In July 2016, I posted a fairy tale. Dark and tragic, with a violent unhappy ending. Not that there would be something wrong with that – but somewhat I got to like all the characters and wondered if there could be a better ending for them. I asked my friends for help. They did (their comments and suggestions are included in the post above). One year later – here is the result.
The Queen, the King and the Bard
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, there was a magnificent king. A king who fought and won many battles, conquered many lands and to whom many rivals have surrendered.
He was almost 2 meters tall and despite the fact his hair was almost all gray, his face was scarred and he was limping on his left leg, he was still as strong as a grizzly.
He was widowed for longer than anyone could remember. His wife – the love of his life who stood by his side since his youthful years – died falling from a horse five years ago.
The king did not take a single day to mourn. Tears are for those who have the time to shed them. But those who were close to him saw the change inside. The king who loved to sing, drink wine and fight in tournaments was now spending hours in the library, befriending books and monks rather than artists and knights.
He never intended to marry again. But one day, his closest ally sent him his 18-year-old daughter as a bride, to strengthen the ties between their lands.
Marrying a child was the last thing he desired. He wanted to send the princess home before she even reached the outskirts of the city. But a real king can’t always do what he wants. He went to meet her upon her arrival to his castle.
He saw her the moment she was getting off her carriage. Her long black hair, sparkling light blue eyes and a playful smile enchanted him in a second. “It’s such a privilege to meet the most powerful man in the known world”, she said, tilting her head and fluttering her long black eyelashes.
“Maybe too young to be my wife,” he thought. “Charming enough to be a great queen for my kingdom.”
He married her one month later.
The young queen enjoyed the king’s company, as well as her time in the castle. Most of all, the queen loved listening to music, and in these terms, her new home had a lot to offer. She had everything she could ask for. Except for the king’s heart. Always attentive and courteous – but treating her as a daughter rather than as a wife. “Maybe he just needs to realize I’m a woman,” she thought one night, falling asleep alone in her bedchamber.
As the king saw it, everything was working well, with a single exception. His favorite musician – a handsome Bard whose music was so lively that it could make a piece of rock dance to his tune – fell in love with the young queen too. And often when he played his lute at a ball or a dinner, he couldn’t let his eyes go off her.
The king himself could overlook such unimportant matters, but rumors started spreading. So one day, with a grieving heart, the king had decided that he had to send the bard away.
“Dear Bard, you have to go. I want you to know however that I have always valued your service. And you have always been very loyal to me. Thus, let me give you a very special gift. A lute made of magic wood, that when you play it, will help you get the heart of any woman you set your mind on.”
The bard was hurt. He did not want to leave the kingdom that was his home for so many years. He did not want to leave his king. And he did not want to leave the young queen he lost his eyes for. But he knew he had to.
In the evening, he was sitting alone in his chamber, ready to depart early in the morning. A knock on the door. The young queen.
“Hey. I heard you’ll be leaving the kingdom. That’s a pity. Will you play for me? One last time?”
The bard hesitated. But when he looked the queen in the eyes – he knew he would.
He took the magical lute he got from the king and played her favorite song.
But this time, there was something strange about the sound the strings made – and this time, the young queen did not smile when listening. She would be looking the bard in the eyes intently, while her own eyes were filling with tears.
For the first time, he did not see in her a proud young lady, but a lonely soul longing for understanding.
“Take me with you, Bard. I want to leave this castle.”
The bard felt like in a dream. Loyalty to the king, his future, his life – everything suddenly seemed insignificant when compared to being with the one he loved for so long.
“Yes”, said the bard. “Come with me.”
They sneaked into the stables and rode out of the castle. In that gallop, neither of them has noticed the sound the lute produced as the cold wind was licking its wooden body.
It was not more than an hour before they heard barking of dogs and the sound of the hooves of the riders chasing them.
They didn’t have a chance. A group of 20 soldiers from the king’s guard forced them to get off their horses and tied each of them to a tree, facing each other. The king arrived a few minutes later in full armor, as if coming to a battle. On his back he had his favorite weapon. A warhammer. He jumped off his horse, his face twisted in fury. He walked to the young queen first.
“I am disappointed”, he said. “I gave you everything you needed and you still wanted to betray me, to escape my castle – with a bard? I didn’t deserve that.” He took his warhammer and swung it in full strength aimed at the queen’s head. He missed by an inch and dug a hole in the trunk. The queen did not even flinch.
“But you are my wife. And you deserve a second chance.”
He took the warhammer from the tree and went towards the one to which the bard was tied. “I am disappointed. I gave you a lute that could get you any woman in the world and you use it to steal my wife from me? Did you think I was stupid? There is more to the lute than I told you. Even the lightest touch of a wind on its body lets it ring – in a slight noise for an ear of a human – but like a siren’s scream in the ears of dogs. I would be able to find you anywhere in the world.”
As he was lifting his warhammer he yelled in the bard’s face: “Maybe you also deserve a second chance. But we don’t always get…”
“Stop it!” the queen shouted.
The king lowered the warhammer and turned his head.
“What are you looking at you fools, cut the ropes!” she commanded the guards. They saw the king nod and freed the queen. She walked to the king until she was as close as a reach of the hand. Standing with her chin up, she opened her arms and said: “What else do I have to do to have your attention”, the queen continued. “I don’t want your musicians. I don’t want your gifts. I don’t want your courtesy.” She reached out for his hand and looked him in his cautious eyes. “I want… you.”
“But…” the king said hesitantly and glanced at the bard. The queen looked at the musician. For an instant she felt blood rushing to her face. She clenched her teeth, took a deep breath and stepped away from the tree the Bard was tied to.
“It takes more than a tune to win my heart, my king,” she said smiling. “Besides,” she continued, “it’s your voice I crave to hear today before falling asleep.”
The king studied her face, her hand in his. Charming enough to be a great queen for his kingdom. His wife.
Free from the ropes, leaning on the tree he was tied to just a few moments ago, the bard listened to the sound of the hooves of the king, the queen and their guards heading to back to the castle. He was not quite sure what to make out of it. Feeling betrayed – but on the other hand – alive. He walked to his horse, gave it a pat on the head and climbed into the stirrups. With all haste gone, he made the horse slowly walk towards the mountains. He took out the lute and started playing.