridge of his nose as he stared down Blake and his boys.
He was not smiling anymore. He simply played his spellbinder tune.
“Attend to my word, for my word is true,” said the human minstrel in a singsong voice. “You’ll walk these bright green fields alone. You’ll wander far from these fair fey homes. To the magistrate you’ll give yourselves and under his law you’ll forever dwell.”
The cutthroats had no reply. They could say nothing. They could never resist. The minstrel had said his verses and by the power of the Worldsong, they had to obey.
You and every fey in the tavern watched in awe as the scoundrels were bade to walk from the tavern. Like a shepherd with his flock, the human minstrel drove them out with steady steps, playing his tune until they left.
Even when he smiled and he let his hands fall from his instrument, you could swear that the song was still being played. Somewhere that melody existed, chasing Blake and Company right toward the magistrate Faryn.
When the minstrel turned, you knelt as you’d been told. Like your sire always said, give an oath to the one who does you right without reward, for the gods honor such promises. You mumbled something about service to the minstrel and his heirs while the world was green, but his hand fell on his shoulder and shook you gently.
“None of that, lad,” said the minstrel. His accent was strange. Flat and dry like granite. But you rose and humbly nodded.
Your neighbors in the tavern gathered round the minstrel, thanking and praising his courage. They bought him drinks and fresh bread, and the barmaid he’d rescued insisted that he have a place in her bed that night, as was the fey custom. But the minstrel refused her company and paid in silver when he’d had his fill of food and drink.
Your last image was him wandering the streets, still strumming on his guitar as he wandered out into the night alone. Despite the cold autumn night, he didn’t seem alone or in danger. There was power in every step he took.
Though you never saw him again, your town would still hear stories of the minstrel. Merchants who passed through would speak of the man in the long coat who could join with the Worldsong and work miracles. You visited the tavern often, hoping to spot him in the corner by pure luck.
And so it was that you were one of the first fey to ever cross paths with the Rhapsodist.
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