Chapter 1: A Beginning

Here I, the minstrel Promesi, pen the words of the adventure of my companions and myself that is a well-known ballad, which I must humbly admit that I also wrote. This is our story.

It was late spring and the castle was near empty as everyone was out enjoying the splendid weather. I was inside awaiting my lady and her attendants. It would have been unseemly for me, a mere minstrel, to precede one of the Lady Asiphole's station.
I stood by the window enjoying the scene spread out below me. The rough stonewalls of the castle stretched fifty feet down and met with the grey cobbles and hard brown earth of the inner courtyard. Beyond that lay the gardens and grass fields preserved for walks and tournaments. Currently the children were running through the fields chasing one another, while their parents enjoyed a picnic by the riverside. Within the gardens I spotted the other nobles of the household strolling around; Lord Wivlock, my lady's father and Lady Ioblia, my lady's mother. Their own personal servants along with the Lord's bodyguard Rasterlin closely attended them. Also with them was our mage, the honourable Treena. She appeared to be in deep conversation with the Lady Ioblia.
Smiling as I watched the people of the castle move about beneath the beautiful blue sky, I heard a slight rustle behind me. It was all the warning I needed. I swiftly grabbed my lute and turned. Seeing that it was indeed my lady standing there, I bowed gracefully to her.
"Ah, Promesi. On time as always." Asiphole said a smile curving her full pink lips. "Shall we head down to the gardens now?"
I bowed again. "As my lady wishes." I replied before following her down the spiralling stairs and out the elegantly carved door that connected the Lady's tower with the rest of the castle. After that it was but a short walk to the heavier and less ornate door that led the way out to the pleasure gardens.
My lady must also have been watching from the window, as she avoided the area her honourable parents were currently enjoying and instead headed to the less used, and therefore wilder, but equally as pleasant northern garden. Asiphole had been avoiding her parents of late, as she was rather upset with them over the subject of her betrothal. She disliked all the suitors her parents had approved. In fact my lady had shown not a whit of interest in any of the young men who had come a calling. But that was my lady's own choice and not one I would have ever dared comment on. Even now I still view her as my lady.
Asiphole arranged herself and her ladies in waiting on and around the carved stone bench that sat beneath the shade of a mighty oak tree, whose profusion of leafy branches allowed only a strange green light to penetrate to the ground below.
As soon as they were comfortable, there embroidery arranged neatly on their laps, my lady nodded to me and I began to play quietly, giving a soft background to their chatter and work. As always, I tried to weave the natural sounds around me into my song. The light breeze rustling the leaves overhead, the birds singing, the bugs buzzing, even the ladies chatter and movement was all woven in my own kind of tapestry. As always, the ladies soon forgot my presence. All but Asiphole that is. No matter how many times I had pulled this trick, she always knew I was there. Not that I minded, after all, she was my lady.
I preferred being ignored. Else wise my lady's attendants, fine virtuous women all, would try and entice me to allow them entrance into my bed. Not something I wished, I can assure you. They were pretty ladies, one and all, but none that I wished to have that particular kind of liaison with. It was their lack of true interest in anything other then their own pleasure that truly caused me to constantly deny them.
I wove my song about us, sending notes to soothe any ruffled tempers, to relax and to overall, make them more comfortable. That was my main function. I played peacemaker for as many people of the castle as I came in contact with, which is to say, nearly all of them.
The fading song was one I had developed soon after my discovery that mages disliked my musical influence on people. Not that Treena had offered me any abuse. It had been her predecessor, one Master Chilterp, who had so disliked my soothing songs. One set of instruments broken by a sudden tempest in my rooms along with the bruises I myself sustained was enough for me to stop for a time. Until I learned to fade from thought, that is. It was quite by accident that I found out how to do it. I was outside, enjoying a particularly boisterous lark's song when I decided to accompany him. Well, as soon as I wove his song into my own music I heard a great many other sounds around me and before I knew it, I had pulled them all into my music. As I played I watch many of the servants rushing back and forth in front of me. I noticed nothing out of the ordinary until my good friend Yistel came by. He sat down almost right beside me without greeting me. Greatly surprised, I stopped playing and said. "Well good morrow to you friend Yistel. Is there something so wrong with my company that you fail to offer me a salutation?"
