I found the prompt for this piece Bryn Donovan's list of 50 Fantasy Plot Ideas, all of which were nice, refreshing choices to sate my desire to write some High and Low Fantasy as of late. Here's the prompt I chose: a musician can kill or resurrect people with his or her music.
I went with kill because I think that's a bit more fascinating: I don't know if I've ever read about music being a deadly weapon, though I'm sure it's out there. I didn't beta this, but will some point soon. For now, please enjoy a writing challenge done over a half hour.
Update, 4/14/10: Proofread and corrected, with additional details added.
Threnodi Belba was brought to Castle Deneh only when they needed her, and she hated being needed by anyone or thing that wasn't her flute.
The Queen's Hounds had come to her little workshop on the edge of the Green Sea, knuckles knocking on her heavy wooden door right as she was on the cusp of a breakthrough. She knew that they would: far too much time had stretched between their last fetching.
She'd never finish the piece she'd been commissioned on. Already, she'd spent weeks constructing the song for Festival of Stars. Yet the notes from her flute had drifted away as soon as she understood the messaged tucked between the rapping knocks on her door: You are to come. There is someone who has been given Death.
Death had become a word that Threnodi spat, in the rare times she needed to speak, and as they hauled her up onto her mount to angle towards the Castle, Threnodi had wished it upon each of her guards.
Now, Threnodi supposed, as she sat on the cushioned chair they always presented her with, she should take back that Death wish and blame only herself. After all, she'd been born with Death Song tucked up in her gums and resting on her pink tongue had rattled her teeth silly as a child, humming and raising her sparrow voice up, up, up, only to find that the birds above her were spiralling down to Earth, or that the worms and crickets in Summer went cold and still.
Back then, it had been her Ser Vespersa -mother's sibling- who'd taught her what those shy, soft lifting notes were: sounds and songs to call soul to Death, merry and somber tones that made life want to go sputtering out, candle quick. It was Ser who'd taken her to the Shatterback Maw high in the mountains and taught her to keep such a thing quiet. Singing to Death was a special thing.
As a child, that had meant that Threnodi couldn't hum at an apple pie without rotting it before a party, or sing to the chickens in the scratch yard without having to give the extra meat to the neighbors down way.
Now, as a woman of twenty-eight years, Threnodi Belba had accustomed herself to silence, simply to survive her secret gift.
Yet The Queen and her sniffling, snuffling Hounds had found her once again, and as she sat on her cushioned chair, reflecting while she waited, wondered why they forced her to be Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Queen Cadence Va'Oblin's Silver Bane War against the border fae kingdoms. Threnody wondered why they forced her to sit in this very chamber: a waiting room of purples and blacks and greys, with that damnable chair beneath her, stuffed with feathers that poked at her rump, keeping her on edge.
Perhaps, Queen Cadence though this would be comfort for what only Threnodi could do. But, there was no comfort in being made a murderess.
With a great amount of thumping, the twin doors flew in, and the guards that had accompanied brought in a being between them, shaking. Xer wide, green eyes darted left and right, and a soft cry left xer throat. Xer long, pointed ears -lightly tufted on the ends with leaves and curling vine- bobbed up and down with each drag of xer kicking legs.
One of the Spring Fae, Threnodi realized: a realm of neutral entities in the world, but yet another victim.
Bright rosettes bloomed at xer hairline, and xer tanned skin -flush and slick with exhaustive sweat- was deeply tanned, though lighter than Threnodi's own midnight tones. Buds and flowers fell to the ground and cracked like glass as the Fae kept shaking. Threnodi instantly felt like she was stealing someone precious from the world.
Quick as a whip the guards tethered the woman to a series of metal loops in the carpet, snapping fresh irons rubbed with the oil of rowanberries under a full moon. They ignored xer high screams as the irons touched xer wrists, turning them into crackling, black flesh that smelled like burnings on Bonfire Night. Without a word -but with quick nods to Threnodi- the guards left, and the heavy rowan wood doors slammed shut, the snick of a lock echoing around the chamber.
Threnodi waited until their heavy footfalls grew faint, then spoke.
"Hello," Threnodi stated, tone flat. Her voice was hidden beneath the fae's whimpers and sobs. Xe looked so, so sad, and the burning was increasing. "Please, don't move much more: you'll burn your hands off, and then I'll be compelled to call them and they'll shackle you from the shoulder."