Well poor Yistel fair jumped a foot so surprised was he. The young man whirled on me daggers in each hand. When he recognized me he disposed them in such a matter that I scarce saw the movement. "How in all the gods' names did you appear like that?" he demanded of me.
"Appear?" I asked quite confused. "I was here the entire time playing. You came over and sat down and without so much as a greeting."
"What? But I could have sworn there was nothing there. What were you doing?"
I shrugged. "Playing. I wove all the sounds I could here, around me."
"Try it again."
Once again I picked up my lute and began to play, weaving all the sounds I heard in and around me. I stopped after a few minutes.
Yistel started again as soon as I stopped. "This time I knew you were there, but I still forgot. That is an interesting technique. You might want to keep it quiet lest someone of my profession but with fewer scruples should come by and adopt it. Just imagine the chaos."
I nodded. He had a point. Any thief other then Yistel would abuse it and the guilt for their misdeeds would lay heavy upon my soul.
That is another strange thing, my friendship with Yistel. It springs from our mutual upbringing as orphans. We lived in the same orphanage and both being slight in size, found ourselves much put upon by the larger and more aggressive orphans. The two of us became friends and have remained friends even now that our chosen career paths have taken quite different turns. We were apprenticed at the same time, at approximately the age of ten. I was sent to learn the art of music from the small school of minstrelsy that was nearby. Yistel however met a strange man who offered him the chance to apprentice with him. Since his only other option was to be a servant boy in the local inn, my friend jumped at the chance. That is how he became an apprentice thief.
We didn't see each other for the next eight years, until one day when I was walking through the town on my day off from playing for my lady. I was wandering through the market looking at the different instruments, when I spotted a faintly familiar figure. I turned and watched as the figure helped himself to a few of the plain gold rings for sale in the stall next to the one I was at. The movement was so dexterous that I almost didn't believe that I'd actually witnessed the event. Almost against my will, I followed him from the market into a small deserted alleyway. His back was to me when I approached him. At the sound of my footsteps, he whirled around daggers in his hands. When Yistel saw me his jaw dropped. "Mesi?" he whispered using my childhood nickname.
With that I knew it had to be Yistel, as no one else knew that name. To confirm it was me I used his own secret nickname. "Right, Yis."
We both launched each other at the other and exchanged hearty embraces and backslaps, laughing and crying at the same time. Separated for so long and now able to see one another again was truly a gift of the gods. We went to an inn and spent the rest of the day exchanging stories. After that, Yistel decided to stay in the area and has been here ever since.
Now I'm getting sidetracked from the story I should be telling you. My apologies.
The rest of the morning was spent with embroidery for the ladies and playing for me. Lunch was a picnic in which I partook, surprising my lady's attendants. Using my aforementioned fade song had caused them to forget my presence, which is of course the whole point to that particular technique.
Restless with a morning filled with no activity more strenuous then pulling a needle through a piece of cloth, the ladies decided to go for a walk through the other parts of the gardens. I suppose it was my lady's hope that her parents would have left the garden. And indeed they had, shortly after I had espied them from the window, but had returned for a leisurely stroll in the afternoon light. They spotted Asiphole before she could escape and she was forced to walk over and greet them.
As with any conversation started between the three of them within the last fortnight, it swiftly degenerated into a heated argument about my lady's lack of betrothal. It seems there had been an offer from the Duke of Westguard for his oldest son, a man of strength, position and honour. He had heard of Asiphole's beauty, which all within our fair country of Crishtrey had heard of. Even some of our neighbouring countries had heard of the reported fairness of the Lady Asiphole.
Upset with her parents' refusal to allow her to wait and make a decision on her own, my lady fled in tears, up the stairs and into her own inner chamber.
I sighed silently. It seemed that my lady would be indisposed for the rest of the day, making it my duty to see to the entertainment of her ladies, whose chief amusement seemed to be flirtation.
And of course, that's exactly what happened. Citing a need to rest before I played at dinner, I managed to escape two hours before supper was served. I retired to my private chambers, the onset of a massive headache making itself known. I took some of the pain-killing potion Treena had prescribed to me when I first took the complaint to her. She believes my headaches are brought upon by stress, and I'm loath to disagree with her. My lady in tears and amusing her attendants always caused me stress. I sometimes believe Yistel has the wiser of our two occupations. Oh well.