The fae lurched forward, regardless of xer smoking hands and raw wrists. "Please don't do this! I'll give you anything!"
Threnodi knew well of Fae promises: they'd give you a goat who you could milk liquid gold from once a day for eight hundred years, or a flask that never empties of whatever you first filled it with. They promised anything at this juncture: anything to prove that their lives were worth more than being a tally in someone's war books.
Threnodi sighed, shaking her head hard enough that her silver braids jangled, the bells and beads woven in clicking and clacking. "I can't."
The fae froze, xer body statuesque, then moved again, shoulders hunching as xe let out a fresh sob. "You can't give me an escape, can you?" The chains rattled and bit in a new place: now xer knuckles were spotted, tanned skin peppered with raw marks, smoking black. "Please, please… I'll give you anything."
"There is no escape," Threnodi stated. She wanted to cry and felt tears starting to creep into her voice. Flat, she reminded herself: anything that even hinted at song would start her singing, whispering the fae's soul from xer body before Threnodi offered solace and assurance. "Neither of us will be leaving here until your soul is gone from your body."
"So I will die?" Xe asked.
"Unnecessarily," Threnodi answered. She'd lost count of how many Fae she'd been forced to slaughter. It was equally as regrettable as having to add another to the count.
The room grew thick with silence, thrumming and aching. The fae let out another whimper, finally going still enough to keep the irons from moving on xer body. "So I shall," Xe breathed, a low whisper of air. "So it shall be."
"I am Threnodi." Threnodi bent forward in her seat, midnight cheeks twitching up as she smiled calmly. The smile dropped quickly though: she couldn't risk kindness singing out in her voice. "May I have your name?"
"That sounds quite nice."
"It's a type of song from our lands," Tale'ah began. "It's quick as a fox and as sweeping as the seasons. We sing it at revels, or when the nights are too long to keep quiet."
"Especially nice then," Threnodi replied thoughtfully. Her midnight cheeks puffed up as she sighed, looking to Tale'ah, who eyed her back.
"I will make this as peaceful as I can. I take no joy in singing Death to someone who should have lived forever. I can find no peace in stealing your life away for a corrupt Queen." Threnodi looked to the left, pale grey eyes ghosting over the doors. She couldn't escape with either of them, even if she could bellow out Death in a few bars. "But for you, Tale'ah, I will sing you Peace into Death."
"Thank you," Tale'ah whispered. Xe choked back a sob again, and forced a small smile that reflected in xer eyes. "Thank you."
"No, thank you." Threnodi paused. "Where do Fae go when they tire of living?"
"To The Garden of Milk and Flowers, for my people. It's a place of Ever-Spring, and the grass is the color of jewels but soft as deer hide. We sip milk sweetened with honey and eat berries until our tongues are purpled." Tale'ah's eyes went distant, then xe heaved a great sigh. "My parents will be there, as will my brother, struck down in this war. Perhaps this will not be so bad."
"A shame, nonetheless," Threnodi whispered, and meant it. She sat up straight on her chair, and nodded, silver braids sounding at the adjustment. "Well, Tale'ah of Spring, I will sing you into The Garden of Milk and Flowers. Listen, and go Home again."
Each song was a bit different, not because Threnodi had that much thoughtfulness, but because a soul could never be the same and thus, could never be sung to the same. When Threnodi parted her lips to sing, she did it without a thought: instead, she reached into the soul before her and spoke of things to lead them Home, wherever that was.
Threnodi didn't remember what she said -things about milk, honey, and rivers; perhaps about the sound of a breeze across leaves. Whatever she sang, voice pitching high and low, was enough to walk Tale'ah's soul from xer body.
By the time Threnodi ran out of words, her eyes were opening, and Tale'ah was a slumped husk, and the few flowers that remained unshaken had closed up into tight buds. A few leaves had flaked from xer ears, and the irons had nothing living to gnaw at and burn.
The deed was done.
Yet another Fae had been executed, simply for existing in a realm who hated them. Threnodi whispered a prayer to Orionah of Protection, and got up to knock at the door so they'd let her out and take the body for burning.
She was free for now: they'd take her back to her little haven on the edge of the Green Sea, let her live in mock peace until another singing was due.
Yet for now, that was just enough to keep her from singing the guards away, and enough to get her home.